A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

Yooooooo how's it going, everyone?!

Welcome to Fool's final post for 2021!!! I'll still be posting tomorrow, lol. 

Here's to another year of Fool and Happy New Year (if this is when you celebrate it) from me and all the cast of Fool!

Alright, let's get into it!

“Non-aggression?” Roderich cocked his head. “That goes a bit against the spirit of the tournament.”

“Is it against the rules?” Alex asked, glancing at Isolde who was sitting beside him.

They were meeting with certain members of the Hydra Companions in a remote gazebo on campus. The round table was attended by Alex’s entire team.

“It is not,” Isolde said. “Informal alliances between teams in order to face a larger threat are as much a tradition in the Grand Battle, as the event itself.” She tapped on a history book in front of her. “It is not as though the alliance extends to individual events. As long as there is no point shaving, nor collaboration between teams to ‘fix’ games and create results that would provide higher earnings for those generally wagering on The Games, then it is allowed. In essence, no team can be involved with anyone engaged in speculating: whether legally or illegally.”

She flipped through the book. “There have even been a few cases where two teams—finding honour in each others’ efforts—have elected to share a victory. Sometimes such a show of sportsmanship has been popular with spectators, other times, such a thing has been met with outrage and seen as a cynical attempt of one team to curry favour with members of another, they were likely to lose to. As a matter of fact, in one generation-”

“I hope that’s not what you’re looking for,” a crocodile man crossed his arms and bared his teeth.

Grimloch growled back, baring his teeth and standing up.

For a breath, the crocodile man eyed Grimloch uncertainly, before abruptly ending his show of hostility.

“W-we’re not sharing victory, no matter where we place,” he finished quickly.

“How strange.” Khalik smiled viciously. “I was about to say the same thing to you.”

Several Hydra Companions stiffened, but one of them—clearly the highest ‘ranked’ member there—glared at them.

“We’re not here to pick a fight,” she said, crossing her arms. “Mind your manners.” She returned her attention to Alex’s group. “Our companion-hood isn’t interested in any victory sharing, if this is what the purpose of your pact is. Either you join our teams, or we’re all out for ourselves.”

“Yeah, we don’t want the victory sharing thing either,” Alex said. “And we aren’t joining you, like we said, but we don’t want either of us to knock each other around before the Ursa-Lupine Brotherhood gets taken down. The weaker we both are, the better chance they have of winning. So, we do it like this: if we come across each other before we hear their team is eliminated, we just…act like we’re aaaaaall nice and invisible. We walk past each other and go stomp some other competition. Isolde, they announce when teams get eliminated, yes?”

“They do,” she said a little huffily. Alex knew her well enough to know she was still offended by the crocodile man’s interruption. “And once their defeat is announced, then we shall engage in righteous combat.”

“I see, I see,” Roderich said. “And would we team up on the Ursa-Lupine Brotherhood if we run into them together? That seems logical to me.”

“Logical, true,” Khalik said. “But not much thrill in that.”

“They are ours,” Isolde said with heat. “If by some devil’s wish they defeat us, then you may have our scraps.”

The leader of the Hydra Companions’ delegation blinked. “That’s some confidence.”

“We’ve got reason to be,” Thundar said.

For a few minutes, the Companions left the table to discuss the offer in private.

“Very well,” Roderich spoke for them. “Your terms are acceptable. So, we will not fight each other until the Ursa-Lupine Brotherhood falls. You will have first crack at them. But, if we see them first, and if they attack us, then we will have to engage and crush them.”

“Makes sense to me,” Alex said.

“But if they don’t engage us, and if we see you, then we’ll point your team to them. Deal?” Roderich extended his hand as did the other members of the Hydra Companions.

“Agreed.” Khalik, Alex and their other team members shook the offered hands.

Alex glanced around their surroundings, and noticed figures watching them from a distance.

He decided that he really did not like being followed and would try to do something about it.

Especially, when it seemed to be a bunch of different people always doing the following.

As The Games got closer—only a few days away now—he’d been noticing a mix of people, some who looked like students and some who didn’t, following him at all hours of the day when he left his apartment.

Some of the supposed students seemed to be just scoping out the competition’s movements and practice sessions for The Games—he even recognized a few as members of the Ursa-Lupine Brotherhood—but others were…clearly not students.

Even though they looked young—close to his age group—they didn’t move like students. After his meeting with those investigators, he’d started a new project with The Mark. Learning how people moved, and identifying certain facial expressions.

When he’d finally gotten into bed the night he’d been questioned, he’d laid awake for a while thinking about everything that had happened, and he’d been bothered by a nagging feeling that the investigators weren’t done with him. They still suspected somebody on the expedition team, and hadn't told him that he was ruled out as a suspect, so what better way to gather more information than to watch and see who he associated with, especially, if they were looking for some accomplice. When he, Selina and the Lus had spent the day at the rainbow tower, he remembered seeing people that were probably city guards dressed in plainclothes, mixing in among the crowds.

It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the investigators would probably use the same method to keep tabs on their suspects. Alex definitely wanted to know who was watching him, whether it was someone looking to find out what the competition for The Games was up to, or if it was someone from the authorities.

So, he’d turned to The Mark to help do what it did best, help him learn a skill.

Since someone on the expedition team might be a potential criminal, he thought it would be useful if he could learn to tell if someone was lying to him. He also wanted to learn how to analyze body language, which he thought might be able to help him be better at figuring out who was following him; student or an investigator.

The results of The Mark’s help had been…mixed.

It turned out that the idea of being able to find out if someone was lying by body language alone was…not as easy as he thought it’d be.

The Mark had brought up different times that he’d been lied to, but only when he knew he was being lied to. It was a downside of The Mark only drawing from memories of successes. If he didn’t figure out a lie, then it wouldn’t count as a success, so The Mark had nothing to show him in that situation. It could only show him what it did have, which were memories of some of his classmates back in church school lying to him, or Derek lying to him, and Minervus lying about him being responsible for the golem’s rampage at work.

But, in those memories, it focused on pieces of the stories that Alex knew weren’t true, parts where the liar was vague, and parts of the stories that changed. All in all, it had showed him inconsistencies or perceived inconsistencies, which it put a focus on.

It also focused on physical tells, like very obvious facial tics, like when Selina had eaten his share of buns once and blamed Brutus for eating them. She’d kept her head down and hadn’t even looked at his face at the time, but she’d kept chewing on her bottom lip.

But the problem was—except for super obvious tells—The Mark didn’t focus much on body language as an indicator of lies, which had confused him at first. But, he started to understand when he really thought about The Mark’s memories of analyzing body language.

It quickly became clear where the problem was.

People had different tics to their body language, where they were originally from also heavily affected their general body language. One day, he’d seen Theresa and Shishi talking during one of their meditation sessions. His girlfriend had a habit of looking directly into peoples’ eyes, almost staring them down, while Shishi tended to mostly look away when she was in a conversation with someone.

He came to slowly realize that eye contact varied between cultures. It also reminded him of an old adage from Thameland: ‘Never trust someone who negotiates on an empty belly.’ He’d said that to Khalik once, and the prince had just looked at him in confusion.

Certain things just didn’t work across cultures.

So he’d decided to try a different approach.

He thought about Minervus, and focused on the task of being able to tell when Minervus was lying. That situation had yielded a lot more data.

The Mark had shown him all kinds of little body signals, and twitches in speech that indicated when Minervus was making up stuff to get Alex in trouble, as opposed to when he was stating a known fact. This led Alex to a conclusion: It was not only individual specific, but he had to have had contact with the individual before.

To be able to tell when someone was lying, he had to see through the lies of the individual first, and then he could use The Mark to learn their specific tells to be able to recognize a lie in the future.

That was a lot of work, and would take a lot of time, study, and interaction.

Still, it was useful information to have. But, what he could do for now though is focus on learning someone’s body language using The Mark, which would show him certain details. Now, this is where The Mark’s general analysis of body language proved to be very useful.

Seeing through lies was difficult since it would involve talking to someone then using that interaction to generate useful data for The Mark so that he could try and figure out if or when they were lying to him.

But, identifying body language?

That was a lot more clear cut, all he needed to do was just sit back, watch people, pay attention, look for patterns and come to recognize what their body language meant. It didn’t take him long to notice certain patterns in people’s body language. A few of the people following him had similar, aggressive movements to Officer Gustavo, or a Watcher of Roal. They hid them well enough, but the more Alex analyzed them using The Mark, the clearer it became that they were not students.

While students on campus were watchful—the demon summoner had everyone on edge—there were some on campus who looked young, but watched their surroundings with the level of alertness of an experienced hunter, not an average cautious student. Alex jotted down those observations into his notes.

By the time the eve of The Games of Roal finally arrived, he’d figured out that at least two…maybe three of the people tailing him were most likely investigators.

After he was satisfied with his conclusions—and resisted the urge to tell them to stop following him because he knew what they were up to—he had a pre-games dinner for his friends at his apartment, which Kybas was invited to.

Partway through the evening, he pulled him aside to warn him.

“Listen,” he said to the goblin-wizard. “You might want to stay above ground for a bit. I dunno if you’ve noticed anyone strange hanging around near you, but me and some of my friends have been getting…unfriendly eyes.”

He didn’t mention who those eyes belonged to.

“Just a little suggestion, man, stay above ground for a bit. Maybe until things calm down. Maybe after The Games, or this demon summoner’s caught.”

Kybas grunted, glancing out the window. “Ya, maybe…” he said. “I might be able to make sure no one’s following me, and go do one big harvest to last Harmless for a while. And maybe I can set up something to automatically give the ‘shrooms moisture, I suppose, if it’s only for a little while. Things seem to be a lot tenser around campus these days. Lots of strange people around, too. Lots of people watching.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble. Keep yourself safe.”

And so the last few grains of sand ticked through the hourglass leading up to The Games of Roal. The research team hadn’t met since Baelin’s announcement, and Alex hadn’t had any contact with the chancellor either.

In the end, he’d been left to practice and prepare for The Games.

Until at last, the first morning of The Games of Roal dawned.

Alex’s team members were up early, excited to see the grounds and the prizes that the Watchers had on display.

…and also to see some of the competition in action in the earlier events.

A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

At last, leeeeeet the gaaaaaames begiiiiiiiin! So excited for this arc.

Alright, everyone, have fun tonight and I'll see you tomorrow!

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