Part 69: The Mallen-StarKaliri 26-27
Late for class, you quickly rush down a rarely used connecting hallway. The passage is dark and quiet, and since there are no classrooms along this corridor, its almost always empty. Thats why you nearly jump when you hear a growling noise and feel a cool draft of air.
Not sure which if either of these is an investigation, so lets stick with the safe option.
You lick your thumb to figure out which way the breeze is coming from, then follow its source over to the left wall. The growling sound gets louder and louder until you pull back a tapestry and discover a hidden door. The growling sinks away as you open the door, and when you look inside, you are amazed at what you find: its the secret trophy storage room!
Sheary! There you are. I was just looking at the test scores and I wanted to congratulate you.
Oh, well, I didnt do all that well. Definitely not as well as you!
True, but I was just helping myself. How many other students did you help with their homework when you couldve been studying for yourself? Sheary, out of all the First Years in Durand, I think you live up to the High King the best out of any of them.
Oh, um, gosh, thanks
Claudia and Lydia find you again early on Saturday morning. Both are positively beaming. The Sphinx Syndicate has been completely thrown for a loop! They havent even tried to go after the Mallen-Star necklace, and by tomorrow itll be too late, Claudia crows.
You demur: I didnt really do much of anything.
I know, Lydia agrees, but our recruits this year are just so poor. If you ask me, none of them deserve to join, well, ahem.
I think its okay to tell Iliana. Im pretty sure Aranaz already knows about us, plus shell be joining us officially next year, Claudia mentions.
Lydia nods and continues. The Legion of Lions is in big trouble. Not only has no one defaced the Mallen-Star sculpture yet, but theyre just all uninspired and lazy. I caught two of them asleep when they were supposed to be guarding our Durand statue!
Claudia interrupts. And that plan of theirs to deface the sculpture by charming it to insult Aranaz students? Feh! In my day, we hacked off an entire point and only gave it back after they paid the ransom. I swear, the only one with any spirit at all is Tulia, and she thinks the whole Legion is beneath her.
Lydia gives her classmate a wry grin. Yeah, which crazed little First Year from our class does that remind you of?
Shut up, Claudia sighs. And then theres Cobo.
Lets not talk about Cobo. Youre upset enough already.
As the girls continue, you note the interesting fact that the Legion of Lions seems to have its own recruitment troubles. Uh oh, now theyre both looking at you.
Maybe you could help us, Iliana, Lydia asks. We know this is highly unusual, but were desperate. Do you think you could you help inspire our own guards? Maybe set a good example for them. Please? Or, heck, you could lead an attack against the Aranaz Mallen-Star sculpture if you really want. We can make it worth your while.
Well, Id say I am pretty inspiring, but I would like to strike back at Aranaz, you waver.
Oh, you dont have to decide now! Come back to us after dinner. Thats when itll happen, whether its attack or defend.
You agree to do something, but youll need to prepare. Satisfied, the Legionnaires leave you to it.
First, you need a spell. Intense Focus should do, just like always. You knew exactly what you wanted to do as soon as Lydia asked you, of course, but you wanted to prepare for it first, just in case.
Tomorrow I suppose you will be busy packing, so today will be our last day together. I will miss you, dearest. I hope to see you again come Athonos.
Me, too. II wanted to thank you for well, for everything. Not just for what you did Friday, I mean, youve been a really great teacher and Ive learned a lot from you. Ill be sure to come back next year.
Thank you, dearest. So, what say we make this final lesson of ours fun? After our final lesson in Gates Spells, we shall conduct a mock debate: how should religion be conducted? Apollonian versus Dionysian. This, I feel, shall increase your appreciation of Negotiation, Playfulness, and Piety. Let us begin.
Later, after the debate ends, you finally work up the courage to ask a question thats been on your mind since you first learned of the Sphinx.
So I was wondering do you have a name? Like, an actual name? Ive only ever heard you called the Sphinx.
The answer is yes, I do have a name.
So what is it?
The Sphinx smiles her mysterious smile.
That would be telling. Now, be off with you; you shall hear no more from me until fall.
You leave the Sphinx unsatisfied, but still smiling. Fine, then, you think to yourself. Ill just work on that next year.
Walking through one of the Academagias forges, you spy a woman standing by a horse, leaning down and working on its hoof with a tool. She must be shoeing the horse. Youve never seen a farrier at work before.
Is there something particular about the horse?
You recognize the pattern on the saddle. It belongs to a member of the Praesides! That means the horse is surely endowed with magical powers of some sort. It must be a fine steed!
Well, then. Why spy when you could just ask?
The farrier kindly nods her head at your request and flashes you a warm smile. After finishing her immediate task, she explains what she is doing. At this point in the process, she is removing the old shoes from the horses feet with a tool called a pincer. She is also flattered by your interest in her work, and she offers to teach you a bit about her trade.
Dinnertime comes and, just as the promised, Lydia and Claudia return and ask you what you want to do: attack Aranaz or defend Durand?
Your answer is ready and waiting:
Despite what certain people have done, I still dont think all of Aranaz should suffer for it. Ill defend Durand.
The girls thank you for agreeing to help, then explain the situation: Jere Niemela and Lambert Cobo are the guards on duty tonight. You arent expected to stand watch with them, although you can, but instead the Legionnaires want you to try and inspire them to do their jobs correctly.
And if you do it well enough, we may just bring you into the Legion of Lions, Claudia offers.
You nod, smile, and head off to the statue of Durand. Once there, you find Lambert and Jere already in position, although their leery expressions seem to indicate they still dont trust you completely (you suppose it doesnt help that the leadership sent you down to whip them into shape). Well, you can fix that.
You enter into a speech about honor and duty and the legacy of Durand, but you quickly get sidetracked into an extended diatribe against Aranaz students and all the slights against you theyve ever committed, both petty and grand. When you finally run out of steam, you storm off in search of water.
When you return a half hour later, you find both guards snoozing at their posts; it would seem your personal issues werent that interesting and your speech put them to sleep.
You take a deep breath, then exhale slowly as you shake yourself out. Your old mentor back home told you all about the long con, but you never knew just how hard it is to pretend to be somebody else 24/7.
First things first: time to get out of these ugly red robes. After double-checking to make sure both Durand students are completely asleep, you wave your wand and dispel the enchantment that was keeping it red. Just like before, the fabric transforms itself into the Aranaz cut as the red fades to blue.
Didnt miss this collar, though. Ugh.
Next, you pull out your spare map and use it to find the entrance to the secret passage. Once its open, you weave a simple spell and cut the necklace from the statue, then use a second to pull it to your hand.
As you pocket it, though, the statue of Durand comes to life. Uh oh, its headed straight for you! Luckily, the statues thunderous footsteps wake Jere and Lambert, who scream as the statue towers over them. This diverts its attention long enough for you to make it through the secret passage and close the door behind you, allowing you a perfect getaway.
When you reach the front door of Campus Aranaz, you take another deep breath, bring the necklace up high above your head, and open the door. Applause greets you as you enter the main common room: nearly everyone in College Aranaz is present, including Regent von Rupprecht, along with guests of honor Rui da Casga of Vernin and Tacito Viadana of Hedi. Ruis smirk almost rivals yours in size, and although Tacito still seems a bit sore, youre glad to see him smiling a little at your triumph.
And, of course, standing next to them are Vrenelle Bonvin and Emilia Strolin, each with a huge grin on her face. Vrenelle moves in for a hug, but once again Emilia beats her to it, and the clapping grows louder as the two of you embrace. Vrenelle comes next, but then Carmine Sturzo steps in.
II thought of another dare for you.
I dareI dare you to kiss me.
To tell the truth, you had always wanted your first kiss to be a private moment, one shared only by you and your date after a perfect evening out. Maybe its the rush of success, or maybe its the heat from all the eyes looking only at you, but when Carmine blurts out his dare, you can only think of one thing to say:
The applause quickly turns to hoots and whistles, and von Rupprecht indulgently averts his eyes from the breach of school rules. When you finish, Alexander approaches you and takes the Mallen-Star necklace to hold above the crowd.
I think everyone here knows about the Sphinx Syndicate, so Ill drop the pretense and go straight to business. For stealing the Durand Mallen-Star with a degree of duplicity and deceit truly worthy of the name of Aranaz, I hereby induct Iliana OtMatar into the Sphinx Syndicate. The audience goes wild, but Alexander motions them to silence. Of course, Iliana did not work alone. For their part in helping her schemes, I also welcome Carmine Sturzo, Emilia Strolin, and Vrenelle Bonvin into the fold. Rui da Casga and Tacito Viadana, you arent Aranaz students, but know you will always have an ally in us. Three cheers for our new members!
For everything that youve accomplished this year, for all the evil wizards and cultists youve thwarted and all the downtrodden youve helped up, you know this will always stand out as one of the best nights of your life.
Gains of the Rest of the Week
Flattered Sheary Warrington.
--Net Relationship with Sheary Warrington increased to 5.
Studied at the Mantle of Stars.
--Gates Spells increased by 1 step.
--Theory of Astrology increased by 2 steps.
----Nebulae pheme learned.
--Learned about the Trophy Storage Room.
Cast Intense Focus.
--Plus 5 to Deceit.
--Plus 1 to Insight.
--Minus 2 to Insects and Flattery.
Matched Wits with the Emperors Sphinx.
--Negotiate increased by 1 step.
--Gates Spells increased by 1 step.
----Gates Spells maxed!
----Summon Brown Spitting Cobra spell learned.
--Playfulness increased by 1 step.
----Exaggerate pheme learned.
----Sabotage increased by 1.
------Undercover pheme learned.
--Piety Research level increased by 1.
--Intelligence increased by 1.
--Glory increased by 1.
--Relationship with Lambert Cobo decreased to 0.
--Relationship with Jere Niemela decreased to 0.
--Relationship with Polisena Briardi decreased to -6.
--Relationship with Sixt von Rupprecht increased to 5.
--Sphinx Syndicate Membership ability gained.
Malacresta and Aveline used Compete; Aranaz merit now at 545.
--Armorer increased by 1 step.
----Shieldwright ability learned.
Defile Trophies: Finesse/Sabotage v8; -20 Merit for target college, but +2% Chance of Discovery for 1 month.
Summon Brown Spitting Cobra (Spell): Fitness/Gates v12; target takes -2 to Fitness, Finesse, and Strength until rest.
Sphinx Syndicate Membership (Permanent): +1 to Intrigue and Manipulation and -1% to global Chance of Discovery.
Shieldwright (Permanent): +1 to Forge and Negation Methods.
So by now it may have occurred to you that I have been doing a bit of lying. Not as much as you might think, though, if you read closely. I also included some tells. While I usually comment on every single decision, I do not when lies are involved. The other tell is that false gains have an odd number of dashes. See if you cant puzzle things out before I post the last updates, which will explain what really happened.