Monday, May 3rd, Reiwa 42.
The Verwest Adventist Academy was once one of the most prestigious schools in the city of Southern Sun, and even if time has seen its glamour fade from view a bit, it’s still quite competitive. Offering a complete education program from middle school all the way to sixth form, it expects the best of its students, and (in theory, at least) prepares them for a prestigious position in the city’s world-class research universities. Mama and Papa went here, as well as Aunt Vesta; getting a chance to attend alongside Korri took a lot of hard work and guts, and you think you don’t fit in very well, but…
Even if it’s been a lot harder than you prefer, if it’s for Korri’s sake, you wouldn’t change it for the world.
When Calvina’s not the gallant knight and senpai you admire and adore, she’s an aspiring architect – and lately, you’ve been trying to pay more attention to the way the city is designed and built. Here, the outward appearance of the Academy makes it look a lot older than it is. Crafted seemingly mostly of red brick, with a wide number of buildings across the entire campus of suburban green grass, the details that make it efficient and modern are hidden away from prying eyes. (Though the inner halls certainly look like just about any other school in the city you’ve seen.)
Calvina tells you that the way the city looks, the way its systems behave and intersect, was (and is!) designed to be as familiar as possible to the tens of millions of migrants who would reach its shores. City districts and neighborhoods all take on many different characters, all meant to take the shape of ‘home’; architects from around the world took up this cast, particularly those from Old Canada. The Verwest Academy is one of those places, meant to call to mind prestigious institutions in Asia; even the name ‘Adventist’ is rather a fib, to suggest that prestige and the future success your children might have for attending.
It’s an application of what Ms. Yi taught you of, the modern social science of ‘memetics’ – and it seems that future-past-you took those lessons to heart, huh?
Well, that’s why you’re here. Memetics is one of your newfound talents, and even if the Hypnosis tree is a bit, y’know, bad thoughts, you still believe it has some necessary talents for…well, whatever it is you need to do. (Still trying to figure that part out!)
Now, you don’t exactly hate class, but you do prefer to spend your vacation times away from it. You’d think it’d be the same for anyone, right? (You can’t imagine what it was like when this school used to have dorms, that’d drive you nuts.) And yet, despite most school clubs taking the whole week off, here you are, standing in the middle of the hallway, looking upon two smart posters flanked side by side – the Debate Club, and the Literature Club.
…why would they still be meeting this week, you wonder? The building should be mostly empty, right? Normally, they’re largely closed for the holidays, the halls only really open for the transit stations. This can’t be normal procedure; it’s not like this is a D&D group just squatting here (not that, um, you would know), they’re official groups sanctioned by the staff.
The Literature Club has been around a long time, but from what you’ve heard, it used to be a pretty quiet club that was little more than an excuse for slackers to lie about their after-school activities to their families. A few years ago, though, it was revitalized by the one and only, the legendary, the mysterious Li Xiao-Yin! A girl of great mystique and, um, mystery (how mysterious!), only the Literature Club seems to really know her well. The poster shows several of its members flanked around a table with snacks, tablets, and notebooks, with the mysterious pinkette herself front and centre.
She’s the kind of person who anyone can get along with, it seems. Xiao-Yin ought to know a lot about being charismatic; Marq seems to know her, and equally be convinced the two of you would get along, but – but she’s way out of your league! And you’ve never really said so much as a few sentences to her! You wonder if she’d like you, maybe, but surely a girl as cute as that wouldn’t even give you the time of day…which, okay, maybe you’re underestimating yourself, but it’s still pretty scary!
The left poster, though? The Debate Club? That one’s really scary.
It’s a simple photo of two students at their podiums in one of the lecture halls, most likely a photo of one of the titular debates, and a description of the Debate Club itself in several languages:
THE VERWEST ADVENTIST ACADEMY DEBATE SOCIETY (aka the DEBATE CLUB)
Learn the benefits of oratory and rhetoric, expand your future resume, and learn valuable leadership skills for your future career. Win friends, influence people, and perform valuable networking in advance of your university education.
Studies show that participation in extracurricular activities correspond to great positive benefits in education, employment, and general quality of life. Don’t miss out on the benefits to your future. Join us today!
…what a crock of chocolate pudding.
Oh, all these things may well be true, but the Debate Club, if it ever was altruistic in its goals, stopped being so quite some time ago. And the very reason for this is the very same reason that, despite your better judgement and your desire to get to know (the mysterious!) Li Xiao-Yin, you find yourself turning left instead of right.
The reason why you end up inside that lecture hall, with its rows of seats descending down toward the dual podiums, walking down the stairs even as you feel every single eye upon you, swallowing as you try to tell yourself you haven’t made a huge mistake.
“Oh? What’s this? I wasn’t expecting any newcomers today,” a red-haired figure stood between the twin podiums says, the microphone broadcasting her voice throughout the hall. “Now, who could this be?”
Your heart is pounding in your chest. T-this is really nervewracking! Is it too late to turn right instead?!
“Oh…oh, I do know you,” the redhead whispers, that husky quality to her voice admittedly making her very sexy. Really, though, this girl oozes charisma, and ultimately, that’s what won out in the end, despite all the drawbacks. “You’re Cibele, aren’t you?”
H-huh?! Oh no, your reputation precedes you…h-how has the Empress herself heard of you –
and how did you get right next to her?!
“Cibele Epeli Imanis, is it? How pleased I am to finally meet you,” she says, giving you a smile laced with poison as she extends her hand, your own nervously meeting her own to shake.
The Empress of Verwest herself, Milia de L’Impératrice.
She’s the kind of person who seems like she walked straight out of a high school anime – the rich heiress who controls the student council and the whole school, who goes all ‘ara ara’ and looks down on people…
W-well, that kind of thing isn’t real. It’d be kind of hot to hear her say ‘ara’, the way her voice goes like this and emphasizes certain words makes it sound like she’s always looking down on you. (W-which is probably because she is…) But it’s that kind of way she’s able to straddle that line, the way she exudes self-control, that really gets her that popularity.
Okay, the ‘ara ara’ might just be you projecting, though! It’s not like this is an anime, there’s no massive student council who controls all the affairs of Verwest from the shadows, but…
“Uh, you’ve heard of me?” you ask, trying not to show how nervous you are. It’s still really dangerous! Milia’s got a whole posse of groupies, bearing down upon you with their stares right now! And she’s a de L’Impératrice, too!
“Of course I’ve heard of Seul-ki’s new favorite! People have noticed that, you know. The idol of the school, favoring a little troublemaker…ah, but I shouldn’t spread rumors, should I?” Milia’s hand presses onto her chest, her green eyes fluttering as she stares into you. F-for some reason, it’s a bit intimidating…
(But, Milia’s on a first-name basis with Ms. Yi? It’s not unheard of, but it’s still a bit weird.)
“W-well, I’m flattered! Uh, not about the troublemaker part, but the other bit. I really like her, so…”
“You should be flattered, Cibele. It’s not everyday someone shows that kind of favor.”
…ugh. If it weren’t for your need to grind, you’d probably have run away by now. The look Milia is giving you is not comfortable, and it really demonstrates the disparity between both your statuses. You even tried to dress a bit nicer, with an airy white button-up blouse, but next to her…
Milia’s ruby red hair, her glittering green eyes, her rich and fair complexion…more than one person – like the entire club, little more than her entourage, all seeking the Empress’ favor – has fallen for them. So too have they fallen for her softness, the rich curves that suggest a diet high in meat (ugh). She looks the part of a rich girl…and she should. The de L’Impératrice aren’t nobles, but they are old money from Old Quebec, Sunset shareholders with a lot of influence.
That comes through in her fashion, too. Golden heels, tightly clinging thigh-highs, loose top that somehow shows off her chest without showing it. And those accessories! That belt might be made of real leather! Fancy dangly earrings that probably cost more than everything on you! And…
Oh no, matching black chokers! Y-you knew it was a bad idea to start wearing them more often; will she think you’re trying to copy her?!
“Hmn, so you’re interested in the Debate Club?” says Milia, as she operates the smartboard behind her from the podium. “Fewer people are around than I’d like. There’s not much scheduled, either. I think we can probably introduce you to how things go around here.”
“Great! I can watch a few debates, then I can maybe team up with some of the others, I could get my feet wet –”
“Oh, no, nothing like that!” Milia waves off your concerns, and you suddenly hear sirens going off in your head. This can’t be good! “I’m sure you’ve learned so much from Yi Seul-ki! I think we can dispense with it, don’t you?” Her smile goes wide, her eyes go narrow, and she leans in as if she could eat you if she wanted. “You and I, on the stage, together. I’ll let you choose whatever topic you wish.”
“U-uh. Any topic?” Part of you wants to scream, ‘d-don’t eat me!’, but you’re pretty sure that’s not on purpose, probably?
“Any topic, so long as it is of no consequence or importance to anyone. Rule Eight – a rule put into place to protect any pesky personal feelings from interfering in our design. Our judgement will be based on the power of your arguments, and the presence of your speech.”
…right. That makes sense for a debate society, sure, but it still bothers you a bit for some reason…
“O-okay, I get it. Ummmmm…” Oh, jeez, you didn’t think this through, but now everyone is staring! G-gotta come up with something fast! “U-um…h-hot dogs?!” Wait, abort, abort –
“Hot dogs, you say.” Ugh, she’s so smug. She probably thinks she’s already defeated you. “What about hot dogs?”
“Uh…uh, right. Are, um. Are hot dogs a sandwich? Uh, it can be a vegan hot dog too, that doesn’t matter, right?” You’ve argued that before, you’re pretty sure; no one would care about that, r-right?
“If it please you, Cibele.” Ugh. And Milia’s smugness grows. She probably thinks she’s already won at this point! You’re being an embarrassing wreck and you haven’t even started yet!
You swallow nervously, and look up at the crowd, knowing they’re all here for Milia. Not you. Mostly guys, but there’s a girl or two too – and none of them seem to like you much, you’re pretty sure! They must think Milia’s the best thing since sliced fudge, huh?
You don’t really expect to get much out of this, at least not with 1 Charisma…but maybe it’ll help prove your theory right? If grinding alone won’t do, then you’ll be happy to seek out new opportunities (and, potentially, new cuties?) to gain experiences from.
And who knows, you might at least win Milia’s respect, right? Even if you don’t win, there’s a chance at putting up a good fight, at least. All you need to do is survive the Empress herself, someone who assuredly exudes the power of 2 Charisma, and hope you don’t get too humiliated in the process.
As a great climate denier once said…how hard can it be?
Pretty darn hard, as it turns out!
There’s not a lot of there there in the topic of hot dogs, of course. And, it goes without saying no one else is helping. You get the sense the people here on Golden Week are very much the closest to Milia, and there’s certainly a sense of riding her coattails. An Empress’ court…a court where you’re all but certain at least some of them have ulterior motives.
Milia does seem to care about them, in her way, but if that’s their motivation it’s a bit of a pipe dream. Old fashioned monogamy doesn’t make much sense to you, but maybe Milia likes the idea of being fought over, huh?
Really, though. How are you going to do this? You’ve really got only one advantage up your sleeve, but –
her eyes meet yours, and she smirks.
It’s enough contact to reach out.
As your mind gently brushes against Milia, you feel something like silk, a softness, an embrace that makes you wonder how it could be the same person. Certainly, she’s more than capable of being kind, but you wonder if you wouldn’t find a knife beneath the silk if you could go deeper. What secrets could she hiding?
I won’t lose to Seul-ki’s new pet. Especially not some fly-by-fancy commoner like Cibele.
The words are surprising enough on their own. She’s been paying attention to you behind your back, this whole time? All because Ms. Yi might like you a bit? Sure, you know she favors you a lot (and don’t think it doesn’t make you blush!), but why would Milia care about it? She’s in the previous year, you don’t share any classes.
The feelings, the emotions, though…there’s something complicated you can’t unravel around her feelings toward Ms. Yi. You’re not even sure you could call it a crush – and you’d need more experience to figure that out, you think, with using your Thought Skimmer – but at some point, she fell out of Ms. Yi’s favor, and she’s still nursing those hurt feelings.
…but that gives you an idea.
You smile brightly, and wave at Milia, and she scoffs and turns away back to her entourage. But this means she has a weak point, and more importantly, an example of what might work in this little debate of yours.
You’ve heard enough of Ms. Yi’s lectures, after all, to know that when she talks, people listen. And you think you know how she talks, too.
And if you really are favored by her enough for Milia to be worried about you? Maybe it’s time to prove what you’ve learned from Yi Seul-ki.
“Esteemed ladies and gentlemen of the Debate Club, I am as ever your humble host, Milia de L’Impératrice.” As the two of you stand upon the podiums, you almost want to roll your eyes – Milia is anything but humble. “Today’s question is one that rests on the minds of us all – the status of the hot dog as a sandwich.” Her voice utterly drips with sarcasm – she’s definitely taking full advantage of the home field. “I will, of course, be taking the only position that makes any sense – that the hot dog is not a sandwich.
“The sandwich has a long and storied history, a perfect combination of human culinary invention. The hot dog is simply a Frankenstein, an abomination created in the Meiji era that heralded a new age of manufactured, mass-produced food.
“What beauty is there if we allow anything that wishes to call itself a sandwich? Can it compare to the Reuben? The BLT? The club? Or, truly the greatest culinary art of humankind, the Montreal smoked meat? A hot dog is simply packaged meat or soybean waste in the cheapest possible bread. It doesn’t deserve to be called a sandwich. It was never born a sandwich, so why should it claim higher aspirations? It should accept the place it was born in, and no more.”
For a topic she said was ridiculous, she sure does seem to care about it a lot.
The applause isn’t exactly thundering, but given how there’s less than a dozen people in the room, it’s pretty good. Seems genuine enough, too; you’ve got your work cut out for you on this one.
You sigh, and stretch, doing your best not to be rattled. (It’s okay, Cibele, you think. You can do this.) Adjusting your microphone, you stare up at the ‘crowd’, all hoping for you to take a fall.
Gulp. No pressure…you’ll just have to trust your instincts, and hope channeling Ms. Yi helps you out.
And so, you breathe in, and let the words come from your heart.
“Ahem. Um, hello everyone! My name is Cibele Epeli Imanis. I’m a student here at the Verwest Adventist Academy, just like you. And I will, of course, support the position that a hot dog is a sandwich…but first, I need to ask all of you a question:
“What is a sandwich?”
Everyone starts murmuring, and Milia raises her eyebrow. This is exactly the kind of question Ms. Yi asks, if perhaps about much more consequential topics, so maybe she’s noticed?
“The sandwich, of course, is not found in nature. Bread is a manufactured food, and the combination of bread and meat would never be created by an animal! Let alone all the other things you could fill it with – peanut butter, cheese, seitan…
You point out toward the crowd, dramatically waving your hand forward! “The truth is, a sandwich is nothing more than a social construct! A creation of mankind, entirely artificial! How can we exclude any food that wants to be a sandwich from becoming one?”
You pause to let your words settle, as Seul-ki might, and you can really feel Milia’s concern from here now! It’s…huh, it’s working! Who knew? Sure, you’re cheating a bit with your Thought Skimmer, maybe but…oh well. It is inconsequential, isn’t it? And if it’s Milia…
“Sandwiches are freedom! They can be as simple or as complex as you like. You can make them however you like. They can be a part of a gourmet meal, or a quick snack on the run. There’s no reason to arbitrarily exclude something from being called a sandwich if it wishes to be, when the whole idea of ‘sandwich’ is a cultural creation to begin with!
“Members of the Debate Club, I beseech you. Do not give in to your elitism! Would we next exclude the humble PB&J, simply because it contains no meat? Is that what we’ve come to? Of course not! I think we all have the power to decide what a sandwich is for ourselves, you know?” You bow at the end of your remarks. “Thank you for listening.”
…the ‘crowd’ applauds you! Aw, heck, this is embarrassing…
“Thank you, Cibele.” Milia tries to clear her throat, doing her best to hide her discomfort, your Thought Skimmer sensing the unease within her as you brush against her mind. (You’re sure she’s heard the ‘social construct’ speech from Ms. Yi before, after all – though, that one wasn’t about sandwiches, was it?) “Very well. With these arguments in mind…how does the voting panel feel? All those in favor of hot dogs not being sandwiches, say ‘aye’!”
“Aye!” A couple of dudes say…huh, really? Only them? Could it be –
“And…mm. And all those in favor of hot dogs being sandwiches?”
“AYE!” Several more voices say…and, yes!
You’ve done it! You’ve won! Even if only in a small way, your words could reach past even the Empress’ authority! (Hey, maybe your Charisma’s already going up?)
“…well,” Milia says as she hops off the podium, extending her hand to you once more as she brushes her hair back with her hand. (Gosh, but she is pretty…honestly, she might give Ms. Yi a run for her money in the looks department. If only she were a bit kinder, huh?) “You’ve won this time. Not a bad performance, for a beginner. I do hope you won’t rest on your laurels, though…”
You grip Milia’s hand in yours, and smile brightly as you shake. “I’ll do my best, Empress!”
“Please. Just call me Milia. I can see why Seul-ki likes you, now. Do come back next week, if it please you.”
Her words say that you’re welcome here. The Empress has accepted you into her court, even as a mere commoner, an upstart.
But though her thoughts don’t betray her full intentions, you can sense the animosity she holds toward you. And the resentment, around whatever went down with Ms. Yi, and the fact that she favors you. The performance you’ve given, you think, has given you a lot more progress toward Charisma 2 than your little training montage on the weekend, but –
looking into Milia’s green eyes, as she begins to see you as a rival, you can’t help but feel as though one wrong move could make the Empress your enemy.
Gulp. No pressure, huh?
Milia de L’Impératrice ???: Empress’ Authority
Increase influence over others. Increase effectiveness of speech. Increase attractiveness, physical or otherwise. In addition, improves the effectiveness of the Hypnosis skill tree. Increase through social interaction (particularly gaining advantages) or acquisition of servants, or use of Hypnosis skills.
My personal favorite. You’ll be the cutest girl in all of Southern Sun, cuter than the other 40 million before us. Your words will change the city, the world. Starting with Korrigan, of course…she’s so trusting. Don’t you want to guide her, make sure she’s a good little girl for you?