The Let's Play Archive


by Bobbin Threadbare

Part 64: Madness and Revenge

Kaliri 8-11

At last, final exams have arrived! As Glamour ends and lunch begins, you rush over to the grammar classroom, where the first final of the year has finished. Checking the posted grades, you note that Emilia has earned a perfectly respectable 106, but even more surprising are Rui and Tacito, who managed to tie at 121. In fact, a good half of the class has managed to earn around 120; Rikildis got the top grade with a 133. Looks like you’ll have to prepare extra if you want to beat the rest when it’s your turn.

As you turn back from the sheet to look through the crowd, you realize that, despite not taking today’s final, you seem to be at the center of people’s attention. Only a few are outright staring, but a lot are giving you furtive glances, and more than a few heads are down in whispered conversation, particularly among the Aranaz students. What’s going on? Did someone spread a nasty rumor about you last night? Or—hold on, did someone rat you out about your raid on the Room of Records? Although it may just be your fault; you did run straight off after the tête-à-tête with Professor von Rupprecht.

You don’t see Emilia in the crowd, unfortunately. You’ll just have to catch up with her at dinner.

The simple idea of groups of humans competing with one another works well from international politics on down to cliques in a school. However, there is an additional element that acts much more strongly in the larger scale than in the smaller: the Self versus the Other.
Humans—most intelligent creatures, for that matter—have the ability to project their sense of Self onto increasingly larger groups. Family, friends, community, nation, potentially humanity itself, and perhaps beyond. Consider what this means: you would care for your mother if she fell ill, yes? And you would help your friend if his lands were flooded, and if someone insulted your home city, you would defend it, just as you would care for your own body, lands, and reputation. And if you did not, you would feel guilty. You might even give your life for them, sacrificing the lesser Self for the greater. The Other is not afforded these protections.
The Self is familiar, comfortable, routine. In contrast, the Other is unfamiliar, unpredictable, and strange. It is often malignant, though not always. It can be considered exotic, enticing, or idyllic, particularly among those who would reject their own Tradition (though whether they would truly abandon it is another question entirely). Still, the Other rarely lives up to its expectations; above all else, the Other is unknown and untrustworthy.
What if you learn about it? What it’s really like?
Then its Otherness lessens and it gains a measure of Self. Like most things, Self and Other are a matter of degrees, rather than absolutes. Larger concepts and groups are naturally harder to truly know, which is why this dichotomy matters so much more on the larger scale. Next time, we shall discuss how Tradition affects matters.
But until then, it is time to begin your Gates Methods lessons. Semantics will help with the nuances of our talks, and it is time again for a physical lesson; have you learned Wrestling yet? No? Then I shall have you wrestle the enchanted suits of Armor. You may learn something of their construction when you are up close, as well…

“Hey, Iliana, c’mere.”

On your way to dinner, someone in a group of Fifth Year Aranaz students calls out to you. Somewhat reluctantly, you approach; neither your college mates nor Fifth Years in general are well known for their well-wishing. When you come near enough, one of the students reaches out his hand, which you almost instinctively take. However, as soon as you are in his grasp, he pulls out a bracelet with his spare hand and slaps it onto your wrist.

“Easier than I thought,” the Fifth Year notes as his friends laugh. Puzzled, you examine the bracelet, growing more concerned as you find no way to remove it. “That’s right,” the student explains, “you don’t control when it comes off. We do. If you want it off, you’d better do what we say, at least if you want to get some rest anytime soon.” No rest? Uh oh. This must be a bracelet of “Everwakefulness.” Shoot, you’ve heard of those, and they’re never good news. The older Aranaz student continues: “Now, see that group of Durand students over there? We want you to go over and tell them they stink at rimbal worse than a fowler flower in the dead heat of summer. And don’t bother warning them what you’re doing or why; we’ll know.

“Unless,” he adds, “you’d like to tell us what von Rupprecht had you get last night. That’s a lot easier than insulting Durand students to their faces, right?”

That’s rather excessive, isn’t it? Hopefully they’ll respond to college fidelity.

“Look, guys, what do you think you’ll learn from me?” you ask. “You already know I was on a secret mission for the regent and the Sphinx Syndicate. Do you think they’ll appreciate hearing that I blabbed to someone, even if you are in the same college? Do you think von Rupprecht will appreciate hearing what you guys did to his special agent?”

The smiles fade from their faces at your threat. “We were just trying to—listen, the bracelet doesn’t actually do anything. No harm, no foul, right? Here.” The leader waves his wand through a simple pheme and the bracelet falls off, which he then grabs. “Alright, kid, head on out. We can still have some fun with someone else.”

You find Emilia by herself, sitting at the end of a table occupied by a few dozen Aranaz students.

Finally, I found you. You would not believe what I just went through earlier.

You explain what happened on the way over. Emilia’s eyes grow wide as you describe the older students’ attempt at intimidation.

Oh, my. I didn’t think they would go that far…
Wait. You thought…were you the one who told them I went to the Room of Records last night? Em, I…I trusted you to keep that a secret! What, so you’ll keep Rui’s little club all hush-hush but anything I tell you is fair game?
Ana, it’s not like that! I mean, what you did was for Aranaz, right? So why shouldn’t we all know about it? You didn’t even tell me what it was you got!
In case you didn’t notice, the whole school knows where I was last night, not just Aranaz! I guess I was lucky I didn’t tell you everything or it’d all be ruined now. Now I’ve got to suffer through all these pranks because of you. I guess that’s great news for you and Rui, though, isn’t it? Gives you guys a reason to sabotage my stuff and spread rumors about me now.
You…you knew?

Your expression darkens.

Not until just now.
I swear, I told them not to! You said you’d help! But Jere—
I think I’ll go eat somewhere else.

Time to cash in on all those phemes Iliana’s built up. The Calligraphy final is on Wednesday, and she is going to cream the competition. In this case, five Coordination phemes (+1 to Art and Calligraphy, difficulty 4 each) will do nicely. Tells you how a high Insight helps considering the 23 difficulty is still blue.

Wanting to be alone for a while before visiting the Sphinx, you take a trip down to the Imperial Docks to watch all the busy workers run around. Before long, though, your attention is caught by a very odd-looking woman; you can’t help but stare as she walks by.

Finally, you realize just why she looks so odd: she’s not a woman at all! She’s a he—not just a he, but a pirate in disguise! And in the reputable area of the docks, no less. This smells like subterfuge.

Well, I guess we should start with some fact-finding.

The pirate’s dress is actually rather tight, perhaps a bit too much so, as it reveals much of his less-than-flattering figure. However, it also reveals that the pirate is unarmed, which is unusual all on its own. That’s a good sign; it means he’s not here to cause any trouble.

No new options. Conversation was already green, and Iliana’s usually on good terms with pirates; let’s just have a chat.

You innocently walk up to the pirate—not hard, the way he wobbles on those heels—and you introduce yourself. You try to ask the pirate his name, but he rudely interrupts you.

Look, kid, I’m not in the mood. Since I know yer gonna ask, I lost a bet. And here’s a tip fer you: don’t ever bet on rimbal.

The pirate snaps open a fan, brings it up to hide his face, and then continues to wobble his way down the dockside. Your curiosity satisfied, you decide to head up to the Imperial Palace.

There are a few things I have seen that all humanity consider to be evils: murder, taking what isn’t yours, cheating on a committed relationship, breaking one’s word, a few others. For all the rest, there’s Tradition. Tradition tells you when and how to eat your meals, what to wear, which items represent what and how to carry them, how much a coin is worth, down to the finest details. By not following the Traditions, you mark yourself as an Other, and while the basic evils are punished to protect the Self, they do not count when used on the Other.
But as I said, there are degrees of difference. A man’s wife does not know the children’s rhymes he learned growing up, but she is still worthy of protection. A man from Meril may speak a different language and seem arrogant, but he is still a guest in your city. But what if you went farther? What of ghosts, goblins, trolls, Dragons? They can think, like you and I. But would you treat them all with the respect you give a classmate? Would they do the same for you?
But…I mean, Dragons aren’t very fair! They’re really big and powerful, and they took over for centuries! They’d do the same if they came back; we couldn’t just treat them like guests or equals!
Oh? So they are all bent on dominance? That includes the one who turned against his own kind, does it? And excludes the human Royals, who predated the Dragons’ arrival? They are very big, yes, and powerful, and ancient. But their minds work the same as yours and mine, just from a different perspective. To them, you are far too small and weak, too un-Draconic to be considered in their sense of Self, which is why they oppressed you so. If your own nobles became so detached from the common man, they would act no better. I daresay I’ve met a few who were.
The cure for this, the way you expand your sense of Self, is through learning and a lack of judgment. Knowing the how’s and why’s of a different culture will bring you closer to the individuals who live within it, just as knowing the how’s and why’s of a friend’s actions will explain what you consider to be her faults. But to judge these things by your own standard blocks the understanding, makes the knowledge simply academic and only slightly more valuable than a convenient lie.
And then the Self may contract as well as expand, which I shall explain next time.
Until then, let us expand your horizons. Oncestrian is a good, all-purpose language, thanks to its mixed roots. Mimicry brings one closer to the subject, and Willpower is also needed to maintain one’s center.

With all of Aranaz First Year taking the calligraphy final, you can’t help but see Emilia today. Fortunately, the test itself proves to be more than enough distraction to avoid having to speak with her, and once you find your name at the top of the list with a truly awesome 160, you turn around and leave without bothering to check anyone else’s score.

PS: I think I’ve figured out how study levels work. From what I can tell, the skill level acts as a cap on the character’s score based on 10x the skill number, while the study level acts as a floor based on 10% for each point. Thus, a study level of 10 means the minimum is 100%, and so you’ll always get 10x your skill number (plus any Extra Credit), while a study level of 70% means getting a score anywhere between 70-100 if your skill is 10 or 112-160 in Iliana’s case.

Sneaking into the kitchen for choice meals has become almost a ritual for you by now, but today you see something that really lifts your spirits: a gigantic cake, which looks to be made for the farewell feast at the end of Kaliri. Being so far off, the cake is doubtlessly under a few preservation spells, but…surely no one would notice if a nibble went missing?

Better check the waters first.

Peeking around the massive cake, you see the head chef relaxing on a stool. Looks like he’s putting his feet up after having finished the massive project, and now he’s enjoying some downtime.

Well, no need to deceive if he’s right there and feeling relaxed.

Oh, excuse me. That cake is magnificent. I was wondering…just a tiny bite, really…
That cake is for the party!

You give him your best puppy-dog eyes.

…But I did make some cupcakes with the leftover batter. And they’ll just go to waste if no one eats them.

You wind up devouring an entire tray of upside-down cupcakes, and they turn out to be delicious. With many thanks and a full belly, you head off.

As you delve into supplementary lessons on Gates Methods, it occurs to you that you never did finish that last assigned book in dialectics. Feeling that now is as good a time as any, you hunt down the book and finish off the last few chapters.

Competition contracts the Self. Self cannot fight Self: this goes against its definition. Thus, to compete against another, for any given reason, requires that they become the Other, at least to some extent.
The degree to which this happens depends on two things: the scale, and the stakes. Examples: two neighboring farmers who play chess for fun will still remain friends during the game. Professional gamblers may be friends both before and after a game starts, but during the time they earn their livelihoods, they will be fierce competitors with no sense of fairness or forgiveness. Nobles are related by blood but fight wars over land. In a war of succession, brother will fight brother to the death for a crown.
Also note that it is the perception of stakes that makes all the difference, and not the facts. If one farmer is sick of losing and his neighbor always rubs his victories in, that farmer may grow to hate his neighbor, no matter how similar they are. If a nobleman out for a lark joins the high-stakes players, he may leave the table in high spirits even if he loses all his money. Or else he may wager more and more and gamble his way into poverty and debt. In the former instance, he and the gamblers may yet be friends, but in the latter, he can only see them as competitors. In war, the peasant cares not for the larger picture, and who wears the crown makes little difference to him. But he knows he must fight or face trial and execution, and he must kill or die himself. The peasant faces a completely separate competition, despite acting in the same war as his nobles.
When competition ends, the Self may return. Nations who fought in one war may ally against another a year later, just as gamblers will trade tales once the game ends. But just as always, knowledge and understanding are needed to increase the Self. Without them, the wounds of war may never heal.
The games of power, however, never end. Peasants may go back to trading and farming, but their masters will fight constantly for power and status. The lower nobles fight for less, and so they can still have friends and allies, but the higher nobles have few they can trust completely, even among their own family. And the emperor, when there was one, could have no friends at all.
Not…not even one? Not even his own kids?
His son might wish to hurry along the course of nature. A wife would work against him for the sake of her favored child, or else seek to rule alone, and of course they were married to secure an alliance, rather than out of love. Not that love flourishes in the halls of power, even when it’s introduced.
I know what you’re probably thinking. “Our bond is different, our bond is special, our love or friendship will outlast the harshest war.” And you may be right. There are always exceptions. But it requires that the pair not wish for the same power, at least not through the same methods. I have seen friends who won the Empire break it apart in their feuds. I have seen star-destined lovers poison each other’s drinks. I have seen a mother murder her own child to end a war.
Friendship requires a give and take, which is only allowed between peers, and an emperor has no peer. Perhaps in a power-sharing government competitors can be friends; each would only have the power of the lower nobility, and those with higher positions do not keep them for very long. But an emperor has too much to lose to give anything away.

It is a sad fact, isn’t it? Let us discuss things far different today. First, your Numerology could use some work—did you know it has some similarities to Syntax and Grammar? Perhaps some Sewing next, and then more Escape Artist techniques.

Today I believe I shall return to our Blueberry Pie Clan for an illustration. I discussed how it broke into competing groups before, but it is far more likely that everyone in the small town is friends and family with each other, and so their leader is elected and their pies are divided more or less evenly. However, they have neighbors.
Let us say that on one side of our community is the Apple Pie Clan, and on the other is the Blueberry Tart Clan. Both clans have something the Blueberry Pie Clan wants: variety. You would get sick of blueberry pies if you ate them day in and day out, would you not?
Yeah. I tried to eat a whole pie once when I was six. I had a stomach ache for the rest of the day, and I couldn’t even look at pies for a week.
And so trade would be good, yes? Each community values what its neighbors make higher than what it creates itself, and so the pastries are traded from one to the next. However, there are also points of contention. The two pie makers have only one good source of tin between them, and they must argue over how much each can take. The tart makers don’t need so much tin, but they must share the blueberry fields with the pie clan. And all three must find land for their wheat.
When there is plenty, the three clans may well get along and reach tolerable agreements. Then again, if one clan is too trusting or too weak, their share may be taken, simply because their neighbors can. However, if the tin mine runs short or the berry fields suffer an infestation, then the competition will begin in earnest. It may result in thefts, raids, and tricks that grow worse as the shortfall continues and anger builds. There is, however, one exception.
If the disaster is total, then all will come together to help. If the tin mine collapses when the Apple Pie Clan miners are inside, the Blueberry Pie Clan will pitch in to rescue them. If the berry fields are wiped out completely, both clans will share what is left when trying to plant a new crop. The Apple Pie Clan, which did not suffer, may or may not help, but utter disaster ends competition and brings the survivors together.
Today I shall change my form and take you through the city to see some real examples. It will help your Navigation sense, and perhaps you will learn better the Minetan Swagger. Afterward, our study of Gates Methods will include the use of Orthography.

You don’t return to the Academagia campus until almost dinnertime, but as you pass by Campus Morvidus, you notice a flapping red flag—Philippe’s signal that their prank is about to start!

After contacting Rui and Emilia, you join the Society of Pranksters on the top of the old, decrepit boys’ dormitory tower of Avila. Once there, Rui explains what his people have been doing: Jere Niemela and Iustus Venture have been shadowing Philippe himself since the red flag went up, but they haven’t yet reported in. Without word from them, you have no idea where or when the rival group will strike, only that it will be soon. So you twiddle your thumbs and worry.

A shadow flickers across the roof, and you see Jere climbing over the edge of the building, his thin figure outlined by the setting sun.

They’re moving! (Oof.) They split into two groups, one heading for Campus Durand, the other coming here. Iustus is there already.
Good! Thanks, man. Iliana, Emilia, you’re with me. Hobbie, Jere, stay here.

Rui immediately spreads his cloak and leaps off the building. However, instead of splatting on the ground, Rui twists himself around in midair and grabs onto the wall with a pair of enchanted gecko gloves.

I could use a pair of those.
He got them from Carmine’s stash. Maybe you could get your own set later?

Emilia gives you a hopeful smile, but you don’t return it. The two of you descend the tower in a more traditional manner, leaving Rui to lean against the building wall and look pleased with himself until you reach the bottom.

C’mon, let’s go!

The three of you run all the way to Campus Druand, where Iustus greets you.

They only came by to pick something up, but I overheard them. They said they’re on their way to the Feasting Hall next, and something about a Metamogrification potion.
Did you hear what kind?
I didn’t make it out.
We need to hurry. Iustus, come with us. We’ll need you to watch our backs and make sure none of them show up from behind.

Rui dashes away, the rest of you following. Once you reach the Feasting Hall, Emilia points to the door.

Look, it’s still ajar, they must be inside!
Iustus, go to the door on the other side, make sure they aren’t sneaking out that way. Iliana, stay here and watch the door. Emilia and me will scout on ahead.
Fair enough.

All things considered, you still haven’t fully ruled out this all being an elaborate joke on you, but you’re at least willing to stay alert and play along.

Try not to get hurt!

The two of them duck into the hall, leaving you in the dim light of dusk. Once you’re all alone, a voice speaks out of the darkness:

Iliana Ot’Matar. Are you here to stop me?

The female figure that steps out of the shadows is cloaked and hooded, but her voice is unmistakable.

You were there spying on us that other day, weren’t you? Don’t try and deny it. But I’m not here to accuse you. I just want to talk.

“Talk,” she says? Really?

You can feel it in your bones: she’s not dealing in good faith here. Joana isn’t someone who would mind seeing you hurt; best be on your guard and ready to act decisively.

I see that’s turned Duel black. As good a suggestion as any, I think.

Oh, I know what kind of talking you mean.

You draw your wand in an instant and fire off a short ice burst. Joana merely giggles and throws out a small fireball.

Once again, you find yourself a few seconds later without any memory of what happened. But as you look around, you see Joana’s wand twenty feet away, your own dropped where you stood, and Joana herself is backing away from you, her lip split and bloody. She isn’t giggling anymore.

Your right hand hurts.

I—I don’t have time for this! You will perish just like your friends! None of you will stop my Philippe!

“Perish?” That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it, even for Joana? She sounds kind of…unhinged. Joana drops a small ball that explodes into noxious fumes, preventing you from following as she vanishes. Then the candles start to shake and leap towards you, so you dodge into the Feasting Hall and slam the door shut.

An all-out melee greets you. Revised chairs and tables are tearing each other to splinters as Emilia flings confetti bombs at two black-cloaked adversaries. Blackened circles mark all the walls and floor where earlier fireworks and flame spells did their work.

Emilia flips herself over an immobile table and flings out a caterpillar-shaped firework into the chest of one of her foes, knocking him into a bench in a shower of multicolored sparks. As she stands back up, however, Emilia is caught in the back by a flying hammer. She drops to the floor.

Before you can go see if she’s okay, Rui spots you and rushes up.

It’s a trap! Come on!

Rui runs for the kitchen, and you follow. Much to your relief, Emilia picks herself up and comes after you, looking not much worse for the wear.

It’s in the soup cauldron!

Rui pauses to nail another enemy with a chunk of ice as the three of you fight your way to the kitchen. When another wave of foes emerge, Rui pulls out a vial with his left hand and holds it towards you.

Take this and pour it into the cauldron! It’ll cancel out the potion of madness they’re using. We’ll cover you!

You reach out and grab the purple vial, almost dropping it. Sighing with relief, you run into the kitchen and look around for the cauldron. That’s when you spot Philippe.

However, he’s not exactly conscious. Did he get into a fight with Joana? You hadn’t expected Philippe to be the one with more of a conscience. The soup itself isn’t hard to find, but you also spy a half-empty vial of lime-green liquid sitting next to the cauldron. It would seem there is a choice you could make.

Emilia staggers in, dragging Rui’s limp body into the kitchen.

He’s hurt! They’ve retreated, but Rui…did you pour in the cancelling serum?

You respond with a wicked smile.

You eat out that evening, and only later do you hear that the entire First Year went mad and started brawling. Two students were hurt enough to require trips to the infirmary, and Rui was blamed for all of it. Apparently he even came within inches of expulsion.

But after all, all’s fair in pranks and war!

Gains of the Week

Matched Wits with the Emperor’s Sphinx.
--Semantics increased by 1 step.
----Arbitrary pheme learned.
--Gates Methods increased by 1 step.
----Rend pheme learned.
----Gates increased by 1.
------Hostis pheme learned.
--Wrestling increased by 1 step.
--Armorer increased by 1 step.
Used Demean on self and Emilia Strolin.
---Relationship with Emilia Strolin decreased to 6.
Successful event!
--Intrigue increased by 1 step.

Selective Focus used on Gates Methods.
Matched Wits with the Emperor’s Sphinx.
--Oncestrian increased by 1 step.
----Learned about the Oncestrian Musicians’ Annex.
--Gates Methods increased by 1 step.
--Earth pheme learned.
--Fire pheme learned.
----Gates increased by 1.
------Librarian’s Ghost spell learned.
--Mimicry increased by 1 step.
----Lilt pheme learned.
--Willpower increased by 1 step.
----Learned about Ardica Canal: Smuggler’s Bridge.
----Society increased by 1.
Cast Adanella’s Wardrobe.
--Plus 1 to Courtly Fashion, Confidence, and Aesthetics.
--Plus 5 to Art and Calligraphy.
Successful event!
--Gambling increased by 1 step.
----Learned about “Pick-up” Bones Game.

Attended Calligraphy exam and scored a 160.
Studied at Longshade.
--Gates Methods increased by 1 step.
----Stiff pheme learned.
----Gates increased by 1.
------Speech pheme learned.
--First Principles increased by 1 step.
----First Principles skill maxed!
----Learned about Oleapia’s Shrine.
----Dialectic increased by 1.
------Dialectic skill maxed!
------Learned about Bel Aize Tower.
Matched Wits with the Emperor’s Sphinx.
--The Everard Equation increased by 1 step.
----The Number of the Word ability learned.
--Gates Methods increased by 1 step.
----Wild Dog spell learned.
----Gates increased by 1.
------Blood Tarantula spell learned.
--Sewing increased by 1 step.
--Escape Artist Research level increased by 1 step.
Successful event!
--Stress decreased by 1.

Matched Wits with the Emperor’s Sphinx.
--Minetan Swagger increased by 1 step.
----Blend into a Crowd ability learned.
--Gates Methods increased by 1 step.
----Calculate pheme learned.
----Gates increased by 1.
------Learned about Decimus’ Hidden Workshop.
--Navigation increased by 1 step.
----Cardinal pheme learned.
----Raid increased by 1.
------Lightning pheme learned.
--Orthography increased by 1 step.
Successful adventure!
--Dueling Forms increased by 1 step.
--Tactics increased by 1 step.
----Flank Attack spell learned.
---Practical Jokes cannot be increased.
---Lie increased by 1 step.
-----Facial Twitch spell learned.
---Relationship with Rui da Casga decreased to 2.

New Abilities

Practice at the Oncestrian Musicians’ Annex: +1 step to Oncestrian, Vocal, and Harpsichord.
Librarian’s Ghost (Spell): Intelligence/Gates v6 and 8; +3 to Research and +2 to History, then +3 to Library Knowledge and +1 to Intelligence for 3 days.
Dare the Smuggler’s Bridge: Insight/Courage v 6, 11, and 25; +1 step to Willpower and Concentration, then +2 steps to Willpower, then +1 permanent Stress max, but +1 Stress for trying and for making the first two rolls.
“Pick-up” Bones Game: opposed Luck/Strategy; +20 pims from target college mate on win, +1 step to Gambling regardless.
Wild Dog (Spell): no roll; summons dog for +2 to Explore and +4 to Scent Detection for 3 days.
Blood Tarantula (Spell): Insight/Gates v9; summons spider to suck 3 Vitality from target and create Blood Capsule (+2 Vitality when used).
Donate at Oleapia’s Shrine: -10 pims, +4 to Dialectic and all Dialectic subskills (for a total of +8 to Dialectic) for 5 days.
The Number of the Word (Permanent): +1 to Cryptology, Syntax, and Grammar.
Blend into a Crowd: +1 to Hide and Infiltration, -3% to Chance of Discovery, and -1 to Intimidation for 2 days.
Flank Attack (Spell): Luck/Tactics v9; 1 Vitality damage to target and +1 to all Melee Combat abilities and actions for self for 3 days.
Facial Twitch (Spell): Insight/Glamour v6; target gets -2 Charm for 4 days and -2 to college’s Merit.