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Metis
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Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 11:

Spoiler

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

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

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

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

Edited by Metis
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Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 12:

Spoiler

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Aenor Charpentier"

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

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

Hmm...did you asking about Matteo's war inspire any rumors? Something certainly did, if Cordelia tracking your down that one time is any indication. But, no, the letter mentions her wanting to talk about "that alchemist". 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.

Edited by Metis
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Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 13:

Spoiler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another one of my attempts at being subtle.

"Attempts", key word :rolleyes:.

Edited by Metis
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Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 14:

Spoiler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Metis
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  • 1 year later...
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Been a while since my prior idea for an adventure fell flat, but this one has not. Circle of Doubt, stage 0:

Spoiler

Another slow day in the Vernin Common Room, as you're trying (and failing) to focus on your coursework. Well, so you say, but...that's not entirely the truth if you're being honest with yourself. The truth of what's keeping you from focussing on your coursework, or taking your books to the Venalicium and studying there for that matter, is a fifth year by the name of Valerie Fontaine. A Merilien noble of no significant consequence (her sharing a college with Catherine Chard notwithstanding), she has been talking up a storm over the past few days, sharing stories of what happened to her and her family during the summer. You're not familiar with the fine details (and Valerie hasn't honestly been overly forthcoming with those), but the gist of it is that she found herself on the wrong side of a border skirmish with Pievre that spilled over into untamed wilderness owned by territorial beasts. She ended up getting either captured or rescued by Pievran-bought mercenaries, who either exploited a situation they "accidentally" created to excuse a mass kidnapping or helped (albeit forcibly) evacuate civilians that nearly fled into certain death, depending on who tells the tale - Valerie herself goes back on forth on it, not sure which term to use. What you're gathering from her story is that it was the fault of the mercenaries that the civilians ended up caught in the crossfire in the first place, but that wasn't their intent. And once that mistake became clear they prioritized blocking the paths and escorting the civilians to safety over their original orders, before any agitated beasts made their way down the hills to wreak far greater havoc. Which, according to Valerie, one actually did, taking no less than five mercenaries with it before it was put down. So you're inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt, given it's Valerie herself saying this. In any case Valerie, along with the other civilians and wounded from both sides, were brought to the mercenary camp in Pievran territory. Despite it not being remotely set up to house so many people. Nevertheless the mercenaries went out of their way to treat all the wounded and shelter everyone as best they were able, with Valerie assisting with treating the wounded using her Revision studies, all organized and (where needed) ordered by the mercenary's captain. According to Valerie it wasn't a pleasant stay by any means, but no one else died after the beast from the hills was put down, so at least it worked out in the end.

Well, for most it did. There was still the slight matter of a bunch of people and wounded being stranded (or captured) in Pievran territory. According to Valerie she wasn't present for any of the talks and dealings that went on behind the scenes because of this situation, so she doesn't know the details of what was discussed, but the mercenary captain did plainly tell her about what direction that negotiation was taking - the people who employed said captain wanted to keep Valerie in exchange for releasing everyone else. There's a lot of speculation flying around the Common Room as to how the situation ended up that way, up to and including Catherine Chard adding her piece to the puzzle, but there's no definitive explanation that everyone can agree on. What is agreed upon is that the area Valerie is from is actually fairly remote and surprisingly removed from the whole "Pievre and Meril" ordeal, as they're separated by (functionally) impassable mountains, slowing down the spread of Pievre's ideals. Most of the actual conflict instead comes from two noble families that own the two sides of the beast-filled hills and mountains that separate the two countries in that area. Apparently there's disagreements about which side owns the actual mountain, which (allegedly) would make for a defensive wall against invasion, but according to Valerie the mountains have belonged - legally and informally - to the beasts that make their homes there since antiquity. Considering it apparently took five mercenaries to take down one of said beasts you're inclined to take Valerie's word on that point, though some students are more inclined to believe otherwise, seeing as how these mercenaries were apparently able to set up camp in that same area. It's a curious and valid point, but you're not sure either way.

Regardless, the "prisoner exchange" ultimately happened as the mercenary captain told Valerie it would - she was brought to the other nobles on the other side of the hills by the mercenary captain and a few of his officers, whereas everyone else - serfs and loyalists of Valerie's family - were safely escorted back home by the rest of the band. Valerie was, needless to say, not happy about the situation and not clear on what would happen to her either. But according to her the mercenary captain was paid, in full, for "a job well done", which he accepted with a look of "professional composure", apparently. It sends most people right back into gossiping and debating, whether the mercenary band (and it's captain, specifically or separately) can be trusted or not.

Only briefly, though. Because the most interesting part of the story is what happens next.

-Keep on listening.
--You haven't completely forgotten about your homework, yet, for the record. Just...mostly. Temporarily. It's a return to what should be more important business in progress, these things just take some time sometimes, is all.

Inspiration for this adventure is...a long story, let's just put it that way. It's kinda sorta related to Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, in a way, technically...but not a way that makes sense to the casual observer. Or to someone reading the adventures, I presume.

Circle of Doubt, stage 1:

Spoiler

"They treated me just fine, even if they did insist on keeping me locked up in my room for the most part," Valerie continues, talking about her stay with the other noble family (the name of which you've yet to catch, actually). "Their servants and tutors tended to me while the heads of the family debated behind closed doors over how to proceed. Not that there was any disagreement on what they had done so far, they simply couldn't agree on the best way forward."

"If they debated that 'behind closed doors', how did you learn of it?" Catherine asks, quickly interrupting Valerie. She's been listening intently and asking inquisitive questions, though whether she sees this as an interesting story she'd like clarified or an interrogation remains to be seen.

"Heh...he told me," Valerie answers with a strange, wistful look on her face. "The cousin of the man who basically forced that whole 'prisoner exchange' idea so that I'd end up in his care. A boy around my age," Valerie quickly adds, before Catherine (who stopped dead in her tracks to stare bewildered at Valerie's earlier expression) can interrupt again. "After his parents and uncle discussed the situation he'd often come to visit me, talk to me about what they were saying, what they were planning...and what he thought of it. Surprisingly nice boy, that one. He was so earnest and polite, even when he didn't know what to say he'd try his best to make sure I'd understand."

You were honestly expecting Catherine to interrupt again, were fully ready for her to say something out of nowhere. But despite the perplexed look on Catherine she doesn't appear to have anything to say right now. Valerie, in contrast, continues talking about "the boy" with an increasingly distant, dream-like look in her eyes and ever brighter smile. Happily remembering every detail as she describes both important details, like the doubt the boy was apparently having with the whole situation and his family's part in it, and how he apparently confided in - and to! - Valerie because he was looking for answers to clear his mind, to...details less immediately obvious in their importance. Such as the boy's slightly exaggerated - but in a cute way, apparently - body language, and how over time his initially consistent military-style mannerisms ended up making way for something more casual, more natural to him as Valerie saw it. Overall there's, eh...no mistaken her feelings on the subject, at least.

"So...what were his parents actually planning? And how did...eh, this boy find out? He wasn't a part of those meetings, from the sound of it," Catherine cautiously asks, when Valerie (eventually) starts running out of steam talking about the boy. It takes her a second to think of an answer, which is still enough for the dreamy look on Valerie's face to melt into something much sadder, and darker.

"Right. So, they couldn't agree on the best way to make it happen, but their plan was for me to be married into their family," Valerie answers. It shocks a few people, but Catherine is as unmoved as a boulder in a river.

"So that their next heir would have a rightful claim to your own family's land, I take it?" Catherine casually asks, like that's just the most obvious thing. And apparently it is, because Valerie nods. "You've not been pledged to anyone yet?"

Valerie shakes her head. "In terms of inheritance I'm the youngest of three siblings, and my family refuses to encourage me to marry whoever happens to be available and rich just to try and fill the family coffers some more," she explains, to which Catherine (naturally) nods approvingly. "The land our family owns isn't worth that much, anyway. It's enough to support our lives and it's home, but beyond that there's no valuable resources or anything in it. Desperate and stupid people like to get ideas whenever it seems like the situation with Pievre shows signs of heating up, since in theory we could claim the range of hills and mountain that separates us from Pievre, but there's a reason that land belongs to the beasts that dwell there. Not that you couldn't force an army through if you really wanted to, but it's basically suicide. You couldn't possibly maintain a supply line through that area, so any soldiers that did make it across would be stranded with nothing to do but occupy a place with no strategic value." Catherine nods again, slowly taking in all the information, as Valerie goes off on a tangent about her wanting to become a travelling musician when she grows up, journeying across the world and looking for things to take home so she can enrich the lives of her family and family's serfs there.

"How did-sorry for interrupting, but how did you end up escaping from that mansion? Were you just send to attend the Academagia when Athonos started to roll around?" Catherine suddenly asks, interrupting things again. So good at listening, and yet so poor at the same time. It's actually impressive, in a way.

"No, I only stayed...I think a week or two there," Valerie starts to explain, thoroughly brought out of her earlier tangent. "What happened is that one of Pievre's many coalitions of local traders and guildsman, of all things, caught wind of what the other family did. They didn't like the sound of them potentially bringing a future front line to their relatively quiet and peaceful corner of the world, so they petitioned the 'authorities' to step in." Unsurprisingly Catherine is shocked by this turn of events, although Valerie herself seems pretty ambivalent towards it. "I confess I don't really understand how Pievre's system works, if only in that area. But as far as I gathered that petition reached the banks and investors that own most of the land and businesses in that general area, and they agreed that what 'the old mountainside mansion owners' were doing wasn't in their collective interests, so they got in contact with my family and struck their own deal with them: My release, for my family's future cooperation in either finding or creating a path to safely cross the mountains. Apparently there's a lot of trade goods from Meril that have to go the long way around, and the investors are hoping that by being able to directly cross the mountains they can see greater profits from passage tolls and cheaper imports. Which in turn would make the land more valuable, pleasing the banks who own said land."

While Catherine desperately tries to fight her urge to start foaming at the mouth someone else asks Valerie what happened to the boy she met at that estate. It doesn't take long for the dreamy look on her face to come back, which Catherine apparently takes as confirmation that she's gotten everything she could out of the conversation as she leaves the Common Room altogether. "Right, him," Valerie starts, visibly savoring those memories. "When the head banker of the area arrived to pick me up and escort me back home, as per his agreement with my family, the boy's uncle threw a fit. I could hear him shouting right outside my door, actually. Though he didn't really accomplish anything, so after a while he just left in a huff. After that the banker walked in, introduced himself, explained himself, and pretty quickly dragged me along with him since he didn't want to stay any longer than necessary. And frankly neither did I, but..." For a brief moment Valerie actually has a sad look on her face, for the first time since she's started telling her story. "I did want to say goodbye to him. To the boy, I mean, but...I didn't dare to stick around either. I looked around, I hesitated, but...I didn't see him." Tragic, though not to the extend that you're about to reach for a napkin to dry your tears. Of course some of the people here apparently wish to test that, because someone asks Valerie if she'll ever see him again. At that question, however, to the surprise of everyone here, Valerie actually breaks out a devious, if still doubtful smile. "I really hope so. I, eh...I kinda forgot my ring, with my family's sigil, when I left their mansion in such an unexpected rush. I'm really hoping he finds it, brings it back to me. I...I'd really like to see my ring again."

Right. Her ring. You totally believe that...

-Administration. "Wouldn't your parents be against such a trade route being established?"
--Seems like you picked up right where Catherine left off. Well, it happens you suppose. "Well...not necessarily," Valerie answers, though you wouldn't call it a confident answer by any stretch. "There are things that my family wouldn't mind seeing cheaper to import as well, and although the Pievrans didn't admit to it they're nevertheless expecting that this will be the start of a larger trade route that will eventually lead deeper into Meril. It's not just the border that's hard to traverse, going inland is a chore as well. Albeit one less beset by monsters, of course."

"Isn't that just going to give Pievran ideology an opportunity to flood your land and turn the lower classes against your family?" you ask. You, eh, you suppose you really did pick up where Catherine left off. This is the kind of stuff you're curious about, though. Balancing tradition with these necessary economic developments.

"Obviously there is that fear, which is mainly why my family's not sure how far into Meril this trade route can actually go, but insofar as my family's own serfs are concerned we're not worried. Those who follow Pievran ideology like to talk about the nobility being oppressive and too wealthy for their own good, but my family isn't and hasn't ever been like that. If those who claim otherwise want to come and try to incite a revolution, let them. If their shouting doesn't fall on deaf ears I'll thank them for digging up unspoken grievances for my family to address." Quite the unusual response, you'd think. Most times you hear about Pievran ideologists speaking of rebellion in Meril border territories the response is strikingly similar to the suppression of an actual rebellion. It's a stark enough difference that you can't help but ask Valerie where her confidence comes from. "Simple: When the mercenary band was spotted and we all thought that something invasive was coming our way we didn't force weapons into any serfs hands, and I didn't shy away from going with them either. We all banded together to defend our homes. Admittedly I was coming along as a diplomat first, a field medic second and a war mage third at best, but still. If I had to defend my homeland with my own hands, Negative Alteration of Organic Matter is a spell I wouldn't have hesitated using."

Valerie's confidence leaves no room for doubt in your ears, although that does beg another question. "With such confidence that Pievran ideology will find no purchase in your land, what about you? Your family, rather? Does your family plan on exporting a few pamphlets, let's say?"

Valerie - surprisingly! - shakes her head. "I don't. What my family plans to do, though, I guess I'm not sure. They might see it as an opportunity to get a foot in Pievre's door, I'd be surprised if they didn't have any future plans going involving this new road, but if there's anything they plan to do in terms of bringing Merilien virtues to Pievre - for once - they didn't tell me about it. And I was very curious about what deal they made to rescue me from the other family's estate, rest assured."

That definitely sounds fair, and yet like such an impossible opportunity for Valerie's family to just leave sitting on the table too. Based on how Valerie described Pievre's investors and bankers in her earlier story you can't imagine that her family wouldn't work against them, ultimately. Sure, they weren't cast in a villainous role, but just the very idea of these money holders making decisions as a count does the fiefdoms under his control. Sure, they were actively petitioned to do such by the locals, like you said Valerie definitely did not describe them as villains, but would Valerie's family stand for that? Ah, but than, who hired a mercenary band that got them their daughter captured if not kidnapped, and who brokered a (evidently much more agreeable) deal for her release? The administrator in you can't help but continue to periodically bombard Valerie with questions, trying to get even the slightest, briefest grasp of how far the shared economic needs of these three opposed factions could push them together. And for how long.

...Could swear that you're forgetting something, though, but...ah, if you're forgetting about it it's probably not that important, right?

--Valerie kind of shakes her head in response to your question, but than gets absorbed in someone else's question about her dream boy. That basically sets a trend which continues on for the rest of the evening, with you not being able to get much of a word in as Valerie's friends and the hopeless romantics in the Common Room bombard Valerie with questions about her forbidden sweetheart. You vaguely recall Rikildis mentioning at one point that people really eat up this stuff, can't quite recall a situation where you ever witnessed living proof of that statement up close like this.

In any case you shrug and give up on your doomed attempts to get a word in this day. Hey, if there's one thing an administrator is good at it's waiting for the paperwork to be processed, or some such, right...?

-Intrigue. Go see what Catherine Chard is up to.
--You slip out of the common room yourself and head off in the same direction that Catherine left. It doesn't take long to find her, she's in one of the hallways chatting with (or being interrogated by) Rikildis. Of course the Academagia's resident gossip column would be nearby. Probably only isn't in the Vernin Common Room herself because Valerie doesn't welcome her presence, Rikildis does have a (thoroughly deserved) reputation and no disguises good enough to be there anyway. You're curious what she's discussing with Catherine, though, so you walk up to the two of them.

"...have to find out-hello there [PC FIRST NAME]. Any interesting developments from the Common Room you felt like sharing?" Rikildis says as soon as you're within earshot. Doesn't miss a beat, that girl.

"Discuss the specifics of Valerie's sweetheart on your own time, Rikildis. We've business to discuss," Catherine quickly reminds Rikildis. And yes, you're very interested in these developments indeed. "Business" between those two? You're curious to know more. Of course Catherine notices that, and she's not willing to share. Rikildis, however, takes a more pragmatic view.

"What if [PC FIRST NAME] checked out Flore for us?" she offers to Catherine, who doesn't take long to start considering it. "[S/He]'d have a better chance to do that inconspicuously than either of us, I would think. I mean I couldn't pretend to be inconspicuous even if I wasn't wearing this shade of blue in Durand areas, and you're literally Catherine Chard. It's worth a try, I say."

Catherine slowly nods, and turns over to you. "The mercenary captain," she explains as curtly as she possibly could. "Find out if Flore is interested. Quietly."

No further explanation, but you're confident that if Catherine had anything more to say she would have. So holding back your many questions for now you nod, and mention that you'll drop the information off at Rikildis' workspace - greater plausible deniability if you end up followed or traced. Catherine nods at that suggestion, and so you're off.

Finding Flore isn't hard, she's in the Durand Common Room hanging out with some of her Classmates. As for getting an opportunity to gather information up close, however, you've a brilliant idea. You approach Sheary Warrington, notorious and infamous helper of whoever needs help, and spin a quick story about an Arithmetic problem you couldn't quite wrap your head around as your textbook used a Negation in it's example. Sheary, as expected, is more than happy to help and gives you the perfect opportunity to do a little spying on Flore. Not much, as you don't want to risk blowing your cover, but enough to determine that Flore is simply chatting away with some Classmates about nothing Catherine would find particularly interesting or relevant. Either she hasn't heard about what Catherine is interested in yet or doesn't care, and frankly if she is interested you'd expect her to have heard about it by now, so you're going to assume it's the latter option...at least for the moment? Either way that gives you enough to report back to Rikildis, so once your excuse has run it's course you thank Sheary and make your way to Rikildis' location.

She's happy to take the information off of you and back to Catherine, though also clearly disappointed that Flore won't be making things more interesting. At least, not right away - time will tell, you suppose, and you're sure Rikildis knows that. "Since I'd rather have Catherine all to myself for a bit, I'll just explain myself: That mercenary captain is a bit of a question mark right now," Rikildis mentions. "Someone who pulled off a job like he did shouldn't be a complete nobody, and...he's a complete nobody to us. So that's something Catherine is interested in looking into more closely. Personally I'm more interested in Valerie's sweetheart, people love this sort of stuff - even Catherine herself, in fact, though of course she tries her best to deny it - but of course Valerie would prefer me to keep my distance. So, this for that, you know how it goes." You nod, no stranger to Rikildis' modus operandi. "So there's that. Have fun asking Catherine questions later, for right now I'm the one who's due for an appointment, so...later!"

And Rikildis runs off holding enough parchment to write several books. She's really expecting to strike gold with this story, it seems like. Well, no matter. You feel like you've pushed your luck enough for one day and have nothing but success to show for it so far, so why not quit while you're ahead?

...Could swear there's something you're forgetting, though. But...ah, probably not that important anyway.

--You leave the Common Room - with all the subtlety and grace of a rampaging elephant as you stub your toe against the table you were sitting next to, brilliant move on your part - and start looking around for Catherine. Unfortunately despite you heading off in the same direction that she did...at least you could swear that's what you did...she's nowhere to be found. Did she pass you by when you weren't looking and went to her dorm room back through the Common Room? You'd like to believe that you wouldn't just walk by Catherine Chard, of all people, especially when actively looking for her...

Well, regardless, you can't find her right now. Rats, guess you'll have to wait a bit to get her input on the matter.

-Romance. Ask Valerie if she thinks her dream boy will find her ring.
--"I'm sure he will," Valerie answers with that wistful, dreamy look on her face. "I actually lost my ring somewhere I know only he'll look. I'm sure he'll find it, I just really hope he brings it back to me." You'll admit, not the answer you were expecting, so you ask Valerie to elaborate. She happily nods. "I convinced the servants to bring me extra helpings of chocolate bars by claiming I was feeling stressed and needed some sweets. Which I was, mind, but I still didn't eat all of them myself. Some of them I kept hidden away to share with him, whenever he visited me. I lost my ring there, in that secret spot. I'm sure he'll look there, I left some chocolate behind as well. I'm sure he'll find it." You curiously ask whether the boy wasn't allowed to have chocolate, that the two of them ended up sharing some in secret like that. Valerie nods. "They're really strict with him, and although he doesn't resent them for it he does miss their love. The poor boy was practically raised by his nanny until his debutante ball, and his family now treats him as a commander would treat a soldier. That's how he feels, at least."

"He told you about that?" you ask, slightly perplexed.

"Eventually, yes," Valerie answers. "He actually didn't understand how he felt about his family, how to explain it, how to express it. But once we started talking, once we started sharing our feelings...I was slowly able to help him figure it out."

Two lonely, wayward souls coming together over chocolate despite such awful conditions. It's like you're watching a play be written in slow motion before your very eyes...not that you're sure if you could describe Valerie as "lonely", but...details. It works out so well, you can't deny that.

Valerie continues to spin her story for a while longer, going on about the mundane, yet deeply important things she talked about with her star-crossed friend. You get completely absorbed into her storytelling, as one might expect from a future bard...although you can't help but get the nagging feeling like you're forgetting something...

--The devious smile on Valerie's face comes back, despite the otherwise wistful expression on her face. It looks...a bit uncanny, if you have to be honest. "I'm sure he will. I actually lost my ring somewhere I know only he'll look. I'm sure he'll find it, I just really hope he brings it back to me." Secrets within secrets, huh? Interesting, so you ask Valerie to elaborate. She happily nods, although the expression on her face is not what you'd call "encouraging". "I convinced the servants to bring me extra helpings of chocolate bars by claiming I was feeling stressed and needed some sweets. Which I was, mind, but I still didn't eat all of them myself. Some of them I kept hidden away to share with him, whenever he visited me. I lost my ring there, in that secret spot. I'm sure he'll look there, I left some chocolate behind as well. I'm sure he'll find it."

"Was he not allowed to have chocolate, or something? That you ended up secretly sharing yours with him?" you curiously ask. Valerie nods, lips curling up into a healthy, if unflattering grin.

"They're really strict with him, and although he doesn't resent them for it he does miss their love. The poor boy was practically raised by his nanny until his debutante ball, and his family now treats him as a commander would treat a soldier. That's how he feels, at least."

"Wait, what? How do you know all of that?" you ask, slightly perplexed.

"He told me, eventually. It took some effort, sure, but eventually I got him to talk" Valerie answers, probably not intentionally sounding like she engaged in some good, old-fashioned torture. "He didn't understand how he felt about his family, how to explain it, how to express it. I had to help him with all of that, so once we started talking, once we started sharing our feelings...I was slowly able to help him figure it out."

Two supposed enemies, bonding over broken hearts and forbidden chocolate. It's like you're watching a play be written in slow motion before your very eyes...though you've got a few questions about how said play would play out. The boy's family...really not a fan of this situation, you have to assume.

Valerie continues to spin her story for a while longer, going on about all of the things she talked about with her (now missing) friend. You do keep listing, if not as intently as some others...still can't shake the feeling that you're forgetting something though...

Updates to this one may be slow and/or delayed because I'm currently in the middle of a cold, but on the flipside I have gotten more prepwork done for this adventure than the previous...I can't even remember how many, so there's that.

Edited by Metis
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Circle of Doubt, stage 2:

Spoiler

You're walking through one of the Academagia's many hallways alongside Corradin d'Alfi, reluctantly discussing a tough makeup project the two of you got assigned to work on together. In your case because someone - not naming any names - may or may not have forgotten about part of your coursework recently. Complete and utter slander, of course, you simply...eh...misplaced that bit of information. In your head. Things got misplaced in your head. Such things aren't that much of a surprise, right? Happens to the best! Well, unfortunately your professor is apparently a true savant in this regard, because your excuse failed to impress and so...here you are. In this hallway, with Corradin, debating on how to get out of this mess. He is, unfortunately, spending most of his time complaining about the situation and threatening to have you keelhauled if you dare to drag him under (at which point you don't think being keelhauled makes too much of a difference, to be honest). He's not in the best of moods right now, needless to say, and the thought of him having to rely on someone else to get him out of this mutual mess doesn't help.

The circle of misery and revere is suddenly broken when both of you notice a haggered-looking guy looking around a bit frantically in the distance. He's not wearing any uniform, clearly one of the Academagia's many visitors, although he isn't anywhere close to where said visitors usually go. Curious, and interested in having a less depressing conversation, the two of you walk up to him. Upon closer inspection he appears to be around the age of a senior student, or somewhere close to that. "Excusez-moi, où je peux trouver le dortoir de Vernin?" he hastily asks, like he needs to go somewhere fast.

So, Merilien. Wouldn't have guessed that from the boy's outfit, you'll admit, it looks rather too plain. Regardless how are you going to talk to him, if at all?

[PC HAS Heritage: Merilien]-Although communicating in mime motions sounds tempting, you'll have to settle for your homeland's language in this case.
--"The Vernin part of campus is in a different direction, though why are you interested in going there? The dorms aren't necessarily open to visitors," you answer. Corradin, also speaking Merilien, suggests to the guy that he introduces himself as well, which is fair. And Corradin speaking Merilien doesn't surprise you in the least, either.

The guy, stuck between your question and Corradin's, decides to rush through the latter's first. "Sebastien Roux, pleased to meet you," he says in a hurry. Not the politest person you've ever met, you have to say. "Please, I'm trying to deliver something to someone. It's important."

"Deliver 'something' to 'someone'?" you ask curiously, starting suspiciously at this less than completely non-suspicious guy. "Surely you were given at least the name of who you're supposed to deliver this to."

Sebastien...blushes? You're not sure what you were expecting, but him looking away while his cheeks steadily gain a few shades of red wasn't it. "V-Valerie Fontaine," he answers, causing both you and Corradin to raise your respective eyebrows in unison. Seeing that the poor guy rapidly adds, "I-I'm just trying to return her family ring, alright? I-I don't know if has any sentimental value to her or something I just know it's important!"

Sure enough. That Valerie Fontaine. That much is plain as day, at this point.

"Y-you travelled all the way out here? Just for that?" Corradin, perplexed, blurts out without even thinking.

"Well, yes," Sebastien answers. "I'm sure her ring is important to her, so please, just tell me where she is. I really want to see her again." There's about one second of silence before Sebastien realizes what he just said and he rapidly adds "I-I mean to return her ring! I-it's very important that I return her ring!"

It's a good thing you're a native speaker, or keeping up with Sebastien's rapid-fire speech would have been nigh-on impossible. As is, though...you slowly turn your attention to Corradin and, in Renaglian so that the runaway airship can take a moment to himself and catch his breath, say "The boy with the ring actually came back..." just to confirm that you're not imagining things.

You're not, though. Corradin nods at that. "Well, [PC FIRST NAME], do you want to escort Vernin's sweetheart here to his princess?" You quirk an eyebrow, and a moment later Corradin adds, "I, eh...honestly I'm having a bit of trouble keeping up with his speech. Frankly I feel like my head's still spinning a bit. You don't seem like you had as much of a problem with that, though?"

You shrug and confirm, confidently, that you are indeed able to keep up. So you suppose you'll escort Sebastien. Corradin nods, thanking you, and runs off elsewhere. Where does that guy think he's going, exactly? You two still had stuff to discuss...oh, no matter. Sebastien first, you'll catch up to Corradin later. You get Sebastien's attention, now that he's had a moment to catch his breath, and say you'll lead him to the dorms. "Also, for the record, you needn't be worried about permissions," you clarify as the two of you start walking, hoping some conversation will put Sebastien at ease if nothing else. "Visiting a student to deliver stuff is fine, happens all the time with students that order things from catalogues for instance."

Sebastien clearly isn't invested in the small talk, but you pay it no mind. Frankly you're in no position to judge, anyway, as you're not entirely invested in your small talk either. Where did Corradin run off to? The question runs circles in your head all the way to the Common Room, frankly.

-Merilien. Speak his language.
--You're not a native speaker, but nevertheless you're comfortable enough with simple conversations. At least you hope this stays simple. "Vernin campus is in a different direction," you say, mainly as a test to see if you heard the guy correctly. It seems that you did, though before either of you can comment Corradin, also in Merilien, points out that the Vernin dorms aren't necessarily open to visitors. Also, that the guy should introduce himself, which you suppose is fair enough.

The guy, clearly none too interested in Corradin's point or being polite, rapidly introduces himself as Sebastien Roux. Not going to lie, his quick speech isn't the easiest to make out. "Please, I'm trying to deliver something to someone," he adds afterwards, with a tone that's a lot more caring about what's being said. "It's important."

"Sorry, deliver 'something' to 'someone'?" you ask curiously, starting suspiciously at this less than completely non-suspicious guy. Behind you Corradin nods, confirming that's indeed what Sebastien said. "Surely you were given at least the name of who you're supposed to deliver this to," you point out.

Sebastien...blushes? You're not sure what you were expecting, but him looking away while his cheeks steadily gain a few shades of red wasn't it. "V-Valerie Fontaine," he answers, causing both you and Corradin to raise your respective eyebrows in unison. Seeing that the poor guy rapidly blurts out a bunch of stuff, but frankly all you think you heard among the mess was something about "important". Not that you really needed to hear more, though. Valerie Fontaine. That Valerie Fontaine...you didn't hear him say anything about a ring, and yet...do you even need to, at this point?

"Y-you travelled all the way out here? Just for that?" Corradin, perplexed, blurts out without even thinking. You'd like to ask what you just missed, but of course Sebastien is answering Corradin's questions too rapidly for you to catch. Or get a word in, for that matter.

"Well, yes," he answers. At least you understood that part. "I'm sure her ring is important to her, so please, just tell me where she is. I really want to see her again." There's about one second of silence before Sebastien realizes what he just said and he rapidly adds...something. You couldn't say what but you'd bet Pims it's something along the lines of "wait, no, I didn't mean it like that", either directly or indirectly.

Also, yes, he clearly mentioned "her ring" there. Well than...you slowly turn your attention to Corradin and, in Renaglian so that the runaway airship can take a moment to himself and catch his breath, ask "The boy with the ring actually came back...?" just to confirm that you did indeed catch that correctly.

You did, though, as Corradin nods. "Well, [PC FIRST NAME], do you want to escort Vernin's sweetheart here to his princess?" You quirk an eyebrow, and when Corradin offers no answer to your unspoken question you ask if he shouldn't come along, considering you're barely able to talk to Sebastien as-is. "Well...that's exactly it: You can't keep up with him, but that guy really needs to slow down anyway, so hopefully having someone he needs to slow down to talk to will convince him to catch his breath one of these days."

You can't help but raise an eyebrow at Corradin's bizarre excuse, but at the same time you can't deny that he does have a point, so...you shrug and say you'll escort Sebastien. Corradin nods, thanking you, and immediately runs off elsewhere. Where does that guy think he's going, exactly? You two still had stuff to discuss...oh, no matter. Sebastien first, you'll catch up to Corradin later. You get Sebastien's attention, now that he's had a moment to catch his breath, and say you'll lead him to the dorms. "That said please talk slowly. I'm not a native speaker, and your rapid speech is something I can't keep up with," you point out as the two of you start walking, hoping some slow conversation will put Sebastien at ease if nothing else. He clearly isn't invested in the small talk, but you pay that detail no mind. Frankly you're in no position to judge, anyway, as you're not entirely invested in your small talk either. Where did Corradin run off to? The question runs circles in your head all the way to the Common Room, frankly.

--As much as you'd love to talk to this guy in his own language you didn't actually catch what he just asked, speaking as quickly as this guy does. Though instead of asking Corradin for confirmation, as you're sure he speaks Merilien himself, you instead try to ask the guy if he could repeat what he just said. Slowly.

"Where can I find the Vernin dorms?" the guy slowly repeats, yet it still feels like he's talking faster than someone having a normal conversation. Why's this guy in such a hurry?

"Do you mind if I take over here, [PC FIRST NAME]?" Corradin asks. "This guy seems to be in a hurry, so we might want to get to the point quickly. I'd be happy to help you practice Merilien later, if you want."

You stare annoyed at Corradin, who obviously doesn't budge. Admitting defeat you let out an annoyed sigh and admit, reluctantly, that it's probably for the best. Although underneath your breath you add that if Corradin wants to make that argument he better make this quick.

Apparently either Corradin actually heard you mumbling to yourself or he was right on the money with regards to this guy, though. Before you can catch your breath Corradin quickly asks this guy...well you couldn't catch everything, but you're pretty sure Corradin wanted to get introductions out of the way first. The guy, though only reluctantly, does introduce himself as Sebastien Roux before continuing his questions about where the Vernin dorms are. You, again, can't catch all of it but he's apparently here to deliver something? Something "important"? You didn't catch any names, though.

Evidently neither did Corradin, because with a doubtful look on his face he questions the guy on who he's delivering something to and what. As for Sebastian's reaction, he...blushes?

"Valerie Fontaine," is Sebastien's answer to Corradin's series of questions, and despite the fact that you're pretty sure Corradin asked more questions than could be answered with one name lo and behold: The guy did it anyway. Valerie Fontaine, you recognize that name. And this guy being here to deliver something "important" to her? It...surely it couldn't be, and yet, it can't be anything else, can it? Sebastien, for his part, is all too aware of the two kids now staring at him with raised eyebrows and widened eyes, so caught halfway between looking away and trying to maintain composure he rapidly blurts out a bunch of words so fast you'd not have an argument against Corradin claiming he just started speaking Velocian out of nowhere.

"Did you come all the way here just for that?" a perplexed Corradin asks slowly enough for you to actually catch what he's saying...well, you only actually understood half of it but the half you did catch gave you enough context to fill in the rest. Sebastian, in response, nods.

Sebastian...you're not entirely sure, but based on what you're able to make out and what context you have you'd guess he tries to convince Corradin (and presumably you, as he's actually talking slowly enough for you to catch for once) that he's just here to deliver Valerie's ring. No strings or ulterior motives, he's just here to deliver something that...you don't even know, he supposedly didn't trust to the postal services or something? It's all a big, fat lie anyway so you see no need to analyse it very deeply. In any case he tries to make that argument, but slips when he says he really wants to see Valerie again instead of saying he wants to see her to deliver her ring. Of course a second later he realizes that mistake, and much faster than you'd think even Corradin can follow rapidly adds that details afterwards. However the damage, as they say, has already been done...

"Un moment," one thoroughly perplexed Corradin says as he turns his attention to you. "[PC FIRST NAME], could you please escort Sebastian here to the Vernin Common room and see to it that Valerie...I mean I don't know how much of that you caught but you know what this is about, don't you?"

"The boy with the ring actually came to bring it back...and wants to see his sweetheart again, even if he's reluctant to admit it," you say. Corradin nods. "Don't worry, I'm just as surprised as you."

"Oh, if only that was the end of it," Corradin says underneath his breath, making you wonder what you missed in that exchange. You didn't think you missed anything, honestly. Sebastien's slip was clear enough, even from just context you think you'd have a fair guess at figuring that out. "Anyway, can you do that? Don't worry about the language thing, you should be able to manage dragging this guy to the dorms, and you know where those are. I'm sure someone there can tell you where Valerie is if she's not. Oh, or the visitors thing. Delivering stuff is fine, you know that." You quirk an eyebrow, and when Corradin offers no answer to your unspoken question you ask if he shouldn't come along, considering you're barely able to talk to Sebastien as-is. "Well...that's exactly it: You seem to be able to manage if only he's able to talk slowly, and that guy really needs to slow down, so hopefully having someone he needs to slow down to talk to will convince him to catch his breath one of these days."

You can't help but raise an eyebrow at Corradin's bizarre excuse, but at the same time you can't deny that he does have a point and you wanted an opportunity to try your Merilien some more anyway, so...why not? You nod and say you'll escort Sebastien. Corradin nods, thanking you, and immediately runs off elsewhere. Where does that guy think he's going, exactly? You two still had stuff to discuss as well...oh, no matter. Sebastien first, you'll catch up to Corradin later. You get Sebastien's attention, now that he's had a moment to catch his breath, and say you'll lead him to the dorms. "That said, please talk slowly. I'm not a native speaker, and your rapid speech I can't keep up with," you point out as the two of you start walking, hoping some slow conversation will put Sebastien at ease if nothing else. He clearly isn't invested in the small talk, or your attempts at improving your Merilien, but you pay that detail little mind. Frankly you're in no position to judge, as you're not entirely invested in your small talk either. Where did Corradin run off to? The question runs circles in your head all the way to the Common Room, frankly.

-Glamour. You can manage a translation spell.
--You pull out your wand and cast a quick translation spell, which the guy apparently doesn't recognize if his blank, confused expression is anything to go by. Corradin, for his part, notes that he speaks Merilien, so you could have simply asked him to take conversational point. "Could have, but I'm not an Academagia student to study up on my carpentry," you answer to Corradin in Reneglian. Of course thanks to your spell the guy should have understood as well, at least broadly speaking. You are still a student, after all. Corradin nods at that answer. "Anyway, pardon the casting, but what did you say earlier, eh...?" you ask the guy, not that you caught his name if he introduced himself before.

"Sebastien Roux," the guy answers first. That'd be his name, you presume. "I said I'm looking for the Vernin dorms. Please, I'm trying to deliver something to someone. It's important."

The guy appears to be in a rush, because he's talking fast enough that your translation spell has trouble keeping up. Hopefully Corradin will be able to catch anything you miss, if it comes to that. "Sorry, deliver 'something' to 'someone'? Could you clarify that?" you ask, half wondering if this Sebastien fellow is as shady as he sounds or if your (attempt at a) translation spell is a bust. Good thing Corradin is here to judge, you suppose.

Of course you say that, but your fair and forthright judge just quirks an eyebrow when, in response to your question, Sebastien looks away embarrassed, and starts to blush. Admittedly you do the same, but still. "V-Valerie Fontaine," Sebastien answers, and it's at this point that Corradin and you both end up raising both eyebrows, because that name definitely sounds familiar. Unfortunately that doesn't help the poor guy's nerves at all, as he proceeds to rapidly sputter out some kind of explanation (you presume), but the only thing your translation spell is able to translate is it being given a heart attack by Sebastien's rapid speech. As such you turn to Corradin and ask for clarification on what Sebastien just said.

"I-I mean, that's-seriously, you travelled all the way out here just for that?" Corradin attempts to answer, but his own perplex..iveness? That doesn't sound like a word to you...in any case, he's too confused to answer your question and so asks his own instead.

"Well, yes," Sebastien answer. At least you managed to catch that, you suppose. "I'm sure her ring is important to her, so please, just tell me where she is. I really want to see her again." There's about one second of silence before Sebastien realizes what he just said and he rapidly makes an amendment that seems to break your translation spell outright. At least you don't feel like you really need it anymore, because...you definitely heard him mention a ring, and him being here to see Valerie again...like that requires no further interpretation, does it?

You tap a thoroughly confused Corradin on the shoulder and ask him, just for confirmation, whether Sebastien really did mention a ring there. Corradin nods, so...yeah. Case closed, despite your need of a more robust translation spell. The boy with the ring actually came back. "Well, [PC FIRST NAME], do you want to escort Vernin's sweetheart here to his princess?" Corradin suddenly asks. You quirk an eyebrow, and when Corradin offers no answer to your unspoken question you ask if he shouldn't come along, considering your ability to translate Sebastien's speech is, frankly, rubbish. "Well...that's exactly it: Your magic can't keep up with him, but that guy really needs to slow down anyway, so hopefully having someone he needs to slow down to talk to will convince him to catch his breath one of these days."

You can't help but raise an eyebrow at Corradin's bizarre excuse, but at the same time you can't deny that he does have a point and you would like a chance to test your magic a bit more, so...you shrug and say you'll escort Sebastien. Corradin nods, thanking you, and immediately runs off elsewhere. Where does that guy think he's going, exactly? You two still had stuff to discuss...oh, no matter. Sebastien first, you'll catch up to Corradin later. You recast your translation spell, get Sebastien's attention now that he's had a moment to catch his breath, and say you'll lead him to the dorms. "That said please talk slowly. I'm only a student, still, and your rapid speech is something my translation magic can't keep up with," you point out as the two of you start walking, hoping some slow conversation will put Sebastien at ease if nothing else. He clearly isn't invested in the small talk, but you pay that detail no mind. Frankly you're in no position to judge, anyway, as you're not entirely invested in your small talk either. Where did Corradin run off to? The question runs circles in your head all the way to the Common Room, frankly.

--You pull out your wand and piece together a quick translation spell, which the guy apparently doesn't recognize if his blank, confused expression is anything to go by. Of course when Corradin quirks an eyebrow and asks what you're doing you're starting to doubt that anyone pays attention to their magic classes. "Casting a translation spell, what else would I be doing in this situation?" you answer, and ask, Corradin.

"And that goes both ways?" Corradin asks. You confident nod and confirm that it...should, yes. Corradin frowns at that. "One way to find out, I guess," he says as he turns his attention to the guy and (presumably) asks, in Merilien, if he understood any of that. That you can't understand what Corradin is saying is bad enough, when the guy shakes his head your confidence is really shaking. "Guess I'll just take conversational point, I can speak Merilien," Corradin notes. You let out a sigh, slowly nod and start to fiddle with your wand trying to get your spell to work. What did you do wrong? You swear this should work. Meanwhile Corradin turns his attention back to the guy and says, with the kind of confidence that only comes after watching one of your peers flop about uselessly like a fish in dry water, "Pourquoi voulez-vous y aller? Cette zone n'est pas ouverte aux visiteurs. Aussi, il est poli de se présenter."

You don't think the guy looks favorably upon Corradin's confident smirk, but that could just be your wishful thinking. "Sebastien Roux, c'est un plaisir de vous rencontrer," he responds. Your second attempt at a translation spell also only managed to translate none of that...unless Sebastien is the guy's name? Makes sense, actually, you just wish you had the opportunity to ask Corradin for clarification. But while you're busy fiddling with your wand those two don't seem to want to slow down and help the struggling student. In fairness the guy both looks and sounds like he's in a hurry, you suppose. "S'il vous plaît, j'ai juste besoin de livrer quelque chose à quelqu'un. C'est important."

You don't need a translation spell to hear the word "important" there, unfortunately you don't know what is important in absence of any and all context. But, on the bright side: Translation spell, improved second edition, ready for casting! You just hope it works this time...

Corradin apparently notices, as he decides to ask his next question extra slowly. Finally you manage to strike gold, albeit only small amounts of it, nevertheless catching something along the lines of "if you're here to deliver something surely you know who to deliver what to". You excitedly tell Corradin that your spell works this time, only his attention is directed elsewhere, and admittedly for good reason as your attention immediately follows suit: Sebastian...blushes? Were not expecting that reaction, and neither was Corradin.

"Valerie Fontaine," Sebastien answers. You blink, thoroughly lost as to what conversation those two had leading up to this point, but you recognize that name. Corradin does likewise, if his equally raised eyebrow is any indication. Despite you clearly not speaking even two words of Sebastien's language - barring multiple attempts at spellcasting, at least - you suddenly feel like you've got some kind of grasp as to why he's here. A guy around Valerie's age here to "deliver" something, if you caught that correctly? And he said something about it being "important" earlier? Eh...right. For his part Sebastien, caught halfway between looking away and trying to maintain composure, blurts out a bunch of words so rapidly that your translation spell literally tears itself apart trying to make sense of it. On the bright side you don't feel like you really need it anymore, you suppose?

"Tu as fait tout le chemin jusqu'ici juste pour ça?" Corradin asks, looking perplexed. Sebastian nods, as you go right back to wishing you had your spell still active because you have no idea what Corradin is saying and it sounds interesting...

"Je suis sûr que la bague de sa famille est importante pour elle, même si elle n'a pas de valeur sentimentale ou quelque chose comme ça. S'il vous plaît, dites-moi où elle est, je veux juste la revoir," Sebastian answers, afterwards rapidly adding, "r-rendre sa bague! C'est vraiment important que je lui rende sa bague!" Frankly, you had a feeling it would have been a waste to even bother waving your wand around again. Good thing you're still good at reading situations, even if your spellcasting could use some work.

As for the Merilien, well, you obviously can't even begin to pretend you understood a single word of that. And yet it feels like you understood every word of that. Corradin's expression only further confirms your suspicions, too. "Un moment," Corradin says as he turns his attention to you. "[PC FIRST NAME], could you please escort Sebastian here to the Vernin Common room and see to it that Valerie...I mean you know what this is about, don't you?"

"The one attempt my spell got at translating something caught something about this guy 'delivering' something, and beforehand I swear he mentioned something being 'important'. Adding that to his apparent age and him being here for Valerie...the boy with the ring actually came back," you deduce. Corradin nods, confirming what you thought. "Don't worry, I'm just as surprised as you."

Corradin mumbles something underneath his breath you can't make out, which honestly doesn't make you feel any better about yourself right now - you're having trouble enough understanding Merilien, no need to add volume as an additional challenge! "Anyway, can you do that? Don't worry about the language thing, you know where the dorms are and I'm sure someone there can tell you where Valerie is if she's not there. Oh, or the visitors thing. Delivering stuff is fine, you know that."

Honestly you wouldn't mind getting another shot to fiddle with your translation spell some more, so you nod and say that'll be no problem at all. Corradin is happy to hear that, of course, and turns to Sebastien to inform him as well. Sebastien..."happy" is not the word you'd use to describe his expression, he's still embarrassed and anxious and just generally all over the place, but other than that...actually there is no other. Guy's a nervous wreck, that's about it. Nervous wreck or not though he's currently also your test subject, even if that makes escorting him rather more awkward than you expected. In any event it's not difficult, you just wish you'd remembered to ask Corradin to tell this guy to talk slowly. He's more of a threat to your spells than Professor Briardi could hope to be on a good day, it feels like. In any case you'll take him to the Vernin Common room and ask someone there to direct him to Valerie. Surely someone within the entirety of the Vernin Common Room will speak Merilien, so you won't have to worry about being able to translate stuff yourself, right?

...Right...?

-Listen. Let Corradin do the talking, although keep an ear open for anything you can make sense of.
--You shrug and ask Corradin if he can answer the boy's question. He nods. "Pourquoi voulez-vous y aller? Cette zone n'est pas ouverte aux visiteurs," he confidently says. You couldn't understand all of that, but you definitely heard "Vernin" earlier, you happen to know that "n'est pas" basically means "no" (Corradin might disagree with you, but it's close enough in your books), and "visiteurs" sounds like "visitors," so...the boy wants to go somewhere Vernin specific, but that area isn't open to visitors? Interesting. "Aussi, il est poli de se présenter," Corradin adds, the meaning of which completely flies past you.

"Sebastien Roux, c'est un plaisir de vous rencontrer," the boy responds. You're assuming "Sebastien" is his name, the rest of it you've got no clue. You just know that he didn't really sound like he meant whatever he said. "S'il vous plaît, j'ai juste besoin de livrer quelque chose à quelqu'un. C'est important."

No clue, all you caught was "it's important".

"Si vous livrez quelque chose, vous devez savoir à qui vous le livrez. Qui cherchez-vous et qu'avez-vous pour eux?" Corradin asks with a doubtful look on his face. No clue what he just said, though. As for Sebastian's reaction, he...blushes?

"Valerie Fontaine," Sebastien says, and despite the language barrier you raise your eyebrows just as much as Corradin does. You recognize that name, and despite barely speaking three words of Sebastien's language now feel like you've got a fair guess as to why he's here. For his part Sebastien, caught halfway between looking away and trying to maintain composure, rapidly blurts out "J'essaie juste de lui rendre sa bague familiale, d'accord? Elle l'a laissé derrière elle quand elle a été emmenée si soudainement, et je veux le rendre," faster than you can even attempt to hear any words that you recognize.

"Tu as fait tout le chemin jusqu'ici juste pour ça?" Corradin asks, looking perplexed. Sebastian nods.

"Je suis sûr que la bague de sa famille est importante pour elle, même si elle n'a pas de valeur sentimentale ou quelque chose comme ça. S'il vous plaît, dites-moi où elle est, je veux juste la revoir," Sebastian says, afterwards rapidly adding, "r-rendre sa bague! C'est vraiment important que je lui rende sa bague!"

You didn't understand two words of that, and yet you feel like you understood every word of that. Corradin's expression does nothing but ease your doubts, either. "Un moment," Corradin says as he turns his attention to you. "[PC FIRST NAME], could you please escort Sebastian here to the Vernin Common room and see to it that Valerie...I mean you know what this is about, don't you?"

"The boy with the ring actually came to bring it back," you say. Corradin nods. "Don't worry, I'm just as surprised as you."

"Oh, if only that was the end of it," Corradin says underneath his breath, making you wonder what you missed in that exchange...than again, you did clearly see Sebastian slip, and you feel like you can make an educated guess as to what mistake he made. "Anyway, can you do that? Don't worry about the language thing, you know where the dorms are and I'm sure someone there can tell you where Valerie is if she's not there. Oh, or the visitors thing. Delivering stuff is fine, you know that."

You do, and you could, but you can't help but wonder why Corradin is trying to ditch you here. "I suppose, but are you sure? I don't know how comfortable I feel leading around someone I can't talk to," you say, trying to...well, trying to derail whatever Corradin is planning, really. In the hopes that he'll slip up and mention something interesting.

"It won't be a problem, I'll tell him to follow you," Corradin says. Rats, you're not getting anything out of him. Bummer. As promised Corradin tells Sebastien that you'll lead him to the Vernin Dorms (at least, you assume that's what he says - darned language barrier!), and Sebastien seems...eh, "happy" is not the word you'd use to describe his expression. He's still embarrassed and anxious and just generally all over the place, but...he at least sounds appreciative? For what that's worth.

Escorting Sebastien is awkward, to say the least, but ultimately not difficult. You just keep thinking about what Corradin is doing right now...

--You shrug and ask Corradin if he can answer the boy's question. He nods. "Pourquoi voulez-vous y aller? Cette zone n'est pas ouverte aux visiteurs," he confidently says. You understand basically none of that, but you definitely heard "Vernin" earlier, and "visiteurs" sounded a lot like "visitors," so...the boy wants to go somewhere Vernin specific? Or visit someone Vernin-related? Interesting. "Aussi, il est poli de se présenter," Corradin adds. Eh...yeah, you've got nothing.

"Sebastien Roux, c'est un plaisir de vous rencontrer," the boy responds. Okay, so..."Sebastien" sounds like a name, you'd guess. The rest of it you've got no clue. "S'il vous plaît, j'ai juste besoin de livrer quelque chose à quelqu'un. C'est important."

Soemthing "important"? If only you had even the slightest clue what...man, why couldn't Merilien be a bit more obvious? It'd make your job so much easier right now...

"Si vous livrez quelque chose, vous devez savoir à qui vous le livrez. Qui cherchez-vous et qu'avez-vous pour eux?" Corradin asks. He's got a doubtful look on his face, so you'd guess he's chiding Sebastien for something. As for Sebastian's reaction to it, he...blushes? Eh, okay, did not expect that.

"Valerie Fontaine," Sebastien answers. You blink, thoroughly lost as to what conversation those two actually had that they've ended up here, but you recognize that name. Corradin does likewise, if his equally raised eyebrow is any indication. Despite you clearly speaking not even two words of Sebastien's language - disappointing as that is - you suddenly feel like you've got some kind of grasp as to why he's here. For his part Sebastien, caught halfway between looking away and trying to maintain composure, rapidly blurts out "J'essaie juste de lui rendre sa bague familiale, d'accord? Elle l'a laissé derrière elle quand elle a été emmenée si soudainement, et je veux le rendre," faster than you can even attempt to confirm he's still speaking Merilien, if that were needed.

"Tu as fait tout le chemin jusqu'ici juste pour ça?" Corradin asks, looking perplexed. Sebastian nods.

"Je suis sûr que la bague de sa famille est importante pour elle, même si elle n'a pas de valeur sentimentale ou quelque chose comme ça. S'il vous plaît, dites-moi où elle est, je veux juste la revoir," Sebastian says, afterwards rapidly adding, "r-rendre sa bague! C'est vraiment important que je lui rende sa bague!"

You can't even begin to pretend you understood a single word of that, and yet you feel like you understood every word of that. Corradin's expression only further confirms your suspicions, too. "Un moment," Corradin says as he turns his attention to you. "[PC FIRST NAME], could you please escort Sebastian here to the Vernin Common room and see to it that Valerie...I mean you know what this is about, don't you?"

"I couldn't catch basically any of that conversation, but unless I missed the two words I did recognize that guy is here for Valerie," you say. Corradin nods, confirming what you thought. "Don't worry, I'm just as surprised as you."

Corradin mumbles something underneath his breath you can't make out, making you wonder what else you missed in that exchange. "Anyway, can you do that? Don't worry about the language thing, you know where the dorms are and I'm sure someone there can tell you where Valerie is if she's not there. Oh, or the visitors thing. Delivering stuff is fine, you know that."

Sounds like the easiest job Corradin could give you, so you shrug and say that'll be no problem at all. He's happy to hear that, of course, and turns to Sebastien to inform him as well. Sebastien seems...eh, "happy" is not the word you'd use to describe his expression. He's still embarrassed and anxious and just generally all over the place, but other than that...well there's actually nothing else. Guy's a nervous wreck, that's about it. Consequently escorting Sebastien is rather more awkward than you expected, to say the least, but ultimately not difficult. You'll just take him to the Vernin Common room and ask someone there to direct him to Valerie, surely someone within the entirety of the Vernin Common Room will speak Merilien...right?

...Right...?

I would like to thank my many years of meaningful French study Google Translate for bringing us this stage :rolleyes:.

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Circle of Doubt, stage 3:

Spoiler

Once you reach the Vernin Common Room you ask whoever is here about whether Valerie is here, and where she is if not. It feels like the entire Common Room, literally everyone, drops what they were doing to stare at the very awkward, very out of place Sebastien standing right behind you. That an entire room has just fallen dead silent can't help the poor boy's nerves at all.

"Is that...him?" one of the older students here asks, not pointing but pointedly staring at Sebastien. "You're looking for Valerie, right? So...is that-I mean the guy behind you, is that really...?"

You nod. The Common Room looks shocked. Sebastien, for his part...well, he looked awkward to begin with so no significant changes there.

"I'll go get Valerie," one of the students here - one of Valerie's friends, if you're not mistaken - says as she rushes off towards the dorms. You can't help but notice Sebastien's gaze following the girl as she goes off.

"That's seriously him?" another older student asks, after carefully studying Sebastien's face. You, again, nod. "I don't believe a word of that. Did he travel here with his parents, or...how did he end up here?"

Unfortunately your only response to that is a shrug. Fortunately, for Sebastien's sake, Valerie shows up rushing out from the dorms at this point, her friend closely trailing behind her. She briefly looks perplexed, as if she's expecting to wake up from a dream, before yelling Sebastien's name and rushing over to him. He was expecting some form of polite greeting and opportunity to return the ring, what he got was a big hug. He looks thoroughly out of his element, not that Valerie can see that.

...Actually, looking closer, he's shaking. Poor kid, stuck in a strange land that speaks a strange language and now this.

Regardless, after exchanging some quick words Valerie happily takes the ring that Sebastien brought for her, and in return she invites him to Alice's Tavern. Good call on her part, that boy needs some place quiet to calm down, you think. He doesn't object, and with the entire Common Room staring at their backs - something Valerie doesn't seem to notice - they leave about as suddenly as Sebastien appeared.

"Still don't believe it," the second older student from earlier says underneath his breath, leaving you to wonder what you're going to do yourself right now...

[PC DID NOT TAKE Listen OPTION LAST STAGE]-Gossip. Freshly baked pie sounds like a great idea right now.
--It's Alice's Tavern, where else would you expect to hungry student to go? After, eh...all of the hard work you put in with Corradin? Sure, good enough. You guys got...some of the initial planning stages done, that's progress right?

Taking a different route than Valerie and Sebastien you head off to Alice's Tavern yourself, already mentally going over what flavor of pie you'll order. Just have to make sure you stay inconspicuous, both know your face so they will recognize you. Maybe a quick bit of disguise, actually...? Nah, no need to overthink this. You're a hungry student going to grab a freshly baked pie, that excuse should work for everyone.

Of course you say that, but when you notice one Corradin d'Alfi sitting some distance away from Valerie and Sebastien you can't help but feel like asking a few pointed questions anyway...

You walk up to him, stop in front of his table, and wait for him to notice you. His attention is (not so) secretly drawn to the quiet corner where Valerie and Sebastian have sat down, thankfully he still notices you pretty quickly. "Eh...[PC FIRST NAME]? Um, if this is about that homework project I can-" he nervously sputters out.

Oh right, that homework project! Thank all the gods Corradin brought it up first, you completely forgot about that excuse. You sit down across from him and, with an enormous grin, "confirm" that, yes, of course you're here to discuss that homework project. Obviously. Why else would you be here?

Corradin frowns at your perhaps excessive assertions, and in answer to your question subtly points towards Valerie and Sebastien with a deadpan expression on his face. Okay, so he wins this round, but you're going to win the next round: Why is Corradin here, if not for the same reason?

--You're merrily skipping along to Alice's Tavern, not entirely paying attention to your surroundings as you daydream of the glorious, beautiful gossip that will soon fall into your hands, when your hubris is punished in the absolute worst way possible: Turning a corner you collide with Rikildis, both of you falling to the ground as neither of you were expecting that sudden impact. Rikildis, needless to say, is thoroughly unhappy at the current situation, but she doesn't show it. Because she knows full well what you were too preoccupied with to pay attention to your surroundings. "Well, I'd say a heartfelt congratulations at your increasing wrestling training is in order," Rikildis says, dripping sarcasm with every word despite the sick grin on her face. You've really done it this time! "But, for one, I'd be lying. And for two I'm giving you one chance to give me something worth my time as an apology unless you want the entire school to know about you having the situational awareness of an intoxicated squirrel."

Hmm...decisions, decisions. Rikildis wasn't heading in towards Alice's Tavern herself, so you can buy your way out of this, but you'd really rather not send her that direction. Valerie is sure to object and if she learns about who sold her out you've got a sneaking suspicion she'd object more strongly. On the flipside, though...what to do...

"Twenty seconds, [PC FIRST NAME]," Rikildis suddenly says as she takes out her parchment and quill. "I don't have all day."

After a very tense thirteen-point-seven seconds (Rikildis did, in fact, keep track) you finally say "I don't think I know anything you'd be interested in." It's a lie, of course, and Rikildis knows it, but you're not risking Valerie's wrath without a fight. If Sebastien wasn't as made of pudding as he seemed, socially, maybe you'd have given a different answer, but you're not sure if Sebastien can really handle the likes of Rikildis - especially right now - and boy howdy are you not waiting to find that out the hard way. You'd rather try your luck with Rikildis, at least she's a known danger.

"Really now?" Rikildis asks like she knows full well - as she undoubtedly does - that you just lied to her. "If you want to play that game, fine, I guess I'm in the mood. Despite what some might call evidence to the contrary, namely the bits of floor that mysteriously ended up on my robes." You take out your wand and cast a quick charm to get rid of that. Rikildis nods appreciatively, which would mean something if this wasn't Rikildis you're talking about. "Alright, begin: Where were you going, with your head stuck in the clouds like that?"

The best way to lie your way out of a situation with Rikildis, you find, is the stick as close to the truth as possible. Anything else she will find out sooner or later, and even if she doesn't she's sure to interpret what she does find as poorly as possible. "I was looking for Corradin," you answer confidently. It's...okay it's a completely and total lie, but it's what you should have been doing instead of what you were doing, so close enough.

Rikildis slowly nods. "Corradin d'Alfi? Alright, why were you looking for him grinning ear to ear like that?" Oh, that's a tougher one...but you can manage. You claim that Rikildis mistook your expression in the split second she might have seen it before...well before unfortunate events unfolded, and you claim that you weren't looking forward to finding Corradin. You can tell Rikildis sees straight through your lie, but like she said earlier she's in the mood to toy with you, so...you're the mouse and she's the cat. Unfortunate a position as that is. "Alright, I can believe that," Rikildis says confidently. She's not lying, she could believe that, she just doesn't because she knows better. Unfortunately. "Okay, so not looking forwards to finding Corradin, but looking for him anyway. Why?"

"To sort out the homework project we've been assigned to collaborate on," you answer without missing a beat. That was a very easy one, and...as close to the truth as you could get, besides. Rikildis, noticing this fact, slowly nods to herself. She'd write these details down if she hasn't spend all of last year practising memorizing these details, it feels like.

"Alright, I'll bite. Let's find Corradin and ask if he agrees with that order of events, shall we?"

You can't help but shudder at that suggestion, but you can't exactly retract anything you've claimed either, so...nothing to do but hope that Corradin plays along, you guess? He's not a fan of Rikildis' slandering ways, he might pick up on what's going on and...not frown upon you trying to ditch him? Eh...yeah you're starting to feel a bit sick right now...

You follow Rikildis around pretty meekly for several minutes as she goes around inquiring about Corradin's current location, but the answer she eventually gets surprises you moreso than her: Alice's Tavern! What is Corradin doing there right now!? You don't believe a word of it, and yet despite asking multiple people you keep getting the same answer! How did that happen!?

"[PC FIRST NAME]?" you eventually hear Rikildis ask after several failed attempts to get your attention. "Let me just put this plainly: I'm getting the feeling that this was not part of any plan you've ever had, is that correct?" You nod at that because yes, that definitely sounds like an accurate description. "Right. So, how about this offer: You tell me what happened, all the details about what actually happened, as well as why Corradin being at Alice's Tavern is such a surprise, and I'll let you off the hook for bumbling into me earlier. Deal?"

Hmm...that's a very tempting offer. It's a lot of information, yes, but Rikildis was going to find out all of it sooner or later anyway. And with Corradin being in Alice's Tavern right now you've got the feeling that you've got a scapegoat if things do go poorly...it's too tempting. You nod and relay your meeting with Sebastien, how Corradin seemed to react to it, the situation in the Common Room, why you were daydreaming about going to Alice's Tavern and why you've got every idea and yet zero ideas as to why Corradin is there right now, the lot of it. It takes a while and Rikildis ends up writing a lot of it down, but at the end of it she looks both ecstatic and satisfied. "The boy with the ring, and he actually came back. Oh I'm going to have so much fun with this one," Rikildis says as she carefully files her notes away. "And Corradin as well! Scandalous, that he'd leave you out in the cold like this," Rikildis adds like you didn't do the same to Corradin first. She doesn't feel the need to point that out, though, and strangely you don't feel like correcting her. "Consider yourself off the hook, [PC FIRST NAME], just...stay away from Alice's Tavern for a day or fifteen, if you please. I have some work to do!"

And there Rikildis goes, running off, head in the clouds as you did a moment ago. Eh, not a great outcome but the best you could have hoped for. Valerie and Sebastien you neither could or would dare to get close to right now, so you'll just have to...wait for Corradin to leave, and get back to your homework project? Well at least you've got something to pass the time, you suppose...

[PC DID TAKE Listen OPTION LAST STAGE]-Gossip. Freshly baked pie sounds like a great idea right now.
--It's Alice's Tavern, where else would you expect to hungry student to go? After, eh...all of the hard work you put in with Corradin? Sure, good enough. You guys got...some of the initial planning stages done, that's progress right?

Taking a different route than Valerie and Sebastien you head off to Alice's Tavern yourself, already mentally going over what flavor of pie you'll order. Just have to make sure you stay inconspicuous, both know your face so they will recognize you. Maybe a quick bit of disguise, actually...? Nah, no need to overthink this. You're a hungry student going to grab a freshly baked pie, that excuse should work for everyone.

Of course you say that, but when you notice one Corradin d'Alfi sitting some distance away from Valerie and Sebastien you can't help but feel like asking a few pointed questions anyway...

You walk up to him, stop in front of his table, and wait for him to notice you. His attention is (not so) secretly drawn to the quiet corner where Valerie and Sebastian have sat down, thankfully he still notices you pretty quickly. "Eh...[PC FIRST NAME]? Um, if this is about that homework project I can-" he nervously sputters out.

Oh right, that homework project! Thank all the gods Corradin brought it up first, you completely forgot about that excuse. You sit down across from him and, with an enormous grin, "confirm" that, yes, of course you're here to discuss that homework project. Obviously. Why else would you be here?

Corradin frowns at your perhaps excessive assertions. "I mean I'd say you're here for those two," he quietly says as he subtly points at Valerie and Sebastien, "but last I checked you can't speak their language, so I don't know what you'd hope to accomplish coming here."

...Oh. Right, Sebastien doesn't speak Renaglian, huh? So he's going to be speaking Merilien with Valerie the entire time. You, eh...kinda forgot about that...well, regardless Corradin can speak Sebastien's language, so mostly to change the subject you ask him why he's here.

--You're merrily skipping along to Alice's Tavern, not entirely paying attention to your surroundings as you daydream of the glorious, beautiful gossip that will soon fall into your hands, when your hubris is punished in the absolute worst way possible: Turning a corner you collide with Rikildis, both of you falling to the ground as neither of you were expecting that sudden impact. Rikildis, needless to say, is thoroughly unhappy at the current situation, but she doesn't show it. Because she knows full well what you were too preoccupied with to pay attention to your surroundings. "Well, I'd say a heartfelt congratulations at your increasing wrestling training is in order," Rikildis says, dripping sarcasm with every word despite the sick grin on her face. You've really done it this time! "But, for one, I'd be lying. And for two I'm giving you one chance to give me something worth my time as an apology unless you want the entire school to know about you having the situational awareness of an intoxicated squirrel."

Hmm...decisions, decisions. Rikildis wasn't heading in towards Alice's Tavern herself, so you can buy your way out of this, but you'd really rather not send her that direction. Valerie is sure to object and if she learns about who sold her out you've got a sneaking suspicion she'd object more strongly. On the flipside, though...what to do...

"Twenty seconds, [PC FIRST NAME]," Rikildis suddenly says as she takes out her parchment and quill. "I don't have all day."

After a very tense thirteen-point-seven seconds (Rikildis did, in fact, keep track) you finally say "I don't think I know anything you'd be interested in." It's a lie, of course, and Rikildis knows it, but you're not risking Valerie's wrath without a fight. If Sebastien wasn't as made of pudding as he seemed, socially, maybe you'd have given a different answer, but you're not sure if Sebastien can really handle the likes of Rikildis - especially right now - and boy howdy are you not waiting to find that out the hard way. You'd rather try your luck with Rikildis, at least she's a known danger.

"Really now?" Rikildis asks like she knows full well - as she undoubtedly does - that you just lied to her. "If you want to play that game, fine, I guess I'm in the mood. Despite what some might call evidence to the contrary, namely the bits of floor that mysteriously ended up on my robes." You take out your wand and cast a quick charm to get rid of that. Rikildis nods appreciatively, which would mean something if this wasn't Rikildis you're talking about. "Alright, begin: Where were you going, with your head stuck in the clouds like that?"

The best way to lie your way out of a situation with Rikildis, you find, is the stick as close to the truth as possible. Anything else she will find out sooner or later, and even if she doesn't she's sure to interpret what she does find as poorly as possible. "I was looking for Corradin," you answer confidently. It's...okay it's a completely and total lie, but it's what you should have been doing instead of what you were doing, so close enough.

Rikildis slowly nods. "Corradin d'Alfi? Alright, why were you looking for him grinning ear to ear like that?" Oh, that's a tougher one...but you can manage. You claim that Rikildis mistook your expression in the split second she might have seen it before...well before unfortunate events unfolded, and you claim that you weren't looking forward to finding Corradin. You can tell Rikildis sees straight through your lie, but like she said earlier she's in the mood to toy with you, so...you're the mouse and she's the cat. Unfortunate a position as that is. "Alright, I can believe that," Rikildis says confidently. She's not lying, she could believe that, she just doesn't because she knows better. Unfortunately. "Okay, so not looking forwards to finding Corradin, but looking for him anyway. Why?"

"To sort out the homework project we've been assigned to collaborate on," you answer without missing a beat. That was a very easy one, and...as close to the truth as you could get, besides. Rikildis, noticing this fact, slowly nods to herself. She'd write these details down if she hasn't spend all of last year practising memorizing these details, it feels like.

"Alright, I'll bite. Let's find Corradin and ask if he agrees with that order of events, shall we?"

You can't help but shudder at that suggestion, but you can't exactly retract anything you've claimed either, so...nothing to do but hope that Corradin plays along, you guess? He's not a fan of Rikildis' slandering ways, he might pick up on what's going on and...not frown upon you trying to ditch him? Eh...yeah you're starting to feel a bit sick right now...

You follow Rikildis around pretty meekly for several minutes as she goes around inquiring about Corradin's current location, but the answer she eventually gets surprises you moreso than her: Alice's Tavern! What is Corradin doing there right now!? You don't believe a word of it, and yet despite asking multiple people you keep getting the same answer! How did that happen!?

"[PC FIRST NAME]?" you eventually hear Rikildis ask after several failed attempts to get your attention. "Let me just put this plainly: I'm getting the feeling that this was not part of any plan you've ever had, is that correct?" You nod at that because yes, that definitely sounds like an accurate description. "Right. So, how about this offer: You tell me what happened, all the details about what actually happened, as well as why Corradin being at Alice's Tavern is such a surprise, and I'll let you off the hook for bumbling into me earlier. Deal?"

Hmm...that's a very tempting offer. It's a lot of information, yes, but Rikildis was going to find out all of it sooner or later anyway. And with Corradin being in Alice's Tavern right now you've got the feeling that you've got a scapegoat if things do go poorly...it's too tempting. You nod and relay your meeting with Sebastien, how Corradin seemed to react to it, the situation in the Common Room, why you were daydreaming about going to Alice's Tavern and why you've got every idea and yet zero ideas as to why Corradin is there right now, the lot of it. It takes a while and Rikildis ends up writing a lot of it down, but at the end of it she looks both ecstatic and satisfied. "The boy with the ring, and he actually came back. Oh I'm going to have so much fun with this one," Rikildis says as she carefully files her notes away. "And Corradin as well! Scandalous, that he'd leave you out in the cold like this," Rikildis adds like you didn't do the same to Corradin first. She doesn't feel the need to point that out, though, and strangely you don't feel like correcting her. "Consider yourself off the hook, [PC FIRST NAME], just...one question, actually: You mentioned that Sebastien doesn't speak Renaglian, right? And that you had Corradin talk to him in the hallway?"

You slowly nod, not sure where Rikildis is going with this...

"What was your plan for dealing with that when you got to Alice's Tavern? I'm assuming that Valerie and Sebastien will be speaking to each other in Merilien, if the latter doesn't speak Renaglian at all."

...Oh. Right. You completely forgot about that. Should have figured, really, there's always that little sting at the end with Rikildis. Although that makes you curious: How is she planning on crossing the language barrier? She...actually you've no idea if Rikildis speaks Merilien, maybe she just does and it's not a problem at all for her. Curious, and hoping to salvage what's left of your dignity, you actually dare to ask Rikildis about it.

"If you must know, currently my plan is to, eh, persuade Corradin to help me after I 'coincidentally' run into him," she answers with all the confidence you feel like you're lacking at this exact moment. "Whether or not I speak Merilien, well, who knows? But I'm sure it'll be to my benefit if I did, but could convince Valerie and Sebastien that I don't. Oh, I'm sure she'll recognize me, I know I have a reputation, but that one doesn't cover linguistic knowledge last I checked." Figures she'd have some sort of devious scheme all ready to go. You'd bet Pims she actually just speaks Merilien to boot. "In any case, I'll be off now. You're off the hook, but do keep your distance from Alice's Tavern for a bit while I, eh, carefully investigate."

Yeah, of course. You nod and...actually what are you going to do? Corradin is in Alice's Tavern himself, you can't exactly find him and collaborate on your joint homework project right now. Great, well...guess you're just going to do something else. At least you've an excuse, you suppose...

-School Survival. Look for Corradin - you still have a homework project to collaborate on, after all.
--Fun and exciting a distraction as that was you are an Academagia student at the end of the day, and if at all possible you would prefer to remain one. That in mind you wander off and go looking for Corradin, not entirely sure where to start looking (if he was in the Common Room you'd know, after all), but you figure that where you left him is as good a spot to start as any. Maybe someone saw him pass by that's still around? It's worth a shot.

You end up following sets of directions until you end up somewhere you definitely, most assuredly, unquestionably did not expect to find yourself: Alice's Tavern. And yet multiple people swore up and down that they saw Corradin going in this direction. Bizarre. Well, you've got no better ideas, and as you stand here taking in the smell can't deny that you wouldn't object to a freshly baked pie at any rate, so...with a shrug you go in, hoping that you'll be able to find Corradin quickly.

Alice's Tavern isn't what you'd call "packed" right now, so it's easy to spot your wayward study partner. You walk up to him, stop in front of his table, and wait for him to notice you. His attention is (not so) secretly drawn to the quiet corner where Valerie and Sebastian have sat down, thankfully he still notices you pretty quickly. "Eh...[PC FIRST NAME]? Um, if this is about that homework project I can-"

You sit down, which causes Corradin's words to stuck in his throat. "Yes. Explain," is all you say in response, just as Alice brings over a freshly baked pie. Corradin lowers his head in defeat, and motions for you to take a slice. You take him up on that offer.

--With that distraction dealt with you figure it's time to look for Corradin. Obviously he's not in the Common Room, you know that much, he's not where you ran into Sebastien...you check the Venalicium next, figuring he probably went on ahead and got a head start on this joint homework project, but no, you can't find him there either. Where is that guy? You swing by the Common Room again, check the Great Hall, but nope. No signs of Corradin anywhere.

This is just embarrassing. You're trying to be a good student but your study partner is absent without official leave. Where did that guy run off to? You were sure he would be somewhere you two can get started on the homework project...

I don't plan for the Gossip options to be a "succeed or the adventure breaks" situation, even if it reads that way.

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Circle of Doubt, stage 4:

Spoiler

"I'm here to keep an eye on those two," Corradin says with a low voice. You can hear him, but you don't think anyone else (chiefly Valerie and Sebastien) can. "I, eh...don't suppose you'll believe me if I say I'm a hopeless romantic here to witness star-crossed lovers meet up after a long time spend apart?"

"If you tried to tell me that you ever suggested what you just did I'd have a hard time believing you," you slowly answer. Corradin isn't surprised, he just sighs. "So why are you here and why you? Don't you know how conspicuous you look? Both of us, even? Ring boy over there knows our faces, you know."

"Yes, I'm aware," Corradin mentions annoyedly as he takes a bite out of his pie. "I didn't have a choice, though. I'm the only one who speaks Merilien."

"The only one of...?" you ask, though Corradin doesn't answer beyond a defeated sigh. "The only one. In general," you fill in. Corradin nods.

"I knew you wouldn't believe me when I said I'm here for gossip and I couldn't convince myself I'm here because of some greater plan, let stand anyone else, so...what do you want me to say, [PC FIRST NAME]?"

It's a fair question, if a bit of an odd one. Corradin is claiming that he really is here to soak in the romantic atmosphere that Valerie and Sebastien have hanging around them (although you wouldn't say the expression on Sebastien's face leaves that impression), but you can't believe that. And Corradin can't convince himself he's here on someone else's behalf, let stand anyone else, either. So...where to go from here?

-Rhetoric. Ponder Corradin's question, really think it through.
--A layman might simply answer "the truth" to Corradin's question and call it a day, but you're honestly more interested in something else. Corradin, here for reasons unknown, that he himself doesn't believe in? You're honestly fascinated! Corradin, the guy who could set records defending his family's importance and wealth, who wouldn't miss an opportunity to assure the world of his convictions, isn't able to convince himself. You've heard so many people speculate that the boy has no confidence, that he's trying to convince himself as much as everyone around him, if not even more so, and yet...it's like you've encountered a fish that doesn't know how to swim. It's so contrary and yet so evident...that's what makes humans interesting, though.

Instead of (directly) answering Corradin's question you actually start asking your own. Not hard ones, not difficult ones (although apparently confusing ones, despite Corradin having attended Dialectic last year), just basic question. Start simple, ease him into it. Then, slowly, you start to ask more difficult question. More open ones, things that make Corradin think. Slowly but surely, one step at a time, you lead Corradin down his own thoughts. Trick him into asking himself his own question, and answering them as best he is able to. You're able to get a good read on Corradin throughout this whole process, which takes a while, but it's no less fascinating even as time passes. If anything it gets more exciting the closer you seem to get to the core of Corradin's tangled feelings, this grand mystery that even he doesn't understand. But, thanks to your efforts, that he at least has some vaguely firm grasp of, now. He's aware that it exists, even if it he doesn't know what it is (yet).

"And what might you two be doing here, if I may ask?" a female voice suddenly asks. Initially you think it's Alice, which wouldn't make any sense, so you turn to look and see Valerie standing next to you, arms crossed and with a catty smile on her face. Right, those two are here! Or were here, they seem to be leaving. No matter, you happily explain that you're helping Corradin try and understand his own feelings, which he vehemently denies right afterwards, but after giving Corradin a careful once-over Valerie just smirks and turns her attention back to you. "Good luck," she says with a sickly sweet tone, after which she takes Sebastien's hand and the two walk toward the exit.

"Good show, [PC FIRST NAME]," Corradin says after they leave the building. "I was afraid we'd get rolled into dough and baked into pie for a moment there, but that act was impeccable. I wish I could call myself as good an actor, but I guess my natural improv is good enough, huh?"

"I wasn't acting, Corradin," you plainly state. It deflates Corradin's hope quite effectively. "Anyway, to continue where we left off-what's with that defeated look, Corradin? Are you really that disappointed that they left?"

"W-well, yes, obviously. The entire reason I came here in the first place was to observe them, after all." You don't even say anything. You just slowly nod with a smug grin plastered all over your face as Corradin finally not only realizes, but even admits it himself. A second later, seeing your grin, Corradin adds, "I'd greatly appreciate it if you kept quiet about this, needless to say. I-it's not-I swear, I'm not secretly jealous! Or lonely, for that matter, I'm just...w-well I'll get back to you on that. You've given me a lot to think about..."

"Please do, Corradin. Although regarding that request to keep quiet: 'Pot, meet Kettle' is my response to that."

Corradin doesn't seem pleased with your response, but as far as you're concerned he made his own bed and you can evidently run circles around him if you catch him at the right (or wrong) time, so...yeah. You're confident you'll be fine.

--You go so far as you actually take out some textbooks from your knapsack to reference some stuff you couldn't quite remember off-hand, but even with that you're not able to provide an answer to the question that's staring you (and Corradin) right in the face: How is it possible that Corradin is here, he surely could not have ended up here by chance, without him being able to explain why? The guy is infamous for standing up for himself if not his family, he could form a comically dysfunctional crime solving trio with Basia and Girars on that front and none would even question it. And yet here you are, with no answers to give to Corradin and with no answers to have thrown in your face by Corradin. It's just bizarre, and you have no idea how to get to the bottom of this...

"If you're willing to just let this matter drop for now, perhaps we can leave this for later and instead focus on what we're here for?" Corradin offers, but you rebuff him by pointing out that he can't even explain why he's here, so you're more inclined to figure that out first. Not to mention you don't feel like sticking around unless you have to, you're still worried about Sebastien looking in your direction and recognizing either of you. Corradin casts a weary glance in the direction of the two star crossed lovers, who haven't noticed the two of you sitting here yet, and lets out a sigh. "Alright, compromise: We'll leave and...do whatever you want to do to try and figure me out, after we finish our pie. Deal?"

You can agree with those terms. As for how to solve this, though...maybe ask Professor Sido? He's a well travelled Dialectic professor, surely he could shed some light on this? You're probably not going to end up getting absorbed in one of his stories and spend an hour not actually accomplishing anything in his office.

Probably...

-Gossip. Give Corradin the best, most interesting gossip you know, as a test to see if he's really interested.
--You stare silently at Corradin for a while, mentally sifting through your material and carefully considering what to use. You've heard that being a gossip is a lot like being a merchant - you have to know what your customer wants and provide something suitable if you want to be successful. Corradin...you really can't imagine him being the romantic sort, so you don't think romantic gossip is going to work. The question is, what will? It's a real challenge, but you feel up to it. Thinking over what you know of him and where his natural interests seem to lie...political intrigue? That seems to be the best bet, but you don't have a lot of political intrigue gossip in stock. Some, yes, but you wouldn't call it top shelf material. Better than firing your best material at the wrong target, though, so hopefully it's still good enough.

Corradin is mostly interested in what you have to say about individuals he better not mention within a quarter mile radius of anyone that's capable of listening, but even so you can tell that Corradin isn't really paying attention. He's interested, just not to the point where you could see him running off to Alice's Tavern as he did to eavesdrop on Valerie and Sebastien. Which leaves you thoroughly confused - if not romance or political intrigue, what could Corradin possibly be so interested in?

"And what might you two be doing here, if I may ask?" a female voice suddenly asks. Initially you think it's Alice, which wouldn't make any sense, so you turn to look and see Valerie standing next to you, arms crossed and with a catty smile on her face. Right, those two are here! Or were here, they seem to be leaving. No matter, you explain in as neutral a voice as possible that you're trying - and failing - to help Corradin understand his own feelings, which he vehemently denies right afterwards. But after giving Corradin a careful once-over Valerie just smirks and turns her attention back to you. "Good luck," she says with a sickly sweet tone, after which she takes Sebastien's hand and the two walk toward the exit.

"Good show, [PC FIRST NAME]," Corradin says after they leave the building. "I was afraid we'd get rolled into dough and baked into pie for a moment there, but that act was impeccable. I wish I could call myself as good an actor, but I guess my natural improv is good enough, huh?"

"I wasn't acting, Corradin," you plainly state. It deflates Corradin's hope quite effectively. "Anyway, you didn't seem to be as interested in political intrigue as those two, so-what's with that look? Are you really that sad they left?"

"Well, yes. I did come here specifically to observe them, after all." Corradin answers, afterwards adding in a low voice that he did even if he doesn't fully understand why. It's a mystery that leaves you sitting in your chair no less puzzled than Corradin is. It's not romance, it's not political intrigue...what is it? What did he hope to gain or learn from observing those two, what chance does he think he missed that he's so upset about those two leaving? You feel like you've learned so much about so many people, and yet...you've got no answers to these questions.

At least you'll get plenty more opportunities to figure this out and polish your skills, you suppose. Corradin is going to have time to let this mystery sink in and think about it some more, meanwhile you're guaranteed to get plenty of opportunities to keep track of that progress since the two of you are going to be seeing each other a lot in the near future regardless - never though you'd be happy with getting saddled with that big joint homework project, but things do have a tendency to work out that way sometimes...

--Rikildis would tell you that very little can top the likes of Valerie and Sebastien in terms of juiciness, something about people eating this stuff up like crazy, but you beg to differ. You? You've got your hands on some better stuff that you're confident will knock Corradin's socks off. So what if Rikildis doesn't agree? You'll show her!

That's the plan. The reality, of course...well, if you ignore all the parts that don't match up - which is to say all of them - you could claim to have accomplished what you said you would accomplish. If you don't...less so. Significantly less so, in fact...

"I'll freely admit I was not aware of...that particular aspect of [RANDOM NPC STUDENT]'s lifestyle, I guess you could call it. But...what does any of that have to do with...anything we're doing right now, exactly?" Corradin, after patiently hearing you out, asks with a confused look on his face.

"Nothing worth repeating," you answer with the most defeated sigh ever uttered in Alice's Tavern, no doubt. How? How is it possible that Rikildis always ends up being right about this stuff? You swear that witch is blessed with divine insight or something. Can't be anything else. As for Corradin, you'll be back. You'll be back with a vengeance, and get to the bottom of his...whatever you were talking about before even if it's the last thing you do!

-Beguile. If Valerie can enchant Corradin than so can you.
--Valerie is not the only one with an interesting story or two to tell, so as a test to see if it's really the "romantic atmosphere" he's interested in - which is not how you'd describe Valerie and Sebastien's little meeting at all, for the record - you decide to regale Corradin with the best tale you know. If he's interested in any of this stuff it's sure to work, because you've got it all - forbidden romance, political intrigue, magic, the whole nine yards.

The downside, as that description implies, is that your story is a bit of a long one. But you're not worried about that. You sink Corradin neck-deep in your tale from a far-off land, which...he's only half interested in. You can tell from his expression. The romantic aspect, he doesn't care, filler for the masses. The political intrigue gets more success, same for the magic, but still not to the point where you could see Corradin doing what he did here today, hoping to get more information. Despite you feeling a bit put off that you didn't manage to grab Corradin's full attention you did manage to grab his attention somewhat, although you're still left with no explanation as to why he ended up here...

"And what might you two be doing here, if I may ask?" a female voice suddenly asks, speaking of paying attention. Initially you think it's Alice, which wouldn't make any sense, so you turn to look and see Valerie standing next to you, arms crossed and with a catty smile on her face. Right, those two are here! Or were here, they seem to be leaving. No matter, you politely explain that you're trying - and failing - to help Corradin understand his own feelings, which he vehemently denies right afterwards. But after giving Corradin a careful once-over Valerie just smirks and turns her attention back to you. "Good luck," she says with a sickly sweet tone, after which she takes Sebastien's hand and the two walk toward the exit.

"Good show, [PC FIRST NAME]," Corradin says after they leave the building. "I was afraid we'd get rolled into dough and baked into pie for a moment there, but that act was impeccable. I wish I could call myself as good an actor, but I guess my natural improv is good enough, huh?"

"I wasn't acting, Corradin," you plainly state. It deflates Corradin's hope quite effectively. "Anyway, you clearly aren't the romantic sort, so why-what's with that look, are you really that sad they left?"

"Well, yes. I did come here specifically to observe them, after all." Corradin answers, though he sadly can't answer the question written all over your face. And his, for that matter. It seems clear to you that Corradin was hoping to catch any news of what'll happen with if not between Valerie and Sebastien's respective families now that these two have met up again and are (you would assume) starting to see each other more, but why would Corradin ever think that they were going to discuss that here, right now? You get he's new to this romance stuff and all, but still. Even Philippe on a bad day could have figured that one out...

Ultimately you can't figure out this puzzle any more than Corradin can, he admits that he was here to observe Valerie and Sebastien but he himself doesn't understand exactly what he was hoping to catch - romantic atmosphere and political intrigue definitely not being the answer. But at least you've managed to give him the mystery, something to think about. You'll figure out more later, you're sure. You'll be spending plenty of time with this guy before that joint homework project is properly started, let stand done, so you can give Corradin some time to let this all sink in and give it a good think.

--You do your best impression of a traveller with interesting stories to tell, but halfway through you can't help but notice Corradin start to yawn. How rude, and you were just getting to the good part too! Taken out of your revere you ask Corradin how he could possibly be put to sleep by your epic storytelling.

"Well, for starters, it'd help if you didn't keep talking in hushed whispers for fear of being noticed by those two," Corradin, half asleep, quietly says as he points vaguely in the direction of Valerie and Sebastien. Okay, that's a fair point, but what were you supposed to do about that? Risk getting discovered and being rolled into a pie? "Second off, it would help if you told your own story instead of re-telling Valerie's. You may not know this, but I did hear about most of it already through rumors and being in the Common Room when she was playing bard one day. So not much of what you're telling me is new, either."

...You feel like you were lied to. Not by Corradin, but by someone else. Which would make more sense if this entire thing wasn't your idea, admittedly. Rats...defeated by a fifth year. Not that that should come as a surprise, you suppose.

Fine, so you've lost this round, no matter. Problems have been identified, and you swear those will be addressed. So next time, the day will be yours!

This adventure will mostly focus on Corradin specifically, so in terms of requirements I was thinking high relationship with him at a minimum. Maybe some other stuff, but definitely that.

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Circle of Doubt, stage 5:

Spoiler

After a disappointingly fruitless search through most of the Academagia you have finally, after much time and effort, cornered your prey. It took a lot of searching, a lot of asking around, a lot of thoroughly combing over areas you never thought to even check for your quarry...which did end up completely fruitless so maybe there's a reason you wouldn't normally look there, in hindsight...but no matter. Finally, you've struck gold in your prey's natural habitat. Also known as...Corradin's dorm room.

You knock on the door several times, loudly to make sure you're heard, and as soon as the handle is depressed on the other end you prepare yourself to launch into a right tirade of grievances over the trouble Corradin has caused you today. When it's not Corradin who opens the door, however, the second word of said speech gets caught up in your throat. "Oh, désolé, je pensais que tu étais Valerie. Corradin! Quelqu'un est là pour vous voir," the one who does open the door, probably the last Merilien speaker you expected to open that door, says as Sebastien notices that you're not the one he was expecting and that you're (obviously) here for Corradin instead. Eh...why is this guy here right now? What?

"D'accord, je suppose que je vais partir. J'espère que vous pourrez également fermer après votre départ?" Corradin asks Sebastien, who responds with a tumbs-up. Corradin doesn't seem to be in the mood, however, and drags himself out of his room and, walking in the direction of the Common Room, asks you why you stopped by.

You've got other questions, obviously, but you suppose you might as well address the one you actually came for first. "Remember that homework project we were to collaborate on? I was expecting the next share of your work today, and I just spend I don't know how many hours scouring every last part of the Academagia trying to find you. What's gotten into you, Corradin? And why...I mean let's not even get started with those questions, though rest assured I'll be asking them later."

"Right...that project..." Corradin mumbles to himself like he completely forgot about it. That's concerning. On multiple fronts. "Can we discuss this further in one of the study cubicles, in the Venalicium? Even if you don't want to, I mean...s'where I ought to be right now anyway."

You can imagine that being somewhere private to discuss stuff is going to be a good thing, and even if not Corradin isn't wrong about the fact that a study cubicle is where he should be in any case, so...yes, you suppose. You quietly follow Corradin to the Venalicium, which seems to be pretty empty today, and go to one of the study cubicles. That Corradin doesn't pick up any books first doesn't give you much hope for your homework project, though. "Take a seat, please," Corradin says as he takes a seat himself. "Regarding out joint homework project the short version, and forgive me if this sounds like a lame excuse, is that the Valerie and Sebastien situation has been keeping me occupied. I've not been able to focus on much else, and that's because I've been preparing for something more important: Taking control of this situation."

Two sentences in and you're ready to call Corradin insane. This is promising to be the greatest of days, truly. "Corradin? I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt before, but you're talking about 'taking control of the situation' like you're not talking about someone else's love life. What, in the good name of every God out there, has gotten into you? Why are you so obsessed with this situation, and why do you feel like this is a situation that anyone, let stand you specifically, need to 'take control of'?"

Corradin's tired eyes glare at you, but he doesn't immediately say anything. First he sits up straight, as best he can, and lets out a sigh. "Please, you saw who my new temporary room mate is. Did you really believe I wouldn't keep an ear to the ground, make sure that nothing disreputable went on between those two?" You shake your head in disbelief and remind Corradin, again, that he's still talking about someone's else's love life. Although his point about his temporary room mate is taken, you're not sure why that compels him to "take control of the situation", as he put it. "The simple fact that Sebastien is on the verge of destroying his entire family," Corradin answers bitterly. "That's why someone needs to step in, for his sake. Before he does something he'll regret."

You're not going to lie, that's not something you can believe so easily. "Do something he'll regret, or do something you'd regret?" you pointedly ask Corradin.

"The former, although you'll have to tell me how much of a difference you think there is. Sebastien is my third cousin, if I didn't mention that before. It might not sound like much, we definitely aren't close, but as far as I'm concerned he's family all the same." Oh...that definitely explains a few things. Not everything, but some things. "The situation, [PC FIRST NAME], is that Sebastien's family is on the verge of collapse. He's their only remaining heir, and his family is close to bankruptcy. Blame Pievre's coddling of the merchants and bankers, who've taken full advantage of the situation to run whoever could oppose their rise to the top out of business as soon as possible - Sebastian's family included. They have their own plans with the land that Sebastien's family still rightfully owns, you see. I doubt that any of them have a hand in this ring business, but regardless if Sebastien runs off with Valerie - as they're planning to do, from what I've gathered - he's not going to have a home to come back to. When, if ever, Valerie gets tired of travelling."

Huh. That does sound like there's opportunity for regret there, but surely that's something Sebastien is aware of, and something that he's thinking about if he is. If he is, and if abandoning his family is ultimately his choice...should Corradin really be allowed to make a different choice for him? It sounds like he should but it sounds like he shouldn't at the same time, it's hard to tell. You ask Corradin how he feels about it.

"From what I've gathered Sebastien actually doesn't know," Corradin clarifies. You'll admit that changes a few things. "Well, he knows about him being the family's only heir, obviously. But he doesn't know about their financial situation. That they're likely to be evicted by a group of colluding bankers and investors interested in taking their land for themselves, and establishing a trade route with the family's rivals in Meril on their own terms. As for how I learned of it, one of Valerie's friends informed her about it...but she has yet to inform him, as far as I can tell. I'm afraid that she's keeping the information from him because she's afraid he'll go back home if she does, and she wants him to stay with her. Which, I get that she's in love and all, but keeping this hidden from Sebastien doesn't seem like the right thing to do. I know it's suicide to interfere with a senior's love life, I probably wouldn't consider it if said loverboy didn't literally sleep in the same room as me, but since the situation is what it is...this is something that I can't just ignore. If not for the fact my pride couldn't stand to watch as someone destroys his own family like this my family likely would not be pleased if this situation played out as it's threatening to right beneath my nose. So either way my hands are tied."

On the one side, what Corradin has presented definitely sounds like Valerie is betraying Sebastien's trust, and while you're no less hesitant to interfere with a senior's love affair you can imagine why it'd be difficult for Corradin to ignore. On the other side, there's just something about this whole story that sounds off. You're not sure why but something is nagging at you that this story supposedly doesn't wash. What to do about this mess...

-Logic. Ponder if all of this really adds up.
--You're confident your intuition on this one isn't wrong, but you can't recall off-hand where the issue is either. So, thinking two heads are better than one you decide to have Corradin run you through the entire thing from the very beginning again, starting with Valerie's capture. Starting the story from there it doesn't take long for a contradiction to appear - if Sebastien's parents are close to broke how were they able to afford the services of an entire mercenary band? At least five of which died on that job, from dangers only known insofar that they exist. You don't know how much mercenaries get in terms of hazard pay, but even so that must have been a hefty contract for someone to be willing to take it in the first place. And it was, if Valerie's story is to be believed as well: Thinking back you do remember her mentioning that the captain of that band was paid "in full", that doesn't sound like he took the job out of desperation to you.

You pose that question to Corradin, and ask if he's got any answer for it. "Um..." is all he has on offer, though, which doesn't make you confident he knows what he's talking about. He looks more confused than concerned that he got caught in a lie, though, for what that's worth. "Oh, perhaps his family took out a loan to pay those mercenaries?"

"That makes no sense. Sebastien's family wouldn't take out a loan from the same banks that are trying to run them out of their ancestral home, and if they did that sounds to me like they're working together rather than against each other. I mean I guess Sebastien's family could have been betrayed by them, but that doesn't explain why they thought it was a good idea to trust those merchants in the first place."

As you expected Corradin doesn't have a counter-argument for that.

--You go over Corradin's story multiple times and from multiple angles, but if there is any reason to suspect that what Corradin has said is untrue...there must be. You don't know why, but something left you with the impression that Sebastien's family is well off, if not necessary loaded. Definitely not struggling to pay their rent, at least. But why? You just can't remember the details. You swear there was something, some kind of explanation or detail that you've missed, because you definitely remember thinking that. Why? What detail did you forget?

"If you doubt my word, feel free to confirm it for yourself," Corradin, noticing your obvious doubt, offers. Frankly, it's an offer you're going to take him up on. You tell Corradin to get started on his share of the homework project while you go out and either find confirmation of his story or confirmation to the contrary. You're not comfortable interfering with a senior's love affairs until and unless these doubts of yours are cleared up. Corradin seems confident that he'll be proven right, but that's honestly to your advantage at this point. "I suppose my family wouldn't appreciate me getting bad grades either, so fine. Go, find whatever confirmation you'll need, I'll see you later," Corradin says with smug confidence. All the more motivation for you to find evidence to the contrary.

...Where to even begin looking for that stuff, though? Valerie has stopped sharing her story in the Common Room a while ago, everyone she cares to hear it has heard it by now. You could ask around, you suppose? Collaborating with Corradin is right now, maybe it's worth risking Rikildis? What was it...you're sure there was one detail, something that indicated Sebastien's family is fine financially if not loaded but...what was it...

-Memorization. Try to recall what piece of this puzzle doesn't fit.
--Nothing really stood out at a glance, but thinking it over one more time there's one part to Corradin's story that is decidedly not in line with how you were told it previously. Unsure as to whether Corradin is lying to you or was lied to, you decide to simply ask him about it. If he tries to cover up his lie with more lies, well, you're confident you'll be able to catch him again. "One thing I'd like clarified, Corradin: You mentioned that Sebastien's family was poor, right? Or, at least, that their coffers are basically empty?" Corradin nods, and sensing your doubt he asks what's wrong with that. "What's wrong is that when Valerie told the story of how she ended up either captured or kidnapped by those mercenaries, whichever version you prefer, she mentioned that the captain thereof was 'paid in full' after he escorted her to Sebastien's family estate. There was a lot of debate and discussion as to whether the man was trustworthy, from what I recall, but him being paid a fair sum wasn't. If Sebastien's family has barely any coin to their name, how did they pay him?"

"Uh..." is the only answer that Corradin has at first, which doesn't make you confident he knows what he's talking about. He looks more confused than concerned that he got caught in a lie, though, for what that's worth. "I assume his family took out a loan to pay those mercenaries, in that case."

"How? I don't think that family would take out a loan from the same banks that are trying to run them out of their ancestral home, and if they did that sounds to me like they're working together rather than against each other. I mean I guess Sebastien's family could have been betrayed by them, but that doesn't explain why they thought it was a good idea to try and help those merchants in the first place."

As you expected Corradin doesn't have a counter-argument for that.

--You think back to Valerie's days of telling her (and Sebastien's) story in the Common Room, but if there was anything to suggest that what Corradin has said is untrue...you definitely can remember it, you just can't remember the details. You swear there was something, some kind of explanation or detail that that made it clear Sebastien's family isn't struggling to pay their rent, you definitely remember thinking that. You just can't remember it. Why? What detail did you forget?

"If you doubt my word, feel free to confirm it for yourself," Corradin, noticing your obvious doubt, offers. Frankly, it's an offer you're going to take him up on. You tell Corradin to get started on his share of the homework project while you go out and either find confirmation of his story or confirmation to the contrary. You're not comfortable interfering with a senior's love affairs until and unless these doubts of yours are cleared up. Corradin seems confident that he'll be proven right, but that's honestly to your advantage at this point. "I suppose my family wouldn't appreciate me getting bad grades either, so fine. Go, find whatever confirmation you'll need, I'll see you later," Corradin says with smug confidence. All the more motivation for you to find evidence to the contrary.

...Where to even begin looking for that stuff, though? Valerie has stopped sharing her story in the Common Room a while ago, everyone she cares to hear it has heard it by now. You could ask around, you suppose? Or maybe just sit down somewhere quiet and think it through again? What was it...you're sure there was one detail, something that indicated Sebastien's family is fine financially if not loaded but...what was it...

-Interrogation. Suss out whether Corradin is lying to you.
--You run Corradin through his story a few more times, asking slightly different questions each run to see if the story changes at any point, all the while keeping a close eye on Corradin's expression. Despite the fact that you still can't believe a word this you have to conclude that Corradin is, most assuredly, not lying to you.

"Finally satisfied?" Corradin asks. He's not offended by your lack of trust, but...you might wish to tread carefully, all the same. In answer to his question you nod. "So, care to put on my shoes while I play interrogator for a bit? I'm very curious as to why you don't believe me, rest assured."

Can't say that's not fair, and yes, you're definitely curious as well at this point. You shrug and tell Corradin to start whenever he's ready. To be fair Corradin does a respectable job of it. You can tell he's not experienced with questioning people as you are, but he mimics your example well enough. More importantly his questioning does bear fruit, because as Corradin questions you on Valerie's story as you heard it you realize why this whole idea sounded off - the mercenaries that Sebastien's family hired. Valerie said it's captain was paid "in full" for a job well done, but allegedly Sebastien's family doesn't have the wealth to afford such things. So what's going on here?

"Ah..." is Corradin's answer to that, which doesn't make you confident he knows what he's talking about. "Oh, perhaps his family took out a loan to pay those mercenaries? Does that make sense, you think?"

You pointedly shake your head. "Sebastien's family wouldn't take out a loan from the same banks that are trying to run them out of their ancestral home, and if they did that sounds like collusions to me. Sebastien's family could have been betrayed by them, I suppose, but you'd need to tell me why they thought it was a good idea to trust those merchants in the first place."

As you expected Corradin doesn't have a counter-argument for that.

--You scrutinize and question Corradin pretty thoroughly, you think, but despite you definitely having the feeling that this story doesn't wash you can't find any part of it that Corradin isn't telling the truth on. So...what does that mean? You could swear you're not wrong, did so multiple times to Corradin in fact, and yet...

"If you doubt my word, feel free to confirm it for yourself," Corradin eventually offers. Frankly, it's one you're going to take him up on. You tell Corradin to get started on his share of the homework project while you go out and either find confirmation of his story or confirmation to the contrary. You're not comfortable interfering with a senior's love affairs until and unless these doubts of yours are cleared up. Corradin seems confident that he'll be proven right, but that's honestly to your advantage at this point. "I suppose my family wouldn't appreciate me getting bad grades either, so fine. Go, find whatever confirmation you'll need, I'll see you later," Corradin says with smug confidence. All the more motivation for you to find evidence to the contrary.

...Where to even begin looking for that stuff, though? Valerie has stopped sharing her story in the Common Room a while ago, everyone she cares to hear it has heard it by now. Ask around, maybe? Or sit down somewhere quiet and think it through again? What was it...you're sure there was one detail, something that indicated Sebastien's family is fine financially if not loaded but...what was it...

We've reached the point where things ended up significantly differently from how they were initially, so if there's any continuity errors, there you go.

Edited by Metis
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Circle of Doubt, stage 6:

Spoiler

After a bit of awkward silence, during which Corradin just stares at his lap confused, you decide to speak up. "Let's just ask Valerie about it and clear this mess up. If you're wrong, oh well, it happens. If you're right...well, we can decide where we want and dare to go from there. No offence but I'm really hoping you're wrong though."

Corradin looks aghast at this suggestion. "You want to just walk up to Valerie and ask about this!? Recall that Sebastien - allegedly, at least - doesn't know about it, so I don't exactly have any convincing excuses for how I came about this knowledge!"

"Bad rumors pop up everywhere, and considering your proximity it's no surprise that you ended up catching one of them. Besides, do you want answers or not? Because no offence, but I'm not trusting your eavesdropping skills after they were already proven questionable."

"Q-questionable indeed!" Corradin snarls out. Looks like you have, in fact, offended him. "If you think you can do any better you're more than welcome to!"

Kinda feels like you made your own bed in this situation. Well, time to get comfortable in it. So, eavesdropping, direct confrontation, less direct confrontation, however you want to go about that...what's the best approach to solve this problem?

-Lip Reading. You can outdo Corradin at this whole "eavesdropping" shtick.
--You tell Corradin you'll try your own hand at eavesdropping, to which he merely shrugs. No help, huh? Fine, you can do this on your own.

You walk into the main area of the Venalicium, thinking about how you're going to track down Valerie first of all, when you notice her sitting out in the open right here in the library. Alright, good start you suppose. The problem is that she's not alone - Sebastien is actually here as well, sitting right next to Valerie. That complicates matters. Not (just) because those two will be talking Merilien to each other, and Sebastien may or may not be a little bit notorious for being a fast speaker at that, but because Valerie obviously won't discuss something she doesn't want Sebastien to hear right next to Sebastien. Language barrier or no, you're sure she's not going to do that. The possibility of one of Valerie's friends interrupting their little study session, whatever that is about, also seems low. You'll admit you're at a bit of a loss here, as perfect as this situation seems this really doesn't sound like it's going to work out. Maybe you should try anyway? Hmm...

Ultimately you don't feel like you've got anything to lose by trying, this is a perfect situation to see if you can actually keep up with Sebastien's speed of speaking when reading his lips. Call it a practice run, and if you unexpectedly learn something useful because of it? Nice bonus, nothing wrong with that.

You grab a random book and find a nice seat with a good, indirect view of Valerie and Sebastien. Not ideal for reading lips, but better for staying hidden, and frankly the latter feels more important right now. Unfortunately it quickly becomes apparent that even with a clear view you are not reading Sebastien's lips to save your life, even when the guy is in a library he seems to speak like he's in a serious hurry. Valerie, however, appears to have no trouble keeping up with him. Lucky her.

With your inability to get anything from Sebastien well and truly confirmed you resign yourself to pretending to read your book for a while, hoping for an opportunity to present itself while you think of ways to get information from these two. It's going to have to be from you catching Valerie when she's alone, that much seems obvious, but when, where and how are you going to get an opportunity for that? Starting to feel like you understand what Corradin must have gone through to get his information, even if you still can't believe a word of it.

After a while spend running around your own thoughts you end up getting a lucky break - Grainne Inneith, rumor mongering gossip extraordinaire, walks into the Venalicium and immediately looks around until her eyes land on Valerie. You didn't think it likely that anyone would risk the wrath of the librarians, but it seems like your patience has been rewarded. Honestly it wasn't that much of a stretch anyway - if Corradin heard someone else talk about it there's a decent chance he's not the only one who heard, and sooner or later that information would find it's way into Rikildis' hands. Of course she send Grainne to confirm stuff, since Rikildis herself stands out a bit too much. Well, you'll just wait and see how this plays out. No need for anyone else to know that you're here, right?

From your secure perch you watch Grainne walk up to Valerie and Sebastien, only to flinch halfway through when she notices Sebastien sitting next to Valerie. Of course by that point Valerie has noticed Grainne approaching, and she's glaring at her with a look that says she's not going to accept a tactical retreat. Grainne, less certain of herself now, walks over slowly, although she tries to keep a cheerful expression. In plain, regular speed Renaglian Grainne quietly - as if you care about that detail - asks Valerie about Corradin's rumor. She doesn't say it outright, obviously, but you know enough of it to figure that out.

Valerie...it takes her a few tense moments to ponder how to respond, time which doesn't make Grainne feel very safe, but eventually she decides to bring Sebastien in on the conversation. What exactly those two say to each other you couldn't guess at, their speed at talking honestly makes you a bit jealous, but there's no mistaken Sebastien's confusion when being told about the rumor. He doesn't seem like he wants to avenge his family's honor or anything, though, he just looks confused. Valerie does not appear to see this as a problem, however, she turns her attention to Grainne and...offers Grainne to have her help out with their project in return for her forgiveness? Which Grainne seems to accept readily, at first, but after being shown the book that Valerie is reading from her face loses a few shades of color? Also she looks thoroughly confused? Bizarre, but you suppose you'll hear about that later. You've gotten what you wanted, so you pick up your book and head back to Corradin. You've kept him waiting long enough.

He's still in the same study cubicle, dutifully working on the joint homework project you completely forgot about, though obviously he drops that when you walk in. "Back already? So, did you manage to find out anything? What happened?" he asks, curious beyond belief. You decide to first answer the question you were send to answer: The rumor that Corradin overheard is completely false. Corradin looks surprised. "Wait, really? You're sure of that? I-I mean, you got that from Valerie herself?"

"Sebastien, actually," you correct. Corradin looks even more confused, and you relay the whole eavesdropping session you had. You do ask whether Corradin knows anything about what Valerie tricked Grainne into doing, but he doesn't answer that question. His attention is elsewhere right now. "Alright, are you at least ready to drop this rumor business? And the eavesdropping, probably? I'm just saying you keep taunting the bull eventually said bull is going to notice, there's a reason I left as early as I did."

Corradin slowly nods, although he doesn't look all there. You ask how he's feeling right now. "I don't even know how to describe this. Cold, I guess? I-I'm sorry, I don't know. I'll just head back to my room real quick, sleep it off. Surely tomorrow I'll be right as rain again, you'll see."

You're as confident of that as Corradin sounds, but fine. You're curious about what went on between Grainne and Valerie there, you'll have to remember to ask Corradin about it later.

--You feel like fortune smiles upon you when, upon entering the Venalicium's main area, you see Valerie sitting out in the open. Could this be any more perfect? No, it really couldn't be. Happy as a clam - not sure where that expression came from, actually, you don't think clams on the islands have really been happy ever since the oceans were left behind on Cyve with the Exile and all of that - you grab some random book and take a seat with a good view of Valerie.

The catch that you really should have anticipated - if not seen - quickly becomes apparent: Valerie isn't alone. She's actually here with Sebastien. What those two are doing in the Venalicium you've got no idea, but this complicates matters. For one because those two will be speaking Merilien to each other, and Sebastien tends to speak it too quickly for most people to catch as you well remember. The bigger problem, however, is that they're definitely not going to mention anything related to this rumor - it's supposed to be a secret that's Valerie is keeping from Sebastien, after all! Of course she's not going to talk about it with Sebastien!

Rats. The perfect setup, and it's just...not useful. You suppose you could wait and hope that one of Valerie's friends show up with a message they're going to be sharing in Renaglian, but that seems pretty unlikely to you. This is the Venalicium, at the end of the day. The librarians tend to frown on such things, and they're scarier people than Valerie could ever hope to be.

So...that's it. The perfect setup, the perfect luck, dead in the water before it could start moving. Now you know how clams feel, you suppose...going to need to think of some other solution, or hope to catch Valerie in a different location, but where could she possibly be that you wouldn't stand out in? Argh...hopefully this isn't impossible, although you're starting to further doubt what Corradin told you about eavesdropping on these two...

-Conversation. Ask Valerie about it directly. You'd better be polite about it, though.
--You announce your intention to ask Valerie about it directly, and Corradin gets a look on his face between someone looking at a dead man walking and being a dead man walking. He's extremely confident you're going to succeed, in other words.

"Your funeral," Corradin slowly says. "Just, eh...try not to mention my name, I suppose? If we're going to be buried I'd prefer to be buried alone. Or not at all, in fact that would be even better."

Pff, Corradin and his lack of confidence. You're fine...probably. Just a matter of finding Valerie, if she's out somewhere in Mineta with Sebastien you're going to have a rough time tracking them down.

Turns out finding Valerie isn't the hard part at all, she's actually in the Venalicium herself. That's the good news, because that means you won't have to spend time and effort looking for her. The bad news is that she's here with Sebastien. What those two are doing in the Venalicium you have no idea, you just know that they likely don't want to be disturbed as you're about to do. Well...here goes nothing.

You approach Valerie and tap her on her shoulder to get her attention, as that's a safer option than risking the ire of the librarians. She turns around with an annoyed look on her face, which is not a good start. "Sorry, in case you couldn't tell I'm busy and not interested in discussing rumors," she dismissively whispers in Renaglian. Meaning Sebastien presumably doesn't know what she just said, though he obviously can hear Valerie speak, so he's noticed and turned his own head your direction anyway. Bad start all around, so where to go from here? Honestly you doubt that trying to trick either of these two would end well, you've got no appreciable knowledge of...whatever she's studying anyway. Probably. So you decide to risk the direct approach.

"I apologize for interrupting, but a friend of mine heard a particularly bad one and refuses to let go - it's quite a personal matter to him. If you really don't want to talk about rumors, could you please give me any advice on how to handle him? It's a...potential family matter he's struggling with, so I was hoping you'd be able to help."

Valerie frowns initially, like she's confused as to why you didn't immediately buzz off, but after a moment you see a bit of recognition in her eyes. "Oh right, aren't you the one who was consoling Sebastien's relative at Alice's Tavern before? Pardon, I forgot his name." Sebastien looks confused when he hears his name, as he clearly can't understand the conversation you and Valerie are having. In any case you nod, really happy that Valerie remembered you. That'll likely make things much easier. "He's still in denial, huh? Alright, so what's this 'particularly bad' rumor he got from gods knows where?"

"So, the short version..." you begin as you sit down and quickly summarize the ideas that Corradin got into his head, although you keep where he got them from somewhat vague. Valerie, likely having witnessed more than her fair share of awful rumors by now, doesn't even bother asking about this next rumor's origins anymore. She does translate your explanation to Sebastien, who you note looks confused to perplexed basically the entire way through. Really not putting any faith in Corradin at this point. "Any advice on...well, what to say to him, how to re-assure him? This has never happened to him before, not for as long as I've known him. Honestly I doubt simply telling him 'Valerie herself told me your rumor isn't true, so drop it' is going to succeed. I don't know why he latched onto this, so I don't know how to stop him from latching onto the next thing, when- and wherever that pops up."

Valerie nods, having actually closed her book. You'll admit you couldn't help but peek, and notice it's a...history textbook about the Empire's diplomatic dealing with the Fey? What? You remember that Valerie plans on travelling after she graduates but seriously what? "I wouldn't profess to being an expert on the subject, but to me this sounds like he's either just going through a phase or something was shaken loose in him. If it's the former don't pay it too much attention, he'll get over it sooner or later and feeding that obsession isn't going to help. It might make him feel better short term, but unless it's something he's going to pick up and keep hold of long term he'll have to drop everything he's invested in it when he changes his mind, and that just makes things more difficult. If it's the latter, though...talk to him until he tells you what's on his mind, help him figure it out if that's what it takes. He might need some space or time to think things over, that's fine, but don't let embarrassment stop you. I know how difficult it is for boys to talk about that sort of stuff, but if he's your friend he should treat you as such. And you in turn, of course."

You nod along with what Valerie is suggesting, even trying to make mental notes on occasion, but the confused look on your face is, sadly, unmistakable. "T-thanks, that feels like I've got a lot more ground to stand on myself here. Oh, and just for the record I suppose: That rumor, completely false I assume?"

"Completely and utterly," Valerie answers with such confidence you're sure she's not lying. "That said, I don't suppose you'd be thinking about starting any rumors of your own, would you?"

You rapidly shake your head at that question, apparently amusingly so as Valerie can't help but grin at your reaction, but you're not feeling as...jovial. "S-sorry, I-I couldn't help but lo-I mean notice the book you're reading there," you sputter out nervously. Valerie's grin looks too much like a cat for your liking, Sebastien just looks confused.

"Try asking your friend about it, once he's managed to push this silly rumor business out of his mind," Valerie suggests. Corradin knows about this? What? "In any case, that's my advice on how to handle him. Did that help?"

"Y-yes, very. I'll do my best to convince him. And if that fails...well, I'll be sure to try out your advice. Because at that point I genuinely couldn't tell you what's going through his head, it'd be so bizarre for him I'd probably throw a Negation at him to see if someone is impersonating him."

Valerie jokes that such things aren't impossible in the Academagia, and wishes you the best of luck dealing with "your friend", as you were careful not to mention Corradin's name. Not that it's a well-kept secret she couldn't figure out from, say, said friend's third cousin sitting right next to her right this second, mind you, but still. In any case you return to where Corradin is hiding confused, but also smug as can be at the same time. Because yes, you did get answers straight from Valerie. And some advice, to boot. And some more mysteries. Those are never-ending, are they? In any case Corradin, seeing you return with a smug grin, looks confused. "Did...did Valerie leave a note behind explaining the situation? What happened?" he asks, curious beyond belief. You decide to first answer the question you were send to answer: The rumor that Corradin overheard is completely false. "A-ah, I-I see...and you're sure of that? I-I mean, you got that from Valerie herself?"

"Yes, Corradin, I'm sure. And yes, I did get this straight from Valerie herself, if not Sebastien for that matter. He's with Valerie in the Venalicium right now, and if he didn't have the slightest clue about what you were talking about I don't know what to tell you. So are you ready to drop this rumor business? And the eavesdropping, probably? I'm just saying you keep taunting the bull eventually said bull is going to notice."

Corradin slowly nods, although he doesn't look all there. You ask how he's feeling right now. "I don't even know how to describe this. Cold, I guess? I-I'm sorry, I don't know. I'll just head back to my room real quick, sleep it off. Surely tomorrow I'll be right as rain again, you'll see."

You're as confident of that as Corradin sounds, but this does sound like a "needs space and time" moment, so you're willing to let him go. You'll probably have to talk to him about it later, though...and wasn't there something else, as well? You swear there is, but...you can't quite remember...

--The good news is that Valerie is actually in the Venalicium herself, so you don't have to put any effort into finding her. The bad news is that Valerie is here with Sebastien, and those two...well they're not on a romantic date in the Venalicium, obviously, but even so they really look like they don't want to be disturbed. What could those two even be collaborating on? You don't think Sebastien studies magic casting, what could he be helping Valerie study? Or the other way around, maybe?

Either way you're not going to find out, not today, because you don't dare to even approach them right now. You'd really like to catch Valerie on her own, this whole thing is supposed to be something she's keeping secret from Sebastien so with what conversational magic are you going to convince her to talk about it while sitting right next to Sebastien? Rats...you're starting to understand the pain that Corradin must have gone through getting his information, but no. You're not giving up, you just need to make a tactical retreat and reconsider your options. If the direct approach isn't going to work, though, what will...?

-Sleuthing. Track down this rumor at it's source: Valerie's friend.
--You ask Corradin if he can describe the friend that told Valerie about this stuff. He reluctantly gives you enough of a description to get started, and go off in search of this person. No name, unfortunately, but you can deal with that.

It doesn't take long to track down the right person, simply by hanging around the Vernin Common Room and asking pointed, but still sufficiently vague questions. Don't want Valerie to get any ideas, that's for sure. Eventually your quarry ends up showing up, and she wastes no time walking right to you. "Who are you and why are you asking around about me?" she asks, although if she intended that to come across as a threat it sadly failed. Who told her about that? People have been coming and going, it's not a real surprise, but still. Curious...

"[PC FIRST NAME]," you answer confidently. "I'm asking around because, honestly, a friend of mine is saying dumb stuff that he apparently heard from you and I don't know of a better way to set him straight than getting answers straight from the horse's mouth."

The girl looks nervous when you say that. Guilty. Wonderful, seems like you've got a winner. "Oh. Eh...I-I see. So, eh, w-what is your, eh, friend saying, exactly? N-nothing t-too bad, I hope..."

Yikes, she's got it bad. Makes you wonder what she did to make herself so guilty, but fortunately for her that's not why you're here. "Depends, I guess. In any case based on your reaction I'm guessing those rumors weren't true?"

"I...may have misinterpreted some information and brought it to Valerie before checking whether any of it was actually correct, yes." That seems like a really dumb thing to do, but whatever this girl's reasons are you don't really care. All you care about is convincing Corradin that the story he hear is clearly not true...although that's probably going to require either figuring out this girl's deal or sending this girl to Corradin and letting them figure things out themselves. Eh...you're kinda tempted by the latter option, if you're being honest? Not that you're not curious, but sending this girl to Corradin would probably be a lot easier. Although would he mind that? He said you were welcome to do better if you thought you could, and you can, so...sure? Why not? If it gets the job done easier.

"Right. So would you mind heading over to my friend and confirming that, explaining what you did, just whatever it takes to convince him to drop the subject? He needs to, but unfortunately you hit a nerve, so...it's going to take some effort to convince him. I think answers straight from the horse's mouth, as it were, would probably do the trick, though."

The girl looks thoroughly not interested in that suggestion, but you calmly point out that if not her you could also try your luck with asking Valerie about it and seeing if she's willing to do the convincing. It doesn't take long for the girl to break. "A-alright, fine! I'll do it, I'll do it, I'll...I'll talk to your st-rangely obsessed friend. Where is he, where can I meet him?"

You'll just ignore that slip, and instead explain which study cubicle Corradin is currently holed up in. The girl nods and stomps off, thoroughly unhappy with this reminder of her past failures. You don't care, though. As far as you're concerned, job done.

A while later, long enough for those two to have had their chat, you return to the study cubicle yourself and see if Corradin is still here. He is, dutifully working on his share of the homework project, although he looks distracted. Until, that is, he sees you walk in. "How in Octavius' name did you manage to find that girl and convince her to convince me that what she heard was a bogus rumor she simply couldn't wait to gossip with Valerie about?" Corradin asks, staring at you perplexed.

You shrug. "Honestly, just asking around. That she felt guilty about the whole thing was a stroke of luck, I won't deny that, but it got the job done. So, are you ready to drop this rumor now? I know I didn't get confirmation straight from Valerie herself, but surely this is good enough, right?"

Corradin slowly nods, although he doesn't look all there. You ask how he's feeling right now. "I don't even know how to describe this. Cold, I guess? I-I'm sorry, I don't know. I'll just head back to my room real quick, sleep it off. Surely tomorrow I'll be right as rain again, you'll see."

You're as confident of that as Corradin sounds, but fine. You remind Corradin to maybe cut back on the eavesdropping if he doesn't want to keep risking getting noticed by Valerie, if not making another mistake like this one, but Corradin is definitely shaken. He nods, but he's not all there, you can tell. Going to have to talk to him again later, you feel like, see how things develop.

--You leave on your own search into this rumor, but it is unfortunately short-lived as you quickly encounter a problem that you're not able to solve: You don't know which of Valerie's friends relayed this information to Valerie, and you don't know if you can't find out because you're not trying hard enough (you are staying cautious as you do not want Valerie to overhear and start asking pointed questions of her own) or because no such thing ever occurred in the first place. You personally suspect the former, although you doubt Corradin's story you don't doubt that he heard something, but...than again, maybe not? This is such a confusing mess, and with the threat of a senior's wrath looming over your every move you don't feel like you're able to make any progress solving the mystery.

You're going to have to, though. Corradin isn't going to let this matter drop and you wouldn't want to stand around and watch him do something he'll regret anymore than Corradin couldn't stand to watch Sebastien do the same. So...should you try a different approach, perhaps? Or how are you going to resolve this problem...

It never ceases to amaze me how these stages often end up interconnected like they are.

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Circle of Doubt, stage 7:

Spoiler

Today again brings you to Corradin's room, as the deadline for your joint homework project is fast approaching and he's yet to deliver his final share. You may or may not have forgotten about it yourself here and there, admittedly, but you were still expecting Corradin to give you the rest of his work this morning. It's currently in the afternoon and Corradin is still MIA, as he has been somewhat frequently as of late. Worried that another bad rumor has caught his ear you've thus decided to seek him out yourself. And without the ridiculous, bogus journey to find him this time.

Your initial series of polite knocks are ignored, so you ponder whether to try impolite knocks or just cut to the chase and barge in. You're going to go with the latter option: This is starting to seem like another situation where Corradin has gotten himself stuck moping, so you're just going to have to drag him out again. Well, that or he's not in, but in that case obviously he'll have locked the door so you'll figure out whether that is the case or not in about two seconds.

You reach for the door handle and nearly end up unceremoniously crashing down to the floor as you belatedly notice said door handle is no longer where you expected it to be. After recovering your balance, barely, you stare down and see Corradin's mole Familiar, Paladin, looking up at you with a thoroughly unimpressed expression...you think. You're a bit behind on your studies of mole expressions, unfortunately.

"What are you doing opening my door like that, Paladin?" Corradin asks as he notices the commotion. He's starting at the situation with a distant, somewhat detached look on his face. Paladin, in turn, makes a series of noises you can't make heads or tails of and walks out. You, a bit confused, stare at Corradin with a look that says what you're thinking well enough for him to answer your unspoken question. "He's just in a bad mood and going to get some fresh air. Don't worry about him, he'll be back soon enough," Corradin assures you. Which, okay, you guess you can believe that. And you didn't come here for Paladin, you came here for Corradin anyway. So you step in, close the door behind you and ask him what he's been doing all day. "I don't see why that matters to you," Corradin answers. You've got a counter-argument ready, though.

"Remember that homework project we were to collaborate on? I was expecting your last share of the work today. What's gotten into you, Corradin? It's not like you to lock yourself up on your room like this."

"My share of our project is right there," Corradin notes, pointing at his desk. Sure enough there's a pile of parchment on it, but you tell Corradin that you nevertheless would have preferred to have gotten it earlier so you could review his share of the work. "Give me a break, [PC FIRST NAME]. You know I'm better than that."

"I know. That's why I was expecting you to have this stuff ready to give to me during breakfast, instead of you vanishing into your dorm room after lunch and leaving me to wonder where you went. So what's going on? What's gotten into you?"

Corradin doesn't have a counter-argument for that, or doesn't care to use it. He instead lets out a sigh and turns his attention to the family crest hung prominently above his bed, which he proceeds to stare at with a distant look in his eyes you don't recall seeing on Corradin before. "If only I knew," Corradin says with a tone of voice you've not heard from him before either. He's really conflicted about this. "I can't stop thinking about Sebastien. About him travelling to a foreign land that doesn't speak his language, just to return something that's precious to someone precious to him. Is that something you would have done in his position, [PC FIRST NAME]? Travel to a strange land that speaks a strange language, on your own, just to see someone again?"

"I don't know, Corradin, that's not a situation I've ever been in and not a situation that's easy to imagine myself being in. That said I suppose now seems as good a time as any to ask a question I've been meaning to ask for a while, though never got around to: Why is Sebastien staying in your room, anyway? Just...of all places?"

"Simply, I'm Sebastien's excuse," Corradin notes, staring at his family crest with the most doubtful, least reverent look in his eyes that you've ever seen him stare at his family crest with. "He neglected to inform me upon his first arrival here, in fact he couldn't actually recognize me-neither of us could, I suppose to be fair. But his stated reason for coming to Mineta - what he told his parents, I mean - was to 'visit his dear third cousin Corradin d'Alfi'. Something about him seeking outside support against the massing influence and resources of the bankers and investors that are starting to really plague his home, I believe. It hardly matters, we both know that's a bold-faced lie. He's here to visit Valerie, plain and simple."

"I don't want to speak for his parents, but if it were me I don't think I would believe that excuse for even one minute," you plainly state.

"Oh neither would I, and I'm sure his parents didn't either, but think of it this way: His parents want those two to marry. Remember that they discussed and debated behind closed doors for days, scratching their collective heads on how to make that happen. Their plan for the trade route requires it, or the support of Valerie's family. Then, suddenly, their son approaches them with plans to 'visit' someone I couldn't recall seeing in years, perhaps with a family ring of Valerie clutched within his hands...what do you think his parents would say to that?"

"Again, don't want to speak for his parents, but I think my response to that would be something along the lines of 'go for it'."

Corradin actually lets out a chuckle. "Indeed. There's risks involved, but gains to be made as well. And it's not as if his thinly-veiled excuse necessarily failed, anyway. There are many prominent students here, heirs and representatives from noble houses the world over who are likely sympathetic to their plight. Of course considering how many of them are teenagers there's risk of the rumor mill doing damage as well, but by the same token many are likely to be charmed by Valerie's storytelling and Sebastien's grand romantic gesture. It's...it's maddening, honestly." Curious, you ask Corradin if he's feeling jealous of Sebastien. "No, definitely not. I'm just...impressed, I guess. That someone that soft managed to pull off a stunt that impressive." Before you get the chance to interrupt Corradin, a bit underneath his breath, adds, "I feel like it's putting my defence of my family's wealth and status into perspective. Don't get me wrong, obviously they are important, and wealthy. But...the more I think about what Sebastien did, the more I feel like those words just sound hollow."

"Why do you call Sebastien 'soft', if I may ask? Especially in light of him doing something that impresses you so much."

"Because he is, ultimately," Corradin answers with a bit more of his usual confidence. "His family raised him as a military commander, as someone who was supposed to lead others into defending his homeland - corrupted to the core as it is - should it ever face threats of invasion by someone even more unscrupulous. Either from outside or, more likely, from within. But one girl from an opposing side, a few bars of chocolate shared between the two, and the guy fell apart like a house of cards. I've nothing but praise for his courage, travelling to Mineta as he did. But as far as his career is concerned I hope his family is in need of a gardener, because the only fields I would be comfortable giving him any measure of command over is one filled with dandelions and tulips."

You go back and forth a bit on whether that's a fair assessment, but ultimately decide that's something you can ponder later. Right now it's Corradin you need to focus on. "So, in short, Sebastien is someone you should look down upon, but he's shown more grit than you could in at least one respect, and that's upsetting you?"

"Not how I would put that at all, [PC FIRST NAME], but...choice of words aside I suppose one could call that a fair assessment." The urge to roll your eyes right now, it's taking all the willpower you have not to do so. "In any case, that is the thrilling and...some other fanciful descriptive word tale of why I forgot to deliver my share of our homework project to you earlier, [PC FIRST NAME]. My apologies. Of course, having said that...are you willing to let this tale end like this?"

"Something else you overheard?" you ask, only barely managing to avoid dripping sarcasm the entire time.

"No, rest assured I've learned my lesson in that regard. I simply wish to try and rid myself of these doubts once and for all. The only problem is..." That Corradin needs your help to do it, as you fill in for him. He nods. "More than likely, yes. Because first off...I don't even know how to drag myself out of this rut. So...any ideas, [PC FIRST NAME]?"

Hmm...

-Brute Strength. Nothing clears self-doubt like good, old-fashioned back-breaking work.
--You know many who would frown - or worse - at what you're about to suggest, but if you're not living proof of the fact that those doubters are wrong you should be. You better be, because otherwise Corradin is never going to go along with this plan. "Alright," you say with sudden confidence and a smirk that, to Corradin, is probably not among the most trustworthy ones he's ever seen. "We're going to get you out of this funk right and proper, and there's only one way to do that: We're going to the Academagia's stables and helping out there for a few hours."

Corradin looks perplexed. "E-excuse me? I know I'm the one who asked you for help and all but is that really your best suggestion!?"

"Without question," you answer as sternly as anyone studying at the Safaviore could hope to. "You're spending hours of your day wallowing in your own self doubt and pity anyway, staring at your family crest like that, might as well take it somewhere where it'll do someone some good. You wanted to know if you could manage being taken out of your comfort zone? Well, here's an opportunity. If you think you're up for it."

The moment you start daring, start challenging Corradin his expression changes. What he was about to call the stupidest idea he's ever heard he's now seriously considering. "I...okay, I'll follow you to the stables, but I'm not promising any more than that right this second. You're right, I do need to leave my comfort zone if I'm ever going to be able to look at my family's crest again, but...I just have some reservations about whether this is really the best way to go about it, you know? If it turns out that I'm an absolutely awful stablehand - and how would I know, I've certainly never worked in a stable before - I wouldn't want to force myself upon the staff here. Not if there's a better alternative available elsewhere." You're kinda doubtful about Corradin's true motives, but at the same time he does make valid points, so you agree to lead him at least as far as the stables. What he does once he gets there...that's his call. You're not intending to carry him any further than that, anyway.

The trip to the stables is uneventful, Corradin's silent reluctance and doubt aside, but you pay it no mind. Neither do you pay much attention to Corradin once you arrive, this is his choice to make, you just walk right into the stables and ask the nearest stablehand whether there's work to be done. "If you're here to lend a hand I'll have to thank the Gods you arrived. Two of the hands here called in sick, some kind of flu going around apparently, so we're short-staffed. Work isn't piling up, yet, but we're close to having to petition the Legate to bring in some added help." Sarcastically the stablehand adds, "And by that I mean stashing manure in his office until the guy finally gets the message he really needs to do something to help us. Though he'd probably just thank us for giving him an excuse not to spend another day in there, most likely."

"Why haven't you gotten in contact with Professor Pachait, or one of the other professors? If the situation is really that bad?" Corradin curiously asks.

"Like I said, work hasn't started to pile up yet. But if said professor shows up right now and told us to have the stables ready for a half-dozen whatever-the-hells he wants to show off to his Zoology students by tomorrow...well, we're going to be in a spot of trouble."

"Fair enough," you say as you walk off inside the stables. You don't need to be told where to go and what to do, you already know. Of course you do stay close enough to keep an ear on Corradin, just not where he can see you.

Corradin, for his part, hesitates at the entrance. "Are things really that bad?" he asks, after which the stablehand reassured him that, yes, he's walking on a very thin tightrope right now. Corradin lets out a sigh. "Fine. Don't ask me why I'm doing this, but I'll help out as well."

"Don't care too much about your motives, to be honest. I just really need someone to clean the place, fill the feeders, clean the troughs, refill them with water afterwards, just generally get the place ready for new arrivals. In case any are coming." Corradin shrugs, lets out a sigh and walks in slowly nodding to himself. He doesn't look confident, or like he's going to enjoy himself, but at least he's here.

A few hours of hard work later, which involved a lot more than just moving bales of hay from point A to point B, you and Corradin both are looking like you've been dragged from one end of a farm to the other multiple times, smell about the same, and are so desperately in need of a shower it's not funny. Despite it all, however, Corradin looks more steady on his feet than he did this afternoon. "I feel like I've gotten a greater appreciation of the work the lower classes put in, but - and don't take this the wrong way, [PC FIRST NAME] - I've also gotten a much greater appreciation of the work my family does and why I never want to spend a day of my life doing this sort of thing ever again."

"I'm sure anyone'd say that if given a choice," you note between haggard, deep breaths. "Still, for what it's worth, do you at least feel like you can look at your family's crest again?"

Corradin actually ponders this question for a bit. "Given how I currently look, and given how I currently smell, I don't think I'm fit to get near the Vernin Common Room, let stand stare at my family's crest inside my dorm room. After I've taken a very long, very warm bath and finished ritualistically burning these robes or whatever it's going to take to get this stench out of them...honestly? I think I could. I know it's not the same as travelling to a foreign land on my own and all of that, but still...I can definitely tell myself that being taken out of my comfort zone, at least a little bit, is something I can handle."

So, a hard day's of work, but in the end, it was worth it. The stablehand even pays you and Corradin both a bonus for showing up and putting in a full share of work just in time, because guess who showed up midway through to tell the stablehands to get ready for a half dozen new arrivals by tomorrow? Yep. Frankly you agree with the stablehands on this one, Professor Pachait seems to have some kind of sixth sense for this sort of thing. A shame he doesn't seem to use it wisely, though.

"I'll savor these twelve Pims," Corradin says as he pockets his pay in a separate pouch. You point out that's a 20% bonus, not insignificant by any stretch, and he laughs, nodding to himself. "Point taken, [PC FIRST NAME], point taken. Now let's get to the nearest shower or bath or whatever other form of clean, running water is nearby and spend the rest of our day there. I think we've earned it."

--You know many who would frown - or worse - at what you're about to suggest, but if you're not living proof of the fact that those doubters are wrong you should be. You better be, because otherwise Corradin is never going to go along with this plan. "Alright," you say with sudden confidence and a smirk that, to Corradin, is probably not among the most trustworthy ones he's ever seen. "We're going to get you out of this funk right and proper, and there's only one way to do that: We're going to the Academagia's stables and helping out there for a few hours."

Corradin looks perplexed. "E-excuse me? I know I'm the one who asked you for help and all but is that really your best suggestion!?"

"Without question," you answer as sternly as anyone studying at the Safaviore could hope to. "You're spending hours of your day wallowing in your own self doubt and pity anyway, staring at your family crest like that, might as well take it somewhere where it'll do someone some good. You wanted to know if you could manage being taken out of your comfort zone? Well, here's an opportunity. If you think you're up for it."

The moment you start daring, start challenging Corradin his expression changes. What he was about to call the stupidest idea he's ever heard he's now seriously considering. "I...okay, I'll follow you to the stables, but I'm not promising any more than that right this second. You're right, I do need to leave my comfort zone if I'm ever going to be able to look at my family's crest again, but...I just have some reservations about whether this is really the best way to go about it, you know? If it turns out that I'm an absolutely awful stable hand - and how would I know, I've certainly never worked in a stable before - I wouldn't want to force myself upon the staff here. Not if there's a better alternative available elsewhere." You're kinda doubtful about Corradin's true motives, but at the same time he does make valid points, so you agree to lead him at least as far as the stables. What he does once he gets there...that's his call. You're not intending to carry him any further than that, anyway.

The trip to the stables is uneventful, Corradin's silent reluctance and doubt aside, but you pay it no mind. Neither do you pay much attention to Corradin once you arrive, this is his choice to make, you just walk right into the stables and ask the nearest stablehand whether there's work to be done. "If you're here to lend a hand I'll have to thank the Gods you arrived. Two of the hands here called in sick, some kind of flu going around apparently, so we're short-staffed. Work isn't piling up, yet, but we're close to having to petition the Legate to bring in some added help." Sarcastically the stablehand adds, "And by that I mean stashing manure in his office until the guy finally gets the message he really needs to do something to help us. Though he'd probably just thank us for giving him an excuse not to spend another day in there, most likely."

"Why haven't you gotten in contact with Professor Pachait, or one of the other professors? If the situation is really that bad?" Corradin curiously asks.

"Like I said, work hasn't started to pile up yet. But if said professor shows up right now and told us to have the stables ready for a half-dozen whatever-the-hells he wants to show off to his Zoology students by tomorrow...well, we're going to be in a spot of trouble."

"Fair enough," you say as you walk off inside the stables. You don't need to be told where to go and what to do, you already know. Of course you do stay close enough to keep an ear on Corradin, just not where he can see you. It's a good thing there's work to be done close to the entrance, you suppose. One pen belonging to a very messy cow that definitely needs cleaning.

Corradin, for his part, still hesitates at the entrance. "So, you mentioned that two of your colleges came down with flu?" he asks. You don't hear any reaction, but you presume the stablehand nods in response. "Would that flu be contagious, by any chance? From animal to human, I mean?"

...What?

"Good question. It doesn't happen often, that both animals and the humans around them alike get sick at the same time I mean, but this is actually one of those rare times. Maybe something to do with all the magic here or something, or even some astrology ley line stuff, I'm not sure. Point is you're right, whatever's going around seems to hit humans and animals alike. The worst of it seems to have passed, at least, though some of the animals are still sick."

It is at this point that you become uncomfortably aware of you having taken position on the ground to the north of a south bound cow. That...was not your brightest of ideas...

"I see...well, no offence about not offering a helping a hand when you're in need and all of that, but I'm afraid I would very much prefer not to risk getting sick right now. I've got a lot of important stuff going on that isn't going to wait for me, so-egads, what is that noise!?"

What interrupted Corradin was the sound of a nearby cow not having a good day. As it turns out, not just the cow either...

"I think the fancy term for that is 'case-n-point', as my old man likes to call it," the stablehand says, although whatever he was about to say next gets lost to the ages as you drag yourself back into view. "Oh, Gods. So, eh, how's about you help your friend here? I can take care of the animals from here well enough, no need to worry about that."

"I...wasn't..." Corradin says before he throws his sleeve before his mouth. It probably doesn't help too much. Definitely wouldn't help you, in your current condition. "So shall I hover you to Lake Ardica and throw you in or what? I studied Negation, but I don't think my magic is good enough to get rid of this smell let stand...all of that," Corradin offers. He sounds a bit odd, speaking through his sleeve like that, but does it really matter in the grand scheme of things? You just slowly nod your head, not wanting to speak right now. And yes, free transport to the nearest body of water right now? Very appreciated...

-Intrigue. Getting Catherine Chard to praise Corradin is guaranteed to work.
--"We're definitely going to need to see an expert about this, and I know just the person," you confidently say. Corradin, of course, looks confused. "Come on, pick yourself up and get ready. It won't be a long walk."

"Any chance you could simply tell me where we're going?" Corradin asks, but you answer, as convincingly as you can, that it needs to stay a surprise. Corradin (unsurprisingly) is not exactly brimming with confidence at these answers, but thankfully his curiosity at who you've got in mind is enough to convince him to tag along. At least far enough to figure that out.

It, as promised, isn't a very long walk anyway. Unless Catherine isn't in her dorm room right now, but in that case you've got no idea where she could be at this exact point in time. Corradin, staring at Catherine's door, nervously turns his head between it and you. "What, you're not going to knock?" you ask.

"T-this was your idea," Corradin whispers back. Well, fine. You step up and knock a few times on Catherine's door. A moment later, as expected, Catherine opens it. She stares both of you down, as a test to see if you're worthy of her attention. Corradin is too used to the routine to really even notice it anymore, and you obviously don't have any problems with it yourself either.

"This is about Sebastien?" Catherine curtly asks. Corradin nods before you can even think to do the same. Reflex, or something else? In any case it satisfies Catherine. "Fine, both of you inside. I trust there's a reason [PC FIRST NAME] is with you." Corradin quickly falls into a familiar routine, you've got no problem following along. Once Corradin and you have been seated in Catherine's room she wastes no time asking pointed questions. "First things first, any signs of the mercenary yet?" Catherine impatiently asks Corradin.

"Not the captain, as far as I can tell," Corradin answers. You ask, in turn, what makes that band so important. "They've got a bit of a, shall we say, odd service history. Catherine has been keeping tabs on them, their captain especially. But the latter is proving obnoxiously hard to track."

"Any word about the rest of the band, at least?" Catherine quickly interjects. Without missing a beat Corradin nods his head.

"They're currently on Sebastien's side of the hill serving as escorts for Pievran zoologists and select large game hunters, cataloguing the local monster population and seeing how much territory can be reclaimed. Apparently the investors of that area are thinking that by declaring a sanctioned hunting season they'll attract enough fools hoping to gain a quick buck that they won't have to spend good money on resolving that problem themselves, and profit from the local sales of rare hides and trophies in the bargain."

...Corradin has been putting his eavesdropping skills to really good use, it seems. Was not expecting that, not going to lie.

"I've half a mind to inform Girars about this and hope that he'll turn ripples into waves, not going to lie," Catherine answers. "Any chance you could rile him up, actually, [PC FIRST NAME]? It's a rare day that I wouldn't mind him setting his usual fires, but today appears to be one such day".

"No need," Corradin happily interjects with a confident smirk. "Comparing Valerie's testimony of the monster attack with studies of local environments Valerie and Sebastien collaborated on we've concluded that those creatures are most likely fey touched, in some way. I don't know the specifics yet, neither Valerie or Sebastien have access to their family's respective archives so there's little progress to be made on that front, but as far as the creatures are concerned they're not going to yield ground to anything short of magic-trained hunters." At this point you actually interject yourself, asking Corradin why this monster Valerie saw wasn't described as seemingly magic-touched before. At least as far as your recollection of her storytelling goes. "Oh, that's because it's only apparent upon closer study," Corradin clarifies. "The air pressure in these monster's natural habitat, high up in the mountains, is too low to support creatures as large and energetic as they are. Even more bizarre, however, is the fact that they've never migrated to further down the mountain. They're strong enough to break the local apex predators over their knees, hell they can break mercenaries in half if they've a mind to, and yet they seem content to stay in a region they shouldn't be able to live in. Valerie and Sebastien looked into it, and based on local precedent it seems that the most likely explanation is that these creatures are Fey touched."

Very interesting indeed. And yes, that does make a certain degree of sense. "What about, say, Gwendy's family? Any chance they're up to the challenge these investors could pose? Or 'propose', I should say."

"In theory Gwendy's family, just as an example, could be called in, yes," Corradin slowly admits. "The problem, one of them, is that magic costs a great deal more than these investors are willing to cough up. The second problem is that this plan could encounter even worse complications if these creatures truly are fey guard dogs, so all told I'm sure this 'hunting season' idea is going to be cancelled before it can begin." This news certainly pleases Catherine, and you as well admittedly. Corradin looks a lot better than he did ten minutes ago, that's for sure.

"Any risks of unexpected solutions?" Catherine quickly asks, but Corradin confirms - as you expected - that there really isn't. A descendant of these mountain fey folk could, in theory, be send to negotiate a treaty of sorts, but it's highly unlikely that the investors have anyone like that in their pocket. Negotiating with fey creatures - isolated fey creatures, at that - otherwise is going to require very specialized help, and even the Academagia is ill equipped to provide such, so for the investors this situation looks nothing short of bleak. Catherine is ecstatic at this news. "Wonderful! How long before the investors can be informed? Or has someone already send a message?"

"Not as of yet, we're waiting for the Pievran zoologists to finish their investigation and draw their own conclusions. If the investors choose to ignore their inevitable warnings Sebastien's family will be in position to take full advantage, of course, but before that point I see no need to reveal our hand quite yet."

Catherine nods heartily at Corradin's answer. "Beautiful, excellent work Corradin. So about my proposal, I trust your family responded favorably?"

"Of course, though they've not managed to make arrangements with Sebastien's family yet. There's a bit of...disagreement within his household regarding Sebastien's stay in Mineta and his relationship with Valerie that they're needing to resolve first. On that front I couldn't say which side is winning, either - Sebastien hasn't been in contact with his family since travelling to Mineta, it seems, so his family has little grip on the situation here. I've done my best to keep my family informed, though, so that Sebastien's family at least has one trustworthy source of information, even if it is second hand." Such a messy situation, and such distance that it's managed to reach. You're thankful you got the chance to see this, because you'd not have believed just how much of a tangled mess this is otherwise, you feel like. In any event that about concludes Catherine's slew of questions, so Corradin and you are excused. Afterwards you can't help but point out to Corradin that he looks a lot less depressed than he did earlier, to which he nods. "True, and I do feel better as well. Despite that it's not quite what I was after, though. I mean don't get me wrong, I'm happy, but this doesn't answer the question of whether I could be taken out of my comfort zone and still succeed..."

"Corradin, you just walked into Catherine Chard's room, talked politics without breaking a sweat, and left with both parties feeling better than they did before. If you can manage that, what else is there to be afraid of?"

"Future developments, mainly, this situation is far from fully resolved. That said I do see your point, and yes, you're right. If discussing politics with Catherine Chard is old hat for me what worry is there in asking for directions from a Velocian dockhand, should I ever find myself in that situation?"

"Exactly. That said, what was Catherine's 'proposal', that she mentioned? If you don't mind me asking."

Corradin shakes his head. "Simply, she suggested that my family foster one of it's heirs to Sebastien's family, for a time. Ostensibly it would be to make use of the military officer training that they can provide, Sebastien's uncle is a veteran if you didn't know, but it would also send the message to Pievre's investors that Sebastien's family has not been forgotten by the world outside. And give Sebastien's family some much needed peace of mind with regards to their son. This situation with Valerie could potentially leave them vulnerable for a time, if Sebastien does run off, but with one of my family's heirs living there my family will become involved should something happen." Those investors are going to have a really bad day sometime soon if they haven't already, it feels like.

In any case, Corradin is feeling good about himself again. Not that you're not going to test that theory next, mind you, because his last share of your joint homework project you've yet to review? Yeah, you're not forgetting about that thing this time!

--You side-eye Corradin's share of the homework project, and sadly admit to yourself that Catherine is probably not going to care about that one bit. Unfortunate, because...what else can you present to her that'll impress her, anyway? Or present to her that'll make her more impressed with Corradin, for that matter? This is Catherine Chard you're talking about, she's a mite bit notorious for being not the most humble, easy to please student the Academagia has ever seen. Hmm...this poses quite a problem. Catherine Chard is definitely the solution here, a solution at least, but...how to make it work?

"Do you have any ideas, [PC FIRST NAME]?" Corradin, staring curiously at your pondering face, asks.

"Yeah, one, but...I'm not sure how to make it work. Sorry, could you give me some time to do some checking, figure some stuff out?" Corradin shrugs and says he's not planning any vacations to Velocia any time soon, so sure. That's good, but you're left to sink even deeper in your own thoughts than Corradin is trying to figure this puzzle out. How to impress Catherine Chard with Corradin's...lack of impressive actions, as of late? There's a right mystery you don't know the answer to...

-Theater. Perhaps playing the part of a dashing, confident hero will inspire Corradin.
--Corradin's conflicted, lost in his own broken world expression slowly makes way for a regular, mundane perplexed look and frown. Guy's born for acting, if he can keep that up. "You heard me, off to the Dimmae!"

"W-wait, really?" Corradin sputters out as you grab him by the arm. "Never mind the fact that I've not agreed to any of this, why the Dimmae and not the Spavia? If I'm going to inevitably make a fool of myself on stage can it not at least be a respectable stage? And would you stop pulling me!"

You explain that you're choosing to go to the Dimmae because it's more likely that the two of you will get a moment to yourself to set up ideas and practice, whereas the Spavia you either know what you're doing or you're not doing anything there, while thoroughly ignoring Corradin's request to stop dragging him along. Not that you're going to drag him out of his rut kicking and screaming, mind you, you just want to have some fun with him.

Eventually Corradin gives up trying to wrestle himself free and follows you to the Dimmae stage, where unfortunately a group of older students are already here practising something. Not a problem, though, you drag Corradin backstage and find an unoccupied dressing room where you can start brainstorming ideas instead. And in the Dimmae that's not hard, a suitable location was found within minutes.

"Alright, out of morbid curiosity did I decide to at least follow you here so it's time I'm paid my due: What, in the name of every god out there, are you even planning to do here and how does that relate to...well, to me not feeling like myself? Because let me assure you, this little excursion so far is not helping."

You're not entirely paying attention to what Corradin is saying, and instead are busy looking through what costumes are available here. Unfortunately this appears to be the princess' changing room, because all you're seeing are dresses, make up, accessories, several tools for doing one's hair...wait a minute...

"I can plainly see what you're staring at and that expression reflected in the mirror is not giving me any confidence either, [PC FIRST NAME]," Corradin notes. "What preposterous idea are you cooking up now? And how much fire is it going to require to convince you otherwise?"

"First off, you never studied Incantation," you mention on the side as you search through the costumes more thoroughly. "And second off, no, I'm not actually thinking of having you dress up like a princess and seeing if you could fool people into believing it's not an act. Although if you wanted confirmation that you can be taken outside of your comfort zone I'm sure hoping that would do it." Corradin slowly nods, although he's clearly not interested in trying any dresses himself. "I'm thinking that you're going to need someone to play off of, someone you're not used to working with. And, honestly? Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're not used to working with people who know how to wear these kinds of dresses, right?"

"I...they're costumes! I mean I guess I don't know too many actors, fair point on that, but I don't see the significance in them being dresses!"

You roll your eyes. No imagination, that guy. "You'll see. For now I think this side is well covered, so on to yours. You..." You look Corradin, exasperated expression and all, up and down a few times, mentally trying to few ideas. You consider shining knight Corradin, politician Corradin, even pirate captain Corradin but no, it has to be general Corradin. Just...clearly, it has to be. Does the Dimmae have any military costumes Corradin's size, though? Oh you'll find something usable somewhere within here, just a matter of time. You tell Corradin to sit tight and duck out looking for a costume, but of course Corradin's curiosity compels him to follow you.

"If it's not to much to ask could you at least share your incomprehensible ideas?" he asks as he follows you into a different changing room, where you start sifting through costumes again. "I mean I'll grant that this is well distracting me from the whole reason you dragged me here in the first place, but I'm not seeing any solution...what is that?"

Corradin only looks questioningly at the military officer uniform you're showing him, but you're sure he'll look great in it. It looks like it's around his size, too. "What this is, my dear captain, is your new duds. Now take that robe off and try them on, I want to see how it looks."

Corradin stares dead silent at your request for what feels like at least a minute, but afterwards he lets out a sigh and shrugs. "If only because I can't deny this is inevitably going to take me out of my comfort zone, as I wanted, fine. I'll even refrain from correcting you on your terminology because this insignia doesn't denote a rank of captain."

You're none too worried about that, you just look around for anything that can spruce up Corradin's looks while he gets changed into his costume. Honestly, it looks decent, it's just missing some detail. With only the costume it looks too much like just Corradin wearing a costume, you need something more to really sell that look. A quick change in hair style, some accessories, and some cosmetics work to look like a scar later and viola: Corradin looks like you've never seen him before. Obviously he's a bit too young to really make the look work, but no matter. The real question is if he can pull it off. As for Corradin himself, you find a mirror attached to the closet and drag Corradin in front to show your work off. He looks confused.

"Wait...this is...me?" he asks, actually running a hand along his cosmetic scar, checking to see if it's real. You're proud of that thing, actually. You did a good job making it look good. "Okay...not what I was expecting, especially after you got lost among princess dresses, I'll give you that. But...now what?"

"Now we go find someone to serve as our...hmm, yes, definitely. Definitely the better choice, I think. Ah, now we go and find our other actor. One moment, I'll be right back."

Corradin takes one step on your direction, intending to follow you again, unfortunately (for you) he realizes in time that he's dressed up and doesn't feel confident leaving the room while in costume. So you do, in fact, go at it alone. It's not hard task, anyway. You look around the Dimmae for someone you can work with, preferably in your year, and end up walking into Amada Kiffer. She says she's here looking for "inspiration", and you're able to convince her to play along with your little ploy. That you've now fully explained it to Amada, and have yet to fully explain it to Corradin, however, is not something that you fail to notice. You instead choose to ignore it, and lead Amada to where Corradin is currently hiding. "Back already?" Corradin asks as he sees you walk in, and seeing someone following behind you that he recognizes he flinches.

Amada, for her part, looks Corradin up and down curiously. "Not bad. I like the subtle changes to Corradin's hairstyle, and that scar is just perfect," she notes after giving the good not-captain a once over. "So, I take it you're ready? I'm afraid I still have to get dressed, though."

Corradin looks confused. "You might be-or not, I guess, but I sure haven't been told what the plan is yet, assuming there is one. [PC FIRST NAME], enlighten me, please?" Amada, looking amused, says she'll get changed while you explain the situation "a bit better", which you do. Your plan is to re-enact the scenes of Valerie's capture - the meeting, the monster attack, marching to the mercenary camp, and so on - and have Corradin play the role of the mercenary captain to see how he'd respond in that situation. Amada, of course, you've asked to play the part of Valerie. Corradin goes from looking confused to looking perplexed. "And...what is that going to accomplish, if you think it'll accomplish anything at all?"

"If you still doubt me, Corradin, just give it a try and you'll see. You may not have any acting skill but I swear you've got a talent for it, so get to the stage and prove that you're able to succeed even when you wouldn't think you could succeed." Corradin points out that the stage was occupied last he checked, so you correct yourself and say you'll use the backstage area instead. It's not perfect but there's plenty of room for some quick improv. Corradin shrugs and heads off, shaking his head the entire time, while you go and fetch Amada. Time to start the show.

It takes a fair bit of coaxing and more than a few attempts to get the show started, but once it's going it's going better than you expected. That's not to say that Corradin clearly has no clue what he's doing or that Amada isn't struggling to stop herself from laughing at the sheer absurdity of the situation basically the entire time, but as far as first attempts on stage is concerned this is not that bad. Corradin, you feel like, could actually break out as an actor if he focussed on it. At least well enough to earn a living off of it, if not necessarily ride it to fame and glory. Highly doubtful he'll ever do that, though, given his family and all. As for how he played his role, Corradin performed exactly as you expected him to: Like a spoiled brat who doesn't know what diplomacy is. Definitely not the charming diplomat, though with an iron-covered fist if push comes to shove, that Valerie described, that's for sure. Once the improv is finally done you thank Amada for her help, who quickly excuses herself so she can get somewhere far enough away to start laughing hysterically. Corradin, for his part, looks a bit worn out. "Well, [PC FIRST NAME]? In your most earnest and carefully worded opinion, lest I have you thrown into a lake, how did I do?"

Here's to hoping Corradin never is crowned Emperor before getting the chance to mature a bit, because that would not end well. "Better than expected, and yes, that is genuine. You clearly have never been on stage before, that much is evident, but I think you could succeed as an actor if you really put your mind to it." Corradin, not expecting that answer, actually looks a bit confused. "Anyway, what do you think? Can you handle being taken out of your comfort zone, at least if it's to help a fair maiden? Even if she admittedly has some trouble stopping herself from bursting out laughing the entire time, that's a bit of a downside. But hey, no one's perfect, right?"

You wish you could make a painting of Corradin's expression right now. Seriously, guy would do so well if he focussed on building up his acting skills. "[PC FIRST NAME], this is the most incomprehensibly absurd day I have ever experienced, and if at any point I'm going to write this day down in my memoirs I'm going to need multiple linguists and witnesses to ensure that my experiences here are both adequately catalogued and not written off as evidence of me going completely mad near the end. That all said, as much as I feel like I'm going to need at least a week to recover from this nonsense I think I can say, with confidence, that I can handle being taken out of my comfort zone. I doubt I'm cut out to be a mercenary captain, I doubt I'm cut out to be an actor at that, but this? If this is the kind of nonsense I can stumble through and come out with someone who's opinion I don't distrust telling me I did a good job - at least relatively speaking - I think I'll be fine."

Good to see that your ploy was a success, even though you're kinda disappointed this is all you get to see of it. Pirate captain Corradin is something you honestly want to see, you think that guy could swing from a rope onto a deck, sword in one hand, and make it look good. Oh, and not to mention your initial idea of having Corradin act out his fantasy of travelling to a strange land to look up his forbidden sweetheart, that probably would have ended terribly but you still would have liked to see it. Not sure who you'd recruit for the role of foreigner that's unable to give Corradin directions, though...Antonio? He might not appreciate the part, but with his language skills he could definitely pull it off...

"Perish whatever thoughts are flying around in that head of yours, [PC FIRST NAME]. I've no idea what other ideas you've got but I'll next dress up when the Dance of Fools rolls around, and no sooner," Corradin says dismissively. Spoilsport. You swear, the moment you get a chance to twist his arm you're going to see pirate captain Corradin taking the Dimmae's stage by storm!

--It's definitely a fine idea, you think, but you're having a bit of trouble deciding an exact role. Knight in shining armor, facing off against fearsome dragons? Hmm...too cliché? Perhaps it needs a personal touch, a personal story to it? You could manage that. Oh, what if instead of a shining knight you went with something a bit less...obvious, like maybe a ranger or something? Yes, yes, Corradin the imperial ranger. You can work with that. Definitely like the oddity, the personal touch. And Corradin isn't a stranger to hunting as far as you recall, either...yes, this is definitely coming together nicely...

"Eh...[PC FIRST NAME]? A Pim for your thoughts? You seem to have...plenty of ideas, actually, so...care to share?"

Corradin's question largely falls upon deaf ears as you assure him that you've got a brilliant idea, but it's going to need to be workshopped a bit more. To that end you'll be heading back to your own dorm room to do some planning, this will certainly take a few attempts to get just right...

"I...what? I don't understand what you-and, hey, don't you at least want to take my share of our homework project with you!?"

Corradin's question, again, falls upon deaf ears as you're already working on a story for Corradin, Imperial Ranger. It'll be great, you just know it!

-Character Study. What would work best for Corradin?
--You're getting the feeling that Corradin's family isn't going to be able to simply tell him to stop moping, and you further doubt that that's what their response to this situation would be in the first place anyhow. No, you're going to have to drag Corradin through this yourself, although the best way to do it...it's hard to tell. Giving him a dose of praise from people whose opinion he values - Catherine Chard, mainly if not exclusively - sounds like the obvious solution, but this feels like a situation where you're going to need an unobvious solution. Corradin is in this mess because someone he doesn't respect pushed himself out of his (presumed) comfort zone much further than Corradin thinks he could have done in the same situation. So convincing him that he actually could have done the same, directly or indirectly, would probably be the best way to get him to stop moping.

Gods only know how you'd directly convince Corradin that he could and would have done as Sebastien did, though, so indirect methods it is you suppose.

--It's a fair question, and one you don't have an answer to. Usually the only thing Corradin goes on and on about is his family and his own (perceived) superiority, and now that's off the table, so...you're left with walking doubt you're not able to get any sort of read on.

Maybe not the most accurate interpretation of Corradin's character, but he's one of those students who's character is largely told and not shown in Y1, so I feel like I've got some room to play around in ;).

Edited by Metis
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Circle of Doubt, stage 8:

Spoiler

You end up passing through the Vernin Common Room on your way elsewhere today, and notice Corradin sitting alone, staring at Valerie happily chatting away with her friends on the other side of the room. The expression on Corradin's face is one you can't immediately place, and that worries you. Afraid he's back to moping again you sit down next to him, and ask what's on his mind. "Ah, nothing much," he says with a distant, almost wistful tone. "Just pondering some stuff, before going about my business today." You ask Corradin if he still hasn't let go of his obsession with Sebastian, to which Corradin shakes his head. "I've gotten over that, [PC FIRST NAME], don't worry about it. Though speaking of which, actually, I would like to apologize for how I acted back then if I haven't already. I'm sure it happens to the best of us, but still. That was a rather poor showing all the same."

Despite the look on Corradin's face his voice has the same confidence that it usually does. So why does he look unsure of himself again? "Alright, but why do you still look so doubtful than? What's going on?"

Corradin casts another glance at Valerie, and lets out a sigh as he answers your question with a shrug. "Call it an unexpected complication. Not that I plan to run or even shy away from that, in fact I've already made my decision on that front. But...well, have you ever heard the story of the dead fisherman?" You quirk an eyebrow and ask Corradin what dead fisherman have to do with anything. "I'm referring to a folk tale from Meril. Basically the story goes that a master fisherman spends his entire life fishing, never catching anything, and after his death the fisherman's son - or grandson, in some tellings - decides to do the same, catching as many fish. There's a few interpretations to the story, including one very interesting one tracing the story's origin to the fall of the Empire and it being told as a warning against clinging to old ways when circumstances force such things to change, but the one I'm interested in is the interpretation that warns against following bad examples. Despite having regained my confidence I can't help but worry that I've ended up like the 'master' fisherman. Assured, with the right attitude and tools for the job, yet still lacking in any caught fish, as tools and attitude alone won't assure success. So to ensure that I'm actually at the right lake, metaphorically speaking, I've been debating on whether to call upon your assistance again. Not to carry me this time, but as a witness. And as someone to stop me, should I end up casting a line in the wrong pool."

...Huh. Not what you were expecting, but you can believe that easily enough. "Alright, although I'm afraid you lost me a bit among all the metaphors. So what's going on, exactly?"

"Something I'm loathed to mention out in public, and honestly I'm not sure you'd believe it either. If you're willing to stick with me one more time, [PC FIRST NAME], I think the fastest way to answer your question would be to simply show it. Naturally, I assure you it won't be a dull answer."

You frown at that, especially in the face of Corradin wanting you to come along as a "witness" in case he's about to do something he'd regret, but...thinking about it, if he's made up his mind already he's probably going to go along with whatever he's planning anyway. And regardless of what caught his attention (or what attention caught him...) you can't imagine a scenario in which he'd be better off alone than with you by his side, especially if Corradin himself is worried about it. So, alright. You nod and tell Corradin to lead the way. You're taken out of the Common Room, through the Great Gate of the Academagia out into Mineta, and end up following Corradin through a number of streets and turns you don't think you've ever taken with him before. Corradin deflects your many questions about where you're going along the way, until he finally stops walking and shows you his destination. You, eh...are not sure how to respond to it. "Corradin, why are we at the Mercenary Guild House?" you ask, but you're not given an answer beyond a thin smile and one final reassurance that inside all shall be revealed.

Contrary to what you were expecting Corradin takes the lead inside the building too, which doesn't look out of the ordinary. There's old and retired mercenaries here talking, drinking, playing games, a few younger people around asking questions, business as usual. Despite (or perhaps because of) this Corradin merrily leads you to one particular table deep inside the building where one adult man is sitting by himself, enjoying a cold drink. Corradin actually nods at the man and sits down across from him, getting the same reaction in turn, whereas you look the man up and down two or three times trying to figure out who this is. He looks fairly young, at least relative to most of the mercenaries here, late twenties or early thirties perhaps. Nothing about his appearance strikes you as particularly distinct or memorable, the man's uniform is likewise nothing you'd describe beyond "a military-style uniform", although you do notice the commander's rank embroidered on one of the sleeves. Whoever this man is he's clearly not some random grunt. "Good to see you again," the man tells Corradin in Renaglian, although you think you're catching somewhat of a Merilien accent to the man's speech. "I take it [s/he]'s your friend?"

Despite the man seeming as friendly as one can expect a stranger in the Mercenary Guild House to be you don't sit down next to Corradin yet. "Yes, I certainly think it's fair to say so," Corradin says as he motions for you to take a seat next to him. You cast another curious glance over at the mercenary first, but after that you do slowly sit down. "[PC FIRST NAME], this is captain Thibault Dagallier, commander of Dagallier's Brigade. He's the leader of the mercenary band that, eh...I wouldn't say 'caused', but that was involved with the incident leading to Valerie's capture and subsequent fostering over to Sebastien's family. Not that that lasted overly long, ultimately."

You stare blankly at Corradin, turn to stare blankly at captain Dagallier - who regards you with a friendly, almost jovial smile - and then do a double-take as it sinks in that the same guy who initially captured and escorted Valerie to Sebastien's family estate is here, right in front if you, in Mineta. After that you turn to stare at Corradin again, now more confused than anything else.

"The short version is that captain Dagallier here has been hired by Sebastien's family again, although this time to find Sebastien and deliver him back home. Him staying in Mineta as long as he has wasn't what he told his parent's he'd do and he hasn't been sending any word to them, and so his extended absence has caused his parents to worry. Not to mention ripples turning into waves due, in part, to his presence here, which is something that could turn out disastrous as easily as it could prove beneficial. Hence, hiring a mercenary to find him and bring him back."

Hiring the same mercenary that may or may not have borderline kidnapped Valerie for them earlier? Eh...yeah, that's a situation you're totally willing to trust this guy on. "Ah-hah...and, eh, where do you come into this, Corradin?"

"The short version is that I know where Sebastien is for at least a quarter of each day, for starters," Corradin plainly admits. Captain Dagallier doesn't look like this is news to him, though. "More to the point, however, the good captain is afraid that him randomly walking into the Vernin Common Room, out of nowhere, is going to...well, result in a less than pleasant conversation if not reaction out in public. And where noted individuals, like our Legate Orsi, might frown upon such disturbances."

You'll give Corradin credit where it's due: If he tried to tell you this in the Vernin Common Room earlier you would not have believed this. "Okay...I, eh, don't recall Valerie looking very concerned, though? Does she not know, or...?"

Corradin thoughtfully nods at that. "Truthfully I'm not sure if Valerie knows, or even Sebastien for that matter. The latter certainly should realize that his parents would send someone to drag him back home sooner or later, but as he's not been in contact with his parents I don't know how firm a grasp he has on his parents' patience. And assets, insofar as to who they would send, for that matter. I trust that if he was concerned about being dragged back home any time soon he'd have informed Valerie about it, but again, I'm not sure if he's really realized yet."

"You make me sound like the bad guy," captain Dagallier cheerfully notes. Corradin actually lets out a chuckle himself, and likely sensing your confusion turns his attention to you.

"The short version is that captain Dagallier's search for Sebastien is entirely legal. He has been given the necessary papers by Sebastien's parents and the boy isn't legally an adult yet, so his parents are fair to treat him as a child who ran away from home." Okay...sketchy as that sounds you suppose that checks out. "As for my part in this mess, and why I dragged you into it, as I've said I've already made my decision. But all the same I wanted you here, as a witness. And conscious, if that proves necessary." You glance at captain Dagallier, but he doesn't appear to have anything to add to that. So you instead ask Corradin what "decision" he's come to. "To assist captain Dagallier, as best I can. He convinced me that Sebastien ought to be brought back home, and that is what I intend to do. But, as I said, I am weary of which pond I'm casting my line into. So, [PC FIRST NAME]...is this the right course of action?"

You stare blankly at Corradin for a moment before turning your attention to captain Dagallier. He seems to understand your unspoken question. "I know about Sebastien's situation, about him coming here to look up his forbidden sweetheart and return her ring and all. And yes, sounds like the guy definitely deserves to get a ring from her in turn, I'm not denying that. But lying to his parents about why he decided to travel to Mineta, not writing home at all to at least let them know he's alright, and - as far as I've heard at least - planning to ditch them altogether as soon as he's old enough by the day to rush off on his own and never look back? That's not the right way to go about things. I can imagine his parents being emotionally distant, his family being overly strict, even his relatives not having the guy's best interests at heart when they make decisions on what that kid should and shouldn't do. As well as the boy wanting to spend his life with Valerie, or at least giving that an honest attempt over whatever his family has planned for him, for that matter. But that's something that should be discussed face to face, in person, where all the cards can be put on the table. Leaving people guessing or with unanswered questions, that never ends well. That's why I'm trying to bring him back. Well, that and I'm getting paid to do so, of course. I'd be a big, fat liar if I said the means to put food on my table didn't matter to me, but I'm also the kind of crazy who actually dares to think about these kind of odd jobs and who or what's right and wrong. Hasn't led me to an early grave yet, but...well, you hear stories among mercenaries. Most of them don't end well for the merc trying to play 'good guy', yet here I am."

A simple and straightforward argument. The question is, do you believe it (and the guy presenting it)?

-Honestly you don't really care. This is Corradin's show, not yours.
--If this is what Corradin feels is best for Sebastien who are you to say otherwise? One could argue that he's got no more right to tell Sebastien right from wrong any more than you do, but Corradin's a relative of Sebastien. A distant relative, sure, but a relative all the same. So ultimately the only response you have to this situation is a shrug - you don't see any great need to try and convince Corradin that he's about to make a mistake, nor do you see any family connections that would give you great motivation or right to speak for Sebastien one way or another, so...case closed.

"Really? You don't have anything to add to this?" a confused Corradin asks. You, again, shrug and remind him that he's the one who said he already made his decision, not you, and you don't see any great mistakes or evils looming on the horizon that you feel a need to try and prevent. It's not an exciting conclusion, but it's what it is.

"Confrontations are best when they don't involve tales worth telling afterwards," captain Dagallier happily notes. And, yeah, that probably makes sense coming from a mercenary. "But, if you two don't mind, I think I've spend enough time sitting around not able to do anything. Let's go find Valerie and see what she has to say. If we - or I - can't convince her that Sebastien really needs to go back home and confront his family, well...I'm going to have a very long day ahead of me."

Valerie, not Sebastien? Interesting, not that you've got any objections. You do ponder whether captain Dagallier would resort to kidnapping if it came to that, but all things considered that plan sounds like varying degrees of insanity if not suicide. If Valerie, and in turn Sebastien, don't want to play along you suppose the captain's next plan would be to knock on the doors of the Academagia professors if not city guards and hope either are able (and willing) to help him, but you doubt the captain is holding out hope for that in any case. Thinking about it you have to admit, it certainly feels like charm and charisma is all this man can reasonably rely on to get this "odd job" done, though considering the most dangerous adversary he stands to face is the person he kinda-sorta kidnapped before? Yeah...you don't entirely trust him, but you're growing increasingly confident that you're not about to witness something violent.

-You don't see any problems with this.
--You really don't feel like the man is wrong about Sebastien's situation, and all the rumors and gossip about him potentially kidnapping Valerie and whatnot aside, you do remember that Valerie herself never outright called the man as much. The thought does cross your mind whether captain Dagallier would resort to kidnapping if it came to that, but all things considered that plan sounds like varying degrees of insanity if not suicide. If Sebastien, or Valerie for that matter, don't want to play along you suppose the captain's only hope would be to knock on the doors of the Academagia professors if not city guards and hope either are able (and willing) to help him. And that, considering the circumstances, is perfectly reasonable. So, in the end, you've only got one simple thing to say about you being here as Corradin's witness, and possibly his conscious. "I don't see anything wrong with this idea."

Corradin of course looks pleased, as does captain Dagallier. "Alright, in that case I think I've spend enough time sitting around not able to do anything," the latter says, almost cheerfully. "Let's go find Valerie and see what she has to say. If we - or I - can't convince her that Sebastien really needs to go back home and confront his family, well...I'm going to have a very long day ahead of me."

Valerie, not Sebastien? Alright. You're sure that captain Dagallier knows what he's doing.

-The argument is sound in your ears, but the man presenting it? Not so much.
--You stare pretty hard at captain Dagallier for what feels like a while, but despite the man's composed expression you nevertheless can't shake the feeling that he's not telling you the truth here. You say as much, and the mercenary captain actually nods. Corradin looks surprised, you not so much. "I didn't lie about what I said, but there is one detail left unsaid," captain Dagallier clarifies. You ask him to elaborate. "I'm assuming you've got your doubts about Sebastien's family? Whether they're better people for him to go back to than him running off with Valerie?" Actually not particularly, though you do recall captain Dagallier not sounding too impressed with them. Again you point that out, and ask for an explanation. "Well, the short of it is that Sebastien's family aren't acting in his best interests, at least from my view. Of course, I'm a mercenary. Hired help. I've got nothing to say about how they raise their children. Sebastien, however, does."

"Is that your actual reason for working to bring back Sebastien?" Corradin asks, looking confused. Captain Dagallier, however, shakes his head.

"My actual reason, at the end of the day, is because I was paid to. I wouldn't go out of my way to fetch Sebastien if I wasn't, after all," captain Dagallier plainly admits. And yes, it is a fair point. "But, like I said, I dare to think about these jobs beyond what's needed to get them done, if not in spirit than at least in letter. A less scrupulous man might simply do what he's told, bring the kid back and hope he runs away again shortly afterwards, easy money after all, but no. I'd prefer my career if not my life not to be an endless circle. Dangerous dreams for a mercenary to have, I know. But I dare."

You know what? Your curiosity wins this round. "Forgive me if this is too personal a question, but do you have family of your own, by chance? It just seems like you're giving what should be a trivial job an awful lot of thought."

For the first time there's actually a flash of doubt in captain Dagallier's otherwise composed expression. "I've got no family of my own that I know of, but I suppose it's fair to say these kinds of family spats do feel a bit personal to me. My own old man kicked the bucket in a bad way and left a right mess behind, so...well, I won't bore you with the details. You can piece out the connection between that and my not liking leaving unanswered questions behind, I'm sure."

To you that sounds more like "I don't want to talk about it", but you suppose either is fair enough. As for where to go from here...you really can't argue that captain Dagallier doesn't have good point, and although it'd be a stretch to say that you trust him you also can't deny that running away isn't really an option - if not this guy Sebastien's parents are likely to either send someone else or come flying over to Mineta themselves, after all - so you suppose that either which way there's no better solution than to proceed as Corradin decided to - help captain Dagallier track down Sebastien, so that he can be confronted with this situation. As much as he might not want to.

"Alright," captain Dagallier says. "If you two don't mind I think I've spend enough time sitting around not able to do anything. Let's go find Valerie and see what she has to say. If we - or I - can't convince her that Sebastien really needs to go back home and confront his family, well...I'm going to have a very long day ahead of me."

Valerie, not Sebastien? He's planning on finding Valerie first? Interesting, although you suppose it does make sense in a way - what Sebastien ultimately does is likely going to depend on what Valerie encourages him to do, so sure. You also ponder whether captain Dagallier would resort to kidnapping if it came to that, but all things considered that plan sounds like varying degrees of insanity if not suicide. If Valerie, and in turn Sebastien, don't want to play along you suppose the captain's next plan would be to knock on the doors of the Academagia professors if not city guards and hope either are able (and willing) to help him, but you doubt the captain is holding out hope for that in any case. Thinking about it you have to admit, it certainly feels like charm and charisma is all this man can reasonably rely on to get this "odd job" done, though considering the most dangerous adversary he stands to face is the person he kinda-sorta kidnapped before? Yeah...you don't trust him, not entirely, but you're growing increasingly confident that you're not about to witness something violent at least.

-You don't think Sebastien being dragged back home is what's best for him, truthfully.
--You're doubtful of this situation, and surprisingly captain Dagallier even admitted as much himself: Why, if he's concerned about right and wrong, is he trying to bring Sebastien back to the people who apparently don't treat him right? You don't really want to talk back to this guy too much, but you do dare pose this question.

"For the simple reason that, whether they're good people or not, they're his family," captain Dagallier answers. "Family is something you can't escape, or run away from. Sebastien could, possibly, run away with his sweetheart and start another life somewhere, but even if he does that past is always going to haunt him. The things he left behind, people he left behind, it'll come back to haunt him sooner or later. Just imagine when, what, a half-dozen to a dozen-odd years down the line one of his kids asks him why their peers talk about grandparents, and why their dad never does. Doesn't appear to have any, even. What's he going to say then?"

"I'm a ways away from being old enough to drink. You know I don't have the answer to that."

Captain Dagallier shrugs. There's a hint of superiority there, but his expression doesn't show it at all. "That's why he needs to go back and sort this mess out. If he wants to cut all ties at some point, that's his call, I'm not going to stop him. But it is something he'll have to say to their faces. If he doesn't, if I can't bring him back now, what do you think will happen next? His parents will find someone else, or maybe they'll go after him themselves, who know. It's a chase that's pointless to try and run when the end result is going to be the same. So just avoid it. It's hard, I know, but it's better that way."

Hmm...you're not convinced that Sebastien wouldn't be better off being allowed to try his chances with Valerie, but you suppose what captain Dagallier says about his family not letting their son go that easily is ultimately true. And of all people to have you dragged back home, there's worse options than this guy, you're sure. In the face of that you can't form an argument that Sebastien is better off taking Valerie's hand and rushing off, not that the latter has graduated from the Academagia yet, or that they'll be old enough to legally marry even once she does. This whole idea of "old enough by the day" also doesn't sit well with you, actually. You've experienced your fair share of people treating you like a kid, it'd feel kind of...cheap if all of that were to just stop overnight the moment you turned eighteen. Hmm...

"Well, [PC FIRST NAME]? Do you think I'm fishing in the wrong pond?" Corradin asks, but despite you not seeming overly confident you do shake your head. You explain that it seems to you like Sebastien is either going to face his fate or meet it on the road he took to avoid it, so if he's going to have to confront his parents either way you suppose there's no point in delaying the inevitable. That said you do wish that he could be in a better position, something to give him more ground to stand on when confronting his parents. Because right now it feels to you like he's got no choice but to accept whatever they decide for him, and that doesn't feel right. "You're forgetting that his parents want him to marry Valerie, at the end of the day, despite the apparent friction between them if Sebastien not writing home at all is anything to go by. You're also forgetting that he's got a very charming, very insightful and - most importantly - very loyal spellcaster by his side who's able to draw out his feelings even as he struggles to understand them. And the stones to travel to a foreign land that doesn't speak his language if it means seeing his sweetheart again. I know Sebastien might seem powerless before his family before he's old enough to be considered an adult, [PC FIRST NAME], but rest assured, he's far from it."

Those are all good points Corradin makes, and yes, aside from Valerie he's probably the person who knows Sebastien the best on this island right now. Alright, with all that weighing in favor of Corradin's original plan you concede that it is for the best, and ask captain Dagallier if he's ready to go see Sebastien right now. "I've spend enough time sitting around not able to do anything, definitely. That said, let's go find Valerie and see what she has to say first. If we - or I - can't convince her that Sebastien really needs to go back home and confront his family, well...I'm going to have a very long day ahead of me."

Valerie, not Sebastien? You suppose that does make sense, what Sebastien ultimately does is likely going to depend on what Valerie encourages him to do. You also ponder whether captain Dagallier would resort to kidnapping if it came to that, but all things considered that plan sounds like varying degrees of insanity if not suicide. If Valerie, and in turn Sebastien, don't want to play along you suppose the captain's next plan would be to knock on the doors of the Academagia professors if not city guards and hope either are able (and willing) to help him, but you doubt the captain is holding out hope for that in any case. Thinking about it you have to admit, it certainly feels like charm and charisma is all this man can reasonably rely on to get this "odd job" done, though considering the most dangerous adversary he stands to face is the person he kinda-sorta kidnapped before? Yeah...you don't trust him, not entirely, but you're growing increasingly confident that you're not about to witness something violent at least.

-Awareness. How is this going to play out, realistically speaking?
--Corradin said he's already made up his mind, you doubt that captain Dagallier would defy his employers in any event and he's completely on the up and up as far as the city's laws are concerned, and finally Sebastien's situation and his response is likewise clear enough - if he wanted to go back home he'd have done so already. But there's one loose end to this whole story that you can't help but feel has been overlooked so far: Valerie. You cannot, for even one minute, believe that she's as cheerful as she is because Sebastien has kept her ignorant of this whole situation. The fact that his parents weren't told the truth when he asked for permission to travel to Mineta, that he hasn't been writing home, all of it. Based on what you know of their relationship that just does not fly at all. What seems much more likely to you is that she's aware of it, and has some kind of plan she's confident enough in that she isn't worried over captain Dagallier - or whoever she's expecting - or about Sebastien at all. You've no idea what kind of plan that could possibly be, though. And that, frankly, worries you...

--You've got no clue how Sebastien would respond to this situation. He's stuck between a rock and a hard place, but on the flipside you know the one about when an animal is most dangerous...actually no, that's when they've got kids they're protecting, and that's definitely not true for Sebastien (yet). When they're cornered is when they're at their second most dangerous. So you know the one about when an animal is at it's second most dangerous, and what Sebastien might do? You've got no clue...

--Confess that you suspect this matter has been decided already anyway.
---"Thinking about it more...I think what's right and wrong has already been decided for us," you say in response to captain Dagallier's argument. He simply nods and listens carefully as you explain your reasoning, your suspicions surrounding Valerie's behaviour, while Corradin looks decidedly more thrown off (and put off) by the idea that this isn't his glorious moment. You don't think it ever was, though, and if it was you're sure it'd just be something that Corradin would come to regret.

"Good strategic mind for someone so young," captain Dagallier notes as he finishes his drink. You'll take the compliment, but not let it influence your opinion of the man. "But, alright, that sounds like all three of us are in agreement and I've spend enough time sitting around not able to do anything. Let's go find Valerie and see what she has to say. If we - or I - can't convince her that Sebastien really needs to go back home and confront his family, well...I'm going to have a very long day ahead of me."

You ponder whether captain Dagallier would resort to kidnapping if it came to that, but all things considered that plan sounds like varying degrees of insanity if not suicide. If Valerie, and in turn Sebastien, don't want to play along you suppose the captain's next plan would be to knock on the doors of the Academagia professors if not city guards and hope either are able (and willing) to help him, but you doubt the captain is holding out hope for that in any case. Thinking about it you have to admit, it certainly feels like charm and charisma is all this man can reasonably rely on to get this "odd job" done, though considering the most dangerous adversary he stands to face is the person he kinda-sorta kidnapped before? Yeah...you still don't entirely trust him, but you're growing increasingly confident that you're not about to witness something violent.

Stages where the player is given the option to disagree, but the PC has to be convinced for the plot to work, are always difficult. Trying to anticipate what arguments would work for that? Never easy.

Also since it's done already, Circle of Doubt, stage 9:

Spoiler

The three of you, somewhat awkwardly, end up walking to the Academagia's Great Gate, only to come to a sudden stop there. "I think it'd be best if you two went on ahead and brought Valerie here," captain Dagallier notes. "Considering the, eh, circumstances of how the two of us met and all...not that that's news to her, but...still. I've been at the receiving end of shot nerves and paranoia before, I'd hate to experience that with someone who wields a wand. Actually, I don't suppose you two know of any quiet, friendly places nearby where students frequently gather? Some neutral ground where she'd be at ease?" Not a question that's come up very often, so you don't have any place better to suggest than Alice's Tavern. Though you do point out that captain Dagallier would stand out like a sore thumb among the other regulars there. Not that mercenaries or travellers are unheard of there, but they're definitely the exception and not the rule. He doesn't seem too worried about that, though. "Makes no difference to me, just so long as I don't get turned into a statue before I've had a chance to say my piece. Let's give it a shot, if no better suggestions come up."

"None that I could suggest, so go on ahead. I'll go fetch Valerie," Corradin quickly says immediately before walking off, leaving you standing there with captain Dagallier.

"Bit impatient, that one, isn't he?" the latter notes. You just let out a sigh and nod, slowly leading captain Dagallier to Alice's Tavern. You're sure it won't be an issue going inside and taking a seat already, there's no chance that both Valerie and Corradin forgot where this place is since they were here last.

A few minutes later Valerie walks in, a perplexed and decidedly unfriendly scowl on her face. Enough so to largely drown out the shape of Corradin trailing behind her. "What are you, of all people, doing here!?" Valerie barks out after walking up to Captain Dagallier. He, however, seems to take the hostility in stride.

"Hoping to have a chat with your sweetheart, actually," the man calmly explains. "He hasn't send word to his parents since he left, and his family is getting worried. To the point that they hired me to find out what's going on, and make sure he gets back home safely."

"That certainly does appear to be your specialty," Valerie says with a sneer. Nevertheless she does sit down across captain Dagallier. "Though pray tell what makes you think that I would ever help you, in that regard?"

"I take it you'll want a truthful answer?" captain Dagallier asks. Valerie's response to that is to draw her wand, though she's not casting any spells (yet). Captain Dagallier maintains his composure, though. "Sebastien's parents are being - pardon my Merilien - insufferable hypocrites of the highest order, but it's not my place to tell them that. I'm just a mercenary, hired help. Sebastien is their son and heir. If anyone is going to set them straight it's going to be him." Valerie looks surprised at that. Even you are taken aback by the bluntness of captain Dagallier's words, to say nothing of Corradin. "You've learned the details of my little 'expedition' into the mountains from Sebastian, right?" Valerie nods, though she does notice Corradin and you staring at her confused.

"Sebastien's family wanted to find a safe path across the mountains, and use that to establish a trade route through their territory and the land owned by my family," Valerie explains. "That's why they hired Dagallier's Brigade as an exploration force, to chart the area and find a safe path across. Of course when they were sighted by my family on the other side they were mistaken for something invasive, and a force was gathered to try and repel them. I'm sure you two remember how that ended." All too well, yes. So that's how that whole mess ended up happening. "Me being fostered to them just reinforced that whole idea of theirs, since it meant they wouldn't need my family's approval to finish their plans, necessarily. But there was one snag: Despite them working against my enemies as much as their own they still couldn't figure out how to convince me to be on board with it all." Considering how Valerie ended up there in the first place, yeah, you can imagine that being a tough sell. "Of course while they spend their time discussing and debating behind closed doors Sebastien...eh, well, I'm sure you two remember how that ended..."

Corradin frowns, probably thinking about the same thing you are: Did Sebastien's parents notice that? Did they silently allow those two to meet in "secret", hoping that this whole "star-crossed lovers" situation would happen, as a means of convincing Valerie? It does make a certain degree of sense, but at the same time you can find good arguments to the contrary too, so...you're really not sure. Captain Dagallier, likewise, seems to have thought of the same things. "Whether Sebastien's parents noticed their son changing slowly but surely through all of their meetings and debating or not, I doubt anyone in this room could tell. But after you were suddenly taken away by a third party, and left behind your ring for Sebastien to find...they couldn't have missed how he'd changed. Not when he suddenly asked them for permission to travel all the way out to Mineta, on his own," captain Dagallier notes. Valerie, despite looking ready to strangle the man a few minutes ago, nods with a familiar, if still dour expression on her face. "Of course the problem is that he just disappeared right after. No word, no explanation, no girl smiling on his arm or suspiciously similar duplicate ring on one of his fingers when he comes back home, nothing." Despite captain Dagallier's words Valerie actually looks like she's taking mental notes. "That's why Sebastien's parents hired me to bring him back, and why I intend - am hoping, at least - to do just that. Someone has to clear this mess up, get answers straight from the horse's mouth, and it's not going to be me. So...do you agree with that?"

Valerie actually has to give that some thought. However she expected this meeting to go this clearly wasn't what she was imagining. "You're right," Valerie, eventually, quietly admits. Captain Dagallier, however, maintains his composure. His expression doesn't shift at all. "I suppose it would be best if Sebastien actually confronted his parents about this...and I trust that you're hoping to get paid for bringing him back." Captain Dagallier nods, plainly. He doesn't look like he's denying anything. "Ever the professional..."

"Well, if it's been decided to...I suppose confront Sebastien about this, to try and convince him to go back home for now, shall we go to him?" Corradin asks. He's trying to take the lead here, but everyone - likely Corradin included - knows it's no longer his show at this point.

"No, I'll go talk to him myself," Valerie says, further deflating Corradin's attempt at maintaining centre stage. "No offence, but I doubt Sebastien would respond well to seeing me with captain Dagallier in tow, so I'll go talk to him in private first before bringing captain Dagallier into it any further." Looking at the mercenary Valerie, with a pointed frown, adds, "that does mean you'll just have to trust me not to tell Sebastien to skip town right under your nose, but after all that's happened...after all that's happened I owe you that much, I guess..."

Despite Valerie's sudden shift there captain Dagallier, once again, just maintains a composed face. That man would be an absolute terror if he ever played a card game, you feel like. "Fair enough. As for you two kids," the man says addressing Corradin and yourself, "I think it'd be best if you two went back to your studies and just...kept an ear out for rumors, if this matter interests you so much. This is going to be a...very difficult talk, between the three of us. So...well, I'll just say it straight: I don't think I, let stand Sebastien, can afford any distractions. And even if Valerie could I doubt she'd want to." Valerie actually nods, which honestly you're fine with - senior love affairs, especially ones that ended up in such a tangled, political mess? Interesting to hear about, fun to observe from a distance, and since at this point you doubt that either of these two aren't willing to do what's best for Sebastien, ultimately, you'd even go so far as to dare hope that the story of the boy who returned his forbidden sweetheart's missing ring will have a happy ending. But involving yourself in it any more than necessary? No thanks. That just sounds dangerous.

As such both Valerie and captain Dagallier get up, say goodbye, and leave Alice's Tavern to wherever Sebastien is currently hiding. You look at Corradin with the obvious question written all over your face, but he just shakes his head. It figures that Corradin isn't aware of the kid's every move at any given hour of the day, in fairness. Which leaves you with a thoroughly unhappy, confidence shaken, left in the cold (and actually bothered by that), Corradin. "This is...not how I expected this little excursion to end," he says indignantly. "Well, I suppose I can at least be proud of what I did accomplish, even if it isn't as much as I was hoping for. [PC FIRST NAME], I take it you've no objection to ending this tale, our part in it at least, with a freshly baked pie?"

"I've been sitting in Alice's Tavern for I don't know how long and I've not had any pie yet - yes, Corradin, very much so. That said, what are you complaining about? You made your choice, acted on it, and your witness didn't see any need to act as your conscious and try to stop you. What more do you want?"

Corradin puts on his best brave face at that question. Or tries to, at least. "Again, I've already made my decision on that front, but just out of curiosity: What would you want?"

-"Pie is enough for me."
--Corradin looks a bit put off by that answer, like he was expecting something grandiose and instead was left hanging with an expression on his face like "that's it?" Unfortunately for him, though, that is indeed it. "I don't care to involve myself in the love affairs of a senior any more than I have to, especially a noble senior - no matter how unimportant her title ultimately is to her - that's fallen heads over heels for another, more significant noble from a rival family that's send a mercenary after him to drag him back home. I'm glad they managed to work out their situation without any unnecessary spellcasting or other complications, especially with me sitting right here with them as that was going on, but beyond that? 'Live, let live, and reward oneself's good deed with a freshly baked pie', is what you're supposed to say to that."

Corradin frowns. He's not admitting it, but he definitely was hoping for something more here. "As much as I'd hate to end my glorious, exciting tale full of twists, turns and unexpected complications - I was not expecting to run into that mercenary, how we ended up meeting is frankly a story in it's own right - with 'and that is how everything got wrapped up with me basically being a third wheel the entire time'...but, perhaps. Just perhaps, you're right. I did end up leading a mercenary intent on dragging back home a senior student's boyfriend to said senior student, so...perhaps I should just count my blessings that this story ended with freshly baked pie and not something more...problematic."

"Exactly!" you happily say as you call over Alice to order a pie. "Besides, all of those people who are going to be listening to you telling your daring and at times not-so daring tale? You know that at least half of them are going to end up longing for a freshly baked pie at the end."

"Perhaps they will, [PC FIRST NAME]," Corradin says, shaking his head a bit in disbelief. "Just perhaps...they actually will."

-"Knowing what'll happen with those three."
--Corradin nods in agreement. "It's a right mystery, isn't it? The role we managed to play in this story's ending - for us, at least - ultimately doesn't amount to much, but I'm still curious. Did we do the right thing? Is there something else we should have done? Is there something else we could have done, even?"

"Not a chance," you confidently answer. "Captain Dagallier was going to see Valerie first anyway, and it's no secret where she, as an Academagia student, spends most of her time. And if he convinced her - as he just did - she'd lead him to Sebastien. Or Sebastien to captain Dagallier, whichever. We didn't even play a role here, ultimately. We just lead the captain to Alice's Tavern instead of the Vernin Common Room. That's it."

Corradin obviously doesn't look happy at you dismissing what little role he thinks he played in this, but you're not going to sugar coat how you see this situation. You know Corradin wouldn't want you to, anyway. "That's...fair, I guess, but if captain Dagallier never needed me why did he contact me anyway? Why not just go straight to Valerie?"

"Honestly? Maybe because he was ordered to," you speculate. Corradin looks surprised at that answer. "Think about it: Sebastien's reason for visiting Mineta, what he told his parents I mean, was to 'visit his dear third cousin Corradin d'Alfi', or some such. And Captain Dagallier, like he said, is just a mercenary. Hired help. Maybe he was never told and was never supposed to figure out that Valerie is here in Mineta and that Sebastien is really here to see her. Maybe Sebastien's parents told him to contact you, since you ought to know where Sebastien is given his stated reason for visiting Mineta in the first place, and drag Sebastien back home without ever bringing Valerie into it."

"A third party taking away a star-crossed beloved before they got the chance to say goodbye...again..." Corradin slowly mumbles to himself, though loudly enough for you to hear. "Is...is Sebastien's family really doing this? Setting up this...this endless theatre of events, I mean? Surely not, it sounds patently ridiculous, and yet..."

"Maybe captain Dagallier was on to something when he called Sebastien's family 'hypocrites of the highest order'," you finish. Corradin nods. "Or maybe he wasn't. Obviously this is all just speculation at the end of the day, maybe Sebastien's family was just afraid of captain Dagallier spreading rumors in his search for Sebastien, or something. I'm sure there's at least one perfectly valid, innocent reason for them to not tell the man to search for Sebastien through Valerie, and make contact with you instead. But whether that reason is the truth? Who knows."

Corradin and you continue to debate and speculate the situation for a while, over freshly baked pie of course, but no matter the angle from which the two of you analyse the situation it is, at the end of the day, merely speculation. Still, with Valerie and captain Dagallier willing to work towards what's best for Sebastien you're hopeful that, regardless of how the boy's family ultimately sees and treated him, there will be a happy ending for the boy who came back to return his forbidden sweetheart's ring.

-"A greater role to play. Just like you, I'm guessing."
--You were sure, confident, that this is what Corradin wanted. But, no, he just shakes his head. "I've played as great a roll in this as I dare to. I mean don't get me wrong, I wouldn't object to having more glory and fame be attributed to my name of course. But...I don't want to say it's 'cowardice', but being contacted by captain Dagallier like I did? Let's just say it put some things into perspective for me. Such as the dangers of getting too deeply involved with seniors and their love affairs."

Because that's the common worry when dealing with seniors, sure. Still, you suppose Corradin has a good point even if his arrow landed in a completely different target. "That's just it, though. That excitement, that potential of being contacted by captain Dagallier didn't draw you in? It would have drawn me in, that's for sure...well, okay, getting deeply involved in a senior's love affair would make me think twice if not more than that, but captain Dagallier? There's an opportunity to make an impact, if you so wish." Corradin nods, but also points out that said captain is still a bit of a giant questionmark as far as those interested in this story is concerned, so as friendly as the man presented himself as Corradin had no desire to deal with him any more than necessary. You suppose that is a fair point, as well...

"I've gotten my fill of moving pawns on this particular board, [PC FIRST NAME], and it's reaching the point where any further moves are going to require time anyway. The only thing that remains, the only thing more I want right now, is answers. How did my decision end up influencing this situation, exactly? Did I make the right choice, or was there something else I could have done? Something more I should have done? It does matter to me that you ended up coming along and all, but is this something I should repeat in the future? Or should I have done something else?"

You don't have any more answers to those questions than Corradin does, but it does make you think. Alongside Corradin. The two of you end up discussing the situation extensively, going over possibilities and how alternative outcomes might have played out, but ultimately? Despite the hope that you and Corradin both have for the boy who did, in fact, return with his forbidden sweetheart's ring, how his story will ultimately end only time can tell...

[PC MALE, maybe needs Prodigy: On the Prowl?]-"Someone I could be so crazy for"
--Corradin stares blankly at your answer. "Seriously? Moving and shaking between noble families caught between themselves and Pievre's desecration of traditional values and your only response to that is 'oh how romantic'?"

"You're overestimating at least Valerie's political importance there, and frankly underestimating just how important romance is to the nobility. Think about it: Sebastien was never going to accomplish anything if it was just him and his emotionally distant relatives against Pievre. He'd give up in the face of that much opposition for lack of anything he truly cared to protect, or be manipulated into doing so. But with Valerie in his life, if those two manage to stay together, travel the world, get married, all of that stuff, he's eventually going to come back home not just with an Academagia graduate who'll have seen some corners of the world but with a family of his own. And that he'd go to the other corners of the world to protect, if needs be." Corradin, as you expected, looks perplexed at what all you're saying. Which, to be perfectly honest, was somewhat to mostly the point - tease him a bit because you knew, you knew, that he'd just make fun of you and your romantic ways if you didn't do so first. "I'm not saying there's not a risk of it being too late by that point, Sebastien's family might have been driven out of Pievre by then, but that's still a difference of one man wanting to reclaim his family's birthright for his children compared to a hollow shell thereof being tricked into selling it off because his parents never managed to convince him to hold any love for it."

It takes Corradin a moment to recover from you pulling a fast one on him, but he does so soon enough. "And if him marrying Valerie just convinces him that his home isn't worth protecting, as he'll find a new, better home at Valerie's estate? Or even somewhere else altogether?" he asks, although it doesn't have the same sting to it that it usually does.

In response to the question you shrug. "That risks exists, I guess. Love can be a blindfold as much as it can be someone's salvation, or downfall. Still, do you really think that Sebastien would have been better off never meeting Valerie? Or his parents refusing to let him travel to Mineta, something along those lines?"

Corradin does have to think about that question, but not for long. "I don't think there's any way to say for sure. Would Sebastien have defended his ancestral home, had he never met Valerie? Will he do so, now that he has? I don't know. I'll admit that this way he at least seems happier, as does Valerie of course, but what that's ultimately worth...I suppose there's only one way to find out." Ever the practical strategist, Corradin. "As for my answer, incidentally, talking about what more I wanted out of this..." Corradin actually lets out a sigh. "Confirmation, I suppose. I have no idea what the outcome of this whole mess will be, not even so much as a reasonable clue as to whether it was all for the best or not. I don't regret what I've done, and that does matter to me, but I also can't deny that I find no value in being left with questions like these. That's another point I did agree on with captain Dagallier, actually. I'd like to know if this whole incident really changed Sebastien's life for the better, ultimately. If I can't figure that out...than what I am supposed to learn from it?"

"Would you, if you found someone you could fall in love with as much as Valerie fell in love with Sebastien, actually give in to those feelings? Surrender to your heart's desires to let your own emotions decide your future?"

"That sounds decidedly unhealthy," Corradin answers dismissively. "I'd prefer to stay in control of myself, thank you very much."

"Than there's your answer," you answer somewhat cryptically. Not that it's much of a riddle, or that Corradin doesn't figure it out within like three seconds, of course. As for Corradin's answer, well...you're curious if he, or someone else, will change his mind across the coming years...

[PC FEMALE, maybe needs Prodigy: On the Prowl and/or (not?) affection/love with Corradin?]-"Someone who'd go that far for me."
--Corradin, who looked so confident at having his answer ready, falls dead silent as he stares perplexed at your answer. Evidently that was not the answer he was expecting. "Come on, don't tell me you don't think it's romantic. Someone travelling to a distant, strange land because they want to return something precious you left behind...and secretly see you again. Even you were impressed by that, as I recall."

"I-I me-that's no-how-I-" Corradin sputters out in a desperate, but futile attempt to clarify that it wasn't the romantic aspect that impressed him (if you had to guess). Unfortunately for him you're basically required by law to tease him right now, so...you ask him with a coy smile if he wouldn't be happy if someone he cares about went that far for him. You have no idea who could feasibly fit that description, but Corradin (if not his imagination) does, and so his face turns a nice shade of beet-red as he mentally ponders that situation anyway. You can see the moments where he imagines someone going that far for him, too, and sure enough. As much as he might try to deny it he'd love it.

"You don't have to answer right now if you don't want to, Corradin," you say with that same coy smile as it becomes increasingly apparent that Corradin isn't going to find a (coherent) answer to your question - and teasing - any time soon. "Just be sure to tell me if you ever end up finding someone like that, of course. I'd love to hear about it."

After several more failed attempts to form a coherent sentence Corradin (eventually) manages to sputter out "I-I'll be sure to write down a note in a few years time."

Perhaps it's unfair to tease Corradin like that, but it sure is fun seeing his face burn up. And what's a bit of banter between friends, right?

Perhaps a bit of an abrupt ending, but it's the end of Corradin's show, and the adventure was ultimately focussed on him.

Edited by Metis
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