The Let's Play Archive


by Bobbin Threadbare

Part 5: Familiars, Phemes, and Facing Fears

Athonos 2-5

You receive Oan’s note to meet you at the Campanile Walk; as you’ve come to expect, she leaves excellent directions as to how to find the location. At the appropriate time, Oan meets you under the broad, leaf-covered walk in a semi-private area. “Thanks for coming,” she says. She dips her hand into her pocket and pulls out a white mouse no larger than her palm. “This is Anastasia,” she explains. “Anastasia is my Familiar. I’ve had her since before coming to the Academagia, and we’ve worked very hard together to train her so she can help me in my search for...well, for whatever I want to search for.

“Today’s lesson is going to be pretty short, since I have somewhere to be in a few minutes, but I wanted to give you a quick primer on Familiars. Most students don’t have their Familiar before coming to the Academagia, but my parents thought I should have a bit of an edge, given the stereotypes against our culture.” She holds out her hand and gestures for you to pet her mouse. Tentatively, you reach out and stroke the mouse. With a glance towards Oan, Anastasia carefully climbs onto the back of your hand and scurries up your arm to nose your neck.

“She likes you,” Oan exclaims with a giggle. “That’s good; I’ve worked hard on getting Anastasia to help judge character. The fact that she likes you says a lot about you: either you’re a good person at heart, or you’re pretty good at hiding your real tendencies.

“Anyway, let me explain a bit about Familiars and how they act. See, Familiars are like close friends, only they’ve got almost no resources that you don’t give them. They can help or hinder you depending on how well you train them. Put it like this: when it comes to Familiars, you get out of them what you put into them. If you don’t train them, they won’t be useful. If you train them, they’ll come in handy. Of course, like everything else, spending time training your Familiar comes at a price; the more time you spend training them, the less time you have to train yourself.”

So far, everything Oan has said makes perfect sense, leaving you little to ponder. “Now that I’ve told you that,” she says, “there’s something to be said for spending time with your Familiar. You see, each Familiar has certain abilities that are unique to its breed, abilities that you’ll only get out of them by training and spending quality time with them. For example, you may not know it to look at her, but Anastasia is a pretty good tracker. Now that she’s got your scent, she’ll be able to follow you around wherever you go for a good couple of days. She didn’t come that way; I had to work darn hard to make her this good. Now that she knows how to do this, she can’t unlearn it, so the time we spent together working on it was well worth the sacrifice in my own studies. Of course, that’s just my opinion, but there you go. So, feel like training your own Familiar a bit?”

It’s worth noting that, win, lose, or back out, you will always be able to proceed to the next Mentor adventure. That said, there are definite rewards only given for success, but I just thought I’d point out that there are no penalties for failure, at least in this case. Now, given that Iliana’s Familiar choice happened to be a cat, I’d say the Intimidation option is appropriate enough.

“Intimidating, huh?” Oan asks as she takes a step back to look over your Familiar. “Well, any Familiar can be a bigger bully than it already is. Tell you what: have Captain Rufus practice on Anastasia here for a few minutes. Anastasia is pretty good at resisting bullies, but she still has a bit of a complex about cats, as I suppose you understand. She won’t take it personal, but if you do manage to frighten her a bit, you’ll probably be able to repeat that experience later.”

Stepping back, you go over your game plan with your Familiar. When you feel you’ve got everything down just right, you tell him to get with the intimidating! From the get-go, you realize that Oan wasn’t exaggerating; Anastasia is pretty good at resisting bullies, but she isn’t perfect. By the fifth hungry look your Familiar gives Anastasia, the poor little mouse has begun searching for an escape route. Before Felix can start on a sixth look, Oan steps in and calls a stop to the action.

“Great job,” she announces. “I think you’ve learned enough to be useful here.” Tucking Anastasia away in her robes, she adds, “Well, I hate to do this, but I have to run. The life of a Third Year is never dull! Slip me a note under my door when you’re ready for more instruction, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I have the time. Keep practicing!”

Deciding that a single day is long enough, you send word to Oan that you’re ready to meet again. She tells you where to be, and in her letter of response, she reminds you to bring your wand. With this in mind, you find yourself on the second floor of the Venalicium Library. Browsing the shelves, you’re so caught up in all you’re seeing that Oan’s tap on the shoulder is a little frightening! The sternness of her finger across her lips is tempered by the laughing smile creasing the corners of her eyes.

“So, are you ready for the hardest part?” she asks. You nod, and Oan leads you back through a maze of shelves and books to a row of doors against the wall. She leads you to a door, seemingly at random, opens it, and ushers you inside. Only after the door is closed does Oan cast a spell to give you light.

“The Librarians heavily discourage the use of spells in the Library proper,” she explains, “but inside these study cubicles, pretty much anything magical goes.” Containing naught but a sturdy desk and a pair of chairs, the study cubicle is exactly what it sounds like: a very small place to do nothing but study. “This is one area where I don’t need to ask what you do or don’t know,” Oan says. “The actual mastery of Phemes and Spells is tough even for Fifth Year students, so I know they’ll be hard to understand for you. No offense, of course, I just want you to know that you shouldn’t expect everything to fall too easily into place. However, it’s important to every wizard to learn about Spells and Phemes.”

Oan takes a seat and gestures for you to sit in the one across from her. The cold wood of the unyeilding seat serves as a reminder that this is a place to study, not to play. “Spells and Phemes can be boiled down to two oversimplified sentences,” Oan begins. “The first is that Phemes are indivisible building blocks of magic that can be rearranged to create infinite combinations. The second is that Spells are manifestations of the magical forces triggered by certain combinations of Phemes combined with the proper application of mental strength. Make sense?”

Oan smiles and laughs at your blank expression. “No it doesn’t,” she admits. “But that’s okay. I’ll explain what you need to know, and when you need to understand it, you will. Phemes are the smallest bit of ‘pure’ magic, which is to say that it can’t be broken down any further. Take the Mirabilis Pheme for example. This Pheme is the absolute essence of excitement combined with a tinge of safety. No other Pheme is drawn the same, even though they may have effects so similar as to be indistinguishable to any but a master of magic. Here, let me show you how to draw the Mirabilis Pheme.”

Oan runs through the necessary motions several times until she’s sure you understand the Pheme. “Just being Informed about this Pheme doesn’t do you much good. You have to know what to do with it once you have it. That’s what Spells are all about. Spells consist of at least two Phemes; no spell can be cast with a single Pheme, period.” Oan sticks out two fingers and shakes them for emphasis. “Without two Phemes, nothing can happen. Go ahead, draw a single Mirabilis Pheme and see what happens.”

Whelp, only one skill check option, so I guess we should. Note how getting “creative” is obviously the wrong answer here: experimenting with Phemes as a First Year is clearly counterproductive.

You repeat the Pheme perfectly, then stare intently as the symbols you traced flare faintly and fade. No matter how readily Oan takes it in stride, that would still impress just about everybody you knew back home.

Her, though? Yeah. In stride. “See?” Oan comments. “Nothing. String two Phemes together, though, and you have a Spell. Still, you can’t just string two random Phemes together and hope for the best. You have to be Informed of a Spell before you can use it. Confusing, right?”

You shrug your shoulders, not sure how to answer. Excited to be teaching the subject, Oan plows ahead as if you agree that it’s confusing. “Alright, now let me explain it the way my Gam’ma explained it. Think of Phemes as ingredients and Spells as the recipe. Even if you know what each ingredient tastes like, you can’t just throw everything into a pot and hope for cake to come out; you have to know the recipe and follow it. Spells are the recipes of Magic. If you don’t have the ingredients, you can’t make a cake, but if you don’t have a recipe, your ingredients are useless.

“Let me show you this,” Oan continues. With her wand, Oan draws a small rectangle on the table. Once the rectangle is complete, she chains together two Phemes which she explains are called Zenith and Modus Operandi without lifting her wand. When she’s finished, she releases her wand. The moment she does, the rectangle and the Pheme symbols inside disappear. “I’ve just cast the Glow of Victory Spell,” she explains. “Now that you’ve seen it done, you’ll be able to do it, too. It isn’t that powerful--in fact, it’s rarely used at all, but it’s better than nothing.

“Of course, Master Wizards don’t need to be shown how to cast a Spell in order to do it. If they did, no one would ever learn anything new. In fact...

“Well, hang on. Let me go back to my cooking analogy. You have a recipe and you have the ingredients, so you can bake your cake just fine. But what if you want to make something special? As long as you’re already baking a cake, why not add something extra in? Once you’ve satisfied a Spell’s requirements for Phemes, you can add in more Phemes to enhance the Spell’s effects. Every extra Pheme you insert, though, makes a Spell more difficult to cast, so you have to balance your needs against your wants. You’ll know how difficult a Pheme is to draw based on its Magnitude; the higher the number, the harder the Pheme is to draw.”

Oan leans in as if delivering a great secret. “I was saying that Master Wizards in their fields are always looking to create or discover new Spells or Phemes. It isn’t something students are encouraged to do, but I’ve found out that some of the Fifth Year students are trying to create a Spell that will let them walk on water. They’re looking to bypass the guards at the various bridges over the canal system. If they can do that, they can pull off some incredible pranks before the school year ends. They think they’re almost done, but I can tell you they’re way off. If you get to be good enough, I might let you in on a few more of their secrets, but for now, concentrate on your studies and learn as many Phemes and Spells as you can.

“Okay, you’ve probably leanred enough for one day. Contact me when you are ready for your next lesson. You remember your way out?” Nodding, you take your cue and back out the door, leaving Oan plenty of time to practice her Magic as you make your way back to your room.

Holy crap, getting through this Adventure was a pretty big deal. Go see the end of the update to see everything Iliana got from it, but the biggest thing is, we got our first spell! I’m not sure why Oan called it weak, because it’s a buff spell that raises Charm, Glory, and Beguile by one point each, lasts for 5 days, and requires a low Finesse/Persuasion roll which is straight up Iliana’s alley. That means Glow of Victory will make an excellent base to stack buff phemes onto, plus the Glory bonus basically acts as a minor success booster for any skill roll. Oan, you are the best!

After your classes end, you decide to contact Oan again for another lesson, but you suddenly find yourself distracted when you spot an unfamiliar boy in the common room. That in itself isn’t noteworthy--you barely know anything about your upperclassmates beyond your mentor--but when you realize that he’s reading the book the History professor assigned today, you realize he must be a First Year like you! Curious as to why he wasn’t at orientation, you decide to introduce yourself.

Carmine Sturzo. Pleasure to meet you. I was wondering, how come I didn’t see you during the college meeting on Juvenalia?
Oh, that. I knew it was going to be boring, so I skipped it. There were a couple others who didn’t make it, too. They had decent excuses, but me...nah.
Didn’t you get into trouble?
Nah. I just pulled some strings, and my trouble...disappeared. I know my way around anyway. Say, did they tell you about the Cold Room yet?
They said we shouldn’t even think of going in, since there’s an angry spirit inside.
Pretty neat, isn’t it? Dozens of wizards and ghost hunters have tried to get rid of it, but none of them could last in there for more than a few minutes. The ghost never leaves the room, though, so they just started ignoring it. But The Door is still right there, right along the corridor. Now the only people who go in are Aranaz students on dares.
So if someone were to stay in there for longer than that, it would be pretty impressive...
What, a little girl like you? You wouldn’t even last ten seconds.
I could do it. I will do it! I’ve faced all sorts of nasty things before, just you watch!
Oh, I’m definitely gonna watch (watch you scuttle out of there with your tail between your legs). Lemmie go let everyone know, first.

You review them slowly in your head: the choices that have left you standing here, in front of The Door, Carmine Sturzo chuckling at your back.

I told them you wouldn’t be able to do it.

And he had. Told everyone. And you told everyone he was wrong. So here you are. Face to face with The Door.

I love being right.

You give Carmine a stare that rinses the smirk right off his face. You’re going through The Door. That much has been settled, but you don’t have to be thrilled about it. The Door leads to The Cold Room and in there is a very angry ghost just waiting to pounce on intruders like you. Thinking about it, it’s probably just a matter of time before that weird ghost girl, Oriabel, sneaks past all the people who want to protect her from harm and goes inside. It seems reasonable to ask where all the people who want to protect you from harm are, actually.

The Cold Room is haunted, but no one is quite sure who is doing the haunting. There have been attempts to defeat the ghost, banish the ghost, befriend the ghost, appease the ghost. Anything. None of it has worked. Now it’s your turn and Carmine is assuring everyone that you can’t.

But how to do it? How to succeed where all those that came before you failed?

Now here’s an interesting feature. In spite of getting the Cold Room activities right at the start, actually trying to do them triggers this event. There are a few other locations like this, with event gates withholding access, and I suppose it means that only the main character will ever be able to use those abilities. And of course, such access must be earned. I guess that’s why “Send Forth the Night Terrors” is so good.

Looks like Intimidate is the only decent choice here. Iliana can be a real firebrand when she wants to, can’t she?

You explode through the doorway with as fierce a war cry as you can manage and you barrel a dozen steps forward as you hear the door slam shut behind you. You think you hear Carmine give a yelp of fear, but that might just be wishful thinking. Part of why you’re not sure about the yelp is that there is a tremendous clamor in the room. You can’t imagine how it wasn’t audible outside. It is thundering. There is a fierce whooshing of air that buffets you around so that you must appear to be dancing la volta all on your own. There must be explosions spattering all around you, but your eyes are clenched tight, so you cannot be positive. The crackle of lightning makes your hair stand on end and gusts of heat are bringing beads of sweat to your brow.

Abruptly, it stops, and then you realize the only sound that remains is the war cry you forgot to stop.

Peeking through one eye, you find two translucent shapes before you. Both are clearly wizards, with robes not unlike those you’ve seen on many of your professors. They appear to be men who are past their prime, but not yet elderly. They seem winded but, being ghosts, are not producing any wind. Do spirits feel exhaustion? Or do they just pretend? You don’t get a chance to ask before they speak.

They’re sending in children now?
Children? Diabolical!
Come to interrupt my duel with Vincenzo, have you? I think not!
Not indeed!
Well, Paolo Frangalia, Greatest Mage in All of Mineta, will--
Second greatest!
Do be quiet! I’m in the middle of something. --will teach you a lesson you won’t soon forget! There, wasn’t that hard to keep quiet, was it?

Paolo raises his wand.

Please! I’m just a student! I didn’t mean to interrupt your duel! I only came in here to prove that I was brave to the other students!

You cower, but the spell never strikes. When you look back up, you see that both ghostly wizards look very pleased. This is about as confusing to you as everything else is.

You hear this, Vincenzo? It’s now a test of bravery to interrupt our duel! We are fierce duelists indeed.
Tell me, child, who of the two of us does history fear most? Who has left the legacy behind as the greatest duelist to ever have lived?

You ponder, but cannot come up with a single name, let alone either of the names you’ve just heard. Flinching a bit, you shrug.

Paolo’s face comes very close to yours. It’s a disconcerting feeling. The closer he comes, the easier it is to see through him, so your eye tries to focus on an object close at hand, but finds nothing. Very dizzying. When he speaks, it seems to draw air from the space around him, leaving the area chilled and oddly empty.

Well, then you had better leave and return once you have a better idea of which of the two legends that stand before you has been honored by history, hadn’t you? It would be a shame if we found absolutely no use for you anymore, wouldn’t it?

You bolt from the room at that and find yourself face to face with a suitably impressed Carmine Sturzo. So there.

Pursuing the ghosts’ demands has opened up a new quest line for us, but in the meantime, we’ve also unlocked the Cold Room activities! I guess the ghosts aren’t quite as intimidating as they’d like Iliana to think if they’re willing to teach her Etiquette and *random bonus*.

While you are casually walking the grounds of Academagia one day, enjoying the lovely weather, a passing boy bumps into you and nearly knocks you down. When you recover your balance, you realize your money purse is gone!

Now here’s an interesting random event to get at this point. Every single choice aside from “give up” is entirely impossible, but Iliana has zero cash on hand anyway, so there’s nothing to lose from trying. Let’s try running after him; that way, we’ll be Informed of the Running skill, which is very likely the single most useful skill as far as random events are concerned.

Although you’ll lose nothing more valuable than a pile of interesting rocks, you are still indignant that someone would steal from you. Running as fast as your legs will take you, you try and catch up with the boy. The boy leads you on quite the chase, taking you through twists and turns you’d have never thought of making yourself. Either you’re out of shape or the boy is in superb shape, because you simply cannot catch up to him. As he pulls away from you, he looks over his shoulder and catches your eye. He doesn’t look like he’s terribly thrilled about having to steal the money, but that doesn’t mean he’s planning on giving it back, either. Admitting defeat, you stop the chase and drop to your knees; not only did you not recover your money, but it takes you an embarrassingly long time to recover your breath.

You only wish you could have been in earshot to hear his cry of disappointment.

When you enter the Cold Room this time, the ghost wizards spot you almost immediately and politely pause their duel.

Back so soon, are we? Well? Which of us is the better known wizard?
Actually...I was hoping, you could, maybe, give me a hint?
What! Giving up before you’ve properly begun, then? I’d say our names should have been hint enough!
More than enough!
And asking for a hint as though this were some sort of game! What do they even teach students these days?
Not proper etiquette, obviously.
I have a right mind to teach you some manners, young lady.
You’d best listen to him. In our day, he was known as something of an encyclopedia on the topic.
Now, Vincenzo, I thought we said no hints! It’s true enough, however. If your educators are lacking, I can certainly provide some additional instruction on the matter of proper behavior.
And what am I supposed to do in the meantime, useless as the proverbial teat? Oh, I know! Schoolwork getting you down, girl, eh? Worrying over deadlines? At the end of your rope, frazzled, wot? I know some calming exercises I use between bouts of our duel, and they keep me cool as the proverbial cucumber. How does that sound?
And she can perform them while taking in my lesson! Brilliant! Now remember, young lady, that the method of address is a key aspect...

Gains of the School Week

Revision Methods increased by 1.
--Teach pheme learned.
Successful Adventure!
--Learned about Society: Awareness
--Extortion action learned.

Famous Dilemmas (Dialectic) increased by 1.
Successful Adventure!
--Mirabilis pheme learned.
--Zenith pheme learned.
--Modus Operandi pheme learned.
--Glow of Victory spell learned.
--Phemes skill increased by 1.
--Diction skill increased by 1.
--Enspell subskills learned: Phemes, Diction, Concentration.
--Learned about Glamour: Glamour Phemes (sorta).
--Learned about Calligraphy: Orthography (sorta).

Visited the Spirits.
--Etiquette skill increased by 1 step.
--Learned about The Room of Lassimere (easier Jewelry skill gains).
--Willpower skill increased by 1.
Unsuccessful event.
--Running skill decreased by 3 steps (from 0 to 0, oh no...)
--Pims decreased by 15 (from 0 to 0, oh no...)

Revision Spells increased by 1.
The Early Empire (History) increased by 1.
--Haejar Enthifal Cortath Catalogue, Pages 19-22 availiable.
Visited the Spirits.
--Etiquette skill increased by 1 step.
--Stress decreased by 1.

New Abilities

Extortion: Charm/Intimidation v target Insight/Courage; success gains up to 50 pims.
Glow of Victory (spell): Finesse/Persuasion v5; Charm, Beguile, Glory +1 for 5 days.