The Let's Play Archive


by Bobbin Threadbare

Part 67: The Pruning of the Tree

Kaliri 18-21

Thanks to your preparation, you easily pass the final rhetoric exam with flying colors. While most of the class got at or around 100 points, no one could touch the 150 you earned.

The thought of exam scores gives you an idea. During lunch, you once again sneak into Emilia’s room to ransack her notes. This time she has a trap prepared for just such intrusions, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. You look around at the different study materials she has stacked everywhere and you wrack your brain, trying to remember which exams haven’t taken place yet. Eventually you decide that arithmetic class hasn’t gone yet, so you pick up a few items, flee out the building, and then use them to fuel the Great Forge. You aren’t terribly sure how much help the copybooks might have been, but you can say for certain that no one will be using them again.

Lambert Cobo. I think we have some unfinished business.
Iliana Ot’Matar. I’ve heard some wild stories about you going off on your friends. And something about helping Durand now? Crazy, huh? Especially after what you and your friends did to get you on the student council.
That’s all the past now. I’ve tried to be a fair member, haven’t I? Honors even forgave me for what happened to her. Not that I had anything to do with it.
Sure you didn’t. I was there, remember?
I’ll admit, I did want that spot on the student council, and by any means. But I’ve been learning that living with other people who want the same sort of things you want isn’t always the best. That’s why I think I might switch colleges next year. With my help, Durand will rise to be the greatest college the Academagia has ever seen!
Yeah, right. You think we’ll all forget the crap you pulled on us all this year?
You can, and you will. After all, I come bearing gifts. I’ve got some for you, Lambert. Haven’t you always wanted to know all of Aranaz’s dirty secrets?

Lambert tries hard to conceal his interest, but fails.

For instance, did you know that the Sphinx Syndicate is in complete disarray right now? Oh, and have you heard the true story about what Vrenelle and I had to do to fix the kitchen food?

The second question was actually a test, considering just how far and wide Vrenelle spread that story herself over the last few months. However, in spite of Lambert’s love of sneaking around, he’s never been all that good at it, a fact he proves again when he shows how interested he is to hear the tale. Getting him on your side might prove to be easier than you expected.

I had a bit of a recording hiccup for Friday and Saturday here, and so I don’t have the random event choices to show you for these two days. I do, however, remember what both of them were, so we’ll only be missing the images.

In your dialectic and rhetoric classes, did they ever discuss the sunk-cost fallacy?
Um…maybe once or twice? It sounds familiar.
That’s not especially surprising; it rarely comes up in debates or speeches. The sunk-cost fallacy is simply this: the more a person invests in something, be it time, effort, or resources, the more that person wants to see the thing succeed, regardless of whether it can. Humans have an essential need to feel worthwhile, and as I’ve mentioned before, the more invested a human becomes in a group, project, or profession, the more it becomes a part of his or her identity.
The applications of this are nearly limitless. The important thing is to pace yourself: only ask for a little time or a little money at first, and then when you ask for more later your subject will be more inclined to provide. This can happen accidentally, and often does, but one who knows what she is doing can string someone along for an incredible amount of effort and money by the end. Just remember to never break trust openly; as I have said before, a betrayal of trust will turn a dedicated friend into an enemy of equal caliber.
Today we will discuss Deceit, which I feel you may have need of. And should the deceit fail, we shall practice your Wrestling, and should that not work, your Prayer skills.

Heading across the school grounds, you feel someone tap your shoulder. When you turn around, you find one of the groundskeepers peering at you, although it’s not Tangleroot or Dirt Princess or Three-Splinter Ned, and it’s definitely not MacAllister Snood (you idly wonder if they know about your nicknames for them). No, this groundskeeper is someone you don’t know.

Is there something you want?
Yes. I left a box in the Venalicium Library I need you to go fetch.

That seems rather odd. You look the groundskeeper over: he seems a bit scruffy, even for a gardener, and he’s got an eye patch over his left eye. Looks like there’s a scar running across that part of his face, too. Plus his uniform looks loose. Should you really trust him?

(All green except for Seeds, which is blue)
Get the box.
Confidence. Tell him you’ll go get the box, but check what’s in it first.
Glamour Spells. Trick the man and cast a stunning spell on him when he’s not expecting it.
Seeds. Ask him a question only a groundskeeper could answer.

Iliana’s on good terms with some pirates, but if he was with Asad the Lion he’d have recognized Iliana by now. No problem with turning him in, then.

You smile and nod and head off to the library. As you do, several questions flash through your head. What was a groundskeeper doing in there to begin with? And why is he leaving things in there? And why would he need you to go get it instead of getting it himself?

When you find the box he described, you pop it open and look inside. Magic scrolls? That can’t be right. You’d better tell someone quick, before he figures out you’re on to him! You approach the nearest instructor, who happens to be Professor Ringraeyer, and explain to her the conversation you had with the strange gardener.

Thanks you your quick thinking, the groundskeeper is detained. Of course, it turns out he’s not really on the Academagia staff at all, but a pirate in disguise trying to steal the scrolls!

It’s actually quite funny to watch the pirate get tackled by Professor Ringraeyer and three real groundskeepers, but the best part is that word of your quick thinking and “heroic act” spreads throughout the campus within an hour.

Ah, there they are! You’ve managed to come across Emilia and Rui in the hallways between classes, and they appear to be deep in conversation. This gives you ample time to set up your trap. Once you finish, you inscribe the phemes of Harmon’s Strife and then watch with a grin as your clique mates’ discussion quickly turns into an argument. Finally, Emilia storms off farther down the corridor, while Rui walks the other way—right under your trap!

As soon as he passes underneath, the bucket full of wormy mud magically glued to the high ceiling loses its enchantment and tumbles right down onto Rui’s head, coating him from head to toe in sticky mud and nightcrawlers of all sorts. As Rui pulls the goopy bucket off his head and spits out a healthy wad of dirt, you can’t resist calling out as you retreat into the crowd:

Thanks for the tips, Rui! How does it feel to get hit by one of your own pranks?!

You are too busy fleeing to hear any response.

Today you shall learn about the cult of personality. It is generally harder for a person to understand the higher concepts of Self, but there are shortcuts that help in this regard: symbols, in other words. A flag, for instance, or a statue, or a name. Or even an individual.
Becoming a symbol is not as easy as it seems. Few nobles can manage it even among those who live on their lands. First one must become a hero, an ideal in the minds of one’s followers. Perhaps if you become known for helping the unfortunate, or defeating the enemies of your chosen group. Once your reputation is established, you can move on to identify yourself with a faction or nation and thereby take any devotion so given onto yourself.
However, there are both benefits and burdens that come from being a symbol. As a symbol, one’s Influence cannot be greater, and may last long after one disappears or dies. However, one has to live up to the reputation given, the idealized version of oneself that is built up in the minds of one’s followers. A small transgression may be chalked up to being human, but a significant betrayal will end one’s term as a symbol quite effectively. To this I must add that one’s followers will be incredibly interested in every movement of their symbol, either to find actions to emulate or knowledge to lord over their fellows. One must therefore be very careful indeed.
Also, one does not need to be associated with any higher cause to be a symbol (though it helps immensely). A celebrity is known only for his fame, as well as whatever may have brought it upon him. The celebrity is followed simply for being famous, and perhaps for asking nothing from his followers. Or perhaps it is out of a desire to be famous by proximity; I am not entirely certain.
There are many paths to fame. Romance is one, though I hope to train your Reason to be better. I should also teach you Scent Detection while we are at it; knowing the correct perfumes to apply is far more important than you might expect…

Feeling it best to stay away from the campus today, you instead bypass the Academagia and go for a hike up the Chauranglaith Path, back up to the third marker by the natural spring. How did that one go again? Oh, here it is: “Skepticism is the way to true knowledge, for once one knows they know nothing, one can begin to see with open eyes.”

Skepticism. Don’t take anything for granted. That’s what the Sphinx meant by an open mind, wasn’t it? Good for the short term con, but likelier to catch on in the long run. Then again, fooling a closed mind by hijacking their basic beliefs would work well, too, since they don’t bother to think about them. A good way to become “symbolic.”

You look down the mountainside to the school campus and sigh. One more week, one way or another, and it’ll all be over. Well, until summer break ends, of course. But at least then you should be able to focus on classes again. Searching through the Academagia grounds, you think you can see the Garden Gallery where you first met Rui da Casga. It feels so long ago now, you can hardly believe it hasn’t even been a year!

Your thoughts move to the five-handed tree that lent you its name. Yes, that would make an excellent location. You’ll cast the Sending spell one last time and gather the ‘Tree under its boughs. One last meeting.

You stand up and stretch before heading back down towards the city. While you didn’t take part in the Incantation final today, that’s no reason not to go study it yourself. Paying the Contu School’s tuition was a great investment.

You’ve never had to travel from the mountain on down to the Contu School, and you think you’ve taken a wrong turn at some point. The walls around you look strange, and there’s a disconcerting lack of people.

Hey, you, I’ve got something for you!

A suspicious hooded man stands in the shadows of an alley which you could have sworn wasn’t there before. You try to look him in the eyes, but you are compelled to stare at the glistening balls in his hand instead. He smiles, and you’re not sure if it looks kindly or menacing.

They’re good for your gesundheit!

(I think they were all green)
Run away!
Why not? Take them.
Magical Appraisal. Is anything magical up here?

Candy and strangers. Lovely. Might as well check around first.

You close your eyes, just for a second, and cast out your inner senses. Not much Glamour in the air, but a sense of strangeness and other places…maybe Gates? Is that right?

That’s a bit disconcerting.

I’ll say. No new options, so perhaps getting away quick would be the best option.

What was it that people always told you about strangers and candy? That’s right. Run away. You run away without looking back. But had you looked back, you would have seen a small tear drip down the hooded man’s face.

I just wanted to give that nice child some candy…

And he would have, too. Instead of a point in Running, Iliana could have got the Candies of the Gnawing Void (yes, you read that correctly). When consumed, the candies would Inform the PC of all four Gates skills (odd way to get those, plus Iliana already knows them) and add +8 to Stress. Never knew Cthulhu had a confectioner…

Of course, technically speaking, all of these social rolls have been taking place in the Garden Gallery. You guys remember the location-based bonuses, right? How some locations give you a boost so long as you stay there, and you can pick them when deciding the actions for the day? Well, the Garden Gallery happens to give a +1 to Gossip and a +2 to Social Actions, which makes it about perfect for my needs. Still, even that’s not enough to consistently get the potential -5 Relationship you can get out of Demean, and that’s why you see another Adanella’s there. The Camaraderie pheme adds +1 to Befriend and Gossip, and it’s a typical difficulty 4.

Hunting through the Admiratio as the shops open, looking for a rare item or good bargain that might disappear later in the day, you happen into a shop where you hear a struggling sound come from one corner of the room.

Beneath a display of fancy swords, the shopkeeper is down on his knees, trying desperately to reach beneath a cabinet for something that must have fallen underneath. Turning as he hears you approach, the clerk asks you to help, but when you slide your own hand underneath, you hear a strange hissing sound and see a flare of light. The shopkeeper assures you it’s okay, but now you aren’t so sure.

I think Persuasion is an investigation, but since Coordination is green already, I think I’ll stick with that.

If the clerk can’t do it, you probably can’t either, but maybe you’ll have better luck working together. Under your instructions, the both of you try to maneuver around, grabbing at the sword while shielding your eyes from the flashes. Your plan is good and you gave clear instructions, but the sword doesn’t budge.

Still, your effort was good and heartfelt, so the shopkeeper gives you a few coins for your time.

A measly five pims. Bah.

The Garden Gallery of Avila is truly beautiful this time of year. These days it’s less spring than summer, and so all the shrubs and trees have fully grown out their leaves. While you’d have expected to see a few perennials still keeping their flowers, the magically inclined gardeners—along with a few dedicated Avila students—have kept even the early bloomers healthy and stately well past their season.

A number of fragrances grace the air, a medley of flowers mixed with fresh-turned dirt and the heavy scent of water coming off the flowing fountain near the center of the garden. A light breeze is all that makes it past the foliage, but it’s enough to keep the heat of the clear day from sinking into your robe. That said, there are enchantments for keeping cool if you needed them, plus the naiad’s robe seems to have a peculiar way of keeping its own temperature. Probably something to do with water, although you never really studied that stuff.

The Garden Gallery isn’t nearly as mazelike as Aranaz’s courtyard, but you can tell just from glancing around that it was planned out more to show off the greenery than the people. Just about every bench is set to give a wide view of the surrounding plants, and while other benches are visible from each location, they aren’t in easy earshot, considering the constant rustling of leaves. The benches themselves are carved from single blocks of stone, each one in the shape of a different creature, mythical or real. There’s a griffon, a hippogriff, a chimera, a sphinx, yes, and even a few dragons here and there. You seem to recall resting on a unicorn’s back with Oan the first time you saw the five-handed tree messing around with Rui da Casga.

There it is now. And it looks like the rest of your clique is already assembled underneath; that’ll save some time. As you slowly walk up, you remark to yourself, and not for the first time, at just how well-behaved the five-handed tree has become lately. You’ve always made sure to keep the thing company whenever you’re in the Gallery, and while that admittedly hasn’t been too often, you also made a point of getting your friends to do the same. It’s still not every day or even every week that you find time to have a chat with the tree, but after all, trees are known for their patience, and just the promise of another visit has kept it out of the trouble it caused back during your first week. But right now your business is with the people assembled beneath the boughs. As you look at each face, you consider just how much has changed in a year (and just how much hasn’t).

Vrenelle Bonvin is widely known across the campus for jogging everywhere and refusing to sit still for a moment, and also for urging everyone around her to do the same. She does get on your nerves sometimes, even now, but thanks to her influence you do feel more fit and healthy than you did when you first arrived in Mineta. And you have to admit, a trim body has come in handy more than once since then (wizards have to do far more dodging than you ever expected!). Vrenelle herself explained to you once that, in her case, she can’t afford to stop, since if she did, she would instantly start to gain weight. It’s hard for you to picture a fat, lazy Vrenelle, but she assures you this was the case before she started running everywhere. Right now she looks like she’s doing her best to stand still and not break out in tears again, although she isn’t doing a very good job at either one.

Tacito Viadana has always been a bit of an enigma to you. It’s not that he hasn’t been perfectly friendly and helpful to you, but he’s never been that good at socializing. Instead, he likes to concentrate on whatever problem is at hand and figure out ways around it. Beyond that, you’ve also had the feeling for some time that he’s holding something back from you, although you’ve never been able to figure out what. He’s also kept mostly clear of the situation as it’s developed; this must be the first time he’s appeared in public with any of you since the feud began. By the look on his face, he seems to resent even this single meeting.

Rui da Casga is still very much the troublemaker he always was, although he’s been lying low since the last big incident with Philippe and Joana’s group. You’d say he’s gotten more subtle since he started planning with you and Emilia (mostly Emilia, you admit), but he still lives for the revenge pranks, as you well know. You can only hope your example helped him be more careful in how and where he pranks (a vain hope, to be sure). Rui seems to have an expression of wary respect at the moment; not exactly hateful, but nor is it very gentle.

And then there’s Emilia Strolin. Being honest with yourself, you only picked Emilia out of all of Aranaz to be your friend because she looked so nice and manipulable. As things turned out, though, she had a heart as dark as any in Aranaz, and the two of you wound up becoming best friends. She’s still pathologically shy, of course, but you like to think you’ve helped her break out of her shell over the past year. Why, ten months ago, you’d bet Emilia would never have agreed to do something like this in such a busy public place as the Garden Gallery. Now, however, she’s standing at the head of the group, arms crossed, a dark look of pure hatred on her face.

So. I almost thought you wouldn’t bother coming in person.
“If you want something done, best done yourself.” Dad taught me that one.
We’ve decided to give you one last chance. Even if it’s not Mastery, you’ve got to be out of your mind siding with Durand against Aranaz! If you’re not going to do it for us, your friends, then what about the college itself? You told me how much you liked King Aranaz! You’re better off with us!
I don’t care. I don’t care! It’s just a stupid dorm building! It’s a—it’s just a symbol, it doesn’t mean anything real! You remember what that old ghost said back in the Tower of the Cold Forge? It doesn’t matter what dorm we live in, we’re all honoring the old royals’ legacy just by doing what we do best. I mean, do you really think Raoul is living up to Aranaz’s name because he lives in a building named after him? Raoul?
If Raoul wants to go over to Morvidus for Second Year, then fine, they can have him. But you? In Durand? Those snot-nosed little…
You’re letting the college do the thinking for you, Emilia. If Durand is as goody-goody as it’s supposed to be, what about Prudence? What about Flore? What about Jere? Yeah, what about that kid you hang out with who’s from the college you swore you’d hate forever? In Aranaz I’ve got too much competition. You showed me that. But all Durand needs is a good leader and they could rule this school.
And you really think the faculty will let you?
My grades are so good, I can do whatever I want.

Here at least
we shall be free; the hev’nly gods have not built
Here for their envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
to reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.
Nothing. This one poem about a guy with a lot of titles. Go on.
Um…fine. Fine! Go ahead and live with those Durand losers. But I’m not gonna be in any clique with a dirty Durand. Rui, you’re coming with me.

Without speaking a word, Rui obediently moves behind Emilia.

Tacito? Are you with me or with her?

Tacito glares at you both, lets out a sigh, but slowly, eventually walks over to stand next to you.


Vrenelle, who had been on edge throughout your conversation, finally lets out a great wail and runs from the scene. You frown and shake your head.

I’m still saying she’s in the ‘Tree until she says otherwise. So, I guess this means goodbye?

Emilia doesn’t respond, but turns around and storms off, dragging Rui along behind her. Tacito gives you one last stare before walking off himself, leaving you alone underneath the tree whose name you once borrowed.

Looking down at your Aranaz-blue robes, you decide that it could use a color change. Fortunately, the enchanted cloth readily accepts your spell, and you watch fascinated as the new shade cascades down over the old one. Then, as though aware of what you’re trying to do, the very shape and cut of your clothing shifts to match of its own accord.

Guess I should find someone with a spare bed next. Moving all my things would be such a pain for just one week…guess I’ll just booby-trap the place until it’s time to go.

Gains of the Week

Attended a Rhetoric exam and scored a 150.
Ruined Emilia Strolin’s Homework.
---Emilia Strolin’s Arithmetic Study level decreased by 1.
---Relationship with Emilia Strolin decreased to 0.
Used Gossip on self and Lambert Cobo.
--Relationship with Lambert Cobo increased to 5.

Matched Wits with the Emperor’s Sphinx.
--Deceit increased by 1 step.
----Deceive pheme learned.
----Sly Talk action learned.
--Gates Spells increased by 1 step.
--Wrestling increased by 1 step.
----Slick ability learned.
--Prayer increased by 1 step.
----Learned about Durand’s Prayer Grove.
----Religion increased by 1 step.
------Pray for Calm Days ability learned.
Cast Harmon’s Strife on Emilia Strolin.
---Emilia Strolin’s Relationship with (someone? Couldn’t find who) decreased by 2.
---Emilia Strolin’s Relationship with Rui da Casga decreased to 8.
---Relationship with Emilia Strolin decreased to -1.
Used Prank Enemy on Rui da Casga.
---Decreased Rui da Casga’s Confidence and Composure by 1; increased Danger Sense by 1.
---Relationship with Rui da Casga decreased to 0.
Successful event!
--Merit increased by 5; Aranaz merit now at 512.

Matched Wits with the Emperor’s Sphinx.
--Scent Detection increased by 1 step.
----Talent of the Hound ability learned.
--Gates Spells increased by 1 step.
----Creeping Vine spell learned.
--Romance increased by 1 step.
--Reason increased by 1 step.
----Reason skill maxed!
----Unnerving Clarity spell learned.
Traveled the Chauranglaith Path: Natural Spring.
--No Dialectic skill can be increased.
--No Glamour skill can be increased.
--Learned about Chauranglaith Path: Stone Bench.
--Learned about Chauranglaith Path: The Cave.
Studied at Esteban Contu’s.
--Incantation Phemes increased by 1 step.
----Thought pheme learned.
----Incantation increased by 1.
------Fill the Night with Stars spell learned.
--Incantation Spells increased by 1 step.
--Theory of Incantation increased by 1 step.
----Theory of Incantation skill maxed!
----Superior Mind pheme learned.
--Net 0 Stress gained.
Malacresta used Compete; Aranaz merit now at 518.
Successful event!
--Running increased by 1 step.

Cast Adanella’s Wardrobe.
---Plus 1 to Courtly Fashion, Confidence, and Aesthetics.
---Plus 5 to Gossip and Befriend.
Used Demean on self and Emilia Strolin.
---Relationship with Emilia Strolin decreased to -5.
---Emilia Strolin has left the Five-Handed Tree!
-----Iliana Ot’Matar has lost Clique Ability: Parental Payoff!
Used Demean on self and Rui da Casga.
---Relationship with Rui da Casga decreased to -5.
---Rui da Casga has left the Five-Handed Tree!
-----Iliana Ot’Matar has lost Clique Ability: Prank Enemy!
Successful event!
--Money increased by 5.
Malacresta used Compete; Aranaz merit now at 521.
Morvidus wins again.

New Abilities

Sly Talk: Charm/Deceit v target’s Insight/Awareness+1; +2 to all actions/abilities/spells used on target for 7 days, and -2 to target’s Confidence and +3% to Chance of Discovery until rest.
Slick: +3 to Wrestling for 3 days.
Pray for Calm Days: 2- Stress required to use; -33% chance of random events for 7 days.
Talent of the Hound (Permanent): +1 to Perception and Perfumes.
Creeping Vine (Spell): Finesse/Gates v6, Duel only; -2 to opponent’s Strength and Running until duel end.
Unnerving Clarity (Spell): Intelligence/Glamour v9; +2 to Intelligence and Insight and +10% to Chance of Success for all Actions, Abilities, and Spells, but -1 to Flawless Timing and -2 to Courage, all for 3 days.
Fill the Night with Stars (Spell): Finesse/Incantation v5, Insight/Incantation v8, and Luck/Incantation v20; +1 to Relationship with student of opposite gender, then +1 step to Playfulness and Art Appreciation, then +1 Glory.