I like Sophia a lot. And while it might be risky I say we fuck with Melody, show it's not a smart idea to try and bribe us.
Imasuky said:
I like Sophia a lot. And while it might be risky I say we fuck with Melody, show it's not a smart idea to try and bribe us.
I can get behind that idea. I mean come on, we've got to be as cutthroat as possible, as that's clearly what's expected of us. However, we shouldn't target Aya because she already seems to be at a disadvantage, and not Katarina because she's probably too much of sneak herself to not notice.
JksAccount said:
I can get behind that idea. I mean come on, we've got to be as cutthroat as possible, as that's clearly what's expected of us. However, we shouldn't target Aya because she already seems to be at a disadvantage, and not Katarina because she's probably too much of sneak herself to not notice.
My biggest worry is her maid.
JksAccount said:
I can get behind that idea. I mean come on, we've got to be as cutthroat as possible, as that's clearly what's expected of us. However, we shouldn't target Aya because she already seems to be at a disadvantage, and not Katarina because she's probably too much of sneak herself to not notice.
I wouldn't necessarily say we're expected to be cutthroat... though there's some disconnect in-game and out-of-game. In-game Sophia is definitely expecting it, because the post of Grand Alchemist is a very politically important position. At least, it is now, Sophia's predecessor was much more hands-off and consumed with her own research (a philosophy which kinda fucked a lot of things).

Out-of-game it'll be entirely viable to be a goody-two-shoes. It'll just, be a rather submissive playthrough. Taking the initiative and messing with other people will be a pretty consistent way to see scenes where Tessa is dominant.

Not particularly related, but what gives you the impression that Aya is at a disadvantage? The mention of her nebulous 'circumstances'?
Alien said:
I wouldn't necessarily say we're expected to be cutthroat... though there's some disconnect in-game and out-of-game. In-game Sophia is definitely expecting it, because the post of Grand Alchemist is a very politically important position. At least, it is now, Sophia's predecessor was much more hands-off and consumed with her own research (a philosophy which kinda fucked a lot of things).

Out-of-game it'll be entirely viable to be a goody-two-shoes. It'll just, be a rather submissive playthrough. Taking the initiative and messing with other people will be a pretty consistent way to see scenes where Tessa is dominant.

Not particularly related, but what gives you the impression that Aya is at a disadvantage? The mention of her nebulous 'circumstances'?
I for one don't see Aya as disadvantaged, in fact she might be more dangerous due to whatever it is that her background is.

She is probably poor which means winning would be a big deal, for now I saw we watch her and learn, could form a deal with hr to fuck up the other two.
Well, the competitors are all theoretically balanced, with different strengths and weaknesses. And Sophia's taken some effort to level the playing field - letting the less-well-off source expensive materials through her, for instance.

Anyway the vote is closed, focusing on our own potion won out significantly.
Alien said:
Well, the competitors are all theoretically balanced, with different strengths and weaknesses. And Sophia's taken some effort to level the playing field - letting the less-well-off source expensive materials through her, for instance.

Anyway the vote is closed, focusing on our own potion won out significantly.
Well hopefully no one sabotages us.
Alien said:
Anyway the vote is closed, focusing on our own potion won out significantly.
Bah! We've got to be vicious, people! Vicious I say!
After a few moments of thought, I decided against trying to tamper with any of the others' potions. The risk of being found out was too great, and I ought to focus on my own work instead of getting distracted looking for an opening to mess with one of the others.

Putting my attention back to my work, it went by quickly. Soon I had about two dozen seeds and a pile of cored alle berries bleeding pink juice on the countertop. I washed off my knife, filled up my pot, and spent a minute fiddling with the stove. So far as I could tell it was simple to operate, you just had to turn a knob. Moving it a certain distance would make it click and turn on. After that, each time it clicked would make it hotter. Knowing it would take a while to grind the seeds down, I left it on one of the settings in the middle.

Then it was over to the mortar and pestle. I filled the mortar, lightly bashed the pestle against the seeds until they'd all cracked, and set to grinding. Eventually I was left with a fine black powder, with bits of red glimmering in it. Alle seeds weren't actually black - they were a deep, deep red so close to black it was just easier to say they were.

Careful not to spill any of the powder on the counter, or to breath any of it in for that matter, I brought the mortar over to the pot of water, which had started boiling a couple of minutes before. I dumped all the powder in at once and took a moment to watch as a cloud of red spread through the pot. I'd always had a fondness for things like that, as far back as I could remember. The fascination I'd felt at watching my mother change the color of an entire cauldron of liquid with a handful of powder might even be where my love of the art started...

Well, I could reminisce some other time. I set the mortar aside to be cleaned later, it'd just need a few wipes with a handkerchief or something, and started peeling orians. They were a larger fruit, about as big as I could comfortably hold in one hand, with lumpy green skin. Those lumps made them hard to skin, but they were the reason I was doing so at all. The lumps held a greater amount of the compound that acted as a depressant; some creatures in its native Erlguray had evolved along it to be immune to its effects, but humans weren't among them. Or maybe fortunately, since if we were immune I wouldn't be able to make this-

"Why are you doing that?"

I jumped with surprise as the voice intruded on my thoughts, and the knife slipped straight through the orian I was peeling to nick my thumb. I bit my lip to avoid crying out, carefully put both the knife and half-peeled fruit down on the counter, and turned around to see Sophia watching me.

"Sorry to surprise you," she said, not actually sounding sorry at all.

"It's fine," I lied, "I was a little too caught up. What did you want to know?"

"Why're you using orian skin instead of bunkit seed?"

I hesitated for a moment, considering. She must have some idea, but probably wanted to hear my reasoning. Partly it was just because I was more familiar with orians and wanted to play it a little more conservative, but there was also... "Orian skin gives me more control over the potion. If there were more than one bunkit maybe I'd use those, but I don't want to make the potion balance around a single bunkit seed."

"More work, though," she pointed out. "You're on a time limit here, remember. You'll have to get the skins out when you're done as well."

"Yes ma'am. I think it's worth it, though."

"Fair enough," she said. "Get back to it, then."

She walked over to Aya, who was working at a station beside mine, and started talking to her. The workstations were stationed far enough away and they were being quiet enough that I couldn't quite hear them over the sound of four pots boiling. I turned back to my work. My thumb had already stopped bleeding; it was a very shallow nick, barely enough to draw blood to begin with. As I ran water over it for a few seconds, I glanced over at the pot and frowned.

It was a deeper red than it should be. I consulted my memories of the last time I had made an alle-seed potion, and frowned more deeply. Definitely too deep a shade, even accounting for the difference in lighting between what I was seeing and my memories. My first suspicion was that it was something to do with the electrical stove, but... running too hot or too cold shouldn't have much effect on this particular potion.

...Had somebody had the same idea as I had about sabotage and dumped some extra alle-seed powder in while I was talking to Sophia? That was the only time I could think of that I hadn't been paying much attention to the pot.

Considering she'd been facing me, it would have been impossible for somebody to do it without her seeing. In fact, that was probably the whole reason she'd come over and started talking to us, to give us a chance to try sabotaging each-other.

That was... huh. I felt like I was understanding Sophia, and this contest, a little better.

But I still made sure to cut an extra length of orian skin. I couldn't be sure exactly how much without having seen whoever it was that tried to screw up my potion, but I could eyeball it and hope. There wasn't nearly enough time to start over entirely.

In fact, around ten minutes after Sophia came over and talked to me, she announced, "Time's up."

At the time, I was just finishing up, pouring the pot's contents through a strainer and into the mouth of a bottle. I'd gone to the table in the middle of the room to fetch a bottle a few minutes earlier, carefully watching the other girls as I did so, and found the strainer as well, which saved me the trouble of getting the orian peel out some other way.

The bottle was just about full, so I carefully set the pot aside, picked up the bottle, and turned to face the others.

All of them had finished as well, and were holding bottles of their own. All four of them had the distinctive deep red color of an alle-based healing potion, well-known to soldiers, adventurers, and clumsy shavers the world over.

"Alright, so you all managed to finish. Let's see if they work," Sophia said. "Who wants to go first?"

I exchanged glances with the other girls. After a moment, before I could decide if I wanted to bite the bullet and go ahead, Kat said, "Sure, I will."

She put her bottle on the counter, picked up her knife, and drew it across the palm of her free hand. I caught sight of blood pooling as she cupped her hand, but she quickly put the knife back, grabbed her potion, and took a swig. By the time she'd stuck her hand under the faucet and washed her hand off, it was healed up perfectly.

Aya repeated her performance, followed by Melody. At the start of the noble's turn, her maid stepped up and whispered something in her ear, but Melody shook her head. I wondered what that was about, but before I could venture a guess it was my turn.

Remembering my suspicion about somebody messing with my potion, I hesitated for a second. But hopefully I had balanced it out. And it wasn't like I could back out right after watching the other three try their own potions.

I drew my knife across my palm lightly, enough to draw blood but not enough to really cut into the muscles there. An alle-seed potion could heal damage like that, but I didn't fancy sawing away at my own hand. I cupped my hand like the others had, so that the blood wouldn't splatter all over the floor, and grabbed for my potion.

It was sweet but left my mouth feeling dry, even though it'd only been in my mouth long enough for me to swallow. I hadn't ground the seeds quite finely enough; I could feel a slight grittiness settling on my tongue. It'd be just as effective either way, but I didn't like the feeling. Some people did, but then some people liked pulp in their fruit juices. The world has its fair share of madmen.

My hand started to tingle as soon as the potion started to go down my throat. That was one of the several advantages potions made with alle seed held over those with just the flesh; they took effect almost instantly. I turned around and washed my hand off like the others, and like them it was healed by the time the blood started circling the drain. There was a slight pale line where the cut had been made, and it'd feel a little more sensitive for a few hours, but practically speaking it was healed completely.

"Congratulations," Sophia said once I showed the others that it had worked. "You're all vaguely competent alchemists. More interestingly, half of you tried to fuck over somebody else." She paused for a second, and I looked at the others. I'd already suspected one person had tried to sabotage my potion, but two of them had made attempts? I wondered which of the others hadn't tried anything. "Key word there being tried. Both of you failed. We'll work on that in the future, and see if we can't get the other two to be a little bit gutsier."

She let that hang for a few long seconds, then clapped her hands. "Well, that's for later. We're done for today. Don't worry about cleaning up. Ms. Culouse here," she gestured to the stern woman, "will show you to your rooms."

The woman - Culouse, apparently - took a step forward and offered us a short bow. "Please, follow me." She waited for us to set our things aside and take our aprons off before starting out of the room. I followed her, of course. Just before I left the room, I glanced back and found Sophia watching us thoughtfully, her arms folded.

Once again, the trip through the tower only took a couple of minutes, not long enough for anybody to start up a conversation. I spent most of it staring at the backs of Melody and her maid. Which, well, there were certainly many less pleasant views in the world.

Towards the end of the short trip we ended up in what seemed to be the main stairwell and went down two flights of stairs. By my count, that put us on the fifth floor of the tower.

After we left the stairwell again, it was maybe twenty seconds before Ms. Culouse came to the door at the end of a hallway, opened it, and turned towards us. "In here, please."

Melody glided past her like a black swan. I wondered if she was used to people holding doors open for her. Was that a noble thing? Did they not open their own doors? It seemed like it'd be more inconvenient than it was worth, but then, that'd never stopped nobility from doing something stupid.

I was in third, after the maid. I found myself in another comfortable sitting room, much like the one I'd first met the other contenders in; dark wood paneling on the walls, rich carpet, and an array of leather armchairs, plus a couple of tables. Unlike that room, there were no bookshelves, and this one had five doors other than the one I'd entered from, arranged in a half-circle along the opposite wall.

In the middle of the room, there was a girl waiting for us. She wore a maid uniform like Melody's companion, but from a quick glance the noble didn't seem to know her. She looked young, barely eighteen if I had to guess, and had straight, light-brown hair that seemed to flow most of the way down her back. She was also tiny; I had a full head of height over her, and I was not especially tall.

As Kat and Aya crowded into the room behind me, the girl made a perfect curtsy to us. At least, it seemed perfect from what I knew; I hadn't often seen one performed. "Hello," she said softly. "My name is Mei. I'll be assisting you while you reside here. It's an honor to meet all of you."

"Our own maid?" Kat said from beside me. "Nice."

I was a little more torn. I'd gotten used to living on my own, and the idea of somebody going through my things to tidy them up felt a little uncomfortable. And frankly I didn't need any help like that. Besides, I had no idea how to treat a maid. Melody had barely acknowledged her own the entire time I'd seen her, was that normal? Was I just supposed to pretend Mei wasn't there? I didn't think I could manage that.

Mostly because, well, she was really cute. And if two of the others were already willing to sabotage people's projects, I ought to keep my guard up around all three of the others. It'd be nice to have somebody I could relax around.

"Miss Ostanes, Miss Boyle," the stern woman - Culouse - said behind me. I turned around along with Aya, while the other two walked deeper into the room. "We've taken the liberty of having your things fetched from your lodgings. They'll be along shortly." Oh. I hadn't thought about what I'd do about the inn I'd been staying at, so this was convenient. Though perhaps a little creepy that they could arrange it already, before I'd even thought to ask.

Judging by her expression, Aya was thinking along the same lines. But after a moment she said, "Thank you," and I echoed her.

Culouse nodded sharply, and raised her voice slightly to make it obvious she was addressing the whole room. "You may sort out who gets which room between yourselves, so long as you behave yourselves. Mei will stay in the leftover room so she can remain close to you. As for your servant, Miss Kubota..."

Melody glanced over and smiled. "She'll stay in my rooms. I'm afraid I'm quite useless in the mornings without Claire's assistance."

The maid - uh, the one I'd already sort-of met - blushed at the praise and nodded her head, making her bangs fall over her eyes.

"As you wish," Culouse said. "I'll leave you to sort out the rooms, then."

With that, she closed the door, leaving us along for the first time in a while. Almost immediately Kat walked over to one of the doors, opened it, and started peering inside. Melody, meanwhile, took a seat. I wondered at that for a moment, but then remembered she was wearing rather high heels and had been on her feet for the past half an hour or so. Her feet probably hurt. Melody's maid, apparently named Claire, went over to Mei and began speaking to her in a quiet voice. I assumed they were gossiping about... maid things? That was an entire world I hadn't the first clue about. Lastly, Aya hung around near the door like I was doing, looking uncertain.

After a moment of thought, I supposed I ought to take the time before my things arrived to learn a little about the people I was going to be competing with for the next year. Any little bit I found out about them could be important in the long run.

http://www.strawpoll.me/12112691

http://www.strawpoll.me/12112703
Well I think I can no longer cheer our girl on. If she thinks pepole who like pulp in their juice are mad she obviously needs someone to guide her in life.

Mostly joking but for know I say we talk with the maids and be nice to Mei, she's cute.
Right, I think we should talk to Aya, because we know very little about her at the moment, and it would be great if we could find out something about these "circumstances" of hers.

Regarding Mei; much as I'm certain we'll regret it down the line, I too think we should be friendly with her.
I feel like this story is gonna be one where the players rapidly develop a sizable doze of paranoia =u=

:EDIT: Or a dose, even...:
Pastel-Daemon said:
I feel like this story is gonna be one where the players rapidly develop a sizable doze of paranoia =u=

:EDIT: Or a dose, even...:
Doze could be oddly fitting if a sleep potion is used. Freudian Slips can be hilarious.
Pastel-Daemon said:
I feel like this story is gonna be one where the players rapidly develop a sizable doze of paranoia =u=

:EDIT: Or a dose, even...:
I'd rather a sizable dose of paranoia than a sizable dose of poison.
Imasuky said:
Well I think I can no longer cheer our girl on. If she thinks pepole who like pulp in their juice are mad she obviously needs someone to guide her in life.
a controversial opinion to be sure but I refuse to hide the truth

also why would anything bad ever happen from being nice to the cute meido???

Fun fact, if we'd chosen to sabotage somebody last time and then tried to interact with them in this choice, we would have gotten the earliest possible sexy scene.
Alien said:
a controversial opinion to be sure but I refuse to hide the truth

also why would anything bad ever happen from being nice to the cute meido???

Fun fact, if we'd chosen to sabotage somebody last time and then tried to interact with them in this choice, we would have gotten the earliest possible sexy scene.
I knew it was the right choice!

And by that I mean pulp. But I do wonder what if any threat Mei is.
Imasuky said:
But I do wonder what if any threat Mei is.
She's working for everyone, so she has free access to everybody's rooms and stuff. This makes her a prime means by which people could attack others. Additionally, she probably has her own agenda.
JksAccount said:
She's working for everyone, so she has free access to everybody's rooms and stuff. This makes her a prime means by which people could attack others. Additionally, she probably has her own agenda.
Yeah I know that but I mean more what her motivations are. And this is why we should be nice get her on our side so she won't hurt us but will help us against the others.
Imasuky said:
Yeah I know that but I mean more what her motivations are. And this is why we should be nice get her on our side so she won't hurt us but will help us against the others.
The nobels maid is alredy recruiting her so she is a gone if we dont step in.
nemesis said:
The nobels maid is alredy recruiting her so she is a gone if we dont step in.
I'm not that mean, probably. But we'll see since you all voted to talk to the maids and try to befriend at least Mei!
Honestly, the line about 2 people trying to sabotage someone gives me the hilarious idea that both of the attempts were on us. That and Alien's line about the sex scene.
I really ought to go talk to one of the other contenders... but I found I kept going back to the thought of somebody going through my things and feeling uneasy. For whatever reason, it just deeply bothered me. Besides, I rationalized, it'd probably be a good idea to get along well with Mei... If one of the others tried to enlist her in some sort of plot, a good relationship with her could be a life-saver. Possibly literally.

I mean... it wouldn't be literally, right? No way Sophia'd let any of us start killing the others. Even if she'd mentioned poisons, it'd specifically been mild ones. I remembered. I was pretty good at that.

Setting those worries - baseless worries - aside, I drew closer to the two maids, and started to hear what they were talking about.

"...and I will be handling my lady's clothes," Melody's maid, Claire, was saying. "She is very particular about them."

Mei bobbed her head in a nod, which sent shimmering waves through her great mass of hair. She'd been nodding frequently while I'd been watching her earlier, I remembered. But not talking much, so I wondered if their 'conversation' had mostly been-

"I will assist you in preparing food, of course. You'll have access to my lady's rooms twice a week, between the hours of..."

-Claire dictating the terms of their new working relationship. Now that I was looking for the signs, Mei seemed vaguely dazed, her occasional responses prompted as much by the pause in Claire's chatter as by the words themselves.

I waited by them for a few moments, not wanting to be too rude by cutting Claire off mid-sentence as she laid out an elaborate schedule and then moved on to what seemed to be a detailed breakdown of what she considered proper nutrition for her lady. When I was pretty sure she wasn't going to stop any time soon, and Mei's eyes started to glaze over slightly, I lost my patience. "Excuse me," I cut in as Claire paused for breath. "I'd like to talk to Mei for a moment."

Claire turned and flashed me a flawless smile that I was pretty sure was entirely false. "Of course, ma'am," she said, backing off. After a moment she kept going, heading over to where Melody was seated.

Mei, meanwhile, looked up at me with big, dark eyes full of gratitude. I was pretty sure the only reason she didn't thank me out loud was that Claire would overhear. Instead, she asked, "What was it you wanted to speak with me about, ma'am?"

It'd probably be kinda rude to launch straight into 'don't touch my stuff', so instead I said, "Well, I've never had a maid before. I was wondering, um, what exactly will you be doing?"

She clasped her hands in front of her and gave me a brief bow. "Don't worry about it, ma'am. In brief, my job is to make your life easier. I will be cooking and cleaning for you, of course, but I will also do your laundry, run errands for you, and do, well, anything else you might wish." With the last few words, she smiled at me and fluttered her eyelashes. I'd never seen anybody actually do that before.

"I, uh, I see," I said, put off a little. "Could you, um... not do some of that?"

Mei blinked and bit her lip slightly, looking hurt. "What do you mean, ma'am?"

"I've gotten used to living on my own, and, well, I don't think I'll need any help keeping my room tidy. And I rather value my privacy. So maybe you could... not bother cleaning my room?"

She considered for a moment. "I understand, ma'am," she said, sounding uncertain. "I'll talk to my superior concerning this. Might that be satisfactory?"

"Yeah, sure," I said. We'd only just met, I wasn't expecting her to stick her neck out and look like she was slacking off to her boss. This had to be a pretty good job, at least as far as maid-ing went. I wondered for a moment how she'd gotten hired here at her age. Maybe Sophia - or more likely her housekeeper or something - had gone looking for somebody who'd be around the same age as the girls contending to be her apprentice.

"Very well, ma'am. I'll do my best," she said with another slight bow.

"One more thing," I said. "Could you stop calling me 'ma'am'? Just Tessa would be fine."

Her eyes widened even more, then she cast her gaze down to the ground. After a moment, her eyes came back up to mine. "Yes, Just Tessa," she said, her lips quirking up slightly.

I rolled my eyes at the childish joke, but I couldn't help grinning back at her. Just a little.

"Hey, guys," Kat called out suddenly. "I checked all the rooms, they're pretty much identical except for the colors. How're we gonna figure this out?"

I looked around the room, from Aya still loitering by the door to Melody lounging in her seat to Kat standing by one of the bedroom doors. Nobody seemed to have any ideas.

Finally, Melody broke the silence. "I'll take that one," she said, pointing to the doorway that was furthest on the left when looking at the room from the entrance.

"Then I'll take that one," Aya said almost immediately, indicating the furthest right door. I got the faintest feeling that she didn't like Melody. I couldn't imagine why I felt that way.

"Just picking them? Guess that works," Kat said, sounding vaguely disappointing. "I'll take this one, I guess," she jerked her thumb back at the door she was standing beside. It was the one adjacent to Melody's, left of the center. "What about you, Tess?"

Everyone turned to me, including Mei. It wasn't much of a choice; there were only two rooms left and apparently they were all the same. After a moment of thought, I said, "The middle, I suppose." My reasoning was fairly simple: I was going to have Mei staying in one of the adjacent rooms either way, but my other neighbor could be either Aya or Kat. I figured Kat would be quieter than Aya, though the thick stone walls probably wouldn't make it much of an issue.

"Alright, it's settled!" Kat declared.

She stood with her hands on her hips, surveying the room. I met her gaze for a moment as it traveled over the room. Eventually, she said, "Wow, you guys are boring," and turned to throw open the door of her new room.

"Miss Dee is quite... energetic, isn't she?" Mei said beside me.

"That's certainly one word for it," I said.

Suddenly, there came a knock at the main door to the room, the one we'd all entered through. I turned around just in time to see Aya looking thoroughly startled; she got a hold on herself and turned around to open the door.

A couple of burly men in blue footmen's livery were waiting outside. The one behind held a suitcase in either hand, while the one in front had set one of his aside in order to knock. After a moment, I recognized the ones held by the leading man as my own. I hurried over to retrieve my things. After a brief conversation with Aya and I, the footmen presented us with our belongings and left.

"Would you like my assistance, my ladies?" Mei asked us.

It felt pretty odd to be called a lady, but I'd let it pass this time. "No, but thank you," I said. Aya shook her head silently after me.

Mei looked faintly disappointed and cast a nervous glance over to where Melody and her maid were sitting. Picking up on her distress, I suggested, "But maybe you can go see if Katarina would like some company? She might appreciate it."

The maid's face brightened, and she gave me a quick nod. "Yes, ma- Tessa. I'll do that."

Aya gave me an odd look as she hurried off, but I shrugged, grabbed my suitcases, and headed off to my new room.

It was actually decorated rather differently from the rest of the tower I'd seen, with light blue wallpaper covering the walls. The carpet was a deeper blue, and the furniture - a large, plush bed and a couch along one wall - was darker still, but not quite black. There was a large, dark wooden desk and chair along the wall opposite the couch, while a wardrobe stood beside the doorway, on the side the door didn't swing towards. There were multiple electrical lights: one in the center of the ceiling, one between the couch and bed, and one over the desk. Directly opposite the doorway I'd come in was another door; I set my luggage down and took a peek inside. It turned out to be a private bathroom, with toilet, sink, and shower.

I unpacked my things, mostly clothes with some few personal effects. I spent most of the remaining afternoon writing a letter - the desk was stocked with both paper and pens - to my parents detailing my new situation and why I hopefully wouldn't be home for at least an entire year.

Around six o'clock by my reckoning, we were all called to dinner in a dining room a little ways down the hall outside the sitting room. It was a quiet, subdued affair, despite Mei's attempts to cheer it up. It was just the six of us - Mei, Aya, Melody and her maid, Kat, and me. I suspected that none of us really knew what to think of the others, or how to interact with people we'd be competing with for a year. I knew I certainly had no idea how to start.

The anticipation of the day must have stressed me more than I thought, because I fell asleep soon after dinner. If I dreamed, I didn't remember it, but that had always been a weak point in my memory.

I woke to the noise of somebody pounding on my door and shouting, "Oi, lazybones! Up and at 'em!"

After a moment of sleepy confusion, I recognized the voice as Sophia's, and suddenly I was starkly awake. I rushed over to the door in my nightgown and opened it just as she was about to start knocking again, one hand raised. She grinned at me and moved on to Aya's door, skipping over Mei's. When I peered out into the sitting room, I found Melody and Kat already waiting outside their rooms in their own sleepwear.

Kat's hair was frizzled out into a small cloud around her head, which she was valiantly attempting to fight back under control with her bare hands. In stark contrast, Melody looked about as perfect as she had the day before, with barely a hair out of place. 'Quite useless in the morning' my ass.

Aya's door opened a moment after Sophia started knocking on it, but before she started shouting. The Grand Alchemist turned around and marched to the middle of the room, and cast an eye over the four of us.

"Well," she said after a moment. "You'll probably do. Any of you virgins?"

"E-excuse me?" Aya stammered, her cheeks flushing brightly. "Did you just ask-?"

"Yeah, I did. I expect an answer. We're going to go and capture a unicorn, it's important for me to know if any of you can get close to one without being gored," Sophia explained in a vaguely annoyed tone.

"O-oh," Aya was still blushing furiously.

"I'm afraid I lack this particular quality," Melody volunteered, with a slight smile.

Kat took that as her cue. "Sorry, but I'm not one either."

Aya was looking down at the floor like it was the most interesting thing in the world, cheeks redder than Kat's hair.

"Tessa?" Sophia prompted me after a moment, which shifted everyone's gazes on to me.

http://www.strawpoll.me/12144528
Tessa has to be a pure untouched girl. It'll get us close to a unicorn plus I love stories with virgin girls!
Not gonna lie, this was not the kind of decision I was expecting to be making here. Its not really a decision I can make with too much strategy in mind, nor does it set us up to destroy our competitors. So, uh, I'll vote for yes, because if nothing else, unicorns.
Unicorns are judgemental jerks, you're both entirely too eager to see one
Alien said:
Unicorns are judgemental jerks, you're both entirely too eager to see one
http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/overlord/images/0/09/Bloody_Unicorn.png/revision/latest?cb=20110610115524

Overlord had a lot of those and a deasent amunt of MC in the plot 2,
"I'm a virgin," I admitted, flushing a little. I had enough experience to know that I was only interested in women that way, but I wasn't close enough with anyone to have gone all the way before. For the most part I was too busy with my work to date much.

"Well, at least one of you won't be worthless today. Aya!" Sophia suddenly pointed at the blonde, who jumped in surprise. "What about you?"

Her cheeks burning furiously, Aya stuttered, "I-I am. What does it matter?"

"Unicorns are docile around pure maidens. Which you and Tessa technically count as. We'll be taking advantage of that to capture one and harvest some materials from it."

"Harvest some m-materials?" Aya asked, seeming aghast.

"What, you think an alchemist should just buy all her materials in a shop?" Sophia said, her tone mocking. "No, sometimes we've got to get our hands dirty. Be glad I'm not sending you out to gather muckroot."

"That's not what I-"

"Twenty minutes!" Sophia announced with a clap of her hands. "Be ready to go by then. We've got to reach the park before the herd moves on."

By this point, I'd realized that when Sophia said something, she meant it. While Aya kept spluttering, I closed my door and hurried across the room to take a quick shower.

Once I'd finished, I took a brief moment to consider how I should dress. Most of the clothes I had brought with me to the capital were rather nice, but it sounded like something more practical would be called for today. Considering it seemed that Sophia would be accompanying us, though, I didn't want to go out in worn exercise clothes. In the end, I found a compromise; a pair of dark brown trousers and a green blouse.

By the time I got out to the sitting room, Melody and Kat had already finished getting ready as well, and it seemed they'd had the same realization I had. The redhead had her hair up in a ponytail that bared the back of her neck, and wore a knee-length blue skirt with a black blouse. Melody had somehow gotten her hair into a simple braid - both she and her maid must have worked together on that. Her black trousers clung distractingly tight to her hips, but her equally dark tunic was surprisingly reserved. It was high-necked and didn't cling much to her chest. Unlike yesterday's high heels, she wore dark brown boots that reached most of the way to her knees. I supposed the two of them must have arranged to fetch some of their things from their homes yesterday.

A moment after I got out of my room, Aya emerged from hers. I wondered what had taken her as long as me to get ready; she didn't have much hair to wash, for one thing. Maybe she'd stayed and argued with Sophia for a minute or two. She wore pale blue workmen's trousers, the sort that had once been a darker color but had been beaten pale by long use, and a dark gray men's shirt.

We looked at each-other in an uneasy silence for a few moments. Well, Aya, Kat, and I did, anyway. Melody seemed to barely register our presence, her eyes focused on the door Sophia would come through.

Eventually, thankfully, Aya broke the silence. "Um... do any of you know... what parts we're going to be gathering?"

I was glad to answer that, partly because I liked showing off my knowledge but mostly in the hopes it'd make future interactions with the girls less awkward. "Probably just some of its hair," I told her. "Maybe part of its horn, too."

"Oh," Aya said, clearly relieved.

"What, you thought we were going to butcher one?" Kat asked her, her tone obviously teasing. "They're endangered, hon."

Aya flushed again. It seemed easy to get her to do that, and if it weren't for the matter of her nose, she'd be rather cute when it happened. "Of course I know that!"

Before Kat could needle at her again, the door flew open. "Knew what?" Sophia asked as she entered. Then, without waiting for a response, she immediately went on, "Actually I don't care. C'mon, kiddos."

With just that, she broke the atmosphere and pulled us after her. We headed down the grand central stairwell of the tower, to the ground floor. I looked around curiously as we passed through a grand welcoming room that could probably double as a ballroom, then started threading our way through hallways of gleaming white stone. If I was going to be staying here for a year, I wanted to pick up on how to get around as quickly as possible. I didn't get lost easily, considering my memory, but I'd never stayed anywhere this large before either.

Eventually we came to an area with a distinct smell of horse. It was strong enough that I suspected it had baked into the walls. There were large doors set into the other walls, each large enough for a carriage to pass through, and three such carriages resting to either side of the normally-sized door we'd come through. One more carriage had been pulled out to the middle of the room, with a team of horses hitched to it.

"Get in, girls," Sophia said, gesturing to the carriage. Kat led the way this time.

After a few seconds of climbing in and jostling for seats, we settled down. Kat and Melody sat side-by-side at the front end of the carriage, while Aya and I sat facing them.

Sophia poked her head in the door and looked us over. "You be good in here," she said, raising a finger. "I'll be riding up in front with Jeeves."

"Geoffrey!" the coachman called. I'd only caught a glimpse of the man, who wore the same livery as the men from yesterday but was much skinnier.

"Like I said, George," Sophia went on, grinning. There was an exasperated noise from the coachman, but I got the impression this was a common exchange. "Should be about half an hour out to the hunting grounds."

With that, she closed the carriage's door, shutting us into dim light. Within a minute, though, the carriage started to move.

I soon realized why Sophia had chosen to ride on the front - even early in the morning, the interior of the carriage was oppressively hot. And the ride was bumpy. It seemed every few seconds the whole carriage would jolt up or down, either tossing me into the air to crack my head on the roof or land hard on my bottom. Both ends of me quickly grew sore.

Worse, though, was the sullen silence from the girls around me. After just a couple of minutes, I decided that I had to break the ice with them somehow. Letting the silence go on much longer could make it the default for our relationship, and an entire year of this could well drive me mad.

Holding tight to my seat and trying not to be jostled too badly, I wondered what to start talking about. It seemed that Aya didn't know much about unicorns, I could talk with her about them. That would let me remind myself of anything that might be important today, and she might be thankful if anything came in handy for her as well. Or I could ask Melody and the others about their backgrounds, like maybe why they had applied to be Sophia's apprentice. That might give me some insight to them as people, and may well be the quickest way to break the ice. People usually liked talking about themselves, right? Then again, maybe I ought to stick to safer topics, like... the weather. Or fashion. Kat and Melody certainly seemed fashionable enough.

http://www.strawpoll.me/12177827
You promise me weather talk and then don't deliver? As a Brit, I find this highly offensive!

I think we should talk with Aya about the unicorns, to be honest. Thinking about what could potentially cause us problems in the immediate could help us solve them, and we may be able to get Aya to like us a little more for helping her out.
JksAccount said:
You promise me weather talk and then don't deliver? As a Brit, I find this highly offensive!

I think we should talk with Aya about the unicorns, to be honest. Thinking about what could potentially cause us problems in the immediate could help us solve them, and we may be able to get Aya to like us a little more for helping her out.
I'm seconding this plan brushing up on facts could be handy and might earn us a little friendship with her.
Imasuky said:
I'm seconding this plan brushing up on facts could be handy and might earn us a little friendship with her.
We have to stop agreeing with each other. It makes it look like we're conspiring with each other behind the scenes to push an agenda, which is definitely something that isn't happening, right?