The Let's Play Archive


by Bobbin Threadbare

Part 66: Burning Bridges

Kaliri 15-17

As you expected to, you blow the other students out of the water with your dialectics test score, but even you weren’t prepared for just how badly you beat them. After all, while you managed a staggering 185, the next highest score is a measly 74. You can hear the other students muttering about “favoritism” as you walk away, but at the moment, you just can’t bring yourself to care.

While Revision classes are, for all intents and purposes, over, that hasn’t stopped Professor Aventyrare from offering a few workshops and field trips as a way to burn off steam from study sessions. Today she’s set a number of caged animals selected from the school bestiary in a field for students to observe.

When you arrive, the first thing you notice is a little gerbil in a cage. The gerbil is running like mad on an exercise wheel, but then it stops. And then it starts running again, and once again it stops. You feel like you could watch this all day. However, when you bend in for a closer look, the gerbil hops off its wheel, puts its paws up on the cage wall, and stares at you, challenging you, beckoning you into peering right into its tiny rodent soul…

Something seems off about this one.

No matter what you do, you keep finding yourself gazing into the eyes of the gerbil. Surely there must be something you can do to stop it!

You break eye contact long enough to read the sign on top of the cage: “Sad-Eyed Gerbil of Gloom. WARNING: Avoid Eye Contact!”

Figures you’d read that after it’s too late.

On the plus side, it gives us a skill-free way out of this predicament. Still, that doesn’t seem nearly awesome enough. Stare it down!

You stare into the gerbil’s eyes for a bit, but after realizing that the rodent won’t blink, you decide to change tactics and merely stare at the thing’s nose instead. Oddly enough, it works, and the deep depression you hadn’t noticed creeping over you lifts.

Success! You defeated the sad-eyed gerbil at its own game! You feel giddy as a school—well, a you. As you stride off, head held high, you hear the exercise wheel resume its manic spinning.

As you pass through the busy common room, intending to head straight to your dorm room to study, your path is blocked by a cross-looking Carmine with a more nervous-looking Emilia in tow.

Iliana. A little birdy told me they saw you leaving Campus Durand yesterday, looking pretty proud of yourself.
So? I’ve got friends who live there. Yeah, in spite of the stupid little rivalry we’re supposed to have. Just ask Emilia over there.
I later heard you got rid of all those traps you set in your room. What’d you do yesterday? Did you sell us out to Durand? Durand?
Oh, like you get to talk about loyalty now? I’ve got eyes and ears too, you know. Like all that time you’ve been spending with Aveline? I mean, Aveline? I thought you had better taste. But then I thought you liked me.
I—that’s just—
Completely innocent, roses and all? So tell me, which one of us were you two-timing? No, don’t answer that—you’d probably give away a third one I don’t even know about. I am so sick of you and your stupid secrets!

As Carmine blanches, Emilia finally speaks up.

A-Ana, you’re going out of control! Please, i-if you aren’t going to think of us, think of the rest of the college—
Oh, please. Just drop the act, Emilia. Nobody here but us “Aranaz,” after all.

As though taking off a mask, the worry drops from Emilia’s face, replaced with a look of withering scorn.

Those pranks on me were never Jere’s idea, were they? They were way too subtle.
Fine. Since you don’t want to be all nice anymore, neither will I. It’s still your fault, though. Do you really think you can just fly off into the sky without us? Solving the block puzzle, starring in a play, helping out the beggars, closing the freaking freak show at the circus—all without us! And even if you really can get ahead without the ‘Tree, well, we just decided to get ahead without you. And then you come on down to our hideout, uninvited, and you get to be all angry at us for leaving you out of the one thing we’ve done on our own? Nuh uh.
That’s just you and Rui. I suppose you’ve already got Vrenelle and Tacito over on your side?
They’ll come around.
Yeah, right. Good luck getting anyone who thinks pranks aren’t the highest form of entertainment.

Laughing to yourself, you brush past the pair and head for your room.

So…I kinda wasted this Selective Focus on Glamour Spells when I meant to use it on Gates Spells. I blame the fact that the Selective Focus menu is alphabetized instead of grouped by parent skill like every other skill menu. Unfortunately, I had made enough progress by the time I got curious as to why it still took two steps instead of one for each level that I decided to go on regardless. After all, there’s still one more week of Kaliri to go; I can just put in extra time this week and get the rest then once Selective Focus recharges. Exams and social rolls kept me pretty busy anyhow.

When competing on any level, but particularly for high stakes, “Secrecy” is the very first word. The second word is also “Secrecy,” and the third word is, of course, “Secrecy.” As it is said, knowledge is power, and while that isn’t true in the strictest sense, knowledge does mean having the best chance of making the right decision with what power you have. When you are competing with someone else, it thus becomes important to know more about both him and yourself than he does. You will make fewer mistakes this way, and thus come out ahead.
I’m feeling kind of sick of secrets right now.
I understand the sentiment, dearest. However, secrets are something you must endure if you wish to succeed at whatever competition you engage in. Whether it be the “poker face” of gamblers, the secret techniques of the guilds, the assassin blades of the court, or the deceptions of war, information control is key.
On the other hand, spreading the flow of information to one’s allies is just as important. How else could they help, or make the best use of their own situation?
But what if they can’t keep a secret?
Ah, that is where the greatest difficulties lie. Success means spreading information widely, yet with each telling the risk grows that the competition will learn what you know and cost you your advantage. Especially if one cannot trust one’s allies, or if one is competing against friends. At the end of the day, no one can know everything, and you can only make an educated guess and live with the consequences.
The books we study today are once again written in old Elumian, so prepare yourself for another language lesson. The Illustrations, at least, are really quite good…

One side effect of your constant trips up to the Imperial Palace has been a growing appreciation for the beauty of the Lykian Mountains in late spring. Yet despite the breathtaking view of the Academagia, you’ve decided to detour off the trail and explore a large cave.

The mouth of the cave is very wide, but as you venture inside, it narrows considerably. A few hundred meters in, the cave drops off. It’s not very far down, but you still have to proceed with caution as you climb down the rock wall, all the while as dripping water echoes through the chamber.

Your wand flickering a bit now, you continue your exploration at a more cautious pace than before. A few steps farther, you realize the sound of dripping water has grown to a steady trickle. You stop, trying to find the source of the noise, but that’s when you hear a disturbing groan and the trickle turns into a gush.

A wave of water wets your shoes and you realize the cave is flooding!

Uh oh. Better start investigating.

Since your measly wand spell is insufficient to light the cavern, you cast the Lantern of Many Hues and illuminate the whole area.

A few bats flap away from the sudden light, and you can see some rats scrambling for higher ground. However, you don’t see anything important until just before the lamp burns out: the water source appears to be a smooth, round hole in the far back corner.

You’ve heard about this! You’ve managed to stumble into an oscillating underground river. The Sphinx mentioned such things once or twice, but you never thought you’d ever see one. While they can be violent and dangerous, they always flow from inside a mountain to the surface, which means that if you can stick with the current you’ll eventually be carried to an exit.

While informative, the investigation didn’t add any options, so let’s go with the flow with style.

Using the old standby Sergei’s Timely Doorjam, you expand your walking stick into a small log that looks like it should hold your weight. Not wasting a moment, you climb on and hold on for dear life.

Moments later, the current catches your makeshift raft and pulls you down through a long underground river. For a minute or two you remain in complete pitch blackness, but after just enough time passes to make you wonder if you’re really going outside after all, the river rounds a bend and you spy the cave’s opening.

You made it! As soon as you safely can, you paddle for shore, shrink your staff back to a usable size, and head back to the campus.

Once there, you head into the Library of Longshade to continue your Gates Spells studies. With the Sphinx’s lecture still echoing in your ears, you wind up searching the books for Competition pointers. Sure enough, there’s a lot more about information control than you expected.

For the first time in your life, you’re away from home for Theneia. Your stomach growls as you remember the dinner feast your parents usually indulge in for the holiday. The Academagia’s kitchens are promising a special supper of their own, but you can’t help but feel a little skeptical; you’ve never taken the chefs’ abilities for granted since your little adventure with Vrenelle.

Vrenelle. And Tacito. And Rui, and Emilia…you had been planning to spend the feast with your friends, but thanks to the way things are going, that seems out of the question now. Feeling a little homesick, you almost stumble over Honors Plafox as you cut through the gardens.

Oh, Iliana! Perhaps you could help me with my project?
Why would you want my help? I thought I was just a “dirty Aranaz.”
I never called you that! I mean, there was the student council incident, but however you got a seat, you have been a lot more helpful than I thought you’d be, and the Committee of un-Academagian Activities has been a lot more fair than I expected! I’m glad you guys found out who wrote that nasty, hateful article about Iustus Venture’s lycanthropy.
Well, werewolves aren’t all that bad, you know? It’s not like Iustus is contagious. I heard he took a potion to keep his mind in wolf form, so he’s not a danger to anyone, either.
Right! I think it’s pretty exciting, myself! Anyway, I got word from some of the older Durand students that maybe you weren’t so bad after all, and trust me, for them to say that about anyone in Aranaz is pretty high praise. So I was just collecting some wild theneians to celebrate the holiday, but it’s a lot of work. These flowers love to hide! Do you think you would be so kind as to help me?

You give Honors a small smile. Usually the gathering of theneian flowers is reserved for little children; you and Honors are a bit old for this kind of thing. Then again, it’s not like there are any younger kids around on the Academagia campus.

What, Lie? Doing it normally might be childish, but maybe there’s a way to work smarter.

Wild theneians are tough to find; they’re mostly green and yellow, which means they blend in extremely well with surrounding plants. They also bloom close to the earth, and so you’d have to brush aside all the other plants to find them.

However, from what you know of botany, there is a gardening tool perfectly suited to gently push aside all the branches, bushes, and stems to let you find the elusive flowers. Using it would make this task much easier.

Perfect! Nothing like doing things the smart way to make a childish task look grown up.

You explain to Honors about the garden tool, and she loves the idea. The gardener isn’t hard to find, and he lets you borrow it without a fuss.

In no time, you’re sweeping the undergrowth aside and finding wild theneians all over. Soon, Honors has collected more than enough of the green-spotted yellow flowers for all the centerpieces. She thanks you for all your help, and you in turn admit that you had a little fun. In fact, it also brought back a few fond childhood memories.

All in all, you feel like a happier person.

Another exam means another turn of buffing. Wednesday’s happens to be the history final, so I’ve packed the usual Adanella’s with five Time phemes, which each add +1 to History and Astrology.

In the competitions of groups, the spies, scouts, and messengers play a central role in information gathering. However, a double agent is twice as useful.
A—how do you “double” an agent?
The phrase refers to one who claims to each side that she works for them, while in truth she works for only one, or perhaps only herself. I’ve no doubt you are familiar with the concept if not the term; every con artist will pretend to be harmless or on the victim’s side instead of speaking the truth, and (though more harmless than usual) an actor will pretend to be someone else on stage than whom she truly is.
So it’s all about acting, then?
It is. To take on another persona, to act as though the Influence of others means more or less than it truly does, to pretend to others is to increase your knowledge of the self while misleading your enemies. But it also invites that least forgivable of sins: betrayal. The risks are high, the rewards are high, and the consequences are very serious. Engage duplicity only rarely, and do so with respect and caution.
Along with our Gates lesson, we shall today discuss two skills helpful to the double agent: Temperance, to see without speaking, and Silent Movement, to spy without being spied upon.

While quietly enjoying a drink in one of Mineta’s many taverns, the slow, steady clunking of a staff on wood pauses the conversations in the room and draws all eyes onto an old, bearded gentleman who just entered the door. The man takes a seat at the bar, adjusts his simple, homespun robe, and then begins to speak. His voice is as scratchy and worn as his face, and as he begins, you spot a few of the regulars rolling their eyes.

Of course, in the elder days, back when King Durand and Queen Avila, King Aranaz and all their lot…back when they still walked the earth, everything was different. Men could slice the air itself with their swords and rend the earth with their axes, and the magic flowed through rock and tree and creature, or so they say.

The old man coughs violently for a while before he can continue.

It was the time of true kings, and it is the time the story of Hectyn the Great begins.

The storyteller pauses to look around the tavern, then takes a sip from the mug the bartender had already set for him.

Hectyn was but a man, as any other, but in those days to be a man was to be as a god is now! And the gods, which is to say the Old Gods, now, they were proud of their children’s achievements, and they showered them with their blessings. Hectyn made himself known in the army of King Durand during those first wars to free humanity from the reptilian clutches of the Dragon Emperor. His muscles were steel, his will adamant! When the slave armies crashed upon him, he was a rock against the tide, unyielding and proud! He took his huge axe and chopped his way through the lowly footmen to their scaly masters, unstoppable. Hectyn gained his title in this way: Dragonseeker, for in any battle that great man knew to fight with the true foe, the Dragons, rather than his enslaved kin. Whenever one would deign to enter the battlefield, Hectyn would stop whatever he was doing to wade through the enemy forces and fight the demon with flashing steel and a chilling battle cry!

The old man stops, pulling at his beard, apparently struggling to remember the next part.

Well, it does seem a bit exceptional, after all…

The old man is clearly exaggerating more than a few of his claims, and it’s not that hard to sift the fact from the fiction. With that in mind, you have a better idea which of the ancient tales he’s actually trying to tell.

Interrupting him would be awfully rude. Let’s just push him along in the right direction.

What about the Dragonseeker’s jumping skills?
Yes, yes, of course! The Dragonseeker’s Leap! That’s what they called it. Hectyn would jump mightily into the air to follow his flying foes, for not even the sky could keep him from the hated enemy. He would soar up, a human arrow, sinking his axe into the Dragon’s flank until it fell. None knew if it was spell or skill, but the great warrior’s leap was as renowned as his weapon…but he didn’t join Durand’s expedition after the wars…I’m…not sure…
It’s because he almost died from an injury in the last great battle, wasn’t it? He was still recovering when Durand left.
Yes! But he passed his axe, Dragoncleaver, to one of his comrades who would go on the iron vessels! The nameless soldier took the weapon with him, but what happened next is unknown to all. It is said the weapon is still here among the sky islands…

While walking through the main building, you pass by the older Durand student whom you gave the map to. She flashes you a smile when she sees you, and when you approach close enough, she whispers into your ear: “Meet us on the topmost floor of the Venalicium Library in five minutes. Name’s Claudia, by the way.”

Five minutes? That’s not much time! You turn to follow her, but she’s already gone. Strange. You walk alone to the library, and when you reach the top floor, you see a group of Durand students gathered in a corner to your right.

“Aha!” one booms, clearly unaware of the rules of skullduggery. “So this is the Aranaz student who’s come to her senses.”

“Now look,” you correct, “I don’t have anything against College Aranaz itself. Just with all the people infesting it right now.”

“Ever the diplomat, Lydia,” Claudia groans, rolling her eyes. “Anyway, we thought we’d take you up on that offer of yours to help. That secret passageway the map showed us works wonderfully, by the way. Thanks.”

“Yes, we are impressed with your generosity,” Lydia admits, toning down her bravado. “So what exactly would you like to help with?”

“I want to help you guys deface the Aranaz Mallen-Stone sculpture.”

“Can’t do that, sorry,” Lydia warns. “That particular prank is something we use as our initiation, and outsiders can’t become part of our order. However, there are certainly other ways you could help in spreading mischief around in Aranaz.” Lydia lists off three choices.

“I’ll gladly sabotage the Sphinx Syndicate,” you state. “They’re the ones who got me into this mess in the first place. I’ve already got a plan.”

“Excellent! I’m looking forward to hearing your report,” Lydia says.

“Before I go, I’ll need that map back,” you ask. Claudia clutches it, giving you a suspicious look, but you laugh at her response. “Look, it’s not like Aranaz can use it now that you know about the secret passage. I just need it to get their trust back.” Claudia nods, if a bit reluctantly, and relinquishes the map.

When you return to the common room, you look around until you spot Alexander, and then ask if you can sit in on a Sphinx Syndicate meeting.

“Why?” he asks, looking somewhat dubious. “I’ve heard you might be associating with the enemy against your own friends.”

“I’m just softening them up for the final blow,” you assert, “and I’ve got this!” You unfurl the map with a dramatic flourish. Alexander searches the map for a moment, then nods his head appreciatively.

“Yes, I see. Alright, then, I officially invite you to a special emergency meeting of the Sphinx Syndicate.” Alexander then rushes off, presumably to call everyone to the meeting.

Once the last member arrives, the time comes to put your plan into motion. As Alexander explains your discovery, you pass a forged note to the nearest member, wearing a clueless expression to make him think you’re just moving it along. The note itself expresses the opinion of an “anonymous member” who believes the map is a forgery.

“Wait!” your neighbor calls after reading the note. “How do we know this map is authentic?”

“We could always try it out,” Alexander offers.

“But what if there’s a trap waiting?” you whisper to the member on your other side.

Right on cue, she blurts out, “Yeah, how do we know this isn’t a trick?”

“Well, I-I know Iliana’s the one who found it, and she’s been having trouble with her friends, but—“

“Actually, I didn’t find it,” you admit. “My trip to the Room of Records was a bust. That’s why I didn’t want to tell anyone. But when I came back to my room after lunch today, the map was lying on my bed. I just thought you all would want to see it.”

“Oh, come on, Alex,” complains a member on the opposite side. “Are you so daft you’d rely on a First Year’s judgment? I know we haven’t won a lot of our battles against Durand, but you can’t just lose your head over it!”

“Don’t insult me!” counters Alexander. “Just look at this map! It can’t be a fake!”

The bickering continues throughout the meeting, and it looks as though many Sphinx Syndicate members have lost faith in Alexander’s leadership. Mission accomplished!

Inspirational Writing may have been obsolete for dialectic thanks to Donate at Oleapia’s Shrine, but the +5 to Rhetoric means it’s a good, painless way to totally dominate that exam on Thursday.

The final exam for history don’t improve much over the midterm scores, but only because the midterm scores were so high. As it is, the vast majority of students manage to get in the range of 110-120, although your name still stands out at 160, well above Catherine Chard’s 123.

As you walk away from the classroom, you feel an odd tingling across your body, and then a wave of confusion and dizziness washes over you as all your enchanted items turn off. The spells reassert themselves after a few moments, though, and when you look around to see what hit you, you find Vrenelle standing away from the crowd with her wand in both hands, looking worried. You walk up to her and ask:

What was that?
A…it was a Negation spell. It’s pretty powerful. I got Tacito to teach it to me.
I just…you’ve been acting so angry lately! It’s not like you! Usually you love to talk your way out of stuff and make everyone your friend, but now with—so I thought maybe you were being Mastered, and that’s why you’re getting all upset.

You sigh quietly.

Vrenelle, I’m not being Mastered. Trust me, if I was, it’d be a lot less subtle.
But Emilia’s your best friend! Why won’t you just talk to her? And if there’s anything I could do—
There’s nothing to do, Vrenelle! Maybe you haven’t heard the whole story yet, but this fight has been a long time coming. And I’m not backing off until Emilia and Rui apologize to me for everything they’ve pulled. So you can just pick a side or stay out of the way!
But I don’t want there to be any sides!
Too bad.

With a huff, you turn on your heel and leave the quietly weeping Vrenelle behind you. You do not give her a second glance.

Gains of the Week

Attended Dialectic exam and scored a 185.
Discouraged Emilia Strolin.
---Relationship with Emilia Strolin decreased to 2.
Used Demean on self and Carmine Sturzo.
---Relationship with Carmine Sturzo decreased to 7.

Selective Focus used on Glamour Spells (whoops!).
Matched Wits with the Emperor’s Sphinx.
--Elumian increased by 1 step.
----Lingual pheme learned.
----Language increased by 1.
------Defilement pheme learned.
--Gates Spells increased by 1 step.
----Swarm of Bees spell learned.
--Illustration increased by 1 step.
----Illustration skill maxed!
----Impart Understanding spell learned.
Studied at Longshade.
--Gates Spells increased by 1 step.
--Competition increased by 1 step.
----Amicita pheme learned (8th time now!).
Successful event!
--Revision Spells cannot be increased.
Aveline and Basia used Compete; Aranaz merit now at 501.
Successful holiday!
--Flowers increased by 2 steps.
----Caustic pheme learned.
--Relationship with Honors Plafox increased to 3.

Matched Wits with the Emperor’s Sphinx.
--Gates Spells increased by 1 step.
--Temperance increased by 1 step.
----Charm pheme learned.
--Move Silently increased by 1 step.
----Mute pheme learned.
----Ambush increased by 1.
------Entirety pheme learned.
Cast Adanella’s Wardrobe.
--Plus 1 to Courtly Fashion, Confidence, and Aesthetics.
--Plus 5 to History and Astrology.
Malacresta used Compete; Aranaz merit now at 507.
Successful adventure!
--Intrigue increased by 2 steps.
Successful event!
--Storytelling increased by 1 step.
----Insight pheme learned.

Attended a History exam and scored a 160.
Cast Inspirational Writing.
--Plus 5 to Dialectic, Rhetoric, and Grammar.
--Plus 2 to Manipulation.
--Plus 1 to Wit.
Used Demean on self and Vrenelle Bonvin.
--Relationship with Vrenelle Bonvin decreased to 6.

New Abilities

Swarm of Bees (Spell): Intelligence/Gates v5; target takes -2 Vitality, -1 to all Actions, Abilities, and Spells, and -5% Chance of Success for all Courage-based rolls until rest.
Impart Understanding (Spell): Intelligence/Research v5; +1 step in chosen skill for all personal Clique members (self included), and +1 step in Glamour Methods for self only.