For those of you familiar with Lusternia, you might want to jump down over the next section, as this is a story that'll take a little background that some of my blog readers will lack.
Once per real-life year Lusternia has a big multi-layer competition that culminates in an Ascension, in which one contestant is elevated to the status of True Ascendant, the highest level possible in the game. The first step is a set of nine competitions, one for each of the nine domoths: Chaos, War, Justice, Nature, Knowledge, Beauty, Life, Death, and Harmony. These are nine different competitions, each reflecting (somewhat) the focus of each domoth. War is a team combat tourney, Knowledge is a trivia quiz, etc. The winner of each one gains a valuable artifact, a hell of a lot of prestige, and the chance to compete in the final battle. Runners-up in each competition win large credit prizes (and some prestige).
As with anything in Lusternia, some of these things are not dependent at all on combat skill, but more of them do than don't. Beauty stands out because anyone, even a complete novice, can win it, provided they have a talent for writing in a very particular format: designing objects that can be made in the various crafts in Lusternia. Specifically, those crafts are Cooking, Tailoring, Jewelry, Forging, Artisan, and Bookbinding. People can design and then make items in each of these trades (though each person can only craft things in at most one, they can design in others as well, provided someone who owns a relevant cartel lets them use it to submit designs, or that they own the cartel themselves). These designs are submitted for review (to check for grammar, spelling, compliance with the rules, etc.) before they can be made. One design per cartel can be submitted for Beauty each year, and these are judged to select the most beautiful -- the best written, best imagined, and most creative.
Here's an example of one of mine:
Item: Mandolin Type: Instruments Org: Milkweed
Commodities: wood 80 redtint 10 pearl 10
a scuffed mandolin bearing the stories of the road
Scuffed and battered, a mandolin discarded here tells the tales of its travels in its blemishes and bruises.
This mandolin must once have been proud and shining, its cherrywood body buffed and polished to a fine sheen, since in a few spots that gleam is still seen. However, most of the mandolin's surface is now scuffed with a variety of blemishes, each bump and bruise telling a tale to the observant eye of the mandolin's many travels, the roads on which it was carried and played, the weather it has endured and withstood, and the trials it has survived. A smudged spatter of several colours of paint on the top of the mandolin's bowl-shaped body clearly were picked up while its owner was painting something; careful examination shows the streaking resulting from an attempt to wipe the paint off before it dried, not entirely successfully. Below this, a gouge running diagonally across the instrument's back looks to have been carved by a blade of some sort, suggesting a day of danger in mortal combat. A bruise on the instrument's face reveals very fine grooves left by sand, perhaps a sandstorm in a visit to the desert; below this, a progressive wearing of grooves below the mandolin's sound-hole speaks of countless strums, suggesting the instrument has shared its voice in a lifetime's music. The fretboard is blotched and the neck slightly twisted by water damage, and coated in a fine patina of the dust of the road, though it's clear someone's made tiny adjustments to the frets to let the mandolin be played despite the warping of the neck. A notch missing from one of the tuning pegs is in the shape of an animal's tooth, though it's impossible to tell what kind of animal it was. Through all this history of danger and merriment, the instrument has been cared for, not to keep it from showing its history in its lines and bruises, but to ensure its song is just as sweet as ever it was in its youth, though perhaps deepened in timbre by some of the changes, lending its merry tune a note of the wisdom of time and travels.
The first year they had Ascension, I didn't participate at all. I wasn't even a crafter yet, and wasn't really interested in the other competitions. The second year, I decided to dip my toe in. I chose a few of my favorite designs that I'd already made to submit for Beauty, but I didn't do anything specially for Beauty; I also dabbled in a few other competitions and did well despite not having prepared much. But I didn't win anything.
Last year, the trials of January/February 2009, I decided to really try hard. I spent hours practicing things to compete in Justice and Harmony, even drove into the office on the weekends to compete using a good Internet connection. In Justice, I got to the last round where you could be eliminated and not win something, and then had a really unlucky draw and lost. In Harmony, I was in the lead for almost half of the hour it ran, but then enemies harrying me weren't met by allies defending me (they chose to back someone else) and I fell to about seventh or eighth place.
But my really solid hopes were in Beauty because I am a very good designer. For a few months before the trials I gathered as many cartels as possible in which I would be allowed to submit a design. In the end, I had thirteen designs to submit, each of them created specifically for Beauty, and in a variety of trades. I had designs of many different styles, so that if they happened to be leaning towards one kind or another, I would have it covered. I had designs in four of the six trades. So far as I know, I submitted more designs than anyone else in the whole game. Before the contest we had a smaller local "trial run" contest where people could try out designs to see how they'd do, and I swept it, soundly.
No, I didn't win, or even place, but that's not the story I'm here to tell today. (I later found out my mandolin design took sixth, but there are prizes only to five.)
A dear friend owned four jewelry cartels and wasn't going to be using her slots, so she agreed to let me use them. So I toiled for hours over those four designs. But when it came time to submit them, it turned out she really only had three she could use. I don't even remember why she couldn't use the fourth, but now I had a bracelet design and nowhere to submit it.
So I scrambled around to find a jewelry cartel that wasn't going to use its slot. I found one: it was owned by a god's Order, and run by that god's order head, who was also the leader of my commune. Thus, definitely someone "on my side" and someone who would want me or someone like me to win, because it would ensure one of the enemies didn't win. But someone who never particularly liked me personally. At the last minute, she agreed to let me submit through that cartel.
I sent her the bracelet design. She told me when it was submitted, then later told me that it had been approved, and that she was finally entering it into the contest. Well, it didn't win, and neither did any of my other designs. And I didn't give it another thought.
It's just more than a year later. (I did enter Beauty again this year, but once more I didn't bother to make any new designs for it, just entered whatever I liked that I'd already made, so wasn't surprised I didn't place. Designs have to be pretty fancy and overwrought to win Beauty; you can't win with 'simple elegance' in this contest.) And I decided that I wanted one of that bracelet for myself, so I checked around, and found a jeweler in that cartel, and asked them to make it for me.
They couldn't. There is no such design in the cartel.
It's not possible to delete an approved design, at least not without a god doing it manually, it's not something mortals can do. It used to be possible for a design to be transferred to another cartel, but hasn't been for a long time -- not sure if that's longer than since Beauty 2009 though. While I can't be sure, not sure enough to make an official accusation, by far the most likely explanation: it was never submitted, and the person in question was just stringing me along, intentionally (since how could she tell me when it was approved if it was never even submitted?). Letting me believe all the time I'd poured into crafting the design was not for naught. Reducing my chances of winning, and thus increasing the chances for someone in an enemy nation to win. All for, as far as I can tell, nothing more than petty spite. The kind of spite she won't show in public where it might affect her chances of gaining and holding positions of authority, but is happy to act on as long as those who think she can do no wrong would never see.
It's been more than a year, and it's very, very unlikely that if none of my other twelve designs might have won that this thirteenth would have -- it was definitely not the strongest of the thirteen. But it's still quite a blow to know someone could behave that low. I would not have imagined this person would stoop that low.
Incidentally, I submitted the design just so I can have one anyway. Feh.