The Let's Play Archive


by Bobbin Threadbare

Part 55: Puzzles and Persuasions

Veranix 22-26

You’re a bit startled today when you see Professor Valenta, the arithmetic instructor, at the podium as dialectics class begins. One of your classmates actually groans out loud, though you can’t tell who. The professor pretends not to notice.

I’m afraid Professor Sido isn’t feeling well today (or so he’s told the rest of us), so he asked me to come talk to you about mathematical logic and geometric proofs, and how up-and-coming dialecticians can make use of them in their own studies.
I’m sure she could get Professor Monetario if you’d rather.
Well, then. Let’s get started, shall we? Modern mathematical logic has its origins in the days of the Early Empire, when a philosopher named Philo of Maron…

Iliana’s too good a student not to pay attention, but why write things down when Sido won’t ever put it in a test?

You’d never given a whole lot of thought to the history of math before, but it’s actually kind of interesting. Some of the early schools sound more like cults than a bunch of nerds shouting at one another about the definition of pi. And even then they managed to spruce up the latter by including a few assassinations over stuff like irrational numbers.

Credit where credit is due: Professor Valenta is really excited about the subject. It’s a good lecture!

Well, it’s happened again.

Once again, you just happened to be in the bad part of the docks, minding your own business, talking with some of the pirates who use the area, and once again you wound up crossing paths with buccaneers who don’t happen to like Asad the Lion very much (nor you by association), so once again you’ve been shanghaied at sword point. Once again, you know you won’t be held for more than a day or two thanks to the potential ire of the Academagia faculty, but once again you’d rather not wait that long and so once again you’ve challenged the captain to a contest for your freedom.

At least the contest itself is different. You and the captain will take turns walking along the plank not currently attached to the dock to see how far you can go before overbalancing and falling off.

The words aren’t exactly the same, but this event is a shot-for-shot remake of the last pirate contest with the boxes and crates that needed moving below decks. The bit with accusing the captain of losing his sea legs in particular is almost identical. At least the choices are different. Everything’s green, but Manipulation seems the most hilarious.

You give the captain a smirk, look over at the pier beyond the precarious plank, and say:

I’ll go first.
Yer tryin’ ta trick me, aren’t ya? I’ll go first.

Oh good, he fell for it. The captain steps onto the plank and walks to the end, the wood swaying forebodingly beneath his feet. Turning back to you, the captain is dismayed to see a bored, unimpressed look on your face. Scowling, he inches further out, moving his heels off the plank which wobbles worryingly with every movement.

How d’ya like it now?

You respond by rolling your eyes. Too angry to think straight, the captain moves farther out, and just a bit too quickly. The plank bucks once too often and the captain goes down head over heels, crashing through a web of ropes before landing heavily on the dry dock several feet below. As the ship’s crew swarm down the side to save their captain, you take advantage of the situation to slip off the ship and sneak off.

In your experience, the Emperor’s Sphinx rarely displays much emotion beyond “amused superiority” except on special occasions. Thus your surprise is understandable when, upon showing the Sphinx the title of the book you rescued from the evil bug-men, her eyes go wide with shock.

The Book of Deep Shadows! How did you get this? Where did you find it? Tell me everything.

You explain what happened, starting with the note in Bassan and ending with your escape from the hidden cavern.

…and so we stashed it in the Library of Longshade until I came to show it to you. I know it’s about Mastery, but why is it so important to hide this thing?
It is far more than a simple study of the Mastery arts, if the rumors are true. I have never laid eyes upon this book before now, dearest, but its reputation precedes it. Sadly, I know very little about what occurred sixty-six years ago; few of the faculty were among my network at the time, and the disappearances were kept very hushed up. I shall need to do more research on the subject before I can tell you what must happen next. Until then, I advise you to keep the book secret, and keep it safe.

You nod as you pack the codex away. You happen to know of just the bleeding vault where it would be safe; you’ll just have to borrow back a certain amulet from Garibaldi first…

I also have other news regarding Octavius’ Wall. It would seem the traitor of Aultrine was serving not only his own fear of death, but the Dragons themselves. And one of them came to his aid.
The Wall did not fail, at least not completely, and the Dragon was forced to veer off, but this is still grave news. It should not have been able to come nearly as close as it did. And to turn an Aultrine grandmaster to its cause…I fear the Wall may fall in your lifetime. No wonder they refused to tell anyone.
But why not?! If we could warn people—
They would either panic, which is unproductive, or, more likely, they would refuse to believe that such a thing is possible. To make people believe that something so basic has failed requires unavoidable truth, and that will not come until the Wall itself has fallen. No, I suspect Legate Orsi has already contacted those who are placed to both believe that the Wall is weakening and to do something about it, and from there it is a matter of martialing forces in secret for when they are needed. I, too, have certain contacts whom I shall inform. But for the sake of your own reputation, Iliana, do not go spreading the word. It will not be of any help. Instead, study and become the greatest mage you can be, and pray the Wall falls only after your education is complete.
To that end, what is it you wish to study today?
I, um…it doesn’t seem that important now, but I wanted to solve the Block Puzzle.
Ah, a worthy goal. Solving the Block Puzzle of the Academagia marks you as exceptional—yes, dearest, we both know you are already, but public acknowledgement is always beneficial, is it not? I shall train you to solve lesser Puzzles, then. From your account, it would seem you still have much to learn of Gates Phemes, so we shall study that next. You know, King Morvidus was a powerful Gates user in his time; not so good as Queen Icanyke, which is why her college represented the field before the school was banned, and Morvidus was too thoughtful to use it harmfully, but he always had a way with Seeking Friends in Hidden Places. I shall begin by showing you a basic nine-by-nine block puzzle with regular shapes; there is a simple-to-learn technique that will let you solve any such puzzle quickly and efficiently, and knowing it is a requirement to solving Academagia’s version.

You’re up in front of the class.

Okay, Iliana, give us a simple thesis. Flore, argue against it.

Option 1 there ends with, “I win because Flore can’t stop laughing long enough to argue.” Iliana isn’t much of a class clown, and she’s not that in favor of honesty, so let’s go with Temperance.

Flore chuckles.

Every other class in this school teaches something with a measurable, practical use. This class just teaches us ways to make people feel bad for believing what they believe in. No, wait, sorry, that’s not in the form of a question. Have you learned anything here that would help you, for instance, get a job?
I think learning to question assumptions is very useful, yes.
Like how?
Like assuming I have to respond when someone baits me.

Flore can only smile and nod her defeat.

Today we shall focus on jigsaw puzzles. They are actually quite rare since you need a special machine to create them, but of course the Imperial Palace has several hidden here and there. In addition, we shall study several complicated Knots for you to untangle. Finally, I am still a bit nostalgic after talking of Morvidus yesterday; have I ever told you much about Queen Hedi? She was one of my favorites. Without speaking a single lie, she so contorted the truth that she convinced the Dragons themselves that she had given up on independence while she was still marshaling to support King Durand. Studying her method of Speaking Quietly of Riddles is quite illuminating indeed…

Today’s dialectics class is basically just free reading. Professor Sido announced as class began that his planned discussion topic turned out to be “dull as a wet pair of socks,” so he proposed to hold class outside to make up for it—and that’s when it began to rain.

So instead, you all migrated over to the Venalicium Library. You’re all supposed to write a one-page paper on something society takes for granted, but…well, it’s Sido. Give him two sentences and a good joke and he’ll probably give you full credit.

True to form, you can actually get away with napping. Still, Sido deserves some effort, doesn’t he?

Who’s a paper-writing machine? You think it might just be you. Professor Sido takes your paper with a nod, and you see him grinning as he skims through it. Good work!

An upperclassman you don’t recognize catches you in the hallway and tells you to go to the Dragon Nose Pizza to pick up dinner for him while he studies. You try to explain you don’t know what in the world he means, but he cuts you off. “It’s a new food shop downtown. It’s between the baker and the silversmith on Mill Road.”

You’re familiar with the area, but you don’t recall seeing any sort of food shop. Beyond the baker, that is. Unwilling to argue with an upperclassman, you head off with his written order in one hand and the money to pay for it in the other.

As it happens, finding the shop is no trouble, and you wind up in a small one-room shop filled with tables and a wide counter at the back. You place your order for a “pizza,” apparently a wide, flat bread covered with assorted toppings which are in this case onions, mushrooms, and goat cheese.

While you wait for the pizza to cook in a large two-chamber oven, you end up chatting with the owner, who explains how he immigrated from Strozza recently, where pizzas are considered a staple. He thus decided to bring a bit of Strozza with him by opening this shop.

When the owner goes to check on his ingredients, you look around the room and notice a large man standing next to a door near the kitchen. You’d seen him when you entered, obviously, but now he seems to be nervous about something, shuddering and whimpering like a child. You decide to walk up to him and ask:

Is there something wrong?
I’m guarding this door and I can’t leave, but I really gotta relieve myself. In private, like.

This is an odd, odd event. Nothing much else to say about it, really.

You scoff at the man’s whining.

How come a big grownup like you is worried about a thing like that? I’ll bet you can do it quick enough that…whoever it is won’t notice you left.
Yeah, yer right! I’ll be back in no time!

The large man dashes off around the corner. Your pizza seems to be ready, also, so you take it and head back, convinced you did your good deed for the day.

You know, I was wondering. What kind of spell do you use to see the past? I mean, all Window to the Past really does is help me remember names and dates better. It’s not like a literal window.
True, it is a bit misnamed. But then Glamour is poor at actually recreating past events; you may be surprised to learn that Incantation is better in this field. In fact, I believe I shall teach you the spell From Nothing, Knowledge. It’s not precisely the spell I used, but it is easier to learn. For today’s Puzzle lesson, we shall use rimbal figures and examine strategy based on their placement.
…Oh. I don’t really play rimbal all that much. Or watch it.
Truly? Well, you should at least learn what the Rimbal Positions do so you can follow along. The boxes with the figures are several stories down and well-marked; go and retrieve them, please.
How come you can’t just magic them up here like usual?
Because bringing the boxes upstairs without dropping them or taking too many loads will be an excellent way to teach you how to properly Transport goods. Go now; the sooner it is over, the sooner we may begin something more pleasant.

Professor Sido has just spent the better part of half an hour talking about some of his adventures in the courts of Meril, where poison was common, ladies were bold (including a certain unnamed guest lecturer), and itinerant professors occasionally found themselves locked in wine cellars (for reasons he never gets around to listing). It was one of his better sessions, and the class has been in hysterics.

Now, as the last few minutes of class trickle out, the professor decides to become serious.

Now here’s a topic people are still arguing about in the wider world: Gates magic. Nobody questions that it can be incredibly useful—just think what commerce would be like if we could just send goods from here to Ivres in a second and a half, no pirates or bad winds or any other nonsense airships have to put up with. Think how many lives could be saved with instantaneous access to medicine and healers!
But it’s illegal, and it’s not just illegal because some non-wizards got together and told us it scared them; it’s illegal because the greatest wizards in the world got together and said, “Two or three mages a year get a Gates spell wrong so badly it wipes out an entire village, leaving the rest of us to put down zombies for the next decade or two. That bothers us so much, we’re just all going to promise to step in and punish anyone who tries to do it ever again.” What do you all think? Right call? Overreaction?

This may not be the best place for Iliana to stick her neck out for Gates. Maybe let someone else speak first?

Flore snorts in disdain.

Total scam. If you think the really powerful wizards gave up on Gates, you’re going to be in for a rude surprise one day. All they’ve done is made sure that “lesser” wizards can’t keep up with them. It’s a secret monopoly, not a ban.

Now there’s a worldview cynical enough to hide behind! Especially after Orsi’s stunt with the robe back on the Festival of Blooms. As an odd side note, the overreaction option has disappeared.

I agree with Flore. Seriously, even if they do have the best intentions, arch-wizards obviously don’t get where they are by making the same mistakes the average spellcaster does. How many of those guys would give up on a big slice of power just because it can make a mess if misused?

As you walk through the bestiary, a powerful force suddenly pulls you against a cage door. You can hear the cloth of your robes shred as a sucking sensation begins to move across your back.

Some kind of creature is trying to eat you! You’d better escape before you become lunch for the beastie…

Astrology could always use a boost.

You cast the Principle of Co-Linearity and you’re free! You turn around and realize that it was just a hungry giant anteater who was attracted to the biting ants infesting your robes.

Wait, what?!

You begin screaming and dancing around to get the ants off, and your odd behavior winds up becoming a main attraction among the occupants of the bestiary.

At least you end up learning something about ants.

Alright, everyone. Today’s class is a chance for extra credit, pure and simple. Write me a five-page paper—or less, if you can do it well—on Chauranglaith’s Choice. You can refer to your textbooks as much as you like. The three papers that show the most thought win, oh, say three points toward your final grade. Three out of a hundred, mind you. Not a huge amount, but if you’re right on the edge, it just might keep your parents from disowning you. Begin!

Welcome to the last Scene from a Dialectics Class. You’ll remember I told you it wasn’t really building up to anything? Well, this somewhat hard First Principles check is basically as big as it gets. The game is really stingy with its Extra Credit points, I’ve noticed.

Even before you finish, you already know this is one of the best papers you’ve ever written. You know the material backward and forward, and your take on it could make a grown scholar weep with jealousy. Why, your skill with dialectics is rivaled only by your modesty!

…Fine, but it’s still a good paper.

It is undoubtedly good to learn from one’s mistakes. There are times when one messes something up and takes the time to reflect back, consider one’s errors, and find ways to do better next time. You would even be so willing as to say that most mistakes fall into this category. In almost all cases, one can learn something valuable from screwing up.

But then there are the things one would really just rather forget. The things that were so stupid, so inexcusably moronic, so…let’s say embarrassing, that it’s better just to forget they happened. Like the time when you were six and got caught trying to sneak into the kitchen larder, hunting for some extra dessert, and you wound up tipping over the stockpot as you tried to flee. The room smelled like chicken for months afterward, long after your rear ceased stinging. Then there was the time you failed to study for a test since you were certain you knew the material backwards and forwards, only to see your confidence dashed when your tutor handed back your paper.

And then there was the time you made the mistake of writing in your journal that you thought a certain professor—let’s not say who—was rather attractive. “Rather attractive” wasn’t the term you used, but the actual words don’t bear thinking about. What does is that this was definitely one of those things that must be swept into the dustbin of forgotten history, uninvestigated and unrecorded. Nobody ever needs to know about the silly, stupid crush you had when you first arrived at school. It wasn’t even a crush, really. And no one would know if you’d been more careful. You should have torn that page out of the journal, scribbled over it, burned it, and dropped the ashes off the edge of the island. Anything to keep that childish infatuation from ever seeing the light of day.

But you didn’t. You foolishly trusted that a private entry in a private journal would remain precisely that: private. And if you were a little less clumsy, you’d have been right. If you hadn’t tried to carry so many books at once, you wouldn’t have dropped them all across the hallway floor. And why were you carrying your journal anywhere? Why would you take a notebook full of your most private thoughts and musings out of the safety of your room? If you just hadn’t had that thought of doing some writing “au naturale,” you wouldn’t be in this mess. How nice it would be, you thought, to sit under a tree or by a stream and record my innermost hopes and dreams and observations to look back upon in my old age! How selfless of me to give my eventual biographers such an important tool to capture my youth as I lived it! And now you’re not even sure you’ll reach old age! If this information becomes common knowledge, you’re pretty sure you’ll drop dead of embarrassment!

And of all the people to be standing near when you dropped it, it just had to be Reitz von Lutersee! Everyone at school knows him as the biggest busybody on campus. He collects snippets and secrets like currency, auctioning them off for money and favors. And now your deepest, darkest secret has become just one more of those trinkets, a shiny bauble he can dangle in front of other students until curiosity overwhelms them and they agree to his terms of exchange.

And that’s why you’re now in Reitz’s room, trying to figure out a way to keep your secret a secret. You started by asking nicely. You made veiled threats, and not-so-veiled threats. You even begged and pleaded. But Reitz remains a true professional, unmoved by sentiment or sympathy. He wants something in exchange that’s worth his silence, and so he offers you a choice:

I can’t unsee what I’ve seen, y’see? Once I get a secret such as yours, it’s mine forever. Secrets are very valuable, you see, and I can’t just throw them away like a worthless rag. Heck, I can’t ever throw them away. I can’t forget them. But my silence is also worth something, and to buy that, you’ll need to give me something of equal value. Give me a secret now on par with yours or a favor later of my choosing, and I’ll take your little commodity off the market.

How about a third option?

(Thanks, SystemLogoff)

Iliana? You still in there?
Yes. I was just…considering my options.
Then which is it? A favor, or a rumor?

If Iliana was ever going to be friends with this guy, well, that’s off the table now. As a side note, if Iliana were already friends with Reitz, this event wouldn’t have fired at all. But going back to the choices, while I don’t think owing Reitz a favor ever actually leads to anything, Iliana clearly hates the idea of owing him anything. Let’s cross our fingers and go with Gossip.

How about this? Professor Monetario hates geometry. He told me he’d rather be an artist, but he sucks at it.
No good. Everyone in his classes knows he hates his job.
Okay, okay. What about Professor Sido’s connection to Lady Melisende? He came here under mysterious circumstances that—
Everyone’s heard the story since the two of them made up. Try again.

You didn’t want to do this, but Reitz has left you no choice. You relate a story that was told to you by a certain professor, one that involves another professor, a weekend field trip, and large amounts of alcohol. The teacher was just trying to make you feel better about a stupid decision you made by showing you that others make them, too.

Reitz eats it up, which leaves you off the hook. Your conscience is troubled by what was essentially a betrayal, but you were backed into a corner. You just hope that the professor in question used the story on more than one student so it won’t be obvious who blabbed.

Alright. I’ll need to check on this to make sure you aren’t making it up—don’t you worry, I have my ways—but if it looks good, consider your secret safe with me. Can I ask you one question, though?

You shrug and give a halfhearted nod.

What were you thinking? There are way better-looking profs at this school!

…And can you even believe he said that?! I just wanna…soak…his little…pinhead!
Iliana? Dearest? You must calm down if you wish to learn anything at all today. Now, normally I try to avoid encouraging such anger by reinforcing it, but I see that your ire will not dissipate completely today, so I believe I shall instead show you how to properly channel such rage. Our study of Puzzles shall continue, but our other lessons shall consist of Dueling Conduct, Mastery Methods, and the characteristics of Mammals, of which category I must assure you Reitz is still a member.

Gains of the Week

Successful adventure!
--Relationship with Evdokseia Valenta increased to 3.
--Famous Geometry Problems increased by 1 step.
Matched Wits with the Emperor’s Sphinx.
--Seeking Friends in Hidden Places increased by 1 step.
--Puzzles increased by 1 step.
----Malice increased by 1.
------Spite pheme learned.
--Gates Phemes increased by 1 step.
----Bone pheme learned.
----Gates increased by 1.
------Summoning pheme learned.
Successful event!
--Manipulation cannot be increased.

Successful adventure!
--Wit cannot be increased.
--Relationship with Flore Yveuillet increased to 1.
Matched Wits with the Emperor’s Sphinx.
--Knots increased by 1 step.
----Explore increased by 1.
------Air pheme learned (9! 9 Air phemes! Ah ah ah!)
--Puzzles increased by 1 step.
----Strip pheme learned.
--Speaking Quietly of Riddles increased by 1 step.

Revision Spells increased by 1.
--Revision Spells skill maxed!
--Revise Homework spell learned.
Successful adventure!
--First Principles increased by 1 step.
--Dialectic Extra Credit increased by 1.
--Relationship with Tarvixio Sido increased to 1.
Matched Wits with the Emperor’s Sphinx.
--Rimbal Positions increased by 1 step.
----Ends pheme learned.
--Puzzles increased by 1 step.
----Divisible pheme learned.
--Transport increased by 1 step.
----Fitness pheme learned.
--Incantation Methods increased by 1 step.
----Incantation Methods skill maxed!
----From Nothing, Knowledge spell learned.
Successful event!
--Conversation increased by 1 step.
Low Stress [actually the Piety buff just wore off]! You now feel Golden: +1 to Charm and +40 to Parental Approval (175).

Conversation increased by 1.
--Conversation skill maxed!
--Exgarcot’s Extraordinary Gift spell learned.
Successful adventure!
--Intrigue increased by 1 step.
----Exaggerate pheme learned.
--Relationship with Flore Yveuillet increased to 2.
Successful event!
--Learned about Insects skill.

First Principles increased by 1 step.
Successful adventure!
--Dialectic Study level cannot be increased.
--Dialectic Extra Credit increased by 3.
--Intelligence increased by 1.
Matched Wits with the Emperor’s Sphinx.
--Mammals increased by 1 step.
--Puzzles increased by 1 step.
----Jumble pheme learned.
--Duel Conduct increased by 1 step.
----Air pheme learned (10th time, but there are still 12 more places to learn it!)
--Mastery Methods increased by 1 step.
----Amicita pheme learned.
Corradin d’Alfi failed to cast True Friendship.
Successful event!
--Relationship with Reitz von Lutersee increased to 2.
--Character is maxed and cannot be decreased.

New Abilities

Revise Homework (Spell): Intelligence/Revision Spells v21; +2 Extra Credit in class of choice (usable 1/week).
From Nothing, Knowledge (Spell): Intelligence/Incantation Methods v4; +1 step in 2 random skills.
Exgarcot’s Extraordinary Gift (Spell): Charm/Befriend v9; +1 Glory and +4 to Conversation and +3 to Befriend regardless for 6 days.