The Alchemist's Apprentice (CYOA)
The antechamber was crowded. Partly that was because it was a small room, made smaller by walls lined with bookshelves, but mostly because there were almost two dozen people stuffed into it. Most of us were standing, since there were only enough seats for five or six people. The room was well-lit but still felt stuffy between the dark wooden walls and the crowd.

Only two of the people in the room were men. I don't know why they even bothered to show up, considering there hasn't been a male Grand Alchemist in... ever. Then again I supposed we all had to be ambitious to be here in the first place.

There was little common ground to the women present, who between them represented every skin and hair tone common to Ocha. After watching the others for a while, for want of anything better to do, I realized they perhaps had one thing in common: they were all wearing their finest clothes. But those ranged from a simple blue cotton dress with a bit of lace around the collar - worn by a pretty young blonde with a remarkable chest - to an elegant creation of brocaded silk draped over the slender form of a dark-haired noble.

I supposed that was another commonality: everyone present was young. The oldest person in the room was perhaps twenty-five. Not that that was particularly surprising, considering what this group was assembled for.

The room was nearly silent, quiet enough that I could hear the faint hum of the electric lights. Occasionally there was the whisper of a girl near me turning the page of a massive tome she'd pulled off one of the shelves, or an actual whisper exchanged between a couple of girls.

Abruptly the silence was broken by the slight squeak of a hinge. Cloth and hair rustled as every girl in the room looked up towards the doorway.

An older woman, perhaps on the lower bounds of middle-age, entered. Her dark hair had a single streak of grey to it, but it was bound back in a strict bun that did her few favors. She wore a severe grey dress with a high collar and long sleeves, which made me think she must be suffering in the summer heat. Her face showed no sign of any discomfort as her eyes scanned the room.

"You," she said, sharp and sudden. One of her fingers was extended, pointing at me.

"I have a name," I complained, but started to walk towards her. "It's-"

"Don't care. Follow me."

I bit down on my automatic response and followed her. The rudeness rankled a bit, but complaining probably wouldn't look good for me.

The severe woman led me down a corridor of dull white stone, lined with door after door of heavy, dark wood. I wondered if there was a room full of girls waiting behind every one. After we'd passed enough doors that I lost count, we stopped by a door that looked like any of the others. My guide opened it and gestured for me to go inside; I did.

The room inside looked superficially like the one I'd been waiting in. Dark wooden walls lined with overstuffed bookshelves, an elaborate light fixture. But where the other room had been filled with young women waiting anxiously, this one was dominated by a heavy wooden desk with a leather-seated chair behind it.

Behind the desk sat probably the second-most recognizable woman in the country, after the Queen. Considering the Queen had her face on money, it was hard to top her in that field.

Sophia Flamel was not a beautiful woman. Her features were too soft, almost childish, for that. Rather, most people would call her 'cute', or a 'girl next door'. Her dark hair was cut so that it just barely hung above her shoulders, with a soft curl to it that only became visible toward the end of that length. She was wearing a white blouse with pearl-coloured buttons. It was entirely possible they actually were made from pearl, considering her station.

The door closed behind me with a muffled thud, jarring me out of my thoughts - which were mostly going in circles involving distress at being in the same room as the second-most powerful woman in the country. Or, depending on who you asked, the most powerful.

Sophia's lips had a slight quirk to them that made me think she knew what I was thinking, and was amused by it.

"Hello," she said. I managed to reply in kind. "I suspect I don't need to introduce myself. So, girl, let's get right to the point: who are you? And, furthermore, why should I take you on as an apprentice?"

Poll 1: background: http://www.strawpoll.me/11988569

Poll 2: talent: http://www.strawpoll.me/11988572 (see next post for details)

Poll 3: motivation: http://www.strawpoll.me/11988583

Poll 4: name. Post in the thread with a suggestion!
Out of character:

This'll be a lesbian-oriented game, with switch content, either dom or sub depending on choices made. Or both! Probably both. Most updates will only have one or two votes, this first part is a special case for ~character creation~. It may be a while to reach anything particularly erotic, especially any kind of hard-core mind-controlly stuff. I'm aiming for more 'plot with porn' than the other way around. Do people still use PWP? I feel old.

I'm very open to write-in suggestions. If they're popular enough and/or I like them I may rerun a poll or just go with the write-in choice outright.

Some notes on character creation. All of the choices will have some impact on the overall 'difficulty' of the game, but our talent has the biggest weight in that regard. 'Perfect memory' is a photographic/eidetic memory, the ability to perfectly recall anything after seeing it once. It's quiet compared to the other talents but it'll be pretty powerful in several of the events I have planned; I'd recommend voting for it if you want to see a underdog character who succeeds (or fails, but in a sexy way) through hard work, cleverness, and determination.

Psionics, meanwhile, is a supernatural ability to interact with other people's minds, and I expect it to be the winning choice considering the audience. In this setting it's a well-known ability possessed by a significant percentage of the population, and can be defended against in several ways. In other words it's not any sort of instant-win button, but it's a powerful tool if we make wise choices.

'Magic' is the Special Snowflake option. It's 'person in a pointy hat casting fireball' style magic, and extremely rare in this setting, especially among humans. If you want to see our heroine (eventually) Charm Person'ing people into mindless thralls, this is the choice for you.
This sounds like it'll be a ton of fun, and I still use PWP....It's mostly what I write.

But anyways for the name I'm saying Melissa, just cause it's a name that I like. And on one last note I'm super excited to see CYOA's get more popular here.
how about Katherine?
also another motivation could be that she has some unknown curse put upon her, and she is trying to do anything to remove it
Merchants? :(
Hmm... the ability to memorize formulas after just a glance would be pretty powerful for an alchemist (especially for a clever one)

Anyhow, for a name, I'm putting out Alexandra.
Since our mentor is named after a famous real-world alchemist, I've been thinking of meaningful names for her. How about Tessa Ostanes -- Tessa from quintessence, the fifth element (also known as aether), what stars are thought to be made of, and Ostanes from a supposed early alchemist and sorceror.
I'm gonna say Fiona. [Fictional cookie to anyone who guesses why]
Another CYOA? Splendid. Time to bring rational but likely ultimately poor reasoning to the field.

And as a name, how about Cassandra Fresco? spoiler
Imasuky said:
This sounds like it'll be a ton of fun, and I still use PWP....It's mostly what I write.
That's partially why I'm going the other direction, I figure you've got the market locked down pretty well. Mostly it's my preference though :v

Nazwa said:
Merchants? :(
Lol my expectations for how the polls would turn out are getting owned. Drag out the guillotines, nobility got a single pity vote.

Abraxis said:
Since our mentor is named after a famous real-world alchemist, I've been thinking of meaningful names for her. How about Tessa Ostanes -- Tessa from quintessence, the fifth element (also known as aether), what stars are thought to be made of, and Ostanes from a supposed early alchemist and sorceror.
dang this is a good post. Just wanted to say. Little surprised somebody caught Flamel this fast, though apparently he got namedropped in Harry Potter so I shouldn't be.
Alien said:
That's partially why I'm going the other direction, I figure you've got the market locked down pretty well. Mostly it's my preference though :v

Lol my expectations for how the polls would turn out are getting owned. Drag out the guillotines, nobility got a single pity vote.

dang this is a good post. Just wanted to say. Little surprised somebody caught Flamel this fast, though apparently he got namedropped in Harry Potter so I shouldn't be.
I'm glad for it, I love just quick dumb porn but a good deep plot is hard to beat and it looks like you've got one in mind already.

And as for the name Flamel I knew it well just saw no need to say anything.
Imasuky said:
And as for the name Flamel I knew it well just saw no need to say anything.
Hypnohub, more like... alchemy facts hub...

It's been like 36 hours and we've got pretty clear winners so I'm calling the votes, we're from a family of alchemists that taught us to love the art and we've also got a super-perfect memory. So uh we basically auto-win any academic challenges.

Completely unrelatedly, I watched The Handmaiden and it's a great movie. I went in knowing basically nothing except that it involved lesbians and great camerawork and I'd recommend doing the same. Also Kim Min-Hee is ludicrously gorgeous. But there's explicit sex scenes so you proooobably shouldn't watch it in mixed company.
Alien said:
Hypnohub, more like... alchemy facts hub...

It's been like 36 hours and we've got pretty clear winners so I'm calling the votes, we're from a family of alchemists that taught us to love the art and we've also got a super-perfect memory. So uh we basically auto-win any academic challenges.

Completely unrelatedly, I watched The Handmaiden and it's a great movie. I went in knowing basically nothing except that it involved lesbians and great camerawork and I'd recommend doing the same. Also Kim Min-Hee is ludicrously gorgeous. But there's explicit sex scenes so you proooobably shouldn't watch it in mixed company.
I should watch that but a series I can recommend that I have watchted are the Eko eko azarak movies saying anything about them would ruin them. But only watch the first and third movies.
If you liked The Handmaid, try the book it was based on -- Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters. Same basic plot, to start with at least, but set in Victorian England instead of occupied Korea. And the second act will have some surprises to throw at you based on your movie knowledge, while the third act is totally different. It's one of my favorite books.
Abraxis said:
If you liked The Handmaid, try the book it was based on -- Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters. Same basic plot, to start with at least, but set in Victorian England instead of occupied Korea. And the second act will have some surprises to throw at you based on your movie knowledge, while the third act is totally different. It's one of my favorite books.
Just read it while getting some distance to edit the next update. It's good but I liked the movie more, not sure how much of that is saw-first-biasing.

Anyway update 2 coming Soon (TM)
Talk about putting me on the spot. I mean, I'd expected to have to answer a question like that, just... not the second I met one of the greatest alchemists alive.

"I- I love alchemy, ma'am," I managed to keep my voice level after that first stammer. I stood up straight, folding my hands in front of me both to try to look more composed and so I didn't do anything too weird with them. "You could interview a thousand girls and maybe some of them would have more talent, or be better-connected at court, or a dozen other things, but I can promise you that none of them love the art as much as I do." And, privately, I doubted any of them had scored as well on the tests I'd taken to get this far.

"Oh?" Sophia leaned back in her chair and raised an eyebrow. With just that she expressed an amount of doubt that made me want to shrivel up. Though that was probably at least as much to do with my nerves as with her.

"I grew up watching my mom work with a cauldron. For me, it's not just a job or even a passion, this stuff is in my blood. I can promise you that nobody will be as enthusiastic or work as hard at learning from you as I will," I managed to get that out without flushing, but if I had to try to fluff myself more the blood would probably start rushing to my cheeks. I'd never had to sell myself like this, seeing as I'd gotten my first and only job at the atelier of one of my mom's friends. It felt uncomfortably like bragging.

The Grand Alchemist looked at me for a few seconds, dark eyes considering. I could still hardly believe I was in the same room as her. And not just technically in the same room along with a thousand other people, but actually talking to her personally same room-

"Who's your mother?" Thankfully, her words jolted me out of my thoughts before they could start going in circles.

"Monica Ostanes."

"Ostanes, Ostanes..." Sophia fell silent for a moment, looking down at her desk. It was nearly covered in papers, but they were fairly neatly organized, no towering stacks. I couldn't read them from where I stood; partially because they were upside down, but mostly because I was standing a few paces away. "And you're Tessa. Hm... Rings a bit familiar."

Trying to be helpful, I said, "We've met before."

"Really?" Sophia looked back up at me. "When would that have been?"

"About fifteen years ago." Actually it had been thirteen years and two months, but most people didn't seem to appreciate such specifics. "My mom brought me in to the Guild for some tests..." I let that hang for a moment, to see if she'd recall. Maybe somebody else could match my memory, somebody who was already remarkable in so many other ways-

But Sophia just asked, "What kind of tests?"

I bit back a sigh, not wanting to seem rude. "To do with my memory. It's, um... well, it's perfect." I didn't like to talk about it. It was just something about me, and not even something I'd worked for or earned. I just... remembered. It seemed odder to me that other people didn't.

Sophia, on the other hand, leaned forward, settling one elbow on her desk. "Oh? Elaborate."

"I remember... everything. Since I was three years old. My mother brought me in for some tests on why, but nobody could figure anything out. One of the researchers wanted to keep me for further observation, and my mom needed to get back home... the dispute got up to you." As Grand Alchemist, she was also head of the Alchemist's Guild, and the incident in question had been mere months after she was acknowledged as such. She'd been much more involved back then than she was now.

"What did I have to say about it, then?"

"'Cut her damned head open or send her home,'" I quoted faithfully and near-instantly. As I did I recalled what Sophia had looked like back then, clear as the woman sitting before me now. She'd been even softer in the face, perhaps even a little pudgy. My memory was skewed through a child's eyes, to which any grown woman was a giant, and I'd been half-hiding behind my mother's skirts at the time, but I thought she'd aged well.

The Grand Alchemist snorted. "That does sound like something I'd say," she admitted. "Would you mind demonstrating it in some other way?"

"Of course. I mean, of course I will," I stammered, and my hands tightened half into fists with nerves. "Um... Do you have any of your own books in here?" I really hoped it was normal for someone to keep a copy of their own books in their study, and it wasn't just a habit of Abigail, my employer.

Sophia seemed to catch on to how I intended to demonstrate quickly. She pushed her chair back and rose, letting me see that she was wearing a deep blue skirt. She took a step over to one of the bookshelves and ran a finger along the spines of the books there, one of the several rings on her hands catching the light. "Have you read Flowers of the New World?"

She had only released that four years ago, but it was a comprehensive overview of the properties and raising of one hundred and eight common flowers from the newly-discovered continent. Given time, for both the book and the plants in question to spread, I thought it would become a foundational work. "Yes, ma'am."

The book was tugged off the shelf, and Sophia opened it roughly halfway through its length. She glanced down at the pages, holding the book against her chest so that I wouldn't have the slightest hope of seeing it. "How does page 141 begin?" she asked.

Near-instantly I called up a memory of the page. I could see it as clearly as if I had my aunt's copy in my hands, the pages clean and white but already dogeared and bookmarked heavily. "-the sword lily prefers a slope of loose, sandy soil. It should be fertilized rarely and lightly, and great care must be taken not to water it over-much. Its oils-"

"Enough," Sophia said, and I cut off. She flipped through a few pages. "What does the fourth paragraph on page 150 say?"

"Um. I'm sorry, ma'am, but there isn't a fourth paragraph on page 150. Roughly half the page is an illustration of a cottoncap."

Sophia looked at me, silently, for long enough that I started to doubt myself. Then she smiled. "Interesting," she said, replacing the book on the shelf. "You'll do."

Um. Wait... Did that mean...? "J-just like that?" I asked. "You're taking me on as apprentice?"

"Not quite," she shook her head, then stepped back over to her desk. "Are you psionic?" I shook my head. She opened a drawer and fished about in it for a moment. "Catch," she said, and tossed something to me.

I raised my hands a moment too late and fumbled with the small object, not helped by my hands being damp from how nervous I was. After a few embarrassing moments I managed to get a grip on it, and found that I was holding a cold ring. At a brief glance, I guessed it was made of iron.

"Um. What is this? Ma'am?"

"A mindguard," she said simply.

My eyes widened involuntarily. Mindguards were an advanced alchemical product, the sort of thing only a master of the craft could make. Considering they used several rare plants from the New World, you had to be well-connected just to collect the materials. And yet a certain number of people would pay for all that hassle for the benefit they provided: complete immunity to psionics while the mindguard was worn. There were other ways of guarding oneself, but they were all some combination of more expensive, less certain, and less convenient. A ring like this lasted around three months of active use and cost as much as a nice house in a good part of the capital. I'd never seen anything worth half so much money, never mind held it in my hand.

"T-thank you, ma'am," I managed to say. "But I don't understand-"

"I'll explain later," Sophia said. "For the moment, put it on and go wait in the room across the hall. I'll be along shortly."

Being treated like that rankled a little, a feeling that fought against my respect for her. I'd gotten used to being treated like an equal, or at least professionally. Abigail had that much respect for my memory and my alchemy skills. But for now I bit back my response, slid the mindguard ring onto a finger of my left hand, and said, "Yes ma'am," then turned to leave.

The stern woman who had brought me to Sophia's study was waiting in the hallway. She brushed past me as I stepped out of her way, letting her enter the study again. She barely glanced at me. I took a deep breath to calm myself, then crossed the hall to the door opposite from Sophia's study. It creaked a little as I opened it.

The room inside looked like any of the others I'd been in so far - dull white walls with dark wood bookshelves, heavy rugs and a bright electrical light. This one had a handful of comfortable-looking chairs upholstered in dark leather. Three of them were occupied by young women. A fourth girl stood behind one of the three. All four of them were looking up and at the doorway, no doubt expecting Sophia or maybe the stern woman. It let me get a good look at their faces.

The first I looked at had an ugly, squat nose that I guessed had been broken at least once. It dominated her face and obscured the rest of her features, which might otherwise have been pretty in a tomboyish way. Her light blonde hair was cut as short as one could manage without taking a razor to it. She wore a light blue tunic over a pair of brown workman's trousers.

In comparison the second girl I saw was strikingly beautiful. Well, she would have been jaw-droppingly gorgeous no matter what, but the sheer contrast made her stand out even more starkly. Her features were perfectly balanced and framed by shining waves of black hair that cascaded past her shoulders, and I had no doubt that she belonged to the nobility. The black silk dress she wore made that perfectly clear even as it clung to a nearly impossible figure.

Standing behind the noble's chair was a a pale shadow; she had the same dark hair and a pretty face, but simply could not hope to compare with the beautiful creature lounging in front. She wore a Lupician maid's outfit, a black dress with white accents and white stockinged legs bare to the knee, which made their relationship obvious.

Moving on from the maid I looked to the fourth woman in the room. She had red hair, an oddity in Ocha, and a face dotted with freckles. Her cheekbones were a little too prominent, her chin too square, to be as classically beautiful as the noble, but there was still something appealing to her face.

As soon as they realized I was their age, and thus probably not working for Sophia, most of the women lost interest. The blonde looked down and started picking at her nails, the noble returned her gaze to a book in her lap. The maid's eyes scanned over everyone, watching the room. The redhead, on the other hand, continued staring at me as I awkwardly stood in the doorway. Probably because I was the only new thing present.

After a moment of observing the room, I stepped inside, closing the door behind me. I could probably kill some time by talking to the others here, and see if they knew what Sophia was up to. Or I could sit alone and quiet, like the others seemed to be. Perhaps they had a reason for it.

http://www.strawpoll.me/12019819
I'm voting red head, after all she's the only one who seems mildly interested and I have a thing for red heads with freckles.
Imasuky said:
I'm voting red head, after all she's the only one who seems mildly interested
This. I'm all for making a friend early on, and it would be useful to know who these people are and why they're here, but I'd guess they're other contenders.
JksAccount said:
but I'd guess they're other contenders.
Yup.

now hard mode: they all have plotlines that will feature different MC/ero content, try to guess what each will be about ahead of time.
Alien said:
Yup.

now hard mode: they all have plotlines that will feature different MC/ero content, try to guess what each will be about ahead of time.
God...that makes this so much harder but I stand by the redhead though I bet the noble girl is a total dom and her maid is hiding something I'm sure.
I definitely think talking to someone – anyone – is a good idea. Our eidetic memory is more useful the more information we get, and we can keep track of little hints and slips that other people might not remember. Exactly who, I have less preference for – I eventually just picked the blonde because butch characters don't tend to get a lot of attention in CYOAs like this.

As for guessing plotlines, perhaps the blonde's might involve finding a way to repair her nose, to improve her looks. The noblewoman... I wonder if the maid isn't the power behind the throne there, using her as a pretty brainwashed puppet to attract all the attention. No idea on the redhead so far.
Some interesting guesses~

Calling the vote, we're talking to the redhead.
Not very happy with parts of this but I already rewrote once and want to get stuff out on schedule.

---

After a moment of consideration, I walked over to the redhead. She smiled a little as I approached, and gestured towards a chair beside her own. She was wearing a green blouse that set off her hair, and a tight black skirt with a slit that went up to her knees. Her legs were crossed, and she idly bounced one foot slowly, drawing my attention to her boots for a second. They were fine black leather, with a slight heel, but only came up to her ankles.

"Hello," she said once I was a couple steps away. She spoke at a normal volume; I figured there probably wasn't much point to hushed voices, the other three women would be able to hear us unless we were whispering. And probably then, as well.

"Hi," I answered, seating down next to her. I folded my hands in my lap.

"I'm Katarina, but you can call me Kat," she said, grinning a little. She had a nice smile, it lit up her face, and I found I liked her a little already.

"Tessa. But, uh, you could call me Tess, if you want."

Her smile widened a bit, flashing a bit of white teeth. Then she asked, "So what's your deal?"

"Um? Excuse me?"

"My folks are merchants. Miss hoity-toity over there is obviously a noble," Kat gestured over at the beautiful dark-haired girl. She must have heard, Kat wasn't being particularly quiet, but I didn't see her react at all to the name. "Blondie is, well, I doubt she's spectacularly well-off."

I wouldn't really disagree with those assessments, I'd already guessed at the noble's background myself and the blonde had an... air to her, aside from the rough quality of her clothes. Still, unlike the noble, the blonde looked up from her nails and started staring at Kat and I.

"I'm... just an alchemist," I said after a moment. "My mom is too, my dad is a researcher. I don't know what you're expecting."

"Nah, that makes sense," she said. Before I could ask what that meant, she went on, "Where're you from?"

"Honora," I said automatically. Then, "What did you-"

"Cool!" Kat talked over me. "I've never been out of the capital. What's it like out there?"

I shrugged. "I, uh... it's less crowded, I guess. It's still a big city, so it's not all that different." I hadn't had much time - or inclination - to look around the capital while I was here. I'd only arrived a couple of days ago.

Kat seemed kind of put out. "Mom says that all big cities are similar, but I've never gotten to visit another one. What sort of stuff do you sell there?"

Her sudden swings in tone and mood kept surprising me. "W-well, I guess we put out a lot of healing potions..." I started, then mentally kicked myself. She wouldn't want to hear about boring junk like that. "But, uh, we make air purifiers for the mines pretty often. And we can make some pretty fancy charms since silver is so cheap there."

"So kind of a bit of everything? Cool!"

"What about you?" I asked, trying to be polite. Plus I was a little curious about what sort of thing the average alchemist in the capital sold. Besides the near-ubiquitous healing potions, fertility charms, and things like that.

Kat waved a hand dismissively. "Oh, nothing interesting."

Before I could press her on it, or she could change the subject again, the door slammed open. So hard it bounced off the wall and went flying back. Sophia caught it as she entered, the door meeting her palm with a noise like she'd just clapped her hands.

Everyone looked up as she strode into the middle of the room. The noble shut her book and set it aside; after a moment of thought I realized I'd never heard her turning the page, if I needed any more evidence she'd been listening in. Where I was sitting I could easily see Kat and the blonde girl while looking at Sophia, but I needed to look over to the side to see the noble and her maid.

"Heya, kiddos," Sophia started as she reached the middle of the room. "Bet you're wondering why you're here, right?"

She let that hang for a moment. Kat spoke up in the silence, "I figured you're going to pit us against each-other to decide who'll be your apprentice, right?"

I glanced over at her, surprised, but she was looking up at Sophia. Our conversation suddenly clicked into a new light: she'd been gathering information on me, while giving me almost none in return. She hadn't even been very subtle about it.

Suddenly I liked her a whole lot less.

Sophia seemed to deflate slightly for an instant, then she puffed back up. "Very good, one point to ginger there. For the next year, the four of you will be studying under me. At the end of that period, I'll pick one of the ones left to be my apprentice. Yes, blondie?"

The blonde girl had raised her hand like we were in a schoolroom. "What do you mean, 'one of the ones left'?"

"What does it sound like? You gals can quit whenever you like. You can also encourage each-other to drop out, any way you like short of physically attacking the others. Sabotaging projects, slipping some mild poisons around, psionic attacks... God knows you'll have to deal with some bullshit at court, might as well start getting used to it now."

Was she... was she serious? She looked like she was serious.

"Sounds fun," Kat said, with a grin. The blonde looked about as aghast as I felt.

"You'll probably go far, ginger," Sophia said. Then she added, "Yes, what is it, Melody?"

It took me a moment to realize she was talking to the noble, who had raised her hand like the blonde had. She wasn't easily in my sight from where I was sitting like the others were. "Excuse me," the noble said, and even her voice was beautiful. "May I make a proposal?"

Sophia shrugged. "Going to buy them off? Go ahead. If you can afford them I don't want 'em."

"Thank you, ma'am," the noble - Melody - smiled up at her. Then she looked around the room, at Kat, the blonde, and I. After a moment of gazing around, she said, "I will pay anybody who forfeits, right now, fifty thousand drakes."

My eyes all but popped out of my head. Fifty thousand drakes was... absurd. Somebody could buy a minor title with that much money. It wouldn't just leave them set for life, it would provide for their children and grandchildren as well.

But it wouldn't buy another opportunity like this, I realized after a moment. Even if it was an only a chance to be Sophia's apprentice, taking the money would be insane. I'd been entirely honest with her earlier: I loved alchemy, and I wanted to learn it from the best. I would refuse, I decided, but the way I went about doing it might be important. I could be polite in my refusal, or decline rudely. That might endear me to Sophia, considering her demeanor, but it would almost certainly annoy the well-bred noble. Then again, I could see how how the other two reacted, and tailor my response after theirs. But that might make me look less sure of myself.

http://www.strawpoll.me/12050291
I think we should refuse rudely. Show them we're not to be messed with, and also that her offer is preposterous.

Also, we should definitely keep our eyes on our sneaky friend here, but I think we should still try to get along with her in the long run. You know what they say about friends and enemies, after all.
JksAccount said:
I think we should refuse rudely. Show them we're not to be messed with, and also that her offer is preposterous.

Also, we should definitely keep our eyes on our sneaky friend here, but I think we should still try to get along with her in the long run. You know what they say about friends and enemies, after all.
I'm with you on both of those fronts. Kat is dangerous right out of the gate but we could turn that cleverness against her later.
Writing somebody off as a permanent enemy because they screwed us over once is probably not wise, yeah. Because all of the competitors are going to try to screw us over. But we'll get a chance to screw them too! /single entendre

The vote was close but we're being polite.
Alien said:
Writing somebody off as a permanent enemy because they screwed us over once is probably not wise, yeah. Because all of the competitors are going to try to screw us over. But we'll get a chance to screw them too! /single entendre

The vote was close but we're being polite.
That might be for the best. Looking forward to seeing how this will play out.
Going to start following this. Looks like I made it in time to do the third round of voting.
DrgnmastrAlex said:
Going to start following this. Looks like I made it in time to do the third round of voting.
Welcome hope you can help us make good choices.
Melody's offer was followed by a long moment of silence as everyone digested it. I wavered between politely turning her down and snapping at her for thinking she could buy me off from my dream, but finally I simply said, "I'm not interested."

The noble looked over to me, obviously weighing me up. "Very well," she said after a second. "Ladies? How about you two?"

"No thanks," Kat said. I glanced over at her and found her lounging in her seat, smiling. "I'm good."

I looked at the blonde, along with everyone else in the room. She shifted uncomfortable in her chair, gripping the arms tightly. Seeming almost physically pained, she finally said, "No."

Melody arched an eyebrow at her, but only said, "I see. A shame."

"Now that that's over with, some ground rules," Sophia announced, drawing my eyes back to her. "All four of you will be staying here for the year, or until you withdraw. Room and board will be provided along with a small stipend for additional expenditures. You'll have access to my suppliers for most common alchemical materials, and- yes, blondie?"

The blonde lowered her hand. "Stop calling me that, my name is Aya. And, um, I was wondering... how large of a stipend?"

"I've been informed of your... circumstances," Sophia said, with only a slight hesitation before the last word. "I'll talk to you later about it. But to answer your question, five drakes a week. Unless any of you have objections?"

Aya gave a quick shake of her head, while Kat shrugged. I certainly didn't have any problem with it: five drakes a week was a little more than I got paid now. And it wasn't counting room or board or alchemical supplies, and really, what else was there? Clothes, I supposed. But that was about it. I shook my head too.

"I don't mind," Melody said.

"Good," Sophia said. "For rarer materials and equipment you can either pay out of your pocket or come to me with an explanation of what you need it for. You'll attend classes on a variety of subjects with me or other teachers six days a week; failure to succeed in them may be grounds for early elimination at my whim. Most of the tower's libraries will be available to you throughout the year, but my personal library will be sealed until I pick one of you. Attempting to access it will be grounds for expulsion, and also an ass-kicking. Is that understood?"

There was a chorus of "yes ma'am"s, including one from me. I wondered once again how serious she was being. She'd been joking about us poisoning each-other before, hadn't she?

"Alright," Sophia said, and clapped her hands together. "Then let's go do some fucking alchemy. I want to see all of you in action."

She turned towards the door. I hesitantly stood up, which seemed like a good idea when Melody followed suit. Sophia glanced backwards as she reached the doorway, and her eyebrows pulled together. "C'mon. All four of you, up and at 'em."

Kat and Aya got up as well, and all four of us - well, five, Melody's maid came as well, trailing behind her mistress - fell into a loose line. Sophia kept up a brisk pace, but Aya walked ahead of me and slightly slower, which annoyed me a little. Still, the trip wasn't long enough for the difference to add up much: within a couple minutes Sophia was holding open another door and gesturing for us to enter.

Unlike the other rooms I'd been in so far, this one wasn't lined with bookshelves. Instead it had plain stone walls, giving it a somewhat dreary appearance in comparison. But it was fine because this was clearly a workshop. The back wall had five distinct workstations, each with a sink, one of those new-fangled electrical stoves, and an ample amount of counter space. Each station had a mortar and pestle set to the side of its working space. I figured it was made for several people to work on relatively simple procedures at once, perhaps preparing ingredients for a more complex recipe.

The middle of the room held a large table, currently occupied by a mess of different materials. At a quick look I saw a pile of cloth, a great deal of glassware, a selection of knives and pots, and four baskets of fruit. From a distance I recognized the distinctive pale pink shade of alle berries, as well as lumpy green orians. I didn't see what else was there, because my attention was soon drawn to the woman standing beside the table - the same stern woman who'd seen me into Sophia's study earlier.

Once all of us had gotten inside, Sophia followed. "So," she announced. "I want to see how all of you work. Make a healing potion. Thirty minute time limit. You'll demonstrate it works on yourselves at the end."

...Really?

This was almost insultingly simple. Alle berries had a mild healing attribute and grew nearly anywhere, so they were the basis of, well, baby's first healing potion. I learned how to make one when I was four years old. I could probably make one in my sleep. The time limit made it a little more complicated but the only thing that might give me trouble was figuring out how to work the stove.

I realized I was staring at Sophia when she clicked her tongue. "Twenty-nine minutes and fifty seconds now," she snapped. "Go!"

I hurried over to the table, just behind Aya. When I drew close, I realized the cloth piled on the table was actually a stack of aprons; I grabbed one first thing and threw it on. Then I grabbed one of the baskets, a knife, and a pot and hurried over to one of the workstations. I didn't need any glassware for something this simple, and I suspected the big pile of it was more because they needed somewhere to put the stuff that was normally set up in this room than to provide tools for us.

Once I reached a workstation and claimed it as my own, I set the pot on the stove but didn't turn it on yet. Instead I went through the basket, evaluating the materials. It was indeed mostly alle berries, in rather good condition, just about perfectly ripe. There were also three big orians, and a single lonely bunkit. I'd wondered if there was some other material that was more difficult to work with hidden in there, but... nope. This would be easy.

Alle berries were a pale pink sphere, each around the length of my thumb. About a third of each was taken up by a large black seed. The flesh of a berry had a healing aspect, as did the sap of the bush itself. More interesting were the seeds: they had a significantly stronger healing effect, but they also induced heat in the animals that consumed them. As far as I knew both aspects were some sort of evolutionary adaptation: the healing kept anything that ate the fruit in top condition so it could travel and spread the seeds further, while the... other part made sure there would be more of whatever ate the alle berries in the future to repeat the cycle. In humans, the seeds acted as a moderately powerful aphrodisiac. There were no shortage of stories about shady apothecaries who left the seeds in when making potions, leading to embarrassing situations for the unwary consumer.

If you wanted the more powerful effect of the seeds, you could mix in a mild depressant, like the skin of an orian or the seed of a bunkit. The expectation here was pretty clear: Sophia wanted us to use the seeds to create a relatively powerful healing potion, while minimizing the unwanted side-effects. That was somewhat more complicated than just brewing up some alle flesh, but well within my abilities.

I set to coring the alle berries, cutting them open and extracting their seeds. It was a rather mindless task, and one I'd had enough practice with to get very good at. There was never any shortage of demand for healing potions, of any potency. As my hands kept themselves busy, my mind wandered a little, planning the next few steps ahead of time. I'd need to grind the seeds down to powder, wash the knife, then start skinning the dorians. Then it was a matter of boiling the powder up with the skins. Easy, as long as I kept the right balance of seeds to skin to water.

That last thought stuck with me, and I glanced around. The other girls had started working as well, while Sophia and the stern woman were standing back by the table, speaking in hushed voices.

Well... Sophia had said it was expected for us to mess with each-other's projects, right? Even if she'd said that in the same breath as talking about poison. Maybe I could drop some extra seed-powder into somebody else's pot, throwing their balance off. That'd be harmless physically, but the effects could be embarrassing. Nearly as much as looking incompetent in front of Sophia.

http://www.strawpoll.me/12081271

http://www.strawpoll.me/12081276
Much as I can appreciate the practical benefits of sabotage, not in my nature, went with just working on the potion, but it'll be interesting to see what comes out on top.