Hadean Lands post-completion discussion (spoilers galore!)

I want to start a new thread for people who have finished the game here, to keep the puzzle-hint thread free of clutter and spoilers.

General questions:

  • What exactly is the timeline of events on the Retort? What were each of the crew members really up to pre-accident? What actually caused the accident?
    So Anderes was almost certainly smuggling reagents, with Ctesc helping in return for forbidden books.
    Powes was secretly sabotaging Ctesc’s reagents, for reasons unknown.
    The captain was having a love affair with Ctesc.
    Even we (assuming we are the same person in the main game as in the epilogue) are handing Ctesc illicit books in exchange for some of the knowledge.
    It sure seems suspicious that everybody is connected to Ctesc in some way. It’s also interesting that each crew member, except Ctesc, ends up in the room with a dragon. Were they all simultaneously tampering with the dragons for some reason? Or are their echoes still around because they happened to be in rooms with dragons?
    Ctesc himself doesn’t seem to do anything suspicious, and ends the game in the library. If he’s responsible for the accident, there’s no evidence he did anything directly to cause it.
    And of course the alien oil has somehow infiltrated the ship, placed graffiti in random places, and knows all of the dragon’s “names.”

  • I assume the crewmembers are “soul echoes”/“memory daemons” from just before the accident? If so, where are their bodies? Does your body disintegrate when you transcend to a higher sphere?
    This interpretation seems consistent with their behavior of temporarily animating as a dragon walks by. I have no idea why they leave shadows, though, or why they move significantly each time a dragon awakes. Or why they, and no other crewmembers, left echoes.

  • What is the alien alchemy? How does it know the formulas for the dragons? How did the graffiti get on the ship?
    No real clue here, other than that we recognize the graffiti in the epilogue, and somehow know we won’t recognize it again later.

  • Who are we in the epilogue? Why does the “simple sealing” on the Nave bound do anything at all? (Much less (re)animate the narrator of the main game)?
    The strongest case, I think, is that we’re an alternate/past version of ourselves, and that we somehow reincarnate by speaking the simple sealing in the Nave. Why would this work? Assuming we never had much alchemical knowledge to begin with, why would we have another power to enact what sounds like a tremendously potent ritual? Beats me.

  • Why can’t we read books? We seem to have no problem reading the various letters.
    Of course there’s an obvious gameplay reason: no need to implement any books.

Gameplay questions:

  • Is there more that can be done with the oil? With the alien formulas? The dragon mentions a memory dump available in his lair – how does one access it?
    I haven’t found anywhere that Calyx can be used, except in the presence of a dragon, where I get a message about a memory dump that I can’t figure out how to access.

  • Are there other endings?
    Andrew seems to have answered this question definitely in his twitter. There are no substantially-different endings.

I like your implication that the protagonist might be Ctesc - although I didn’t catch the actual relationships between the crew members.

I tend to think that the epilogue is related mostly to the time distortion aspect of the game. You’re back in the moment of the accident, and a simple sealing is all you know to do, but because of your in-game actions the ship will survive. Something like that. “It was all a dream”

I think the crew members are related to the dragons somehow. In my play, Powes wasn’t in a lair. I went with Baros, which I suspect is the determining factor.

The colorless spark is the memory download - you must’ve seen it to finish, I think? Or else I didn’t quite follow its instructions?

Wow I actually didn’t see the colorless spark, and didn’t create the ballast in my playthrough. The only difference appears to be the very last message in the game.

With ballast:

Without ballast:

It makes me think that more might still be possible.

You’re right that the “memory daemons” are the sparks, and not the crewmembers. What are the crewmembers, then?

Where did they end up in your game? For me:

Captain: Birdhouse
Anderes: Paper Maze Center
Powes: Barosy
(nobody): Aithery
Ctesc: Library

and the Aithery is where I first activated a dragon.

Ctesc wound up in the Barosy, and Powes wound up in the Pyrics lab.

I didn’t even find the intensional ballast recipe, or a colorless spark.

I never wound up using the calyx for anything either.

I thought maybe my reset count would affect the ending (I had 257 resets, mostly because I reset constantly before I did anything).

Also, don’t forget to tweet @zarfeblong that you beat the game, if you want on the leaderboard :slight_smile:.

Did anybody find a user for the aluminum impermeability? That seemed like a major dangling thread.

It also really irked me that I could never complete the granite solvent (due to a lack of slate, I think; I didn’t find any in the game).

Also, the suits seemed like a dangling thread too; the game implies you could use on if you could find a helmet.

Review and Commentary

I enjoyed this more (and got more obsessed with it) than any other puzzlebox game I’ve played. I’m astonished by many aspects of the design of it. Central to my enjoyment was that every single puzzle was derived from a rich, complex, funny and fantastical world model, as if the world model had been designed first and the puzzles arose from that, rather than creating a bizarre world to fit arbitrarily-chosen puzzles. I loved how almost everything had a planetary alignment, an environment, and fitted into theories of music and periodic tables and that these led to puzzles. I loved realising that every substance around me in the ship had implications in alchemical theory. This, along with fair and subtle in-game hinting, lent itself towards glorious sprees of solving (interrupted by lengthy head-wall interactions): because solving the puzzles meant comprehending how the world worked, when I reached a new understanding about the world then major sequences of puzzles would click into place. And every head-wall interface was resolved by understanding something new about the world, rather than obscure object interactions (even if I needed a nudge around 6 times from this thread). Similarly, this rhythm was complemented by the rhythm of the map design: three main stages of map-opening-up (crawlspace, labs, ship) followed by opening smaller sections (dragons, wreck, the final locked doors).

Underpinning all this is a great support structure: the ability to recall facts, formulas and rituals; lists of places and doors to keep track of locked areas; knowing that everything could be looked at through the oculus or planetary lens, and that when I got stuck doing so would generally yield something. And then, of course, this desire to banish as much busywork as possible: the feat of coding that is the “perform [ritual]” command and its associated “go to [place]” and “go to [object]”. An interesting thing about that was how that created an unusual game rhythm: once I understood the reset function, I felt gloriously all-powerful careening about the ship performing complex rituals with a single command, and then in the end-game had to slow everything right down and pay close attention to the detail of every ritual.

But now that I’ve solved all the mechanical puzzles, I’m left with the bigger puzzle of understanding what it was all about. I’m reminded of puzzlebox books like Charles Palliser’s The Quincunx and David Whiteland’s The Knot-Shop Man – books where reading the narrative is massively satisfying, but where there are many hidden patterns, associations and implied sub-plots. I now want to go back through the game, noting down all the plot-text and trying to solve that puzzle. Though that does begin to feel like busywork, so maybe others would like to join me in fact-gathering and speculation? But while the mechanical puzzles give you simple you-got-it reward messages, the plot puzzle will never (I hope) be solved with a ringing coin collection sound: we’ll have to trust our own theories.

My pet theory is that the PC is a homunculus created by the character in the epilogue, who has primed the ship with information the PC needs to save it. Perhaps the PC is a spark of animation placed in the body or past of an apprentice, or perhaps they’re a construct. As the homunculus definition states:

“A homunculus is not a daimon or a servant. It is a seed of animation without volition, a
quickening spark. It cannot act or move on its own; but in combination with other works, it may
become something greater.”

I have some things to back this up with (see below), but I like it most because it feels richly metaphorical: the PC is the player, the epilogue character the puzzle-setter. The game is carefully design to teach a know-nothing player/apprentice everything about the alchemical world; the player becomes and feels greater and greater over the course of the game. This is similar to other games in which a character is a metaphor for a puzzle-setter: GLADoS in Portal, the Narrator in The Stanley Parable. But while in those games player and puzzle-setter are at odds – are constantly taunting and defying each other – in Hadean Lands the two roles are in sympathy, are working together; it’s the inverse, positive spin on the theme. Going to other metaphorical levels, this is also a way to talk about reader and author, or a mind and God: the world feels like a puzzle we’ve been set, and sometimes it feels like it’s been set by a perverse Authority we have to struggle against, and sometimes it feels like it’s trying to encourage us along and help us to see its beautiful structures. It’s interesting to me that there are far, far fewer games with the latter spin.

So, thank you, Zarf.

Speculation

So, my pet theory, that the PC is a homunculus. It was prompted by noting the word “HOMUNCULUS” on the Great Marriagfe text, but then that we never encountered one. Then there’s the homunculus definition:

We do know that the character in the epilogue was trying to get an apprentice to fix the marcher – whether they are or aren’t an apprentice is unclear:

Against this is that we begin (or end the game) by speaking the simple sealing, which is not how to begin a Great Marriage (which is related to creating a homunculus). For this is that throughout the game the PC is being watched over and commented on by a force that complements its success. Similarly, the PC appears to be moving through a ship which has been deliberately primed for them: not just the placement of papers (and solvable puzzle design), but also the memory sparks, which are (I think) memory daimons:

Or is the “spark of animation” mentioned here the homunculus? (“a seed of animation… a quickening spark”) Does “memory daimon” describe the PC?

And then, what is the ship itself? Is it actually the marcher we see in crisis in the epilogue? If so, why is everything not destroyed but just weird? I’m wondering if, somehow, the ship we’re playing in is not the marcher itself but some mirroring or duplication of the marcher which could be used as a model (like a game model!) to fix the actual marcher.

There’s a few leaps in logic there, and I feel like I’m missing some important connections that might make this all clearer. I’d love to hear what you think.

There’s also the question of what the accident was. And what’s the wreck outside in the Hadean Land? Is it the Cold Crucible, which somehow both crashed and didn’t?

All the frozen characters were up to no good, documented below How did their various actions result in the various weirdnesses on the ship, or the accident? Are they all memory daimons of some form?

Other questions about the characters: Do their texts change depending on which dragon is activated first? Can anyone check against mine below? Do they move each time a dragon is reactivated, or only after the first dragon? Did anyone record where they are or what’s said about them at the beginning, when we first meet them? Have I missed any shadow texts? AND WHO IS N?

So many questions!

Characters in End-Game: Pneuma Activated First

Powes (Barosy)

Anderes (Mechanica)

Ctesc (Aithery)

Captain Hart (Birdcage)

I haven’t been to the past positions of the characters to see, but I’d like to. Anyone else?

And from looking into their shadows:

Ctesc
“It appears that Sydney Ctesc has indeed been reaching for advanced alchemical knowledge. But worse: it appears that he is collaborating with Jana Anderes, in Supply. Anderes locates texts in storage, and in return Ctesc aids her in transporting supplies off the Retort for sale on the black market.

“As a result, the Retort is becoming critically short on certain reagents; and who knows what Ctesc is up to with his texts. We will certainly have to bring charges against them both.”

Captain
“I have confirmed that Captain Hart has been conducting a covert affair with Lt Jana Anderes.

“Anderes is apparently involved in some black-market operation, stealing supplies from the Retort and selling them at port. The Captain seems to be entirely unaware of this situation – so we may hold her to account for breach of discipline, but not outright criminal enterprise. This is small comfort, I realize.

“I would normally not bring fraternization to light while rigged for the march. Better to deal with the situation quietly at port; and I clutch the hope that the Captain will come to her senses. However, Anderes’ actions have left the Retort critically short of certain reagents. We may not have the leisure to wait.

–N”

Anderes:
“I must bring to your attention certain discrepancies in the storage records. Significant quantities of reagents have vanished – always those rare and most dearly sold on the black markets at home. The records have been skillfully obscured, but the evidence implicates Lt Anderes.”

Powes

“Powes’ depredations, we find, are concentrated in the Supply department overseen by Lt Jana Anderes. I understand that Anderes has been stealing alchemical supplies, so we must conclude that Powes is targetting Anderes’ black-market efforts.

“I confess I am shocked by the depth of criminal action on this marcher. Is this sort of villainy widespread in the fleet? –But the business at hand. I am now attempting to discover whether Powes was intending to discredit and replace Anderes, or to undermine the marketeers that Anderes was working with, or some more devious scheme…”

I haven’t checked shadows in past stages of the game. Has anyone?

And for the record, interesting facts and rituals:

[spoiler]>recall alien fluid
The alien technology is controlled by liquid metal contained within a circular arc, activated by invoking or visualizing the appropriate geometric sequence.

recall dragon reanimation
"It is now clear that the ritual must be performed in the Chancel. I had hoped – foolishly – that the Nave bound was sufficient; but my attempts there have provoked no reaction from the Retort at all. I suppose that, in attempting to reanimate the dragons, I am in a sense re-enacting the marcher’s original investment. I must therefore maximize the sympathy with the Chancel rituals.

“I am not sure whether I can break through the security strictures, but I will have to try. If I fail, then – whoever finds this – you will have to try harder…”

recall emergency dragon
"If one of a marcher’s dragons becomes disorganized, the vessel is in serious danger. As an emergency measure, the faulty dragon may be subsumed into an active one, transferring its functions. The composite will be unstable, but may suffice to rig the marcher to a safe berth.

“Place a fulcrum in the active dragon’s lair.” (A footnote here: “Any lair will suffice, in fact; the fulcrum merely provides leverage.”) “Prepare an orderly environment and use the Marcher’s Invocation. Follow with a symmetric sequence to indicate a forward transition (active dragon consuming damaged one). Conclude with the Dracon Invocation. This will summon the active dragon; one can then translate it to the presence of the other. Warning: do not allow the dragon’s presence to cross the fulcrum node!”

recall lecture on aither
“Newton presumed that the aither, as a medium, must be everywhere uniform, because physical and alchemical processes were everywhere the same. We now know the contrary: the ‘laws’ of natural science are properties of the aither, and currents of alien aither flow between certain stars. Marchers rarely venture through these foreign belts, for the slightest shift of chymic law poisons human life…”

recall homunculus definition
“A homunculus is not a daimon or a servant. It is a seed of animation without volition, a quickening spark. It cannot act or move on its own; but in combination with other works, it may become something greater.”

recall transition echo
“…in the three centuries since Newton and Malamed’s first march, the experience of spheric transition has become commonplace. But our theory of the phenomenon remains maddeningly incomplete. The ‘echo’ is the most familiar mystery: the traces left behind, howsoever briefly, when any entity enters the Higher Spheres…”

recall echo vibration
“…Chuang argues that the soul exists in an as-yet-undetected medium, a soul-aither as it might be. The echo is then a transitory vibration of this substance. Lacking volition or identity, the vibration is not self-sustaining. Chuang’s computation of the characteristic decay time accords with observation…”

recall soul mirroring
“…as alchemy’s domain now encompasses the human body, the aura, and even the mind, we are left with the question of the soul. Could the human soul be can be created, destroyed, or duplicated by alchemical means? The religious answer is of course an adamant negative. Nonetheless, Nassib’s investigation of the echo phenomenon is provocative, if not yet conclusive evidence of soul mirroring…”

recall vibration technique
“…to combine an aitheric vibration – the transitory structure – with a spark of animation. This is a well-understood technique to create a self-sustaining aitheric form, e.g. memory daimons. But if the supra-aither or soul-aither exists, suggests Gopinathan, then the same technique may be applied…”

recall recursive metaphor
“…that the form or structure of a thing may be joined to the spirit or essence, thus replicating the thing itself, is the foundation of modern practice. Indeed, historians argue that the ‘marriage’ metaphor of ancient alchemy prefigures this principle. But to apply it recursively, parsing the structure and spirit of the spirit itself, requires the utmost care…”

recall cold crucible
“Well, you hear stories, right? Things folk see at the moment we rig out. Flashes, no more. The ghost of the Cold Crucible, lost and drowned in a Thalassan sea… Well, aye, I know the Crucible arrived safe home, and never reported any trouble on Titan. Mayhap the ghost is what didn’t happen. Or what will… Still want to gripe you were posted here 'stead of to the Crucy?”

recall periodic
“We are familiar with earth as a pure element in the Greek system. However, minerals need not be considered as imperfect approximations of a Platonic ideal; each has an alchemical structure, and we may discern relations between them. Thus, marble and obsidian are opposites – white versus black, crystalline versus glassy, pelagic versus volcanic. Soapstone and basalt are another light-dark pair. Other opposing pairs rely on different relations. Chalk and flint are found together, but with different qualities. Granite and slate are formed by opposing geologic processes; so too sandstone and malachite. Porphyry and quartz are an interesting case…”

recall aura clouds
An aura cloud is an uncontained psychic outbreak, a sucking vortex of vital energies. It’s not a ghost, or a demon, but a less scientific age would certainly have viewed it as such. Any living aura that falls into resonance with the cloud will be drained black in moments. You’ll have to protect or disguise your psychic signature, somehow, to pass the medical wing door.

recall musical theory
“Music is the most complex of ritual elements; one might well call it ‘obfuscated.’ We begin with the nursery-school lessons: the pitch A is associated with iron, the color red, the liver; B with bronze, orange, the stomach; C with brass… yes, you can all chant along. But this is simplified to uselessness. What of non-classical metals? We now associate C-sharp with rutilum, F-sharp with aluminum, G-sharp with nickel. Researchers have invented entirely new scales to deal with the spectrum of aither-metals. Then the Eastern Empire uses the well-tempered scale; thus while F-sharp is the mode of extension, G-flat is the mode of ostension, G-natural is intension, G-sharp is paratension, and H – yes, there’s an H – is the mode of recension…”

recall great marriage
“THE GREAT MARRIAGE must be performed at the Heart of the House, in an Orderly Environment.” (…scribbled with an arrow: “?NAVE!”) “…Employ the Marcher’s Invocation to seal an empty Bound. Add a Signifier of the Marcher’s Location to the Gestalt; waft a Resinous Note. Now add the Four Elements to the Bound, and invoke the Dragon.”

Great Marriage? This isn’t modern alchemical science; it’s a fairy tale. And the only indication of the goal is “THE HOMUNCULUS.”

x hyacinth
You focus on the hyacinth spark through the oculus. A new memory comes into focus. “…and when she looked into their shadows…” That’s all you overheard.

x colorless
You focus on the colorless spark through the oculus. A new memory comes into focus. “The weather symbolism in the paper garden has slipped; air quality is impaired. Marcher transit in this state is risky. Recommendation: inscribe an intensional ballast and place it below the garden.”

And then: “An intensional ballast may serve to support a failing alchemical construct, though only in the direst emergency, for the results are uncertain and of limited duration. The ritual is simply a refinement of the universal tarnish cleansing. Add zafranum after the lubanja spirit, and conclude with the Greater Phlogistical Saturation instead of the Lesser. The brass token will then be able to infuse phlogiston, at need, directly into the nearest construct.”

You consider these memories.[/spoiler]

I activated Aistheta first and yes, I had slightly different shadow text. I will post it later; unfortunately, I also didn’t think to take any notes in the midgame (and confess I’m not too enthusiastic about replaying the whole thing just to extract the text).

Does anybody remember if the crewmembers appear in the dragon rooms all at once, or one at a time? Is it possible that each time we reawaken in the Nave, we switch to guiding a different surviving crewmember on the “real” Marcher? (With the first Marriage really being a kind of Divorce, splitting our agency into four parts, one per crewmember/element/dragon…)

I seem to have taken the same path as evouga (reawakening Aistheta first), and I’m curious how Harry managed to activate Pneuma first. As far as I can tell, the only way into Pneuma’s lair is to awaken Aistheta (repairing the paper maze) or to awaken Baros (repairing the Paper Maze - Barosy crawlspace). I must have missed something? I’m pretty sure I could get to any of the others first now that I know the jade bead is replaceable in the aura imitation ritual (although I didn’t notice that hinted anywhere; just intuited it from a list of rituals someone posted in the hint thread).

It looks like the relationships between the four crewmembers depend on which dragon is awakened first. I had the same results as evouga. During the endgame, the crew members move into the lairs of each damaged dragon subsumed by the active one. Not sure if they always move in the same order, or if each has a preferred destination. For me, Anderes moved to the Paper Maze (from Mechanica), Ctesc to the Barosy (from the Deck Suite), and the Captain to the Birdhouse (from outside Pyrics), in that order because that’s the order I happened to grab the rest of the dragons. Powes stayed in the Pyrics lab after the first dragon awakening (presumably he was meant to proceed to the Aithery under some conditions that I didn’t produce? Have Aistheta try to subsume itself, maybe?)

I didn’t see the colorless spark or create the ballast either, and I used “rooms” liberally to find places I hadn’t searched with the oculus. How is this done?

Edit: Also, the cabinet outside the Medical Wing? WTF??? Did anyone manage to open this, or is it just there to mock us?

Just use the oculus again in the room with the dragon to see the colorless spark.

You can open the medical cabinet using the elemental air bubble. I forget what it contains, though from your description it sounds like it’s the maze-solving pendulum ritual that would have let you access Pneuma.

You can replace the symmetric with the antisymmetric formula in the dragon-summoning ritual, and the dragon will still come. Does this have any effect during the midgame?

It sounds like each dragon has a different complaint during the endgame. What text do you get at the very end? Is it the same one about help arriving, or something different?

I had a 7.5 hour train journey today, so I, er, replayed the game to do some plot digging. Text dump of everything I found out about characters (and a little dragon lore) in the spoilers for space-saving.

[spoiler]CHARACTER STARTING POSITIONS

Anderes - Crawlway

Hart - Officer Country

Powes - Grand Stair

Ctesc - Main Store

CHARACTER SHADOWS AFTER THE FIRST MARRIAGE

Anderes Shadow - Crawlway

Ctesc Shadow - Main Store

Captain Shadow - Officer Country

Powes Shadow - Grand Stair


CHARACTER POSITIONS AFTER FIRST MARRIAGE

Ctesc - Deck Suite

Captain - Arcade

Anderes - Lab Wing

Powes - Burning Hall West

CHARACTERS AFTER AWAKENING SYNDESIS FIRST

Anderes in Mechanica

Captain at Lab Hall NE

Powes in Pyrics:

Ctesc at Library

CHARACTERS AFTER AWAKENING SYNDESIS FIRST, BAROS SECOND

Powes now in Barosy:

His shadow now says:

As the dragon passes:

Everyone else is unmoved.

CHARACTERS AFTER AWAKENING SYNDESIS FIRST, BAROS SECOND, PNEUMA THIRD

Anderes now at Pneuma

Her shadow now says:

When the dragon passes:

CHARACTERS AFTER AWAKENING SYNDESIS FIRST, BAROS SECOND, PNEUMA THIRD, AISTHETA FOURTH

Ctesc at Aithery, others unmoved.

Shadow text:

And the dragon passing says:

CAPTAIN SHADOW WHEN PNEUMA WAS AWOKEN FIRST (DIFFERENT PLAYTHROUGH)

“I have confirmed that Captain Hart has been conducting a covert affair with Lt Jana Anderes.

“Anderes is apparently involved in some black-market operation, stealing supplies from the Retort and selling them at port. The Captain seems to be entirely unaware of this situation – so we may hold her to account for breach of discipline, but not outright criminal enterprise. This is small comfort, I realize.

“I would normally not bring fraternization to light while rigged for the march. Better to deal with the situation quietly at port; and I clutch the hope that the Captain will come to her senses. However, Anderes’ actions have left the Retort critically short of certain reagents. We may not have the leisure to wait. –N”

[b]ALTERNATE DRAGON TEXTS WITH PNEUMA FIRST

RIGHT AT THE BEGINNING, THE TORN SHEET

CALYX AXIS BEFORE AND AFTER ALL DRAGONS FUNCTIONING, BAROS FIRST

COLORLESS SPARK WHEN PNEUMA AWAKENED FIRST

EPILOGUE WITH BAROS FIRST

EPILOGUE WITH PNEUMA FIRST

[/spoiler]

So, mechanics:

  • All characters move and leave a shadow after the first marriage
  • When you awaken a dragon, they move, but their new shadows have the same text
  • With each subsequent dragon, one character moves to that position with a substantial plot reveal
  • The characters always move to the same dragon and reveal the same plot, but in each playthrough one will not get there (whichever dragon you awoke first and its associated character)
  • Which dragon you awake first changes where the final fault is that needs the intensional ballast (under that dragon) and some text near the beginning of the epilogue (I’m not quite sure what the association is).
  • Which dragon you awake first changes some of the dragon-passing-character texts in the final stages of the game, but not all.

I’m not planning to replay again; I’d be really interested in the texts (especially epilogue and dragon-passing texts) for wakening the other two dragons first.

Plot speculation:

  • Four dragons, four elements, four characters! Lovely.
  • The Epilogue character, assuming they stay the same in each playthrough, is not Anderes or the Captain (because they’re referred to in the third person). They’re also not N (because they helped Anderes). I think they are a fifth element in all this.
  • Or a sixth, because who is N?
  • But N might have made a mistake. The Captain is may not be having an affair with Anderes - at least, Anderes doesn’t know why the captain hasn’t turned her in, which would be odd if they were lovers. Unless that thought was from the past. And the Captain does want to meet Jana.
  • Which leads me to another theory: What if N’s reports are unreliable? What if N is the Captain’s lover, and was working with Jana? That would make N the character in the epilogue.
  • About the accident. It’s a clusterfuck. Anderes is selling off reagents, Powes is sabotaging reagents to try and take out the Captain, Ctesc is trying to steal knowledge from the Captain’s mind, and the Captain is either complicit or oblivious. I suspect what happened is that Ctesc blackmailed a stolen reagent from Anderes, but it has been sabotaged by Powes and caused a massive accident. Either that or there was an alien attack and the weakening of stock from Powes and Anderes made it disastrous – but that’s less elegant, though it does explain the alien stuff.
  • I’m sticking with my theory that the character in the epilogue creates some form of mirror of the marcher and a homunculus to navigate it and save the day. It would explain things like the blank books and other weirdnesses, ties some of the facts you find together, and feels elegant to me. It’s interesting that the mirror-marcher (or whatever it is) is preserving memories of the four characters most responsible for the real marcher’s downfall – again, I feel that supports the theory.

If you use the symmetric formula, Summoned Dragon eats Dead Dragon. If you use the antisymmetric formula, Dead Dragon eats Summoned Dragon. In both cases, everything seems fine afterwards.

This is a convenient way to move around your living dragon if you regret your initial choice.

OK, since this is the spoiler thread, I’m going to post my theory here. I have developed this theory painstakingly over a period of LITERALLY tens of seconds, so surely it’s canonically right and perfect.

(1) The details of what caused the accident aren’t as important as its nature. The accident involved the marcher summoning/colliding/merging with the ship and/or beings from the aether, which I am going to keep spelling that way because autocorrect. This explains the black marks, the ruined marcher, and also the ruined alien wreck. The accident damaged both ships.

(2) From a narrative perspective, the epilogue is the first event in the game. The protagonist wakes up in the alien ship, as a consequence of the merging. Already at this point, she is infected/helped/merged with some of the aether-beings nature. She may, in fact, already be a homunculus.

(3) The protagonist goes back to the marcher and tries to fix everything. She dies, but leaves notes and rituals to help on future homunculi, each one getting a little closer to restoring the Comic Yadda Yadda Yadda Balance. The key thing to realize here is that she is working to restore BOTH ships, though methods that I would need to think about for literally MORE tens of seconds to come up with a plausible explanation for.

It’s a clusterfuck, but there is one main plot, which changes depending on which dragon wakes first. There is always one character who is 1) central to the shenanigans of the other three; 2) does not end up in a dragon room; and 3) is implicated in the epilogue as having caused the accident.

After about 5 days of pretty solid play, and thanks to some hints from you all, I made it through!

I started with Pneuma, and my text followed Harry’s Pneuma-first version. I assumed I was Ctesc in the epilogue because of the comment about getting reagents for Anderes. I assume that the different versions depending on dragon chosen indicate that the actions of any of the four crew members could have taken the ship down, in one reality or another.

During the game, I assumed I really was Ensign J. Forsyth, as noted on the map. I assumed that the marcher I was on was having a time-dimensional accident as well as physical issues, so that I was stuck in a different time (or possibly a different reality) than the four crew members – as I assumed happened with the Crucy. I wondered if the sparks might be momentary flashes into other crew members’ thoughts or memories, but wasn’t sure if they’d been intentionally captured for me or were just chance. I also assumed that the occasional italic commentary was my sergeant cheering me on from some other time or reality (I assume now this is the dead sergeant mentioned in the epilogue, so I’m not sure). And I thought from the reanimation notes that someone else had tried to rescue the ship previously and failed, but I don’t know if it was the person I was in the epilogue or not.

I assumed that the person in the epilogue had sealed this time-chunk (possibly capturing the sparks and crew members at the same time?) almost like a “save game” right before the disaster became irreversible. It’s interesting how the game has very little time urgency, and how the time voids leave memories (and they have associations with time as seen through the oculus).

I played most of the game without realizing I could go view sparks whenever using RECALL ROOMS, so I was lead through the plot by happening to notice certain sparks at certain times, which I really liked. It kept the flow of useful information a little more manageable. Not sure now how much of this was rooms unlocking and how much was actually having sparks catch my eye at different times?

Anyway, I love rich, neat worlds with stories that can be created as played in multiple ways from multiple views, so I thought it was great!!

Very strong evidence that the PC is a homunculus:

and

Nice one!

Peterb’s antisymmetric tip made it a quick job to check a third branch. This is in the dragon order B-S-A-P:

[spoiler]Captain Hart is nearby, standing with her arms crossed and a patient expression on her face.

The Captain has flung herself into this situation for her own reasons. But you wish her timing had been better.

The Captain has flung herself into this situation for her own reasons, and you’re not about to accuse your superiors of bad judgement.

“I have confirmed that Captain Hart has been conducting a covert affair with Lt Michael Powes.

“The situation is fraught. Powes appears to have been contaminating the Retort’s alchemical supplies – part of some scheme to discredit another officer. I believe that Hart is aware of this, and is manipulating Powes to learn more. Powes does not know himself under suspicion; he genuinely believes that the Captain is indulging in an affaire d’coeur. How he reconciles such a breach with the Captain’s record, I cannot speculate.

“Nor can I imagine why the Captain feels the need to investigate through such melodramatic means. But Powes’ depredations are becoming a serious problem. I intend to approach the Captain privately and broach the question at the first opportunity. –N”

The dragon slides past the Captain’s frozen form. As it does, you hear her voice: “How can I meet Michael in the crawlway without being seen?” She has not moved.

Ensign Ctesc is leaning against the handrail. He should not be up here. Of course, neither should you; but Ctesc made it here first, and perhaps for better reasons.

Ctesc must have found what he was hunting for. Young as he was, he clearly would let nothing stand in his way. You wish, rather selfishly, that his drive had destroyed him before it caused such trouble.

Ctesc must have found what he was hunting for. Young as he was, he clearly would let nothing stand in his way. You wish he had managed to harness that drive; his selfishness has caused great trouble.

“It appears that Sydney Ctesc has indeed been reaching for advanced alchemical knowledge. But worse: it appears that he is collaborating with Lieutenant Powes.Powes has been passing restricted texts to Ctesc; in return, Ctesc has been aidingPowes in tampering with certain supplies.

“Ctesc has a deeper aim than merely sabotaging the Retort. I hope to learn more soon; but in any case, we will have to intervene before the contaminated reagents cause a serious incident.”

The dragon slides past the Ensign’s frozen form. As it does, you hear his voice: “Powes can’t turn me in now; I’ve got as much on his sabotage as he has on me.” He has not moved.

Lt Anderes is here, poised as if stepping out of the maze. Though she is still caught in mid-movement, her stance crackles with energy.

Lt Anderes and her partners have managed to put the entire marcher at risk. Well, if the Retort is going down, at least they’ll be dragged down with you.

Lt Anderes and her partners have managed to put the entire marcher at risk. You’re astonished that they could plan so well, and so poorly, at the same time.

“I have firm evidence that Jana Anderes is guilty of graft. She has been slowly removing rare reagents from storage, transporting them off the Retort when in home port, and profiting from their illicit sale.

“She is being aided in this enterprise by Lieutenant Powes; he has been using his authority to cover up Anderes’ thefts, and also to hide the stolen supplies before their sale. I suppose he takes a share of the profit, although I have not yet been able to confirm this. But in any case, the Retort is becoming critically short on certain supplies. We will have to bring charges against them both.”

You focus on the colorless spark through the oculus. A new memory comes into focus. “The Barosy foundation has cracked, imperiling stability. Marcher transit in this state is risky. Recommendation: inscribe an intensional ballast and place it within the crevice.”

Your cleaning work in the alchemy lab… no. Not important. This must be Powes’ fault. All the time you’ve spent setting him up for a fall, he must have been trying to set you up… you wouldn’t have believed it of him. But surely he couldn’t have intended this catastrophe.[/spoiler]

So the which dragon is active changes who the captain has an affair with, who is is covering up for Anderes, and who Ctesc is semi-blackmailing – to whoever is associated with that dragon, putting them at the centre of the disaster and referenced in the epilogue, as Evouga pointed out.

This means that the story of the crash changes depending on which dragon is activated first, and can be changed mid-game by use of the antisymmetric invocation. Strange! This doesn’t seem to have an in-narrative explanation…

unless I’m right than N’s reports are unreliable, and that N is the character in the epilogue. The epilogue texts don’t appear to be contradictory, and also imply closeness between the Captain and the epilogue character. In this reading, perhaps N deliberately plants false evidence in the mirror-marcher for covering up for their ultimate complicity in the crash? It seems that the one constant is that the unnamed epilogue character is also complicit in the accident.

Another possibility for explaining the epilogue texts is that the epilogue character also changes depending on which dragon is awoken first. But I find this way less satisfying!

Evouga, you started with Aistheta first, is that right? Can you save me another trip and remember (or have recorded) the epilogue text for that one?

I’m not sure this is quite right. Here’s my epilogue:

[spoiler]The whirling haze in the bound slows. It is more difficult to see, now; not dissipating, but developing an aching lucent clarity. The space above the pedestal seems more transparent than air.

speak dracon
You rumble your way through the Dracon Invocation.

A sense of pressure builds in the air. You feel something move, in the distance. The bound slowly dims.

Pneuma slides into the Chancel, through the writ screen; across the ceiling; towards the pedestal. It seems to move slowly, but you have no sense of time to react.

The dragon is above the pedestal now. The whirling haze rises to meet it. Then the rotating sea-green runes begin to descend, one by one, loosed from their circles, free in the darkening air.

Blood, incense, ruin, screams.

*** You had awakened ***

You were buried in wreckage
Weight pressed down on you. You could not make out what had fallen – broken beams, chunks of ceiling tile – but it hurt. You hurt. You tried to shift; the only way out was up.

u
You pushed debris aside. A chill bled into stale, hot air. You bled too, and wrenched your body free.

You have crawled into a ruined corridor
The light has nearly vanished. The dimness and vertigo have rendered the laboratory corridor of the Retort nearly unrecognizable.

Your cleaning work in the alchemy lab… no. Not important. Could this be Anderes’ fault? All the reagents you’ve liberated for her… but she’s always so careful when she stashes them. No profit in broken glass.

You’ve seen the way out of here.

n
You have made your way along the corridor, scrambling over fallen debris. And a few human forms, but none of them breathe.

You’ve recognized the hand of Sergeant Brooks protruding obscenely from under stone. You’ve passed it by.

You will reach the Nave
The Nave will be as dark as the rest of the Retort; moth-flickers of phlogiston will dance in the lamps. The floor will be clear now, the ceiling whole; but the walls will be dense with black, alien markings. You will not recognize them. You will not understand how they got there.

The marcher will be abandoned, as far as you will be able to see.

You will barely have learned the rudiments of alchemy, but the ritual bound will be unscathed. Surely there will be something you can try.

speak simple
An apprentice bringing a marcher back to life… it should not be possible. But you will have a notion, a fragment of memory, that help will arrive. Repairs will be made.

*** You will begin ***[/spoiler]

So the epilogue moves from past to present to future: the “will be” in the Nave is narrated from the temporal perspective of the ruined corridor. So the character in my epilogue doesn’t recognise the alien markings: only the PC gains that ability during the main game.

I’ve thought of three explanations for this. One is PeterB’s: that the epilogue character (or her homunculus) keeps attempting to fix everything, getting a little better every time, and leaving notes for future homunculi. But that still doesn’t quite explain how she got started. A second explanation is that all this is somehow being engineered by the dragons, or a dragon: that the dragons somehow intervene in the ritual begun in the epilogue to create a mirror-ship. The third, most convoluted explanation, which is naturally my favourite, is that the alien markings and alien intervention in general are not actually malign: rather, they’re a benign intervention into the crashing ship to help rescue it. The crashing is caused by the quartet of characters only, with help from the epilogue character (who may be N), and the alien markings/intelligences (perhaps they’re native to Hadean Lands?) intervene in the epilogue character’s ritual to set the whole game in motion. Perhaps they are the “help” that arrives in the better of the two endings found thus far.