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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...

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, staring 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, staring 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 our 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? You've no idea if that might have unintended consequences... though maybe it's worth risking Rikildis anyhow? 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 necessarily 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? As if that sounds like a good idea at this point. 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 heard 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.

Edited by Metis
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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 staring 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 is 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 knows. 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 thing. "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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  • 11 months later...

Slight less than a year this time, despite multiple failed attempts, a new adventure! This one...I mean I feel like I say this about every single adventure, but this one...is a thing.

Sins Can Be Forgiven, Stage 0:

Spoiler

Today finds you a bit further out into Mineta than usual, on a tip of some of your College mates. Apparently there's a new baker in the neighbourhood along the Imperial Processional, past the Temple of Octavius, who does "the most amazing work" with adding extra ingredients to give everything from plain bread to pancakes to muffins new and exciting tastes. Supposedly Asmita Tidar is already "on the case" trying to figure out how it's done and how to improve upon it, but that might just be the wishful thinking of the more lazy students who don't want to walk so far just to grab a snack. You don't particularly care either which way - if it's good enough you'll walk the extra distance, and if it isn't you'll suffice with Alice's pies. You'll figure it out after you've tried these new treats. And maybe stuffed yourself full of them, if they're really as good as people claim.

-However...
--Things don't always go to plan. And today proves to be no exception in that regard.

Anyone who bet that this very obvious "filler to place the PC somewhere specific" stage ended up proving quite important, congratulations, you've got greater pattern recognition than I do :).

Sins Can Be Forgiven, Stage 1:

Spoiler

You're startled from your fantasies about delicious food when a nearby horse's furious noises catches your ears, leaving you with barely enough time to turn your head and see someone fall down before the angry animal. You quickly draw your wand and throw a charm at the horse to calm it down, though it doesn't have as much of an effect as you'd like. Still, it's enough to get the horse to stop attacking whoever fell down. Shortly afterwards the horse's owner (you assume) rushes out of a nearby building and starts trying to drag the animal away, while you rush up to the victim in case there's anything more you can do.

By the time you have the horse's owner has managed to drag the horse far enough away to calm it down, but the victim - a girl a few years younger than a first year - looks like she's in pretty bad shape. She's on her back, dirt on her clothes marking where the horse kicked her in the chest, and making some gross noises as you can hear her having a hard time breathing. As much as you would love to wave your wand around a bunch and fix this mess you don't know if you can manage that quite yet...

"Wh-what happened here!?" the horse's owner, thoroughly panicked, suddenly shouts over the murmurs from a quickly gathering crowd of onlookers. "I-I've never had any issues with one of my horses attacking someone! N-never!"

There's a girl coughing up blood in front of you, and the first thing that guy chooses to do is proclaim his innocence? You've half a mind to throw Rikildis at this useless idiot, were it not for the fact that you wouldn't want to inflict that much boredom on her. She'd eat the guy alive in two minutes flat.

"D-doctor...Zanon..." the girl suddenly sputters out. You can only imagine that took effort, probably hurt even. "P-please..."

"Hey!" you shout at the horse's owner, thankfully getting his attention. He'll contribute something meaningful even if you have to drag him by the nose to get him to. "Does one 'Doctor Zanon' ring any bells by chance?"

"Huh? Docto-oh, Tom Zanon? Y-yeah, he's a physician who runs a clinic not too far from here. I can show you the way."

Good, something useful. Although the question of how to transport this girl remains. You don't know if she can stand up let stand walk in her current condition, so...

-Field Medicine. Help carry the girl, carefully.
--You sit down next to the girl and quickly confirm that her walking to this Doctor Zanon, even leaning on the shoulders of both the horse's owner and yourself, isn't happening. You're going to need to transport her a different way. You look around for options and spy the cart the horse's owner's horse was lugging around. That could get the job done, but it's a bit overbuild for this task. Slow. Maybe you could do something different...a-hah! A carpentry shop! That'll get the job done!

You quickly shake down the horse's owner for enough Pims to put together your grand design, dash in and out of the carpentry shop in record time, and come back out with enough materials to smash together a makeshift carry bed. It'll have to be a bit on the heavy side, unfortunately you don't have any cloth to use for the actual bed so wood it is, but this will still be a great deal lighter than the horse's owner lugging around his own cart.

With no tools but a pair of hands and some rope you securely tie together your carry bed next to the girl, and carefully shuffle her onto it. From there you'll just need the help of the horse's owner to carry her. You even left space for convenient hand grips. Honestly? One of your better improvised on the spot designs.

"Bit mundane for an Academagia student, but still. Very impressive," the horse's owner says, watching in (at least partially feigned) awe as you put on the finishing touches and tell the man to start hauling. "Eh, r-right, right...so, to Doctor Zanon's clinic...?" the man replies with less enthusiasm than Philippe Marchant before an Arithmetic exam.

"Yes. Now get to carrying, you can take the lead," you bark out. This guy should be thankful, if it weren't for you he might have been pulling his own cart instead.

--You sit down next to the girl and guess that her leaning on the shoulders of both the horse's owner and yourself, let stand walking, isn't likely. This calls for a different solution. You look around for inspiration and stare at the cart the horse's owner's horse was lugging around. Solution? Hmm...maybe, but you're guessing that temperamental horse is out of the question, so who's going to pull it? You? No thanks. Maybe there's something else you could...indeed there is! A carpentry shop! Time to get to cobbling!

You quickly shake down the horse's owner for enough Pims to put together your grand design, dash in and out of the carpentry shop in record time, and come back out with enough materials to smash together a makeshift carry bed. It'll have to be a bit on the heavy side, unfortunately you don't have any cloth to use for the actual bed so wood it is, but this will still be a great deal lighter than the horse's owner lugging around his own cart.

With no tools but intuition and an old hammer you borrowed from the carpentry shop you get to work, only to work a bit too quickly and unceremoniously smash your own hand with said hammer! Good news is that the makeshift carry bed is fine, it'll get the job done, bad news is that you nearly tied it together with your own fingers.

"So, wait, if you're no good at magic and no good at carpentry than what are you attending the Academagia for?" the horse's owner dares to ask as you nurse your poor hand with tears in your eyes. Tears of pain, and now, unmatched rage.

"Just get the girl onto the carry bed already! It'll hold, I just need a moment to fix my hand," you bark out. The horse's owner does so as you pull out your wand and fix your hand up enough (thank heavens you didn't smash your casting hand, or this would have been really awkward) to help carry the girl to this Doctor Zanon.

"Alright, girl's on the carry bed, so...eh...now what?" the horse's owner asks, making you lose just that little bit more faith in other people. You tell the man to start hauling. "Eh, r-right, right...so, to Doctor Zanon's clinic...?" the man replies with less enthusiasm than Philippe Marchant before an Arithmetic exam.

"Yes, now get to carrying. You'll have to take most of the load thanks to me hammering my own hand, but hell, you're an adult, you can take it. Also, since you know where we're going, take the lead," you spit out. Should have just yelled at the guy to pull his own cart. Should have just done that...but you didn't...

-Negation. One levitating bed to transport a patient, coming right up.
--You can feel the pressure of this situation weighing down your shoulders as you start tracing and stringing Phemes together, but despite that you manage to manifest a solid bed of magic below the girl. After that you just flick your wand, and up it goes. The girl seems worried, likely in part because you didn't put much focus into making your spell visible, but you re-assure her that your magic will hold her.

"Impressive," the horse's owner says. "So, eh, do you-"

"Just lead the way," you quickly clarify. Feels like the less responsibility you give this guy, the better.

--You can feel the pressure of this situation like a sack of bricks on your shoulders, but it's not as if you've got any other ideas. You start tracing and stringing Phemes together, but what manifests below the girl isn't the steady bed of levitation magic you wanted so much as it's a glorified carpet. Eh...good enough. You'll have to drag it around in an awkward manner, but it'll get the job done. The girl seems worried when you lift her up, probably because your spell is admittedly a bit wobbly, but you re-assure her that your magic will hold her. It's just a matter of careful pulling to keep it tensed and moving, basically like a flying carpet.

"That's the best you can manage?" the horse's owner asks. You glare at him, and bit back your question of where his wand is. "Eh, I mean, if it works it works, right? So, eh, about this 'keeping it tense stuff', exactly what-"

"Just do as I say and lead the way," you quickly spit out, still offended from before. Feels like the less responsibility you give this guy the better, anyhow.

-Chirgury. See if there's anything you can do to help this girl.
--You sit down next to the girl and examine her as best you can, but it very quickly becomes apparent that there's basically nothing you can do to treat her yourself. The girl's injuries are all internal, and based both on the noise she makes trying to breathe and (mostly) the prominent hoof mark on her clothes, her lungs are in some degree of bad shape. While treating that is not out of reach with a wand it is out of reach of your skill level. If you made even one mistake there...the best thing to do is to bring this girl to this Doctor Zanon. If nothing else you have to ask yourself whether this girl has any sort of...history, that she's asking for this one specific doctor. If he knows something about her you don't that, itself, could prove critically important. More so than whatever you could do with your wand even three years from now.

With that plan decided on you tell the horse's owner to quickly empty his cart so you can use it to transport the girl, meanwhile you'll do what you can to help prepare her for the likely painful move into it. You can't heal the girl's injuries with your wand, yet, but you can at least help bolster her vitality so she'll have an easier time hanging in there. The horse's owner, however, sputters out with a confused face, "Wha-? I-I mean I can do that, but...w-what horse is going to pull said cart?"

You frown, deeply, at the man's hesitation while the girl isn't getting any better in a hurry. "If you've got no other horse to use than I'll point out that you still have two healthy legs and lungs, unlike the girl in front of me. So if you want to keep nay-ing do so productively."

Fortunately the horse's owner quickly resigns himself to his fate, and you draw your wand to start helping the girl prepare for what might be a painful move. "T-that...pun was worse than...t-the hoof," she sputters out. She tries to smile as well, but given how she currently looks it doesn't really work.

"Heh, I'll admit I'm a bit behind in my witty retorts classes. Hopefully did a better job studying up on magic, though. Please stay still, I'll do what I can to make this less painful."

The girl nods, you work your magic, and the rest of the plan goes off without a hitch. Other than the fact that the horse's owner tries to question your decision to have him pull his own cart again, but a "polite offer" to transform your wand into a riding whip is enough to dissuade him from making further comments.

--You sit down next to the girl and take a look, but if there is anything you can do here you don't see it. Problem is that the girl's injuries are all inside, meaning you can't see whatever you're doing, or would be doing. That makes things difficult, and this didn't look like it was going to be simple in the first place. Rats, just not far enough along in your studies to do anything here. Guess there's no choice but to bring this girl to this "Doctor Zanon" character. He or she can figure this out...probably.

With a heavy, disappointing sigh you tell the horse's owner to empty his cart so you can use it to transport the girl. Meanwhile you'll try to do what little you can to prepare her to get into it. You're not miracle worker, yet, but you should at least be able to do some good here. The horse's owner, however, sputters out with a confused face, "Wha-? I-I mean I can do that, but...w-what horse is going to pull said cart?"

You stare blankly at the man's hesitation with a distant, disapproving look on your face. All the while this girl isn't getting any better in a hurry. "If you have a better idea, I'm all ears. If you don't get to hauling and get to pulling."

The horse's owner tried, and fails, to come up with a different solution, and afterwards he resigns himself to his fate. You draw your wand to start helping the girl prepare for what might be a painful move. She doesn't say anything, just quiet resignation on her face as well, knowing that the worst is yet to come. And there's nothing you can do to prevent that.

You work your magic, and the rest does at least go according to plan. Other than the horse's owner trying to question your decision to have him pull his own cart again, but a "polite offer" to transform your wand into a riding whip is enough to dissuade him from making further empty suggestions.

Expect some possible weird exit text going forward, because this is an adventure that really wants to keep rolling, so getting it to stay still on the tracks for any length of time is going to be...difficult...

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Sins Can Be Forgiven, Stage 2:

Spoiler

The horse's owner, who belatedly introduces himself as Iain Hall the trader who totally does not use beasts of burden who've proven themselves to be temperamental solely because proper animal handling, care-taking and vetting is expensive (seriously, Rikildis could run this guy through a wringer accidentally), leads you to an unassuming building deeper into the neighbourhood. Not that there isn't a sign in front of it advertising the clinic within, but you wouldn't have known this was here unless you really went looking for it. It's one of those things you notice when you've been an Academagia student for a while - you'll learn more about what's in Mineta over time, but the further away you go from the Academagia the spottier that knowledge is.

"Well, h-here we are. N-now I trust you can handle things from here, r-right? I, eh, I'd like to go and fetch my horse and all."

This guy isn't going to contribute anything meaningful you suspect, and you further suspect there might just be a guard waiting for him where he left his horse, so sure. You tell him you can take it from here, and like the fool that he is he happily skips off thinking that he'll just continue his day and never hear about this again. You'd love to be there to see his look of disappointment when it all comes crashing down, but you've got a patient to bring in.

You walk up to the clinic door and give it a few hard knocks. A moment later a surprisingly young woman for someone wearing what looks like a chirgeon's uniform, early twenties if you had to guess, opens it. "Sign says to walk in, you don't need to-" she quickly begins, clearly having gone through the spiel multiple times before, until she notices the girl you brought here. "Oh! Alright, bring her in. First room to the left, I'll prepare to examine her."

"She got kicked by a temperamental horse," you clarify as you go through the door, wondering how much more there is to examine. "Oh, right, does one Tom Zanon work here? This girl asked for him, eh...?"

"Leslie Chapman, though please just call me Leslie. 'Doctor Chapman' is not something I want to be called even after I finish my apprenticeship," the young chirgeon introduces herself as. "And yes, the master does still work here. One moment, I'll go get him." Was that disappointment you heard in her voice just now? Maybe just your imagination, right now you honestly don't care to ponder it too much.

The girl doesn't resist as both of you work to get her placed on the bed. Or...table? There's a fancy term for it, right? Well, regardless of what it's called you get her on it right in time for a decidedly older man wearing the same style of black garbs, late thirties or early forties, to show up. That'd be Tom Zanon, if you had to guess. "Alright, what's the condition...of..." the man begins, but upon seeing the girl you brought in the man's words get caught in his throat. After that the man does a double-take, rubs his eyes just to make sure, and color drains from his (thoroughly bewildered) face. This is going to be a wonderful day, isn't it? "Lilly?" the man asks once he's regained (enough of) his composure. "I-is that Lilly Russo!?"

Having never caught the girl's name you're actually not sure, so all you can do is shrug. In the corner of your eye you do think you see the girl nod, but you could not bet your life on that. It makes sense that these two know each other, though. Otherwise why would she have asked you to bring her to see Doctor Zanon specifically?

Speaking of the man, while you're trying to think over the situation he furiously stomps over (almost knocking you aside in the process) to get a closer look at the girl. The man's expression doesn't really change at all, he still stares perplexed at the girl and his face loses a few more shades of color. "Master, w-what's wrong with you!?" Leslie, after running up to you and giving you a concerned once-over, asks Doctor Zanon. At this point a door further into the clinic opens, and you see another man wearing black chirgeon's garbs curiously poke a head out. He's definitely younger than Doctor Zanon, perhaps a few years older than Leslie. "What's going on here?" he calmly asks, staring curiously at you and Leslie.

"Marcus! Prepare for an operation!" Doctor Zanon suddenly barks out. Both Leslie and the younger man flinch, and based on that you're making two guesses: One, the younger man is Marcus. Two, neither are used to Doctor Zanon raising his voice like that. "Why in hell's name is...wait, you!" Doctor Zanon suddenly continues, this time addressing you. "Where's Federico!? He can't-that son of a dragon has to be in Mineta if Lilly is here!"

Feeling a bit intimidated by the, as far as you can tell, ranting and raving madman who should have a fair bit of experience in terms of using knives on people. Leslie, thankfully, recognizes that and actually steps in front of you, though Doctor Zanon isn't moving any closer. Marcus, meanwhile, has quickly run off into another room. "I-I don't know. The trader who's horse injured Lilly called himself Iain Hall, but who knows if he was telling the truth. The guy was shifter than a leaf in a storm."

"Can you describe this trader? Physically, how did he look?" Leslie suggests. You nod and start describing the man, but Doctor Zanon quickly cuts you off.

"That's definitely not him. But Federico has to be in Mineta if Lilly is here. Dammit, where is he!?" That last question wasn't really directed at you, but even so you definitely feel like you've overstayed your welcome here. And maybe should have just kicked open the clinic doors, thrown in that cowardly weasel of a trader to these wolves and saved your own skin. Starting to doubt that this was worth it, in other words.

"Supplies are ready," Marcus, suddenly appearing from behind you, says. At that point Doctor Zanon seems to lose interest in you, he starts unpacking and laying out stuff with a feverish pace. Leslie takes that opportunity to take you back to the entrance, away from the madman.

"I really have no idea what's gotten into him. I've been his apprentice for two years now, and I've never so much as heard him raise his voice before. Marcus has also told me stories about how the man has faced patients who were one step in the grave without blinking. He's been encouraging us to do the same, even. And before you ask, I assume this is obvious but no, I've no idea who Federico is. Or Lilly, for that matter."

You glance over at the operating room, but one of the two men has drawn a curtain, so you can't see anything and whatever sounds come through are muffled. The muffled sounds you can make out sound like they're being said at normal volumes, for what it's worth. Seeing that, and seeing your desire for some kind of explanation, you decide to talk with Leslie a bit longer. "Given Lilly's age and the fact that this Federico fellow apparently should be in the same town as her I'm assuming he's her parent," you speculate. Leslie nods in agreement. "No one else reacted or stepped forward when Lilly got injured, though, just that trader. And apparently he's not it."

Leslie nods again, though despite thinking it over herself she clearly can't solve the mystery any more than you can at this point. "Actually, you're a magic student - is there any chance you could find this guy, somehow? Wave your wand, do some old-fashioned snooping, put your Familiar on the case...anything?"

That is an entirely fair question. Sooner or later this guy is going to notice his daughter is missing if, indeed, he is the girl's father, or failing that Lilly herself will probably know how and where to find him once her operation is over. You kind of want answers for what Doctor Zanon's deal is, though, and your best chance of getting them might be finding this guy yourself first. Hmm...

-Astrology. Track down Federico magically.
--It's not the cleanest or most tasteful method of tracking this Federico guy down, but if he is indeed Lilly's father - and you're having a hard time imagining otherwise at this point - there is one very powerful clue just waiting to be picked up right in front of you. Lilly has been coughing up blood due to her injuries, some of which has ended up on the floor. As it turns out that is a very powerful tool for tracking down someone's direct relatives.

"Um...what are you doing?" Leslie, who probably doesn't know any of that, reasonably asks when you take out your wand and bend over to tip it with Lilly's blood. Distasteful, yes, but as far as finding Federico goes it's the best option by far. You'll just have to clean up later. Thankfully Leslie believes you when you quickly explain that it's necessary to track down Federico. After that it's just a matter of drawing some Phemes, circling them together, and you've got a wand-turned-dowsing rod tuned to locate Lilly's father. Old hat for you at this point, and if this doesn't lead you to Federico than you have no idea what will.

Your wand turned dowsing rod eventually pulls you to an estate in Frontino, which is not encouraging. Never mind the fact that Academagia students tend to be unwelcome around here under normal circumstances, an Academagia student bringing news that someone's daughter was kicked by a horse and treated by a madman? You've yet to knock on any doors and this feels hopeless already.

Not like you've got much choice, though. You mentally prepare yourself as best you can, give the doors some good knocks, and are surprised when they're opened by someone younger than you are. A girl who vaguely reminds you of Lilly, minus the fact that her clothes haven't had a recent run in with a temperamental horse. They look to be around the same age, though. "Dad said to-" the girl drones out in an impatient, bored tone before she sees you're not who she was expecting. After that she gives you a quick once-over, and her seeming annoyance at all things in creation quickly replaces itself with excitement. This is going to be a very long day, isn't it? "W-wait hold on, a-are you a real, honest-to-goodness Academagia student!? F-from the Academagia!?"

"Eh...that is where Academagia students usually come from, yes, uh...?" you try to answer, but you can already tell this girl's excitement will be running circles around you about as quickly as it made her misplace her ability to form coherent sentences. Better than an angry Federico trying to verbally murder you for not being able to treat Lilly yourself, you suppose? Eh, when you put it that way you'll take this girl. Especially in this neighbourhood.

"Oh, just call me Barbara," the girl says as she, rather more literally than you were expecting, indeed starts running circles around you. Trying to get a good look at every single part of your Academagia uniform. It is really that special? Like, sure, being invited to attend the Academagia is the dream of children everywhere, but you didn't think that dream extended to the individual stitches of the clothes. "So...where'd'you keep your wand?" Barbara asks far too rapidly. "Here? Here? Here or-oh, you've got it in your hand! Feeling like a professional already, ready to cast some spells? Work some magic? Hey, what's that red spot on the tip? Is that important, or expensive? Is that your secret technique to cast spells better? You can tell me if it is, I'll keep your secret."

You're just...not going to answer that last series of questions honestly. Or acknowledge them in the first place, for that matter. "Eh, look, if you could give me some space, please?" you ask, and against all expectations Barbara does actually take a step back. She's still looking you over like the world's most interesting exhibit, but it's a step in the right direction. Literally. "Thank you. Now, if you don't mind, I'm here for a reason: Does one Federico...right, Federico Russo live here? His daughter was injured, so I'm trying to track him down to deliver the news."

Barbara taps a finger on her cheek as she puts on her best pondering face. "Federico...oh, Russo? I don't know any Federicos, but the Russos are the nice old couple over in Windwatch who produce these absolutely lovely bedsheets my family used to compete with. Very friendly people, especially since they sold their business to an inn along their street and started training the next generation of bedsheet makers. You really should try them out, I got a set as a birthday present and they're the best."

Huh. That's good information, you'll happily take the lead, but it also begs a lot of questions. In any case it seems the best way forward is to check out this old couple and this inn, so you ask Barbara for directions...and after a quick demonstration of some spellcasting - of course - you get it.

The questions keep running circles in your head the entire trip over to Windwatch, though. Why did your wand lead you to Frontino if Federico is in Windwatch? Assuming he is in Windwatch, but that doesn't beg the question of why it lead you to Frontino any less. You can't imagine him being there if Barbara has never heard about him, she sure seems to know the Russos well enough to have been introduced or at least (over)heard something or anything. Barbara not knowing Federico you can only try to explain as Federico not having any interest in his family bedsheet making trade, and so he struck out on his own at some point. Meaning he's not involved with that business, and so Barbara never met or heard about the man. Makes sense when you think about it, really. Family businesses are nice and all, but if the title you stood to inherit was "master bedsheet maker" you'd think twice about that too. But than what did he do that he ended up making an enemy of a doctor along the Imperial Processional? Not to mention Lilly. You tuned your wand to find her father, you even used Lilly's blood sample and everything, but it lead you to that estate in Frontino. And Barbara, despite knowing the Russos, didn't recognize Federico's name. How do you explain this? There's several possibly explanations that come to mind, but none that hold up in the face of further questions.

Ultimately you suppose the best solution, at least for the moment, is to put these questions aside and focus on finding Federico. If not because that's what you should be doing to deliver the news of Lilly's injuries to him than because surely there's no one else who could make sense of whole mess better than the man himself could. With that in mind you actually decide to check this inn first, before checking the bedsheet making business (once?) owned by the old couple Russos. It sounds like Federico would perhaps not be staying with what you assume are his parents, not after he stepped out of the family business and went his own way. The inn seems more likely, though you can check in with the old couple easily enough if your hunch turns out to be wrong. They're located along the same street, after all.

--On the one hand, tracking this Federico down with basically nothing to go on would be hard. On the other hand you can't help but notice drops of blood that Lilly coughed up due to her injuries on the floor right in front of you. That would be the perfect starting point for tracking down Federico, who you very much assume is Lilly's father...but on the other other hand you'll just not do that. You've had a weird and difficult enough day so far without literally dipping your wand in blood. You're good.

Of course you tell yourself you're good, but three hours into a completely fruitless search for Federico later you're starting to second-guess that whole idea. You know neither Lilly or Federico's signs, you don't know how old they are exactly, you don't have anything that belongs to either of the two on you (and you did check, but no, for better and for worse you don't have any of Lilly's blood or hair on you), you basically don't know anything useful that could help you track Federico down through Astrology. It's not that you're not getting anything, it's that you're not getting anything useful. You're being pulled from one end of Mineta to the other, and the only time you're lead somewhere different you end up finding a broken mirror along the way. Either some god is mocking you or the sheer force of Professor Badcrumble's inevitable disappointment has managed to manifest itself enough to affect the physical world, because you can't see any meaning or significance in this broken mirror business either. At least you managed to avoid hurting yourself on any of them

Enough. This clearly isn't working, so you'll just try again tomorrow. Maybe actually using Lilly's blood sample this time, though the idea of dipping your wand in that still doesn't sound like a fun time...though neither was the alternative, in fairness. In any case all of that is assuming that Federico doesn't notice that Lilly hasn't come back home overnight. But, frankly, given how Doctor Zanon reacted to seeing Lilly you get the sneaking suspicion that his clinic is perhaps not the first place Federico would go to check. And if it is you'll figure out as much in short order, because that's the first place you'll be going back to to try this whole "search for Federico" idea again...

-[Familiar] Astrology. A trained Familiar will help out here.
--A Familiar definitely can help you track down Federico, yes, the problem is that trying to sniff him out isn't going to work without something to catch his scent. And even if Lilly has something like that on her you are not barging in on that operation to grab it. No way. So an alternative method will be required.

You ponder exactly how you want to solve this problem, but than inspiration hits you as your gaze down at the dirty floor. Lilly has been coughing up blood due to her injuries, and distasteful as it might be that's a very powerful tool for tracking down someone's direct relatives. And you're having a hard time imagining that Federico is anything but that - Lilly's father. So...time for some divining.

[PC FAMILIAR NAME] apparently figured out the plan before you did, mind. [S/He] has already taken a sample and worked [his/her] magic to track down Federico.

"Uh, what is...your Familiar doing?" Leslie, who probably had a much more mundane idea in mind in regard to tracking Federico down, curiously asks when she notices what your Familiar is doing. You don't see a reason to be worried, though. You trained your Familiar well, [s/he] can handle this...and, you know, clean up afterwards. Leslie, thankfully, believes you when you explain the complication - and your plan - in tracking down Federico. Of course as if on cue your Familiar impatiently calls for you by the door, as [s/he]'s ready to start the search. You nod and leave behind a mildly confused Leslie. You feel like she ought to visit the Academagia sometime. The life of a wizard can be much weirder than this.

Your Familiar ultimately leads you to an estate in Frontino, which is not encouraging. For a start Academagia students tend to be unwelcome around here even under normal circumstances. An Academagia student bringing news that someone's daughter was kicked by a horse, and is currently being treated by a madman? Hurray. If Federico turns out to be allergic to your Familiar on top of all that you'll have completed the unholy trinity of why you really shouldn't have gotten up this morning...

That all said it's not as if you can leave a note on the front door and run away, though. You quickly go over the emergency plan with your Familiar in case both of you need to leave in a hurry, get into respective positions, and give the door some good knocks. Naturally, as is universal law whenever you actually take the time to prepare for the worst case scenario, the exact opposite happens and instead the doors are opened by a girl younger than you. Around Lilly's age, could look similar if her clothes had a recent run in with a temperamental horse. "Dad said to-" the girl drones out in an impatient, bored tone before she sees who's actually standing in front of her. After that she gives you a quick once-over, and her apparent displeasure with all things existing is quickly replaced with excitement. You side-eye your Familiar, and [s/he]'s also thinking of enacting operation Run Away. "H-hold on, wait, a-are you a real, honest-to-goodness Academagia student!? F-from the Academagia!?"

Again you side-eye your Familiar, as if [s/he] is going to answer the question for you, but of course that doesn't happen. Well, not as if this girl would be able to understand your Familiar without you translating anyway, so it looks like this one is all you. "That's where Academagia students usually come from. So who are you, uh...?" you answer, but you can already tell this girl's excitement will be running circles around you faster than she'll remember how to speak clearly. Still, this girl or an angry Federico trying to verbally murder you for not being able to treat Lilly yourself? Before he proceeds to have some kind of allergy attack because of your Familiar, forcing you to bring him to the nearest clinic secretly owned and operated by Dragon cultists who send you on a wild goose chase to inform their patron Scalyface McNeighbourhoodburner about how his latest recruit has proven most displeasing. Eh, given your luck so far, when you put it that way...

"Just call me Barbara," the girl suddenly says, startling you out of your (frankly miserable) thoughts. It's also at this point that you finally notice that she is, indeed, running circles around you. Literally, almost. Is she trying to examine every single stitch of your Academagia uniform? It is really that special? Like, sure, being invited to attend the Academagia is the dream of children everywhere, but even so this feels a bit much. "So...where'd'you keep your wand?" Barbara asks far too rapidly. "Here? Here? Here or-oh no let me guess, you're keeping it behind your robes! Are you studying to become a magic thief, or card player, keeping things close to your chest and all? Or wait, is that your secret technique to cast spells better? You can tell me if it is, I'll keep your secret."

You are just...not going to answer that last...series of questions, really, with any degree of honesty. In fact, you're not going to acknowledge them in the first place. Your Familiar can smirk and giggle all [s/he] wants, but to you that sounds like a wonderful plan. "Eh, look, if you could give me some space, please?" you ask, and against all expectations Barbara does actually take a step back. Or maybe that's because she noticed your Familiar and wanted to secretly step closer. Incidentally your Familiar has, all of a sudden, stopped smirking and giggling. Wonder why. "Thank you. Now, if you don't mind, I'm here for a reason: Does one Federico...right, Federico Russo live here? His daughter was injured, so I'm trying to track him down to deliver the news."

Barbara taps a finger on her cheek as she puts on her best pondering face. "Federico...oh, Russo? I don't know any Federicos, but the Russos are the nice old couple over in Windwatch who produce these absolutely lovely bedsheets my family used to compete with. Very friendly people, especially since they sold their business to an inn along their street and started training the next generation of bedsheet makers. You really should try them out, I got a set as a birthday present and they're the best."

You side-eye your Familiar again, but both of you have the same expression on your respective faces: Confusion. Why did [PC FAMILIAR NAME] lead you here if Federico is over in Windwatch? It's not that you don't trust your Familiar, you're just confused. All the same, it seems the best way forward is to check out this old couple and this inn, so you ask Barbara for directions...and after a quick demonstration of some spellcasting - of course - you get it.

The questions keep running circles in your Familiar's head just as much as yours the entire trip over to Windwatch, though. Why did you end up in Frontino if Federico is in Windwatch? Assuming he is in Windwatch, but that doesn't beg the question of how you ended up in Frontino any less. Barbara never heard of him, despite knowing the Russos well enough to have been introduced or at least (over)heard something. Anything, surely. You reason that Federico might have had no interest in the bedsheet making trade, so he struck out on his own. If he's not involved with that family business Barbara simply never met or heard about the man. Seems reasonable enough. But than what did he do that he ended up making an enemy of a doctor along the Imperial Processional? Not to mention Lilly. You tried to track down her father, using Lilly's own blood sample, but it lead you to Frontino. And Barbara, despite knowing the Russos, didn't recognize Federico's name. What is going on here? Ideas come to mind, several of them in fact, but none that make sense when you question them further.

Ultimately the best solution, you suppose, is to put these questions aside and focus on finding Federico. If not because that's what you should be doing to deliver the news of Lilly's injuries to him than because surely there's no one else better for making sense of whole mess. With that in mind you actually decide to check this inn first, before checking the bedsheet making business (once?) owned by the old couple Russos. It sounds like Federico would perhaps not be staying with what you assume are his parents, not after he stepped out of the family business and went his own way. The inn seems more likely, though you can check in with the old couple easily enough if your hunch turns out to be wrong. They're located along the same street, after all.

--On the one hand, tracking this Federico down with basically nothing to go on would be hard. On the other hand you can't help but notice drops of blood that Lilly coughed up due to her injuries on the floor right in front of you. That would be the perfect starting point for tracking down Federico, who you very much assume is Lilly's father...but one look is all you need to confirm that your Familiar is not on board with that plan. Frankly, you agree. This has been a weird and difficult enough day already. Time to find this Federico guy the old-fashioned way.

Of course three hours of searching for Federico uselessly later both your Familiar and yourself are starting to second-guess that whole idea. You know neither Lilly or Federico's signs, you don't know how old they are exactly, you don't have anything that belongs to either of the two on you (and you did check, but no, for better and for worse you don't have any of Lilly's blood or hair on you), you basically don't know anything useful that could help you track Federico down through Astrology. It's not that you're not getting anything, it's that you're not getting anything useful. [PC FAMILIAR NAME] is pulling you from one end of Mineta to the other, and the only time you're lead somewhere different you end up finding a broken mirror along the way. Either some god is mocking you or the sheer force of Professor Badcrumble's inevitable disappointment has managed to manifest itself enough to affect the physical world, because you can't see any meaning or significance in this broken mirror business either. At least you managed to avoid hurting yourself on any of them

Enough. This clearly isn't working, so you'll just try again tomorrow. Maybe actually using Lilly's blood sample this time, even if the idea still sounds like you'd want to use as a last resort at most even after today. In any case all of that is assuming that Federico doesn't notice that Lilly hasn't come back home overnight. But, frankly, given how Doctor Zanon reacted to seeing Lilly you get the sneaking suspicion that his clinic is perhaps not the first place Federico would go to check. And if it is you'll figure out as much in short order, because that's the first place you'll be going back to to try this whole "search for Federico" idea again...

-Reason. Find Federico the old fashioned way.
--There's an entire city of Mineta out there where this guy could be, but given what you know, where would he be? You've got a few ideas, but you're not sure whether this guy was out and about with Lilly and they got separated somewhere, or whether he let her go out on her own. The latter isn't unreasonable, Lilly is young but not she's not that young, and you're in a reputable neighbourhood besides. Even if the local clinic doctor seems to have some issues, but who could have guessed that?

...Actually, thinking about that, there's a few things you can figure out right now. Federico and Lilly both know doctor Zanon, or at least he knows them. Considering he called the former a "son of a dragon" and - according to his apprentice - very uncharacteristically freaked out seeing the latter you have to assume that whatever their connection is those three are not the best of friends. Though that may be something between Doctor Zanon and Fedeciro moreso than Lilly, considering the latter did still ask to be brought to the former.

Knowing that does it sound likely that Federico went with Lilly to...wherever, only to lose track of her and get separated? Not in your ears. Although perhaps there's merit in considering the reverse too - would he have let Lilly go alone into what he might consider hostile territory on her own? You have no idea what the guy's deal with Doctor Zanon is, but it definitely doesn't sound like something you'd want to get your daughter (or whoever) caught up in. Actually, maybe the locals know something about it? It sounds like Doctor Zanon has been here for a while. Perhaps whatever happened between these two is something that is or was talked or gossiped about? It's a stretch, but considering that you've got no idea whether this Federico guy is a lumberjack getting drunk as a sailer in Undergate or another doctor praying in the Temple of Iudocia it seems like the best bet for hopefully tracking down this guy. Getting some more information couldn't hurt in any case, and you already know the perfect place to start - where Lilly got injured earlier. Someone is bound to still be there, talking about it. If they recognized Lilly perhaps they'll remember Federico as well.

With all that in mind you rush off back to the scene of the crime, and your eyes land on an older couple drinking tea on a balcony. You vaguely remember seeing them back when Lilly got injured, but you couldn't swear to that. Either way you get their attention, politely introduce yourself and start asking questions.

You strike gold more or less immediately. The old couple tells you that Doctor Federico Russo and Doctor Zanon had some kind of spat quite a few years ago. At the time both worked at what is now Doctor Zanon's clinic, but Doctor Russo left for Meril shortly afterwards. The old couple doesn't know exactly what happened, but they remember clearly that Doctor Zanon was resentful of Lilly after the spat and falling out with his colleague. They suspect that some kind of love triangle between Lilly's mother and the two doctors came to light that day, and Doctor Zanon ended up as the one left behind when Doctor Russo took his family with him to Meril. It's made Doctor Zanon emotionally cold and distant, but he's still doing fine work as a clinic chirgeon despite that.

It's certainly a scandalous and interesting story, Rikildis would absolutely love it and run it in her school paper if it involved an Academagia student...but to you it sounds a bit off. For one, why is Lilly asking for Doctor Zanon to treat her instead of her own father? Does he not practice chirgery anymore? Also, "emotionally cold and distant" is not how you'd describe Doctor Zanon's outburst before...though Leslie did mention something about him "having faced patients who were one step in the grave without blinking", didn't she? Hmm...if anything could cause a man like that to flip a table, you suppose it would be...huh...

Well, in any case, back to trying to find Federico: The old couple is, again, able to give you a very good tip. Federico's own parents still live in Windwatch, and their small business (producing high quality bedsheets, of all things) was recently purchased by an inn down their street. You can't say for sure whether Federico is staying there, with his parents or somewhere else right now, but it seems like as good a place to check next as any.

You'll hit up the inn first. Call it a hunch, but between this guy's likely age (given he was Doctor Zanon's colleague, not apprentice, you're assuming they're roughly around the same age) and apparently rough history you've got a sneaky suspicion this man might just be staying near his parents rather than with them. And if not it's not like the two aren't located on the same street, so if you are wrong you won't be wasting much time in any case.

--You're not given much to use as a starting point, but it seems reasonable enough that if Doctor Zanon has such a chip on his shoulder because of this Federico guy that someone in this neighbourhood will have heard about him. Maybe not enough to know where he lives, but enough to point you in the right direction.

With that idea in mind you start to knock on random doors around the neighbourhood, but the surprisingly few times you encounter someone who recognized the name you're told that last anyone knows Federico moved to Meril. People agree with you (and Doctor Zanon, for that matter) that if Lilly is back than surely Federico would be as well, but no one is able to give you any advice on where to start looking for the guy.

So...yeah. Your next lead is asking around in Meril to see if anyone there knows more specifically where Federico is staying in Mineta right now. Which, eh...that's not going to help. Not even a little bit.

Lacking anything else to go on, and not feeling like knocking on random doors in literally the entirety of Mineta you figure it's best to just give this problem a good think and come back to it tomorrow. Admittedly Federico definitely should have started missing and be looking for Lilly himself at that point, but given how Doctor Zanon reacted you get the sneaking feeling like Federico is going to check that clinic last. Or perhaps even never, who knows. You'll figure out when you go back to the clinic to see if anything has changed...

Case in point with the :huh: exits. Doing my best, but the more narratively realistic alternative of "every other step ends the adventure prematurely" seems overly harsh for what is, ultimately, a video game.

Edited by Metis
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Sins Can Be Forgiven, Stage 3:

Spoiler

Stepping into the inn you suspect you'll find Federico you see the interior looks more like a restaurant than an inn. There is a bar with some stools in the back, but most of the room is taken up with chairs and tables. There's a number of patrons here, none of which stand out to you as being more likely to be Federico than the next guy over. With that in mind you make your way to what appears to be the inn's front desk, and ask the man behind it about where one Federico Russo is. The man - clearly an older gentleman who's the type to only respond when he's treated with all the respect he thinks he deserves - asks in a slightly snooty tone, "Doctor Russo? Hmm...yes, he is, in fact, our guest here. But what is your business with him, if I may ask?"

"The guy's daughter got kicked in the chest by a horse," you plainly state. Whether the man is more shocked by the news or your blunt tone you can't tell. "I helped carry her to a clinic, and one of the staff there asked if I could track down Federico. You said he's a guest here, do you know where he is? Right: Do you know where he is, please?"

Normally you wouldn't be so...annoyed at having to be polite, but come on. You're trying to inform a guy his daughter got kicked in the chest by a horse. There's a time to be polite, but now feels like a time to get a move on already. The man behind the desk apparently agrees, because he just stares confused at his registry for a moment before scanning the room and pointing you to a guy who's reading a book by a window. Finally. You thank the man - more genuinely this time - and walk on over to Federico.

You actually sit down across Federico, but he doesn't seem to notice, so instead you tap his book with your wand to get his attention. "Huh? Oh, excuse me, did you want to use this table?" the man asks, seeming more than a bit lost in thought.

"I'm not here for a table. There's plenty if I wanted one," you point out. Federico takes a look around the room and confirms as much, after which he turns his confused stare back to you. "I'm here because Lilly got injured. You are Lilly's father, Federico Russo, right?"

"What? Oh, eh, y-yes. Yes I am. What happened, is she alright?" Federico, after what seems like a moment to think, asks. That's not the reason you're starting dubiously at this man right now, though. You're doing that because asking this guy if he is Lilly's father you can't help but notice...the two don't seem to resemble each other at that much. Maybe she just takes after her mother, but that begs another question: Where is that girl's mother? Doctor Zanon didn't mention her at all, only that if Lilly was in Mineta than Federico would be as well. Weird...well, there'll be time to question that later.

"She...eh, sorry. She's fine, really. She got kicked in the chest by a temperamental horse, though don't ask me exactly how that happened, I didn't see it. Point is she asked me to take her to Doctor Zanon, which I did, but..." There's a clear moment of recognition when you mention Doctor Zanon. So the guy definitely knows, and remembers, him. "You look like you know the guy I'm talking about."

Federico nods, and puts away his book. "Yes, I...I do. Unbelievable that he would end up treating her again, but at least I can be sure she'll be alright. Still, I'd better-actually, you're an Academagia student, correct?" You nod and clarify that you didn't steal the uniform you're wearing from your college's laundry collection. "Ah, r-right, of course. Than, if it's not too much to ask could you please come with me to Tom's clinic? After I pick up-or, at least, check up on Lilly I've got business over at the Academagia, you see. And I'm afraid I'm not sure how to get in touch with the right people I need to."

It honestly feels strange to hear Federico refer to Doctor Zanon by his first name, given how much the latter appears to not like the former. But than Doctor Zanon, in turn, didn't refer to this guy as "Doctor Russo" either, come to think of it. Weird. In any case as much as you don't want to go back there you are definitely curious about what business this guy could have at the Academagia, and worst case you can probably just wait outside...right? So, yes. You agree to come along.

It's not a long and certainly not an eventful trip back to the clinic, but inside quickly proves to be another story. Doctor Zanon is sitting in a chair, facing the door, staring holes through it until he sees the person he's been waiting for. After that you feel like you maybe should start running the other way, but remain confident that worst case Doctor Russo can delay his apparent arch-nemesis long enough for you to get away. "You're late, Federico," Doctor Zanon snarls out as soon as Doctor Russo steps in.

"I know, Tom. Though not too late for Lilly, I hope. Is she alright?" Doctor Zanon whips his head at one of the rooms and mentions, off-handedly, that Lilly's condition is indeed well and stable. Doctor Russo actually looks thankful at that, Doctor Zanon continues glaring holes through the man. "Ah, great, thank you. Do you know when she'll be well enough to leave, at least for a quick trip? I'm sorry for asking, but we...actually have an important thing planned. Though I suppose I've yet to confirm it's even possible."

"Barring a series of spells from your magic friend trying to hide behind you there, Lilly is not leaving her bed for at least a few days," Doctor Zanon, again, snarls out. You'll admit, you flinched a bit at that. "Now pray tell me why you even returned to Mineta. What reason could you possibly have to come back here?"

There's a bit of awkward silence, during which you can't concentrate well enough to even think about whether you would dare, let stand could do anything to ease Lilly's injuries - she seemed to be in pretty bad shape, after all, and you are still a student at the end of the day. But, finally, Doctor Russo lets out a sigh and quietly answers, "We're here to visit Lilly's mother."

You're not sure what reaction you were expecting from Doctor Zanon, but him quickly running through at least a half dozen confused to perplexed expressions wasn't it. "Her...wait, I-I don't understand. Are you referring to her birth mother, or...?"

And now you're the one confused! Are there any other kinds of mothers out there? Perhaps this is why this guy needed to visit the Academagia, but in that case what professor are you even supposed to bring this guy to? A Zoology professor? Doctor Russo, for his part, simply shakes his head. "That was my hope, though I've not had much luck trying to track her down so far. Worst case scenario I'll...have to visit her blood mother instead," he answers. You...got nothing. Absolutely zero idea what these two are talking about at this point.

You're definitely the only one too, because Doctor Zanon? He knows, if his expression is anything to go by. "H-her...a-are you insane!? Why!? Do you-what possible reason could you have to do that!?"

Doctor Russo holds up a hand, probably to try and calm Doctor Zanon down, but you wouldn't bet a half eaten piece of candy that it worked. Let stand a Pim. "It's unavoidable, Tom. She's a smart girl, she's figured out I'm not her real father." You'd say you weren't expecting that, but you feel like your expectations fled out the nearest window five minutes ago. "That, and I'm still afraid of...well, shadows coming to collect. I want to do what I can to protect her from that, and if I can't she at least deserves to know why people are coming for her."

...This conversation took a dark turn in a hurry, and it wasn't sunshine and rainbows to begin with. What "shadows" is this guy afraid of? What kind of collectors? What the hell kind of debt does this guy owe that he's afraid of...you don't even know what. Doctor Zanon, for his part, just slowly shakes his head. "No authority you try to run to is going to let you live after what you've done, and I am not going to allow you to die. You do not deserve a fate as easy as that. You will suffer the consequences of the choice you made, properly, even if it takes until your dying breath. I don't care what the authorities of this city have to say on the matter, their ignorant ivory tower has no right to judge a case like this."

"You just don't trust them to render the same judgement you would," Doctor Russo quickly counters. You, eh, have nothing to contribute to the conversation at this time. Head feels like it's spinning a bit, and the rest of your body feels light in general actually. Coming inside instead of waiting outside was not the wisest of ideas, but, well...you're here now. "And what gives you the right, for that matter? What authority do you have that they don't?"

Doctor Zanon slowly, but pointedly, shakes his head. "You know full well this isn't a matter of authority. This is a matter of looking at the victims and figuring out what they deserve to have, if not by right than as compensation. And what you are going to need to do in order to pay that price. No politician is going to do that unless I put a blade against their neck. They'll do what suits their purposes, what'll appease the citizenry, and I will not let you or Lilly end up a mockery or a stepping stone. You don't deserve to be locked in a cage and have your mind swapped with that of a dog to be made an example of, Federico. Nothing that simple. You deserve to be Lilly's father, and ensure that she is able to live a normal, happy life. Even if it takes you until the day you die."

Okay, you've gotten the idea that there's a lot of shared history between those two and something going on that you couldn't possibly begin to comprehend, but if you let these two keep going you feel like you're going to be here until you have died of old age. And you're a wizard, you can reasonably dream of extending your natural life span, so that is definitely saying something. "Hey, pardon the interruption but quick question you two," you suddenly say, getting both of their attention. "So I could follow like maybe a quarter of that conversation if we're being generous, but is there any point where you two decide to, I don't know, do something about this mess you're apparently in?"

Doctor Russo reminds you that he had a plan of going to the Academagia, though Doctor Zanon apparently disagrees. Doctor Zanon himself maintains what he can of his composure and asks, "And what, child, would you, as someone who doesn't even halfway understand this situation, suggest that we 'do about this'? Adult matters are often complicated, and this one is certainly no exception."

That is, admittedly, a fair question. But surely there's an answer you can give here...

-Famous Dilemmas. Recall how situations like these were resolved before.
--The first famous dilemma (though some might dispute it being such) that comes to mind is the story of Caprice, court Astrologer and healer of the late margrave Hannis Carol several centuries ago. The short version is that the margrave was secretly turned into a vampire, and by the time the court found out he had already infected his wife and children. The margrave and his wife were exposed and destroyed, but the two's children were spared by Caprice and kept stable until she, in turn, was found out. Caprice wasn't sentenced to death due to her arguing that she was doing the work of the gods keeping the kids sane and healthy, and that no one who accused her was qualified to examine the kids and say otherwise, but nevertheless she was found guilty of serving vampires and the two kids were locked up inside a tower. They, either due to the lack of Caprice's treatments or due to simple inevitability given that they were infected with vampirism, ended up as deranged monsters and killed a pair of treasure hunters who broke into their sealed tower some sixty-odd years later.

There has been a lot of arguing in the centuries since whether Caprice was wrong to hide the condition of the margrave's children, whether the authorities were wrong to have them locked up when Caprice's treatments seemed to be effective at maintaining their life and sanity, or whether the authorities were wrong not to behead everyone involved the moment they realized the margrave was infected - if Caprice could hide the conditions of the children she likewise could have hid her own, if she herself had gotten infected as well, after all. Your interpretation, which you feel like has been confirmed (or at least vindicated) at this point, has always been one of "it's easy to judge in hindsight". Had Caprice discovered a way to permanently undo the condition of the margrave's kids those who'd argue for the lot of them to be beheaded would have an uncomfortable amount of egg on their face afterwards. Likewise for the people arguing for leniency if Caprice turned out to have been infected herself, and merely using the kids as a sob story to cover up her own changed nature.

Well, here you are in your very own gigantic mess, and no easy hindsight to make judging easier. Still, you feel confident that you'll be able to make a good decision...or at least one that historians will later describe as "a reasonable idea at the time". You don't want miracles, you just want to not have your name become a common sight among court jesters...

Ultimately, taking a bit of inspiration from this story, you must conclude that Caprice's mistake was keeping the conditions of the margrave's kids secret. As such, in answer to Doctor Zanon's question, you explain that one (or two, in this case) can only do so much. If Lilly ends up needing some kind of special help or caretaking - or, heavens forbid, protection against kidnappers or whatever else Doctor Russo is afraid of - than two doctors who seem to be at each other's throat more often than Girars and Gwendy are is simply not enough. That Doctor Zanon is afraid of authorities who are as short-sighted as they are short-minded is understandable, Caprice was the same (and rightfully so in the end), but if you can convince the right Academagia professor to take a look at this you're confident that Caprice's mistake can be avoided. And hopefully the tragedy of the margrave's children, or Lilly in this case, likewise.

Doctor Zanon - predictably - seems hesitant to bring in any sort of outside "help", but likewise can't rightfully deny that if Doctor Russo is right to fear unusual debt collectors that there's nothing he could reasonably do to protect Lilly from that. You also (feel like you) make a good argument that Doctor Zanon carries a share of the responsibility of making sure Lilly's life isn't hampered by circumstances outside of her control, if not for his "crime" of refusing to inform any authorities than because that's something he should do if that's what he believes is right. Try to do, at the very least.

In the end Doctor Zanon has nothing more to say against your plan, and bringing in an Academagia professor is the entire reason Doctor Russo dragged you along in the first place, so obviously he's not objecting. With that decided (sort of...) you suggest that you try to convince a professor to come down here to the clinic. Chances are whoever you convince to take a look at this will want to examine or at least ask questions to Lilly, and given her current condition it seems much simpler to bring a professor here than bring Lilly to the Academagia. Doctor Zanon agrees, and Doctor Russo says he would like the chance to discuss the situation with Lilly first anyway. If anyone she deserves to hear about it first.

You've no objection to that. So, time to head to the Academagia and fetch yourself a professor to sort out this great, big giant mess...

--You bring up the Dilemma of Vlatran as inspiration for how this situation could be resolved: Doctor Russo accepts his fate as Vlatran did, and Doctor Zanon takes on the role of the vagrant who will look after Lilly in Doctor Russo's stead. Sounds reasonable enough, but of course Doctor Zanon looks...unimpressed.

"I hate to say this," the man begins, undoubtedly lying through his teeth, "but that 'dilemma', as far as I understand, exists as a warning against the very thing it suggests as a 'solution'. No sane person can simply accept a relative of theirs being replaced by a complete stranger overnight, nor can a complete stranger pick up another's work where the latter left off. The lesson one should learn from that story is that imprisonment isn't solely about being kept locked up. The sin Vlatran committed was getting the freedom he had not rightfully earned. But in choosing to tie himself down with field and family, serving the community he became a part of, he gave up the very thing he once escaped prison for. His life had become it's own prison, at that point, one he didn't choose to escape from. Better he serve his time working fields than staring at a stone wall all day accomplishing nothing but dreaming of escape, anyway."

"Speaking of that dilemma, I've actually never understood why that vagrant was basically condemned to living another man's life, either," Doctor Russo adds. "One could interpret it as a good thing, stable existence and all of that, but what if the vagrant didn't want to live another man's life? Tending to another man's fields, raising another man's family, taking care of another man's loved ones, and all of that? If the sin in breaking out of prison is gaining freedom one has not earned than why would having that same freedom be taken away be a good thing?"

Of course Doctor Zanon agrees with that. You try to salvage the situation as best you can, but frankly that was hopeless before you even started. Be asked a question, then get laughed at (indirectly) for giving what's seen as a stupid answer. The student's life classic...

You decide to leave for now and come back later to convince these two. Sure, you could just grab a professor anyway and try to rub it in Doctor Zanon's face, but that would require admitting defeat. And those terms are, as...someone in history has undoubtedly said at one point, not acceptable.

-Reason. Something is nagging at you about this whole situation...
--One of the most dangerous things a plotter can do is not question how others will react to things when, not if, they hear about it. The second most dangerous thing is assuming people will only find out about it after the fact. Considering how loudly Doctor Zanon has been saying things it quickly becomes difficult to believe that Leslie and Marcus - to say nothing of Lilly - haven't already overheard some or all of this.

And so your quiet answer to Doctor Zanon's question is that Lilly if not his staff has probably overheard at least some of what's been discussed (if not shouted) already. It hits a nerve, though the man's response to it is different than how he responded to seeing Lilly earlier. It's an interesting contrast, truthfully.

Doctor Zanon lets out a sigh, stands up, and quietly walks over to the room where he indicated Lilly was currently resting earlier. Without making a noise the puts a hand on the door handle, throws it open, and one very surprised Leslie suddenly comes barrelling down to the ground as there's no longer a surface to eavesdrop against. Marcus, who is standing behind her, briefly flashes a panicked look before walking up to his colleague and helping her back up. Leslie, for her part, thankfully doesn't seem hurt moreso than just surprised. "Eh, h-hi...boss," she says a bit meekly once she notices Doctor Zanon standing over her, door still in hand. There's something menacing about the way he quietly responds just "hi", too.

"Alright, how much did you two overhear?" Doctor Russo calmly asks. What follows is some awkward silence while Leslie considers how she wants to answer that question, and Marcus helps her back up.

"Enough," Marcus eventually answers, seeing Leslie's continued silence. "I'd apologize for the whole eavesdropping bit, but boss, you couldn't possibly expect us to just stand by and do nothing after that outburst earlier. Not to mention that as a doctor I have to say I can't believe you're ignoring your patient like this. If you're so concerned about Lilly than just ask her what she wants. She's a smart enough girl to handle this. Better than the adults around her can't handle keeping secrets from her, at any rate."

Doctor Zanon seems bizarrely...calm? You'd expect him to blow a(nother) gasket after what you saw of him earlier today, but no, he just slowly nods his head. "This matter never should have reached her ears, and I hope that you two will understand what it is that you've likely helped destroy one day. Still, given the circumstances as they are I can't see a reason not to include her. If nothing else she should be the first to hear the truth if Federico is indeed so damned determined to tie a noose around his neck."

Leslie and Marcus both nod, the latter with more confidence (and fewer scrapes on the side of his head) than the former. You're left still thoroughly confused, though, and not sure about what to do right now. Go with them and hear out this apparently dark secret, since it seems like you'll be the one to bring this to a professor anyway? Should you go grab a professor right now, and give these three (or five, whichever) a chance to talk things over first? Should you ask them to hold off until you get a professor here so they'll only have to tell the story once? And maybe grab a professor who can heal Lilly's injuries enough so she can go visit whatever mother doctor Russo had planned to visit before all is said and done?

...Maybe you should ask Lilly about that as well? That these two doctors need a professor's help to sort things out is beyond question, but perhaps Lilly wants to hear the truth from her father's lips first? Without a random stranger sharing the room, even if he or she has the best intentions. Sounds reasonable enough, so you quickly get Doctor Russo's attention and ask him if he knows off-hand what Lilly would want you to do in this situation. Regardless of whatever family drama is going on here it sounds like he's at least trying to act as her father, so you feel like he should be able to answer your question. And indeed, without thinking he confidently answers, "Lilly definitely wants, and needs, to hear about this from me first, without outsiders. I know her well enough to know that. And even is she doesn't I do feel like I owe her that much. This is something she needs to hear, even if she doesn't want to."

"Because you were worried 'shadows' might come to 'collect'..." you point out. Doctor Russo nods, gravely. "Right. So what should I do right now? Try to convince a professor to come out here, or what?"

"Well, Lilly is in no condition to walk around right now, and I certainly don't want to leave her side during all of this, so yes. Please, if you can, convince a professor to come here. Professor Zanon might disagree, but I can't keep going like this, not knowing whether Lilly will come home every day. I'll die from worry before I'll fulfil my responsibilities as her father, at this rate."

Getting the distinct impression that, much like with Doctor Zanon earlier, the Doctor Russo you first met is not the person he usually is. Sounds like he's putting on a brave face for Lilly's sake, and is used to doing so, but close to breaking deep down inside. Maybe that's why he's being so...flippant about this horrible crime he committed in the past and, up to now, got away with.

...Right, it's definitely time to fetch a professor. And fast.

--Something about this whole scenario is off, but try as you might you just cannot figure it out. Not wanting to risk not trusting your intuition when you really should, though, you decide to give this problem a good think before proceeding. You don't want to risk missing anything important and regretting it later.

You're going to need some kind of plan to actually bring this to a professor, anyway, but you'll cross that bridge when you get to it, you suppose.

-Empathy. Ask Lilly what she wants.
--It's probably never occurred to Doctor Zanon because if you are "just a child" than surely he sees Lilly the same way, but he himself said that "this is a matter of the victims" and so on and so forth. If Lilly is smart enough to figure out that Doctor Russo is not, in fact, her father, than you assume she's also smart enough to have something to say about this whole mess. Even if all you can do is hear out her opinion and side of the story, she's the last person who should go unheard.

You first point out to Doctor Zanon that if he truly wishes to do what he can for Lilly's sake he shouldn't leave her out of the conversation, which is a revelation that certainly seems to cause the man to pause and think. After that...honestly after that you've got nothing more to add. It's Lilly who should be speaking here, not you.

Eventually Doctor Zanon lets out a sigh, and stands up to include Lilly in on the conversation. Seemingly normal, but there's a bit of an odd moment when he opens the door to room he indicated Lilly is resting in earlier and Leslie suddenly jumps back from it. Marcus, standing behind her, likewise has a bit of a "caught with a hand in the cookie jar" look to him. "Eh, h-hi...boss," Leslie says a bit meekly once she notices Doctor Zanon standing in front of her her, door still in hand. There's something menacing about the way he quietly responds just "hi", too.

"Alright, how much did you two overhear?" Doctor Russo calmly asks. What follows is some awkward silence while Leslie considers how she wants to answer that question, and Marcus shakes his head.

"Enough," Marcus eventually answers, seeing Leslie's continued awkward silence. "I'd apologize for the whole eavesdropping bit, but boss, you couldn't possibly expect us to just stand by and do nothing after that outburst earlier. Not to mention the Academagia student is right: If you're so concerned about Lilly than she's the last person who should be left out of the conversation. Honestly, as a doctor I can't believe you'd neglect a patient like that."

Doctor Zanon seems bizarrely...calm? You'd expect him to blow a(nother) gasket after what you saw of him earlier today, but no, he just slowly nods his head. "This matter never should have reached her ears, and I hope that you two will understand what it is that you've likely helped destroy one day. Still, given the circumstances as they are I can't see a reason not to include her. If nothing else she should be the first to hear the truth if Federico is indeed so damned determined to tie a noose around his neck."

Leslie and Marcus both nod, the latter with more confidence (and fewer scrapes on the side of his head) than the former. You're left still thoroughly confused, though, and not sure about what to do right now. Go with them and hear out this apparently dark secret, since it seems like you'll be the one to bring this to a professor anyway? Should you go grab a professor right now, and give these three (or five, whichever) a chance to talk things over first? Should you ask them to hold off until you get a professor here so they'll only have to tell the story once? And maybe grab a professor who can heal Lilly's injuries enough so she can go visit whatever mother doctor Russo had planned to visit before all is said and done?

Ultimately that, too, is probably something that you should let Lilly decide, huh? That these two doctors need a professor's help to sort things out is beyond question, but maybe Lilly does want to hear the truth from her father's lips first without a random stranger sharing the room, even if he or she has the best intentions. With that in mind you get Doctor Russo's attention, before he disappears into Lilly's room, and ask him if he knows off-hand what Lilly would want you to do in this situation. Regardless of whatever family drama is going on here it sounds like he's at least trying to act as her father, so you feel like he should be able to answer your question. And indeed, without thinking he confidently answers, "Lilly definitely wants, and needs, to hear about this from me first, without outsiders. I know her well enough to know that. And even is she doesn't I do feel like I owe her that much. This is something she needs to hear, even if she doesn't want to."

"Because you were worried 'shadows' might come to 'collect'..." you point out. Doctor Russo nods, gravely. "Right. So what should I do right now? Try to convince a professor to come out here, or what?"

"Well, Lilly is in no condition to walk around right now, and I certainly don't want to leave her side during all of this, so yes. Please, if you can, convince a professor to come here. Professor Zanon might disagree, but I can't keep going like this, not knowing whether Lilly will come home every day. I'll die from worry before I'll fulfil my responsibilities as her father, at this rate."

Getting the distinct impression that, much like with Doctor Zanon earlier, the Doctor Russo you first met is not the person he usually is. Sounds like he's putting on a brave face for Lilly's sake, and is used to doing so, but close to breaking deep down inside. Maybe that's why he's being so...flippant about this horrible crime he committed in the past and, up to now, got away with.

...Right, it's definitely time to fetch a professor. And fast.

--The idea that Lilly shouldn't be left out of this is, to you, obvious enough. But how to convince Doctor Zanon of that is...significantly harder. You just know that if you can't blow him away with whatever would work really well on him he's going to end up dismissing you, and in turn Lilly, that much more too.

Ultimately you can't think of a way to explain yourself that you're comfortable with, so you excuse yourself for "needing a moment to think". Half measures are not going to work against that man, you can tell. You need to be on top of your game or he's going to throw you out of it...

Right, there was a reason I said this adventure was a thing outside of the weird situation with the exit texts, huh? Well, it's a thing. And rest assured this train isn't going to find any rails to stick to any time soon (as if my adventures ever do :rolleyes:).

Edited by Metis
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Sins Can Be Forgiven, Stage 4:

Spoiler

On your way back to the Academagia your head keeps spinning trying to figure out which professor to even bring this to. It's not just a matter of who you think would do the best job solving this giant mess, but who you could convince to take a look at this in the first place. Thinking back this whole situation does sound a little bit far fetched, after all. And vague. Who can you convince that all of this did, in fact, happen, and you're not just trying to convince the professor to leave their office for a while so Rui can fill it with dancing pigs?

Every angle you look at this from you keep coming back to Legate Orsi. Surely there is no one better for trying to figure this mess out, and if there is you'd really hope the Legate can at least point you in the right direction. Of the faculty you know the Legate is also up there in terms of the most likely to leave his office behind - the man's literally famous for avoiding it, for crying out loud - and the least likely to be worried about you "actually" being a distraction for Rui. That of course leaves you with another problem to solve: How are you going to find this man who is, as you yourself put it, famous for avoiding his office? Assuming he's even in the Academagia right now. He could be out trying flavored muffins, as you were going to however many hours ago, right now...

All that wondering and not coming up with any real answers has brought you as far as the Great Gate. So...where to go from here?

-Awareness. If you can't find the Legate maybe someone else can.
--You swing by Professor Briardi's office, knowing that if anyone can track down the Legate at a moment's notice it's her (some would instead say Professor Badcrumble, and they very well might be right, but you're in no mood or condition to explain yourself as politely as you'd have to to get her attention). Unfortunately she's not in. Okay, next step: Who knows where to find the regent? And how to make sure this chain of people doesn't end up having you run through half the Academagia before all is said and done...

You briefly consider asking Professor von Rupprecht, he might be able to point you in the right direction, but you honestly don't want to risk him asking pointed questions. Older Negation students? Possibly, but they're not likely to give you the time of day even if they want to remember how their studies are(n't) progressing right now. Other faculty members? Always an option, but who is a likely candidate? Other than von Rupprecht, who...doesn't need to get involved here. Definitely not. Hmm...actually, maybe you should try the Venalicium. Professors do tend to visit there, either to check up on students or to do some reading themselves. You're not exactly swimming in other options, so sure. You decide to try the Venalicium.

It's a short and uneventful trip there, but unfortunately it seems like Professor Briardi isn't here. Nor is the Legate, not that you expected to find him just wandering around in the open in a public location like this. You do, however, find who is most likely going to be your way out of this mess: Professor Badcrumble. You'll just have to be appropriately polite, so long as you're able to stay quiet about exactly why you want to find Professor Briardi this shouldn't turn into a dreadfully long conversation anyway.

And you're right. Professor Badcrumble doesn't ask further questions when you curtly explain you're looking for Professor Briardi to find the Legate, and the regent uses her Astrology to point you in the right direction - apparently Professor Briardi is in one of the practice rooms. You'd have tried the Negation classrooms next if this Venalicium trip didn't work out, but you've got no idea whether you'd have tried the practice rooms afterwards. Probably not? You're not sure. It doesn't really matter, anyway, you're off to the practice rooms!

Another short and uneventful trip later - admittedly you did take a detour to avoid an irate-looking Joana, but that's just standard fare for students trying to navigate the Academagia - and you're by the practice rooms. Of course you've no idea which one specifically Professor Briardi is in, so you just try doors until you hit paydirt. It takes a few attempts, but eventually, there she is. Finally! You are so ready to deliver this news and move on from here. "Is there a problem, [PC FIRST NAME]?" the regent curiously asks, probably confused as to why you're so relieved to have found her at long last.

"No-I mean yes, I mean...very long story. Seriously, you're not going to believe they day I've had so far, but I'm afraid I don't have time to chat. Do you know where the Legate is, please? This mess I've stumbled into definitely needs his attention."

Professor Briardi blinks, confused, and points to her right. Where, now that you're actually looking in that direction yourself, you see the Legate just standing right there with a bemused smile on his face. You know what? You're not going to question it. You've found the Legate! Mission accomplished.

--You could try the Legate's actual office, but there's not a high chance here's there. You could try asking one of the Regents, but who would likely know the Legate's location? And not ask too many questions about why you're looking for him, because that's a discussion you don't feel like having right now. Going down the list...eh, ultimately none of them, huh? Von Rupprecht definitely would ask, Badcrumble and Briardi likewise, Piaxenza also would ask...Massioti and di Lucca Alazzo don't seem too likely to know where the Legate is, and you'd probably throw yourself off the nearest cliff before bringing this to Storey. If for no other reason than to hasten the inevitable when Doctor Zanon or Lilly do so after Professor Storey invites himself along and makes everyone's lives miserable in the process.

Alright, so what about other professors you know? Do any of those seem like a good way to get in contact with the Legate? Or of your Classmates? Older students? Younger students? Other staff members? Or...you know, you might just be fresh out of ideas right about now. Well, no reason to stand around accomplishing nothing. You can at least look around and try to find the Legate yourself. What's the worst that could happen? Sure, you could be wasting your time with a fruitless search, but it's not as if you'd be able to sit still and study right now anyway.

As if in answer to that previous question you wake up in the infirmary after about two hours of fruitless searching, though not because you ran yourself ragged or anything vaguely respectable like that. No, instead you had this brilliant - nay, absolutely genius - idea that the crowd most likely to know where the Academagia's chief of authority is would be the troublemakers. So you looked around, saw Rui da Casga and Philippe Marchant going at each other in all kinds of reprimand-worthy ways, and decided that that was a fantastic moment to run up and ask if they could please tell you where the Legate is.

You would love to say that at least it seemed like a good idea at the time, but in hindsight? It really wasn't.

So, the good news is that you've managed to help Rui and Philippe settle their differences, admittedly by giving them a shared enemy to focus on. Even better they don't seem particularly interested in taking further reserve, since with you...well never mind the exact details. Sufficed to say that their thirst for vengeance has been sated already. Hopefully. The bad news is that the nurse refuses to listen to you when you say you do need to talk to the Legate, because apparently "you're supposed to learn your lesson when a bully and a trickster team up against you!"

Well, at least you can tell yourself that you tried. Sure would have been nice if you actually succeeded as well, but hey, at least you tried...

-Dedication. The Legate has to be somewhere, just keep looking.
--You swing by the Legate's office just in case the man is there, but of course all you find is some random student who got assigned office sitting as detention. Who is, for the record, not able to tell you anything useful. Alright...what next?

After some thinking it over you decide to cut to the chase and go with the high risk, high reward option: The Instructors' Lounge. Surely someone in there will know where the Legate is, or get a message to him. You don't have the patience to wait, not with what you've got weighing down on your shoulders right now.

With heavy steps and an even heavier sigh you make your way over to Main Hall, just past which is the instructors' lounge. As for how to approach it...just go. Hand ready, knock-knock-knock on the door, just like that.

Within seconds an irate looking Professor Ringraeyer opens the door, scans around for an older student, and then looks down when she fails to find one. "I hope for your sake that part of the Academagia is on fire, [PC FIRST NAME]. You've got two minutes to explain before I send you straight to a Hall Session for this-"

You grit your confidence as best you can and shoot back, "I don't have time for this! Legate Orsi - do you know where he is? I've got a situation in Mineta that needs to be brought directly to him, immediately."

Professor Ringraeyer is taken aback. Fortunately in a good way moreso than a bad way. "Is that so? Fine: Check the practice rooms, he's investigating an incident that happened there with Professor Briardi. But rest assured I'll be-"

"Thank you. You can ask the Legate for details later," you say as you turn around and run off. Professor Ringraeyer yells after you to stop, but pointedly doesn't use her wand to force the issue. You interpret it as a test - if your case really matters that much you wouldn't turn back, you'd be confident the Legate will pardon you. And confidence matters a lot to Professor Ringraeyer, not just fancy clothes.

Per the professor's advice you rush to the practice rooms and just barely stop yourself from throwing open doors until you find your target. Thankfully it doesn't take long for you to find the man, as well as Professor Briardi. Both of them, you note, were watching the door when you opened them. And there's a shadow of some kind of bird scooting away from an open window, out of view. One of the professors at the instructors' lounge send a Familiar ahead of you, is your guess. "What is the matter, [PC FIRST NAME]?" Professor Briardi asks. She's trying to hide the fact that she knew you were coming, but not well enough. The Legate, for his part, is also playing along. Though he seems less worried about showing that he's more curious than just why a "random" student popped a head in here.

"Honestly, it's a long story, and I think I better start at the beginning. I trust that'll be fine?"

Both professors nod, and you spy a seat from where you'll be able to hear the bird Familiar take flight when either it's satisfied or when the Legate gives it some manner of cue. If you remember to listen for it, of course.

--You swing by the Legate's office just in case the man is there, but of course all you find is some random student who got assigned office sitting as detention. Who is, for the record, not able to tell you anything useful. Alright...what next?

You think it over long and hard, and end up staring hesitantly at the one door that is all but guaranteed to work, but all but guaranteed to have you send to detention if not straight into Hall Session for daring to knock on it, though: The Instructors' Lounge. It's...right there, and for sure you'd get someone's attention one way or another, but...do you dare risk that big of a reprimand?

...Ultimately, you don't. You'll just leave that option as an absolute last resort. You can and will search the entire Academagia - as much of it as you can, at any rate - no problem, just...not the Instructors' Lounge. Not there, not yet...

You'd be lying if you weren't a bit disappointed in yourself, but you know full well the full risk and wrath that awaits behind that forbidden door. You'll just walk away for now, play it safe. Sane. And so the (fruitless) search goes on...

-Glamour. Make the Legate come to you.
--This is, by far, your least favorite method of getting the attention of any given member of the faculty, but it feels like these are desperate enough times to go all out. That said you really don't want to make a spectacle that literally everyone is going to see. You're worried about Rikildis catching word of what you're doing and not leaving you alone as is, if you just throw up a big enough Glamour to get the Legate's attention there's no universe in which the Academagia's resident gossip column doesn't get on your case.

That's a problem you can resolve, though. You're a second year student by now. Glamours that only specific people can see are within your wheelhouse by now, right? Okay, so maybe a Glamour that only the Legate can see is still a bit beyond your means, but a Glamour that only, say, adults can see? Surely that's doable, right? For a second year?

...You know, you actually don't know off-hand whether it is. And you don't want to risk invoking Rikildis, so...huh. Uh...Venalicium? Do some last minute studying before the big show? Seems like a reasonable idea. What else are you supposed to do, wander around randomly? That could take ages. You can easily find a textbook, take it to a practice room and just keep trying until you get something that'll get the job done no matter how inelegant it is. You're not preparing for a Glamour exam here, so long as you get results you can figure out the rest later.

Sounds like a plan. You swing by the Venalicium to procure the required textbooks, very easy to do, and head off to the nearest practice room to get this show on the road. You've got your nose buried among the pages basically the entire way where, already crafting, modifying and re-making plans every other step. You're absorbed into this idea to the point where you don't pay much attention when you reach the practice rooms, and instead of knocking you just barge into the closest one. As it turns out it's already occupied, though.

"Excuse me, have you forgotten how to knock, [PC FIRST NAME]?" one very curious-looking Professor Briardi asks. She looks confused, but whether that's due to your bad manners or how you managed to open the door while both your hands and head are seemingly glued to a textbook you don't know.

"N-no-I mean, yes, I mean...very long story. Seriously, you wouldn't believe they day I've had so far, but-actually, do you know where the Legate is? This mess I've stumbled into definitely needs his attention. I brought this textbook here to study up on how to create a big, flashy Glamour he'll see without me summoning the entirety of Rikildis' newspaper crew to my location."

Professor Briardi blinks, still confused, and points to her left. After you lower your book enough to glance in that direction you see the Legate, in the flesh, just standing right there with a bemused smile on his face. You know what? Good enough. You've found the Legate! Job done. A shame you didn't get to try your Glamour magic but whatever, there'll be time for textbooks later.

--Hmm...making a magic spectacle big enough to draw the attention of a professor is easy. Drawing a specific professor's attention? Hmm...

You swing by the Venalicium to procure the required textbooks, not too difficult at this point, and head to a study cubicle to read up. Unfortunately the material is, as you feared, a lot deeper and more difficult than you were expecting. So your next idea is to dive into the Astrology section, maybe use that to make things easier, but combining the two schools just ends up making your plan even more of a complicated mess. Not to mention you'd need some kind of item from the Legate to key the spell to him, and how are you supposed to accomplish that? Scour the man's office for bits of hair?

You can't say this was a complete waste of time, you did learn something about magic after all, but when the main thing you learn is that you still have so much more to learn...it just makes you weary about the long road that's still ahead of you. Not to mention the obstacles, like finding the Legate...

Well, you're not getting the guy to find you, at least. Not without summoning Rikildis at the same time, and frankly, no. If you have to deal with her you'll never hear the end of it. You need to think of a different plan, and put that into action as soon as you've got it figured out...

Feels like later years is going to have a dedicated "finding Legate Orsi" skill with how often the PC seems to look for him :rolleyes:.

Edited by Metis
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Sins Can Be Forgiven, Stage 5:

Spoiler

You take a seat and give both the Legate and Professor Briardi the full story of the wild and crazy day you've had so far, from Iain Hall the shady trader's temperamental horse to whatever Doctor Zanon and Doctor Russo were talking about earlier. It takes a fair bit of time, and despite sitting in a chair the entire time you feel like you've run a marathon by the end of it, but at least you were able to remember all of the important details. You may not have understood much of anything about that conversation you witnessed, but at least you could remember what you did hear. Professor Briardi tries (and fails) to hide how she really feels about the situation, and instead is mentally preparing herself to convince you to back off forever. The Legate, in contrast, is a blank page. Nothing you can read from his expression or responses other than that he's intrigued.

"I hope that miss Tidar has figured out the recipe for these new flavourful muffins, because it sounds like you're due more than a few of them," the Legate, after your story finally ends, says with more of a deadpan tone than you were expecting. You don't have a response anymore. In part because you need to give your poor voice a rest, in part because relaying the story to the Legate has put into perspective just how...dire it all sounds. You don't think Doctor Zanon was embellishing anything, either. He doesn't seem the type to do that.

"Sounds like we'll have to leave this little investigation to another member of the faculty. Whatever the truth of the matter is I daresay it deserves our immediate attention, Orso," Professor Briardi says. You catch a hint of fear in her voice, but no more than that. "As for you, [PC FIRST NAME], you'll receive your hard earned Merit after I've had a chance to fully process this matter. You have my word on that. But for now I think you should return to your-"

"Polisena, are you sure of that?" the Legate suddenly interrupts. You didn't even have time to think "of course"! "[PC FIRST NAME] has been exposed to this mystery, like it or not that isn't going to change. Do you really think it's safer to leave [him/her] to stew in unanswered questions, rather than seeing how two mature adults choose to handle the situation?"

"O-Orso...if you want me to write an essay I can do that. But to include [PC FIRST NAME] any further is-"

"'Exceedingly dangerous'?" the Legate fills in. Professor Briardi nods emphatically. "Perhaps. But based on what Doctor Russo mentioned about 'shadows coming to collect' I think remaining ignorant could end up being even more dangerous. If [PC FIRST NAME] has gotten into contact with that, by unknowingly getting into contact with Lilly, I don't think [he/she]'d necessarily be safer staying out of this. To say nothing of leaving a curious student with unanswered questions."

One day, when you're the undisputed ruler of all the lands and what little remains of the old seas, you will make sure that anyone who wants to try muffins from a new baker will be able to do so without having to endure all of this nonsense. That shall be your promise to your people when you're coronated, and however confused everyone will be by that they'll know the extent of your benevolence when the royal bards are done writing songs about it.

"You suspect that 'trader' is not who he claimed," Professor Briardi points out. It, honestly, makes you a bit confused. Sure, conspiracies and all, but isn't suspecting that complete buffoon a little far fetched? Regardless the Legate nods, saying that he can't rule out the possibility. Professor Briardi nods in turn. "I must admit it would be a convenient way to sweep this matter under the rug, if Lilly were to die in a freak 'accident' like that. But if that's the case I have to imagine that 'trader' is none too happy that Doctor Zanon ended up saving her life..."

"We'd better hurry and make sure that clinic hasn't caught fire," the Legate suddenly says. He seems convinced that you'll be coming along, but of course Professor Briardi is still hesitant. "I doubt anyone will strike at [PC FIRST NAME] while we're around, Polisena. And if that 'trader' is skulking around the area I want to know. We don't know his face, [PC FIRST NAME] does."

"That's exactly why I'm worried. Because the reverse is also true..." Professor Briardi mutters underneath her breath as she, nevertheless, gives up on trying to convince the Legate to leave you behind. You're...happy about that...you guess? At this point you're willing to just go along with it, if only because going to the clinic is going to put you closer to that bakery and you are going to stuff yourself the very first chance you get.

First, though, going back to that clinic with two professors in tow. Given that you can't say you're too worried about any shadowy debt collectors materializing out of stone walls, though you do feel nervous. Maybe these two are on to something, suspecting that trader? This city has no shortage of fools, but...actually, say that Iain Hall wasn't who he claimed to be, and in fact did attempt to kill Lilly. How did he know where she'd be? How did he command his horse to attack her, and make it look like an accident? Why attack her out in public in broad daylight where, even if there didn't happen to be any Academagia students in very distinct uniforms nearby, there is a nearby clinic that Lilly definitely knows of? And the man himself, for that matter. He recognized the name "Doctor Zanon" and lead you to that clinic, not Lilly.

...When you put it like that it's starting to sound Iain is, in fact, who he said he was. Maybe he's even more dishonest than he failed to try and hide, maybe he thinks he's very clever making a big spectacle of his temperamental horse just to try and cover even worst tracks, but the idea of him being an (unsuccessful) assassin of some kind? That just sounds utterly ridiculous right now. So...what to do?

-Danger Sense. Stay on your toes anyway, just in case.
--You keep a weary eye on the people in Mineta as they pass by, having never felt this aware of just how many of them there are. That is until some kind of street urchin bumps against you and quickly says something apologetic as he walks off, near the Overlook.

You're not stupid, though. You check the money pouch you prepared to invest into flavored treats earlier and...it's still there...? Hmm...you're not trusting this. You duck behind the two professors for a quick second and covertly swap the money pouch over to a different pocket, and replace the money pouch with a random rock you pick up and quickly enchant to rapidly gain weight after it's picked up again. A bit complicated to do while keeping pace with the two professors, but you can manage. And you're far enough away from the clinic that the Legate can't figure out which path to take to head to the Imperial Processional anyway.

Money pouch re-hidden and trap set you duck back in front of the professors, and less than a minute later you hear shouting behind you because a man is being forced to the ground by a "tiny pebble". Onlookers are mistaking it for some kind of bizarre, impromptu stage performance, but of course you know better.

"I'll admit, I didn't think anyone would fall into the trap you set up, [PC FIRST NAME]," the Legate notes. Why, yes, you are proud of that. And obviously not surprised the Legate figured out what you were doing even behind his back. Frankly you'd be disappointed if he didn't. "So shall we help the 'poor man', or leave him to actually earn his coin through concentrated, public pondering of his own hubris?"

Now there's a day job you don't think many people have.

"Just let me handle this, Orso," Professor Briardi says. You could hear her rolling her eyes better than you could see it. In any case the regent walks up to the pickpocket, and being the regent famous for making people blurt out the stuff they'd rather not say out in public, gets him to confess to his failed pickpocketing attempt pretty quickly. The nearest guard, who seemed quite confused as to how to respond in this situation, is visibly relieved when Professor Briardi cancels your quick spell and hands the pickpocket off.

Whether by chance or by word quickly spreading among the city's pickpockets that this Academagia student is not to be trifled with (yes, yes, a student can dream alright?) nothing more happens on the way to the clinic.

--You keep a weary eye on the people in Mineta as they pass by, having never felt this aware of just how many of them there are. That is until some kind of street urchin bumps against you and quickly says something apologetic as he walks off, near the Overlook.

You're not stupid, though. You check the money pouch you prepared to invest into flavored treats earlier and...it's still there. Huh. Guess this situation is making you paranoid. Well, moving on to the clinic you suppose.

...Of course when you get there you decide to check your pocket again, and this time your money pouch is, indeed, gone. So that street urchin wasn't the pickpocket, that street urchin was the distraction so that the actual pickpocket could see where you hid your money. Cool. Wonderful. Guess you'll be clearing out the stables for a few days before you get to try those flavorful muffins you were looking forward to!

Hopefully Asmita will have figured out the recipe and take pity on you at that point...

-Debate. See if you can convince the two professors of your theories.
--You're not entirely sure what you're getting yourself into, but on the way to the clinic you start to ask questions about why Iain is considered a suspect. And from there you start to carefully poke and prod at the arguments put forth with your own. Overall you end up making some valid points, and are confident enough to stick to them. It frustrates Professor Briardi, as she sees it as you underestimating (or even outright ignoring) a potential danger, but the Legate appears more convinced by your words.

"You have to admit that events as they unfolded don't paint the picture of a failed assassination attempt," the Legate eventually points out. You'll consider that your ultimate victory, if nothing else.

"I still say it's foolishness to assume the man is innocent. Incompetent and perhaps cowardly, sure, I can buy that. But innocent is something I'll believe when I see it," Professor Briardi counters. And as much as you hate to admit it, she has a point there as well - it definitely seems like Iain is innocent, but can you say for sure that he isn't? No. However unlikely the scenario is you can't deny there exists a slim possibility that Professor Briardi is right to suspect the man. He could still not be who he claimed, and instead be someone who chickened out of the plot at the last minute when his hare-brained scheme went awry. Instead do everything he could to throw suspicion of off him at that point - which is exactly what he did - by insisting he totally never had issues with his horse before and leading you to Doctor Zanon's clinic, and all of that.

"Regardless, if he is indeed 'incompetent and perhaps cowardly' I don't think we'll have much to worry about in terms of [PC FIRST NAME]'s safety," the Legate points out. But of course Professor Briardi is only half convinced at best. "I'm not saying Iain's earlier failure couldn't have convinced his betters to step in and do their own dirty work, but if that is the case their previous agent was foiled by a second year Academagia student. Anyone stupid enough to hire a man like that in the fist place is neither stupid or intelligent enough to strike against two Academagia professors at once. Especially in bright daylight, in the middle of Mineta."

"...I suppose," Professor Briardi slowly admits through gritted teeth. You'll bet ten Pims she only said that because she wants to drop the subject. "Still, keep on your toes. You know what they say about overconfidence."

You actually nod at that. You're confident you're right, yes, but you're not confirmed right. That said nothing else special happens on the way to the clinic. Thankfully.

--You're not entirely sure what you're getting yourself into, but on the way to the clinic you start to ask questions about why Iain is considered a suspect. And from there you start to carefully poke and prod at the arguments put forth with your own. You feel like you're doing a good job, but it frustrates Professor Briardi as she sees it as you underestimating (or even outright ignoring) a potential danger. The Legate doesn't seem particularly moved either way, but you assume he's just staying focussed on the task ahead.

And, eh...that's about the extend of that. One ticked off Professor Briardi, and one stoic Legate Orsi. Success...?

-Perception. Scan the crowds for Iain Hall, see if he's still around.
--You don't fancy your chances convincing Professor Briardi and the Legate that you're right about Iain. And given the fact that they are the "mature adults", as the Legate put it earlier, maybe you'd be better off following their lead? You don't see any harm in keeping your eyes open anyway. If you don't see him what's the worst that could happen, it turns out you're wrong (and unobservant) and Iain still doesn't do anything because you're with said two professors? Why would he target you, anyway? You brought Lilly to a clinic after she got attacked by a horse. You didn't know about anything more than that at the time. And using such an elaborate scheme when you should be able to plainly see there's an Academagia student nearby...if anything it feels like you were intended to bring her there.

That thought runs circles in your head a few times while walking to doctor Zanon's clinic, until you suddenly stop dead in your tracks and do a double-take. Was that Iain just now? You could swear you just saw Iain slipping into a nearby building just then. And you're pretty confident of that, you still remember that weasel's face pretty well. Professor Briardi quickly notices you've stopped walking, and before she asks why you point at the building and mention what - or, rather, who - you just saw. "Interesting. What do you think, Orso? Worth investigating?"

"I see no harm in knocking on the door," the Legate answers as he looks around. "Polisena, guard the back and side entrance, looks like it connects to that alley over there. I'll knock on the front door and...ask for directions, let's say."

Professor Briardi looks at you and briefly wonders whether to send you away, but quickly enough she nods and goes to take position. The Legate asks you to follow him, and you do, as he goes up to the door and politely knocks on it. A moment later a man you recognize as Iain Hall opens it, and he looks perplexed at you standing next to the Legate. You can't see inside too well due to the dim lighting, but you think you see a trio of men sitting around a table that has small bags and a surprising amount of coins on it. A business meeting of some sort, clearly, though you have to wonder what's in those bags that a bag that small is worth that much.

"Ah...h-hi," Iain, who clearly has no idea how to respond to this situation, sputters out. Behind him you see the three men eyeing each other and quietly getting up to leave through whatever back door Professor Briardi is waiting at. You're sure she can handle herself. "Y-you're the, ah...r-right, that student who bravely helped bring that one girl to that clinic, yes? I-I can certainly vouch for your good behaviour at that point, most definitely. Um...w-was that all?"

On the one side, this is just sad. On the other side you suppose randomly having the Legate show up on your doorstep is well beyond this guy's paygrade. "Always good to hear that my students are doing well, of course," the Legate answers, doing a much better job of maintaining his composure than this guy. "That said your exact part in that incident was called into further question, so I would just like to confirm: You wouldn't happen to be up to anything shady, by chance?"

Even the Legate couldn't help himself there. Not that Iain seems to notice. "S-shady? Me? Of course not! Just me and a few associates discussing future business opportunities is all. I, eh, I definitely needed to get more serious about what animals I use to transport my goods, you see. Make sure they're well trained and well taken care of. Don't want to have a repeat incident of what happened earlier today, of course. Isn't that right...guys?"

It is at this point that Iain finally notices that his "business associates" have already left and hung him out to dry. He looks suitably displeased at this discovery.

"...I hate how hard it is to find good help these days," Iain mutters underneath his breath, bitterness dripping from every word. You feel like that's the first time you've ever heard his proper, undisguised tone. "W-well, looks like I'll need other contacts to certify my beasts of burden, so I'll get right on that. G-good day, sir," Iain blurts out with his more usual tone before quickly shutting the door. The Legate doesn't react beyond a bemused smirk.

"Why didn't you stop him?" you curiously ask. "There's no way that guy's on the up and up."

"I don't know if you noticed, but what they had laid out on the table confirmed that a while ago. That said I can't call that proof of wrongdoing from where I'm standing, and as thinly veiled as it is his excuse does make sense. So better for us to believe his lies and have the guy run straight into Polisena's waiting arms as he tries to run out the back like the rest of his 'business associates'. More incriminating that way."

"Strange to hear about a guy running into Professor Briardi's waiting arms and not being happy about it. Under different circumstances most would be."

The Legate can't help but laugh at that. "Oh, certainly. Still, let's keep that bit of irony to ourselves, yes? And see what fish Polisena has managed to catch in her net." You nod, though at that moment Professor Briardi comes out of the alley with all four men in magical chains in tow. "Ah, guess that answers that question. I take it they confessed?" the Legate asks the regent.

"When they realized the severity of what I suspected them of they readily confessed to their, frankly, anaemic smuggling activities. And yes, I did check them both for lies and for magical residue. If these four are guilty of anything more than smuggling I can't find any evidence of it, so I think we should leave these four to the guard and continue on our way. They'd do a better job of figuring out if any of these four been in contact with anyone we should care to investigate more thoroughly."

"I can assure you have absolutely no knowledge of whatever it is that brought two Academagia professors - one of them the Legate, no less - out into Mineta," one of the men insists. "I told you hiring that rank amateur would be bad news, though admittedly even I did not realize the full extent of it."

"How was I supposed to know my only horse has an allergic nose for grand mysteries!? If you want to blame anyone than blame my horse!"

Can't help but sigh and shake your head at that one. The smuggler looks like he'd do the same if his hands weren't bound, as well.

"Right. We'll drop these guys off at the nearest guard station and continue on our way, than. If the guard discovers something worth investigating I trust these four will cooperate."

The smugglers, including Iain, make it clear that yes, they do not want to be mistaken for the accomplices of someone practising proscribed magic. Frankly, even without Professor Briardi's Negation skills you're willing to believe them on that. So it's back to going to the clinic, and hoping it hasn't burned down in the meantime.

You will admit it feels good having caught Iain red-handed like that, though. He kinda got you with his buffoon act before you (also) have to admit, so it feels good to know you got the last laugh in the end.

--You keep a weary eye on the people in Mineta as they pass by, though (somewhat unsurprisingly) you don't see Iain's face among any of the crowds. Perhaps that's why you're surprised when some kind of street urchin bumps against you and quickly says something apologetic as he walks off, near the Overlook. You sure didn't notice him.

You're not stupid, though. You check the money pouch you prepared to invest into flavored treats earlier and...it's still there. Huh. Guess this situation is making you paranoid. Well, moving on to the clinic you suppose.

...Of course when you get there you decide to check your pocket again, and this time your money pouch is, indeed, gone. So that street urchin wasn't the pickpocket, that street urchin was the distraction so that the actual pickpocket could see where you hid your money. Cool. Wonderful. Guess you'll be clearing out the stables for a few days before you get to try those flavorful muffins you were looking forward to!

Hopefully Asmita will have figured out the recipe and take pity on you at that point...

Bit of recycling with the failure texts, yes, but either you see a guy or you don't. Also another one of those instances where I could not figure out a way to make the adventure stall in even a halfway reasonable fashion, so alternative consequences it is.

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Sins Can Be Forgiven, Stage 6:

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Eventually you reach doctor Zanon's clinic, which (fortunately) does not appear to be or have been on fire any time recently. That means Lilly should still be within, as well as Doctor Zanon and Doctor Russo. That said you can't help but feel worried. This is going to be a huge and possibly tragic mess you're about to be a part of, but yes, you suppose that is better than being left with unanswered questions. The Legate takes point knocking on the door, which opens before you can even open your mouth and point out the clinic sign saying you don't need to knock. One nervous-looking Leslie takes one look at your entourage before looking at you. "Tha-ah, these are the professors Doctor Russo mentioned?" You nod and introduce both Professor Briardi and the Legate, for what that's worth. Leslie introduces herself in turn and asks the three of you to come in. The atmosphere feels heavy, but you can't tell if it's weighing down the two professors. You can feel the weight, though. Very much so.

Inside Doctor Russo is sitting in a chair, head in his hands, looking like a patient moreso than a doctor. Maybe that's why Marcus is next to him. Meanwhile Doctor Zanon is sitting behind a desk. He likewise looks fatigued, but more determined to keep going no matter what. "Finally. Or should I be more apprehensive about that?" Doctor Zanon asks, seeing the two professors, neither of which react to the question. "As much as I hate to say this, professors, the floor is yours. There is nothing more I can do to keep this mess in order. If Federico really insists on throwing away his neck, than so be it."

"No offence, but that sounds like you're admitting to culpability," Professor Briardi points out. Doctor Zanon, as you expected, doesn't deny it.

"It's been, what, seven years since I found out about this mess?" Doctor Zanon asks Doctor Russo, though the latter doesn't respond. He seems thoroughly out of it. "Somewhere around there, I found out about this on accident back when Lilly was three years old. I've been keeping it a secret for her sake ever since then, and to make sure that guy doesn't get away with it easily." A cold glare in Doctor Russo's direction, though the latter doesn't respond. Doctor Zanon shrugs it off and moves on. "I could put him down myself, if you truly think death is the only fitting punishment. But as a doctor I can tell you that nothing in life is easier than dying. And he does not deserve the easy way out. Nor does Lilly deserve to have her life ruined because of circumstances outside of her control." Professor Briardi points out to Doctor Zanon that he seems to have a pretty thought through opinion on the matter, and the latter explains that seven years is a long time to think.

"In that case, start at the beginning. Tell us what happened and why Doctor Russo deserves to live, not as payment but as a punishment," the Legate says. Doctor Zanon asks Doctor Russo if he wants to start, but the man slowly shakes his head. He is...not really here right now, you feel like.

"Can't say I'm not disappointed, a physician should be stronger than that. Still, if that's how it has to be that's how it'll be. I've heard the full story recently, so I'll explain." With that Doctor Zanon explains that around fourteen years ago Doctor Russo failed to save the life of (then) six years old Chiara Leone, though he can't confirm whether that was a mistake on Doctor Russo's part or "inevitable", as he puts it. The incident continued to haunt Doctor Russo until four years later he was secretly slipped a blood sample of Chiara by someone unknown, as well as instructions on how to use that to create, effectively, a doppelganger of her. He did, and that's how Lilly ended up being born.

Professor Briardi gives it a few (failed) attempts at expressing both her disappointment and her bafflement, but the Legate ends up being the first to form a coherent sentence. "I don't suppose you've kept those instructions, or remember them in good enough detail to create a new copy? I would be very interested in seeing the exact steps involved." Doctor Zanon reminds the Legate that this happened ten years ago, but Doctor Russo actually reaches into a bag and produces a very old looking piece of paper. The Legate carefully takes it while Doctor Zanon looks perplexed.

"You not only kept that, but actually brought it with you!? Yo-tha-you are the hardest patient to try and keep alive I've encountered in my entire career!"

"I realized before Lilly was born that I made a mistake, but by the time I did it was already too late," Doctor Russo quietly admits. "I kept that paper in case something happened to me and I never got a chance to tell her the truth. She could have found it among my belongings, at least figure out why I left. That, and I knew she deserved to hear the truth one day. I didn't know what else I could use to try and convince her."

Doctor Zanon starts questioning why Doctor Russo would ever want her to figure it out in the first place, but instead of paying attention to that you try and take a peek at this piece of paper and see if you can make any sense of it. Of course Professor Briardi is already looking over the Legate's shoulders, so you don't think you're going to catch any glimpse of it. Maybe that's for the best, anyway. "Hmm...I couldn't say off-hand what this...rambling amounts to. Like the individual pieces seem sound, but they're from completely different paintings. We'll definitely need to decipher and investigate these directions, though," the Legate quietly points out, though despite the two doctors going at each other again you can still make it out. "So what does this say about Lilly? Is she really a...doppelganger?"

"This note doesn't suggest anything like that, but who knows. We'll have to examine Lilly ourselves...and, worst case, ask for assistance from one of the Courts. My concern-question, really, is how Lilly's animus was manipulated. Assuming that's even possible, but if not than what was even the point? A...doppelganger like that would be a completely different person from whoever Chiara was. The two wouldn't even have the same appearance, necessarily, even with a blood sample as a template I don't think idiosyncrasies could be avoided. Why? And how, for that matter..." Professor Briardi points out. The Legate agrees, and suggests that whoever wrote these instructions may not have known how to do more than what the note implies. The real questions is why someone strung along Doctor Russo to dip his toes into this, especially when seemingly no one has come to collect or act upon that debt. And how someone got a blood sample of someone who died four years prior, for that matter.

"I can easily confirm that Lilly and Chiara are two separate people, actually," Doctor Zanon suddenly says. "Seven years ago, when a three years old Lilly got a lung infection, a very panicked Federico bursted in here begging me to treat her. He was convinced she had...an early onset of a particular heart condition, to put it simply. Usually it manifests during puberty, so that was quite the strange diagnosis. I examined her myself, and diagnosed her with a lung infection. I looked into how a man who called himself a physician could possibly make a mistake that egregious, and ended up learning about Chiara Leone's case - or perhaps more specifically her mother's. That's when I took another look at Lilly and finally realized why she always had this...familiar look to her. I confronted Federico about it in private, and he confessed his actions, but I could not convince myself to inform any authorities. The only two the situation really mattered to, Chiara and her mother, both had died seven years prior at that point. No guard or councilman was going to look at this case as anything but an opportunity to advance their career or personal agenda, if they cared about it at all. Having watched Lilly grow up for three years at that point I knew she was not a monster to fear, or a deviant to turn into someone else's stepping stone. So I kept it to myself. Federico left Mineta shortly afterwards."

"I can assure you nothing of the sort is going to happen to Lilly on my watch," the Legate insists. Neither Doctor Zanon or Doctor Russo react. Both seem too tired to at this point. "That said if either of you wish to see Lilly grow up further I suggest you start cooperating with the Academagia to try and resolve the multitude of loose ends that were left unaddressed. Otherwise I'll have to assume you're not just covering for Lilly's tenuous situation, but for whoever set this crime in motion in the first place."

"As you wish, though truthfully I'm not sure what I could do to assist. I've less knowledge of the people involved than Federico might, and where Chiara's blood sample came from is a mystery that's been eluding me no less than any other part of this whole affair," Doctor Zanon admits. "That said I do remember there was that group of natural philosophers turned death cult...oh how long has it been by now, twelve years since they were rounded up? I couldn't tell you if they're related to Lilly at all, they were rounded up and stamped out before she was born, but all the same I don't know where else one might start looking for answers. As I recall they specialised in studying the properties and magical applications of regeneration, and I don't know who else would be crazy enough to devise techniques like this."

The Legate nods, and looks at Doctor Russo. He meekly admits he initially didn't dare to look a "gifted horse" in the mouth, and after he realized what he had done he was too scared to look any further into it. "After Tom confronted me I decided to move to Meril, leave it all behind and hope that Lilly would be able to live a normal life there. Of course I still lived in fear of someone coming to collect on that debt ever since. Then when Lilly herself started to realize that I'm not her real father, and ask me where her mother is and all of that...I just couldn't keep her in the dark any longer."

"In that case, back to Lilly's alleged heart condition: You're confident that she doesn't have it? And Chiara did?" the Legate asks. Doctor Zanon explains that Lilly would be a few years to about a decade away from experiencing an onset if she had it, but he now owns a wand with which he can cast a few charms to help him with diagnosing patients. So he's confident that he would be able to tell if Lilly did indeed have the condition. As for whether Chiara did, Doctor Zanon can't be sure as he never examined her. But his records confirm that her mother was diagnosed with it, and the condition does appear most often in the direct relatives of those who experience an onset. So although it likely would have still been dormant in Chiara there is a good chance she did have it. Doctor Zanon further adds that while the condition is fatal within ten to fifteen years from onset if left untreated there does exist a treatment for it, particularly if it is discovered early.

"I've been practising that procedure for years now," the man concludes. "Seven years ago I didn't check whether Lilly had the condition, though without a wand it's unlikely that I would have been able to either. I diagnosed her lung infection and left it at that to look into Federico's reasons for suggesting it in the first place. I realized my mistake shortly after Federico left. So, under the assumption that if Chiara had the condition surely Lilly does too, I've been preparing for the day that Federico would burst into here again. I even went so far as to start training apprentices, just in case Federico would return while I was indisposed." The man, clearly having not realized how tired he really is, lets out a long sigh. "I've since corrected that mistake, however. Given Lilly's current age, my greater skills, and my wand, I can say with confidence that Lilly does not have the condition. Admittedly it could be over half a decade before she'd experience an onset, but by now I still would be able to tell."

"Do you think that's significant, Orso?" Professor Briardi asks. "I'm sorry, but that just sounds a bit too...intentional? Do you think that was part of any sort of plan?"

"If the condition can be treated, and relatively easily if it's discovered early, than maybe not. I can't rule out the possibility, though," the Legate answers. "Right now I'm wondering what we should do with these two. We'll have to confirm exactly what happened and what proscribed magic this...creation of a doppelganger would be classified under, but academic distinctions can wait. We need to decide on a plan of action and start investigating this, immediately. The case might be over a decade old, but it's possible these perpetrators are still active. And that Lilly's case was merely one part of a bigger plan, for that matter. I feel it would be foolish to assume otherwise, as cold as the trail might be by now we should investigate." Professor Briardi nods, but also points out the elephant in the (other) room: What about Lilly herself? The Legate gets a slightly darker expression on his face thinking about that, though he tries to hide it. "Without knowing the truth of the matter we'll have to confirm who and what she really is ourselves, but I'm sure Kate can help us with that. Beyond that I do agree that she is a victim in this matter. As such...perhaps this is presumptuous, but if she can be treated as a normal human being, and has the slightest inkling for magic...perhaps she can be invited to attend the Academagia. I don't know where else she might have any chance of finding peers she can connect to, experience those parts of living a normal life, and pick up the skills she'll need to continue that normal life afterwards. As normal as the life of a wizard is, sometimes."

"'If' she can be treated as a normal human being? Please. If her existence was really a problem I'd like an explanation for why the heavens didn't fall down upon our heads ten years ago," Doctor Zanon suddenly says. Neither Professor Briardi or the Legate look amused at the sudden outburst. "Spare me the insults, please. The girl has lived her live just fine up until now. I see no reason why that couldn't continue."

"Only because you've not studied Astrology, I suspect," Professor Briardi, despite her obvious disapproval, manages to say without spitting the words out. "In any case, at this point I have to admit I'm curious: [PC FIRST NAME], what's your opinion on this?"

You're not exactly the Innocent in The Court of Grace right now, but...

[Schohanwicht]-This is a great time to NOT speak up.
--You can't help but briefly glance at Professor Briardi before, haltingly and awkwardly, explaining that you really don't feel comfortable weighing in on a situation that seems to involve so much forbidden magic it's making your professors nervous. That Lilly doesn't deserve to be treated as a monster when nothing suggests she is one, and that the man who calls himself her father should act the part, fine, but that's all you're willing to say on this subject.

"Prudent," Professor Briardi says, though you're not sure whether to interpret it as praise or not. "[PC FIRST NAME] can visit this new baker even I have heard so much about and treat [him/her]self to some well-deserved snacks. Meanwhile the rest of us can take this discussion to Lilly and hash out what will happen from here on." Pointedly looking at the two doctors the regent adds, "Though I'll say to [PC FIRST NAME] as much as the both of you, I don't intend to see Lilly treated as a monster or a test subject. I see her not just as a victim of circumstances beyond her control, but of those who should have taken better care of her if not this situation surrounding her. This paranoia and secrecy ends here. I expect both of you to cooperate with that."

Both of the doctors looks cowed if not tired, but you're not sticking around to find out what happens next. Instead you turn to leave, though the Legate does tap you on the shoulder. "I probably don't need to clarify this, in the event you end up involved in this again, you know who to contact. Otherwise...pray this will be the end of it." Underneath his breath the Legate adds, "as much as I doubt it".

Interesting as this could be, you do as well. Still, that is a bridge you can worry about crossing if and when you get to it.

-Criminals deserved to be punished, family or not.
--You have harsher words ready for Doctor Russo than even Doctor Zanon, surprisingly, and harsher ideas in mind to go with them. Though the latter you keep to yourself, knowing that this crowd isn't going to appreciate (let stand consider) your ideas.

As expected, by the time you're done the temperature in the room feels like it's dropped a fair bit. Still, Doctor Zanon can't criticize you for sticking to your principles when he feels so strongly about doing the same. It's kind of strange, in a way. Feels like the two of you would have something in common if your respective opinions didn't differ.

"Tough, though given the circumstances I can't call it unfair," Professor Briardi says, though you're not sure whether to interpret that as her defending you or her agreeing with you. "[PC FIRST NAME], you can visit this new baker even I have heard so much about. Treat yourself to some long overdue snacks. Meanwhile the rest of us can take this discussion to Lilly and hash out what will happen from here on." Pointedly looking at the two doctors the regent adds, "Though I'll say to [PC FIRST NAME] as much as the both of you, I don't intend to see Lilly treated as a monster or a test subject. I see her not just as a victim of circumstances beyond her control, but of those who should have taken better care of her if not this situation surrounding her. This paranoia and secrecy ends here. I expect both of you to cooperate with that."

Both of the doctors looks cowed if not tired, but you're not sticking around to find out what happens next. Instead you turn to leave, though the Legate does tap you on the shoulder. "I probably don't need to clarify this, in the event you end up involved in this again, you know who to contact. Otherwise...pray this will be the end of it." Underneath his breath the Legate adds, "as much as I doubt it".

Seriously, this mess has gone far enough as is. Still, that is a bridge you can worry about crossing if you ever get to it.

-These two deserve to make sure Lilly can live a normal life, whatever that takes.
--Your opinion is, in a way, much the same as Doctor Zanon's, except that you don't doubt he should be included in that whole idea. Not just because he knew about the situation and never told anyone about it, but...well, because he should be leading by example. It feels like Doctor Zanon should show that all his criticising of Doctor Russo's actions is more than just anger or fear of being dragged down under. That instead he genuinely is concerned about his former collogue, and Lilly, and merely showing it in his own way. You explain as much to the myriad of adults around you, and of course Professor Briardi - infamous among the student body for her "sink or swim" teaching methods - is the first to nod. That said it's actually the Legate who is the first to speak.

"In that case I'll claim this...situation on behalf of the Academagia for research purposes - Lilly and her unclear origins more specifically, though don't take that to mean she'll be treated as a test subject - and expect the two of you to cooperate with that in order to discover everything that truly did and did not happen over the past fifteen-odd years. Is that agreeable?"

Doctor Russo doesn't respond beyond a weak nod, which Doctor Zanon stares at questioningly if not judgementally. This time, however, you actually dare to tell the man to speak his mind openly...and he does. "I'm simply disappointed in the man I once considered my equal. Even his saviours, or as close as anyone will get to that at this point, and Federico looks more like a patient than Lilly does. That he's been through a lot I can imagine, I had my own fun for the past seven-odd years, but I expected more from the person I started this clinic with."

So it is disappointment. Honestly you get the feeling like these two share more history than just Lilly's situation, given that even now they refer to each other by their first names, but that is not a story you care to hear. At the very least not right this second.

"If that is decided than than let's inform Lilly of what will happen going forward," Professor Briardi suddenly says. "[PC FIRST NAME], I believe you've overdue a visit to this new baker even I have heard so much about. Treat yourself to some well-deserved snacks."

That sounds like an amazing idea, and you really don't think you've got anything to add to what will happen to Lilly going forward, you feel like you've barely met her - if that. You nod and turn to leave, but the Legate taps you on the shoulder before you do. "For the record, [PC FIRST NAME], if you end up involved in this again I trust you know who to contact. And in any case...pray this will be the end of it." Underneath his breath the Legate adds, "as much as I doubt it".

For you, maybe. For Lilly? Very doubtful. Still, that's something you can worry about later. Whether more trouble will find you or, in time, whether you'll have to end up supporting Lilly yourself again. As a random bystander or as a friend...sort of.

-You're not convinced that Doctor Russo was necessarily acting of his own free will.
--Thinking this whole story over you're more than a bit lost on why Doctor Russo got involved in this in the first place. It sounds like whoever gave him the note and the blood sample already had everything they needed to pull off whatever miracle created Lilly. So...what was the point of his involvement? Why risk discovery by bringing in an outsider to...do what? Take care of Lilly afterwards? That sounds like the most reasonable explanation to you, but how does that make any degree of sense? Surely, undoubtedly, whoever created Lilly would want to see the result of their long hours of study and research and everything come to fruition, see their creation grow up. What is the point in performing a miracle if you...just do nothing with it? And even if whoever didn't or couldn't take care of Lilly, why involve an outsider like Doctor Russo? Wouldn't leaving Lilly on an orphanage's doorstep accomplish the same thing? Sure, someone might investigate that, but what were the odds of Doctor Russo not investigating a mysterious note and blood sample just, what, suddenly appearing in his pocket? How is it even possible to imagine that he wouldn't, was he still that bothered by the patient he failed to save four years prior?

Reasoning that Doctor Russo really shouldn't have taken the bait on his own accord you propose the idea that the note the man was given ever so long ago might have been a trap - some sort of enchantment or charm could have been placed on it to subtly lure Doctor Russo into meeting...whoever, and from there - if the man truly doesn't remember anything from that time - could have been manipulated or even outright Mastered into both actively contributing to the project and being made to forget all about his involvement afterwards. From there it sounds eerily plausible that someone has, in fact, been keeping tabs on Doctor Russo and perhaps Lilly more specifically. The man just never noticed or realized, either because he was charmed not to or was made to forget all about who his neighbour (or whoever) truly is. Needless to say that your theory is not received with all due fanfare, but you feel like it's plausible enough to consider the possibility, and if someone else doesn't mention it than you should.

"We'll have to be...extremely careful, and thorough, investigating this matter..." the Legate slowly says. You have definitely not made this matter any less convoluted, but you feel like you have to consider the possibility. "I have to agree with [PC FIRST NAME], that a scenario like that is decidedly possible. There are...strong reasons to suspect that Mastery is involved here, at least to some degree. This idea of subtle compulsions, and memory manipulations...we can't rule it out. Not off-hand."

"I-I..." Doctor Russo begins, initially looking quite panicked, but soon enough he goes back to burying his head in his hands and just...not being here right now. "I can't say...I mean I don't know...I-I only remember what I do, I've never-I can't say I've ever considered the idea before that someone was manipulating me. Magically or otherwise."

"I have to wonder how that manipulation continued, if it did, after Federico moved to Meril," Doctor Zanon points out. "Federico, I trust no coincidental old acquaintances from Mineta come to mind?" As expected Doctor Russo shakes his head. Of course it wouldn't be that easy. "Unsurprising. Speaking for myself, for what it's worth, I also can't recall any individuals who I'd suspect of keeping an eye on Federico or Lilly from a distance like that. I've had plenty of patients ask about Lilly, mind you, but most of them were regulars wondering how things were going with 'that lively little tyke'. In short, Doctor Russo's strained relations with his parents over their family business meant he often took Lilly here to the clinic, so many of our patients knew her, way back. If we're to suspect everyone that would cover over half the neighbourhood, easily."

Professor Briardi starts to slowly shake her head. "Assuming this is all true, it'll have been ten years since the trap on the note has sprung. And possibly seven since the last time Doctor Russo was targeted. That is..."

"Difficult, but not impossible. We'll have to bring in Kate and ask for her assistance. If anyone could figure this out it'd be her," the Legate fills in, though you suspect that is not the same as what Professor Briardi was going to say. She, looking like the whole world has turned against her, slowly nods. "In any case we'll need to thoroughly investigate this matter from all angles. Doctor Russo, the note, Lilly of course, even this clinic and Doctor Zanon. No stone can be left unturned. I trust that both of you-all of you, really, will cooperate with this?"

Doctor Zanon looks at Doctor Russo, who doesn't react. He doesn't need to, though. It's not as if he's got any real choice, and Doctor Zanon if not Doctor Russo definitely know it. As such, as expected, they resign themselves to their fate.

As Professor Briardi helps drag Doctor Russo to Lilly's room, to inform her of the news and developments properly, the Legate takes you aside. "I probably don't need to clarify this, but it'll take time for these...investigations to bear fruit. If they ever will." You nod, understanding the point. "In the event you end up involved in this again, you know who to contact. Otherwise...pray this will be the end of it." Underneath his breath the Legate adds, "as much as I doubt it".

Frankly, you do as well. Still, barring you involving yourself with family drama (which, eh...you're good) this seems to be the end of this mess...for now...

As one might expect this is the point where the adventure is expected to take a break, but it's not quite the end of the full Y2 adventure quite yet. It'll continue on until stage...12, in this case.

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Sins Can Be Forgiven, Stage 7:

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It's a relatively quiet day, and you're enjoying a refreshing drink in the Admiratio before going back to business. Things always seem so hectic here, probably because of that constant buzz from so many people coming and going, and you've decided to take a break before becoming part of it again. And hey, why not enjoy a refreshing drink every now and again? There'll be time for studies later.

"Oh, [PC FIRST NAME]! Fancy running into you here," a decidedly Grainne Inneith-like voice, one that feels like it goes through your ears and bounces around in your skull multiple times before finally settling down, calls out over the crowd. Of course it had to be her. Should have taken a seat inside, but you wanted to enjoy the fresh air. As fresh as the air can get in this part of town. "Don't you run away from me this time, [PC FIRST NAME]. I've got questions to ask, and you've got answers you need to give me."

"I don't remember running away from you recently, Grainne," you drone out, not hiding how tired and annoyed you are already. Grainne, of course, proceeds to sit down across from you anyway. "I also don't remember having any answers I desperately wanted to give you. In fact if I did one would think I'd have been the one looking for you, and not the other way around."

"Details, [PC FIRST NAME], details. Those are not important. What's important is that you know all about that chimaera the professors have been scratching their heads over, and our readers are just breaking down our doors demanding an explanation for who and what she really is. They're very concerned for the Academagia's safety, you see."

You frown. Not that you weren't frowning to begin with, but now you're really frowning. "Excuse me, what chimaera are you talking about? Did Professor Pachait break the seal on his super secret special magic zoo or what?"

Grainne waggles her finger like she disapproves of your failed attempt to try and change the subject. You genuinely have no idea what she's talking about, though. "Don't play dumb, [PC FIRST NAME]. I've got reliable sources who've confirmed that you were directly assisting the Legate the entire time, so I know you know all about it. And as it so happens our readers also want-no, need to know about it. For their safety, of course. So, really, you'd be doing the Academagia a favor by making sure they know the score. And, of course, I can help spread the word. You know that."

Never mind Grainne's half-hearted attempts at forming a convincing argument, at what point did you assist the Legate with a chimaera? You have assisted the Legate in recent enough memory, yes, this is true. But a chimaera? You don't recall helping the Legate, what, taming one of those and bringing it to the Academagia? What could you have even done to "directly assist" the Legate "the entire time" with that, for that matter? Did you get assigned some kind of homework or detention project that the Legate was supposed to do, which gave him time to go out and go hunting? That sounds absurd, but you can't come up with a better explanation for what Grainne is accusing(?) you of here. Like, you can see how someone might have mistaken it for something you did intentionally, as part of a plan to help the Legate, and the rumor just did rumor-things from there. Surely Grainne would have figured that out, though. Right?

"You can try giving me that perplexed look and the silent treatment all day, [PC FIRST NAME], but I've got all day if you need me to. You, on the other hand..." Grainne looks you over with a smug grin, though you're still trying to puzzle out what she's talking about. At least until Grainne's eyes suddenly widen and she flinches in her seat. At that point you're instead wondering what's gotten into her this time. "Um, [PC FIRST NAME]? I was going to say 'I'm sure you're busy with other important stuff' just to try and convince you to start talking but question: What is that vial of blood in your pocket?" Third time in ten minutes your already deep frown has deepened. Your forehead is going to open up a calcium mine at this rate. "Like, i-if you're doing something that important you can just drop by the editing room later. I can make time to fit your schedule if I need to, mine's pretty open."

Be it out of morbid curiosity or reflex you check the pocket Grainne is staring at, and are surprised when your hand finds something cold to touch, and smooth. You turn to look, and yes, there is a glass vial of dark, reddish liquid inside your pocket, along with a piece of paper. You can't tell off-hand what the liquid is, but if it is indeed blood it's definitely not yours. The vial or the blood, you hope.

"[PC FIRST NAME]? What...what is going on here?" Grainne asks, sounding like she's as scared and concerned as she should be, but nevertheless still taking out her roll of parchment and quill, causing the tone to fall a bit flat. You decide to ignore her right now and take out the note. As expected it has writing on it.

"Death need not be the end of things. We we born, created, with this gift. So do we claim our right over life, and over death"

Those were the words of those who once dreamed of greater power. Before they were humbled by those with greater power still.

I once believed in those words as well. Hoped I could believe in them. But I, too, was humbled. And now only fear remains.

You, who seek to drag the ones still hiding in fear of Death's shadow into cruel light, I offer my knowledge in return for but one thing:

Cure the child who prays for mercy at the Temple of Octavius. His sin, my sin, was passed on. He does not deserve to suffer for it.

...Huh. More cryptic than you were expecting for sure. Still, an inexplicable note secretly tucked into your pocket, along with a vial of...why is this all starting to feel strangely familiar?

"Would have been helpful if whoever told us more exactly which child to cure," Grainne suddenly says. It's at this point that you (belatedly) realize she's stood up just so she could read along over your shoulder. "The Temple of Octavius also isn't exactly a small area to search...what's that look for, [PC FIRST NAME]?"

Frankly you're amazed she even noticed. "Sorry to interrupt your latest scoop and all, but don't you think this," you say pointing at the vial of (presumably) blood, "is a convincing argument to, I don't know, inform a professor about this instead of trying to race me to a cool story to print in a school newspaper?"

Grainne opens her mouth, closes it again despite no words coming out, and than calmly sits back down across from you to contemplate your question. It's that she didn't order anything to drink earlier or you're sure she'd take a sip, too. "I guess it'd be a stupid question to ask whether that vial is actually yours, and that this note is completely unrelated and just happened to be planted in the same pocket, huh?" Grainne eventually asks. You, half perplexed and half ready to laugh, nod. "Yeah...I was afraid of that. Alright, guess I've got enough on my plate to not feel a need to try and jump in front of you in dealing with a bunch of I don't even know whats. Still, would you mind if I scheduled you for an interview later today, or maybe tomorrow if that works out better? I also still want to hear all you know about the chimaera as well, don't think I've forgotten about that."

You actually did forget about that last part, but mainly because you still have no idea what "chimaera" Grainne is talking about. Not like that's something worth thinking over right now, though. You've definitely got other things to worry about.

-One trip to the Legate's Office, coming right up.
--"Actually, that reminds me, you probably don't know where the Legate is right now, huh?" Grainne suddenly asks. "He's actually in a top secret meeting with other members of the faculty right now, probably about that chimaera. You're not going to find him any time soon, but I know where he's hiding - and yes, I did try and fail to eavesdrop on that conversation, long story - and you have information I want. So..."

Given the implied length of time that's passed I've no idea whether to make this stage trigger automatically after X days (assuming Y2 can even do that) or whether to only make this follow-up section available after X date, or what. A problem to solve when there's confirmed knowledge of a Y2 to solve it with, I suppose :rolleyes:.

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Sins Can Be Forgiven, Stage 8:

Spoiler

Not wanting to get caught near the Legate's secret meeting (again) Grainne actually ditches you the hallway before, but it's not as if you can't walk the rest of the way yourself. She also said something about an interview later, as expected, but you choose to ignore it - little busy with more important things running circles in your head right now. Not to mention that note and vial you've still got on you. You feel like you'll never sleep again if you don't get rid of those soon.

As soon as you walk by the door Grainne indicated it just suddenly swings open by itself. Well, saves you the effort of knocking, you suppose. You walk in, and as expected the door shuts itself behind you. Feels very polite, actually. It's those small things that you come to notice, and appreciate, when you study magic. As for inside the office seems to have been commandeered by the Legate, Professor Briardi, Professor Badcrumble and...Lilly? That was her name, right? You hope so, because calling her "that doppelganger" probably would be taken as an insult.

"[PC FIRST NAME]? How did you get in here?" Professor Briardi asks, confused. Which makes you curious about why the door just let you in, but either that's a question that'll answer itself soon enough or it's a question you don't care about too much. You take out the note and the vial, in answer to the regent's question, and hand them to her. Her eyes widen upon seeing what you have, but you don't feel a need to explain. You know she understands, better than you do probably.

"Where did you get that, if I may ask?" Professor Badcrumble asks. While Professor Briardi hands the vial to Professor Badcrumble you explain how you - or actually Grainne, to be more specific - just noticed that was in your pocket all of a sudden. Whoever slipped it there did it without you noticing. And without stealing your money pouch while they were at it, too. "Exactly as Doctor Russo described his experience ten years ago," Professor Briardi notes while wordlessly casting a series of spells on you. You can't tell what spells they are, and whatever they do you can't detect. "Nothing, fortunately. Nevertheless if this vial is what I think it is I daresay we are indeed dealing with the same perpetrator, despite all the time that's passed."

"That begs the question how they managed to get another sample of Chiara's blood..." the Legate notes. Though after a moment he adds, "Actually, I suppose it could be a sample from Lilly this time around. Still, either way that is another question left unanswered."

"Well, with this sample I'm sure I can have an answer for you momentarily. With any luck this can also lead us straight to whoever planted it in [PC FIRST NAME]'s pocket," Professor Badcrumble says confidently. You kind of want to question whether that's really the best approach, completely ignoring what the note said. But on the flipside...is it?

"[PC FIRST NAME], I don't suppose you have any idea who 'the child who prays for mercy at the Temple of Octavius' is?" Professor Briardi suddenly asks. Though as she clearly expected your only response to that is a meek shrug. "Worth a try. So, Orso, what do you think? Should we act upon this letter's request or not? It could easily be a trap, but than so could wherever the vial would lead us to. We have to assume that whoever is behind this knows enough of the theory of magic to understand at least that much of Astrology."

"Whether we should act upon it I can't say off-hand, but I must admit I'm curious as to who this 'child' is, and what 'sin' was apparently passed on. Moreover, why is this specific child so significant? The investigation twelve years ago did leave behind some loose ends, especially with the records it destroyed. So...is this the child of one of those cultists who got away, back then?"

"That's how I would interpret the note as well, assuming we can believe any of it," Professor Briardi notes. Not that the professors seemed to have noticed, but at this point you've actually sat down next to Lilly and have started patiently waiting for the adults to stop talking. Lilly seems genuinely surprised at that, she was probably expecting you to have more of a role given you're an Academagia student yourself, but this is how these conversations go sometimes. "That said, if all of that is true than how are we supposed to 'cure' this child? And exactly of what, for that matter."

"I...can think of a few possible explanations for that," the Legate slowly says as he reads through the letter himself. "For now I think it's best to wait on the results of Kate's magic and decide on how to proceed from there. That said if either path could be a trap than I have to wonder if following the note's instructions might not be the safer course, at least to start. I can't imagine that these remnants would have much influence over the Temple of Octavius, and at the very least seeming like we're playing along should prove less dangerous than storming a location they could have spend the last decade and change fortifying with who knows what."

Professor Briardi agrees with that, and shortly after she notices your existence. "Ah, that's right, who should we send to look for this 'child'? Obviously I'm against sending [PC FIRST NAME], but..."

"[S/He]'s the one who received that note and vial, which might have significance beyond - presumably - being an easier target for this sort of planting," the Legate fills in. Professor Briardi nods, but she's clearly unhappy about it. "Truthfully, I must admit that one aspect of this does strike me as curious: Why include the vial at all? The obvious answer would be to prove the note is genuine, but why volunteer such an obvious opportunity to be tracked down through Astrology as simply 'proof'? Wouldn't a more reasonable explanation be that this vial was included as a means of tracking down this child? The note itself didn't give much to go on in that regard, after all. If the vial contains the a sample of the child's blood, wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that the vial, and the note, were both intended to be followed up on by [PC FIRST NAME]? Tracking down unknown individuals through a blood sample might be distasteful, but certainly doable for a second year Academagia student."

You're honestly not sure which direction this is going at this point. And whether you should be happy about that.

"Reasonable, certainly, but in fact not the case," Professor Badcrumble suddenly announces as she walks back into the conversation. Didn't notice when and where she left, actually. Maybe it isn't just professors ignoring students, maybe it's a more general thing after all. "In fact this vial confirms Lo-sorry, Legate Orsi's other suspicion. Not that that will stop me from using this to track down that child mentioned in the note, if that is what you wish to do."

At this point the Legate turns his attention to you, confused as you look right now. "No...if that theory behind Chiara's sample is correct than I think we can draw some meaningful conclusions as to what 'sin' this note is talking about. [PC FIRST NAME], I hate to volunteer you for this, but if possible I would like you to track down the 'child' for us." Professor Briardi briefly objects while you stare confused at the whole exchange, but the Legate insists that sending you is the best course of action. You don't necessarily object to doing the Legate a favor, and looking for a child near the Temple of Octavius in broad daylight doesn't sound like you're putting yourself in much of any risk either. Hm...

"I don't object to looking," you slowly say. "But, is there anything more you can tell me about this child? Age, what 'sin' the note was talking about, anything potentially useful? And, come to think of it, where should I bring this kid if and when I find them? Here, to the Academagia, or somewhere else?"

A bit of awkward silence among the adults staring at each other, always a comforting sight, but the Legate seems to figure things out pretty quickly. "I wouldn't want to bog you down with too many assumptions which can yet be proven wrong. But, given the circumstances, I'm reasonably confident in saying this child we're looking for will be...let's say likely no older than Lilly is. Probably much younger, in fact." So say around six to nine years old, maybe three to six if they're not alone. You'd make a mental note of that if your head wasn't trying so desperately to figure out more from that. "As for the child's 'sin', well..." The Legate stares pointedly at Lilly, who seems confused, before turning back to you. "I don't expect you to be able to see it, necessarily, since the condition's onset is usually during puberty if I remember right. But let's just say I've reason to suspect this child has the same heart condition Lilly was suspected of having."

You and Lilly both raise your eyebrows at that. Didn't Doctor Zanon say that it could be treated, though? Especially if it was discovered early? You might have to pay that guy another visit if the Legate's suspicions prove correct...again.

"That said, do you want this child send here or straight to Doctor Zanon?" Professor Badcrumble asks the Legate. "I daresay the latter certainly owes you at least that much, and in terms of both examination and treatment I think we'd be hard pressed to find someone better, anyway. Magically treating conditions people were born with can be..."

"Difficult, yes. That's part of why regular physicians exist. And again, yes, I think straight to Doctor Zanon will be the best course of action. So, [PC FIRST NAME], are you willing to assist?"

You've already made your opinion in terms of helping out the Legate known, so you suppose at this point the bigger question is whether you can track this child down in the first place. You weren't - and couldn't be - given anything beyond a fairly large age range and a heart condition you probably couldn't detect even if you knew how to actively look for it with your wand. So...

-Astrology. You're confident enough to use Astrology in front of Professor Badcrumble.
--You can't help but eye the vial still in Professor Badcrumble's hand, but also can't help but worry that asking if you could use it would be tantamount to admitting that you're not as good at Astrology as the regent would like you to be. That seems like a losing situation no matter how you slice it, so old-fashioned methods it is. Fortunately everything you need is already here and laid out, as Professor Badcrumble was using it earlier.

You nod at the Legate's earlier question, and as Professor Badcrumble silently looks on with keen interest you move over to work some Astrology magic. Your eyes meet, and the regent gives you a slight nod. Silent approval. No pressure...

Turns out you needn't have worried, though. The charts, the spells, the geometric calculations, all of it you remember well enough to actually pull off. And soon your wand, held above a map of Mineta, is pointing clearly at The Temple of Octavius. "I thought the note mentioned that much already," Professor Briardi says with a bit of a sceptical look on her face, not sure whether she should doubt you more or not. Professor Badcrumble, for her part, maintains a neutral look.

"It did, yes. But one thing the note didn't say is where at the temple to look, and in that respect I think I've narrowed it down quite handily. Take a look." Professor Briardi takes you up on your offer and watches intently as you point to various charts and explain various details. The relevant conclusion of which is that whatever child you're looking for is, in some way, shape or form, praying to Aemean - the Dutiful, Master of Ploughs, the Gentle. Definitely the least popular of the New Gods, at least in this (relatively) wealthy part of town. The Temple of Octavius is sure to have at least one place were "all" of the New Gods are represented, however, but likely none dedicated to Aemean exclusively. As such that will narrow down your search a great deal.

"Good work, [PC FIRST NAME]," Professor Badcrumble notes. Success! If that isn't good things in your future it's at least disaster successfully averted. "I think we can leave finding this child in your hands, just take the main gate instead of the side gate. You may have noticed the irregularity at the side gate..."

"Yeah, I did. Grainne if I had to guess. Doesn't matter, though. I'll just take the main gate and take the long way around." Professor Badcrumble nods, and you turn around to leave as Professor Briardi starts to mumble something about needing to "have a chat" with Grainne. She can handle that herself, you're sure. You've got other things to do.

It's actually a somewhat lengthy, but otherwise routine walk to the Temple of Octavius, where you start to look around for places where one might pray to Aemean in this part of town. Turns out the first one you find - possibly the only one there is to find, you're not sure - has who you're looking for. A much younger child than the Legate was expecting, three or four years old or so, wearing what you'd generously describe as "tattered rags". He's in front of a small name plate listing all of the New Gods, with a symbol of Aemean in his hand.

"You're from the Aca-de-ma-gia?" the kid, after noticing you failing to think of a way to address him, excitedly asks as quickly as his stumbling over big words allows him to. Not that that's unusual for his age, even if he wasn't talking to an Academagia student. In answer to the kid's question you silently nod, still not sure how to address him. It doesn't help that you can't get a clear read off of him. He's excited, yes, but that's hardly surprising considering the robes you're wearing. "Mom told me someone from there would come if my prayers were heard. That's you, right? The person who heard me?"

Forget proper address, at this point another, more difficult question presents itself: Is this the child you're looking for? Like, how many children are you going to find praying to Aemean here, of all places? But on the flipside can you deny that this kid might have just been told that if he kept trying really hard and so on and so forth he'd get into the Academagia one day? That's not an unusual thing for parents to tell their children inside Mineta, or outside of it for that matter. If only the note gave you at least a name. Your Astrology is good, and you've no reason to doubt it when even Professor Badcrumble gave her approval, but it's not impeccable...

"Mom also said she'd be freed from her sins if she told you about her old cult friends. So please listen to her, alright?"

...Okay case closed. Time to bring this kid to Doctor Zanon.

--You can't help but eye the vial still in Professor Badcrumble's hand, but also can't help but worry that asking if you could use it would be tantamount to admitting that you're not as good at Astrology as the regent would like you to be. That seems like a losing situation no matter how you slice it, so old-fashioned methods it is. Fortunately everything you need is already here and laid out, as Professor Badcrumble was using it earlier.

You nod at the Legate's earlier question, and as Professor Badcrumble silently looks on with keen interest you move over to work some Astrology magic. Your eyes meet, and the regent gives you a slight nod. Silent approval. No pressure...

Unfortunately pressure is what you end up succumbing to. You swear, swear, that you know this stuff well enough to do it. But half the time you get to the next step your mind feels completely empty and you just end up standing there, staring blankly at everything.

"Are you feeling alright, [PC FIRST NAME]?" Professor Badcrumble eventually asks, but not with a tone of disapproval or disappointment. More one of genuine concern.

"Orso, the note...?" Professor Briardi suddenly asks the Legate, but he shakes his head.

"Stress and nerves, if I had to guess. Understandable after finding out a vial of blood was planted on you, I'd say. [PC FIRST NAME], return to your dorm room - or the infirmary, if you feel the need - and catch your breath for a moment. I know this situation may seem impossibly dire and beyond your skills, but take it one step at a time. Preferably this matter would be addressed sooner, of course, but tripping over your own feet will not win any race."

You have to admit you do feel unusually chilly right about now, not to mention the fact your brain feels like it got dropped in quicksand, so yeah. You'll find that kid sooner rather than later, hopefully, but...not in a state like this...

-Perception. Find whoever stands out from the usual crowd.
--You head out into Mineta, through the Great Gate, and head straight for the Temple of Octavius. "But the side gate would have been faster", the uninitiated says? Correct, it would have been, and it's likely for that exact reason that Grainne is undeniably waiting for you right there. She knows that sooner or later someone is headed for the Temple of Octavius to search for this kid, if she's not there herself looking around, and surely whoever would go there would take the side gate to get there as it's the quickest way.

Not today, Grainne. You're more clever than that.

It's a somewhat lengthy, but otherwise routine walk to the Temple of Octavius. Not that you aren't feeling just a bit nervous, but it's broad daylight in Mineta. If you allow yourself to be scared now you'd never get out of your dorm room again. As for trying to find "a child" among the crowd that's here...there's a few ideas going through your head, and you're not sure which one to try. It all boils down to whether this child is alone or whether someone, if not necessarily the note's author, is with them. If not it should be pretty easy to spot who you're looking for, not many parents send their children to the temple without them. If someone is you'll need to keep an eye out in case anyone with a child reacts to you oddly. Whoever planted that note and vial on you can obviously identify you, after all. It seems reasonable to assume that's how they knew to give it to you, the person who helped Lilly before, and not any other random student.

You decide to start by keeping an eye on parents (or other adults) and their reactions to you, figuring that that's something you might only get one chance to notice. However while doing a lap around the main Temple building the corner of your eye spots something too strange to ignore - a very young child, something like three or four years old, wearing what you'd generously describe as "tattered rags". He's praying before a small name plate listing all of the New Gods, with a symbol in his hand belonging to the one New God you're not likely to see very represented here otherwise - Aemean. The Dutiful, Master of Ploughs, the Gentle. That itself isn't what drew your attention to this kid, though, however rare it is to see someone openly pray to Aemean in this part of town. It's the fact that he appears to be alone. You wouldn't expect someone that young to have the discipline to come here and pray by himself...unless...?

"You're from the Aca-de-ma-gia?" the kid, after noticing you staring at him, excitedly asks as quickly as his stumbling over big words allows him to. Not that that's unusual for his age, but since you were expecting someone older it still catches you off-guard.

"Ah...y-yeah, I am. Is that...important?"

Try as you might you cannot get a read on this kid. Like his excitement is undeniable, but he's a kid talking to an Academagia student. So that's not surprising. "Mom told me someone from there would come if my prayers were heard. That's you, right? The person who heard me?"

At this point a difficult question presents itself: Are you? Like this definitely sounds like this is who you're looking for, but can you deny that this kid might have just been told that if he kept trying really hard and so on and so forth he'd get into the Academagia one day? That's not an unusual thing for parents to tell their children inside Mineta, or outside of it for that matter. If only the note at least gave you a name or something, that'd make this much less of a hare-brained scheme.

"Mom also said she'd be freed from her sins if she told you about her old cult friends. So please listen to her, alright?"

...Okay case closed. Time to bring this kid to Doctor Zanon.

--You head out to the side gate to get to the Temple of Octavius, only to have Grainne, Rikildis and Sigalis literally emerge from the bushes when you draw close. "Fancy meeting you here, [PC FIRST NAME]," Grainne lies straight through her teeth. And the branch and random leaves still stuck to her face. "Interview. And this time you're not escaping me."

"You mean like the spider that's ended up in your hair?" you randomly blurt out. Not that you're worried, it's a type of spider you see commonly along the walls of the Academagia (and Mineta as a whole, though given the size of the Academagia's Grounds the Academagia moreso). Harmless to humans, but they can spook the living daylights out of unweary students because their hair makes them look much larger (and more menacing) than they really are.

Right after saying that you get about a three-quarter second window to ponder whether any of those three have studied Zoology at any point, since you're having a hard time imagining the local gossip column hounds managing to find and retain that information on their own. After that - not intended to, but still answering your earlier question - the screaming starts.

What happens next is a bit...blurry, in hindsight, but the visible end result is you staring up at the infirmary ceiling. Grainne is in a bed next to you, looking a lot worse for wear than you are, meanwhile Sigalis and Rikildis are standing near the doorway taking turns apologizing to a nurse and nearby professor you don't recognize. Ah...hah. Technically you suppose Grainne was right - you did not, in fact, escape from her. Of course she, in turn, also failed to escape when she suddenly wanted to, so...call that a tie? You suppose?

In any case you'll just...wait for these new aches and pains to go away before you try going to the Temple of Octavius again. Clearly this isn't your lucky day...

-Piety. The priests at the temple can help you, if they're willing.
--Unless this child only started praying recently it seems likely that someone who works at the Temple of Octavius could point you in the right direction. Part of you can't help but feel worried, inevitably having to confess to why you're looking for this kid, but so the story goes. You can't expect any help if you don't explain yourself - you need merely take another look at the note to (re-)learn that lesson, if you need it.

With that in mind it's a heavy, but otherwise routine walk to the Temple of Octavius. Especially because you end up taking the long way through the Great Gate and the Admiratio rather than through the side gate, knowing full well that if Grainne is waiting for you anywhere it's going to be the side gate. She knows that's where you - or someone else - will be going soon to look for this child, if she's not at the Temple of Octavius herself right now. You don't think so, she has even fewer leads than you do, so it seems more likely she's waiting along the quickest path there. You'll just take the long way around and avoid that particular encounter. You've got enough to worry about as is.

At the Temple of Octavius you flag down the nearest priest, and ask if you could talk somewhere private. The man doesn't even ask further questions, instead you're directly taken deeper inside the building, technically past the area where visitors are welcome, and brought to an office of some sort. Even gods cannot escape the reality of a city's bureaucracy, it seems. "Speak, child," the man plainly says. And, true to the lesson you learned earlier, you don't hold back any information. Not that you talk about stuff the man doesn't deem worth asking about, you trust that he knows what he'll need to help you and not waste either of your respective time with unnecessary explanations, but you still end up mentioning a lot more than you are comfortable with.

By the end of it the man has sat down on the chair behind the desk, and is resting his head in both his hands. "I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, or the one re-opening old wounds," you say, trying to comfort the man despite not knowing whether you're making things better or worse. "But right now I need help figuring who this 'child' is. Refusing to look into this matter isn't going to solve anything, and I can't imagine a child being knowingly involved in something so horrible they don't deserve to at least know what happened either."

The only response you get for a while is awkward silence, but you're willing to wait. "How long has it been since that whole debacle? Ten years, or more? Regardless, I should have known that sooner or later this would come up again." You ask the man whether he was involved in the cult incident you vaguely heard about earlier. As expected he nods. "I didn't take part in any actual investigations, mind, but I did assist in consoling the victims and bringing the unwitting pawns back to the right path. The dream that cult had drew in many, even I would have told you they could achieve results a man could be proud of. Once..." The man shakes his head, likely recalling bad memories. "What fools we all were. Regardless, if they have surfaced once again than we'll need to be sure to end their twisted dream turned nightmare for good this time. If helping this child will yield information that can be used to start tracking them down, than so be it. I agree that this child surely couldn't be aware of what past sins he was born to, anyway, let stand have a hand in it himself. Especially if it's who I'm thinking of..."

You must admit you're surprised. There's someone the man suspects is the child you're looking for? Just based on what the note said alone? Intrigued as to why you ask the man to elaborate, rather than just point you in the right direction.

"I can't be entirely sure, mind you. But there's this one...beggar's child, around three years old or so, who you'll find praying at any small shrine or reference to Aemean one might find in this upper part of town daily. I asked him what he prays for once, and as I recall he told me that he prays that his mother is able to find food, as apparently 'the temple can't help her'." Huh. That definitely sounds fishy. "I asked around, but as far as I could find the boy's mother doesn't have any criminal records that would see her turned away from any of the city's other temples who are more focussed on tending to the poor and destitute. I can't be sure he's the one you're looking for, but none other come to mind."

It's not like you have any better suggestions, so you ask the man for a name and description. Instead the man says he'll go fetch the boy himself, which makes things even easier for you. And indeed, a few minutes later the man returns with a wide-eyed kid in tattered rags, about three years old, who looks so bright and cheerful he'd make candles weep. "You're from the Aca-de-ma-gia?" the kid excitedly asks as quickly as his stumbling over big words allows him to. Not that that's unusual for his age, you're just a bit surprised the kid's excitement isn't because he's talking to a real life Academagia student for once.

"Ah...y-yeah, I am," you answer, though it's at this point you realize that you forgot some very important preparations. Namely what to say to this kid. It doesn't help that you can't get any sort of read on him. Like his excitement is undeniable, but he's someone pious and dutiful enough to impress Aemean despite his age being lead around by someone from the Temple of Octavius. So that's not too surprising.

"Mom told me someone from there would come if my prayers were heard. That's you, right? The person who heard me?" At this point an even more difficult question presents itself: Are you? Like you have no other ideas insofar as who you're looking for, but can you deny that this kid might have just been told that if he kept trying really hard and so on and so forth he'd get into the Academagia one day? That's not an unusual thing for parents to tell their children inside Mineta, or outside of it for that matter. If only the note at least gave you a name or something, that'd make this much less of a hare-brained scheme. "Mom also said she'd be freed from her sins if she told you about her old cult friends. So please listen to her, alright?"

...Okay case closed. Time to say goodbye to the man (who has definitely raised an eyebrow at that last bit) and bring this kid to Doctor Zanon, post-haste.

--You head out to the side gate to get to the Temple of Octavius, only to have Grainne, Rikildis and Sigalis literally emerge from the bushes when you draw close. "Fancy meeting you here, [PC FIRST NAME]," Grainne lies straight through her teeth. And the branch and random leaves still stuck to her face. "Interview. And this time you're not escaping me."

Underneath your breath you whisper a quiet prayer - or curse, one or the other - to get Grainne "out of your hair". Then, as if by divine intervention, a spider suddenly falls down from a nearby branch and right onto Grainne's face. Not that you're worried, it's a type of spider you see commonly near the walls of the Academagia (and Mineta as a whole, though given the size of the Academagia's Grounds the Academagia moreso). Harmless to humans, but they can spook the living daylights out of unweary students because their hair makes them look much larger (and more menacing) than they really are.

Not that you've got too much time to contemplate applied Zoology studies, though, because it's about a quarter second before the screaming starts and less than that before all pandemonium breaks loose afterwards.

What happens next is a bit...blurry, minus the ringing in your ears and the visible end result is you staring up at the infirmary ceiling. Grainne is in a bed next to you, looking a lot worse for wear than you are, meanwhile Sigalis and Rikildis are standing near the doorway taking turns apologizing to a nurse and nearby professor you don't recognize. Huh. Well, she's not bothering you right now. That is a fact. But than you're feeling a myriad of new aches and pains yourself, so the main point of her not bothering you has also been rendered moot. Call it a draw, you suppose.

In any case you'll visit the Temple of Octavius later, after you've taken some time to contemplate what one should and shouldn't wish for (more clearly)...

-Biology. What more can you piece together, if anything?
--You can speculate and theorize a great deal, especially about this child you're being send to find if indeed there's reason to suspect he or she has the same heart condition Lilly does, but there is nothing you can think of that you'd be able to say with any measure of confidence. That's the big problem in this case, the lack of information. That's why the Legate refuses to tell you more, because if it turns out to be wrong you could be send off on a wild goose chase looking into false leads for who knows how long.

Ordinarily that would be incredibly frustrating, but you're feeling strangely...relieved? It's a weird feeling, you're not sure how to describe it, but you feel ready to face these unknowns and questions with a degree of confidence that usually comes from knowing what you're getting yourself into. Professional curiosity? Whatever you want to call it it's a good feeling. You'll keep an open mind, and figure this all out. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

--Ultimately, nothing. It's not that you can't find connections to grasp at, it's that every one you manage to get your grubby mitts on is one that you ultimately just have to let go of in fear of getting bogged down in too much speculation. You can feel that proper biologist's curiosity pushing you forward to try and solve this mystery, but you just do not have the information to do that.

Well, that or it's indigestion you're feeling. You did go on a bit of a pastry spree after the whole ordeal with Lilly seemed to come to a close, and seeing her again brought back both good and bad memories...

I don't intent for this adventure to be exclusive to any given college, but I have noticed that there seem to be a fair few Astrology options in it.

Edited by Metis
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Sins Can Be Forgiven, Stage 9:

Spoiler

The trip to doctor Zanon's clinic is one of your most awkward trips through Mineta in recent memory. However the problem isn't Chico, as the kid you've been send to find introduces himself as. The problem is you. Your head feels like it's running in circles at double speed trying to remember every scrap of information you've heard about this mess, and trying to piece the rest together. But every other step you're missing some information. And you can't very well ask Chico about it. Even if you thought you'd get a meaningful answer out of him - and the kid says he's three years old, so that's already a stretch and a half - you don't feel comfortable asking him about basically any of it. Which makes it all the more awkward when he does. Instead you try to spend as much time as possible making small talk about the Academagia, and what it's like being a student. Not that you think you couldn't have a serious conversation with Chico if you really had to, just...you don't want to.

After what feels like an eternity Doctor Zanon's clinic finally comes into view, and you catch yourself before you make the mistake of knocking on the door when the sign says you don't need to. So instead you walk right in, Chico following behind you as cheerfully as could be, while you try desperately to convince yourself that you're not about to have to have a very awkward conversation with a three year old. Is this why the Legate volunteered you for this? You're going to need to have a word with that guy after all is said and done, perhaps...

"Welcome to the Mackenzie family clinic, how can I..." a familiar female voice sitting behind a desk inside begins, before she looks up from her papers and see who she's talking to. "Oh! You, I remember-well, mostly. I-I'm afraid I've misplaced your name, sorry about that. Are you here about Lilly, or for a personal consultation?"

You stare blankly at Leslie for a few seconds, making sure you remember correctly that yes, that is Leslie Chapman last you remember hearing, and tilt your head to the side a bit. "Sorry, but did I step through the wrong door? I could swear this was Doctor Zanon's clinic, if not from memory than from the sign outside. When did that change?"

"You haven't heard? Doctor Zanon...well, I guess I can be straight with you actually: Your professors basically sentenced him to at least several years worth of 'volunteer' work for the Imperial Temple, with whatever profit he earns going to a savings fund until it'll cover Lilly's future Academagia tuition. Assuming that goes through, of course. More specifically Doctor Zanon 'retired' to the Temple of Blessed Iola, near the Shipfitters’ guildhall by the docks, to put his experience treating injuries to good use. Doctor Russo was send to St. Nino’s in Undergate, diagnosing and treating the odd diseases that tend to crop up there. This clinic ended up being passed on to Marcus, and...w-well, that's how it ended up becoming the Mackenzie family clinic. You're right that we haven't gotten around to changing the sign, though. W-we're still waiting on that, j-just for a little bit..."

You're initially confused, suspicious and even a little bit worried about Leslie stumbling over her words and stuttering, but than you catch a glimpse of gold on her hand when she nervously plays with her hair. So that's what's going on. "Right," you say with a bit too smug a grin. "So should I still call you Leslie, or do you now prefer 'Doctor Mackenzie'?" As expected Leslie's face turns a healthy shade of red as she nervously sputters out that she still prefers to go by just "Leslie", if only because her also going by "Doctor Mackenzie" is going end up being confusing. Speaking of which, Marcus - apparently having overheard at least part of that conversation - walks into the room with a happy-go-lucky grin of his own on his face.

"Don't tease Leslie too much, [PC FIRST NAME]. We're on active duty right now. Anyway, you're here because of your friend there, I take it?" You half nod and half shake your head, because while you are here because of Chico you did come here to find Doctor Zanon specifically. Chico, meanwhile, introduces himself, though neither Marcus or Leslie have any special reaction to hearing his name. "Well, I'd be happy to take a look myself, but..." Marcus says, sharing an awkward glance with Leslie. "If your professors told you to contact Doctor Zanon I'm sure they have their reasons. So why don't I just give you directions to the Temple of Blessed Iola? Both of us are still being mentored by him, Leslie to finish her apprenticeship and me to finish my training so I can start training apprentices of my own, so rest assured we know the way." You nod, because more than likely this is going to require Doctor Zanon's expertise sooner or later.

However, the moment you step outside the newly minted Mackenzie family clinic your eyes are drawn to a decidedly shady-looking individual just standing across the street, staring in your direction. Guy frankly couldn't look more out of place if he tried, and his attention seems drawn towards Chico, so you're willing to bet he's not just some random guy who got lost somewhere or is here waiting for someone else. So...how to resolve this? You'd rather not get followed but peak Shady over there if you can at all help it...

-Minetan Swagger. You know your way around the Docks well enough to not get followed.
--Pointedly trying to ignore Shady you start to head towards the docks with Chico, but of course the man follows. Yeah, that you were mistaken about him was very obviously too much to hope for, but a student can dream. Alright, plan B is it.

Walking to the docks you "explain" to Chico that you've got some "errands" to run along the way, and so you'll need to take a slight detour from going straight to the Temple of Blessed Iola. Chico seems alright with it, one part curious about what errands an Academagia student could be running and at least three parts excited to witness it. He'll probably end up disappointed in that regard, but oh well. The point is to give Shady the slip, not to give Chico the impression that beneath the robes and past the wand Academagia students aren't still regular people...eh, sort of. Some exceptions might apply but generally speaking and all of that.

Of course simply walking through side streets in the Docks isn't enough, not to make Shady lose track of you. He seems the type to have gone through this before. But you know what? So have you.

You lead Chico to a little known area of the Docks where people sell cargo straight off the ship, and even use (parts of) their warehouses as makeshift storefronts. The reason these sorts of things exist is because certain time sensitive cargo, specifically fashion clothes in this case, has a nasty tendency to drastically change in value between when a ship departs and when it arrives back in Mineta. So instead of gambling on what will be in fashion when a given ship expects to be back at port they instead bring along a small sample size of everything. Something will sell well above market value because it's in high fashion, something will be sold off as cheap clothes or spare cloth because it's decidedly not, and everything'll work out in the end. Or that's the hope at least.

In your case you're not here to buy new clothes, though. And these particular warehouses are owned by bulk traders anyway, meaning they'll only sell cargo by the crate at a minimum anyhow. You're here to run through multiple warehouses worth of people and random clutter strewn about all over the place because it's hard to have a set pattern for how you organize your wares when crates worth of the stuff are coming and going basically all the time. It works, too. Credit given where it is due, Shady does his best, but by the third warehouse you manage to give him the slip by going through a literal rack of coats and sneaking out behind a line of larger crates. Furniture pieces, if you had to guess. From there you actually go back to the second warehouse, while Shady assumes you must have slipped out another way and starts heading to a fourth. Checkmate.

"Are we playing hide and seek?" Chico suddenly asks as you exit the second warehouse again and start heading to the Temple of Blessed Iola, finally. "You're really good to win against Mister Sam. He always beats me at hide and seek."

..."Mister Sam"? Chico knows that man? You'd have really liked to have known that earlier!

Well, you're definitely not going for round two with you being the seeker this time just to find the shadiest man in Mineta and apologize for judging him on his peak shadiness, so whatever. Just take the complement from Chico and continue on to the Temple of Blessed Iola. You've got more important things to do anyway.

--You stare hard in Shady's direction and suddenly remember just how much your professors were spooked by this whole affair, right around the time you notice there are an awful lot of hiding places for fellow cultists nearby. Some of those shadows you could swear are moving, too...

You know what, you know where to find Chico. You'll just, eh...take him to the Temple of Blessed Iola another day...

-Glamour. You're an Academagia student for a reason.
--Pointedly trying to ignore Shady you start to head towards the docks with Chico, and of course the man follows. Yeah, that you were mistaken about him was very obviously too much to hope for, but a student can dream. Of course what else can a student do? Cast magic. This'll be fun.

You start by casting Glamours that should make Chico and yourself blend in with the background to anyone watching from the outside, but that is not enough to get Shady off your trail by the time you reach the Docks. So at that point you start to create fake Chicos to start walking off in every single direction. It doesn't exactly work since most of the illusions walk straight into a wall and there's a fair few onlookers staring directly at you, but it's enough to make Shady loose track of which Chico is the real one. Especially when you duck into a nearby open warehouse, some kind of makeshift market place or something, and watch with glee as Shady can't find which "direction" you went off in. Soon enough he chooses one to search, but of course he didn't choose correctly.

"Are we playing hide and seek?" Chico suddenly asks as you exit warehouse and start heading to the Temple of Blessed Iola again. Finally. "Isn't using magic cheating? I mean it's really fun, but Mister Sam couldn't find us."

..."Mister Sam"? Chico knows that man? You'd have really liked to have known that earlier!

Well, you're definitely not going for round two with you being the seeker this time just to find the shadiest man in Mineta and apologize for judging him on his peak shadiness, so whatever. Just tell Chico you know what you're doing and continue on to the Temple of Blessed Iola. You've got more important things to do anyway.

--You stare hard in Shady's direction and suddenly remember just how much your professors were spooked by this whole affair, right around the time you notice there are an awful lot of hiding places for fellow cultists nearby. Some of those shadows you could swear are moving, too...

You know what, you know where to find Chico. You'll just, eh...take him to the Temple of Blessed Iola another day...

-Courage. Just walk up to the guy and talk to him, straight up.
--For all of the doomsaying and evil cultists and whatever else you've been made to hear about if not deal with so far you are, still, in the middle of broad daylight right inside Mineta. You are a wee bit tired of having to jump at every other shadow, and if that's a healthy attitude to have than pray tell how your professors before you have managed to survive up to this point! Perhaps this is an exceedingly stupid idea, a curse upon you if it is, but your patience with cowering and running and hiding is just at an end right now. If this guy is secretly an evil cultist wanting to bring back a Dragon or whatever you'll cross that bridge if and when you get to it. And if he is you can tell pretty easily that he's alone, anyway. There's no places nearby that people could be hiding and if they were using magic to hide the one guy wouldn't be standing out in the open like that. So, one adult against a teenager with a wand? You'll take those odds.

Chico curiously following behind you you boldly walk up to the shady individual, a move he clearly did not expect, and literally say "Hello, good day to you," right to his face. It actually take the man a second to process this, he's that surprised.

"You know, most kids are told not to talk to strangers," the man, still caught off-guard, replies. You actually nod at that.

"Than let's change that: My name's [PC FULL NAME] of College [PC COLLEGE], though I guess the latter was obvious from my uniform anyway. What's your name?"

The man ponders how to answer that question in awkward silence as he clearly was not prepared for the possibility that you would just walk up and talk to him. You're more than willing to give him that time, but for better or worse Chico pokes a head out from behind you and suddenly says something that catches you off-guard.

"Oh, hi there mister Sam! Are you on your way to the temple?"

More awkward silence as "mister Sam" ponders how to respond. He seems more comfortable answering Chico's question than he does yours, for whatever that's worth, though. "Ah, not right now. Messages to receive, things to deliver, you know how it goes," he answers. Chico seems to believe him, but you're obviously a bit more sceptical. "Ah, guess I ought to tell you - my name's Samuele Lombardi. But that's still a bit hard to pronounce for young Chico here, so I let him call me 'mister Sam'." As if to emphasize the point Chico tries - and fails - to pronounce the man's full name correctly. "Getting better! Keep practising, Chico, you'll get there one day."

Okay, so these two clearly know each other, and based on Chico's question earlier you're guessing they see each other mostly if not exclusively at the Temple of Octavius. Now what does that all mean?

"Oh, mister Sam, did you hear? Mom said she'd be freed from her sins soon, and-and earlier today this student showed up because [s/he] heard my prayers!"

Okay that's a little more than you'd like Chico to say, but as you had a feeling Samuele (Sam? Mister Sam? Mister Lombardi?) doesn't look like any of it is news to him. "Hmm-hmm. I knew that would happen, sooner or later. Glad to hear your prayers were answered. Guess all that time spend at the Temple paid off, like your mother said it would, right?" Chico happily nods his head, but you just cannot shake the feeling that tragedy is about to descend from the heavens like the biggest monsoon this city has ever seen. And based on stories you've heard about the times Academagia students were allowed to mess with weather magic that is going to be a tale bards will tell for generations to come...

"Eh, mister Lombardi? I-I mean, well..." you sputter out, but now you're the one who can't manage to find [his/her] words. Like, this guy has to be important, there's just no doubt about that, but what are you even supposed to say at this point? Where you know Chico will hear you, no less.

"Just call me Sam, though I better get going," the man replies before you can collect your thoughts. Probably for the best, really, but still. You feel so confused right now, and this isn't helping. "Like I said, work to do. You make sure to look after Chico, alright, [PC FIRST NAME]?"

You nod. Whatever this man's connection to Chico (and Chico's mother?) - and there is a connection of some sort, there's no doubt about that - you should focus on bringing Chico to Doctor Zanon right now. You'll have time to sort out all of this information later.

Not that your head isn't right back to spinning in circles uselessly as soon as you're moving again, mind.

--You stare hard in Shady's direction and suddenly remember just how much your professors were spooked by this whole affair, right around the time you notice there are an awful lot of hiding places for fellow cultists nearby. Some of those shadows you could swear are moving, too...

You know what, you know where to find Chico. You'll just, eh...take him to the Temple of Blessed Iola another day...

Another one of those weird failure texts. Keeping information parity across all options is always a challenge.

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Sins Can Be Forgiven, Stage 10:

Spoiler

When you reach the Temple of Blessed Iola you take a look at the outside and compare that to what you were expecting. Of course what you were expecting was pretty much a blank canvas, because your mind was far too busy to ponder how the building you were going to might look like. So right now you don't feel particularly strongly about it one way or another. It's a building, and it's where you need to be right now.

You take Chico inside and inquire about where Doctor Zanon is. The staff here, for what it's worth, don't seem to have any particular feelings about an Academagia student carting around a three year old asking about him. You're just directed to an office deeper in the building, and having no interest in what else is going on around here you head there straightaway.

The office - and attached waiting room - you're directed to are, for sure, larger and more lavish than you were expecting. Not that you'd say the rooms are overly decorated, on the contrary there's like one potted plant near a window and one painting hanging on the wall between both rooms, but it's still a lot more than you were expecting. You were expecting more of a prison cell rather than a doctor's office, you suppose. As for Doctor Zanon, he's sitting behind a desk and looking over papers when you walk in, Chico following closely behind you. "Well now, [PC FIRST NAME], was it? Are you here on behalf of your professors or for a personal consultation? I may work for the Temple - or the Shipfitters' guild, depending on who you ask - these days, but if you're having health issues I'd be more than happy to offer a consultation."

You're honestly taken a bit aback. This is definitely not the Doctor Zanon you remember encountering before, no matter how much he might look the part. "Ah, kind of both? See..." You rummage through your pockets trying to find the note you were given, only to realize the professors still have it. An unfortunate mistake, that. "Dammit, I didn't bring the note. Um, basically I, eh...how do I put this..." You pointedly glance over at Chico, wondering not how you're going to explain this to Doctor Zanon but how to explain this without mentally scarring Chico. The former seems to notice why you're struggling, though.

"Young man," Doctor Zanon says addressing Chico. You'll admit, while you couldn't offer another suggestion it still sounds off to use the term "young man" to address a three year old. "Could you please wait in the waiting room, right there? You can take a look at the block puzzle, if you wish. On the table, next to that seat." Unexpectedly Chico just nods and says he'll go play with the block puzzle, no further questions asked. It's certainly not unwelcome, but again, more mature than you'd expect from a kid his age. He does have some trouble closing the door behind him, large and heavy (for him) as it is, but you can help him with that easily enough. "Let me just ask up front: Is this related to Lilly's case?" Doctor Zanon asks. You can't deny that it's certainly related, given the note and vial and all, so you nod. "Right. Take a seat, start from the beginning. I promise I won't freak out as I did before. It might not have been that long, but I have still changed since then."

Somehow you don't feel overly confident, but nevertheless you take a seat and tell Doctor Zanon about the note and vial you suddenly found in your pocket, to your search for Chico - a name Doctor Zanon doesn't recognize, for what that's worth - to "mister Sam" you met along the way. Doctor Zanon takes the information in slowly, though he doesn't write any of it down.

"If I'm interpreting this all correctly I'm surprised your professors didn't explain to you who that child-Chico, I mean, most likely is. I can understand if it's not something they wanted a student your age to hear about, but it is something I should have been told if I am to examine and possibly even treat him." You empathise with Doctor Zanon's frustration about being left in the dark, but also point out that your professors said they didn't want to fill your head with any more assumptions than was strictly necessary. No matter how probable they sounded. Doctor Zanon actually nods at the latter point. "That is true. Actually, it's a more common pitfall in diagnosing patients than one might think. Still, three year old Chico, suspected of having that same heart condition...if I could but guess as to who's blood that vial belonged to I think I could have a very good guess as to how these pieces fit together. Although, at this point, I daresay there's no other alternative anyway."

"Sorry for asking, but could you please explain those theories to me? Just, I've been having these questions running circles in my head the moment I started looking for Chico, and if nothing else that condition hasn't been getting any better. I'm going to report back to my professors tired and with a headache at this rate, I feel like. And please, I'm not a child anymore. I know dark clouds are on the horizon for Chico, I just...I don't want to get blindsighted by them anyway because no one told me what to prepare for."

That entire spiel actually came sort of out of nowhere, but you don't think you could put your feelings into words any better right now if you tried. Doctor Zanon, after staring at his office door, sighs and slowly nods his head. "You recall that the heart condition was most often found in direct relatives of those who've experienced an onset, right?" Doctor Zanon asks. And immediately your head - finally! - starts to actually put these pieces together. You do recall that, and that when Doctor Russo initially suspected Lilly had it when she was three years old the idea came completely out of left field to Doctor Zanon. If that implies the condition isn't something you'd suspect unless a direct (or close enough) relative experienced an onset, and Chico is suspected of having that condition, that suggests that a direct relative of his has experienced an onset. And as soon as that thought forms in your head your memories pull up what was written on the note - something about Chico's "sin" being "passed on", and something about how "only fear remains" in someone who failed to overcome or cheat death, somehow. The only reasonable conclusion you can draw from all that is that Chico's mother or father experienced an onset, either one being the note's author, offering whatever secrets they still keep in return for curing their son.

"That said Chico's condition - suspected condition, sorry - is but one piece of the puzzle," Doctor Zanon starts as soon as you're done putting those pieces together. "Another unanswered question was where Lilly's blood sample came from ten years back, on top of the new mystery of the vial you found in your pocket earlier. However, based on what Professor Badcrumble said I believe we've got enough information to solve both mysteries: Ultimately, several people's blood could, in theory, aid in tracking Chico down. His own, his father's, his mother's, or any other relative closely related enough to suspect Chico of having that heart condition if they experienced an onset. But of those only one could have also provided Doctor Russo a sample to create Lilly ten years ago. So, by process of elimination, I think we know who the donor is."

Your brain hits a brick wall trying to figure that one out. Like, surely the answer is completely obvious - and will be completely obvious in hindsight - but you simply cannot focus on the incident ten years ago alone. You want answers and you want answers in bulk right now, so you ask Doctor Zanon to explain the mystery again.

"Given your age you may not have heard, but around twelve years ago there was an...incident involving a group who wanted more from Natural Philosophy than the Imperial Temple wanted them to have. More than any individual person should have, even. When that truth finally came to light it turned into a huge mess, in fact it was bad enough that some related parties had their public records destroyed in the aftermath." You do actually recall Doctor Zanon mentioning something along those lines before, something about how no one else came to mind in terms of who might have had a hand in Lilly's "revival". Or failed attempt thereof, at any rate. "Because of that I actually never learned, at the time, that Chiara Leone - that is, the girl who Doctor Russo failed to save and tried to 'revive' four years later - wasn't an only child. Federico mentioned she had a twin sister who's records ended up destroyed as part of that cult business cleanup - Nicole Leone."

...A twin sister. A twin sister. A twin. Sister. A twin sister. That is...why does your head feel like it's about to explode right now!?

Doctor Zanon doesn't seem to notice, because he happily continues explaining. "When you put those pieces together, I believe the full picture finally reveals itself. Nicole must have felt the loss of Chiara as much if not even more so than Federico did, especially considering her mother died in the same incident. She fell in with the cult who wanted to master life and death, and although they were wiped from history two years later she was one of the remnants who managed to slip away at the cost of her official records. Thus, two years after the cult's official destruction she supplied Federico a sample of her own blood - functionally Chiara's, considering they're twins - and contact information to whoever possessed the knowledge to, as your professor explained it, create a chimaera in Nicole-or, rather, Chiara's image. Apparently 'doppelganger' wasn't the correct term to use, but don't look to me to explain the difference. I'm no expert on that front."

Hold on, that's the "chimaera" that Grainne was bugging you about!? That girl is going to get more than three ears full when you inevitably run into her again!

"Considering how long it had been since Chiara's death by that point, I can't say whether Nicole wanted to prove a dead point out of spite or clinged desperately to old cult teachings...assuming she was a willing participant in the first place. Either way because of her destroyed records she didn't turn up again even as I looked into Lilly's - really Chiara's, or Nicole's I guess - suspected condition three years later. But now many more years have passed since then. It seems that in the years since she's had a child of her own, although if Chico...of course. Chico, Chiara, go figure. She must have named him after her late sister, in a way. Either way if he has that heart condition I'm far more worried about Nicole, or I guess miss Leone's condition. Given she's Chiara's twin she must be around the same age, which...six, ten-she'd be around twenty years old right now. But if she experienced an onset during puberty, and even had a child since, than at twenty years old...I don't know if she has much time left."

You suppose, after all that, you did get your wish. The dark cloud that has been hanging over this whole mess the entire time has finally revealed itself. Chico's mother, Nicole Leone, the note's author who bargained everything in return for her son's health, likely has the same condition...except in her case it's much more advanced. Possibly to the point it could be fatal. Is that what she meant when she told her son she'd be "freed" from her sin soon? That is...not great news. Especially for Chico.

"[PC FIRST NAME], listen to me. I'll examine Chico and see if I can detect any traces of that condition. Whatever his situation is, even if he's due for the earliest onset any book I've ever read has heard about, I can assure you he'll be fine. What you need to do is go back into Mineta, find his mother Nicole Leone, and bring her here. Transport her here, if necessary. It's not impossible she's worried about her son purely because her mother had the condition as well, it's known to skip generations on occasion, but I can't interpret what that note mentioned any other way. And if she has experienced an onset, at twenty years old and one child, she definitely must be hurting."

You don't object to that. Of course first off you head into the waiting room, where one bored-looking Chico is still messing about with that block puzzle. "I don't understand this puzzle," he says indignantly, but you're none too worried about that right now. You ask Chico where you might find his mother, saying you need to talk to her. "Mom doesn't live anywhere. She walks around the city all day, looking for food. She says she can't be fed by the Temple like me, but that's why I keep praying. The Temple says that if I do I can help her find food."

Good gods the sagas that an inspired bard could pull straight out of your chest right now. That's how your heart feels. Still, basically Chico's mother is a beggar, meaning she could be anywhere. Where to find her? How to look for her?

-Astrology. Your wand is enough to track people down.
--You nod to Chico, who gets called into Doctor Zanon's office, and draw you wand as you start to walk off. You don't think you need help in this instance, with a well practised hand (or pure dumb luck, though you'd prefer to believe it's the former) you draw Phemes as you're walking outside and string together your wand-turned-dowsing rod spell the moment the fresh outdoor air hits your face. It works, or at least you can feel a slight pull from your wand. It's pointing to...the Academagia? Huh. Did your professors already track down Nicole? Did she go there in anticipation of Chico getting treatment, since you took him here? Whatever the case may be it looks like you're heading in that direction, which you're fine with. You know the way there very well by now, so off you go.

With the Academagia's many towers looming overhead, but the Great Gate still out of sight you notice that the wand is starting to pull you into a different direction. Undergate? Of course Nicole already being in a place like the Academagia was too much to hope for. Strange to imagine that she was basically right outside it the entire time, though. Actually, didn't Doctor Russo get send to work here? Maybe he's heard of Nicole? Than again, considering his history and occupation...better hurry up. These ideas are making you more nervous by the second.

--You nod to Chico, who gets called into Doctor Zanon's office, and draw you wand as you start to walk off. It admittedly takes a few attempts and apologies after bumping into people because you're not paying attention to where you're walking, but eventually you manage to draw the right Phemes and string together your wand-turned-dowsing rod spell. Just in time for fresh outdoor air to hit your face and remind you that you're in the Docks, so when you say "fresh" you actually mean "in dire need of freshening up". Whatever, you can contemplate the lacking hygiene standards of sailors later. You can feel a slight pull from your wand, and it's pointing to...the Academagia? Huh. Did your professors already track down Nicole? Did she go there in anticipation of Chico getting treatment, since you took him here? Whatever the case may be it looks like you're heading in that direction, which you're fine with. You know the way there very well by now, so off you go.

Your wand takes you through the Great Gate, into the Academagia, through hallways and doors, until you end up in...the Venalicium? Nicole is here? That can't be, surely not...or maybe she's here with a professor, researching something? Her condition, maybe? Do the books here even have information on that? Well, your wand is pulling you here regardless, so time to find out you suppose.

You continue to follow your wand into the Astrology section, past lines of books (and, strangely, no people) until finally, finally, you end up standing before a random small table with a book on it. It's certainly out of place, but rather than continue wondering what the librarians think of this you pick up the book and take a look. It's an Astrology textbook, and as you open it to take a look it finally hits you - you tuned you wand to pull you towards what you "needed to find". And your wand interpret that as "an Astrology textbook"...

Ultimately you do end up taking the textbook to a study cubicle, but your wand you give it's own seat so that it has a good view of this whole mess. Ungrateful piece of wood, of all the things to have question your spellcasting prowess...

-Persuasion. Ask Doctor Zanon for a blood sample from Chico, to help you find his mom.
--You ponder what to do for a moment, until you're startled back to reality when Doctor Zanon call Chico into his office. Now or never, so you rush back real quick, take Doctor Zanon aside and whisper your plan into his ear. Chico looks at you curiously, but doesn't try to listen in. "Wait in the waiting room, please," Doctor Zanon eventually tells you. And you do.

Several minutes of anxiously waiting later, Doctor Zanon steps out of his office with a vial in hand. You know you literally asked for it and all, but still, feels like if you never see another one of those it'll still be too soon. Regardless, with this you're sure that you'll be able to track down Nicole no matter how much you'd make Professor Badcrumble cry if you were to take an Astrology exam.

You nod to Doctor Zanon, who returns back into his office, and draw you wand as you start to walk off yourself. That said you don't draw any Phemes until you're outside, not comfortable trying to cast those spells while walking. But once the fresh outdoor air - as fresh as it can be in the Docks, anyway - hits your face you get to work. It takes no effort to string together a spell to turn your wand into a make-shift dowsing rod spell. Right away it works, too. Or at least you can feel a slight pull from your wand. It's pointing to...the Academagia? Huh. Did your professors already track down Nicole? Did she go there in anticipation of Chico getting treatment, since you took him here? Whatever the case may be it looks like you're heading in that (very familiar) direction, which you're fine with. You know the way there, so off you go.

With the Academagia's many towers looming overhead, but the Great Gate still out of sight you notice that the wand is starting to pull you into a different direction. Undergate? Of course Nicole already being in a place like the Academagia was too much to hope for. Strange to imagine that she was basically right outside it the entire time, though. Actually, didn't Doctor Russo get send to work here? Maybe he's heard of Nicole? Than again, considering his history and occupation...better hurry up. These ideas are making you more nervous by the second.

--You ponder what to do for a moment, until you're startled back to reality when Doctor Zanon call Chico into his office. You hesitate but briefly, but unfortunately that is enough. Door is closed, and you don't feel comfortable knocking on it because how are you going to keep what you're after hidden from Chico? How were you going to do that in the first place, for that matter...

Well, nothing to be done about it now you suppose. You'll try to track down Nicole the hard way, but...you really don't have any hope of those attempts succeeding. Finding one person you barely know anything about in all of Mineta, yeah...that's going to be a tall order...

-Prayer. You could really use some divine inspiration yourself right now.
--Happy that you're inside a temple as is, you ask the nearest person who works here if there's a quiet room you could use real quick. The person seems to understand the meaning behind your pale face and the tone in your voice, and brings you to a dedicated room where the loved ones of those who undergo difficult operations can wait for the results in relative peace and quiet. You wouldn't call yourself that in relation to Chico or his mother, but even so you thank the worker. This room is perfect, so time to get to work yourself.

You pull out your wand, and for the first time in a long time could swear that you're not sure if it's your hands tracing the Phemes or someone else. It's an odd sensation you don't get very often, but when you do you know it counts. And this time proves no different in this regard. Quickly your awareness is overtaken with a vision of a place you recognize - Saint Aedolo's Temple in Undergate. You can't tell whether miss Leone is there for food or to pray for her son's health, but you don't suppose it matters to you. Find her, bring her here, and hope that a tragedy can be prevented. That is your goal. That, it feels like, is your role.

Doctor Zanon once said that death is too easy of a punishment. And in this case, you feel like he's right. Chico doesn't deserve to become a victim in this. And if Nicole has so much to answer for she'll answer to her son, first and foremost.

--Happy that you're inside a temple as is, you ask the nearest person who works here if there's a quiet room you could use real quick. The person seems to understand the meaning behind your pale face and the tone in your voice, and brings you to a dedicated room where the loved ones of those who undergo difficult operations can wait for the results in relative peace and quiet. You wouldn't call yourself that in relation to Chico or his mother, but even so you thank the worker. This room is perfect, so time to get to work yourself.

You pull out your wand and go through the same steps you usually do, but the end result is...well, it's nothing. You're not sure how to interpret that. Really not sure. Is there such a thing as Gods needing time to decide on something? You're not exactly swimming in the stuff right now!

Well, nothing to be done about it now you suppose. You'll try to track down Nicole the hard way, but...you really don't have any hope of those attempts succeeding. Finding one person you barely know anything about in all of Mineta, yeah...that's going to be a tall order...

This is another one of those mysteries I set up and only figured out how to solve afterwards. Thankfully there was a solution to this particular puzzle.

Edited by Metis
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Sins Can Be Forgiven, Stage 11:

Spoiler

Undergate is as pleasant a location as it always is, but this time the odd Charleton doesn't seem to bother you one bit. You know you've got more important things to worry about, but still. This focus you're feeling right now is something that doesn't happen too often. Wish it did, though. If you could reach this state on command that would make studying so much easier...that wouldn't count as Mastery, would it? You could totally manage that with just a Glamour? Hmm...questions for later. Finding Nicole Leone and bringing her to the Temple of Blessed Iola comes first.

Eventually you find yourself before Saint Aedolo's Temple without incident. It looks (and smells) as inviting as it usually does, but that is something you don't care about too much. You rush inside and scan around for the nearest person who might be able to point you in the right direction. The good and bad news is that the place isn't exactly packed at this hour. Good because that means fewer people to check, bad because fewer people who can point you in the right direction.

The latter doesn't seem too much of an issue, though. Because looking around the place you end up finding a woman in a small, out of the way room silently praying to Aemean. She looks at least a decade older than she probably is, in part because of the tattered rags she's wearing - and yes, you do use that term intentionally, because her clothes indeed look quite similar to what Chico was wearing - and in part due to the signs of a rough life living off of Mineta's streets. You're not sure whether to call out to her or not, and for better or worse that's a question you won't have to answer. Because she notices you before you come to a decision. "Will my son be alright, agent of Aemean?" she asks. Her voice sounds...off? Like it's distant, strained even. Maybe it's just this building you're in, but it sounds worrying. "If he is, I'm ready to go."

You don't know where she's expecting to go or where she's expecting you to take her for that matter, but either way you've got your own plan in mind. "Your son will be fine, it's you that Chico's doctor is worried about. He's asked me to bring you there so you can be examined and possibly treated...actually, you have experienced an onset, haven't you? Your breathing sounds..."

"It's...a bit painful to breathe, yes," Nicole admits. You're getting even more worried. "But don't worry about me. My life is forfeit anyway." That doesn't sound like less of a reason to worry, actually! "It's not my heart, dear. Once that man learns I've sold him out in return for our son's well being...I'm sure that will be the end for me. I just pray poor Chico won't get caught up in all of it."

You frown, because one particular word there causes the gears in your head to start spinning again - our son. As in Chico's father is the man that Nicole "sold out"? If he cares about his own son wouldn't he...hang on a minute...

"That man wouldn't happen to be the same person Chico refers to as 'mister Sam', would it?" you suddenly blurt out. Didn't think that through very well, it just...did.

Nicole, for her part, slowly turns around and shows her half confused, half concerned face. "When did you...?" she asks, but a second later she shakes her head. "No, Chico must have mentioned him. H-he doesn't know, please understand-he doesn't know that man is his father. He's...Sam has a past. He told me not to get in contact again for Chico's sake, but I-I have nothing else...nothing else I could offer to save my son."

You do your best to calm Nicole down, knowing that this probably isn't helping her condition any, and suggest that the two of you head to the Temple of Blessed Iola for now. If only to pick up Chico. She nods, but clearly seems worried that she'll never make it there.

Of course when you step outside of Saint Aedolo's Temple and see a very familiar, very shady-looking individual just standing across the street, staring in your direction, you have to admit that you're getting a bit worried yourself. "I told you he wouldn't forgive me," Nicole sputters out, sounding like she might die before Sam has a chance to have any say in the matter. "Please, just leave me be. I don't have long left anyway, you don't need to become involved in this. So long as Chico is fine, I'll be happy."

You glance over at Sam, sensing none of the murderous intent that Nicole fears is there. Than again, looks can be deceiving. Perhaps she's right. Perhaps the sane move is to do as she asks and just accept this, but...is it? Can you just walk away from this?

-Point out Chico won't be fine without a mother.
--Nicole falls silent after your (singular) comment. You don't have much more to say to her, but it seems like you don't need to either. Instead you stare at Sam and wait for him to walk over. You've got a few things to say to him as well.

It doesn't take long for Sam to walk over, and after giving the still silent Nicole a quick once-over he turns his increasingly more curious attention to you. You slowly, calmly (or as calmly as you can manage to), explain Nicole's condition, what that means for Chico and his role in all of this, what'll happen to Chico without a mother - and father, for that matter! - and everything that's going to go wrong for so many people involved if Sam doesn't help you do something about it. Sam, for his part, seems quite calm and collected despite everything that you're just dropping at his feet faster than your brain can even process the things you're trying to say. Though, as you should perhaps have expected very little of what you tell him appears to be news to him. At the end you have quite a few pointed questions to ask him about his son and his son's mother, what he wants to see them end up as ultimately, but still the man doesn't seem phased at all.

After many more corrections than you want to remember, let stand admit to, the sudden torrent of (to Sam mainly non-)answers and questions finally comes to an end. Sam merely looks you over curiously at the end of all of that, while Nicole is still at a loss for words. "I don't think you've spend that much time with him, and yet it seems like Chico has rubbed off on you," Sam points out with all the serene calm you wish you could have had earlier. Why, yes, you are jealous of that. As for Sam's comment you can't say you feel like you know Chico well enough to confirm or deny the point, so all you can do is shrug. "He'll also lecture me at length - or try to - when it comes to his prayers for his mother's well-being. Make no mistake, that boy can get surprisingly upset if he thinks I'm not trying hard enough."

Honestly, as much as you can imagine Chico doing so you're having a harder time imagining Sam listening to that stuff. Yet...he has to. These two need to get along, if not for their own than for Chico's sake. How can you make that happen, though? If the man's own son can't get through to him...

"You're human, [PC FIRST NAME]," Sam suddenly points out. It feels out of nowhere, until Sam points out the concerned look on your face. "Humans can emphasize with others, and children - or teenagers, if you prefer - are no exception to that. Still, why are you so worried about a situation that doesn't even matter to you? You are just an outsider, you can simply walk away from this."

"Because I don't want to see any more tragedy play out in front of me, especially when that will end with Chico alone in tears. Besides, p-please don't call me an 'outsider'. I know I am, but...that's not what I want to hear you say right now." you answer as confidently as you can. Starting to lose your cool a bit, though. Especially with Sam, bemused smirk all over his face, nodding heartily.

"You and Chico are definitely far more alike than you might think. Fortunately, if all goes well, you won't have to shed any tears either." You look up, confused, as Sam takes out...a pair of iron cuffs and chains, which he holds out for you to take. Okay, now you're really confused. Sam glances over at Nicole and says, "Nicole will break her heart for good if she sells me out in return for Chico's happiness. But neither Chico or me would be happy after her passing." That message seems to hit home, as Sam turns his attention back to you and adds, "So, to the student who wants to save Nicole's life to spare her son - our son - those tears, I surrender."

You're still confused, but staring at Nicole get the impression that this is for the best. Somehow. It's one of those "adult" thing you don't quite understand yet, but you're old enough to kinda grasp it, you feel like. Actually, as you put Sam in his own chains you think you realize why he's doing this. "You were already thinking of selling yourself out to save Nicole's life, right?"

Sam, with a knowing smirk directed at Nicole, who doesn't respond beyond staring at her own feet, nods. "I've thought long and hard about how long I would - could, even - wait before I could no longer bear to see Nicole struggle for breath, or to hear Chico's lectures on how hard I'll need to pray for her health. Especially when I doubt any God, New or Old, would hear my pleas. Heh, part of me suspects that boy knows, on some level. Forgive me if this all is hard to understand, [PC FIRST NAME], but take this as confirmation that I'm not an outsider in this. Never have been, never will be."

Now there's a confident enough statement to make even you smirk right now. So, alright. You finish chaining Sam up, grab hold of the chain and finally check up on Nicole. Unfortunately she really isn't in good shape right now, her breathing sounds even more erratic and she seems short on breath in general. Sam and you both decide to take her to the Temple of Blessed Iola as soon as possible, everything else can wait.

There's some things that Nicole tries to say, but Sam urges her to save her breath and tell him later. Because he wants to hear it when she can breathe easily again.

-Leave this up to Nicole. She has a right to do what she thinks is best.
--Whether it's a sane move to step between these two is a fair question, but the one you're more concerned about is whether you even should in the first place. No one wants Nicole to disappear, no one benefits from Nicole disappearing except for maybe Sam, and he's got his own stake in Nicole staying around in the form of Chico even then. Even so, if this is what Nicole wants...do you have any right to force her otherwise?

While you get stuck in philosophical indecision Sam actually walks over to you, which causes Nicole to start pleading the moment he steps within earshot, but he holds up a hand to her. "No need to explain, I already know the score," he calmly says. It doesn't calm Nicole down at all, but the man tried. "Still, I have to admit I'm surprised. No words or objections from the Academagia student?"

You simply shake your head and point out you're still not sure how to respond to this whole situation. Yes, you want to bring Nicole to Doctor Zanon so she can get examined and possibly treated, and obviously you'd prefer that Sam, Nicole and Chico will be able to get along at the end of the day, but you're having a hard time trying to wrap your head around figuring out what the right thing to do is. Even if you could force the issue, somehow, is that actually the right thing to do?

"Why are you questioning that bringing a child's sick mother to a doctor who can help her is the right thing to do?" Sam asks. You'll admit it sounds like an open-and-shut case when he puts it that way, but...but what? Something is nagging at you, you're hesitating, but when the correct option is that obvious why is that? "Are you afraid of things not going your way? That if you get involved, invest yourself into this, you'll also end up hurt by it?"

...You don't have a better explanation you can think of off the top of your head. Part of it still feels off, though. But why?

"You're human, [PC FIRST NAME]," Sam points out out of nowhere. "Humans can emphasize with others, and children - or teenagers, if you prefer - are no exception to that. I get that this is far beyond your pay grade, and willingly involving yourself any measure of personally seems like suicide, but still: Isn't there a reason why you need to try, at least?"

It takes some thinking, but the answer does come to you pretty quickly: Chico. You don't want to see any more tragedy play out in front of you than necessary, but worst case you can still walk away from it. Chico, though? His life could be ruined today and the kid isn't even old enough to speak clearly yet. Sam, likely recognising your expression, nods.

"You and Chico really are alike than you think, I suspect. Fortunately, if all goes well, you won't have to shed any tears either." You look up, confused, as Sam takes out...a pair of iron cuffs and chains, which he holds out for you to take. Okay, now you're really confused. Sam looks over at Nicole and, pointedly, says, "Nicole will break her heart for good if she sells me out in return for Chico's happiness. But neither Chico or me would be happy after her passing." That message seems to hit home, so Sam turns his attention back to you and adds, "In which case the student who wants to save Nicole's life to spare her son - our son - those tears, can have me. In other words, I surrender."

Huh. Unexpected, but staring at Nicole get the impression that this is for the best. It's strange, but one of those "adult" thing you don't quite understand yet if you had to guess. Either way you put Sam in his own chains, until you think you realize why he's doing all of this. "You were already thinking of selling yourself out to save Nicole's life, right?"

Sam, with a knowing smirk directed at a silent Nicole, nods. "I've thought long and hard about how long I would - could, even - wait before I could no longer bear to see Nicole struggle for breath, or to hear Chico's lectures on how hard I'll need to pray for her health. Especially when I doubt any God, New or Old, would hear my pleas. Heh, part of me suspects that boy knows, actually. I'm sorry if this all is hard to understand, [PC FIRST NAME], but trust me when I say that this is the best way. You don't even have to get involved that deeply, if you can't bring yourself to."

"I really don't know how I feel right now," you admit as you finish chaining Sam up, grab hold of the chain and finally check up on Nicole. Unfortunately she really isn't in good shape right now, her breathing sounds even more erratic and she seems short on breath in general. Sam and you both decide to take her to the Temple of Blessed Iola as soon as possible. You're still feeling confused, but not so much that you're at risk of repeating your earlier mistake. Bring the sick mother of a young child to a doctor who can help her. You don't need clearer directions than that.

There's some things that Nicole tries to say, but Sam urges her to save her breath and tell him later. Because he wants to hear it when she can breathe easily again.

-Walk up to Sam and confront him yourself.
--This feels like the most foolish thing you've done since you became an Academagia student, but you fear the storm raging in your own heart won't calm for a very long time if you don't speak your mind right now. As such you walk right up to Sam, who doesn't respond even as you open your mouth and point out to him everything that you feel he should know about, should care about, should do something about whether you think it's news to him or not. He seems quite calm and collected despite the treatment you're giving him, and as you should perhaps have expected very little of what you tell him seems to be news to him. Nicole's condition, Chico's condition (both currently and, barring Doctor Zanon's intervention, eventually), what Nicole did to try and save her son's life - even at risk of her own - and what you think his role in all of this should be. You have quite a few pointed questions to ask him about his son and his son's mother, but again, despite your whirlwind of...everything the man doesn't seem phased at all.

Once you finally run out of things to say - and breath, not coincidentally - Sam gives you a moment to collect yourself. Which you definitely need. "I don't think you've spend that much time with him, and yet it seems like Chico has rubbed off on you," Sam calmly, quietly, points out. You can't say you feel like you know Chico well enough to confirm or deny that, so all you can do is shrug. "He'll also lecture me at length - or try to - when it comes to his prayers for his mother's well-being. Make no mistake, that boy can get surprisingly upset if he thinks I'm not trying hard enough."

Again, you've got nothing to say in response to that. You want these two to get along, if not for their own than for Chico's sake, and yet...you can't even pretend to really know Chico all that well.

"You're human, [PC FIRST NAME]," Sam suddenly points out. "Humans can emphasize with others, and children - or teenagers, if you prefer - are no exception to that. I won't ask if this reminds you of a personal matter, but regardless, I do want you to answer one question: Why, knowing the possible risks and dangers, confront me like this?"

"...Because I don't want to see any more tragedy play out in front of me. I-I don't want Chico to cry." you quietly answer. Sam, with a knowing expression, nods slowly.

"You and Chico really are far more alike than you think, I suspect. Fortunately, if all goes well, you won't have to shed any tears either." You look up, confused, as Sam takes out...a pair of iron cuffs and chains, which he holds out for you to take. Okay, now you're really confused. "Poor Nicole will break her heart for good if she sells me out in return for Chico's happiness, but neither Chico or me would be happy after her passing. So, to the student who wants to save Nicole's life to spare her son - our son - those tears, I surrender."

You're still confused, but you get the impression that...this is best, somehow. It's one of those "adult" thing you don't quite understand yet, but are at least old enough to kinda grasp. Actually, as you put Sam in his own chains you think you realize why he's doing this. "You were already thinking of selling yourself out to save Nicole's life, right?"

Sam, with a knowing smirk, nods. "I've thought long and hard about how long I would - could, even - wait before I could no longer bear to see Nicole struggle for breath, or to hear Chico's lectures on how hard I'll need to pray for her health. Especially when I doubt any God, New or Old, would hear my pleas. Heh, part of me suspects that boy knows, on some level. Forgive me if this all is hard to understand, but...it's something that must be done."

That's another thing you hear adults say often enough. So, alright. You finish chaining Sam up, grab hold of the chain and head back to Nicole to explain the situation to her. Unfortunately she really isn't in good shape right now. So Sam and you both decide to take her to the Temple of Blessed Iola as soon as possible.

There's some things that Nicole tries to say, but Sam urges her to save her breath and tell him later. Because he wants to hear it when she can breathe easily again.

I have to wonder if Y2 can (will?) do more with these "choose your attribute to increase" options that tend to appear in my adventures.

Also, since it's done already, Sins Can Be Forgiven, Stage 12:

Spoiler

The trip back to the Temple of Blessed Iola isn't exactly what you'd call smooth, as multiple guards you pass by on the way take an understandable interest in the sight of an Academagia student holding one guy in chains while the woman next to you is panting and clutching her chest. That said Sam is able to get most of them to back off simply by saying that he'll "only talk to the Legate of the Academagia". Of course two guards do still insist on coming along anyway, in their words to "help clear the road" (to which neither Sam or you object, the last thing either of you want right now is to get delayed by gawkers), and another one runs off towards the Academagia to inform the Legate of the matter. You tell him to ask the Legate to bring along a professor capable of assisting a chirgeon, without even considering the possible consequences. Your only concern is getting Nicole to Doctor Zanon before it's too late, and if that operation ends up needing a magical hand you want one arriving sooner rather than later. Nicole herself insists that she's fine and that she's lived through worse, but you can't help but worry regardless. The same is true for Sam. He's trying to hide it, and succeeding for the most part, but he flinches every time Nicole starts panting.

Once you finally reach the temple the staff there is understandably confused seeing your ever growing and changing entourage, as the two guards decide to stay by the front door to meet the Legate (or so they say, Sam tells you that at least one of them is going to circle the building in case he tries to escape). Shortly thereafter one of the staff leads you to Doctor Zanon's office while another runs ahead to fetch him. Honestly, probably for the best. You don't want to know how Chico would react, seeing his mother in this condition and Sam held in chains.

As promised you end up meeting Doctor Zanon in one of the hallways leading up to his office. He glances in Sam's direction once before his eyes land on Nicole. After that he doesn't even care to notice Sam's chains. "Nicole Leone, I presume?" the doctor asks. Nicole weakly nods her head. "You don't even need to say anything at this point. Let's get you examined in one of the other rooms. Your son is waiting in my office, I don't see a need to startle him." Nicole tries to ask whether her son is alright, but Doctor Zanon cuts her off. "He's still too young to show any symptoms, let stand experience an onset. You need to worry about yourself right now. No condition I can treat would hurt him more than losing his mother right now. I thought that you, of all people, understood that."

That last part hits Nicole harder than anything else. Tears starting to flow she agrees to follow Doctor Zanon to another room to be examined, while the latter asks either Sam or you if you could head to his office and inform Chico of the developments. Sam nods and says he will, though you're still not sure how the boy will react to seeing Sam in chains. And to you holding those chains, for that matter. Still, it would be best not to keep him in the dark, and he'll have to hear about Sam's situation sooner or later.

Once you reach Doctor Zanon's office Sam says he'll talk to Chico, and you're more than willing to let him do that. Especially because - as you expected - this whole situation and not knowing where his mother is has made Chico nervous, and now the only other person he wouldn't call a stranger comes walking in while the "gods-send" student is holding his chains. You...you're just going to let Sam handle this. You sympathize with the poor boy, a lot in fact, but this is...this is beyond your pay grade.

That all said, and for all of Chico's confusion and panic, Sam does know his son well enough to calm him down pretty quickly. Even if Chico doesn't know about that relation yet. It's honestly a shame, looking at Sam acting like the coolest customer Mineta has ever seen and knowing exactly what to say to ease Chico's worries. For all of Sam's faults and the shadows surrounding him - seemingly literally at times, the guy couldn't look more shady if he tried - he seems like he could be a good father.

As soon as the door to Doctor Zanon's office opens again you're expecting the man himself to walk in and give you all an update on Nicole's condition, but instead it's the Legate who walks inside. Sam quickly puts on his bravest face, whereas Chico looks at the Legate like someone who's just seen an important historical figure. In contrast your expression doesn't change, you've gotten used to seeing Academagia faculty by now. That said a man in knightly armor, openly wearing several accessories with various Imperial Temple icons plainly visible on them, slips past the Legate and also walks inside. He stands off to the side, glaring at Sam. Not sure what to make of that guy. He's clearly displeased, but why? "First off, an update on miss Leone's condition," the Legate starts, closing the door behind him. Now you look more worried. "Her condition has progressed to the point where she needs an operation. Fortunately, Doctor Zanon has been preparing for years to treat Lilly of the same. Those skills will now be put to good use saving miss Leone's life instead. Ironic as that might perhaps be."

"Irony can wait in line 'far as I'm concerned," Sam quickly spits out. "Just tell me whether she'll be alright. That's all I care about."

Legate still smirks at that, though it's muted. "Per [PC FIRST NAME]'s advice I brought one of the Academagia's finest in terms of applied Negation and Revision in the field of Chirgury. He and Doctor Zanon are operating on miss Leone as we speak. There's every expectation that she'll pull through, but we need to discuss her treatment going forward. Living her life as a beggar in Mineta's streets is obviously not going to aid in her recovery at all, and may invite further complications. Or worse, trigger a relapse." You think, for the first time, you see Sam not look like the most confident person who has ever lived. He doesn't look particularly worried, mind, but you know him well enough by now he's hiding his feelings.

"That's why I told the guards I'd only speak to you. You I can trust to sign the checks I need people to write..." Sam says. His voice, however, sounds a bit off. It's quieter, distant almost. The Legate, for his part, simple nods. "I trust that by now you've figured out that I'm the 'information' Nicole promised in return for our son's treatment?" Another nod from the Legate, but you're secretly glancing over at Chico right now. Because yes, he's staring at Sam with slowly widening eyes right now. "Than lets get down to business: My surrender and full cooperation going forward, in return for Nicole and Chico's respective treatments. No offence to the Temple, but...I'm not a man who can rely on prayers anymore. So I ask that you, as the Legate of the Academagia, make sure Nicole and Chico are given the treatment they'll need. Both now and going forward."

The man in knightly armor seems...unconvinced? He glares at Sam, then turns his head towards the Legate with only mildly less of a glare. He's not saying anything, so you've got no idea what silent message he's sending the Legate's way. The Legate, for his part, seems confident despite the glare and turns his attention towards Sam. "Who, exactly, are you? And what will that your 'cooperation' entail?"

At this point Sam grins like only someone supremely confident could...but the impression just isn't there anymore. You've seen he's only putting on a brave face for Chico's sake. The act doesn't work on you anymore. "My name, at one point, was Samuele Lombardi. The 'shadow recruiter' for, ah...well, the group who upset the Temple with radical new ideas and proposed doctrines, 'bout twelve years back. You know the one I'm talking about, I'm sure." The Legate nods. Chico does not, though he still looks upset. He might not understand the full picture, but he realizes "mister Sam" is admitting to not being the person Chico thought he was. "As for my cooperation, I couldn't tell you what good my word would do at this point in time. That said I still have my old stash of 'trophies' from way back when, safely hidden away where no one else would find them. In return for Nicole and Chico's treatments it's yours."

There's a noticeable reaction from the man in knightly armor, who - with surprising speed and finesse for a man wearing plate mail - rushes next to Legate and whispers into his ear. You can't make out what's being said, only that the Legate nods afterwards. "That can be arranged, don't worry," the Legate says, presumably to the man in knightly armor as only afterwards does he face Sam again. "Regarding miss Leone, beyond her immediate treatment we should also keep the future in mind. As I mentioned, her condition has progressed too far for her to live a beggar's life in Mineta's streets safely. What would be best for her is retiring to a small, quiet community somewhere. In that regard I actually have a suggestion: Ballos' Botanist Guild has been looking to expand it's available field space lately, and part of that initiative involved helping refurbish and expand a nearby chapel in return for the monks there assisting with keeping those fields tilled, ready and growing year round. Miss Leone's condition should stabilize fully in an environment like that, I suspect you could be kept hidden from your past there, and based on what I've heard of Chico I suspect an opportunity to grow up as part of the Temple's fold would suit him just fine."

"You sure know how to give a man the hard sell," Sam almost jokingly notes. "That said that arrangement is fine with me. Whatever it takes for Nicole and Chico to live and grow up happy, I'm game. I take it your knight in shining armor wouldn't object to that?"

The Legate glances at the man in knightly armor. The latter shakes his head.

"Alright, you've got a deal." Sam says. "That said I'd like to be there when Nicole wakes up from her operation. Catch up on old time, tell her about her new life, all of that. I've...not had the opportunity to do that for far too long. If you guys want to raid my stash I can just tell you where it is. Won't need my help to sort it out, I'm sure."

"I've no objection to that, but those details you can discuss with the Temple's representative. I've other matters to see to, and would like the chance to bring my wayward student back to the Academagia. Not that this experience hasn't been enlightening, I'm sure, but studies of magic textbooks await." Oh come on, Sam gets talked into being cloistered without blinking and you get that as an offer? You feel cheated. "I'll have to tally up the due Merit that Professor Briardi promised earlier as well. I just hope this'll truly be the final end of this whole ordeal."

Okay, that's better. That and, eh, you might not want to be here when Sam realizes that he kinda sorta blurted out his parentage in front of Chico while the kid was sitting next to him. Not to mention the conversation he'll need to have with miss Leone as well...actually, you know what? Textbooks sound just lovely right around now.

-Back to the Academagia.
--"The man used to be a thief," the Legate suddenly says as soon as you two have stepped outside. "It's honestly a bit hard to imagine saying this, but: Before you were even born a group of natural philosophers, dissatisfied with what they were able to do, banded together to start pushing old boundaries. Studying the regenerative properties some animals have, trying to use magic to apply and bring those abilities to humans, and seeing how far that idea could be pushed. It showed promise, caught the attention from people interested in those fields, but...ultimately it grew into something else. What started as an effort to save lives became an effort to become masters over life and death. Not everyone knew about it, of course, but the group - basically turned into a cult at that point - continued recruiting new members. Ones who knew the truth, many more who didn't, and financial supporters. Samuele Lombardi, called the 'shadow recruiter' by the guard at the time, was one of the ones responsible for that recruiting."

Huh. You have questions, and you suppose you'll start with the one that comes to mind immediately. "So the stash of 'trophies' he offered is basically the stuff he stole from the people he recruited back then? Which can now be used as evidence against those who were suspected of supporting the cult, but were never caught or admitted to it?" The Legate nods, and explains that something which went unresolved at the time (mostly due to the much larger things going on) was a rash of petty thefts that seemed to often target the cult's suspected financial supporters. The idea that they were being robbed by the same "shadow" who recruited them, hence the term "shadow recruiter", was brought up...but nothing ever came of it. That some of the stolen items were things like old table napkins, which no one missed until the idea of the shadow recruiter was brought up, didn't help either. "How did Sam - or Samuele, or mister Lombardi or whatever he wants to be called - get away with that? And why would he even do that stuff in the first place?"

"In answer to your first and second question, the guy was...oh, I think around six to eight years old at the time," the Legate answers. In hindsight you should have figured as much. Sam looks like he's in his early-, maybe mid-twenties or so, and if this all happened before you were born that's quite a while back. "His method of recruiting likely involved selling sob stories, and how the cult - or whatever he called the group at the time - were the only ones able to help either him directly or whoever else would be seen as important to a child his age. His petty thefts went unnoticed in part due to that, and in part because I don't believe he ever stole something more valuable monetarily than an old silver spoon. Of course another major part of that is that those he recruited likely didn't realize the true nature of the cult, at least initially. Otherwise they probably would have been more worried about Astrology and long owned items of theirs going missing."

You feel like you should make a mental note to magically mark every item you own later in life, so you'll know if someone tries to make off it with. Because this definitely seems like one great example where a missing table napkin came back to give Iain Hall's most temperamental horse a most thorough schooling in the fine art of kicking people in the chest. "Given what happened to miss Leone's twin sister-and mother, for that matter, way back when I'm guessing that's how she ended up meeting Sam? And getting into contact with that cult?"

The Legate quirks an eyebrow. "You heard about that? In any case, yes, though anything beyond that would be no more than speculation at this point." Speaking of speculation, you ask whether Lilly will be alright after all of this. The Legate awkwardly pauses for a moment. "It's difficult to say. The instructions written on that suspicious note Doctor Russo was given all those years ago aren't directly related to Lilly's...creation, as it were. It contained enough teasers and unrelated information to convince someone the note was serious, however much of that Doctor Russo could make sense of, and cryptic direction to whoever could work these supposed miracles. But as fast as I can tell who- and whatever the man was send to doesn't exist anymore. The suspected address the note cryptically hints at burned down around nine years back when a neighbouring building caught fire, and as far as city records go the building should have been empty at the time. Without any real knowledge as to the exact method that was used to create Lilly from miss Leone's blood sample we can only make guesses as to Lilly's true nature. Though, truthfully, I suspect it's for the best that particular bit of knowledge was lost." You ask, just in case, but of course the Legate explains that the authorities at the time found no reason to suspect that fire was started deliberately. Figures.

"Why even research it in the first place? Surely they realized they couldn't simply convince or, hell, overthrow the Imperial Temple and get away with that. I remember Professor Briardi questioning what the point of it all was, too. So it sounds like they didn't even succeed at what they managed to do."

The Legate nods, recalling that moment as well. "What the cult wanted to do was devise a method to cheat death, but as impressive as Lilly's existence in is that regard she ultimately failed to accomplish the cult's goals. Chiara Leone, the then-six year old girl who died on Doctor Russo's operating table, is - and will remain - dead. Lilly is her own person, and as similar as she might look to miss Leone's lost sister they're not even the same physically. If miss Leone experienced an onset than I must assume her twin sister would have done the same. And even if Chiara didn't-wouldn't have, rather, Lilly was created from miss Leone's blood. And let's not even get into Lilly's Astrological portents. I made the mistake of asking Kate about it, there's one afternoon I'll never get back." You ask the Legate whether truly cheating death like the cult wanted is even possible, and the Legate explains that it's one of those things that magical theorists - and theologians - have debated time and again. But as far as actual, measurable results are concerned, Lilly is as far as anyone has gotten by far. And she still failed to replace or "revive" Chiara in basically every measurable way.

"I'd say that hopefully that's the end of it, for Lilly's sake, but it sounds like there's loose ends still unaccounted for. Whoever helped doctor Russo, for starters. I don't suppose that's one of the people Sam ended up recruiting, and kept an item of?"

"I couldn't say for sure whether those two have ever been in contact, as I've not had an opportunity to question the man myself yet. The bigger problem, however, is that there's no way to say whether or not they have with any degree of certainty, unless they've been in contact recently. And that's assuming our suspect is even still alive, at this point," the Legate answers. "Though if they are, what could we possibly even make an educated guess about now? Ten years is a very long time even to adults, and anyone who'd wield such extraordinary magic surely has a story or two to tell. I don't know if we'll ever find out the truth, frankly part of me is hoping we don't all things considered. All we can do is hope that Lilly won't get dragged down by all of this, and live out a normal life. Relatively normal, at least."

You can agree on that. Of course the moment you say that, approaching the Great Gate of the Academagia, is the moment that one Grainne Inneith suddenly jumps out of what you can only assume was some nearby bushes, because you did not see her coming at all. "There you are! I have been looking all over for your opinion on the..." Suddenly Grainne runs out of steam as quickly as she seemed to fire up. Then you remember that, oh right, the Legate is still right next to you. "...Generous amount of Merit that Professor Briardi assigned to [PC COLLEGE] for your exemplary assistance to the faculty. Y-you should be proud of that, you know. Putting in good work for your College's merit race, setting a good example to others and...y-you know, stuff."

"Indeed, [PC FIRST NAME] is an example more students should follow in that regard," the Legate, very pointedly, tells Grainne. From the thoroughly disappointed look on her face you'd guess she finally got the memo...for now. You know she's not going to give up just because of one-okay, at least two setbacks, forgot that she got caught earlier as well. Still, not giving up. Not Grainne.

So, after all of that...it's back to your normal, regularly scheduled Academagia student life. Feels weird to go back to normality after all you've seen, but that's how it goes sometimes. Of course you get plenty of questions, compliments, and questions disguised as compliments from both your college mates and others about this whole affair. More people curious about the whole ordeal and who or what Lilly really is, but you don't let it bother you. As you say to others, to you Lilly is just another girl. Nothing more.

Why, yes, I do have future plans for this adventure. Hopefully it'll be a fun ride :).

Edited by Metis
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  • 2 months later...

And another one! This one's an early survivor (maybe, hopefully), though as always, a doozy. In word count if nothing else, I've no idea how it got out of hand as badly as it did but it did.

Painting Rumors, Stage 0:

Spoiler

It's lunchtime in the Great Hall, and your eating is disturbed when an older Avila student suddenly sits down next to you. Not that it's illegal for her to sit there, but usually students tend to either sit by their Classmates or alone, so she stands out quite a bit. "You're [PC FIRST NAME]?" the girl quietly asks before she takes a nervous bite from her own food. Whether she's trying (and failing) to maintain some manner of secrecy or not eludes you.

"Yes...?" you answer, with the traditional slow drone at the end to indicate you'd like to hear the other person's name. Of course the girl doesn't pick up on that, instead she slips you a small note and awkwardly shuffles off.

All told, you're left feeling confused. Was a simple "hi, you're that person? Here's a message, bye now" not mysterious enough, or something? Ah, no matter. You're not shuffling over to the girl to ask.

-Take a look at the note instead.
--"Go to Professor Briardi's office after lunch" is all that's written on the note. Does the regent want to see you? That seems like the obvious conclusion, but than why ask a student to slip you a note? A student of another college, at that. Is Professor Briardi really so busy she didn't have time to fetch one of her own students, or even sign her own note for that matter? Weird. Really weird.

Well, strange as the situation feels you suppose there's no better way to start answering the many questions this note asks but hoping you can get them straight from the horse's mouth. The horse being Professor Briardi in this case, because the girl has already disappeared from sight. You weren't expecting to get any answers from her anyway.

You'd think an intro stage like this couldn't be more straightforward if it tried, but I actually remember having to edit it once or twice.

Painting Rumors, Stage 1:

Spoiler

After you finish your lunch you don't waste any time heading to Professor Briardi's office. A quick knock on the door yields Professor Briardi's voice telling you the door's open. You step inside the office and see there's no one else here, just the regent herself. Honestly, you're not sure if you should be surprised by that or not.

"Ah, [PC FIRST NAME]? What business do you have with me?" Professor Briardi asks, and that is surprising. It means the regent wasn't expecting you. In answer to the regent's question you pull out the note and explain that an older Avila student gave it to you during lunch. The regent takes the note and looks it over curiously, but seems to lose interest pretty quickly. "Can you give me an idea of who this 'older Avila student' is? A name, a description?"

Thinking about it...you can't do anything more than sheepishly admit you weren't really paying attention to the girl's looks. It was lunchtime, you had other priorities. Mainly, lunch. Professor Briardi shakes her head in disappointment.

"Honestly, magic isn't going to save you if you can't display at least a basic level of survival instincts. That's not to say appearances can't easily be deceiving, especially in a place like the Academagia, but-"

The regent's lecture (as well as whatever horrible punishment was no doubt going to follow) is interrupted when the note, discarded and forgotten on the professor's desk, suddenly gives off a brief, but bright shine of light. The regent fumbles trying to quickly reach for her wand, but thankfully other than the lightshow the note doesn't seem to do anything else. Afterwards the regent looks both disappointed and angry.

"I hope whoever made this didn't intend this as a prank, because if they got me hook, line and sinker with one in my own office..." the regent mumbles as she carefully picks up the note and looks it over again. Based on the expression on her face it's not a prank, though. "...Right. So that's what this is about," the regent says as she tosses the note inside her desk this time, before turning her attention to you. "I don't expect you to be familiar, but just to check: Does the name Nadia Qureshi mean anything to you?"

"...Vaguely, actually. I don't really remember, but I think someone mentioned it in passing, somewhere? The Great Hall or maybe the Garden Gallery, probably an older student if I had to guess."

Professor Briardi nods at that. "Most likely, yes. Nadia has been the centre of a large number of rumors periodically circling around the Academagia. None you've heard about in any great detail, I suspect, but from my perspective the trend is starting to become problematic. Which brings us to that note, from one of Nadia's friends. It seems she used Astrology to determine that sending you to my office would set events in motion to help Nadia 'spread her wings', or some such. I'll admit the interpretation sounds a tad...dramatic? Romanticised, perhaps, but either way I assume it's referring to you freeing Nadia from this rumor business. You understand the reference, I'm sure."

You frown at that. Not the interpretation, that makes sense, your question is "why you?" You don't even know this girl. What are you going to accomplish that this friend, who is apparently able to predict the future well enough to know which completely random stranger to send to which regent's office, can't?

"I can understand your reluctance to get involved," the regent suddenly says, reading your doubts on your face. "That said, I must admit this rumor business surrounding Nadia is starting to become a real thorn in the faculty's side. Some have already tried and failed to dispel them, or at least get to the bottom of why they keep popping up. And a number of upperclassman have received reprimands because of it. I would love to see the truth behind these rumors brought to my office in professional confidence, but after the last string of upperclassman were caught - and reprimanded harshly for - spreading malicious gossip they've become very weary of faculty. And anyone who might be acting on their behalf. But, since these rumors have always been considered the business of the upperclassman, I'd guess they're not likely to see an underclassman coming. And perhaps a fresh pair of eyes and ears are just what we need to drag new information out of this quagmire of rumors. Honestly? I can see good arguments for sending an underclassman to check out this rumor business."

Huh. You'll admit, you did not expect that. Maybe Nadia's friend was on to something, but still, why you of all people? That's your biggest question right now - what are you able to do that no one else could?

"If you'd like to investigate this matter on my - really, the entire faculty's - behalf, I'd have no objection," Professor Briardi adds. You know she can see the doubt on your face, so no point mentioning it. You're just waiting for her to address it. "Though, yes, of course I'm also curious about whether you're really capable of investigating. And willing to, of course. It is a delicate situation, you'll need to act a true professional if you've any hope of success. So, do you think you're up to that?"

Hmm...on the one side, having your name make the rounds in the faculty's office as someone who solved a thorny problem? Sure, true recognition will probably be very limited at best, but still, a round of good words never hurt anyone. On the other side, dealing with upperclassman. On the other other side, your curiosity. Why you? Why, of all underclassman, you? Is there a better way to figure out the answer to that question than to walk the path in front of you? You might never figure it out if you don't. And at least half of this friend's Astrological prediction was right on the money, so you see no reason to doubt the other half.

Before getting too caught up in theories you suppose you should first address the practical road block in front of you: Could you investigate this matter, to Professor Briardi's "professional" standards, in the first place?

-Blackmail. You can dig up some dirt.
--"I can tell it'll take a real professional to dig up anything or merit, alright. Sounds to me like the problem here isn't that students are talking, but that some student aren't talking. Rumors don't easily stay within a given age range in the Academagia, so what's got the underclassman keeping mum about this Nadia character?"

Professor Briardi nods, a thin smile forming on her face. "Excellent question. I trust you think you're up to the task of finding the answer?"

"Naturally. That said is there anything more you can tell me about Nadia, and these rumors about her? Any angles, any potential leads, that sort of stuff?"

--You've no doubt in your journalistic abilities, but the prospect of having to deal with upperclassman, as an underclassman, nevertheless doesn't sit well with you. That'll be an uphill struggle no matter what, and if you value your long term survival chances - which, as a matter a fact, you do - you won't be able to use...all of the information gathering tools in your toolbox freely. You're confident in your skills, but are you confident enough in your ability to adapt?

Ultimately you tell Professor Briardi that you're interested in helping, but you'd like to test the waters first. Get a feel for how this is going to go before jumping straight in. The regent, of course, nods appreciatively at your caution and recognition of potential danger, which is good...but also not going to help you move forward here at all.

You leave the regent's office wondering about what the best way to prepare for this ordeal would be. Studying in the Venalicium seems like it wouldn't be worth as much as practical experience, but how are you supposed to get that? More and more questions...if only you could track down that older Avila student and ask her these questions...

-Gossip. You're no stranger to rumors.
--"Please, if it's rumors you want investigated you've got the right person. And no, I'm not going to go running off like a headless chicken chasing more interesting things to tell Rikildis than whatever nonsense she manages to dig up about me or someone I care about. And beyond that I know rumors, I know how they work. If there's any truth to them - or not - I can figure it out."

Professor Briardi actually manages a smirk. "Well, you're confident at least. I'll give you that."

"Of course. So, can you give me the rundown of Nadia and these rumors surrounding her, as well as the faculty's failed investigations into them, insofar that I need to know them?"

--It's true that you don't feel like a stranger to rumors, but at the same time you can't deny that this situation feels...how do you put it, it feels off somehow. Call it intuition, you feel like you're going to get jumped by something unexpected if you go into this thinking you're going to need to investigate rumors and that's it. Yet no matter how often you run through your intended approach - figure out what rumors are being told, figure out who tells them, figure out the truth (or not) behind them - you can't foresee this unexpected complication you feel is looming overhead.

Ultimately you tell Professor Briardi that you're interested in helping, but you'd like give this one a good think first. See if you can figure out why you're feeling apprehensive, what complication or danger your intuition thinks is waiting. The regent, of course, nods appreciatively at your caution and recognition of potential danger, which is good...but also not going to help you answer your own questions at all.

Still, it's probably better this way. If these rumors have been circulating for so long they'll circulate for a few days longer, anyhow. No need to rush into things, just take your time and go into a big project fully prepared. Especially when your intuition tells you there's more to this story than mere rumors...

-Heraldry. You can handle yourself with grace.
--"Polite inquiries into a delicate matter, the results of which are to be delivered to your office in confidence? Of course I can manage that."

Professor Briardi puts on her best "polite" expression, but she actually doesn't manage too well. The weight of the situation - and the lightshow from the note moments prior - clearly still weigh on her. "I suppose I've no reason to doubt that. Though the situation does still leave me feeling a bit uneasy."

"I see no reason to be. Upperclassman can be difficult to approach for someone my age, true, but they're not barbarians as a rule. Worst case they'll be rude, and I've handled worse. Though speaking of rude words, exactly what rumors have been making the rounds about Nadia? And what more can you tell me about Nadia herself?"

--You're fully confident that you can handle yourself with grace, of course, but the upperclassman are a different story. Rude barbarians whenever an underclassman they don't know - especially when they should - politely asks them questions that are in their best interests to answer, the lot of them. A mere few years is enough to instil them with a thoroughly misguided sense of overconfidence, in that regard. Regrettably.

Ultimately you tell Professor Briardi that you're interested in assisting, but you'd like to spend a moment to firmly practice the fine art of diplomacy before trying to engage in conversation with upperclassman. The regent seems strangely confused, almost, at what she should recognize as praiseworthy caution and recognition of potential danger, but so be it. You're not the type to fish for compliments over something so simple, of course. You've greater social graces than that.

It does leave you wondering what the best place would be to get in some last minute practice, though. The Mercenary Guild House? Hmm...perhaps a bit, shall we say, advanced, that one. Obviously the best practice will be from the same group you'll be interacting with in the near future, of course, so time to see about getting some upperclassman to engage in civil conversation. Difficult as that no doubt will be...

This stage likewise went through some major editing, though early on. Beyond that I'm not sure whether to be embarrassed or proud of the foreeclipsing going on here. At least it won't be difficult to edit if it needs to be :rolleyes:.

Edited by Metis
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Painting Rumors, Stage 2:

Spoiler

"Well...truthfully I wouldn't want to say much more than I already have. Going in with a clean slate should help in not getting caught up with false leads," Professor Briardi explains. "Though to ensure you at least have some measure of truth to fall back on: Nadia is a fourth year Avila student. A bit of a social butterfly, has a small Clique of close friends, but as far as I've found she doesn't interact with the underclassman too much."

"I take it you - or another professor - already talked to Nadia herself about this rumor business?" you ask, and of course the regent nods.

"This certainly isn't the first discussion I've had about it, though I've never personally spoken to her about these rumors. Professor Badcrumble has talked to her about it in private, I've heard, but Nadia denied having any knowledge or involvement in the matter. I've found no reason to doubt those claims on my end, for what that's worth."

You're not so sure about that. Rumors usually fall apart the moment that people realize there's no truth to them. That they've stuck around for so long, and continue to pop up again and again, means there must be at least a core of truth to them. Of course that core of truth could easily be something completely innocent that people horribly misinterpreted, but that seems like an unlikely scenario if these rumors keep popping up. Looks like you'll have to investigate to what extent these rumors are true (or at least manage to maintain the illusion of being true) before you'll be able to make much headway into figuring out who keeps spreading them. The nature of those rumors, and Nadia herself, severely changes what all is possible here...

You ask if Rikildis has ever gotten involved in this mess, and Professor Briardi mentions that she did try to. But for better or worse she wasn't able to get information from senior students that easily, and after "a convincing argument" she was convinced to drop the subject. Forever. "If there is any truth to these rumors Rikildis is the last person I'd want informed about it, anyway," Professor Briardi adds. "The last thing anyone needs is for, undoubtedly, grossly misinterpreted scandals to be plastered all over the Academagia's feeble attempt at a newspaper."

Sounds like you can rule out your Classmates giving you much of any information in this case. And count your blessings at the same time, for the same reason. "Alright. Anything else?"

Professor Briardi briefly hesitates, but shakes her head afterwards. Looks like that's all your getting to get started on this case, so you leave the regent's office and consider what your first move should be. All you've really got is a name, a college and a year. Which isn't awful, as these things go, but it's not ideal either. You're definitely going to have to figure out what these rumors are about first, what people are saying about Nadia.

You do briefly consider approaching Nadia directly and asking about the rumors, but expecting to get straight answers from her when she holds all the cards seems optimistic at best. Not to assume the worst of someone you haven't even met, but you have to assume the possibility that - regardless of Professor Badcrumble's interpretation of events - Nadia isn't perfectly innocent in all of this. Professor Briardi mentioned that you'd be able to start looking into things without immediately being found out as working on the faculty's behalf, but also that Nadia herself doesn't interact with underclassman all that often. So this sounds like it might take some more...indirect investigation. If you show your own hand too early than you'll lose your chance to get the truth from Nadia, and given how she seems to attract rumors like bees to honey, probably a lot of other people as well.

Now...how to shake some titbits loose from the upperclassman's gossip tree?

-Persuasion. Ask Rikildis. She was told off, but she'd still know something.
--You swing by Rikildis' newspaper room and find her staring daggers at a piece of parchment in front of her. Seems like you walked in at a good time, namely when Rikildis would like her attention directed elsewhere. "Oh, hi, [PC FIRST NAME]," she says without taking her eyes off of the parchment. Not sure how she knows it's you, now that you think about it. "Can you please make it quick? Or at least sufficiently interesting? I'm behind on my homework, and if I'm getting a reprimand for not getting it done on time it better be worth it."

"Nadia Qureshi," you say in answer to Rikildis' question. You know you don't need to say more, Rikildis drops her parchment on the table in front of her.

"Now that is interesting, but what happened that she's managed to catch your ear?" Rikildis asks, with clear curiosity written all over her face. You start to explain that Professor Briardi asked you to get involved, and suddenly Rikildis' interest vanishes. "Oh. Eh, right, never mind in that case. Didn't she tell you that I already tried to look into Nadia's case, and Professor Badcrumble told me - on no uncertain terms, mind you - to not get involved? Sorry, but with homework piling up like this my hands are unfortunately tied. Would love to gossip, really would, but if Professor Badcrumble-or Professor Briardi, whichever, catches me doing so this parchment is going to mysteriously unearth before unheard of twins, triples, and probably even more."

"The regent told you 'not to get involved', right?" you ask as innocently as you can. Rikildis slowly nods, not saying more despite giving you a very questioning look. "Well, how much less involved can a gossip journalist be than giving away the information she was hoarding in the hopes of running an article about it? The entire point of a newspaper is to inform people of things they don't already know, surely Professor Badcrumble recognizes that. So if that secret is already out there, and in the hands of someone another professor recruited to look into the mess at that, then the newspaper journalist is obviously no longer involved."

It takes a second before Rikildis processes the argument. But afterwards she manages a smile that's halfway between an actual smile and one of her "someone's life is about to get ruined" confident smirks. It's...you're confident enough you're not going to end up a victim on Rikildis' end, you're fine. Probably.

"You know, that sounds like a convincing argument," Rikildis eventually says as she points to a chair across from her little makeshift study table. You sit down right as Rikildis pulls out a set of parchments bigger than her earlier homework. "I didn't manage to fully investigate the situation, so take this with a grain of salt if you have to. But as far as I've found these rumors started flying around shortly after Nadia started talking about attending a cram school for nude painting earlier this academic year."

You quirk an eyebrow, not sure what you were expecting. But whatever you were this definitely doesn't feel like it was it.

"Yeah, surprised me as well at first. That said, before you get any wild ideas, I should clarify that 'nude painting' doesn't mean what you'd think it does. According to my research, in the context of a practising novice, nude painting is just a collective term for painting any uncovered part of a person's body. Arms, hands, faces, eyes, and so on. It's a common thing for beginners to start with - and for desperate suckers to get scammed by, if I had to guess - so they can start practising their techniques while getting a feel for how to paint proper, recognizable human shapes and forms. I'm not a painter myself, so I can't speak from experience, but I've been told that it can take a long time before people are able to paint human shapes that don't look off or uncanny. Apparently our miss Qureshi was in the same boat until she started attending this cram school, and she was pleased enough with her progress that she told people about it."

"I'm starting to see how this ended up creating a flood of off-color rumors about her," you slowly say. Rikildis gives you a knowing nod, the kind that says she'd know better. Which you don't doubt. "So how did these rumors end up developing? I'm guessing guys are lining up to be...painted by her-that doesn't even make any sense."

That knowing nod again, with complementary smirk this time. "Correct, and don't worry if it takes you a few attempts to figure this one out, I won't blame you. After the initial wave of people choosing not to do ten minutes of research in the Venalicium, as I did, the rumors twisted into Nadia being some sort of expert on everything even vaguely anatomical. Don't know how to kiss a girl? Got a rash in an awkward spot you don't know how to get rid of? Come to miss Qureshi's mobile advice booth, and she'll be able to tell you what you need to know."

You try, for a full minute, to figure out how the initial rumors could have possibly turned into that. In the end you can do nothing more than shrug helplessly, though. At least Rikildis is feeling nice enough to sympathize. A bit.

"Trust me, it confused me as well. But the most confusing thing by far is that those rumors are persistent. Consistent, even. In my actual experience as a journalist I can tell you it's a sign that those rumors are, in fact, true. At least to some extent. Some of the stuff that was further twisted from them, which don't even merit mention, I can tell are bogus at a glance. Didn't even bother to look into them further, not worth my time. But the part about her giving advice to people? It's accurate. I'd bet my printing press on that."

"I can't imagine giving people advice on how to kiss is enough to get the entirety of the Academagia's upperclassman, and in turn the faculty, on your case. I especially can't imagine attending a painting cram school teaching you anything to pass along to others on that subject, for that matter. Unless Nadia found a boyfriend there, I guess, though unless that kid's a doctor in training where on Cyve did she end up conjuring the knowledge on how to treat everything under the sun from?" Rikildis nods along with your increasingly confused series of questions, likely having experienced the exact same thing during her own investigation. "What's even weirder is that Professor Briardi mentioned that, apparently, Professor Badcrumble believes that Nadia is innocent as far as this rumor business is concerned. But if there is any truth to those 'advice' rumors, especially if it's about personal or embarrassing stuff, I mean...Professor Badcrumble has, eh..."

"Strict ideas on how a 'proper lady' should act. Ones that the Legate would likely agree with her on in this case, considering his whole shtick against students dating ever since that Mastery incident," Rikildis fills in. You nod at that. "That was my thinking as well, and why my next step would have been trying to get some 'advice' from Nadia myself before Professor Badcrumble caught me and told me off. Obviously I tried to get answers from her as well, but I'm sure you can guess how that entirely one-sided conversation went. So...that about sums up all of the relevant information I've found about Nadia. Any further questions?"

You do ask Rikildis if she knows if anyone in particular is continuing to spread these rumors and if she's ever talked to Nadia herself, or otherwise learned what her take on this whole ordeal is. But unfortunately the only answer Rikildis can give you is a shrug. "Guess I'll have to figure out the rest myself. Do you know where I could find Nadia, by chance? I might trying asking her for some advice myself, get an idea of what that's really like...though I'd have to come up with something convincing to get advice on..."

"Finding Nadia should be easy enough. Since she started attending that cram school she's been hanging out in the Academagia's Garden Gallery, working on her painting. Speaking of, if you can't find her there you might try looking for her at that nude painting cram school in Mineta. Nadia spends a lot of her time outside the Academagia, and I've heard she still attends that cram school, so it's a fair guess to try looking for her there. Though maybe try not getting caught searching for her there. People might get the wrong idea," Rikildis informs you. The last part with a jovial, untrustworthy smile.

That certainly gives you enough to go on, so you say goodbye to Rikildis ("for now", as the ever ruthless gossip journalist puts it) and get ready to move on to the next step.

--You swing by Rikildis' newspaper room and actually find Grainne here sifting through a mountain of parchment. Whether it's related to newspaper stuff or just homework isn't obvious at a glance, but either way you get her attention.

Long story less long it is, in fact, homework, and something that both Grainne herself and Rikildis have been saddled with due to Professor Badcrumble putting the screws on them after Rikildis started looking into Nadia. Not that Rikildis has heard of it yet, but she will once she comes back.

So, eh, yeah...about that idea to convince Rikildis to spill the beans about Nadia...awkward. You've half a mind to help Grainne burn through this stuff as quickly as possible, before Rikildis comes back and sees a mountain of reasons not to gossip about Nadia ever again, but that's going to take a while. And if you intend to keep it from Rikildis you can't very well expect to have your efforts be acknowledged by her either. Grainne, maybe, but it's still quite the commitment. To bet it all on Rikildis or to try and find someone else to get information from? Hmm...rough choice...

Ultimately you decide to try to get information from other students instead, leaving Grainne and later Rikildis to their own devices for the moment. Unfortunately your attempts fail spectacularly, not even managing to start a conversation with someone well enough to bring up your own subject. Well, at least you didn't end up stuffed into a trash can face-first, that's something, but also not a standard you'd like to hold yourself to going forward...

-Incantation. Try out some obscure spying spells.
--Perhaps it's a bit too early for you to try flinging around these listening spells, but you're confident enough to give them your best shot. Besides, isn't this what you're here at the Academagia for in the first place? To study magic? No point being a student here if you're never going to use your wand.

First you're going to need a good location to try these spells, and you decide on the Garden Gallery. It's not as packed or open as the Great Hall, which you suspect is going to help make it easier to make these spells work, while still having an appreciable number of gossiping students around. Anything you need beyond that? Probably a book you can pretend to read in the meantime? That sounds good.

It takes a bit of fiddling and more than a few attempts to get the spells cast correctly, good thing the book you brought to pretend read is an Incantation textbook, but eventually you get it working well enough to eavesdrop on other students that are not too far away. And not too close to other sources of noise you can't figure out how to cut out yet, which proves to be a frequent issue given how much of a racket leaves actually make when the wind picks up. Oh, and the students you're magically eavesdropping on can't be sufficiently magically trained, observant or otherwise capable of realizing what you're actually doing, of course. Which is sketchy when you basically need to eavesdrop on upperclassman specifically. But despite all of that you make it work. Barely.

Fortunately you are at least rewarded after all that effort. From multiple different sources you overhear that the rumors surrounding Nadia got started after she started talking about how satisfied she was with some manner of cram school in Mineta offering "nude painting" courses. It confuses the absolute daylights out of you, since you remember Professor Briardi mentioning that Professor Badcrumble took no issue with Nadia insofar as this rumor business is concerned. Fortunately one of the students you eavesdrop on is a painter himself, as he explains to his friend (who is as confused as you are) that "nude painting" is a regular beginner's course for novice painters, and broadly refers to painting any uncovered part of the human body. According to the painter student it can be unreasonably hard to get proportions and shapes right enough to paint recognizable humans, and evidently Nadia herself is an example thereof as she needed this cram school course to get over that hump.

That tells you how those rumors got started, but unfortunately there's no explanation for how things ended up twisted into several knots from there. From what you're gathering shortly after Nadia's initial (continued?) indiscretion made the rounds among the older students the idea came up that she was an expert at all things anatomy. From things you'd normally go to the infirmary for to things like how to be a better kisser, of all things, any and all such questions you could get an answer to by seeing Nadia and getting advice from her. Which is...you don't even have words for this level of ridiculous. Yet at the same time you have to assume there is some sort of core of truth to these rumors. People wouldn't still be talking about them, and this consistently, if there wasn't.

Starting to see why this matter has got the professors so stumped, at least. There is no making sense of this no matter how you look at it, and yet there basically has to be some measure of truth to it. Curious indeed...

You're a bit lost as to what to do in this situation, until one of the eavesdrop victims mentions that Nadia actually spends a fair bit of her time in the Garden Gallery itself, working on her painting. Now that is an opportunity you don't think you can pass up on. You feel like you've gotten everything you could out of eavesdropping on older students, so time to move on to the next stage of the plan.

--You'd be lying if you said you felt confident, trying to fling around these sorts of eavesdropping spells, but what's the worst that could happen? Other than, you know, an upperclassman noticing and cursing you into a tree frog for a few hours, but aside from that. Besides, you're a student at the Academagia! You're here to study magic, not carpentry. So let's use some magic!

First you're going to need a good location to try these spells, and you decide on the Garden Gallery. It's not as packed or open as the Great Hall, which you suspect is going to help make it easier to make these spells work, while still having an appreciable number of gossiping students around. Anything you need beyond that? Probably a book you can pretend to read in the meantime? That sounds good.

You spend the next you don't even want to recall how many hours trying, and failing, to get these spells to work to any practical degree, but the absolute best you can manage is a poor man's attempt at a magical aid for studying lip reading. Which maybe you should have been doing in the first place, in hindsight. Should have brought an Incantation textbook to read instead. Maybe that would have helped...

-Hide. Do some eavesdropping in the Garden Gallery.
--You go to the Garden Gallery and scope out the place, looking for likely spots where you might end up overhearing something. Immediately you run into a problem: There's no way you're hiding behind any of the stone statues here unless the students you've eavesdropping on are worryingly inattentive, and hiding in the bushes is...more likely, but feels kinda beneath you. You're a second year Academagia student, surely you can do better than hiding in the bushes by now. Surely.

Inspiration hits you, and you head off to where the Groundskeepers store their tools for maintaining the Garden Gallery. It's just a local storage shed in an out of the way corner with nothing but some mundane tools in them, nothing you can't break into and nothing that's going to be closely guarded, but it does get you access to exactly what you need to hide in plain sight. Everyone is going to notice the student trying to hide inside the bushes, but the student who's trimming them? No one...well, okay, a few people. But far fewer, and it's a lot more dignified. So you'll give this your best shot.

You grab what you need and look for a likely looking location to eavesdrop from that doesn't have perfectly trimmed hedges as-is. During your search you pass by two older female students, one of which leers at you as you walk by, and coldly asks if you'd like to keep moving when you stop by a nearby hedge. In answer to her query you pull out your hedge clipper and give her your best unamused stare. The student looks surprised. "Oh! Detention?" she asks, and you give a curt nod. "What'd you do to get assigned gardening duties? Ruin Professor Vickery's garden?"

You think about it for a second, and sensing an opportunity you deepen your frown and spit out "Nadia Qureshi". The two students are surprised to hear that name, and both have questions written on their faces. You decide to "get started" a bit further away from them, though still close enough to hear, and as hoped the two students start gossiping to each other about Nadia. You're not able to catch their entire conversation, having to look like you're actually doing something means you sometimes have to use the hedge clippers or clean up loose foliage and that makes a surprising amount of racket, but you're able to overhear most of it.

Turns out that Nadia's claim to rumor fame started when she started talking about how satisfied she was about some cram school in Mineta where she studied "nude painting", apparently. No clue what that's about, but you're assuming there's something lost to eavesdropping if not in general, because there's no halfway reasonable scenario where Nadia would - or could, you suspect - openly talk about that and not have Professor Badcrumble set her on fire once those rumors started spreading. And Professor Briardi confirmed that no such bonfires occurred. So the truth of the matter unfortunately remains unclear.

Or course the weirdness doesn't end there. According to these two order girls Nadia - somehow - managed to turn this cram school deal into getting herself a full on doctorate and change, because following the initial rumors people started approaching her about all kinds of anatomy-related questions. Not just stuff you'd normally go to the Infirmary for either, the two girls begin to gossip about a rival of theirs (you assume, based on context) who approached Nadia about how to become a better kisser, of all things. And there's audible jealousy in their voices when they talk about it, because whatever advice Nadia gave this rival evidently worked if the lamentations of these two is anything to go off of.

You are simply speechless at the sheer absurdity of it all, and part of you is tempted to march up to those two girls and asks if they're trying to pull one over you. But as you "complete" this part of "gardening work" and try the same ploy elsewhere, figuring that surely these two girls must just be out of their minds or messing with you after seeing through your charade, you end up overhearing the same story. And then again. And then again. It's consistent, too - Nadia started talking about attending a nude painting cram school, others started gossiping about it, and before anyone knew what happened Nadia had become the proprietor of her own mobile advice booth. This despite the fact that Professor Badcrumble, according to Professor Briardi, found nothing wrong about Nadia's actions as far as these rumors are concerned.

Starting to see why the professors are having such a hard time figuring this one out, at least. You've got your work cut out for you. What in Octavius' name is going on with the rumor mill here?

Just as you're despairing over where you could possibly even go from here your latest targets end up mentioning something very interesting - apparently Nadia herself often frequents the Garden Gallery, as a place to work on her painting. The temptation to try and get some "advice" from her yourself is starting to make your hedge clippers feel mighty heavy. You've gotten some good information this way, the consistency of these rumors still being told so long after the fact speaks volumes about the core of truth there must be to them, but filling in the missing gaps is going to require a different approach. And Nadia herself seems like the best bet.

Time to put these tools back and get started on the next phase of this investigation.

--You go to the Garden Gallery and scope out the place, looking for likely spots where you might end up overhearing something. Unfortunately there's no way you're hiding behind any of the stone statues here unless the students you've eavesdropping on are worryingly inattentive, but given the foliage around here hiding in the bushes seems possible. Albeit, not like the most elegant solution, but if it works it works, right? Hiding isn't about glitter and glamour, it's about not being seen, and if the bushes work for that that's what you'll use.

Unfortunately your attempts at hiding in the bushes like someone far, far younger than you are fail spectacularly. As it turns out that the upperclassman you're supposed to eavesdrop on are, themselves, also far beyond such basic techniques and as such aren't fooled one bit. Fortunately your complete and utter failure was such a total disaster that none of the upperclassman who caught you cared to give your attempt at eavesdropping any sort of respect, and so given just a bit of time you're sure you can try this approach again later if you wish.

That's assuming you'll ever be able to show your face outside your dorm room again, mind you, which currently feels like an unlikely scenario after that thorough embarrassment...

As always, keeping (rough) information parity between these various options can be difficult. Also yes, the Incantation exit is a reference to Y1's tutorial adventure ;).

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