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Posts posted by Metis

  1. 1. How odd would it be for someone to not know/believe that magic exists, assuming they were born and raised in the most isolated, backwater farming community the former Empire's territory has to offer?

    2. Does the Academagia ever get exchange students, even if only temporarily? I know guest speakers/lecturers are a thing, but does the same go for students?

  2. 1. How much authority/autonomy/control/etc. do the various neighbourhoods of Mineta have over themselves? Do they have mayors that act as mayors (at least to some extend), do they have a Golden Council figurehead/bureaucrat that handles day-to-day affairs and nothing more, are all neighbourhoods directly controlled by the council, what's the score?

    2. How would the Academagia react if it turned out that, say, there's a random out of the way room room in it somewhere in which there's an old spirit who's happy to talk shop about Gates/Mastery? Would the faculty immediately do large-scale aura testing, would they only target students who are at all likely to ever be in that general area, would they say anything about it at all, etc.?

    3. Is soybeans/tofu as a plant-based meat substitute (spoiler: this is my modded Minecraft knowledge talking moreso than anything else, so if that question makes absolutely no sense...) known in Mineta, even if it isn't grown there? If not is there anything else similar, either known about or told legends about?

  3. 6 hours ago, Schwarzbart said:

    The Topiary Garden was considered such a case till the player finish this adventure. At last from my understanding.

    True, but that turned out to be something completely different in the end (at least if I remember that adventure correctly it was more "kidnapping" than "choosing to leave"). That said...

    10 hours ago, Legate of Mineta said:


    The answer is definitely yes.

    Could you elaborate?

  4. Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 14:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  5. Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 13:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Another one of my attempts at being subtle.

    "Attempts", key word :rolleyes:.

  6. Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 12:


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

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

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

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

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

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

    -Aenor Charpentier"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  7. Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 11:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  8. Phases, not stages. Put another way: Can a Y2 RE have multiple, sequential exit options in one...well, technically multiple depending on how you look at it, but from the player's perspective can a single RE have multiple sequential exits?

    You know, without resorting to investigation options -> set memories -> unlocked exits shenanigans.

  9. Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 10:


    You've got the broad strokes of Matteo's puzzle figured out, and have even managed to turn your bundle of humble notes into an outright clear timeline. Are you trying too hard, perhaps? Would Matteo prefer free reign to carve his own path or would he prefer a path to be handed to him? You don't know. Frankly, you don't really care either. You've come this far, you're going to finish what you started and make damn sure that Keith is not going to face any of these bizarre questions while he's focused on helping Astrid. So you dive back into the correspondence and see what else Keith and Matteo were having serious trouble with. Well, that you're willing to try and figure out. That all-female country of Matteo he can figure out himself, thank you very much...though the back-and-forth discussion about it between Matteo and Keith is actually kind of-nope, no more, you're not doing this. The man can figure that out himself and that's final.

    That kinda leaves you a little lost on what puzzle to solve next, though. That country is definitely the biggest question remaining and in general, not in the least because the book's actual protagonist is - for lack of a better term - that place's princess and easily three quarters of the story actually takes place in it. Not to mention that most of the overarching plot revolves around it in some way, shape or form. All told it's kinda important! So...you suppose you don't really have a choice here, really. Even if there's other pieces missing none of them come even close to the tribal country in terms of their overall importance. So time to roll up your sleeves and get to work.

    Carefully reading through the correspondence you encounter an interesting and, more importantly, respectable problem which Matteo ran into that you could probably help him with - surface geography. One issue with stories set on a surface world is that how the land acts and reacts to certain terrain types and features - primarily oceans, and around half of this tribal country is indeed coastal - isn't necessarily the same as they appear and behave on the sky islands, which can lead to anything from inconsistencies to outright nonsensical environments unless proper research is done. Of course doing proper research on something that hasn't been around for thousands of years is slightly tricky at times. But, as an Academagia student, you should be able to find the answer to those questions pretty easily. Time to draw a map of this island or continent or whatever you'd call the landmass that this story takes place on and see if it actually works. And how to make it work, if it doesn't.

    So, drawing a map...all the reference material you could ever need are right next to you and you're well familiar with it all after having gone through it so many times, so how to turn that information into a map?

    -Applications of Arithmetic. Rely on numbers to make this work.
    --It, as is so often the case when writers end up having to do math, takes a serious amount of reading comprehension and memory for off-hand details in order to gather all of the right numbers. From there it's an absolutely trivial task to figure out exactly how this continent (the numbers would exclude calling this place anything less than a "large island", frankly) should look like, roughly, and although you don't draw anything more than a few rough lines as far as "drawing a map" is concerned you don't need to do more right now. This is to determine whether this continent actually works, after all, and a few lines and notes on a piece of parchment is all you need in order to check that.

    With that said it's off to the Venalicium in order to see about verifying whether this continent checks out. You definitely have enough time to do so.

    --You take the time to crunch some numbers before trying to draw anything resembling a map, but the curse of all mathematics strikes you hard as none of your numbers add up in the end. Evidently you didn't memorize the material as much as you through, since you keep running into issues that change the numbers in ways you don't account for, and so in the end everything just fails to work. Your biggest mistake was the distance between the city the first main entry takes place in and the countryside that the second main entry takes place in - the main characters from the first book took a long time to travel there, which you interpreted as the two places being quite a distance from each other, but you completely forgot that at that point in the story said characters were wanted fugitives on the lam. So of course they wouldn't travel across the main roads in a chariot, they travelled across dirt paths from one tiny farming community to the next on foot, when there was an option to walk across so much as a dirt path at all. Needless to say that changes the time it takes to travel somewhere quite a bit!

    So all that your effort got you in the end is a lesson in humility and a reminder that you either work the numbers perfectly or you might as well have been taking a nap the entire time for all the good an imperfect calculation will do for you. Great. Can't say that was how you expected this part of the project to start. Hopefully it's not a sign of how it'll go until the end...

    -Cartography. Draw a proper map.
    --It takes multiple attempts and a fair bit of parchment, but after a fair bit of trial and error, experimentation and far more hard work than you intended to put into this you end up with a proper landscape map of the setting's island!

    Well, mostly. You've yet to color it in, but you'll leave that for after checking whether all of the details on this map actually work. Chances are you'll have to redo this map, parts of it at least, but this is as good reference material as anyone could ask for and after you correct any problems and color it in it'll look downright beautiful. Frankly Matteo if not Keith had better give you a bonus for this amount of work after all is said and done.

    "After", though. For right now you've enough time left to head to the Venalicium and see about making sure that this map works as it currently is.

    --You get to work on drawing a proper landscape map, not just a glorified list of lines and directions but an actual, honest-to-goodness map, only to run into a rather major issue that you're not sure how to solve - scale. How large is is island, or continent, or what have you exactly? How large should you draw the various landmarks like major cities and main trade routes, should you attempt to include things like farming communities and their dirt roads or just leave that all up to the imagination? Even though those farming communities are, from what you recall, actually pretty well established in the actual books, so it'd feel like a job half finished if you didn't include them...

    All told you're not able to get a map drawn that you'd be anything but embarrassed to present. Just too many details adding up one after another that leave you scratching your head on how to revolve them...

    -Illustration. Layer sketches until you've got a map.
    --You get to work and make a rough first sketch, follow that up with a less rough second sketch, and by the time you've finished with your third sketch you have what you're going to call a "good enough" drawing of this island or continent or...whatever. Really should tell Matteo to make a decision on that so you can stop stumbling over those two words, frankly. That can wait, though. For right now you've got a solid reference point to work with, so off to the Venalicium and see if it actually works!

    --You get to work and make a rough first sketch, follow that up with a less rough second sketch, and by the time you've finished with your third sketch you realize that you actually have no idea what you're doing. These lines are all just...what is this? This doesn't feel like you're drawing a map so much as you're doodling on a piece of parchment, how are you supposed to know if any of this is anywhere close to correct? Sure, you can intuit a fair bit based on what's written in the correspondence, but there's far too much empty space that leaves to give you any sort of idea or starting point. And if you can draw thirty maps that are technically all correct than how are you supposed to choose?

    Maybe this needs a different approach. A more careful look at the correspondence, more careful interpretation of what's written between the lines, anything to get a better grip on how this place is supposed to look. As is you feel like you don't have enough information, and you're weary of making things up yourself because that could easily result in problems down the line. Not to mention that this is supposed to be the prepwork for checking whether this map actually works! Gods, this is going to be a right mess...

    Quick filler stage to help set up the next one, which is, eh...not finished yet. Honestly at this point we're reaching the part of the adventure that is, shall we say, not finalized yet, so updates may slow down at this point.

    (Also because I may or may not have internet/notes access next week, for Reasons, but...details...)

  10. Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 9:


    Once you finish writing down all the details about the gateway city that Keith and Matteo need to make it work you return to Keith's pile of correspondence to figure out what to tackle next. Might want to organize those a bit better, actually, come to think of it...well, you can work on that later. Right now you want to figure out the next piece that's missing and get started on that one. And going through the pile again you quickly find something that both Keith and Matteo aren't comfortable with, yet that is quite critical to the overall story - the border skirmish turned war between the two nations. It's clear that neither of the guys are historians or military generals, because their suggestions for how to make that war go the way their story needs it to are filled with more questions than answers. You figure that it'd be best to read up on these two nations, the history between them and how this war is intended to go, before continuing. Thankfully Keith and Matteo frequently summarize the lot of it in their various correspondence, so finding that context takes no time at all.

    In short, the nation that instigates the war is the paranoid tribal country you mentioned before, no real world equivalent that you know of. The nation that gets attacked (although will ultimately come out victorious) seems to be a pretty straightforward Mineta analogue: Former seat of a world-spanning empire since divided into separate independent countries and assorted areas, Golden Council equivalent as the current ruling power, the works. Basically all that's missing in an Academagia stand-in...although reading through the correspondence it seems like that idea was intentionally axed. Keith suggested that given enough time such an institution would inevitably spring up, but Matteo wanted his book's magic-equivalent to be rare, more difficult to learn. A giant academy dedicated to it thus didn't fit his vision of the setting, and that lead to some back-and-forth between him and Keith about why such a school never got off the ground. Interesting, but something that can serve as a basis for a short story. You've got bigger fish to fry right now. And, to make sure you know exactly what fish you're dealing with, as you go through the relevant correspondence again you slowly compile as much of a timeline of this war as you can at this point. It doesn't amount to much since all that's set in stone (insofar that anything is) right now are just a few key moments that Matteo vaguely described, but you're sure you'll be referring to this little chart many times before all will be said and done. And re-write it completely at least once. But it'll help, either way.

    Preparations are done, so time to get to work. The first (of no doubt many) concrete question that Keith and Matteo got stuck on is how no one else gets involved in this war. According to the correspondence Not-Mineta has a reputation among foreign countries that's more reminiscent of how real-world Pievre is viewed by the various counties it borders in Meril, and Keith and Matteo both find it odd that no one would strike Not-Mineta while it's occupied on the other side of it's borders. Both also conclude that a two-front war would quickly spell "inevitable doom" for Not-Mineta, so something must prevent others from intervening if Matteo's story is to proceed as he envisions it. Thankfully the seclusive tribal country has as many political allies as that description would suggest - namely, zero - so that part is neatly covered already. And Not-Mineta likewise has around as many allies laying around, which is good, although a lot more potential enemies as well...

    How to solve this? How could this war proceed as Matteo envisions it, at least broadly speaking?

    -Diplomacy. Mineta's "Senate" probably has some good pointers for you.
    --You decide to look up the closest person available to you for high-level diplomacy advice, even if the girl herself is unlikely to use it on her peers - Catherine Chard. You find her in Vernin's Common Room entertaining a few of her fellow Vernin first year sycophants, and seeing as you are not one of those she's obviously less inclined to give you her time of day. Of course you don't stop walking up to her, so when Catherine figures out her gaze didn't work she tries words instead. "Can't you see I'm busy, [PC FIRST NAME]? If you need something I'm sure there's someone else who has time to help you. If no one else I know Corradin isn't doing anything important right this moment."

    Catherine's sycophants naturally mimic her attitude perfectly, minus the one with the thought to instead act as she thinks Catherine would want her to. Clever, or foolish? The world may never know. "I'm afraid that Corradin won't be able to help me, Catherine. I'm going to need your personal expertise here."

    As expected the flattery worked, but only barely. Sad to say that Catherine is quite used to it by now (and full of it from her company, no doubt). "Really? Moi, personally? I'll admit to being curious: Do tell what your problem is. I'll be interested in hearing if it, indeed, demands my personal touch."

    "Figuring out the detailed ins and out of...let's say a theoretical war between Mineta and Pievre," you start, just drop that right on the table like it's nothing. Catherine, as expected, looks perplexed. "Odd homework project, I know, but it is what it is and I can't afford to fail it. Hence why I decided to ask you, Catherine, since I imagine you know the possible movements of the Golden Council in that situation better than most."

    Catherine slowly nods, obviously taken by surprise. In this case that's a good thing, because of course she wouldn't take even a second look at anything less. Her sycophants, for their part, likewise look confused. "I, eh...y-yeah, I suppose you've got the right of me this time, [PC FIRST NAME]. Well done. So, tell me, what's this...homework project of yours? What do you need to know?"

    After a careful explanation that doesn't mention any unnecessary details, not that you think Catherine would have ever heard of Keith (or his books) before or care about them at any point thereafter, you spend a long time discussing various possibilities, angles, circumstances, all kinds of things that confirm that this is as broad and complicated a subject as you had feared. But, not impossible. With Catherine's help you're able to make great strides in figuring out how events could reasonably unfold, and most importantly figure out what could make them unfold per Matteo's vision: Diplomacy. If Mineta were to want to wage it's own private war against Pievre (for "whatever incomprehensible reason", as Catherine puts it) the Golden Council would attempt to use diplomacy to keep every other power out of the conflict, either against Pievre or obviously against themselves. The same would have to be true for Not-Mineta, and while the intricacies of such diplomacy is a complex topic Catherine is able to give you enough pointers to help complete this part of your homework project and give you more than enough material to fill in whatever inevitable holes show up at a later date. Side story? Probably, knowing Matteo...

    At this rate you'll be done with this "homework" project in record time, you feel like. Knock on wood so that things will continue to run like clockwork, of course, but for the moment you're feeling positive that this might not be as bad as you thought it might be.

    --You decide to look up the closest person available to you for high-level diplomacy advice, even if the girl herself is unlikely to use it on her peers - Catherine Chard. You find her in Vernin's Common Room entertaining a few of her fellow Vernin first year sycophants, and seeing as you are not one of those she's obviously less inclined to give you her time of day. You also really don't feel like competing with them for Catherine's attention. Just trying to talk to her often times takes enough effort as is, when she's clearly not interested...no. Forget it, you'll find something else to do while you wait for Catherine to relieve herself of her walking conversational bear traps...

    -Strategy. Though it's no substitute for the real thing a few war games will likely inspire you.
    --You end up finding Tabin in the Great Hall and convince him to join you in a few rounds of games. The games being one player against another player gives you a good sense of what it is to be either Not-Mineta or the tribal country, depending on whether you're going on the offensive or forced onto the defensive, but it's not helping you figure out the situation with the multiple third parties. Eventually, after you score one more win following a string of losses, you decide to ask Tabin about it. Using the game board you quickly create a situation close to the book - one army out of position to defend the homestead from a small guerilla force, and two armies poised to burn said homestead down to the ground while the proverbial cat's out. "Quite a specific situation," Tabin notes with a curious smile on his face.

    "Y-yeah, well...it's a long story. Call it a homework project I guess," you answer, none too interested in answering unnecessary questions. "Point is I cannot figure out how to make this situation play out the way I need it to - these two armies need to stand there and do nothing. But why? What could possibly convince them to not abuse this Dragon-sized opening?"

    "Well, for starters, do they have armies watching their backs?" Tabin suggests, but unfortunately that's not an answer for you. The land behind the two armies is where the second main entry takes place, and that place is not a fan of Not-Mineta either. Not to the point where you can't see why they wouldn't join in on the fun, you can see them not (directly) interfering with that war considering the distances involved, but yeah. It's not much of a reason for the other two to not blow the horns, unfortunately. "In that case, what about the two armies themselves? Can they trust each other not to backstab one another?" You nod, staring daggers at the game board as you try to think of an answer. Tabin, who takes you silence as an answer to his question, joins you for but a moment before he pulls his wand out. "In that case, how about this?"

    On the board Tabin creates a crude Glamour of more Not-Mineta units defending the homestead, but it's enough to get his point across - what if Not-Mineta is able to pretend that they're well defended? "I can't imagine that people wouldn't figure out the deception, honestly," you say, looking at the three sides that Not-Mineta is surrounded by.

    "I don't mean a feint, I mean bodies. Mercenaries, conscription, whatever it takes to get people on the field. I guess the feint would be that they're not necessarily the most loyal or professional, at least compared to the regular army, but in theory can that get the job done."

    Hmm...thinking back to the backstory of the books you recall that Not-Mineta initially conquered the known world by raising an army of old, ancient and forgotten homunculi, long before their opponents had any real hope of countering either the quality or quantity that added to the then-tribe's army. You don't think Matteo would agree with history repeating itself like that, but Not-Mineta pretending to do so? Maybe that could work? "I...I'm not sure. Maybe, but...why not throw the disposable bodies at the actual fighting?"

    "Aside from the 'not necessarily the most loyal or professional' bit I mentioned before?" Tabin asks, not knowing that the homunculi would be both better and more loyal than any soldier. Although...

    "Kind of. I was thinking something along the lines off..."

    You end up spending a while with Tabin running through possibilities, and you have to say that although you're not entirely confident you do, for sure, have a much better grasp on the problem than you did before. In fact you're confident that you've got enough information to come up with a solution, since you knew ahead of time what twists this war would take, so you were able to get Tabin to run you through those situations and adjust the potential answers as necessary. This...this was a good day. You feel like you got a lot done. Hopefully this pace will keep up, you might get it done before you're old and decrepit.

    --You spend a while looking around for someone to play a few games with, only to find no one who is both willing to play a few games and able to put up much of a fight. You're going to need a few good sets to get any inspiration from them, if you even get anything at all. Chances are this is just a bad time for this sort of stuff, maybe a big test is just around the corner or something, but regardless you can work around this problem. How? Simple: If there's no takers in the Academagia, looks outside of it! A game of strategy over some freshly baked pie in Alice's Tavern? That sounds like a great plan to you, honestly.

    Unfortunately as great a plan as it seemed it didn't end up working out the way you planned. For one it took a while for you to find someone willing to play a game, for another you got completely trounced in the one game you did manage to play (challenging a former mercenary captain might have been not the wisest choice you've ever made, in hindsight), and to top it all off you didn't dare to discuss your real reason for wanting to "learn" the game with the man at all, so in the end you couldn't even bring yourself to ask for advise.

    Perhaps a review of how this day went so utterly off track (and poorly) will help inspire something else that's more immediately useful to you, it feels like. Well, at least the pie was lovely. Can't complain too much when your failure involves sitting down with freshly baked pie.

    -Famous Battles. Drawing inspiration from past battles will certainly help.
    --You mentally sift through your knowledge of past battles trying to find a starting point, but there are surprisingly few wars - at least that you recall - which only had two participants while others stood by and watched. Frankly that sounds less like a war and more like a duel of some sort. Yeah, thinking about it if you were looking into famous duels than this would be easy. But that doesn't make any sense within Matteo's story. Why wouldn't people take advantage of such a situation when they could? "Honor" just sounds like a flimsy excuse, especially when the country who'd cry foul is both the one who'd get slaughtered and the one who's not well liked enough for people to care about their opinion so much anyway. You suppose there could be codes of honor among the various countries and all, but none of that has ever come up within the story or even outside of it, so introducing it right as it becomes necessary is just...hmm....you might need to try a different approach here. Ultimately, you were not asked to write a history book. You were asked to write a story. Those are two completely different things, even if one could serve as a solid basis for the latter that's not necessarily required, is it? You could introduce some kind of honor code to take care of this problem, just because it's new doesn't mean it's invalid, you just need to make it work.

    With newfound energy you head off to Durand campus and look for Honors Plafox. She's as close to a writer as you're going to find in your Class, at least that you recall, so it seems prudent to get her advice. Fortunately she's in the Durand Common room, so you walk up to her and politely ask if she can help you with a writing project. "Oh, sure, I've got time," Honors answers as she motions for you to take a seat. You do. "So what's this writing project? I didn't know you wrote things, [PC FIRST NAME]."

    "Eh...c-call it an odd bit of homework," you say a bit...well, like you couldn't convince Philippe to believe a word of that. Thankfully Honors is too nice to call you out on it, and instead tells you not to let "the hesitation" get to you. How that ended up working in your favor you've no idea, but you'll take it. "T-thanks, I'll try not to. Anyway, I've gotten stuck on one particular point that I can't seem to make work. So..."

    Honors listens intently as you do your best to explain your situation in as little actual detail as possible, and you're pleased to see that she doesn't seem daunted by it. "I think you're just worrying too much, [PC FIRST NAME]. Your idea of an 'honor code' specifically, well, why wouldn't it exist? Do these countries go to war frequently? If not, why couldn't it be an honor code that keeps the peace? Even better, isn't that what peace treaties are, ultimately? Promises that people won't attack each other? Otherwise a treaty really isn't anything more than just words written on a piece of paper, you know."

    You feel like Honors is making some good points, but knowing what turns that war will eventually take you're sure it won't work in the long run...well, parts of it would work perfectly but others not so much, so it's a bit of a wash. Either way you give Honors a bit more information, a bit more detail, and ask how she thinks things could be made to work. Honors has some words for you about first choosing a destination rather than a direction and just enjoying the journey, but beyond that she's happy to help you make what feels like enormous amounts of progress without even asking any unfortunate and uncomfortable questions.

    Knock on wood, but at this rate you'll be done with this "homework" project in record time, you feel like. It's unlikely that things will continue to run like clockwork, admittedly, but for the moment you're feeling positive that this "homework" might not be as bad as you thought it might be.

    --You head off to the Venalicium and start digging through history books, but you encounter the most bizarre problem of there being surprisingly few books written about battles that ultimately weren't fought. Battles that were fought you can usually find described in excessive detail complete with historic overviews and multiple viewpoints and the whole nine yards, but battles that were avoided? Nope. None of those to be found here, at least where you looked.

    You feel like it says something about human history, and how said history is treated, when you can find mountains of information about past battles both glorious and not. But the times those battles were avoided? Nothing. Not one off-hand mention in any of the many books before you, it feels like. Weird. Well, if there ever is a major war within your lifetime you'll know who to blame.

    There is a reason behind these stages, or at least an intended method behind the madness. Per usual we'll see if it works out ;).

  11. Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 8:


    You've returned to your dorm room to read over all the documents that Keith gave you regarding his (now your) "homework". Basically a pile of correspondence between him and Keith's publisher friend, Matteo, talking about the setting and a few rough early drafts of key moments already taking shape in said publisher's head. You have to say that you're a bit lost on some points and very lost on a few others, based on what you're reading the publisher's writing style can most generously be described as "eccentric"...reading through some of the more absurd ideas your heart goes out to this man's editor, quite frankly...but this is what you've been given and what you have to make work. Your task isn't that complicated or difficult, in theory: You've basically been given the literary equivalent of a few puzzle pieces, and your job is putting them together to form the correct picture. The problem is that you don't have all the pieces on hand, most you have to create yourself, so there's no guarantee that what pieces you create will end up forming the right picture. And, of course, the exact form of that picture itself is only partially clear at this point. Even those early drafts of key moments are probably not going to make it to the printing press looking anything like they do currently, that's just the nature of this kind of thing.

    From a philosopher's point of view you have to say that it's fascinating to see how Keith handles, and at times fails to handle, trying to assist in putting together this fantasy world. The man really has an obsession with permanence and, unsurprisingly, a contentious relationship with the temporary nature of magic, even though you find references to Keith having been a regular student of magic at one point. No confirmation about exactly where he studied, though, which is annoying because you also find pretty clear references to Keith having issues with "unreasonable authority figures". Exactly what he'd classify as such isn't made clear, though a lot could probably be read into how the man reacts to various parts of the setting, and what their (often times rough at best) real world inspirations are. You're sure Professor Sido would love to sit down and talk with Keith if they ever had the chance (and, you know, the desire). Those two could probably keep talking for hours if neither felt the urge to murder the other at any point.

    Enough idle wondering, though. Right now it's time to roll up your proverbial sleeves and get to work. First off, reading through the correspondence you notice that Keith and Matteo both are (were, in Keith's case?) having serious trouble figuring out the grand city that this new book opens with. An indescribably beautiful place that will be tragically razed in a paranoid border skirmish turned all-out war...which is supposedly held by a group of people that are not only so weary of outsiders and culturally rooted in tribal lifestyles that they're the ones who will start said war, but who - for reasons that are completely beyond your ability to even guess at - are supposed to be a nation made up entirely out of woman. Yes, apparently this city is an oversized gate on the one (relatively) traversable part of the border of their country. The rest is blocked off by a steep mountain range filled with wild monsters, apparently. So that city controls entry into their otherwise inaccessible land, and unless you're a local or a girl in good standing therewith you're not getting in. As for how these woman manage to survive in these conditions, both short- and long-term? That is discussed and speculated about until kingdom come. And you'll admit that the back-and-forth between Keith and Matteo trying to figure out the ins and outs of how such a country could possibly work is genuinely interesting. It's oddly satisfying to see the two argue over the most mundane of details that end up being critically important to defining this bizarre place, how the people born and raised within it would(n't) be different in how they see the world from those born and raised on the outside. For as bizarre as Matteo's ideas are he seems to be genuinely interested in exploring them thoroughly, examining every possible angle that could (and often does) shape this little corner of his crazy little world until it all works. And yes, that is indeed the only reason why you can take this idea of an all-female country even remotely seriously.

    For all the man's enthusiasm his logic clearly isn't cut from the same cloth, though. Or perhaps he puts these seemingly impossible puzzles in front of himself on purpose. An easy one wouldn't be interesting, you will (reluctantly, in this case) admit, and this gateway city? Not an easy puzzle. It's supposed to be exceptionally beautiful in it's design and architecture, which clearly wasn't made that way for the sake of the locals, but simultaneously the locals would prefer outsider to stay away. So who was it all for? This is what Keith and Matteo got stuck on.

    So how to resolve this contradiction? How to create this missing piece of the story's puzzle?

    -Beguile. Consider how this city would be looked at from (by?) the outside.
    --You're really not sure. Presumably as confused as you are right now. Hell, technically you, yourself, are an "outsider"...or sorts...looking at this city from the outside, in this instance. And you're a bit clueless as to why these tribal people would build it, have it, what they'd use it for...you're clueless. Your best guess would be some kind of capital, some kind of grand place for the tribe's leaders, but that's just completely not the case on multiple points. For one the country's actual royalty (or their rough equivalent thereof) lives inland, and for another it's a city right on the border. You'd think the capital would be more, you know, central. Inland. Although maybe that's the entire idea-no, that can't be it either. That doesn't work with the rest of the story...

    What a problem this is turning out to be. If it was just the city that'd be one thing, but there's a lot more to the story you have to keep in mind at the same time. Either way you're not giving up that easily, you should be able to find some kind of answer or inspiration looking through existing books. Whether those are history textbooks or something else. Surely this kind of situation has been thought of before if not outright happened before. It's just a question of finding an answer.

    You start to walk over to the Venalicium, lost in thought as you go over all the details Matteo outlined in the correspondence again and again. For just being some rough ideas on pieces of paper it manages to paint a fairly complex picture. Or maybe that's just because after two large books and who knows how many side stories he's refined his skill at challenging himself to the level of an art form. Makes you wonder why he hasn't refined his skill at solving his own mysteries, quite frankly...

    That line of thought is unfortunately cut short when, in your less than attentive state, you end up bumping right into someone in the hallways. Thankfully it's not Joana you ended up walking right into, rather you look up and see Miya Hikari staring at you with a bemused, mischievous smile on her face...not really what you'd expect from someone you just walked into, though, is it? Huh. "You seem to have a lot on your mind there, [PC FIRST NAME]," Miya playfully notes as she gives you a careful once-over, like you've got what's on your mind written all over your uniform. What's her deal, anyway? Okay, she's not wrong necessarily, but that's not the reaction you were expecting.

    "Y-yeah, you're not wrong," is all you can think of saying in response to Miya's question. "Though I don't suppose I'm the only one, am I? You seem really curious yourself, Miya...and please stop circling me like that, if you want to look at my back you can just ask."

    Miya, who returns to face you like a normal person after completing her weird dance, nods. "Hmm-hmm, I'll remember that. And to answer your question, I'm curious why you're walking through the hallways like you're dragging along the weigh of a cart with you. If there's something on your mind maybe you should share."

    Because "share" is a word that you can trust Miya to have an accurate understanding of, especially when you're weighed down by something you don't want others to know about. That all said maybe there's merit in asking Miya for advice - she's travelled to all sorts of places who were perhaps not the most welcoming of places for a (self-proclaimed) "sky pirate princess", and while at least half of what Miya says is complete bogus you don't need it to be true. If it works, it works, that's all you care about right now. Huh...you know, you'll give this a shot. Might regret it, but you don't think Miya is so much of a bully that she'd go out of her way to stab you in the back either...as easy as that might be for someone who-you know what never mind about that. It's asking time! "Maybe. So, Miya, have you ever been to a place kind of like..."

    Miya listens intently as you describe the gateway city as carefully as you can manage, making sure not to even come close to mentioning any unnecessary details, and the problem you face insofar that you're not sure how to make such a city work. Miya lets a slightly curious look through her jovial expression at times, but for the most part she remains as upbeat and energetic as she usually is. "Quite the story you've got there, [PC FIRST NAME]," Miya mentions once you're done explaining. You can't help but nod at that, a bit sheepishly as it's still something you'd rather not discuss in any more detail than you just did. "As for why this tribe of yours build the place, clearly because they wanted to be seen as a tribe by choice. If other people thought they were nothing but barbaric savages they'd eventually come in to either conquer or civilize them, whichever term you'd prefer, and obviously they wouldn't want either. So they build their grand city to show the world that they are proper and civilized, that they understand such concepts just fine, they just choose to live the way they do."

    "Really? And entire city build just for that?"

    Miya nods. "Of course. At least I was told as much last time I was there myself, you know."

    ...Really. Miya claims to have been to the entirely fictional city you're trying to-okay, sure. That's a good one. Admittedly Miya has been places you've never seen and it's theoretically possible she's been to a similar place before, but...come one. You wouldn't believe a word of this if it came from Sheary, let stand Miya!

    Of course what was it you said about Miya not needing to be truthful, in this case? And hell, you can't help but want to tease Miya here, see how far she's willing (and able) to take this deception. "Really now, I wasn't aware that city really existed. Please, do tell me all about it."

    Miya obviously notices the fact that you clearly don't believe a word she said. And she seems to take that as a challenge. "Sure thing, I've got time and a lot of memories of that place. It's called the Ivory Gate, though obviously the city is more marble than actual ivory, and..."

    Miya, over the course of the next few hours, proceeds to paint a scarily accurate picture of everything Matteo has ever wanted (and failed) to grasp, leaving you wondering if the girl ever made off with the man's dreams. How she would have accomplished such a feat you've no idea, but that's the impression you're getting. Of course you're more than happy to take it off her hands regardless. You know Miya wouldn't object to her "sharing" her stories, in this case...

    --Other than a mishmash mess of ill-thought through concepts? You're out of ideas, honestly. Well, you can think of one or two things that could work, sort of, but there's a lot more to this city's role in Matteo's book than just "it exists". Somewhere along the line you run into a problem that you're not sure how to resolve. You decide to go through the correspondence again, hoping there's an answer hidden somewhere within it if not the already published books, but again you run into the same problem - answers that can work, but not the whole way.

    Not a great sign if you trip over the first step, huh? Maybe you just picked a difficult detail to start with, but given the city's importance it seemed prudent. Well, whatever. You'll figure it out sooner or later, hopefully. At least you'd be right embarrassed if you attended the Academagia and couldn't figure out some kind of functional solution...

    -Economy. Look at this city from an economic perspective.
    --You decide to go to the Venalicium and do some research into old cities that ended up looking like the city that Matteo fails to fully describe. It strikes you as odd that these tribal people supposedly build it in the first place. Why would they? Why so much effort when it's just not necessary to put a roof over their head? That's all these tribal people need to survive ultimately, and apparently they're more at home in a hut than a large stone box anyway. Where there's no demand, why is there effort spend into generating a supply? It's a mystery, and from that angle you think you might be able to crack it.

    One small stack of books later and you find at least a dozen examples of small communities that, over time, grow into sprawling cities even more beautiful than the last, but all of these examples have one thing in common: They grew when times were peaceful and there was plenty to offer to the outsiders they welcomed, and they stagnated when times got rougher and people became more insular, less able to share. This tribe doesn't share or welcome regardless, so...how can this work?

    "Can I interest you in a tutor, [PC FIRST NAME]?" Milena di Montors, sliding herself next to you, quietly asks with the biggest smile. Why she seems to be in so good a mood you can't tell, but you're not complaining either. "Just saying, there's easier ways to get through that pile of books next to you."

    "Is there, now?" you say with a coy smile on your face. "Do tell me than: What am I studying, exactly?"

    Milena happily takes you up on that challenge, but as you were confident would happen she fails to find a clear connection between all the books you've stacked next to you. That some of them are history books and others are more tourist guides probably doesn't help her any. "Eh..." is all Milena is able to say in the end, staring a bit perplexed at your smug, slightly tired smile. "Alright, you win that round. Still, you're clearly in need of some help and I'm sure I can hook you up with someone able to do just that for the right price. So..." Milena actually interrupts her own spiel in order to take another, closer look at your stack of books, but she's not able to find any clear connection between them any more than she did a moment ago. "Okay seriously, what are you even studying here? I see history books, tourist guides, two architecture books and one exterior decorating catalogue that went stale back during the Middle Empire of all things. What is all of this?"

    "Call it an odd homework project," you say, not really interested in telling Milena the truth. It'd be a really long story anyway. "I'm supposed to figure out how a modern...relatively modern city filled with tribal warrior-types is supposed to...I'unno, make sense in general. It's a right mess, and I've yet to make any progress it feels like."

    Milena looks confused. Confused and intrigued. That is a good direction, you feel like. "Okay...studying Dialectic, I guess, should have figured really. Anyway, I'm game. This city of yours? I'll figure it out. Give me the details and I'll show you how to make it work, than we'll call it even." It actually takes you a second to remember that you "beat" Milena a second ago, so the two of you being "even" is referring to that. Frankly? You'll take that offer. If she can figure this mess out than yeah, you'll happily agree to call it a draw. You slowly, being careful to make sure not to mention any unnecessary or otherwise unfortunate details, start to describe Matteo's little city as best you can recall. Your memory is frankly nothing to be impressed with, blame the fact that you're feeling pretty tired after all the time spend among the books you suppose, but you're able to tell Milena the general gist and what you're having trouble figuring out. She nods along with your explanation, and for some reason her face all but lights up when you mention the fact this theoretical city is build in a mountain pass. "Got it: It's a trade hub," Milena proudly answers. "I mean, obviously. You sure you couldn't figure that out?"

    "The idea is that these people live a more tribal lifestyle, though," you point out. But Milena doesn't seem concerned.

    "Sure, I understand that. But can these tribal people arrange for everything themselves?" You shrug and suggest that if they survived for long enough to build this city in the first place they would have to. "Even variety?"

    "Eh..." is your answer to that. Feels less good when the shoe is on the other foot, you'll admit.

    "Basically, let's say that these tribal people raise sheep. Just sheep, nothing but sheep. Eventually they'd get sick of mutton and everything piece of cloth being made of wool, right?" Milena asks. You admit that makes sense, but you don't think it's a very likely scenario. "I'm just talking hypotheticals here. Surely there's something in the great, big open world your city is supposed to exist in that these tribal people don't have ready access to, right?"

    Thinking about it, yes, that is most definitely true. Most significantly the country where the second main entry takes place (which has sheep as the livestock of choice due to the local climate, ironically) is the only one with active volcanoes off of the coast of it's territory. That ends up being a very important point because that means that they have plentiful sources of sulphur, which is used to create sulphuric acid. In a setting in which the only existing form of magic is alchemy, which (at least in that setting) is heavily reliant on acid, which that tribe is heavily reliant on...this feels like it's starting to come together.

    "And do these tribal people perhaps have something that's plentiful in their area, some kind of plant or animal or what have you, that they can offer in exchange?" Milena, smug smirk deservedly plastered all over her face, asks.

    Not that you can recall off-hand, actually, but..."One second, let me grab my notes and I'll see if I can't trip you up with some finer details."

    Milena is more than happy to accept your challenge of round three, and you're more than happy to let her win that round because seriously she turns out to be a waterfall of information in that regard. A trading hub where outsiders can come to trade their wares for local specialities, why didn't that thought ever occur to you!? Well, it did, you just got stuck on the idea that these tribal people had no need for other goods if they're able to live their lives and content with what they have - no demand. But if there is demand, and supply to support it, than of course some form of trade would spring up somewhere. Eventually someone would try that idea, and more than likely, so someone did. Really, this idea is just too bizarre for you to think it through clearly. It's so off that you can just accept something without thinking about it. You'll have to work on that.

    In the meantime Milena is more than happy to display her "genius", and you're able to get more than enough information and possibilities that even if the idea doesn't end up working in the long run you should be able to find a way to make it work. That is a load off your shoulders, and what feels like significant progress towards finishing up this little project.

    --It wouldn't be the first time that a pretty, rich and well developed locale ended up in the hands of a group of barbarians. Unfortunately you're not able to find many examples where said barbarians managed to hold their capture long-term, and none at all where said capture ended up thriving (or at least being maintained) in the hands of said barbarians. Generally, if something gets captured it gets looted, plundered and left behind a broken shell of it's former self.

    Frustrating as it is you can't help but be fascinated by this problem at the same time. This city of Matteo's seems to defy any and all logical explanation, to say nothing of the whole "all woman tribe" angle. It doesn't help you any, you're still as clueless as when you started to look into this, but...well, at least it's proving somewhat interesting?

    It'd be nicer if you didn't need to spend as much time on it as it seems like you'll need to, though...

    -History. Go to the Venalicium, see if you can find some inspiration.
    --One quick trip to the history section later you look for any and all history books describing important locales, both still standing and not, hoping to find inspiration. A grand city that no one is allowed to visit, yet that is maintained by people who'd be more at home in wooden huts in an open plain than a stone mansion build into a mountain pass...you're doubtful that such a place ever existed in real life, but you never know. Stranger things have happened, as a student of history you know that.

    You go through multiple books and end up creating a neat pile of them next to you when, after staring at your current attempt with nothing short of despair in your eyes, someone suddenly sits down next to you. You look up thinking that it must be Durand, or someone else looking for one of the books you've yet to return back to their shelf, but instead it's Antonio...de Reyez e Irizarry-Vargas. Probably. There will never be a day where you'll be confident that you memorized that entire last name, you're pretty sure. "You look like you're about to pass out," Antonio quietly points out, staring at your pile of books. "What's going on, big homework project?"

    "No-I mean not really...sorta," you blurt out trying to find your words again. Too long spend with your nose between the pages, definitely. "Sorry, it's been a long day. I'm trying to figure out the answer to a riddle, basically, and despite the pages I'm no closer to an answer."

    Antonio casually inspects the pile of books you've brought, fails to find any clear connection between them, and shrugs. "Must be a tough one if you're going through this random collection. What's the riddle, any chance I could join in on the fun?"

    Eh...there really is no problem with that, is there? If Antonio manages to help you with this you'll happily take it, and so long as he doesn't find out what you're doing because that'd be bad now if not later, than why not? Antonio doesn't strike you as the type who'd read the kind of novels that Matteo is writing anyway, so what are the odds he'll find out afterwards? Not high, you feel like. "Well, suppose that there is a city, a grand city with stone roads, houses, everything, held and maintained by a group of tribal warriors more at home in huts and tents than anything more urban. Why would that be?"

    "Strange riddle," Antonio notes with a raised eyebrow, and you don't deny it. "Strange" isn't even half of how you'd describe some of the ideas that Matteo came up with at any rate, and this isn't exactly your standard wordplay or lateral (or literal) thinking exercise. "Grand city held by tribal people, though...I don't suppose you were given any hints, any clues or limitations?" You shake your head and ask Antonio if he has any ideas, because frankly you can see the gears in his head spin and they're doing a much better job than your poor brain right now. "Well, without more information I couldn't tell you for sure if it's the right answer, but my first thought would be to assume that the city is a military conquest of some sort. I don't suppose this 'grand' city of yours has any strategic value?" Actually, if this city is build in the only traversable pass between otherwise impassible mountains blocking off the country's access to the rest of the land, and visa versa...than, yes, that would very much qualify as "strategically important" in your books. You nod in response to Antonio's question, and he seems happy to have solved your riddle on the first try. "Well, than I guess there's your answer. The city was build by someone else initially, conquered by these tribal warriors or whatever at a later date, and they maintain the city not because it's a beautiful city but because it's a functional military fortress."

    "The idea is that they maintained it as a beautiful city, though," you note, recalling some of the details of Keith and Matteo's correspondence. "Not that it couldn't be used as a military place, but to the casual observer it should look, feel, even function like a city. Not a fortress."

    "Are these tribal warriors still at war? Or planning on going to war anytime soon, by chance?" Antonio asks. It takes an unreasonable amount of restraint to not dump off the rest of Keith's homework project right on top of him right here and now, you'll admit. "Because if so they could be maintaining it simply because they don't have time to figure out what does and doesn't have real strategic value, depending on how primitive and tribal they are. Or if they're planning on going to war, spending resources on maintaining their conquest could be a feint to try and fake out their enemies into thinking that they're going to consolidate rather than continue the warring."

    "That makes sense, but...hang on, let me go grab some notes real quick," you say before rushing off to quickly review the correspondence again and milk Antonio's genius for all he's worth. So the grand city was a military capture, and maintained to create the illusion of peaceful days ahead? You're sure that won't exactly fit into Matteo's vision, if not the timing than somewhere else along the line that idea is going to create a problem. But hey, you've found a font of inspiration apparently so you're just going to draw answers from it until you get something that works!

    --One quick trip to the history section later you look for any and all history books describing important locales, both still standing and not, hoping to find inspiration. A grand city that no one is allowed to visit, yet that is maintained by people who'd be more at home in wooden huts in an open plain than a stone mansion build into a mountain pass...you're doubtful that such a place ever existed in real life, but you never know. Stranger things have happened, as a student of history you should know that.

    "Should" being the key word here. You go through multiple books and end up creating a haphazard pile of them next to you until, after staring at your poorly copied tower puzzle with nothing short of despair in your eyes, you finally come to terms with the fact that there is just nothing out there that comes close enough to answer your many questions. Thinks of something first and only figures out how it could possibly work later, huh? Yeah, that's definitely something you can feel weighing down your eyelids right now...

    How did Keith ever deal with this garbage? How did he figure this stuff out? Maybe you need a different strategy? Or hope there's descriptions of an unlikely fort hidden within the Arithmetic section because the person who wrote it didn't think that was more important than some clever way to easily count the number of stones that make up the place? Whichever, you'll have to come back to this later. After getting a good night's sleep.

    -Research. What is this country based off of?
    --A broad search into both old warrior cultures and notable female members thereof doesn't yield anything that clearly served as inspiration, much less a basis. That said during your search you do encounter one oddity which may be relevant in some form or fashion: the Raven Woman. Supposedly they were some kind of divine or otherwise otherworldly messengers of destiny, appearing over battlefield which would, in some way, shape or form, prove decisive. Unfortunately it seems that at some point these people (creatures?) came to be associated with Gates magic, and while you're not able to find any explanation beyond that (for reasons that are hopefully obvious) you can find enough references in ancient, barely edited plays and other stories that you're able to piece somewhat of a coherent picture together.

    It seems like a stretch to say that Matteo's inspiration for this country came from these Raven Woman, but than "a stretch" is Matteo's MO if not his entire raison d'être if his writings is anything to go by. You think it'd be best to just quietly forget about it, associated with Gates magic and all, but still...you're sure there's something completely innocent in here that you'll be able to use as inspiration yourself, quite frankly...

    --As far as you can tell, after much effort spend finding not that many books on so ridiculous a subject, the country is based on Matteo's own insanity. Maybe there's something to be said about the man being in dire need of a girlfriend or some such, but you've no idea. And frankly no energy to keep trying to figure it out...

    This stage was brought to you by at least four yawns. Yeah, I might need to reconsider my schedule a bit...

  12. Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 7:


    After over half an hour of hunting around the Academagia you finally, finally, have managed to track down the current hiding spot of the Legate, to deliver the news about the parents that should no longer be laying siege to the man's office...for what that's worth, given how much time he doesn't seem to spend there. Certainly not today, oh boy most certainly not today. It took intelligence to figure out where he's hiding this time. Well, that and a bit of common sense. Seems fairly obvious in hindsight...

    You knock on the door, and predictably it doesn't take more than a few seconds for a wide-eyed...actually she's always wide-eyed, so that doesn't really say anything. For a normal-looking Astrid to poke a head through the pet door and run out when she sees you standing there. The energetic expression on her face likewise suggests good news, and you hope that'll continue. "[PC FIRST NAME]! Thank you so much for-come in, come in! Master said he wishes to see you!"

    Yeah, you'll bet he has a few words for you. Good ones, hopefully. But regardless of what hesitation and dread you might feel - the mental image of Keith...at work, so to speak, is still all too fresh in your head - you follow Astrid into Keith's cabin home, where the man himself is currently engaged in some manner of (likely lengthy) discussion with the Legate and Professor di Lucca Alazzo. That just recently these two didn't even know this hut existed, and now all because of your antics they're here is something that hasn't settled in yet. You don't think Keith has quite realized it yet either, if his expression is any indication. "[PC FIRST NAME], I was wondering who Astrid opened the door for," Keith notes as he gestures for you to sit down as well. Meanwhile, as expected, Astrid comes running from the kitchen with a teacup held proudly above her head. "I'll freely admit that I vastly underestimated what an Academagia student - and an underclassmen at that - could manage to set in motion. Not to mention how far it's faculty is willing to reach out. Rest assured, this is a completely different experience than I had back home." You ask where Keith is from, but he dismisses the question with a shaking head. Seems he doesn't want to talk about that. "We've been discussing the situation with Astrid's frame, me and your professors. And as it turns out it is, in fact, possible to permanently change Astrid's frame to that of the form she wants, magically, well beyond what her alchemical base was designed for."

    "To a point," the Legate clarifies. "The few very minor changes Keith has made to Astrid before were so insignificant and in-line with her...well, her being, for lack of an easier term, that they were effectively permanent. At least enough so to make the distinction between permanent and temporary entirely academic."

    "Obviously," Keith interjects. "If I believed in temporary solutions than I wouldn't be pursuing this new business of mine. Magic could take care of it well enough, otherwise. For a time."

    "All changes made to a human's appearance are, by that very human's nature, temporary," Professor di Lucca Alazzo points out. Keith doesn't seem impressed with the technicality. "Not to discredit your work," the regent adds right after, "just clarifying that even a permanent solution will only last for so long when applied to a temporary problem. Or to a state of being that, by it's very nature, is temporary."

    "The point of this discussion is that we've reached a bit of an impasse with regards to Astrid's 'frame', as Keith prefers to call it," the Legate clarifies. Suddenly you feel like a wave of dark clouds rolled over the horizon. "To...okay, to try and explain it in terms you'd understand, since Astrid is Keith's Familiar her frame can be modified beyond what her alchemical base was intended for. And in a manner that wouldn't be temporary. At least, no more temporary than any living being, homunculus Familiar or otherwise, is by nature." Okay...sounds like good news so far. "The problems we're facing are, first, that enacting such a change is...difficult, to say the least, again because she is a Familiar. Not impossible, but it'll take my full, undivided attention. As well as the full, undivided attention of multiple others - Astrid herself, Keith as well as Professor di Lucca Alazzo included."

    "In that case - and in any case I imagine - you'll be happy to know that the unreasonable parents problem has been resolved," you proudly state, though even so you can't help but notice a slight hint of hesitation - worry - in your voice. The Legate, based on his expression, notices as well.

    "That's one issue crossed off the list, and I can handle the rest of my schedule clearing," the Legate states with the kind of professional tone that makes it sound like him "clearing his schedule" isn't just a euphemism for "tossing my appointment book out the window". "The second problem," the Legate continues, "is that we're limited in what we can accomplish, and what we can accomplish won't solve every problem that Astrid has with her frame. Again, using terms you'd understand, we cannot choose how Astrid's frame will look if we don't want it to be very temporary in nature. She'd require regular maintenance that Keith doesn't have the spellcasting knowledge to perform, and alchemical solutions...well, if they exist there's no one in this room who knows how to work it." Keith nods in affirmation of the Legate's point, which makes you wonder if he couldn't simply be taught such spells if he needed to. Than again, it's Keith you're talking about. The guy's obsession with permanence is something you feel like you could feasibly learn before the man's name at this point...actually you did! You still don't know the man's last name! "The one who will decide how Astrid's frame will look is ultimately going to be Astrid herself," the Legate continues, "though I can't say that she'll have real control over that decision either. As you can probably imagine it's a very complicated story."

    "The simple version is that she will look the way she wants to look, how she feels and thinks she should look. And...that's that," Keith adds. "Truthfully it'd be better, more convenient for me if I could make that decision for her and choose what she'd look like, fully tailor her appearance to my needs, but such luxuries are at best a secondary concern. Astrid is going to be writing this one, and I don't have any problem with that. I'll find ways to compensate for the rest, especially in this city. Frankly I'm not even sure if there'll be much compensating that needs to be done. Experiments aside the people here really have seen everything and anything already."

    Given the confident smirk on Keith's face as he says that, as well as the proud, almost loving smile on Astrid you have to assume that this second "problem" is one that has already been resolved. Or, at least, talked down into becoming something less than a true obstacle. "The third and final issue-well, for the moment the final issue is one that we've yet to find an answer for. But, now that you're here, I do believe that I can think of a fitting answer."

    ...You? Oh dear, your work is just never done is it?

    "Don't look so apprehensive, I won't ask you to do my research while I focus on this matter with Astrid." Okay, that's reassuring. You're still confused mind you, but all the same that's reassuring. "To explain, in my spare time I work as a...honestly I'm not sure exactly what to call it. As mundane as it is I personally find it more bizarre if not incomprehensible at times than my personal studies." And just like that the confidence is gone. Wonderful. "Basically, I'm a part-time writer...sort of, I guess. Me and a friend of mine collaborate together to publish entries for a series of books he's created, and I don't wish to face any distractions while this situation is going on. Unfortunately he's preparing for the next big entry in the series, and expecting my share of the work to be delivered to him relatively soon. That is where you'll come in."

    Alright, that's not what you were expecting. Not sure if you'd call that good or bad just yet, not sure if you can really help with that either. But...if this is the final obstacle to help Astrid it's worth trying, right? "Okay...not what I was expecting, but okay. So what is this series, exactly?"

    For what must be the first time Keith looks genuinely lost before the almighty basic question you've put in front of him. "Eh...honestly I have no idea. I never spend much time in the 'fiction' section of any library, and it doesn't help that the main premise of the series was changed as early as the first book's prologue." Oh, great, this is starting to sound like a right literary disaster. You don't want your name attached to that if you can help it. "I've personally always described it the fantasy world I somehow use to support my real world existence here. Strangest thing, but that's life sometimes. What someone more knowledgeable on the subject would call the books I've no idea."

    "It might be faster if you just give [PC FIRST NAME] a list of titles, maybe even a signed copy or two given how much [s/he]'s gone out of [his/her] way to help Astrid, and let [him/her] draw [his/her] own conclusions," the Legate, looking a bit...eh, not "impatient" you'd say, he doesn't look annoyed at the situation, but something along the lines of "how and why are these two still talking about this?", mentions.

    "I don't have any copies here, signed or otherwise-" Keith begins to say, but he doesn't get much further before he's interrupted by Astrid poking him with a small pile of books stacked like that one tower puzzle. You have to admit that it really is so easy to lose track of the Familiar when she's just the size of a large hand, you didn't even notice her moving around at all. Keith likewise looks perplexed. Again. "O-okay, I thought I didn't but apparently never mind that. Where'd you get these, Astrid?"

    "They're my copies," she answers. "Matteo always brings me one when he comes over to celebrate a new release, as a reward for the hard work I put in."

    "Eh...I wasn't aware you liked to read them," Keith says with a look that's probably as close as he'll ever get to the face of a man that's just spotted an angry bear. Pretty sure he's just trying to hide his embarrassment, too. "Well, I suppose that solves that question, at least insofar as giving you a list of titles because that I also wouldn't have on hand otherwise. I don't suppose that you, too, are a surprise fan of the series, [PC FIRST NAME]?"

    Good question, actually. Astrid walks over with the stack of books to give you a look at their titles and covers, and based on that you have to say...

    -You've never heard of these books before.
    --You take a few of the books and check the backsides for any summaries or other things that might jog your memory, but nope, nothing about this pile seems even remotely recognizable. "Can't say that any of these ring any bells. Are these new books, by chance? Recently released and all?" After scratching his head for a second Keith slowly recounts that he started "assisting" with them shortly before he moved out into the forest, which was a "surprising amount" of years ago, but after that it didn't take too long for ideas to turn into drafts to turn into manuscripts and eventually into published books. Apparently the main writer is also the owner of the series' publisher, so things usually run like clockwork when the man's own projects are on the table. "Huh...actually, are they only released in Mineta, in Reneglian? Or are translations on the markets elsewhere?"

    Again Keith shrugs. "At least a few are, yes. Matteo was really proud when he landed a contract with a Merillien translator and publisher not too long after the first main entry was released, and if I remember right after some disagreement on how to publish the side stories the lot of them managed to be taken at least that far north." You ask for clarification, and Keith explains that Matteo's modus operandi is to push out one big, grand novel - which fans refer to as a main series entry - before pumping out a number of shorter stories - either side stories or side entries for the fans - following side characters, background elements, and whatever else strikes Matteo's fancy in terms of expanding his little world. The latter have been fairly polarizing so far, which is why their translation and foreign publishing is currently still in question in a few places where the main series has already landed. Astrid further clarifies that's because they're very different from the main entries: Different characters, different perspectives, different structure, different tone, the whole nine yards. Apparently they read like stories written by entirely different authors taking place in the same setting, and some (most, really) appreciate that less than others. And Keith wanted your help on a main series entry, he said? Great, because that doesn't sound like an awful lot of work. "The main entries, for what it's worth, fared much better as far as I've heard," Keith eventually continues. "I think you should be able to find translations of them for at least most major nearby languages at this point. Mind you, I don't speak any languages beyond Merillien and Reneglian anyway, so I can't say it matters a great deal to me personally."

    Fair enough. "So when's the deadline for this new main series entry? How long will I have to...do what, exactly?"

    "The deadline, insofar that Matteo pays attention to such things, is actually meaningless right now because of mechanical issues he's having with his printing press. Meaning he's not publishing anything until things get repaired and caught up," Keith explains. Which sounds kinda good, but also kinda bad. Once that press is fixed they'll likely run extra shifts to catch up, so once that gets going again it's likely going to be running day and night for a while. So no pressure. "As for exactly what you need to do, the best way I can describe it is to figure out Matteo's insane puzzle. He creates a fancy-sounding world with interesting pieces and only afterwards figures out ways to actually put those pieces together, which is normally what we'd collaborate on, but in this case I'm going to have to pass that torch on to you. And don't worry yourself, it's nothing overly insane, illegal or immoral. Matteo's eccentric, but harmless aside from that. The worst is when he's pretending to be a philosopher. And failing to notice that he's not succeeding."

    Oh, joy. What have you gotten yourself into?

    -What kind of books are these, exactly? Keith wasn't very clear on that point.
    --"Alternate history fiction" is the best way to describe the initial draft of the setting these books take place in. What Keith mentioned about the series changing course very early is correct, however, as the setting was switched to an outright alternate universe by the time the first entry was published. The idea is that the books were originally supposed to take place on Cyve, post-Exile. Basically a "what if?" scenario where the Dragons were exterminated by whoever was left behind after the islands were raised beyond the clouds, although them dying out managed to take their magic with them. And with no New Gods to advance the field of Astrology the only magic left was that of brewing and alchemy - drawing out what (relatively puny) power existed in the natural world, with brewers needing to bend over backwards to get anything to go according to their whims. But, for the better according to most, this was changed to the alternate universe setting the series uses to this day. One where neither Dragons or their magic ever existed and where Cyve itself was never a thing either. There is actually a nod to this whole mess in the setting's origin story, namely that of some kind of mass-migration millennia ago to a island continent from some vaguely described "old mainland" place, which many fans like to speculate is Cyve, but that's it. It's a question that likely won't ever be answered in the story itself, because the books very much prefer to play around in their own little corner of the world than explore the lands (or seas) beyond it's borders. Just as well, really - there's plenty of that "little" corner left to explore in it's own right.

    As for the books themselves, the main entries tell the story of one or two characters and their (sometimes bogus) journey through their corner of the setting. Over the course of said story the protagonists go from ignorant, uneducated teenagers to true and proper adults ready to take over the reigns for their ageing parents and/or grandparents...or, more accurately, teenagers who've matured enough to know that they still have a lot to learn. As one might expect from writers in their thirties people like Keith aren't interested in writing the characters that are around their own age as being old, wizened mentors ready for retirement. The man himself certainly doesn't feel that way. After a main entry book is released - either to further develop the setting, attempt to plug whatever plot holes fans inevitably discover after the fact, or just to shake whatever little bit of extra cash the author can from it's fans with the minimum amount of effort required to do so, depending on who one asks - a number of separate short stories are published that focus on side characters, loose ends, background elements, basically things that further flesh out the overarching story and setting. So far there's only been two main stories published, Keith would have you help with the third, but between the two there've been over a dozen side stories published.

    The biggest point of contention with the series is exactly who they're intended for. As one might expect from the premise of the main entries one could easily argue that they're aimed towards people your age: Younger teens reading stories about kids just a few years older than them growing up, coming of age, learning a thing or two about adulthood and the cruel, uncaring nature of bla bla bla, all of that usual rot and rubbish. In theory. In practice the book's (thirties) author doesn't take that angle even remotely seriously, and his teenage characters don't either - ironically acting like actual teenagers in the process. But this is most definitely not true of the side stories. Those tend to focus on unquestionably adult, sometimes even venerable characters as they try and pick up the pieces left behind by a main series entry. Although none of them touch on subjects that would be considered inappropriate for a young teen to read about, necessarily, they're not light reading material either. And as the perspective and goals of the main character changes the book's structure and tone tends to change as well, leading to a wildly different experience. It's not that the side stories are necessarily bad, but the phrase "like it's written by a different person" is a common thing to hear when comparing them to the main entries. It's unusual to find someone who enjoys both in equal measure, though such people do exist.

    As for your part in this whole mess...

    --You've never read any of these books yourself, but you've heard a few things about them.
    ---You shrug in response to Keith's question. "I've heard of this series before, lots of discussion about it between two fans in one of the bookstores I frequent in the Admiratio, but I can't say I've ever read one. So when's the deadline for this new main series entry? How long will I have to...do what, exactly?"

    "The deadline, insofar that Matteo pays attention to such things, is actually meaningless right now because of mechanical issues he's having with his printing press. Meaning he's not publishing anything until things get repaired and caught up," Keith explains. Which actually rings a bit of a bell in the back of your head - wasn't...someone really disappointed that the latest side story was delayed, or something? You vaguely recall hearing something along those lines...somewhere before. Maybe the Academagia, but you can't clearly remember. Either way this news doesn't put you at ease, because once that printing press is repaired that deadline is probably going to be moved to somewhere within the near future measured in minutes. "As for exactly what you need to do, the best way I can describe it is to figure out Matteo's insane puzzle. He creates a fancy-sounding world with interesting pieces and only afterwards figures out ways to actually put those pieces together, which is normally what we'd collaborate on, but in this case I'm going to have to pass that torch on to you. And don't worry yourself, it's nothing overly insane, illegal or immoral. Matteo's eccentric, but harmless aside from that. The worst is when he's pretending to be a philosopher. And failing to notice that he's not succeeding."

    A crazy author for his crazy fans, that sounds like. Wonderful...what have you gotten yourself into?

    --You've actually read the main series entries. Never was a fan of the side stories though.
    ---You give a kind of vague, slow nod in response to Keith's question as you explain that you have actually read the main series entries, though the side stories never managed to hold your attention. You recall one of them being about this mid-sixties politician or something and man did that convince you not to make that mistake again. "That'd be the side story covering senior senator Agon, right?" Astrid asks without missing a beat. Of course she's the kind of fan who reads and knows everything about that series. Although to be fair if anyone you would expect an actual homunculus to do so. Though whether to call that irony or merely fitting you're not sure. "That's really bad luck if that was your first side story, his is definitely the most 'side story' of the bunch. Also one of the most important, though, if you're following along the senate's part in the story."

    "No spoilers, Astrid," Keith says with such a defeated sigh you'd forgive someone for mistaking it as the man's last words. The poor Familiar is not sure how to respond to that. "In any case, if you're at least broadly familiar with the setting I'm sure you'll be able to work out the next main entry issues just fine. And if not, well, you're an Academagia student. I'm sure you've faced worse puzzles, riddles or essays already."

    Not filled with confidence right now, gotta be honest about that. "Hopefully. So what, exactly, do I need to do? And when will Matteo be expecting your-or my, I guess, share of the work?"

    "The deadline, insofar that Matteo pays attention to such things, is actually meaningless right now because of mechanical issues he's having with his printing press. Meaning he's not publishing anything until things get repaired and caught up," Keith explains. Right, that did happen. Actually delayed one of the side stories if you remember right, but, well...that wasn't something that you were too concerned about needless to say. Either way this news doesn't put you at ease, because once that printing press is repaired that deadline is probably going to be moved to somewhere within the near future measured in minutes. "As for exactly what you need to do, the best way I can describe it is to figure out Matteo's insane puzzle. You should be familiar with his fancy-sounding world and the interesting pieces that populate it. Well, fact is that only afterwards does he try and figure out ways to actually put those pieces together, which is normally what we'd collaborate on. But in this case I'm going to have to pass that torch on to you. Don't worry about it too much, if I could figure it out I'm sure you can do the same."

    Not sure what to make of that comparison. Either way, as hesitant as you are you are an Academagia student for a reason, right? You should be able to figure this out, hopefully...

    --Astrid seems to own a release that you completely missed, and you want to read it!
    ---You carefully pick up the copy you don't recognize and look it over, just to make sure that you're not just forgetting anything. But nope, definitely never read of this one before. "Hey Astrid, when did this one come out? I haven't read this one yet." Astrid, with a superior smirk, informs you that particular entry's public release was delayed because the printing press Matteo uses suffered a "minor complete breakdown" and had to be replaced, something you actually heard about which made that particular day no better than it was before, but apparently he did manage to print a few copies before that problem occurred and so he was able to get Astrid her early copy. Of course she's not saying that with a superior smirk in order to make you (more...) jealous, Astrid is far too nice a girl to do something like that. No, she's smirking because without looking she knows full well that Keith, at this point, is staring at this exchange with a look on his face that most adults would follow up with a bottle of hard liquor.

    "Matteo's new printing press should be finished and operational relatively soon, mind you," Astrid adds, perfectly pretending as if she doesn't know full well how Keith is staring at this whole situation. "I don't know how long it'll take from there for the book to hit the stores, but it shouldn't take too long. The old press actually caused a lot more delays than Matteo ever admitted to, and once it's been replaced things should run like clockwork."

    That's actually great news, all you heard about it was that "it'll be fixed when this twice-cursed pile of metal decides it wants to work again". Never understood why people couldn't just wand the thing back into working order, but chances are that's exactly what they did for so long that the thing just wasn't able to be repaired anymore. Even devices made of metal and maintained with magic aren't permanent, given enough wear and tear eventually even they die. Of course only now do you think to look at Keith again, you were kinda in the middle of something and all, and he is shaking his head in a daze of disbelief right now. "Right," he says once he's noticed that you've decided to pay attention to the actual conversation again. "Saves me an explanation I suppose. So, short version: Matteo wanted my help to flesh out the broad strokes of the next main entry, I'm busy with Astrid, your job will be to fill in the details. Please do a good job and keep it quiet for Octavius' sake. Matteo will put me on a jousting arena without a lance or a horse if things go...not according to his designs. He can be rather protective of his little world, in that way."

    Of course you'll do a good job! You didn't come this far to trip over the easiest step! Of course Keith is still hesitant, but he's willing to give it a try for Astrid's sake. You'll show him - by your own hands the next main entry is going to be the best one yet!

    If this adventure feels a little all over the place it's because it kinda is.

  13. Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 6:


    The Legate gets halfway through pointing out that you know where Keith lives and asking you to lead the way when Professor Briardi, completely unannounced, walks into Professor di Lucca Alazzo's office as well. Right, the Legate did mention that she'd come looking for him the moment that those two parents started complaining to her or something, right? If so the fact that she looks surprised that the Legate is actually here, along with Professor di Lucca Alazzo, must say something about how often the Legate actually had a legitimate reason to bail on his prior meetings. "I had a feeling that you'd try hiding in the very location where they'd say you'd be, Orso, but I wasn't expecting you to be in something that at least looks like an actual meeting. Of course I don't see a client anywhere, so is this just a slightly more elaborate ruse or-"

    "It isn't," the Legate clarifies a bit too quickly. Professor Briardi, naturally, looks suspiciously at the poor Legate. "The client isn't here, true, but that's...well, we were still discussing possibilities, mainly potential payment. Before deciding on whether to commit to the job."

    Professor Briardi looks decidedly unconvinced by that. Rightfully so, as the Legate is, at best, only mostly telling her the truth there. "Right. As if you require any payment beyond an excuse to not sit in your office for one more day," the regent pointedly notes. The Legate, for what it's worth, doesn't deny it. His admission can generously be described as "sheepish", but he doesn't deny it. "So what's your stake in this deal, di Lucca Alazzo? Assuming there actually is one, of course."

    "Call it barter, if [PC FIRST NAME]'s assessment of Keith's resources is correct," he confidently answers. It takes Professor Briardi by surprise, especially because only now does she even notice that you're also standing in this office. You decide to just cut to the chase and quickly summarize the story you told the Legate and Professor di Lucca Alazzo earlier, about Astrid and Keith, what Astrid wants, and how that ended in this situation. Professor Briardi looks nothing short of perplexed at the end of it.

    "Transfer the...what? I'm sorry, who's hare-brained scheme was that?" Thinking back you're actually pretty sure it was yours, a desperate attempt to figure out some way to help Astrid. Keith didn't seem too impressed by it either, and probably for good reason. You keep silent, but you suspect that Professor Briardi can read her answer from your expression. "Right. I'll just pretend that no one ever thought to suggest something that reckless and stupid." Ouch. Deserved, but still. "So, Orso, do you really think you can help this man's Familiar? Because rest assured, if you want me to tell your favorite parents that you are actually doing something important this time I'll be giving your little homework project a harsher review than I do the end term projects of my senior students. I'll expect effort if you're going to want my help in avoiding your office work."

    Since when does the Legate need help with that? All the same that's another regent on board with this plan...kinda. Sorta. If you squint a little. Better than nothing, right?

    After an awkward, silent moment the Legate finally answers, "You know as well as I do that nothing good will ever come from trying to appease those two harpies, Polisena. Astrid might ask for things that are impossible or beyond even the Academagia's means, Keith might not have anything substantial to offer in return for the assistance of it's faculty, but even so...do you really think that there's less to be gained from at least trying this than trying to convince those two overprotective hawks that splitting the Academagia in two is neither practical or beneficial for the students?"

    Professor Briardi opens her mouth, but no words come out. She wants to say something, but she knows that there's nothing she can say against the Legate's points. As for you, you're starting to get curious about these two parents. Why do they have such a chip on their shoulder about separating the boys and girls anyhow? Even Professor Badcrumble isn't this crazy about it, so surely there has to be some sort of reason. "Fine, I'll come along as well," Professor Briardi eventually says, once she finds her words again. "Of course having said that I do have to ask one important question: Who is going to deal with the Wizmas? Someone is going to have to deal with-or, at least, entertain them if we're to have any freedom to pursue this...extra-curricular activity, let's say."

    Good point. Of course the Legate's solution to that problem is to pointedly look at you, followed by Professor Briardi and Professor di Lucca Alazzo doing much the same. Well, if this is what you need to do in order to clear these professors' schedules enough to help Astrid...pretty much what you signed yourself up for in the first place when you entered the Legate's office, huh? Yeah. So, a pair of parents with a chip on their shoulder...how to resolve this problem?

    -Diplomacy. Hear out these two parents yourself.
    --Ultimately this is a problem that needs to be addressed at it's source, so you decide to track down the two parents yourself and resolve to figure out just what their deal is come hell or high water.

    You find the two sitting outside of Professor Briardi's office, discussing things with each other until they see you walk up to them. After that their lively debate falls eerily silent. You don't let it stop you, though. You walk up to them, properly introduce yourself (since you didn't do that earlier), and quickly explain that the Legate will need to help Professor di Lucca Alazzo with the crafting request directly, as will Professor Briardi, so the three of them will be unavailable for a while. Hence why you've been given the task of lending their worries and ear, and you've come here to do just that.

    The two parents share a curious look when you mention that the two regents and the Legate will be working together on this project. "What'd you say it was about again? Something...eh, something about a 'homunculus', if I remember right?"

    You nod, briefly explain the concept of a homunculus and the complications with achieving what Astrid is looking to achieve (not that you mention Astrid by name, only that her being a Familiar makes this even more complicated), and that it'll take the professors' attention to do all the necessary research and preparations. Assuming something can even be done, of course. The two parents react to that exactly as you expected them to - like they have no idea what you're talking about. Understandably - even you had to spend a day in a library figuring this much out. "Regardless, that's the current situation with the Legate. As for you two, I'd like to know what it is that brings you to the Legate's office again and again trying to...well, honestly I don't even know what you're trying to achieve. What the Legate had to say on the matter makes little sense to me. Mind that he seems to have interpreted it as something that's a bit of a...personal, not to mention controversial matter to him, so please understand if he's being cagey about it."

    Again the two parents look confused. Are you making headway here or are you just digging your own grave sideways? It's hard to tell at this point. "How's that any of your business?" the man asks. Sideways it is, it seems.

    "Because I'm a student here myself. What matters to them matters to me," you answer. Both parents frown at that, like what you just said is wrong. Strange. Didn't these two want to separate the boys and girls? As one of those two that would very much be your business, you feel like, so you're curious as to why these two seem to feel differently. Of course there's only one way to figure that out, which you happily choose to deploy - asking them. Directly, pointedly, you ask why these two don't seem to think that being allowed near the opposite gender isn't any of your business.

    "Ah...wait-what?" is the response you get. As expected.

    "I think it'd be best for the two of you to explain this situation to me, why you're seeing the Legate and all, from the very beginning," you say, slowly shaking your head. Of course it'd be something like this. "I don't know what's going on or how it happened, yet, but if you'll give me a hand I'll try my best to figure out where it all went sideways."

    It takes a few uncomfortable seconds for the two parents to agree to give you a try, needless to say that they're pretty worn down from harassing the Legate themselves, but slowly they end up telling you their story: They're a pair of low class, poor parents from far away who's youngest son, unexpectedly, was send an invitation to attend the Academagia. Great news, of course, since magical training would improve their situation (and station) by leaps and bounds, but unfortunately the poor kid was initially too timid and scared of leaving his home behind to actually go. His parents tried to convince him, again and again, but ultimately they had no choice but to send a letter back to the Academagia explaining the situation. That situation obviously looked very bleak for a while, but the response they eventually got back from the Academagia contained a second invitation - one for the boy's closest friend, a local orphan who "doesn't need magic to become a proper wizard of a housewife" as the parents describe her. The two of them have been trying to get answers ever since, because they have no idea how to interpret that situation even remotely. And, speaking as a student who's heard a few stories about unlikely students and their invitations, you, too, have to admit that this is indeed a very unusual situation. It's all but unthinkable that this second invitation was send solely to convince this son to actually attend the Academagia, but than why did it only show up after, not before?

    "That's what we've been asking about for I don't know how long now!" the man says, more happy about someone finally understanding his position than any person ought to be. "I mean...alright, so truth is we're really worried about out boy, too. Sending him all the way out here on his own might have been too much, but he needs to grow up and learn to live on his own eventually. And right now he's staying in his friend's shadow like a lost pup. Don't get me wrong, girl's a catch and a half if you're not looking for gold to dig, but he's never going to grow up at this rate."

    "I see...you know, the Legate actually pushed for a blanket ban on students dating recently, and although it met with enough resistance to have the rule relaxed for the upper classes it was still pushed through. I think that's probably why he's not willing to hear any questions or suggestions along those lines. You'd be surprised how often that comes up, actually." You personally wouldn't describe the reaction of the two parents to that bit of news as "understanding", but still. At least you got the chance to say your piece. "As for what the deal is with this second invitation, and maybe even what to do with your son, I think we should take this matter to Professor Badcrumble. I'm sure that if anyone she'd have something to say about this invitation business, and if you're looking for advise on your son's timidness...well, I'm not sure about that one. But she'd be a better person to ask about it than the Legate, at any rate."

    The two parents reluctantly agree to give your suggestion a try, but you're confident that if nothing else they'll leave the Legate alone for the foreseeable future, and ultimately that's all you were after here. So that, hopefully, is done. You'll have to track down the Legate later and tell him about it.

    --You head off to Professor Briardi's office and find the two parents sitting outside, their lively discussion coming to an abrupt halt when they see you walk up to them. Of course you hold up your arms as a gesture of peace and explain, succinctly, that the Legate really is busy right now, but if they have any concerns about the accommodations of the Academagia students - which you feel like you should have something to say about considering you're one of them - you're willing to hear them out, talk to them, see if there's anything you can do on your end to get less busy movers and shakers interested. Frankly you feel like you could move a mountain with that trick right now, so you're definitely not lacking confidence. The two parents even notice that fact, and happily agree to take you up on that offer.

    Two hours of uninterrupted talking about the Academagia's students, none of which you're able to make heads or tails of even if you could bring yourself to remember more than half of it, later and you feel like your brain has been left on a grill for too long and someone's turned you into a walking corpse. The two parents, for their part? They tell you they appreciate the listening ear and that they'll be happy to discuss "the details" later, suggesting that this particular session was just the start.

    You are going to need a plan B here, because you think you'll fling yourself off the island before stringing these two along for however long it takes for the Legate and friends to help Astrid. Assuming they even can...

    -Etiquette. Ask Professor Badcrumble for help.
    --You have to admit that you're feeling a bit lost in this situation. Two out of control parents, some sort of situation that you can't even begin to attempt to pretend to grasp, and it's your job to sort things out? This sounds like it's time to ask for help. Not just any help either, it's time to pull out the big cannon...although you suspect Professor Badcrumble would not appreciate that metaphor.

    You swing by her office, run through multiple classrooms and even poke your head into the Avila Common Room before finally tracking down the regent making rounds in the Venalicium. Fair enough, you quietly get her attention and drag her somewhere out of the way enough to talk without getting hunted down and murdered by any of the librarians. Because yes, those are still scarier than those two parents and Keith combined if push came to shove.

    "Is this something Astrology related?" Professor Badcrumble curtly asks, clearly not having a lot of time on her hands herself (sadly), to which you shake your head. You quickly explain that you found something you needed the Legate's help to do, and that in order to free his schedule - more literally than figuratively in this case - you've been tasked to take care of the two parents. But you're just completely at a loss as to how to even approach them, much less broach the subject of whatever has made them so obsessed. The Legate mentioned something about "building a wall from floor to ceiling to keep the boys and girls separated", but beyond that you have no clue what their deal is. Professor Badcrumble slowly nods along as you explain all of that. "I do know who you're talking about, though I haven't had the time to talk to the Wizmas myself. If lord-sorry, if the Legate has truly found something genuine to invest his time into I might have to make time myself, honestly. What did you find that caught the man's interest, if I may ask?"

    A bit reluctantly you briefly explain how you met Keith and Astrid, and the latter's dream of inhabiting a body more suited to helping out her mage. Professor Badcrumble looks nothing short of perplexed afterwards, presumably because she was not expecting the Legate to have found anything serious at all. Much less something as left field as that.

    "Okay..." Professor Badcrumble eventually says, slowly nodding to herself with that same perplexed look. "I'll...right, I'll set up a meeting with the Wizmas and clear up this matter. Please, inform the Legate that he needn't worry about them any longer...and that I'll be keeping an eye on him as well. To make sure he's not setting a bad example for the school."

    You actually can't help but thank the regent after hearing that bit of good news. That, genuinely, feels like a weight being picked off your shoulders. Seriously, mission accomplished! Wizmas taken care of, time to go tell the Legate the good news! Once you figure out where to find him at any rate...

    --You spend a while looking fruitlessly for Professor Badcrumble, and your, shall we say, less than perfectly patient attempts to get information on where she is don't end up finding purchase among the students you picked out as probably knowing where she could be, if anyone does.

    Great. Spend a while accomplishing nothing and got nothing but a sour mood to show for it. Wonderful...

    -Gossip. Who are these two the parents *of*, anyway?
    --It's a trivial matter to look through the student roll and find the one student who shares the same last name as the two people from the Legate's office - Leonardo Wizma. First year, College Morvidus. Truthfully that comes as a surprise, you were fully expecting this kid to be a girl. That's usually how these things go, isn't it? Two parents trying way too hard to protect their precious, delicate (or secretly not so delicate, 'bout a fifty-fifty chance of that one you'd say) daughter from the evil, corrupting influence of boys? But no, the kid's a boy. And still a first year, too. You're not sure how to interpret this situation...not sure how it ended up being a situation in the first place, either. You assume those two parents are bugging the Legate because of their son, you don't think they'd be this stubborn if it was just a pet peeve of theirs, so...how does this add up? Weird. Well, time to do some digging and hopefully find out. Starting with the Great Hall!

    You run around several areas of the Academagia for about an hour collecting various pieces of gossip about Leonardo, as it's a surprisingly difficult task to collect and compile all of the information into a coherent, straight line. Mainly this is because there's conflicting stories going around about the boy. Some people say that he's a prankster who doesn't much care for anything else, basically Rui da Casga's lost long brother. Other people paint him as a shy and reserved kid who had a hell of a time trying to adjust to living in an academy dorm, and that the few pranks he did pull on people weren't intended as anything but (failed) attempts to get attention as the kid felt lost and didn't know how (or dare) to ask for help. Yet others agree on the "shy and reserved" part, even the "his pranks were attempts to get attention" part, but those pranks were definitely to try and get the attention of the girl the boy is crushing on - the leader of the Clique he's a part of, specifically. You try to get some information on this clique as well, the lead girl especially, but if there's much to say about them they've been careful to keep people in the dark about it. All you can figure out is that the lead girl has a reputation for being more of a "team mom" than Cinzia and Irene combined, but in a good way. Beyond that there's either too much conjecture to draw information from or there's nothing at all.

    Without talking to the boy yourself, or doing a lot of Astrology, you're not confident in guessing what the actual truth is. Though good money is that it's buried somewhere in the middle of this giant mess. Still, even if you're a little fuzzy on the finer details you nevertheless feel like you know enough to answer the question that's immediately relevant to you: Why are Leonardo's parents obsessing over separating the boys and girls? Probably to break up that clique he's a part of. Exactly what's going on with that clique, who knows, but you have to assume that's where the boy's parents are coming from. If it isn't than you have no idea...maybe something home-related? Why would that be an issue in the Academagia, though? No, that clique is clearly the better theory.

    In any case, if you can either clear up whatever misunderstanding is going on between Leonardo and his parents about his part in this clique - or, if his parents have the right of it, convince Leonardo to leave the clique himself - his parents will likely cease bothering the Legate so much. You imagine they won't give up that easily, not entirely, but hopefully it'll be enough to give the Legate enough space to help out Astrid.

    --Finding a student who's last name is listed as "Wizma" in the student roll is easy. Finding out anything about the guy - you assume he's a guy based on his first name at least - is relatively much harder. You do manage to collect a few snippets about how he's apparently some kind of prankster and troublemaker (albeit not one on the same level as, say, Rui da Casga), but nothing that would even begin to explain why his parents have such a chip on their shoulders about wanting to separate the boys and the girls. Especially when their child is, by all accounts, an outgoing and lively young boy rather than some kind of fragile (or secretly less fragile) teenage girl who's parents are going a bit overboard with trying to protect. Unfortunately without that information you can't really get anything more out of this angle, but it is at least nice to be a little less in the dark. And who knows, maybe Professor Badcrumble could shed some further light on this odd situation...even if she doesn't actually, you know, care about it all that much...

    --Awareness. Convince Leonardo to stand up to his parents.
    ---You're not entirely sure what's going on with the clique Leonardo is a part of, but you're confident that you know enough to...well, "confront" is perhaps too strong a word, but you feel like you'll be able to discuss the matter with the guy. And the other three girls that clique consists of. Whether they'll give you the time of day is another matter, but you'll do your best to convince them.

    You manage to track down the entire clique to one of the Academagia's practice rooms, the door to which isn't locked. All four first years look up from what they're doing - turning this place into some kind of sewing workshop - as you step in and give the situation a once-over. You can't put a name to any of the girls and whoever is the leader of their clique isn't apparent either, so that's a bust, but you can identify Leonardo. And you can't help but notice that while all four are sharing the same collection of tables they've pushed together to create one large workspace, two of the girls are seated some distance from each other, presumably to give each other enough space to work. Leonardo and the third (first?) girl, however, are seated close to each other, despite the fact that Leonardo currently looks like a bit of a dishevelled mess who just stepped out of the shower - his hair's still wet. What's more, he's actually not wearing his student uniform. That is currently in front of the girl next to him, apparently in the process of being patched up. It's difficult to tell from where you're standing, but either this kid went through hell recently or this isn't the first time his uniform is being patched up. Lots of information, but you'll reserve judgement until you've actually talked to these four. It wouldn't be the first time you made that mistake...

    "Eh, do you need something from us?" the girl sitting next to Leonardo, looking somewhere between confused and annoyed, asks after a while. So it took you a second to observe the scene, it happens. "Who are you, anyway?"

    She sounds pretty confrontational, you have to say. The two other girls keep their silence, staring at you with a confused and slightly nervous look on their faces, whereas Leonardo seems downright worried as he stares you up and down. Probably because he's not wearing his uniform, if a professor saw him like that he could get reprimanded for breaking dress code. Actually, glancing at said uniform you remember the guy's in College Morvidus. Professor Storey would be very displeased if he saw one of his students not in proper uniform, thank you very much. Right up there with Professor Badcrumble, albeit on different principles. "Relax, I'm not here because Professor Storey send me," you say, hoping it'll ease the tension a bit. It doesn't really work, but you feel like trying still works out better than doing nothing.

    "Well, that's nice to know. That you're not here to tie a noose around our necks, I mean," the girl points out. Spicy one, isn't? "So why are you here? You're one of the second years, right?"

    You nod in answer to the girl's latter question. "Yep. And I'm here because..." Thinking about it you're here because the homunculus Familiar of a man living out in the woods you recently met wants to inhabit a different body and you've taken it upon yourself to try and get the Legate's help on that matter, who is all too happy to take every chance presented to him to get him out of his office that's currently being besieged by Leonardo's parents, who are doing so for reasons that you don't think make any sort of sense to anyone involved. So...in short you're here for some really bizarre and convoluted reasons, huh? Well, no need to drown these four in needless detail, no matter how curiously (and, in one case, impatiently) you're being stared at. "Eh, sorry about that. Honestly the reason I'm here is a very long and, come to think of it, pretty ridiculous story, but I won't bore you with needless details you probably wouldn't believe anyway. Point is that I need the Legate's help with the mess I'm in, but Leonardo's parents are bugging him too much to give him the necessary space, so I'm here trying to put a stop to that."

    "W-wait, my parents are bugging who? T-the Legate?" Leonardo asks, to which you nod. It also sends the gears in your head spinning, because he really doesn't know about that? Two overprotective parents trying to pull a stunt like that behind their kid's back...that can't be good news. In any case, for anyone involved, that can't be good news. "W-what? Why are they-I-I don't know anything about that!" Leonardo sputters out, shifting in his seat.

    "Leo, stop. Please, just stop," the girl next to Leonardo suddenly commands. Quickly the boy's storm of emotion dies down as suddenly as it started, and without further prompt (or surprise coming from either of the other two girls, you note) he shifts closer to the girl next to him. She wordlessly throws an arm around him and starts gently stroking his hair, and soon after he throws his arms around her. Huh. If there was any doubt left as to whether their relationship is positive or not that's gone now...although you are still missing an awful lot of detail, you feel like. "What's this about Leo's parents?" the girl curtly asks, while Leonardo rests a weary head on the girl's shoulder. Despite the girl's question you can't help but continue trying to analyse how Leonardo and the girl are interacting, how they react to each other with practically no words shared between them. You just don't get it - they clearly seem to be much more than just friends, but just exactly what are they? No matter what theory you cobble together it just falls apart as soon as you start thinking about it. "I asked you a question, eh...second year. Is there something wrong?"

    You feel like keeping the girl waiting would only upset her if not Leonardo, and you're not getting anywhere yourself anyway. Nothing to do but just ask, you suppose. "[PC FIRST NAME]. And no, there's nothing wrong, it's just...what's the deal between you two?" The girl frowns, clearly not interested in answering that question, but even so she does ask you what her "deal" has to do with anything. You slowly explain what Leonardo's parents have been bugging the Legate about, and how you figure that their antics must be out of some kind of concern for their son, but standing where you are you just cannot figure out what their angle is at all. And considering that getting them to back off, at least enough to give the Legate some space to hopefully help Astrid, is what you were asked to do that is, in fact, rather important to you. Leonardo silently listens to - "endures", it almost feels like - your whole spiel with a look that's so close to tears you're not sure why he's even bothering trying to hide them. The girl, for her part, listens intently to every word you say with a look of determination that you're not sure where to place - whether she's thinking about cursing Leonardo's parents into toads for their insolence or whether she wants to wrap the boy around her arms until he's all cried out. Or both.

    This time it takes the first years a second to collect their thoughts, but you're patient enough to wait. Honestly, they deserve a moment to reflect. "I'll go and talk to them," the girl eventually says. "Don't worry about the Legate, I'll get them off his back."

    That sounds great, but at the same time not like mission successful. You know it doesn't matter to you whether it's Leonardo or the girl who talks the boy's parents down, so long as someone manages to convince them you win, but...this just doesn't feel like a victory. The girl doesn't look like she's optimistic herself, in fact she looks like she's about to do something she doesn't want to. Leonardo obviously doesn't look any happier himself, either. You don't want to leave it at that. "Sounds like you're offering to throw yourself to the wolves here," you point out. Hearing that Leonardo can't help but let out a low sob, and the girl grimly nods in a way that someone her age shouldn't have to do off of a stage. You definitely feel like you made the right choice not letting this one go that easily. "What's going on between you two, anyway?" you ask, still fascinated by how they act like close siblings despite not being related. At least if the student roll you checked is any indication they're not.

    "The short version is that the two of us grew up in the same area," the girl eventually, after some thought and pitiful looks cast at Leonardo, explains. "Leo in his home, and me in the area's orphanage. Despite that we became closer friends than some siblings, but...his parents never liked me all that much." Oh. Can't help but notice the girl doesn't sound particularly bitter until she mentions Leonardo's parents not liking her, too. "When Leo was invited to the Academagia he initially refused to go. Too scared to leave behind his home. I did my best to convince him otherwise, everyone did, but I could only get him to agree if I could go with him." Hmm...it's true that going from living with your parents to living in an academy dorm, possibly on a different island altogether, is quite the stark difference. Every first year spends some time letting that sink in, adjusting to it. Few would be so afraid of it that they'd outright refuse an invitation from the Academagia, though. You'd also like to question exactly what Leonardo really refused to leave behind, because you feel like "his parents" is neither the first or second answer to that. "His parents all but gave up on him attending the Academagia for some time after that," the girl continues. "But the reply we got to the letter they send to the Academagia explaining Leo's...disposition instead came with a second invitation. Mine."

    A second invitation. Very curious. It's all but unthinkable that this girl was invited purely to lure Leonardo here, you don't want to imagine what it'd take for the Praetexta Court to resort to that sort of stunt, yet at the same time she only received her invitation after, not before. Would Professor Badcrumble know more about this situation? Very curious indeed...and speaking of curious, Leonardo. It seems obvious that his parents are doing what they're doing (or making the Legate play hide-and-seek in a failed attempt thereof, rather) in order to try and separate these two, either because they dislike this girl that much or...because they want Leonardo to grow up a bit, stand up for himself more and learn to rely on himself rather than his friend, and with her right here at the Academagia that simply won't happen. Which it is ultimately doesn't matter as Leonardo's parents are going about this the wrong way regardless...but the question does cause you to take another look at Leonardo's uniform. A number of stitched cuts and remnants of stains that apparently haven't come out sporadically dot the full length of the thing, and glancing over at what Leonardo is wearing it seems like some of that damage is recent, as it also damaged his clothes underneath. You imagine the same is - or at least was - true for some of the stains, if his still wet hair is any indication. But how does that add up? Someone who spends all their time indoors reading books doesn't end up with a uniform that rough, yet someone so scared of leaving home wouldn't be going out adventuring in the great outdoors time and time again either. So what's the deal here? You point out your observations to the girl (and Leonardo) and ask for clarification.

    "Hoping to one day become a detective, [PC FIRST NAME]?" the girl half-jokingly asks. You don't give her an answer beyond a feigned shrug and a coy smile. "Well, you should. Leo here..." the girl pauses for a second, seemingly lost in thought as she flashes a comforting smile at the boy's tear-soaked face. He blushes, and beneath the tears seems to smile himself a little. You can see where that "crush" theory came from. "Heh, sorry. About the bad first impression, I mean. You're right, Leo isn't one to sit around a library all day every day. Most days, sure, but he'll drag me and my friends along some ill-fated adventure out into the wide open world to find some kind of rare plant or look at some pretty pile of collapsed rubble every now and then. Usually we end up having a sewing session afterwards to clean and fix up our uniforms. They're the only ones we have, or in Leo's case the only one he has left, so we have to take good care of them." That explains why Leonardo isn't wearing a uniform right now, but...hmm...sounds like he isn't that much better off than the girl, financially. Wasn't expecting that considering the fact his parents apparently can afford to bug the Legate day after day. Odd. "By the way, I know we should be using our wands to do this sort of work, but none of us can use our wands as well as a needle and threat yet. And this way we don't have to worry about stitches coming loose or disappearing on us. We've had that happen before."

    Makes sense. All three of the girls are wearing Hedi robes anyway, so it's not as if them sewing would make them stand out in a bad way. In any case that's about all the information you think you're going to need out of these kids, so you decide to cut to the chase. "Sounds like Leonardo isn't as...hopeless as his parents think he is," you point out. The girl nods, but you note that Leonardo doesn't. That's going to make this harder. "Even so I think he's going to have to be the one to talk to his parents about this mess. At least, I don't think they'd be convinced to back down if that request - or demand, whichever would work better - didn't come directly from him." Leonardo, somewhat understandably, looks mortified at this suggestion. The girl rolls her eyes in a "tell me something I don't know" kind of way. "I know. But the thing is that one way or another they think they're doing this for your sake, and as such convincing them otherwise should come from you. Approach them as a clique if you have to, show them you've made friends that have your back, but one way or another you're the one who's going to have to talk them down."

    Leonardo hangs his head and stays silent, but from his expression you can tell that he knows you're telling the truth. He's just afraid of confronting his parents (something you can't really blame him for when, by all accounts, the Legate himself prefers playing hide-and-seek over trying to do the same), but confront them he must. "I'll get in touch with them and force a...meeting," the girl says, catching and correcting herself before she nearly said something other than "meeting". "Go ahead and tell the Legate not to worry about this mess anymore, [PC FIRST NAME]. I'll take care of it. Well, rather, one way or another I'll find a way to throw Leo at it. Same difference, though."

    Considering how the girl and Leonardo interacted before you've no doubt that she has the boy's best interest at heart, even if it takes a share of tough love to get him to learn. Very well, you'll inform the Legate of what you've learned and what he should expect in the near future at least. Whether these two will succeed...honestly, given enough time you're sure they will.

    ---You're not entirely sure what's going on with the clique Leonardo is a part of, but you're confident that you know enough to...well, "confront" is perhaps too strong a word, but you feel like you'll be able to discuss the matter with the guy. And the other three girls that clique consists of. Whether they'll give you the time of day is another matter, but you'll do your best to convince them.

    Of course it would help if you were actually able to, you know, find this clique. Before trying to talk things through with them. That might indeed help.

    You end up running through the Great Hall, Garden Gallery, multiple Common Rooms, the Venalicium and even the practice rooms but no matter where you look there's no sight of your new friends. Eventually, after far too long spend running back and forth, you think to just ask people where they're located, and the short version thereof is that you're told they're probably somewhere out in the wilderness beyond the Academagia's Grounds, although likely still well within range of the Academagia itself. Apparently Leonardo has either an adventurer's or "my room isn't isolated enough to cry" streak, whichever, and so he's known to disappear every now and again. Would be really nice if someone told you that earlier, not going to lie...

    Either way you decide to just call this day a bust and look for them another time. You are not setting foot in that damned forest again until Astrid's situation is resolved, because Gods know you'd end up encountering a wandering minstrel hoping to turn his lute into a Dragon or what have you and you just want no part of that right now, thanks.

    I don't expect the details of this stage to ever come up again, mind. So given my track record it'll be about half a year to a year before I type out another entire adventure about it :rolleyes:.

  14. Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 5:


    When you enter the Legate's office you're surprised to see that the man has visitors. Someone's parents if you had to guess, but whoever the two are you don't recognize them. Which is strange as they sure seem to recognize you, at least you've never seen frowns that deep without something personal behind it. Needless to say that it only makes you feel even more awkward about barging in here. "Speak up, [PC FIRST NAME]. Don't worry about these two, I assume your message can't wait," the Legate, sounding impatient, suddenly says.

    Thankfully for him you can see what he's going for here. And, naturally, you're more than happy to play along with him. You better if you expect to get his help. "Ah, alright, if you say so. Professor di Lucca Alazzo is requesting your assistance on a crafting commission that his client can only interpret as requiring proscribed magic, and unfortunately the regent doesn't fully understand the theory behind the idea himself so he's having trouble talking his way through the mess - needless to say that it's quite the odd project. He-both of them, really, need your knowledge base and academic authority to mediate the situation. I was told to add that the regent is especially worried about students overhearing the odd bits and pieces about the request and someone - which is to say Rikildis - going crazy with the rumor mill. As she is want to do."

    The Legate's response to your little kinda-sorta-technically a complete and utter lie is favorable, he seems impressed by your "acting" skills. The two people he's with, unfortunately, are not. "What exactly is this 'crafting commission' you're talking about?" the man, glaring at you with a decidedly unfriendly gaze, asks. The woman next to him, for that matter, doesn't look any more convinced. Both look like they have more to say too, but thankfully you've got an answer ready before either can finish thinking of more questions.

    "Transferring the...life? That or the consciousness, whichever is the better term, of a Familiar homunculus over to a different body," you answer without missing a beat. And, of course, that part is completely truthful. "Alternatively figuring out a way to modify the Familiar's existing body beyond what her alchemical base was designed for on a permanent basis, preferably through alchemical means, but the client is stuck on the idea that the latter option isn't possible. Hence the idea-fear, really, that proscribed magic is required. Unfortunately the regent can't dissuade him-the client, sorry, I wasn't supposed to reveal any personal information...a-anyway, since the regent lacks the expertise to say what can and cannot be done with sufficient certainty and authority he's requesting for the Legate's input."

    Neither the man or the woman have anything to say in response to that beyond a blank, perplexed stare. Seems like you've won. "A homunculus Familiar seeking alchemical means to modify her body beyond what her alchemical base was designed for?" the Legate, either looking genuinely curious at your explanation or expertly faking such a look, asks. You nod and "confirm" that that is the gist of the "client's" request. "I can see why di Lucca Alazzo would struggle with that. There's plenty of people who mistake homunculi as being the product of proscribed magic as is, and while attempting to transfer the Familiar's essence is an ordeal on a different order of magnitude than I'd be willing to poke with a forty foot wand I could certainly see conventional magical means being a viable option, depending. Alchemical means, though...and if the client doesn't understand that and di Lucca Alazzo is stuck thinking along the lines of which Tranfixative could possibly accomplish such a feat...right, I can see why this needs my help. Mister and Miss Wizma, I apologize for cutting our meeting short but I need to go and mediate that situation. Even Vernin's regent would have trouble with a request like that, understandably, and the last thing I want is for people's - or a Familiar's - wishes to be buried under false headings."

    Gods alive! Obviously you don't say anything, but yikes! That man, who just said that with a straight face, had better appreciate the hypocrisy if not the irony!

    The two adults, whoever they are (the last name "Wizma" means exactly nothing to you), are sufficiently cowed and/or wowed by the situation to agree to "continue discussing the matter another day". Goody, that means lots of work in your future, doesn't it? In any case the Legate goes through the whole nine yards of seeing the two out of his office, locking up and "following you" to where Professor di Lucca Alazzo's "meeting" is taking place...or however the Legate would justify why he'd need you to walk him anywhere. Or the other way around, as this case actually ends up being. But, eventually, once the two of you have reached Professor di Lucca Alazzo's actual office the Legate steps in, ushers you inside as well and finally explains himself. Needless to say that Professor di Lucca Alazzo, who's sitting behind his desk with a stack of some kind of tests or homework next to him, looks a bit confused at the unannounced visit. "Finally free from those two overprotective housewives," the Legate happily says. Somewhat bizarrely Professor di Lucca Alazzo nods to himself in response, as if that just perfectly explains everything. "Ah, pardon the interruption di Lucca Alazzo, but I have to maintain appearances. I assume Polisena will be looking for me as soon as those two swing by her office and complain about me walking out on them again. It's like they can't appreciate how busy I am."

    "Oh, of course. In any case have you considered simply addressing their concerns, however petty they may be, instead of literally playing hide-and-seek with both them and Professor Briardi? In my office, at that?" Professor di Lucca Alazzo drily suggests. The Legate, naturally, shakes his head.

    "If only that were possible. Those two can try and bait me with their sunk-cost fallacies until Mineta's pork industry flies itself over to Meril, I know full well they won't be satisfied until I build a literal wall from floor to ceiling to keep the boys and girls separated in the Great Hall and beyond. I'm aware I was the one who pushed for the dating ban, but that had a good reason for it. I can't neatly split the entire Academagia in two and expect either the school or it's students to remain functional."

    You'd comment, but you're not really sure if you're actually a part of this conversation or not. Professor di Lucca Alazzo, for what it's worth, indeed doesn't seem to notice you. "Still a better long-term solution than hide-and-seek, I would hope. In any case was there a reason you decided to use my office as your new temporary hideout, or am I merely the lucky owner of this hour's short straw?"

    You nod, but again, you don't think the Legate noticed you. "I don't hide in other people's offices that often," the Legate jokingly notes...but even than you can't help but think there's just that slightly defensive tone to it. Because, yes, that is something the Legate can genuinely be defensive about given his track record. "And I suspect there's a reason, yes. [PC FIRST NAME], not to discredit your acting skills, but it didn't sound like you pulled all you said of an invisible wizard's hat on the spot. Not to mention I assume there's a reason you came to my office in the first place." You nod again, and this time the Legate and Professor di Lucca Alazzo notice. They listen intently to your explanation of Astrid's situation, Keith's take on it, as well as how you managed to meet those two in the first place. The professors seem unnerved by your story and overall dismissive of Keith's chosen (idea of a future) profession, not surprising that a pair of mages wouldn't think too much of someone seeking a solution outside the fields of magic, but the Legate nevertheless appears to be interested in Astrid's plight. Or, at least, interested in picking up a more long-term excuse as to why he "needs" to avoid his office work for a little bit. Admittedly that's not a very high bar to cross, one buried beneath several layers of dirt and the Maelstrom some might say, but either way you'll take it. "That's certainly a situation that man and his Familiar find themselves in. Di Lucca Alazzo, what's your take on this?"

    The regent shrugs. "Do you really expect me to have an answer to that? I have heard about successful efforts to create human-sized homunculi, at least, but when the exact process is no less a mystery for me than it is for this Familiar-and when creating a new homunculus wouldn't even solve anything in any event, come to think of it...alchemy is not my field, Orsi. If you want brewing assistance I suggest you talk to Professor Leith."

    "Are you sure you don't want to make it your field?" the Legate asks, practically dripping schemes and hidden intentions from every word. He really doesn't want to go back to dealing with those two parents. "We both know your crafting reputation could use some work, and this seems like a great opportunity to get some experience under your belt that isn't going to end up becoming a major thing. We are professors of the Academagia, if homunculi Familiars were at all common we'd surely know about it."

    "You're just desperate to skip out on your office work," Professor di Lucca Alazzo accuses. The Legate, for better or worse, doesn't deny it. "Could you please at least try to maintain some manner of professional appearance, especially right in front of a student? Besides which, I don't see what fame there is to be gained from picking up an odd job for a hermit seeking to obsolete at least two schools of magic. Not to mention what the job actually entails, I can't imagine too many people being impressed if I tried to boast about my ability to create constructs that look like human teenagers."

    Yeah...you suppose that's one (less than flattering) way of putting it. You came here expecting to have to convince the Legate to play along, but it seems like it's Professor di Lucca Alazzo that actually needs convincing. Unfortunate, since you don't have the easy angle of offering to do his office work, but on the bright side you do think this is a good opportunity nevertheless. After all, if you can convince him you've pretty much made it, right? How could you possibly convince the regent to lend his aid, though?

    -Negotiate. Broker a deal between the regent and Keith's upcoming business.
    --It takes a second to think of an angle, but you recall Keith mentioning that he and his friend are planning on getting one of Mineta's brewing guilds to assist them with getting their new business off the ground once everything is in place. And in order to secure that assistance, if necessary, they were going to sell the patent to some kind of new anaesthetic they're developing. Perhaps the regent would be interested in that? Enough to broker a deal of some sort? You decide to bring it up and ask, seeing as how you've got no idea how valuable such a recipe really would (or wouldn't) be.

    "Without knowing the specifics it's impossible to say. But I can say that the patent to an anaesthetic that is the right balance of effective, focused and cheap to produce would be worth a great deal. More than the effort it will take to assist Orsi with his newfound quest to avoid the Wizmas, for sure." You're actually quite surprised by that answer. Not even pleasantly surprised so much as just plain surprised, you didn't expect something that simple to be that valuable. Again you ask Professor di Lucca Alazzo for an explanation, one because you're genuinely curious but also because the regent seems to enjoy explaining his reasoning. Trade is a subject that the man is genuinely well versed in, and he doesn't encounter those often enough as Vernin's regent. "Broadly speaking Glamour and Revision can easily cover all the anaesthetic work you need in a city as magically educated and populated as Mineta, but there are an awful lot of places, even on this island, that don't have access to such mages. Their education and professional services are very expensive, as you should well know, and by no means should you assume that every single magical cram school graduate could safely induce someone into a temporary coma either. Brewing-based anaesthetics do exist, but they tend to have their own share of problems - they're usually expensive to purchase if not produce, skilled brewers are not necessarily easy to come by, patents can be an issue in some circumstances, to say nothing of other issues like shipping problems causing ingredient shortages that a mage waving a wand simply will never have - and anaesthetic brews are overall less advanced than magical methods besides. Unless a well-trained mage happens to be around few have access to anaesthetics more sophisticated than a bottle of strong alcohol. It's a field where there's a lot of room for improvement, and given the right circumstances that means room for potential commerce as well."

    "Could you make the most of that recipe, assuming that this Keith individual would be willing to trade it for our assistance in transforming his Familiar?" the Legate asks. He tries to sound as neutral as possible, but there's that slight tinge of "please just say 'yes' I don't want to go back to my office" to his question that you'd have to be deaf to miss.

    Okay, maybe a little more than just a slight tinge...

    "Not just him!" you hastily add. Not to drop your arrow in your own foot here, but you don't want to make false promises. That's never a good long-term business strategy. "I'm sure his friend would have to be included in that deal, he's the one working on the recipe after all. That said Keith told me they're planning to sell the patent to a brewer's guild in order to help get their new business off the ground once all the pieces are in place, so unless they already sold that patent there should be an angle to negotiate there."

    Professor di Lucca Alazzo doesn't look pleased with this bit of news, exactly, but it takes him all of one second to recover from whatever he needed recovery from. "Funds to start a new business in Mineta? Hmm...will probably need some guild contacts and contracts well, new businesses always find themselves in need of something from an unexpected field, and perhaps even a venue...no matter. Either way I can manage that, if the price is right. And if this anaesthetic passes muster, which by no means takes Stellular Keys to do in this field...I'd like to meet this Keith, him and his brewing friend. Depending on what they have to say and offer I might be interested in acquiring that patent for myself, and if it's financial support they want in return I can most definitely talk price." You off-handedly mention that you don't really know how skilled Keith's alchemy friend is, all you have to go on in that respect is that he apparently taught Keith so you have to assume he's an older (and hopefully more experienced) person in that regard, but if Keith himself is any indication he should have no qualms about using unorthodox methods to get the best results he possibly could. And as Sabinu Nos showed, as unpleasant as human (or homunculi) experimentation can be it sure can deliver impressive results too. The regent, known for his skill with Revision to maintain an impeccable appearance at all times, nods at that.

    --The gears in your head feel like the end up spinning out of control, both literally and figuratively, trying to figure out a possible way to get the regent interested in this whole idea. That's not to say you can't think of things, but somewhere along the line you encounter a problem with it that you cannot think of a way to solve, so...in the end you stare awkwardly at the floor, both professors looking at you disappointedly (the Legate moreso than the regent, needless to say).

    "I'm not saying I couldn't be convinced to make room in my own busy schedule, one that I take somewhat more seriously than others might I add, if there's a reason why I should," the regent notes. Although whether that was to try and spare your feelings or take another shot at the Legate you can't tell. "If not than I believe it's time for someone to return to his own office and ponder long-term solutions..."

    Rats...so close, and yet so far. Not that you've lost the war or anything, but still...feels bad to pick up momentum only to have it slam against a brick wall.

    "I'll be swinging by the Venalicium and doing some research into this matter," the Legate says as the two of you step outside of the regent's office. "I might not fully understand this Familiar's situation, but there cannot be less merit in looking into her case than there will be in trying to entertain the Wizmas. Even if I stand to gain nothing more than a fun anecdote to tell at a social gathering it'll be worth it. You do your best to figure out a way to get di Lucca Alazzo on board, chances are we'll need his resources if alchemy gets involved."

    You nod, feeling a lot better knowing that the Legate is already on your side. Convincing the regent, though...you'll have to think about that one...

    -Anatomy. Stress the importance that Keith's research, unsettling as it is, is to further the Academagia's own knowledge on the subject.
    --You can't help but feel like this is a complete shot in the dark, since anatomy is by no means College Vernin's field nor is it something you'd casually associate with Professor di Lucca Alazzo himself, but the man does have a reputation for maintaining an impeccable appearance at all times through his mastery of Revision magic. You know that Morvidus students are required to learn Zoology to form a basis for future advanced Revision studies, so perhaps the regent could actually benefit from, essentially, Keith's study of the anatomical effects of his chirurgical beautification techniques? There's enough logic to that thought that you're willing to give it a shot. You bring up the research that Keith has been doing in his forest home, describing both his methods as well as stressing what Keith himself said about the importance of him learning from his mistakes before using his techniques on actual people, and plainly ask Professor di Lucca Alazzo whether that research would have any value to him. And if so, whether it'd be enough to convince him that there's merit in assisting the Legate with helping Astrid - or escaping his office work, whichever the man prefers.

    It takes an uncomfortably long time, during which the regent actually takes a(n enchanted?) mirror out of his desk and gives his face a very careful, thorough look over, before you get an answer to your question. "I'm honestly not sure...it's difficult to say. Were it just a hermit refining mundane chirurgery techniques in his forest home than I'd certainly have no more use for his 'research' than the paper it was written on. But an actual, careful study of the effects that bones, muscle, all of that stuff has on the different aspects of a person's looks? Particularly detailed studies of how changing those things can go wrong or create unintended effects, that is indeed especially important...I'm not sure. I'd have to see the research for myself in order to make sure it's of value to me, but if the research is as you described it might be worth assisting the Legate to acquire it. Or attempt to convince the man to donate it to the Academagia, either or. There's arguments to be made in favor of that suggestion."

    That sounds rocky, but it's better than nothing, so you'll consider it a win.

    --You do your best to sell the value of Keith's research, but Professor di Lucca Alazzo doesn't seem impressed in the slightest. Apparently an academy dedicated to the study and teaching of magic doesn't have much use for a bunch of instructions on how to do stuff without magic. Who knew?

    "I'm not saying I couldn't be convinced to make room in my own busy schedule, one that I take somewhat more seriously than others might I add, if there's a reason why I should," the regent notes after what feels like a long, drawn-out and most thorough defeat. Although whether that was to try and spare your feelings or take another shot at the Legate you can't tell. "If not than I believe it's time for someone to return to his own office and ponder long-term solutions. Perhaps of the more magical, less 'playing hide-and-seek' kind, if you wish to stay true to the spirit of the institution you're supposed to be the legate of."

    Rats...so close, and yet so far. Not that you've lost the war or anything, but still...feels bad to pick up momentum only to have it slam against a brick wall.

    "I'll be swinging by the Venalicium and doing some research into this matter," the Legate says as the two of you step outside of the regent's office. "I might not fully understand this Familiar's situation, but there cannot be less merit in looking into her case than there will be in trying to entertain the Wizmas. Even if I stand to gain nothing more than a fun anecdote to tell at a social gathering it'll be worth it. You do your best to figure out a way to get di Lucca Alazzo on board, chances are we'll need his resources if alchemy gets involved."

    You nod, feeling a lot better knowing that the Legate is already on your side. Convincing the regent, though...you'll have to think about that one...

    -Awareness. Does the Legate even need Professor di Lucca Alazzo's help?
    --In terms of crafting assistance, doubtful. You're pretty sure that Professor Leith could alchemy the regent into the ground without trying. But in terms of securing any necessary funds, getting other parties interested and brokering deals to make all the moving parts work together? Few are as capable of accomplishing that task as Professor di Lucca Alazzo. And, honestly, it seems like fulfilling Astrid's wish is going to be an expensive group project if it's going to be anything at all. High level research, undoubtedly rare and expensive ingredients needed for difficult and long processes requiring expert hands and care...this sounds like it's going to end up being a big project. And it takes more than just two well-made wheels to get a cart moving anywhere other than tumbling down a hill...

    --The guy who's famous for being a pretty-looking mover and shaker of unreasonable amounts of funds, and not much else, particularly in the way of actual crafting? Maybe, maybe not. It's hard to tell what value the regent's actual skills will have here, if any. You just know that he's an obstacle right in front of your face that'd be more useful as a tailwind, however light a breeze he might be worth.

    I will never tire of pointing out Professor di Lucca Alazzo's lack of qualifications.

  15. Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 4:


    It takes a bit of searching to find Keith's cabin again, unfortunately it's not near any sort of landmark or path and you weren't really paying that much attention to how you got there before, but thankfully you're able to find it eventually. You knock on the door and not long after Astrid pokes her head through the pet door below. "[PC FIRST NAME]? Come in, come in!" she goes, ducking back inside to open the front door before giving you a chance to react. "Did you find out what my master needs?" you hear her add, undoubtedly loud enough for Keith to hear, as you open the door and walk inside.

    "Yes and...eh..." you say, but you stop when you see that Keith is, eh, busy in the back of the house. You recall what he told you earlier, but nevertheless, the sight of a man wearing a bloody apron holding a bloody knife is...kinda disturbing. You're just glad you don't have a view of the, eh, patient he's working on from where you're standing, even if that gives the man an even better position from which to glare curiously at you.

    "Just take a seat, I'll be done here shortly," Keith says, questions written all over his face and tone. You, perhaps against your better judgement, do as he asks and take a seat where you did before. Astrid wastes no time setting another cup of tea for you, and you feel like you'll need it. Keith, for his part, indeed quickly finishes whatever he was doing and, after cleaning his workshop, tools, scrubs and hands with what seems like practised ease, walks over to you. "So what is this all about? Something that I apparently 'need', if I heard that correctly?" Keith asks, more curious than annoyed.

    "It's, eh...it's a long story. The short version is I'm here because Astrid asked me to look up some stuff for her," you unwillingly blurt out, not giving the answer much more thought than whatever is necessary to give Keith an answer quickly.

    Keith frowns, though he directs that frown towards Astrid, who quickly comes walking over with a pair of cups and a kettle of tea on a plate. Again, it looks utterly ridiculous. You can really see why she'd prefer to have a normal-sized body. "It's impolite to meddle with the affairs of a wizard's Familiar without the knowledge of said wizard, you know," Keith says as he nevertheless pours you a cup of tea.

    "Y-yeah, I know that and-I mean, I'm sorry. B-but I was curious about what Astrid asked about. And...well, I kind of feel like I know where she's coming from, so I wanted to see if I could possibly help her."

    "Young and wanting to help, huh? I shouldn't discourage that, I suppose," Keith notes as he takes a sip of his tea. You don't think he's angry with you, and good thing too because, eh, yeah. You're going to have nightmares about this man tonight, you just know it. "So, just out of curiosity, what did you find out about how to turn Astrid into a real girl? Or whatever closest approximation thereof alchemy could possibly manage."

    You can't help but cast a nervous glance over at Astrid before answering that question. Keith seems to know the answer already, as well as what Astrid wants, so you're not sure what to make of Astrid asking you about it. And that's kinda worrying. Well, no reason to hold back. "In terms of alchemical solutions, nothing. At least nothing I could even attempt to explain because so much of it goes right over my head, putting all this homunculi creation stuff into practice is at least senior material. That said it should be possible to modify the process to create a homunculus, to create one the size of a regular human, but I don't understand the specifics of it. Something to do with modifying the cauldron and doing something to or with the alchemical base, but..." With a shrug you add, "You can explain this better than I can, no doubt."

    "Unfortunately true. Through for the record, I'd be impressed if an Academagia senior successfully created a homunculus no matter how rough the frame turned out," Keith notes. Whether that comment was merely intended to spare your feelings or something else you can't tell. "To try and fill in the details, creating a homunculus the size of a regular human being would require modifications to the cauldron used to create the homunculi, and a special base. The cauldron is honestly fairly simple, at least in theory: You simply need a bigger cauldron with the same number of engraved runes circling the base, so it'll take a bit of math to figure out how to space the runes out properly. Even you could do that easily. The real problem is the modified base. Most homunculi, at least the ones I create, use runed mandrake roots as a base. The problem is that giant mandrake roots - natural giant mandrake roots, mind you, ones grown or made large by Revision magic wouldn't work - aren't something you can find for sale in the Admiratio." Yeah, you'd remember if you saw one of those. "Now of course there are ways to acquire such an unnaturally large base, though Alchemy itself in fact, but the theory of such changed bases actually working as bases has never been proven. And, unfortunately, none of that could help Astrid. All of that would only useful for creating a new homunculus, not changing Astrid's shape. I'm not sure whether it's possible to give her a more normal-sized form, given the simple limitation of her frame's base."

    Damn...that's one point you didn't think about. All your research, for what that was and could have been worth, went into how to create a new homunculus. With that it definitely sounds like Keith means that in a "and that's that" way, but glancing over at Astrid busily cleaning the workshop area with a pitiful, defeated look on her face you decide to brave questions perhaps best left unsaid. You don't think Keith would mind correcting if not educating you, at any rate. "Sorry if this is just me showing ignorance, but would it be at all possible to create a new homunculus and transfer Astrid's...consciousness, or whatever you'd call it, to it?"

    "You can tell me whether that's possible!" Keith answers with a surprised look on his face. Hopes dashed again. "I've no idea whether or not it is, frankly it sounds like it'd be proscribed magic to me so obviously I'm not sure. Though given that Astrid is my Familiar I wouldn't be inclined to try any such magic on her in any case. Familiar Bonds don't like to be manipulated, as far as I understand. So if doing so - trying to, at any rate - could put Astrid at risk I'm not going to try." At this point even you are looking a bit defeated, and Keith seems aware that Astrid feels the same as he does spare her a quick glance. Despite all the hopes that are being dashed here Keith does seem to care for Astrid...though he doesn't seem too upset about being unable to help her. He's probably already accepted that it's not possible. "I'm not saying I wouldn't be willing to try something if I knew it was legal and someone could convince me that the process would succeed, but as it so happens I've yet to meet someone like that. I don't know if anyone like that exists in Mineta in the first place, for that matter. I don't get many solicitors out here in this neck of the literal woods, as I'm sure you can imagine."

    Hmm...if Keith's brewing friend could help him he'd undoubtedly have gotten his help already, and the best professor you can think of to ask for advice is infamous for "not being Old Vernin material", as you believe one student (Lambert?) once put it. Maybe you could ask the Legate to help? Even if he doesn't know himself he might know someone who does. He could have connections like that, right? You'd have to convince him to help you, of course, but that's honestly the easiest part - just offer to do his office work for him for however long. He'll bite. Than again, what if this is proscribed magic after all? Or just impossible? You'd like to help Astrid, you can understand the pain of not growing up (even if that feeling is like a distant memory already), but...

    "And what might you be scheming this time, [PC FIRST NAME]?" Keith suddenly asks with a jovial tone, snapping you out of your thoughts. You explain that you'd like to help Astrid and are hoping that asking the Legate might work, but you're not sure if you should. "I would not object to you furthering your own education in any event, but as for Astrid...all of these problems aside I would like to help her, yes. Having her be a more normal size would ease her workload as much as it would mine, and to this day I still don't have an answer for how Astrid is supposed to take on the role of chief nurse in my future clinic. I will need her help one way or another to run that place, that's not in question. But I don't know if her current frame can work for that purpose. It wouldn't be good for her to unsettle my clients, and what work she can do with her current size is limited, so a normal body would probably be best. If nothing else I'd at least like for her eyes to match her face without them being too small for anyone taller than an infant pixie to see."

    You glance over at Astrid, who got so distracted from her cleaning duties from you and Keith talking about her that she's turned into a statue staring longingly at the two of you. It's honestly cute...if you ignore the oversized eyes. Those look a bit creepy. "In that case I guess I'll go and ask the Legate about it, or another professor. Though if the Legate can't help me I doubt anyone could. Are you okay with that, uh...I forget if you said not to be formal so just in case, are you okay with that, mister Keith?"

    Keith, more jokingly than not, chides you for your lack of attention and wishes you good luck getting anything useful out of the Legate. Which you feel you might need. First off, you're going to have to find him...

    -Astrology. Divine the man's current hideout.
    --You cast a spell to turn your wand into a dowsing rod, tune it to the Legate as best you can, and prepare to go on a grand, bogus journey through the most obscure, random and incomprehensible parts of the Academagia looking for this famously elusive man.

    Instead you find yourself standing in front of the man's actual office after a grand total of, what, maybe five minutes or so.

    Did your spell fail? Did it lead you to the man's office rather than the man itself? You'd very much like to believe that you're actually getting better at this "casting magic" deal, but finding the Legate inside the Legate's office is like...well, you suppose this fits the "incomprehensible" part of your expected trip at least. Because this, indeed, is the last place you'd expect to find the Legate.

    Frustrated that things aren't going according to plan, and expecting that they didn't go according to your wishes either, you try the handle on the Legate's door, just to see if it's locked. And it isn't, the handle works just fine. Unbelievable, all of that and the man is just sitting in his office like a normal person? Well, fine. Your magic worked, that's good, and it seems like you've created your own invitation in a way, so nothing to do but step through the door and see what your impatience has earned you...

    --You get out a star map and attempt a number of spells, charms and assorted Astrology goodness, but all your effort gets you in the end is a mess of conflicting information and a mild headache. Could it be that the Legate set up some sort of trick, some sort of protection against divination so that people can't simply figure out where he is at any given point? You can't say you remember ever having this issue before, but than it might be a recent thing? Or maybe you're just not having a good day? Hmm...difficult questions indeed. Unfortunately you didn't think to bring your Marat deck...

    In the end you decide to just call this a wash and move on with your life. You'll track that man down eventually, somehow. You've got to run into him eventually, right...?

    -Pure Luck. Try the Legate's actual office, see if he's in.
    --Sooner or later the Legate is going to end up in his office, whether by choice (unlikely) or by way of another professor dragging him there (less unlikely). If you're lucky enough to try his office when he's there, well, case closed.

    You head off to the Legate's office and thoughtlessly try the handle before doing anything else. Should have tried listening for anyone inside first, but, well, too late for regrets. The handle works, so if nothing else the Legate should be in at least...

    --Sooner or later the Legate is going to end up in his office, whether by choice (unlikely) or by way of another professor dragging him there (less unlikely). If you're lucky enough to try his office when he's there, well, case closed.

    You head off to the Legate's office, press an ear against the door to hear if anyone is in, and...nothing. Nothing at all. Huh. You try knocking on the door as well, but nope, no response. Unless the man is playing hide-and-seek in his own office and not responding to people who won't just open his door, but requiring people to barge into his office in order to find him? That'd just be cheating.

    So much for that plan, in any case. Time to scour the Academagia the old-fashioned way and hope you run across the man sooner or late...

    -Logic. Suss out the most likely place for the Legate to be.
    --Hmm...trick question, really. The most likely place for the Legate to be, given his tendency to skip as much of his office work as possible, would be whatever location he can think of to not be found and dragged off to his office. So, in that respect, you should turn over every stone and shine light into every nook and cranny the Academagia has to offer. Yet, when you think about it, it's inevitable that the man will get caught no matter how well he's hidden and dragged back to his office to oversee whatever-or-another. So while the most likely place for the Legate to be is anywhere but his office, the most guaranteed place where you could find the man sooner or later would actually be his office.

    You decide to put your theory to the test and try the Legate's office. If nothing else it's a solid choice of hiding spot as well - anyone who knows the Legate knows that the last place he'd want to be is his office, so if he doesn't want to be found a good spot to hide from his office is, ironically, his office. Though if he is trying to hide in there he's not going to respond to someone knocking on his door, is he? No, obviously not...you'll just try the handle. If the door opens the Legate must be in, and if not he's clearly not. Unless the man literally locked himself in his office, but you're pretty sure you'll see pigs fly before that happens. Like, literally, you're in the Academagia. It can't be that unlikely. Though that makes you wonder how much magic you'll need to learn before you can Revise (or Incant?) a pig functional wings. A combination of Glamour and Negation would probably be easier, Glamour to create illusionary wings and Negation for a levitation or even outright flight effect, but how much would it take to give a pig functional wings?

    In the middle of your internal debate you end up reaching the Legate's office and, per your earlier suggestion, end up trying the handle before anything else. And, eh, it works. Well...that's awkward. Might as well go in now, though. Wouldn't want to be mistaken for a prankster, or worse, someone who thoughtlessly barges into people's offices because they're daydreaming about using magic to create a flying pig...

    --The real question here is where the Legate is least likely to be discovered and dragged back to his office, as that is the most likely place for him to be. And the answer to that must be somewhere populated. One would think the opposite, but a place where there's no people is a place where a person cannot hide. As the saying goes: If you want to hide a tree, use a forest. Genius!

    And so the self-proclaimed genius ends up running up and down multiple areas where people tend to gather, including the Venalicium, both of the Academagia's theatres, the Great Hall, Garden Gallery, and a few others, only to come up completely empty. And out of breath. And covered in sweat. Honestly the hours spend fruitlessly looking around everywhere amounted to a decent bit of physical training, at least, but if you wanted that you'd have just gone to the Athletics Field...

    Here's to hoping this attempt at foreshadowing without calling forth a total eclipse proves to be a bit more successful.

  16. Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 3:


    Keith casts a curious, inquisitive glance over at Astrid, who is busy cleaning the kitchen. Honestly it seems like a cruel task to give her - she's so small compared to the kitchen that cleaning it will take her ages! Keith doesn't seem bothered by that, though. He's thinking about how to explain to you what she even is. "Astrid, in addition to my Familiar, is a homunculus," he slowly starts, mentally going over every word he says before actually speaking it. "In simple terms, she's an artificial lifeform. A construct, created through magic and alchemy."

    ...Huh. You'd ask why she's so small if, presumably, she could simply be crafted(?) with a normal size, but there's a somewhat more important question gnawing at you in the back of your mind you decide to ask first. "Eh...is that legal? I mean, no offence, but that sounds kinda...Gates-y."

    "There are places, outskirts and backwater sorts which don't receive any appreciable degree of magical education that mistake them as such, yes," Keith admits with all the respect towards said "outskirts and backwater sorts" as one would expect. Namely, zero. "Mineta can recognize them for what they are, thankfully, although even here you won't find many who'd give one a warm welcome. Well, I suppose homunculi are usually more unsettling than Astrid is. I've tried my best to make her appearance as palatable as possible...though based on what she said earlier I'm afraid I apparently didn't succeed." You nod and bring up the fact that her eyes are far too large compared to her face. Keith nods in turn, understanding your point. "That was to make sure that people could better see her eyes, and thus would connect with her better. But yes, they are indeed unnaturally large relative to the rest of her frame. I'll have to adjust them later."

    "Wait, what do you mean 'adjust'? Are you talking about adjusting her eyes, like...cut them down a size?" you ask, nervously glancing at the field of knives in the background.

    "No, no. Astrid thankfully doesn't require such methods," Keith corrects as reassuringly as he can. "I won't bore you with the details, I don't think a student of your age could fully grasp the theory behind it anyway, but the short version is that since Astrid is my Familiar I can change her shape...not easily, I'd say, but it can be done. And no, it doesn't require any sharp tools to do so." A second later, right as you begin to hope that this is the worst you're going to hear today, Keith suddenly adds, "I just wish the others were that lucky."

    You're about to open your mouth to ask what "others" Keith is talking about there, but (ironically) the answer comes to you before the question does - Keith must have more of these creatures like Astrid here in his workshop, as test subjects for his chirurgery experiments. It makes sense, since that way he can test different techniques and operations on what are technically "humans" without...well, using actual humans. And the trouble that would bring. It's a disturbing thought, but it makes sense. Even so you ask Keith if you're on the right track, just to make sure. And although you didn't intend to you can't help but notice that you ask your questions quietly, since you don't want Astrid to hear you. Even though she probably already knows about everything anyway.

    "Indeed, that is the gist of it," Keith notes as casually as most people talk about the weather. Well, he looks more pleased at your insight than most people would be at your ability to observe the presence of dark clouds, but close enough. You're also starting to see why he needed to hide himself here in this forest cabin. How much would the people in Mineta not be happy having to live within the same neighbourhood as his experiments? Frankly you don't want to know. "Of course, the homunculi I use for my experiments aren't like Astrid," Keith eagerly continues. "She is just plain special in that regard, as she's also my Familiar. The others aren't sentient, can't feel pain any more than a plant can. They're living puppets made to advance my future craft as best I can manage. And considering that I intend to use these techniques on actual, living humans, I indeed better make sure that I study and perfect these techniques as best I can. And not just that, perhaps even more importantly I need to study it's failings and downfalls. Learn to identify it's limitations and obstacles, the symptoms of it's failures, so that I will know how to respond to a patient of mine who's operation wasn't a success." Disturbing a thought as this whole idea is you can't help but nod at Keith's reasoning here. Though you also have to wonder whether there's any sort of alternative...well, using actual humans obviously, but how would that be any better?

    While you ponder this mystery Keith looks quite proud of himself, not to mention (over)confident, as he goes on to talk about his plans for his future business. From how beautiful it'll look to how he intends to handle payment options since he doesn't expect many to be able to simply drop off "mere" piles of Pims. You'd say something about counting chickens before they hatch, but if the man's workshop is any indication it's not like the guy isn't doing his homework. You can't help but want to test Keith a little, though. Throw a question at him just to see how he responds. "Out of curiosity, do you have a venue in mind? Starting capital, a way to spread the word about this new business, all of that stuff? I, eh, I heard someone complain about how difficult it apparently is to start a business in Mineta recently, so I was curious if it's really that hard."

    "I don't know about 'hard', but than I don't intend to fill in all of those details myself, admittedly," Keith answers after thinking your barrage of (really basic) questions over for a second. "The short version is that an old academic-I dare say family friend of mine works for a brewing guild here in Mineta. He's the one who made Astrid and taught me how to create homunculi, and when I'm ready the two of us will collaborate to start this new business together. We also intent to court the help of the brewing guild he's a member of in order to get this idea off the ground, and naturally we have plans drawn for how to convince the guild to sponsor our little enterprise. Although as far as that goes it's simply in their best interest in any case. It'll be a source of both income and exposure for them, being at the forefront of a new practice that relies on them for material support. My friend is still working on the recipe, but I will need a powerful, local and ideally affordable anaesthetic in order to do my work. The patent to that recipe is all the convincing that guild will need in order to shell out a budget for us, I'm sure. If it will ever come to that."

    Part of you want to say that sounds overly hopeful, another part of you feels like someone here must know what they're talking about, so you have to assume that one of them has the right idea. And in any case it, again, sounds like Keith hasn't been skipping out on his homework. Rather like some might say you are doing right now, in fact. "Sounds like you've got it all handled. That said I'm, eh, not interested in visiting your patient ward and I should be getting back the Academagia right around now, so..."

    Keith nods and wishes you a safe trip. Although you don't get very far, lost in thought as you are, before a familiar wide-eyed (tall-eyed?) Familiar runs up to you and gets your attention. Your initial thought is that you must have forgotten your knapsack or something, but no, it's right there slung over your shoulder where it should be. "Sorry, eh, [PC FIRST NAME], but...if it's not too much to ask, could you please help me with something?" You're honestly not in the mood to escort this girl...actually, given that she's a construct is it fair to call Astrid a-you know what, you hereby declare that by the powers of no longer caring that have been vested unto...into? Whatever you by the stars who decreed ever so long ago that at this point in time you would be a slightly rebellious, mentally worn out teenager that you no longer care...or something. Truthfully you feel like you lost your trail of thought in there somewhere at least twice but whatever. You understand, that's all that matters. "Eh, hello? [PC FIRST NAME], are you still there?" Astrid asks, looking a bit concerned...well, as best as her small frame can express that. You shake yourself out of your mental fatigue and ask Astrid what she wants. You figure that it can't hurt to hear her out, even if you're not going to help her. "Well, I'm not really sure if you can help me with this, but the short version is that I'd like to have a body your size. You know, something that makes it easier for me to help my master, that makes me not a treat for half the wildlife in this forest and makes me use magic to even talk to you from down here...you get the idea."

    "Sure, but what makes you think that I can help you with that? Isn't that your master's business, what he does to you? Or 'for you', rather."

    "I asked before, but he always says he's too busy to make it happen. I understand that, he does work hard to fulfil his dream and all it takes to keep working towards that, but that also makes me want to do more to help him. And I simply can't do that with this tiny frame. I know homunculi aren't your specialty, but you are an Academagia student, so I was hoping that maybe you would be able to help me realize this dream."

    ...Could you do that? How would you even do that? That sounds like something that's way beyond your bridges here, but...you suppose Astrid is right on one point: You are an Academagia student. Maybe you could be of help? You figure that it can't hurt to do some research and at the end of the day you are at least a little bit curious, so you tell Astrid that you'll see about doing what reading on it you can and head back towards the Academagia at last. Finding out more about homunculi, though...where are you even going to begin to try and figure out more about that?

    -Filing. Look through the Venalicium, maybe it'll have answers for you.
    --You hadn't expected to find much (if any) information about homunculi within the Venalicium, but glancing through the library's registry you quickly find a dozen-odd promising titles. Huh. Well, okay, most of them seem to be either historical in nature or too advanced for you to understand textbooks of some variety, not what you need if you're looking for some apparently esoteric information that you'd like to actually recognize if not fully understand, but you keep looking until you find a few truly promising books and head off to where they're located. One instructional tract on the usage of Revision magic to create long lasting effects on Familiars in the Revision section, a book in the Enchant section that'll serve as a nice reference book for the basics in case you need it, quick stop by the Zoology section for another book before you swing by the Arithmetic section...needless to say that you end up with plenty of reading material by the end of it.

    It takes you long enough to read and puzzle through all the material you find that you definitely won't be able to deliver this information to Astrid (or Keith) before curfew, so that'll have to wait for another day, but at least you were able to dig up plenty of information about what it would take to create a human-sized homunculus. Insofar that you can begin to pretend to understand it.

    --You spend a while looking through multiple sections of the Venalicium and end up gathering a few bits and pieces here and there, but nothing that you could call a clear answer. Maybe the Venalicium doesn't have this information in it? Maybe it's in the Restricted section? Though why it would be is beyond you. Either way you spend a while diving through books and have nothing to show for it, so after a long day spend amidst the shelves you eventually call it quits for now.

    -Theory of Enchantment. Asking a professor seems like the best bet.
    --A quick check of your knowledge of the Academagia professors you know of causes Professor Leith's name to rise to the surface - he's got a reputation as the Academagia's potion expert, and is willing to talk theory with students who are able to discuss the subject on his level. You're not interested in trying to help Astrid yourself in any event, so that's probably your best option. It's also your only option that you can think of at the moment, admittedly, but either way you decide to swing by the man's office and start asking questions.

    The professor is willing to indulge your bizarre questions and you're able to intuit (or just correctly guess) enough to keep the professor's interest, and although it takes a while you ultimately manage to walk away with a fairly comprehensive - if, at times, complex - collection of what it would take to create a homunculus that's the size that Astrid wants to be. Hopefully that'll be helpful for her, because otherwise you're not sure whether you can justify how long it took to get that information. Yes, it's interesting, but that took the rest of your day pretty much. You'll have to deliver it to Astrid another day. Hopefully it'll be worth it...

    --Thinking about it you're not even sure whether whatever process made Astrid is considered a separate field from whatever the students here learn in terms of brewing potions. One would assume so as no matter how similar the tools the results are wildly different, but...where does that leave you, in terms of asking for advice? Are you going to have to poke a head in the faculty's office and just throw questions at everyone who happens to be there? That sounds like a bad idea. It also sounds like your only idea, barring flagging down random professors, so...if you're going to flag down random professors anyway might as well go to a place where there's a lot of them? This idea sounds so dumb...so prone to all kinds of reprimand-shaped disasters...

    Ultimately you don't even dare to try out your plan even if it could have worked, which you don't think it would have. You instead spend your time reading up on the theory of Enchantment in the Venalicium, hoping that a (more) solid foundation will prove helpful if you ever end up trying this angle again. Or if you end up thinking of a better idea instead, preferably...

    -Social Skills. See if there's any students you can ask for help.
    --You quickly rule out the idea that any student from your year would be able to really help you with this, so you head off to the practice rooms that are set up for brewing practice and poke your head around in the hopes of finding a senior student who's able (and willing) to help you.

    Needless to say that the by and large busy students are less than willing to indulge a second year with questions that largely go over your head figuratively as much as literally in this case, but you're persistent enough to eventually weasel some decent information out of what feels like the Academagia's entire upper classes worth of students.

    Too bad none of it is good news for Astrid, though. Still, lessons learned, you guess. You'll have to make a point of going back to the cabin and informing her about what you've learned later, it might not be what she wants to hear but you should make sure to give her what answers you did find regardless.

    --You spend an inordinate amount of time going from one College's Common Room to the next looking for just about anyone who's face you can put a name to in the vain, desperate hope that one of them, miracle of miracles, would actually be able to help you.

    They can't.

    Disappointing as that is you at least feel good about yourself having made a serious attempt at trying to help Astrid, putting aside the fact that realistically you're probably just wasting your time. Still, you are here at the Academagia to learn things, and you feel like there's things you can learn from trying to help Astrid.

    You just wish that being able to better find the right people, or failing that how to convince yourself of the futility of attempting to find them, would be one of them sooner rather than later, though...

    Just for the record I haven't actually finished the back half of this adventure yet, at least to the extent that I usually do before I start posting stages, so if updates suddenly stop showing up chances are it's because I'm working on it.

    And yes, those latter stages at barren indeed. Lots of work to do...

  17. Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 2:


    You follow Astrid's directions until you end up reaching a cabin out in the middle of the woods, far from any path or other signs of people coming and going through this area. From the outside the cabin looks like someone just carved a house out of a big boulder and called it a day, there's nothing pretty or flattering to say about it other than that it looks robust. From the inside...well, apparently this is Astrid's home, so who knows what strange and bizarre things await you beyond that plain-looking, unassuming front door...

    "Aren't you going to come in?" Astrid asks before she jumps off your shoulder and falls down to the ground with a slow speed that clearly isn't natural. How is she casting magic without a wand? You don't see anything on her that looks like it's enchanted...what is she? Regardless she runs up to the front door, motions for you to come closer, and in a strange turn of events ducks through a pet door and disappears inside. You're left to wonder if you should even knock before you hear Astrid's voice from inside. "Master, you have a visitor!"

    Why did that have to send a chill up your spine?

    A few moments later a well-kept man who clearly cares about his appearance even in this middle of nowhere, looks to be in his early thirties (very late twenties at best), opens the door and quickly looks you over. "An Academagia student? Hmm, I take it one of your professors send you here to deliver a message of some sort?" the man asks with a neutral tone.

    "No, [s/he] rescued me from a pack of wolves that wanted to eat me," Astrid clarifies from somewhere within the house. You can't see her from here, despite the fact that it looks like this house doesn't have much in the way of walls. Just one big collection of open corners filled with whatever furniture it needs to function from what you can tell. "Also I'm afraid my frame didn't impress [him/her], so I was hoping that maybe [s/he] could be of some help with that."

    You quirk an eyebrow at that. Thankfully the man seems to understand your confusion (and concerns, hopefully). "Don't worry about Astrid," he calmly says. "She...lacks experience, in terms of her social skills. And I'm afraid that is something that's difficult to teach without proper examples. But, please, come in. If you've brought Astrid back safely than the least I could do is offer you a cup of tea."

    "Already on it!" you hear Astrid cry out as you slowly nod and follow the man inside. He seems polite enough, he's well-spoken, he clearly knows how to present himself properly and cares about doing so, Astrid doesn't seem like the bad sort either, but...all of that also only begs ever more questions.

    "Just take a seat in the living room, tea will be served shortly," the man says, and per his advice you take a seat in what amounts to this house's living room. In sharp contrast to his own well-kept appearance the house's furniture mostly looks like a random mishmash of whatever cheap, albeit comfortable pieces the man managed to collect over the years. There's no style or consistency at all, just stuff that works. What amounts to the man's kitchen, where Astrid is busy magically juggling a number of things in order to prepare tea, does at least make you realize that for as messy as the house looks in terms of aesthetics it at least is kept well clean by the looks of it. Beyond that in the back of the house there's what you presume is this man's workshop, which to you looks like an organized mess of brewing equipment, a chirurgery table that seems to be surrounded by an awful lot of knives and other assorted tools of the chirurgery trade, and as if that wasn't unsettling enough, a suspicious amount of plumbing, water taps and drains for cleaning up far, far bigger messes than you ever want to be a part of. There's more of the house that you could be looking at but the workshop has drawn every last piece of attention you have to give. Like, what does this man do with that heavily engraved cauldron hiding out in the back? You're not the dinner this man is going to serve alongside his tea, are you? "I take it you're curious about Astrid?" the man asks, looking slightly amused at your discomfort. Whatever the man is doing here he doesn't seem concerned about you looking around the place like a rabbit stuck in a trap. "I'd expect an Academagia student to have heard about the cauldron, at least. It's a rare practice, to be sure, but not one that can't be spoken of in polite company last I checked."

    You can't help but glance over at the operation table and assorted collection of knives when the man says that...

    "Tea is ready!" Astrid shouts as she, impressively, lifts a tray with two empty cups and a teapot over her head and slowly, one tiny step at a time, walks on over to the living room. It's a bizarre sight. The man happily takes the tray from Astrid, puts it on the table and pours you both of a cup of tea. You check it before you drink any of it, but it neither smells or tastes like it's been poisoned. It's actually quite pleasant, refreshing after walking through the woods and encountering one bizarre, unsettling thing after another. The man, for his part, likewise seems to enjoy his cup of tea. "So..." you slowly start, both nervous and still casting the occasional glance over at the workshop. "What do you, eh, do here, mister, eh...?"

    "Just call me Keith. I'm not one who enjoys formalities," the man answers. Which leads you to a very important question - is not dissecting people who don't want to be dissected a 'formality'? Just curious. Hadn't thought about that one before. "As for what I do, I study. Study and experiment, to advance and establish a new field that, one day, I hope to be the first practitioner of. Of course some would dispute that assessment and merely call it a new direction of an existing trade, or worse. Honestly, the difference doesn't really matter to me. So long as I can advance and, one day, earn an appropriately wealthy living practicing my new trade those around me can call it whatever they wish."

    "Ah-hah..." you intelligently observe. Thankfully Keith just seems amused by your awkwardness. "So...what do you do? What trade are you trying to...well..."

    "Most would say chirurgery, but personally I think my work lies within a different field entirely. A similar one with much the same roots, certainly, but it's goals and principles are completely different. Even if it's textbooks and tools aren't," Keith calmly explains. "Chirurgery is a field of healing the sick, of repairing broken bodies and restoring what was injured, what was changed, to it's natural form. My focus is the exact opposite. I seek a way to leverage, to use those very same injuries to change one's natural form into better, more pleasing permanent shapes. In that respect I see myself more as a sculptor than a chirurgeon, though obviously working with living flesh and bone is quite different from working with simple stone or clay."

    "That sounds...incredibly shady. And evil," you straight-up admit. Really though, there's no sugar-coating this. And thankfully Keith seems aware of that.

    "Yes, well, rest assured that the practice is much more benign and minor than the philosophical principle makes it out to be," he confidently states. As you figured he's more amused by your straightforwardness than anything else. "To give you a practical example, you've met an older woman who wished she could be rid of the wrinkles on her face before, right?" Sure, plenty of them. Not that most of them admitted it, but still. "Well, the field I'm developing involves figuring out functional, safe, and ideally painless ways to trim off the excess skin that causes those wrinkles. Technically this could be seen as permanently injuring the older woman, but my intent would be to restore the youthful, smooth look of her face. Change her shape in a way that she will be happier with. And in a way that is not illusionary or temporary in it's magical nature, nor subject to the laws of Negation. That, in essence, is what I'm hoping to achieve."

    Okay, that does sound a lot less out there. Still shady, but you suppose that comes with the territory? You hope it does. "And, eh, Astrid? What, or...who is she?"

    "You really have never heard of Waldram's cauldron before?" Keith asks with a curious, perhaps slightly disappointed look on his face. "Surely a student of the Academagia itself has heard of it, or at least the Hangman's Bath. I wouldn't dare imagine that the craft has died out that much in my short absence." You shrug and admit that you are just completely out of ideas. If anyone has brought this up before this point you don't remember it. "Hmm...more likely they didn't discuss it in enough detail for you to remember it," Keith notes, disapproving of how this "craft" of his is seemingly treated. "I suppose in that case I'd better step in for your failing professors and educate you myself. Though fair warning: My craft, especially the ends I put it towards, is decidedly unpleasant and unnerving. Rest assured I don't live in this stone hut by choice. I do because it's the only way to advance, to practice my studies without getting half the city on my case for allegedly contributing to an ugly neighbourhood." With a smug smirk Keith adds, "Of course, just wait until I'm ready to open a clinic that can offer permanent cosmetic improvements to those same people's bodies. They'll change their tune about who contributes to an ugly neighborhood really quickly after that, I'm sure."

    Eh...right. So do you want (and dare to hear) any answers to your many questions, or should you just finish your tea and leave?

    -You're not *that* curious, but thank the man for the offer.
    --The man had you at "Hangman's Bath" and "decidedly unpleasant", quite frankly. You're good without getting nightmares for several weeks, as a matter of fact.

    As expected Keith takes no offence to you shaking your head - as he said he's here for a reason, and he can respect a child (one time you definitely don't object to being treated as one!) not wanting to be a part of that - but you can't help but notice Astrid giving you a curious, longing state as you say you're good with not hearing more. Does she want something from you? Or does she just want to eat you...

    You maybe shouldn't risk it in case it's the latter, huh? Yeah, let's not. Any strange situation you can still walk away from is a good situation, for you at least, and you'd prefer to keep it that way...

    [Family: Graverobbers]-"I doubt you've got any stories to tell that are worse than what my parents have or have had said about them."
    --Keith quirks an eyebrow and curiously asks what your parents do, that you would say something like that. So you give him the short version of the same old story you've told so many others so many times by now - they're natural philosophers who made the mistake of being indiscreet about their profession once, and that quickly escalated into them being painted as the most evil, uncivilized people this side of the Wall has to offer. Of course in truth your parents are, and always have been, pretty boring people. The most interesting thing you can say about them is their highly irregular sense of what they should discuss during dinner, but even that is hardly a story worth telling. Or at least a story that you're well used to, by this point. Keith, of course, seems to understand your predicament (as well as the predicament of your parents) quite well. "Hah, I hadn't thought you'd be in the same boat as me in that regard. Well, rest assured your parents are not the only ones who face the scorn of a society that is simply too scared to move forward with them. I'd say the same thing about my own position here, but...even I don't envy the path I have to take in order to get to my destination. Though, if that's the house you grew up in I'm sure you'll be able to understand my methods and position."

    You sure hope so, but you feel confident that you will. Keith doesn't seem like a bad person and you have been accustomed to quite a bit growing up, so you can't imagine that whatever Keith is talking about will be that bad.

    -Courage. You're not squeamish.
    --You point out that you're only asking for an explanation, not a demonstration, and go on to insist that you're not the sort to shy away from "the usual horror story stuff" in any case. Keith seems amused by that, for reasons that you perhaps shouldn't wish to know the answer to, but in any event you're sure you can handle the explanation if you had to. And, thankfully, so does Keith.

    --You open your mouth to say that you can take it, only for your eyes to shoot over at the operating table and have your words get caught in your throat. It's just...that operating table is clean, but there's a bunch of pipes and water surrounding it so one has to assume that those are these for when it's not clean. And if you're judging the amount of plumping correctly you don't want to know how this looks like when it's not clean!

    Ultimately you can't bring yourself to say anything. Keith thankfully seems more amused than anything else, but you're not feeling so great right now. Some might call it wisdom to not stick your head into a beartrap like this, but how are you supposed to walk through a forest if you're afraid of stepping into one? You don't plan to live out the rest of your live living in a library, thank you very much.

    After shaking your head you suggest coming back later, after you've prepared yourself a bit better, and Keith seems open to the idea. So...that'll be that. One trip to wherever you need to go to brace yourself for whatever is going on in this house - it can't really be that bad, can it? - and it'll be time to tear down the curtain and reveal the mystery.

    -Anatomy. You're sure you can take it.
    --Speaking as someone who's no stranger to dissecting you're confident that you can handle whatever "experiments" a self-studied chirurgeon is performing. More to the point, you're curious - how do you self-study chirurgery without a teacher? Without bodies to dissect and examine, without something to practice on? Your "answer" to Keith's question comes out as a series of questions, and needless to say that the broadly grinning man takes that as confirmation that you're more than able to handle his knowledge.

    --You open your mouth to say that you can take it, only for your eyes to shoot over at the operating table and have your words get caught in your throat. It's just...that operating table is clean, but there's a bunch of pipes and water surrounding it so one has to assume that those are these for when it's not clean. And if you're judging the amount of plumping correctly you don't want to know how this looks like when it's not clean!

    Ultimately you can't bring yourself to say anything. Keith thankfully seems more amused than anything else, but you're not feeling so great right now. Some might call it wisdom to not stick your head into a beartrap like this, but how are you supposed to walk through a forest if you're afraid of stepping into one? You don't plan to live out the rest of your live living in a library, thank you very much.

    After shaking your head you suggest coming back later, after you've prepared yourself a bit better, and Keith seems open to the idea. So...that'll be that. One trip to wherever you need to go to brace yourself for whatever is going on in this house - it can't really be that bad, can it? - and it'll be time to tear down the curtain and reveal the mystery.

    I've only just now realized that the adventure title might give away what Astrid is a little bit, huh? Whoops...

  18. Posting this here now in the hopes that it will maybe, possibly, potentially, probably not convince me to actually finish it. Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 0:


    You're out in what is technically considered the Elumian wilderness - it's hard to say you're in the middle of it when you can still see the Academagia's many towers reaching high above the trees in the distance - when you stumble across an odd sight. A small pack of what you assume are either wolves or wild dogs, it's hard to tell, are circling around a fallen over tree like vultures eagerly waiting for a meal. They don't appear to have any concerns beyond the log, whatever makes it so interesting, so you're sure you could easily just walk away if you wanted to. But a part of you can't help but wonder whatever might hidden in that log. Of course another part of you can't help but wonder why you should care. You don't expect you'll get much in the way of thanks if you end up saving a rabbit from a pack of hungry canines. Than again, there could be something like a pixie stuck in that log too, and they tend to be more appreciative. Although mischievous, too...

    The pack of hounds hasn't caught your scent yet, so you can either strike from afar or walk away unnoticed. Yeah, using a wand against animals like that is kinda one-sided, but you didn't come here to prove you're a powerful hunter capable of doing stuff in a fair fight, you came here for brewing ingredients and have nothing to prove to all of the nothing and no one around you. So the tools you have available, be that your wand or your legs, it is.

    -Walk away.
    --What are the odds that interfering here is going to get you anything of merit? Probably very low, and beyond that you shouldn't underestimate the potential danger that those wolves can pose. Yes, you're a wizard with a wand who hasn't been spotted yet, but therein lies the catch - you haven't been spotted yet. If these dogs do spot you you're going to have four opponents closing distance fast, and that is not only a situation that unprepared wizards shouldn't be throwing themselves into willingly in any case, but perhaps more importantly that is a situation that can become reality far too easily. All it takes is one gust of wind travelling the wrong direction for those wolves to get a face full of your scent, and by the time you realize that it might already be too late.

    You decide to make a stealthy exit before the wolves catch your scent, one way or another, and manage to get away scot-free. It really doesn't feel like this should be considered an achievement, especially for a second year magic student, but any fight you can walk away from...

    -Inspect the log, see what's so interesting about it.
    --It's a trivial matter to drive the canines off using the spells you prefer for these situations. So, with a bit of a smug smirk and a spring in your step you walk over to the scene of the crime - exactly what crime was committed here you're not entirely sure, but it definitely sounds cooler that way so you're willing to not question it too much this time - and see just what caught that pack's attention anyway...

    And Stage 1:


    Nothing pokes a head out of the log as you walk over, and when you look inside you...don't see anything at all. Strange. You're sure that those canines were drawn to this thing for a reason, but there's nothing here. You didn't see anything make a quick escape as you were walking over, either. Very odd indeed. But, in any case, you kneel down and get ready to inspect the log more closely when your eyes notice something...off. Shimmering, like a Glamour. Light seems to bend around the inside of this log in ways it shouldn't. Maybe this will prove to be interesting after all.

    "Please don't kidnap me," a weary, slightly haggard-sounding voice suddenly calls out from the log as you prepare to dispel the Glamour. A second later the voice adds, "Um...actually I would prefer to be kidnapped over being eaten, so if you were planning to eat me I guess please kidnap me instead?"

    With a curious, slightly perplexed frown you dispel the Glamour on the creature and watch in equal parts confusion and awe as what you can only describe as a child shrunk down to the size of a large hand curiously looks you over before slowly shuffling out of the log. She(?) tries her best to wipe the dirt and bits of wood off of her tiny clothes before turning her attention to you, bowing as best as her tiny frame can, and thanking you for your help in fending off those wolves. "Eh...yeah. Sure," you say as you sit down and try to get a better look at this...creature. You've seen pixies before, but this girl doesn't look like one. Distinctly human-style clothes (tiny as they are), no wings, different size from pixies that you've seen before too...you're at a loss. What doesn't help is that this girl is just unnerving to look at. Not that she's ugly or repulsive, there's something...off about her. Definitely not a Fey, they usually have the opposite aura to them. "So...wha-eh, who are you?"

    "My name is Astrid," the tiny girl answers. You'd say she looks disappointed, for some reason you don't dare to start guessing at, but you're not willing to bet money on your ability to interpret this creature's expressions. Despite the confusion you introduce yourself in turn, albeit with that same curious expression frozen on your face the entire time. "Is my frame really that off?" Astrid asks with crossed arms and a frown on her tiny face, difficult as the latter is to see. Her mannerisms are human enough, as least. In response to her question you shrug and ask what she's talking about. "My frame-eh, right: My body, as you would say. Sorry, I'm not used to talking with people other than my master very well. I want to know if my body really looks that different from yours." A second later Astrid quickly adds, "Size aside, obviously."

    You think that question over, but obvious as it seems you don't feel like you understand what she wants to know, let stand how to answer her. So...now what?

    -Just admit that you're clueless.
    --It's not the response you wanted to go with, but all you have on offer in this instance is a confused shrug. Astrid, unsurprisingly, does not look impressed. "Really? I thought normal people knew how to communicate. Or did your master never get the opportunity to teach you either?" she asks, and rather rudely you might add. Of course you can imagine why Astrid hasn't had much opportunity to learn this whole "social" thing, leaving you wondering as to what your excuse is supposed to be...

    "Thanks. And no, my 'master', whoever you're referring to with that, just didn't tell me anything about...what are you, exactly?" That question sends Astrid deep in thought, which is surprising on two fronts. One, she doesn't know herself? And two, her mannerisms are so close to human that you're able to read her expression (insofar that you can see it) like any regular person's? And yet she doesn't classify herself as "normal people"...weird, weird, weird. When are you going to encounter something completely bizarre and off the wall that you just know about? That'd be a real breath of fresh air right about now...

    Suddenly Astrid snaps her (tiny) fingers, and without drawing or waving around a wand (as far as you can see) she casts what you can only assume is a Sergei's Timely Doorjam on herself. Within moments the tiny girl grows to the size of a mostly normal-looking teenager, and staring at you with a pair of absurdly oversized eyes she asks, "Is that better? How do I look now?"

    It takes you a few seconds to find the right words to describe this...this. Whatever Astrid is. "Eh, well, 'better' insofar that I don't have to strain my neck to look at you, yes. But what is going on with your eyes? Did you miscast your size-changing spell?"

    Astrid frowns, which looks even more ridiculous, and seemingly out of nowhere conjures a small mirror into her hand to take a closer look at your face. She then proceeds to completely ignore your perplexed look as she casually goes back and forth between looking at you and looking at herself using her magical mirror a few times, nodding to herself as she notices the rather large pair of problems adorning her face. "Hmm...I'm sure I cast my spell correctly, but this clearly isn't right. One moment, let me see if I can fix this," Astrid casually says as, checking herself in her little magic mirror in one hand, she uses her other hand to just carefully resize her eyes, like some kind of paining brought to life. What in Octavius' name is this girl!? You've heard of shapeshifters before, but this is just ridiculous!

    Your continued exasperation at this situation aside, though, yes, you have to admit that with normal sized eyes Astrid indeed does look a lot more normal. If you can ignore the road you had to travel to get here, which...no, but other than that it's a vast improvement. Of course Astrid happily nods at your observation, but after she cancels her Sergei's Timely Doorjam her now normal sized eyes prove to be all but invisible from where you're standing, so...that just ended up trading one problem for another, it seems like. And she still looks unnerving even without her oversized eyes anyway, likely because humans were not meant to be that small. Yet at the same time those huge eyes serving such a clever purpose cannot be anything but design, you feel like. So...just what is this girl?

    "You look like you have some difficult questions of your own to ask," Astrid notes a bit too cheerfully for your liking, as she cancels her other spell (at least you assume that was a spell of some description) and brings back her huge eyes. It's the lesser of two evils, but you don't think that Astrid will be satisfied with that. "If you want I could bring you to my master. I'm sure he can help answer your questions, and maybe even give you some pointers about how to communicate. I, eh, also would appreciate it if I could catch a ride on your shoulder. I've had my fill of walking through the wilderness for one day."

    You are never going to live that down, are you? Great. In any case you are indeed very curious about this girl's "master", and you do have a shoulder available, so...why not? You're close enough to the Academagia and the most well-rounded failure of a student it has to offer, you feel like, so what could possibly go wrong? Worst case people can just not miss you if you end up being boiled into stew or something...

    -Confidence. You can figure this out.
    --The more bizarre and left field a situation you find yourself in - and this situation all but flew over from whatever other country is located in whatever direction is currently to your left in that respect - the more important it is to not doubt yourself overly much. The girl's question is straightforward enough, it's only if you keep looking down at her and wondering whether you can take her question at face value that you end up stuck like this. And you've dealt with worse before, right? You got this.

    "I...can't say that it does," you eventually answer, after looking Astrid's 'frame' - or whatever she wants to call it - over a few times. "That said...I can't figure out why but it feels like there's something off about it. It's not your height, it's...I don't know."

    You bend over trying to get a better look at Astrid, determined to answer her question for yourself if not for her, although Astrid takes a step back when you do. "Wait, hold on, I have an idea. One moment," the tiny girl says as she - without any sort of wand that you can see - casts a spell on herself to increase her body's size up to a more normal level. Kinda disappointed you didn't think of that one first admittedly, but whatever. It'll do, because looking at Astrid's more normal-sized form it's clear why her frame unnerves you so much - her eyes are gigantic! They're so oversized you're not sure whether they were always that disproportionate or whether Astrid miscast her spell, or whatever she just did. You calmly point out as much, at least as calmly as you can manage to be in this situation, and Astrid slowly nods to herself. "Yeah, they do feel...one second, is this better?" Astrid notes and asks, as she casts another spell to bring her eyes down to a normal level. And yes, with that she definitely looks like a normal, average human. Minus the fact that she didn't reach up to your knee a minute ago.

    "Much better," you note, nevertheless still staring curiously at Astrid. "How'd you end up with those huge eyes, though? Did your spell miscast? I assume not since you just cast it again and it worked, but-"

    "No, I didn't miscast anything, that's just part of my frame," Astrid interrupts as she cancels her first spell and goes back down to her normal small size. At which point you actually get an answer to your first question, which you point out to Astrid - her eyes are likely so large because now that they're normal you can't see her eyes clearly from where you're standing. Astrid nods, cancels her other spell to bring back her huge eyes and asks if that looks better. It does, but the out of proportion eyes are nevertheless unnerving to look at. Being able to see her eyes is good, of course, but they still look...well, weird. So strange, though...who designed that? Who-hell, just what is this girl?

    "Hey, Astrid, you mentioned having a 'master', right?" Astrid nods, and asks if you'd like to meet him. You nod. "Yeah. I have questions, and frankly I don't think this is a good place for it. Out in the middle of the woods and all."

    Astrid definitely nods heartily at that, and taking a ride on your shoulder as she (understandably) has had her fill of going through a forest for one day, she ends up leading you to her master's home. Wise? Maybe not, but you're so close to the Academagia you don't feel like you're putting yourself in danger.

    --You stare awkwardly at Astrid for about a minute trying to figure out what all this girl could possibly mean with her straightforward-seeming question, but can you really take the words of someone obviously bizarre at face value? It might be mean to say "no" to that, but you remember a few instances where that theory worked out in the end, so...

    "Is there a problem?" Astrid eventually asks. And you actually nod in response, still staring her up and down curiously. It is weird that looking at her...unnerves you like it does, especially because you can't tell why it does even though it does. Very bizarre. "Well, than what's the problem? Do you not understand what I asked? If you don't you can just ask me to clarify, you know."

    ...You're going to pointedly ignore that that was an option this entire time and you just completely forgot. Maybe there's a reason you're not entirely confident in your social skills, though. At least you feel that way now. "W-well, I'm just not sure - what do you want to know? Whether your body-or 'frame', whichever term you prefer, is different from mine? Size aside?"

    Astrid nods. Really, so it was the obvious answer this whole time? Leave it to you to encounter the strangest things with the most straightforward answers sometimes, no one ever expects the straightforward answer in these situations! "Actually, that gives me an idea. One moment," Astrid suddenly says, and within a few seconds she suddenly rises up to your height. Magic, clearly, but you sure didn't see her wave any wands around. In any case her spell if not her casting of it must have gone wrong at some point, because by the time Astrid is done rising up to your face and looks at you you're suddenly staring at a girl with eyes that seem to go from her nose to the edges of her face and beyond. It's unnerving enough that you take a step back, trip and fall flat on your backside, so here's to continue believing that you're not a parade of failures.

    "Could you tell me before you go botching spells like that?" you say as you pick your sorry self back up.

    "I didn't fail to cast," Astrid insists, and you point out that her eyes tell a different story. Not figuratively, but literally in this case. After looking over your own face Astrid conjures a small magic mirror into her hand, again not wand waving that you could see, and after checking her eyes actually nods to herself. "Actually, you're right, that is odd. One moment, tell me if this looks better," Astrid says before she begins to draw her eyes down a few sizes with just her fingers. How does she do that, exactly? Regardless of how she does it the effect is clear enough, because within moments her eyes are shrunk down to a normal size, and were it not for your sore backside you couldn't even tell that Astrid wasn't a normal girl. So, yes, that is definitely a major improvement, and you tell Astrid as much. She takes that as her cue to cancel her first spell (whatever she just did with her eyes must be magic of some kind) and return to her normal size, which sadly does nothing to help the many questions flying around in your head right now.

    Actually, with her normal-sized eyes and small (normal?) sized Astrid you can't see her eyes at all. That's no good, and probably why her eyes are so huge in the first place, but...how? Who designed that? Who planned that? Just...what is this girl!?

    "Thank you for helping me figure out the large eyes. That said but you look like you have some questions of your own to ask right about now," an all but eye-less, from your perspective, Astrid playfully notes as she thankfully cancels her other spell and brings back her (relatively) huge eyes. It's an improvement over no eyes at all for sure, but it still looks off. You mention as much to Astrid, and she nods to herself (for whatever reason). "If you want I could bring you to my master," Astrid offers. "You did rescue me from those wolves, so...honestly I think I'd feel more comfortable taking a ride on your shoulder than going back home on my own. I've had my fill of walking through the forest for the rest of today."

    "You'd take a ride on the shoulder of someone who can't seem to stay on their own two feet?" you drily ask.

    "Better than tempting the wolves again, and worst comes to worst I can cast a slowfall spell," Astrid answers. And if that's her answer, than, sure. You've got a shoulder free and you are curious to meet this girl's master, so why not? You're still pretty close to the Academagia, this probably won't get you horribly killed.

    And if it does...well, at least you've an educated guess as to the most likely reason why you wouldn't be able to run away successfully. So yay for being prepared you supposed...

    -Concentration. Focus, figure out why Astrid's appearance unnerves you so much.
    --The sound of chased-off wolves howling in admission of their defeat (at least that's what they should be doing) in the distance doesn't stop you from giving this girl a careful once-over, and after admittedly multiple tries you finally end up narrowing down what about this girl (or...whatever she is) unnerves you so much - her eyes. It's difficult to tell, but the girl's eyes look fairly normal compared to her decidedly smaller than usual self. That's why it unnerves you, because it just looks off - her eyes are way bigger than they should be, relatively speaking.

    You explain as much to Astrid, who happily nods along with your observation. "Hmm-hmm, that sounds about right. One moment, let me confirm that this is really the problem," she says as she, without waving around any wand that you can see, casts a Sergei's Timely Doorjam on herself to rise herself up to roughly your height.

    The resulting...person, if you're willing to describe her as such, is so unapologetically uncanny-looking that you have to catch yourself before you take a step back and fall flat on the ground in the process. Yikes, do those eyes not look flattering when they're brought up to your size.

    Astrid, for her part, just nods her head at your reaction. And near-failure to keep yourself upright. "That bad...okay, one second," she merrily goes, no concern in the world, as she casts another spell to shrink her eyes down to normal size. And yes, you have to agree that with normal eyes she looks...well, normal.

    The effect doesn't last, though. After Astrid returns herself back to her normal size her now-miniscule eyes are all but impossible to see, which makes you think that her oversized eyes were designed that way for that purpose. Who designed such a thing, though? You point out the issue you've noticed, and afterwards can't help but ask Astrid about who or what she is, again.

    "My master will be better able to explain that, I think," Astrid notes as she cancels her own spell and brings back her huge eyes. Definitely by design, you feel like, that her eyes are oversized just enough that a normal person can see them even when Astrid is looking up at your knees is just...too perfect, you feel like. "If you want I could bring you to my master. You did rescue me from those wolves, so...honestly I think I'd feel more comfortable taking a ride on your shoulder than going back home on my own. I've had my fill of walking through the forest for the rest of today."

    Will there ever be a day where you'll no longer end up in these bizarre situations? Maybe. It's the life of a wizard, you suppose. In any case you are indeed very curious about this girl's "master", and you do have a shoulder available, so...why not? You're close enough to the Academagia, this couldn't possibly end poorly.


    --You strain your eyes looking over...whatever Astrid is time and time again, but you're not able to figure out what's so unnerving about this girl. The sound of distant howls doesn't help, but if those wolves want to go for round two you're ready for them. Ready to stop playing nice, that is.

    "Actually, one moment, I think I have an idea," Astrid notes while you're off staring into the distance again, looking out for any unexpected company, and when you look back at Astrid she's used magic to increase her overall size up to that of a normal teenager. Good idea, unfortunately she either miscast the spell or something else went wrong because what you're looking at isn't a person so much as a monster. It startles you enough that without thinking you reflexively cast the quick two-Pheme spell at her which you were keeping in the back of your head for those wolves, nothing that's more bite than bark, but even so it's enough to trigger whatever magical protections this girl has cast on her. And that lashing out at you is enough to send you to the ground. Not too painfully, the surprise was worse than the fall honestly, but still. Not something you were waiting for either.

    "Glad to know you're well prepared to deal with wild animals," you sarcastically note as you pick yourself back up. You're just going to...edit this part of the story if you ever end up telling anyone about it, you feel like.

    "Eh, I'm actually not. That shield only works against magic, not teeth. And sorry for the, well...everything," Astrid awkwardly explains while you use your wand to clean your dirt-covered robes. "Still, if you don't mind me asking: What made you freak out there? I can cast Sergei's Timely Doorjams with both hands tied behind my back, so I'm sure I cast it correctly."

    "Than explain those two things," you say, pointing your wand at the girl's ridiculously oversized eyes. Seriously, if that is not the result of magic gone awry than you don't want to know what that girl will look like when it does. You feel like you've hurt yourself enough for one day. Both physically and mentally, even. The girl, in response, conjures a quick mirror using nothing but a wave of her hand and casually examines her eyes. What is she? Weird looks are one thing, now she's casting magic without a wand?

    "Hmm..." Astrid goes, alternating between looking her magic mirror and your face a few times. "You're right, these eyes really are too large. One moment, let's see if this looks better." Again the girl uses magic without doing anything to visibly cast said magic, this time either a Revision or a Glamour to bring her eyes to a normal size. And yes, now she looks like a normal person. Minus all of the weirdness you've seen already, of course. Sadly it doesn't last. After Astrid cancels her Sergei's Timely Doorjam spell and returns herself to her normal size a new problem shows up - you can't see her normal-sized eyes on this tiny (normal?) version of herself at all. You point this out to her, while mentally going over the oddity that her large eyes must be their oversized size normally for that very reason. But who designed that? That just seems far too...perfect.

    "Thank you for helping me figure out the large eyes situation, but you look like you have some questions of your own to ask right about now," Astrid playfully notes as she cancels her other spell and brings back her (relatively) huge eyes. It's an improvement when she's her current size, but still...it just looks off. And difficult to put into words, unsurprisingly. This is not a question you ask yourself all too often, needless to say. "If you want I could bring you to my master," Astrid offers. "You did rescue me from those wolves, so...honestly I think I'd feel more comfortable taking a ride on your shoulder than going back home on my own. I've had my fill of walking through the forest for the rest of today."

    "Are you sure your magical shield thing isn't going to take offence to that?" you drily ask.

    "It should only lash out against spells cast at me, so unless your robe is enchanted to cast magic you should be fine," Astrid answers. A second later, with what you can only interpret as a smug tone no matter how neutrally she actually say it, Astrid adds, "and worst comes to worst I can just cast a slowfall spell to spare myself the unexpected fall."

    You know what? Sure. You've got a shoulder free and you are curious to meet this girl's master, so why not? You're still pretty close to the Academagia, this couldn't possibly hurt you any more than you hurt yourself.


    -Revision Spells. Perhaps a Sergei's Timely Doorjam will help here.
    --If Astrid's unusual size shouldn't be a factor than maybe bringing the two of you to the same level, size-wise, will help answer her question? That seems like a reasonable idea to you, but do you want to make yourself smaller or her bigger? Well, as simple as this spell is it's easier to cast magic on yourself than it is to cast magic on someone else, and faster since you don't need to ask yourself for permission. So you take out your wand and cast an inverted Segrei's Timely Doorjam on yourself, carefully making sure that you end up as close to Astrid's tiny size as you can manage. Which, considering you end up just a strand of hair taller than her, you manage quite well.

    From down here it quickly becomes apparent what Astrid was asking you about, and why her 'frame', as she called it, unnerves you so much - her eyes are gigantic compared to the rest of her body, at least assuming she was going for a human look. It wasn't as noticeable when you were looking down at her, but staring at her face-to-face like this she looks like a first year who failed to cast multiple Revision spells before stubbornly deciding that visiting the infirmary is for people who are capable of admitting defeat. Astrid calmly nods at your observations and actually uses her own magic (not that you see her draw and wave around a wand to cast her spells) to temporarily change the size of her eyes to a more natural-looking shape, or at least create a Glamour illusion thereof. And you have to admit that it does look much better, more natural. Of course after you cancel your own spell and return to your normal size the uncanny nature of Astrid's appearance quickly rears it's ugly head again, as not only are you looking at an unnaturally tiny human again, but you're looking at an unnaturally tiny human who's eyes are so small you can't see them clearly. That must be the reason why Astrid has such huge eyes in the first place, come to think of it, but...how'd she end up with them? And why is she as small as she is, for that matter? What is she?

    "You look like you have some questions of your own," Astrid playfully notes as she cancels her own spell and brings back her huge eyes. It kinda looks better from where you stand, but...not really at the same time. It's difficult to put into words, other than that there's still room for improvement. "If you want I could bring you to my master. You did rescue me from those wolves, so...honestly I think I'd feel more comfortable taking a ride on your shoulder than going back home on my own. I've had my fill of walking through the forest for the rest of today."

    Will there ever be a day where you'll no longer end up in these bizarre situations? Maybe. It's the life of a wizard, you suppose. In any case you are indeed very curious about this girl's "master", and you do have a shoulder available, so...why not? You're close enough to the Academagia, this couldn't possibly end poorly.


    --If Astrid's unusual size shouldn't be a factor than maybe bringing the two of you to the same level, size-wise, will help answer her question? Seems reasonable, and you happen to be someone who's quite familiar with Sergei's Timely Doorjam, so just a quick flick of the wand and...nothing happens.

    "I've got some protective spells cast on me," Astrid notes as you stare perplexed at the miserable heap of Phemes piling up around your feet. "Not that they help against those wolves, mind you, but...still, what are you trying to do?" You explain your idea, and Astrid readily nods at the suggestion. "Yes, that should work just fine. One moment, let me just cast that spell myself."

    She says that, but you don't see her take out a wand and wave it around. Nevertheless Astrid does cast a Sergei's Timely Doorjam on herself, a successful one this time, and within a few second she rises up to roughly your size, half a head or so shorter than you.

    Afterwards it quickly becomes obvious why Astrid's "frame", as she called it, unnerves you so much - her eyes are absolutely enormous! It's uncanny enough that it causes you to take a step back, only to lose your footing on a rock and fall down unceremoniously. How you managed to save this girl - or whatever she is - from those wolves is something that, in hindsight, you're less sure of now. Not when you make clumsy moves like that.

    Thankfully Astrid herself seems to have noticed what's off, as by the time you look at her again after picking your sorry self back up she's casts another spell to either shrink her eyes down to normal size or create an illusion thereof. You'll happily take either at this point. "Sorry, I wasn't aware that my frame was that off," Astrid says with a neutral tone. Note to self: Research spells to cushion unexpected falls. They might save you trouble down the line. "Is this better? The eyes, I mean?"

    You look at Astrid again, who has normal-sized eyes now, and yes, this definitely is a significant improvement. That answer pleases Astrid, but after she cancels her Segrei's Timely Doorjam and reverts back to her normal form the issue of her eyes comes right back as they're now too small to clearly see on her tiny frame. That's probably why there were so oversized to begin with, but...who thought that through? Who designed that? What is this girl?

    "You look like you have some questions of your own," Astrid playfully notes as she cancels her other spell and brings back her (relatively) huge eyes. It looks better when she's small, you'll admit, but...it just doesn't look right no matter how you look at her. It's honestly difficult to put into words, predictably enough as this is not a situation you find yourself in too frequently. "If you want I could bring you to my master," Astrid suddenly suggests. "You did rescue me from those wolves, so...honestly I think I'd feel more comfortable taking a ride on your shoulder than going back home on my own. I've had my fill of walking through the forest for the rest of today."

    "You'd take a ride on the shoulder of someone who can't seem to stay on their own two feet?" you drily ask.

    "Better than tempting the wolves again, and worst comes to worst I can cast a slowfall spell," Astrid answers. And if that's her answer, than, sure. You've got a shoulder free and you are curious to meet this girl's master, so why not? You're still pretty close to the Academagia, this probably won't get you horribly killed.


    This is one of those ideas that ended up picking up speed here and there until it shot off the rails and started flying off into the sunset. So...basically like all the others, really.

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