Kingdom: Fear and Loathing in Emporopolis (Updated June 20, 2013)
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    Kingdom: Fear and Loathing in Emporopolis (Updated June 20, 2013)

    So my group and I have been playing a FATE game in a sword & sorcery setting, a decadent Byzantine Empire-like analogue. Magic involves working with spirits, who are at best alien and uncanny, at worst... let's not go there, and none of whom are nice. There are two forms of it: Sorcery, in which one makes an actual pact with a single spirit. This gives great power, but it is limited to the spirit's sphere of influence. Then there's Wizardry, which involves stealthily siphoning off power from the spirit of your choice. It's weaker but much more flexible. It's theoretically possible to be both a wizard and a sorcerer, but the investment of time (and game resources) is prohibitive.

    The official religion of the Chrysian Empire is the Church of the Logos, which forbids sorcery and grudgingly permits wizardry. But many noble houses dabble in sorcery sub rosa because it's so useful, and many people still clandestinely worship the spirits. To them, sorcerers are religious figures, though not ones you'd want your daughter to marry; and wizards are scum you tell stories about to scare your children. (To those who aren't particularly religious either way - which is most people - magic's just a trade, though possibly an illegal one, like smuggling.) The Logites have a branch called the Graycloaks, wizards whose job is to ferret out sorcerers.

    That's not precisely the game I'm posting about today, though! (I may at some point.) Instead, I'm posting about a game of Kingdom we played to establish the past history of the campaign city, the trade center of Emporopolis, jewel of the Western Provinces! Set 300 years before the FATE game, a civil war in the capital far to the east withdrew the legions from the west and left them to fend for themselves. They've grown used to self-government, but now the civil war is over, the winning Great House has established the Church as the official religion, and the Empire is looking west once more.

    (Full disclosure: We were playtesters of Kingdom, a new game by Ben Robbins, the creator of Microscope. If you're interested, it has a Kickstarter here. And yes, I'm authorized to post on the game now.)

    The characters were:

    Governor Milos: The ostensible ruler of Emporopolis, sometimes known as 'Milos the Mild'. A compromise candidate of the various noble houses in town, Milos is the consummate politician, juggling the needs and desires of disparate factions. He's begun to worry that he won't be able to keep all the balls in the air much longer, and so he's begun to be a bit indecisive - if he stalls long enough, maybe the problems will go away. (This is his Issue - when he wants to make things happen in the game, he'll have to pay a Price related to this.) He also fancies himself a great 'Man of the People', which for him mainly consists of walking a block out of the Noble Quarter to the Golden Goblet, an upscale tavern where he can hobnob with fabulously rich merchants and other common folk.

    Milos' Role at the beginning of the game was Perspective. That means he understands his city and can predict the consequences of the decisions that are made. His greatest Wish is for the city to be peacefully re-annexed to the Empire. He Needs advice from Fylakas, though he doesn't fully know why.

    Fylakas Ekbiasmos: A shopkeeper of ample but not excessive means, Fylakas is openly known as a sorcerer - though not everyone knows he's a sorcerer of Shaprenka, the Demon God of Secrets. He is not openly known as the man who holds the entire power structure of the city under his thumb... Using his power of Secrets, Fylakas has dirt on everybody who's anybody, and on plenty of people who aren't. He pulls a string here, a string there, to make the city dance as he pleases... The lucky ones are the people who don't know how that drably dressed man made it into the Golden Goblet. They still have their illusions. (Milos is one of these, though he goes so far to consider Fylakas a friend with valuable advice.)

    Fylakas has an apprentice (his Issue), a brash and ambitious 16 year old named Mathitis, an orphan whom he plucked off the streets. It's kind of par for the course in the Secrets trade that master and apprentice will affectionately plot against each other for fun and profit (the group jokingly described them as 'a friendly version of the Sith'!) but Mathitis has come to resent the limitations of his apprenticeship and might just try to take things to the next level.

    Fylakas' Role at the beginning of the game was Power, which means he's the one who calls the shots and ultimately decides what will be done. His great Fear is that the Church of the Logos will become powerful enough in town to persecute sorcerers. He Needs sorcerous reagents from Kerdizo, who is the sole supplier of some crucial ones in town.

    Kerdizo Kerma: One of those aforementioned fabulously rich merchants who frequent the Golden Goblet. Kerdizo's trade empire spans the entire known world; if you want it, he can get it for you for a price - if he doesn't have it already. He's head of the Merchant Guild in town and so is reluctantly involved in politics. Kerdizo's a fundamentally honest man who's had to do some things he's not very proud of to make it to the top, and he's worried about losing his integrity. (This is his Issue.)

    Kerdizo has a trophy wife and some kids who don't exactly excite him as heir material. He got married because marriage is what you do. Mortality and a growing dissatisfaction with life have begun to strive for his notice. He's done it all in the merchanting biz... is this all there is?

    A master of trade in a city obsessed with it, Kerdizo began the game with the Role of Touchstone - he reflects (and his player determines) the reaction of the masses to what goes on. His greatest Fear is that trade will be disrupted, and he accordingly Needs Milos to maintain stability, or at least the successful illusion of it.

    (Milos was played by our usual GM, the inveterate and inimitable SuentisPo. Kingdom's a GM-less and zero-prep game, though, so he was on a par with everyone else this time. I played Fylakas, while JoJoz played Kerdizo.)

    When the game began, we determined that Emporopolis faced three major Threats:

    * The resurgent Empire in the east. They can't be happy to have lost their western provinces, and Emporopolis above all.

    * Religious conflict between Spiritists and Logites. All the major spirits have temples in town, and there are scores if not hundreds of minor shrines as well. But there is also a mid-sized temple of the Logos, and under their new Hierophant they're beginning to feel strong enough to openly express their disapproval of idol worship, loose morals, and black magic.

    * Maldark, a sorcerer of foreign extraction and blackest (and bloodiest) of reputation who has recently made a successful play to take over the powerful Thieves' Guild. Whatever he plans to do with it, it certainly cannot be good.

    SuentisPo went first. He described how the city was in an uproar over the bloody murder of a minor noble, Sparthios Spitha, along with his entire family. ('Sparthios' is the lowest rank of nobility, it isn't inheritable.) And he laid out the question: Will Emporopolis declare martial law against the Thieves' Guild? This was the game's first Crossroad, the first decision point that would determine the city's future...
    Last edited by The Shadow; Friday, 21st June, 2013 at 05:46 AM.

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    Milos sat on his throne, glumly listening as Strategos Eumanios, his military commander, ranted and raved about that whole nasty Spitha business. Why, one might almost think he actually cared!

    "My Lord, this time the Thieves' Guild has gone too far, I tell you! This time they've killed someone who actually MATTERS! If they start thinking they can kill nobles - even if minor ones - with impunity, who can rest safely in the Noble Quarter?! And the children, what sort of dog does that? A mad dog, I say; and mad dogs should be put down." [I had a lot of fun playing Eumanios. :)]

    Milos raised a hand to stem the tide of rhetoric. "I assure you that nobody deplores this horrible crime more than myself, good Eumanios. I am determined that those responsible shall be found and punished. The good people of this city demand no less, and I am nothing if not a man of the people."

    Eumanios sneered, "Well then, my Lord. As a man of the people, you doubtless are aware that your City Watch is useless, if not worse than useless. They haven't made the slightest progress so far, have they?" "What do you propose then, Strategos?"

    "Declare martial law, Lordship! Let my men scour the city and hound these Guild rats from their holes!" Milos suppressed a knowing smirk. Let you produce a few corpses, declare victory, and cover yourself with glory, you mean. But there was another consideration, and he was truly sincere as he said, "Alas, Eumanios, I fear that the cure may be worse than the disease. If we should bring in the military in a civil matter such as this, no matter how grave, I fear that our dear people, who have done nothing wrong themselves, will experience oppression and misery."

    [This was a Prediction made with the Role of Perspective: If martial law is declared, the people will be oppressed. It will inexorably come true if the Crossroad turns that way, unless something is explicitly done to counter it.]

    Eumanios blustered about this insult, but Milos reminded him, "Great men and great cities have fallen before by using force when it was not necessary, good my lord. Let us not be too hasty. Watch Commander, what progress have you made?"

    Watch Commander Frouros, a lean ferret of a man, reported, "My Lord. My 'useless' men..." here stealing a sardonic glance at Eumanios, who glowered at him, "have turned up several leads. We'll find the bastards... it'll just take time. Real police work is like that."

    Eumanios barked, "Mind your tongue, commoner! And should not the people receive justice now, not after endless delay?!" Milos once again raised a weary hand. "Let us give the Watch space to work for now, Strategos. If no progress is made, or if further unrest should occur, we can always revisit the matter."

    Eumanios fumed, "Permission to approach your august presence, my Lord?" Mildly surprised, Milos said, "Of course." Striding forward with clipped fury, Eumanios lowered his voice - but not so much that those nearby couldn't hear. "My Lord, you are weak."

    Milos smiled tolerantly upon him - showing some of his teeth, both figuratively and literally. "And you, my lord, are strong. Strong men often forget the value of listening to every point of view. Rulers must consider every voice, don't you think? Otherwise they may find their head taking leave of their shoulders."

    Eumanios took his point and flushed. Sketching a bow, he snipped off, "My Lord," and strode out. Frouros couldn't quite suppress a smirk. Fylakas would be interested in this.

    [Please note that at this point Milos doesn't have any real authority in town - he doesn't have Power. Oh, he does on paper, but in practice getting anything important done would require more political capital than he can spare. Eumanios can lose his head only if Fylakas signs off on it. But neither he nor Milos fully know that in character. They both know that Milos has to balance a lot of noble families and so on... He definitely isn't a strong ruler. But neither knows that somebody else holds the real strings of Power.]

    ----------------

    Shortly after, Fylakas waited with Mathitis in the sewers of the city - a neutral area not controlled by the Thieves' Guild. He sniffed at the barbaric surroundings... but at least this spot was dry and not overwhelming in stench. Soon Maldark showed up as agreed, with a trusted lieutenant. (As trusted a lieutenant as a sorcerer of the Lady of Betrayal and Murder can have, anyway...) [My bringing Maldark into the scene caused a stir of surprise in the other two players. I assigned him to SuentisPo, and Mathitis to JoJoz.]

    Fylakas got straight to business, stating in clipped tones, "When I gave you permission to have that gadfly Spitha killed, I didn't say you could kill his entire family." [Once again, a stir of surprise. I'd just established that one of the prime Threats to the city was my underling! Though not by any means necessarily a loyal and dependable underling...]

    Maldark was a large and dangerous-looking man in studded leather, but he held up his hands placatingly to the smaller and apparently unarmed shopkeeper. "My man was taken by surprise, he had to use a little initiative."

    Fylakas glared. "I have scant appreciation for 'initiative'." He spat the word as if it were a curse. "When I give an order, I expect it to be carried out faithfully, without 'initiative'. 'Initiative' requires thinking, and thinking is not a quality that I value in thugs and other menials."

    Maldark said defensively, "Spitha wasn't asleep the way you said, he was up reading in his library. He gave the alarm, things got messy." Fylakas took a step forward, looking up at the larger man with an expression so imperious the Emperor himself couldn't have topped it. He inquired mildly, "Are you suggesting my information is... faulty? Perhaps you begin to feel it is faulty in other respects as well?"

    The big man, a murderer many times over, flinched. "No. No! Not at all, sir. It was just happenstance! These things happen!" "Indeed they do. Mischances can befall us all, don't you agree?" Maldark said hastily, "Oh, indeed! I, ah, shall reprimand my man firmly." Fylakas replied drily, "Make certain your reprimand occurs well beyond his pain threshold. And do it yourself... perhaps you both will learn something." Maldark gritted his teeth and ground out, "It shall be as you say." When Maldark seemed sufficiently cowed (Mathitis looked on with a certain bemused wonder), Fylakas added, "Your man's 'initiative' has caused problems. The Strategos is calling for martial law."

    Maldark curled his lip. "The Strategos is an incompetent, upjumped popinjay." "Of course he is, why do you think I arranged for him to be appointed in the first place? But he seems to have outlived his usefulness. Having the streets flooded with soldiers would be... inconvenient. I must think on this - not that it's any of your affair." Maldark received this with a meek expression and a suppressed glare of dangerous fury in his eyes.

    After musing a little while, Fylakas ordered, "Keep your men under tight control in the coming days and weeks. I don't want there to be any further pretext for unpleasantness - nor any further 'initiative'." Maldark nodded. "It shall be done."

    "See that it is." Fylakas turned on his heel and left without a further word, but Mathitis lingered, sizing up the big sorcerer.

    Maldark beckoned to him conspiratorially. "He's a hard one, your master, isn't he?" The young man allowed, "Perhaps he can be at times. What's it to you?"

    The Guildmaster of Thieves grinned and spread his hands. "The real question is, what is it to you? As for me, I have located that magical dagger we have spoken of before. An expert has assured me it can cut through anything at all... perhaps even the strings of a Vow. If this still interests you, I could have my people lay hands on it, for a consideration." [Yes, SuentisPo made up the dagger out of whole cloth on the spot!]

    Mathitis smiled a slow smile he'd learned from Fylakas. "Perhaps a mutually beneficial arrangement can be made. It will be our little Secret." "We understand one another, then."

    ---------------------------------

    At this point the Crossroad's Side Effect was revealed: If martial law is declared, Milos will win the good will and approval of the noble houses of the city. (Unfortunately, I've forgotten the brief scene that dramatized it.) SuentisPo was now torn... On the one hand, he'd already Predicted oppression for that result, which would make him look rather a tyrant if he embraced it. On the other, the lack of respect Eumanios had shown him rankled and lowered his standing. Good will among the nobles was tempting. I proceeded in a subsequent scene (though not the very next one, it wasn't my turn) to have Fylakas sweeten the other side to encourage him to play along...
    Last edited by The Shadow; Thursday, 6th June, 2013 at 09:43 PM.

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    Kerdizo relaxed in the Golden Goblet after a long day of wrangling the bureaucracy. Being rich and successful had manifold rewards, but somehow it just wasn't as... fun... as being young and hungry with a big idea and scarcely two coins to rub together. Still and all, he wouldn't go back.

    Oh, there was that Ekbiasmos fellow. Odd duck. Sells books, doesn't he? Good customer. He beckoned Fylakas over. "Greetings, my friend. How's the book business treating you? Need any more Jewel Cities incense?" Fylakas strolled over and took a seat. "It's been better, friend Kerma. And I'm set for incense and simples for now, but I always know who to call upon!"

    Kerdizo laughed. "Well, you can still afford to drink at the Goblet, so it isn't all bad, eh?" How does he afford it? No matter, a customer's private life is no concern of mine. They fell to chatting about the latest scandal, the horrible murders.

    Kerdizo shook his head. "A nasty business that, no question. People are afraid, they want the matter closed." [Being Touchstone, he formalized this as an Attitude.] As they talked, a young man rushed in, full of panic. "Master Kerma!"

    A runner from his accounts man at the Governor's palace. "What is it, lad, I haven't all day?" The youth whispered urgently in his ear and Kerdizo groaned, smacking his forehead. He therefore didn't notice Fylakas deftly slipping the boy a few coins. [JoJoz introduced the runner, I included the payoff just to emphasize how sneaky Fylakas can be. :)]

    Fylakas asked sympathetically, "Trouble?" "Oh yes. That Eumanios twit is trying to convince His Mildness to declare martial law over the whole Spitha business. That would be disastrous for trade!" The bookseller shook his head sadly. "Some people just don't understand the important things in life." "Indeed they don't! I have a mind to attend court and urge the sensible side of the matter. ... Care to come with? The Governor seems to like you."

    Fylakas smiled. "I should be delighted." While he could easily wangle his way into court, it would cause less talk if he arrived as someone's guest.

    The governor, being a man of the people, opened his court even to commoners at least once a week. Of course, it certainly moved one up the attendance list if one were appropriately dressed, showed evidence of education and good breeding, and gave gifts to the right people. What could be more reasonable than that?

    The two men were both dressed well (though Fylakas skirted the edge), both were clearly educated and well-bred, and Kerma had long since loaded down the right palms with grease. (And those in the know would rather fall on their swords than fail to accommodate Fylakas in any event.)

    At court, the Governor was busy 'hearing all voices' (one of his trademark phrases) on the subject of martial law. When he had the chance to speak, Kerdizo urged the onerous burden on trade that martial law would inflict, adding that "Trade is the lifeblood of Emporopolis, the people won't long bear it's interruption." [Another Attitude.]

    Milos fluttered his hands. "Oh, indeed, Guildmaster! Nobody could be more sensitive than I to the necessity of commerce to our dear people! Our resources are few, our coffers are filled by the buying and selling of goods, plus an ever-modest amount of taxation, of course! And yet... I do fear that if firm steps are not taken against crime, our beloved city will descend into chaos!"

    [Another Prediction. I'm not sure why SuentisPo included this one... We were all still very new to the game. At a guess, he could see which way the wind was blowing and didn't want me to have it all my own way. :) And I don't recall what Price he had to pay for giving another Prediction so soon after his first one... At this point in the game the Prices were pretty mild. Later, as things heated up and we got a firm grip on how things worked, they got very cutthroat indeed...]

    Court concluded, and Milos had someone discreetly send Fylakas a message requesting his presence in one of the less-formal audience chambers.

    ----------------------------------

    Fylakas bowed as he entered his Governor's august presence. "My Lord."

    Milos smiled and waved a hand. "Oh, my friend, we need not stand on ceremony in private! Think of me simply as your friend Milos."

    Fylakas smiled. "As you say, Milos." He did harbor some fondness for his erstwhile ruler. To be sure, the man was a fatuous oaf, but he did genuinely seem to care for his city and try to do the right thing... a rare enough trait in politics.

    Milos rested his head in his hand. "Oh, my friend. You have no idea of the burdens of rule! This whole murder business is simply dreadful. If I let Eumanios have his way, the nobles will rejoice but my dear people will suffer. If I do not, who knows if the Watch will ever find those responsible? And if crime is allowed to flourish, where can it all lead?"

    Fylakas told him gently, "Surely, Milos, your first instinct - to protect your people - is sound. You have a City Watch precisely to deal with these matters, do you not? The Strategos does not truly care about catching those responsible, nor does he really have a plan to do so... He is simply interested in expanding his own power."

    "How well I know it! And yet the Eumanioi are a powerful family. If I slight the Strategos in this, who knows what plots he will foment against me?"

    Fylakas said firmly, "You must not permit him to do so. If you slight him once, you must be resolute and slight him twice: Remove him as Strategos."

    [This was a pending use of Authority, from my role as Power: If martial law is not declared, the Strategos will be removed. SuentisPo's reaction was to laugh and say, "You bastard! Now I don't know which way I want it to go!"]

    Milos sucked in his breath. "Oooh! Do you really think so? How will his brother the Patrikios respond?"

    Fylakas replied judiciously, "He will be displeased, of course, but he will do nothing for now." He'd better not if he knows what's good for him, he thought grimly. "Your firmness in this will confuse him and he will feel the need to reassess."

    Milos shook his head wonderingly. "You never fail to amaze me with your grasp of these matters, friend Fylakas! I've never known you to be wrong... Anyone would think you were a noble yourself, so well do you predict our actions! How do you do it?"

    Fylakas smiled and demurred in self-deprecating tones, "We of the lower orders, friend Milos, are strongly motivated to assess the actions of our betters, don't you think?"

    "Oh, true, true, to be sure. And yet truly, you have a gift."

    --------------------------------

    [There followed a quick scene I don't recall many details of, in which Fylakas ordered Maldark to have the Guild lie low for a week or two, and to let the Watch make some progress in their investigation. (The fact that Watch Commander Frouros was Fylakas' creature clean to the bone helped here, of course!) This was my (successful) attempt to undo Milos' Prediction of chaos in the streets.]

    [Maldark also strung Mathitis along a bit about the dagger, saying it was in a city to the north.]

    [At that point, the Crossroad resolved, and the Crisis level was still fairly low. I won't go into detail about the mechanics of either one, as Crossroads and Crises are the very heart of the game. Suffice to say for now that Crisis is something that all players can influence, but that players of Touchstone characters do so disproportionately. In fact, it would be fair to say that Power and Perspective specialize in influencing Crossroads, and Touchstone specializes in influencing Crises. Oh... and while I haven't mentioned it explicitly so far, it is definitely possible to change Roles in the midst of the game. As shall be seen!]

    [This one resolved pretty smoothly and predictably. Martial law was not declared, and the Strategos was removed. Milos did not end up looking good to the noble classes, to say the least. On the bright side, the people were not oppressed, either.]

    [Now it was my turn to create a Crossroad...]

    Mathitis was shopping for his master in the market square when he saw a white-robed Logos priest on a soapbox haranguing the crowd.

    "What sort of government do we have, good people, that allows such vile crimes as the murder of men, women, and innocent children to pass by unpunished?! What sort of 'nobility' do we suffer to rule over us, which practices ignoble vices, turns a blind eye to such crimes as this, and lives in indolence and sin? If they will not punish even the murder of their own, how will they respond to crimes against simple folk? The True God sees, brethren, and has uttered his Word of judgment!"

    A Logos priest going on (and on) about vice was nothing new. What was new, Mathitis saw to his dismay, was that people were actually listening to this one - crowding around, shouting in agreement, even throwing money. The master would have to know about this.

    [And I asked the question: "Will Emporopolis silence the Church of the Logos?"]
    Last edited by The Shadow; Saturday, 8th June, 2013 at 06:50 AM.

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    Excellent!

    Quote Originally Posted by The Shadow View Post
    SuentisPo's reaction was to laugh and say, "You bastard! Now I don't know which way I want it to go!"
    *That* is how you play Kingdom. Nicely done!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ben Robbins View Post
    Excellent!
    Hey Ben, thanks for stopping by! Glad you like it.

    *That* is how you play Kingdom. Nicely done!
    You'd be the guy to know, so that's high praise indeed!

    However, in all fairness, I was the one who introduced the group to the game, and I was more familiar with the rules than anyone else. As shall be seen, once we learned the ropes, the others came up with some pretty darn cutthroat gambits of their own!

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    When Fylakas arrived in the square and heard the Logite preacher (still going strong, and still keeping a crowd enthralled), he laughed soundlessly, eyes sparkling with joy. He put an arm about Mathitis' shoulders and pulled him into an affectionate hug. "Oh, my boy! You did right to call me here! This is wonderful, simply marvelous!"

    Mathitis returned the embrace warmly, then stiffened in surprise and pulled away at Fylakas' words. "Master, how can you say that?! This is a problem for us! If people start giving credence to the Logites, we-"

    Fylakas chuckled tolerantly and ruffled his hair. (He either ignored or failed to notice the flare of resentment this gesture brought forth in the young man's countenance.) "Ah, my boy, haven't you learned yet that every problem is an opportunity in disguise?"

    "We will use this to destroy them. Oh, yes."

    [It's weird, but I can't seem to fit this last segment anywhere properly in sequence. Since no mechanical actions were taken, it seems to fit best as an extension of my intro to the Crossroad.]

    -------------------

    Kerdizo was fed up with the racket outside his market stall by the second day. The priest's piercing, haranguing voice, the shouting of the crowd... It was enough to drive a man to distraction! And it was bad for custom, too.

    Thankfully he was not left without a remedy - a family connection in just the right place, thank the Spirits. He marched purposefully toward the Temple of the Logos. [JoJoz here established that Kerdizo was a second cousin to the Logite Hierophant. He had me play the guy.]

    There was the usual delay as his visit got relayed through a series of acolytes, but eventually he was ushered into a parlor where his cousin awaited, his Hierophantic headdress the only thing to distinguish him from any other white-robed priest. The man said affably, "Cos! What brings you by? Have you decided to convert to the True Faith at last?"

    Kerdizo made a gesture of denial. "Pfft! The Spirits are good enough for me and mine, you know that. No, it's business that brings me to your den of heresy today, cos." "Business! Well, I'm all ears. Buying or selling?"

    "The lack of business, to be precise." "Eh?" "Your man caterwauling outside my stall is driving my customers away, to say nothing of my wits!" The Hierophant laughed. "Oh, is that it? I'll ask him to move to another spot, it's no trouble."

    Kerdizo asked gruffly, "Why do you want to go having your men preach against the government, anyway? No good can come of it." His cousin shrugged. "I didn't tell them to do it, they're acting on their own initiative - some of my priests are more the firebrand than others. But neither have I forbidden them."

    Kerdizo shook his head. "If enough people listen, there'll be trouble." "People are listening because they're hearing what's true, cos. Even apart from the Truth of the Faith, the nobility in this city are corrupt and uncaring, and the people know it."

    Waving a hand in dismissal, Kerdizo said, "What else is new? People are just upset by the murders. It'll all blow over if your men don't keep rubbing salt in the wound." The Hierophant replied seriously, "The wound is real, cousin. And it isn't healing on its own."

    Kerdizo took his leave shortly after, troubled.

    [Just goes to show that a Kingdom scene doesn't have to have mechanical heft to be important. This established SO much about the city, the Logite hierarchy, and especially the religious conflict, that we hadn't yet known.]

    ----------------------------

    Milos was being driven to distraction himself by the clamor of upset nobles in his court. The Patrikios Eumanioi had particularly gone out of his way to be a gadfly of late, after a period of absence from court.

    [Patrikios is a mid-ranking noble title, but Emporopolis, being way out in the sticks by Imperial standards, doesn't have a lot of the high-ranking ones. (I doubt that Milos himself is more than one step above him.) So he's a big deal. And he's the older brother of the former Strategos, of course.]

    "My friends, my subjects! Please! Listen." When he had some semblance of order, he said, "Let it never be said that the nobility of our great city could not endure criticism! I know many desire stern measures to be taken, but there are many voices to be heard - not all of them in Emporopolis!"

    "Consider, my friends! The Chrysian Empire, our former suzerain, has now made the Logos their official faith! If we take steps to silence their church, I fear an international incident could ensue! [Prediction! To be precise, 'If the Church of the Logos is silenced, the Empire will react badly.'] And truly, while these Logite priests are... incendiary... to be sure, do their criticisms entirely miss the mark?"

    The Patrikios inquired waspishly, "So you intend to simply let them spread sedition in the streets, my Lord? How will that improve the public order, I ask you?" Many other nobles added their voices to his.

    Milos shook his head. "No, good Eumanioi, I do not suggest that. I suggest that there are more ways to address angry voices than with force. I suggest that we take the opportunity to examine ourselves, and see if we are living according to our own best traditions. Let us not be simply noblemen! Let us truly be noble men!"

    The Patrikios folded his arms. "And just which traditions do you consider best, my Lord? Are we all to be Logites now? You seem to counsel utter capitulation to these rabble-rousers!"

    "There you are wrong, good my lord. I counsel that we do what we can to meet the standards all good men can agree upon: Honesty, integrity, good government and plain dealing. And if that will not satisfy the Logites, then all will agree they are being unreasonable."

    "Good government begins at home, my Lord." "So indeed it does. I do not hold myself aloof from the expectations I have of others."

    --------------------------

    [At this point, the Side Effect hit: If the Church of the Logos is not silenced, then they will start investigating sorcerers. (Presumably clandestinely.) Which, naturally, is something that Fylakas could not abide. We forgot to play out a scene for this at the time, so I'm not sure how he knew the stakes were being raised. At a guess, word of the newly-formed Graycloaks trickled out of the east, and he had word of more Logite wizards slipping into town.]

    --------------------------

    Fylakas and Mathitis met with Maldark in the sewers once more. Maldark reported that he knew of at least three Logite priests preaching in the streets against government and noble corruption. Fylakas for his part was still buoyed up by the anticipation of wreaking havoc on the Church he feared.

    He informed Maldark, in much more friendly tones than usual, "I should like a message sent to the Logite Hierophant. I wish to remind him of a lapse of judgment he suffered in a misspent youth... One he will not wish to be noised abroad."

    Maldark guffawed. "What is it, the name of a woman he f***ed before he took the cloth? Or, dare I say it, a goat?"

    Fylakas grinned malevolently. "No. The name of a boy." Maldark blinked. "The Logites don't approve of that, do they?" Fylakas continued to look quite pleased with himself. "Why, no, as a matter of fact they do not. I have been saving this little secret for the right moment, and I do believe it has come."

    [Pending use of Authority: If the Church of the Logos is not silenced, the Hierophant will be publicly humiliated.]

    Maldark shrugged. "Easy enough, consider it done." Fylakas added, only a trifle sharply, "I trust there will be no 'initiative' this time. I scarcely wish to wake to the news that the Logite Hierophant and a dozen acolytes have been murdered!"

    Maldark assured him, "The man I have in mind can't even spell 'initiative', much less employ it. He'll do what he's told, and no more." "Good, see to it."

    When Fylakas left, Maldark hissed to Mathitis, "I need you to turn his gaze from me, I need more freedom of action!"

    Mathitis answered resentfully, "As do I! You must know I can do little while bound by my 'prentice Vow! Get me the dagger and help yourself as well as me."

    "Do you think I can but snap my fingers and have a theft occur leagues to the north? Preparations proceed apace, but those too are subject to your master's notice. Distract him!"

    Mathitis left, frustrated and afraid, and a plan began to take shape in his mind...

    -------------------

    [JoJoz said he intended to visit the Hierophant again. SuentisPo asked if he could bring Mathitis into the scene; JoJoz readily agreed.]

    Kerdizo had just gotten ensconced in the parlor with his cousin again when an acolyte announced, "Holiness, a young man is here to see you; he insists that it is quite urgent."

    The Hierophant looked to his cousin. "Do you mind, cos?" "No, not at all." Mathitis entered, trying not to tremble in the heart of Logite strength. He quailed inwardly upon seeing Kerdizo; the man knew him from shopping errands Fylakas had sent him on.

    Kerdizo's bushy eyebrows shot up at this unexpected visitor. "And what brings you here, lad? Math-something, isn't it?" Mathitis ignored him and said to the Hierophant, "Your Holiness, you will want to hear me privately, I assure you."

    At his cousin's helpless glance, Kerdizo laughed. "Oh, very well. Far be it from me to stand in the way of curiosity!" Suiting actions to words, as soon as he'd closed the door to the room, he set his ear to it. (The acolyte started to say something, but seemed reluctant to rebuke his Hierophant's kinsman.)

    The Hierophant said, "You are welcome here, young man. Are you an adherent to the True Faith?" "I'm afraid not, your Holiness. But I come tonight as a friend, with news you will want to hear." "I am listening."

    "Later tonight, or perhaps tomorrow morning, a man will come to you with information he intends to use to blackmail you." Coolly now, "Oh? Do tell me how you come to know of this?"

    Mathitis hesitated. "I, uh. I am mixed up with dangerous men, sir. I overheard their plans, and did not wish to see a pillar of the community suffer."

    "Truly? So you repent of your involvement with these dangerous men, and wish now to live a life of virtue?" Mathitis licked his lips. "It isn't so simple as that..." "Oh? What is complex about it? Are you in danger from them yourself?"

    With relief at this escape, Mathitis lied, "Yes. I fear I may come to harm from them." "Then how is it you have dared to attempt to thwart them now? Are you hoping that I can protect you?"

    Belatedly realizing that every question had a catch in it, Mathitis hesitated. "I, uh." The Hierophant observed that, then asked, "How is it you anticipated me to respond to the prospect of blackmail? Either I am innocent of the thing they intend to accuse me of, in which case I have nothing to fear; or else I am guilty, in which case my foreknowledge of their attempt will do me little good." [Who knew Logite seminary included Jesuit training? :)]

    "I am simply trying to do you a favor, Holiness! I did not reflect upon all these matters!" "So I see. Since your sincerity is so unquestionable, doubtless you will not take offense at having the truth of your statements examined by a wizard."

    Sweating now, "Of course not." (He dared not try to use the sorcery of Secrets under a wizard's gaze - he had not the skill to hide it.) A Logite priest-wizard was summoned; and, after a few more pointed questions from the Hierophant, the man reported, "He is only partially truthful, Holiness. Particularly in the matter of danger." "I see."

    Turning back to the increasingly crestfallen Mathitis, he asked, "What is really going on here, young man?"

    Mathitis, still sweating, did his best not to lie outright, "I am in no direct danger from them, sir, because I am... bound, to one of them." The Hierophant nodded to himself as if a theory had been confirmed. "So you are a sorcerer."

    Licking his lips, "...Yes." "Who is betraying his own master, in the teeth of the notorious 'prentice Vow. He must have been careless of you indeed... Much as I disapprove of sorcery, you must see these facts do not inspire trust." "You don't understand! He can inflict spiritual torments upon me! If he finds out, you are condemning me to torture!" No reply came, only a cool, unreadable gaze, taking in his every move.

    Mathitis pleaded, "I was just trying to help!" The Hierophant looked to his wizard, who shook his head slightly.

    The Hierophant told Mathitis dispassionately, "You're not very good at this." Having paused to let that sink in, he added, "Needless to say, I do not trust you. You may go."

    Mathitis thought his heart couldn't sink any lower than it already had. But when he went out the door, trembling with anger and fear and shame, and a dour Kerdizo told him, "Say hello to Fylakas for me," it was everything he could do not to burst into tears.

    The Hierophant observed, "That was interesting. You know him?" "A customer of mine, cos." "Ah. Far be it from me to get you to break a confidence of trade!"

    [The scene had already gone on a very long time, so we called it. I said to JoJoz, "Sorry to steal your own scene out from under you!" He replied, "Are you kidding? I just wish I'd had some popcorn!" :) And yes, out of loyalty to his customer, Kerdizo did inform on Mathitis.]

    [Oh, and heaven forfend that anyone should think that was SuentisPo's best attempt at a plot! No, that was his portrayal of a smart-stupid, greedy, over-confident sixteen year old's attempt at a plot. :)]

    --------------------------

    [And with that, the Crossroad resolved! This time there was some debate whether Fylakas had actually brought about a 'Silence the Church' result using his Power. After some discussion, we decided that the Hierophant was sufficiently intimidated by the blackmail attempt to forbid his priests from being firebrands, for now. Naturally, he would be highly motivated to get to the bottom of the blackmail.]

    [So, the Church of the Logos was silenced, it did not start investigating sorcerers, and the Hierophant was not publicly humiliated. (Perhaps I should add that I never actually established that the Hierophant was guilty. Only that Fylakas had evidence sufficiently convincing to be damning in public.) On the other hand, Milos' prediction of the Empire having a bad reaction to the Church being silenced came true, which was more than a little ominous. Unsurprisingly, this became the focus of the next Crossroad.]

    ----------------------

    [But first, the game decreed that an extended period of time would pass. After some discussion, we decided to let a year and a half go by. We also determined that, what with the Empire getting upset with us and the Church out for blood undercover, that the Crisis level would not diminish during the break. It was still not terribly high, though we all felt that would soon change.]

    [Since so much time was passing, we also played a little scenelet to determine Mathitis' fate after his ill-starred attempt at plotting, which we were all burning to know:]

    -------------------

    Mathitis stood before Fylakas, head bowed, trying to look chastened and repentant. Fylakas observed coolly, "I'm not sure which disappoints me more... That you set yourself against me in a matter you knew to be vitally important? Or that you went about it so very ineptly."

    The boy said quietly, "I know I have done wrong, master, and that I deserve to be punished." "Indeed. Tell me, what would you do in my place?"

    An unfair question, of course. Anger won out briefly among the lad's roiling emotions. "In your place? I would not treat my apprentice like a halfwit child!"

    Fylakas laughed humorlessly. "Would you indeed? Even if your apprentice persisted in acting like one?" Mathitis flushed crimson and looked down again.

    Shaking his head sadly, Fylakas said, "You are a blind fool, my boy. Perhaps you will learn something through being outwardly blind for a time." He raised a hand and chanted briefly, and Mathitis' field of vision was filled with misty darkness as his surroundings became a secret even to himself. "Oh, and your link to Shaprenka lies in my hand until further notice. You can no longer attempt sorcery without my leave."

    Blindness itself was not more galling for the next week than Fylakas' ever-solicitous aid and care while he was blind.

  7. #7
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    [Sorry for the delay, work was crazy.]

    [And now it was JoJoz' turn to create a new Crossroad! This intro blossomed into a full-blown scene.]

    The arrival of a full Ambassador from the Chrysian Empire had set the city all abuzz. Up to this point, the Imperials had maintained the polite if threadbare fiction that the Western Provinces were still under their authority; now it seemed that fiction was at an end. What could it portend? Full diplomatic relations? A treaty on issues of mutual concern? ... War?

    The Governor and his court received the Ambassdor with all pomp and circumstance. By convention, his own identity was submerged for the nonce in his office, so the herald announced him simply as, "The Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of His Imperial Majesty, Philos IV of Golden Renown!"

    Milos rose from his throne to greet him and strode forward to handfast with him in peace. He bowed only his head as he did so, making a subtle claim for at least limited sovereignty.

    After the interminable greetings were done, business was at last entered into, to the relief of the onlookers. The Ambassador stated in the flowery language of diplomacy, "It has come to the attention of His Imperial Majesty that his dear subjects in the Western Provinces have been afflicted by a plague of vile sorcery. Noble blood has been spilled by murderers sent by a felon known to engage in foul rites of Betrayal and Murder. Priests and prelates of the Divine Logos have been threatened and their peace troubled by those who bear allegiance to the demons, and the stench of sorcery surrounds such dealings as well. Therefore, His Imperial Majesty desires to aid his subjects to win free of such oppression by sending investigators skilled in such matters."

    Milos, eyes wide, protested, "Lord Ambassador! We of course welcome the brotherly concern of His Imperial Majesty... but we of the Western Provinces have not been accustomed to receive the blessings of his rule for some years now. Nor, surely, does a monarch send embassy to his own nationals? Emporopolis is now of right a Free City, and we can enforce our own laws."

    The Ambassador inclined his head. "His Imperial Majesty acknowledges that his claim over the Western Provinces has... lain fallow, and thus he has shown your court all due courtesy. Nevertheless, he must insist that you accept his aid in curbing this scourge of sorcery. He will not tolerate that this poison should brim over to other provinces; and if he must sow the seeds of his claim once more to stem the tide, so indeed he will."

    The court erupted in a buzz of concern, outrage... and fear. Milos heart fluttered nearly as much as his hands as he said, "Lord Ambassador, I hardly know what to say! Sorcery is not a crime in Emporopolis, though it is certainly true that murder and threats are, and we are investigating already with all due speed and earnestness. Surely His Imperial Majesty should indulge the patience which all gracious monarchs cultivate, and allow us to enforce our own laws with all resolution?"

    The Ambassador again inclined his head. "His Imperial Majesty is a wise and patient monarch. He will grant you three days to give him your answer."

    [And he laid out the question, "Will Emporopolis allow the Empire to send in the Graycloaks?"]

    --------------------------

    Milos went into a frenzy of 'hearing all voices', but there clearly was not going to be enough time to hear them all. Funding and extra manpower for the City Watch appeared like magic, and certain among the Eumanioi were heard to ask waspishly if martial law would end up being declared after all.

    The Patrikios too was growing bolder. He openly challenged Milos, asking if he personally would welcome the Imperial investigators and armies in with open arms. It was all Milos could do to contain his flush - yes, he wanted to see a free and happy Emporopolis back in the Empire, but not like this! He wanted to see it done in peace and with honor, not in response to threats!

    He poured out his heart to Fylakas in one of their tete-a-tetes; the strain was clearly wearing on him. "Oh, my friend! What am I to do? If I bow to the Emperor's demands and let him enforce our own laws, surely we are his subjects in all but name? And yet, if I should refuse, surely it may come to war? Can it be borne? What of the suffering of my dear people, even if we should win?"

    [Prediction: "If we do not allow the Empire to send in the Graycloaks, the Empire will attack."]

    Fylakas himself had been shaken by this turn of events. While he could shield many of his doings from wizardly notice with the power of Secrets, it was truly only a matter of time. Eventually one of the thrice-cursed Logite wizards would get lucky, and then his doom would come upon him.

    He replied, "Friend Milos, even that is not your most pressing concern. The Eumanioi and many other nobles are growing very restless. If you should yield to the Empire's demand, I fear they will seek to replace you, by force if necessary."

    [Pending use of Authority: If the Graycloaks are allowed in, the Eumanioi will replace the governor. SuentisPo said, "Oho! Playing hardball, are we?" "Yup. This is important to me." "Okay. I can play hardball too."]

    Milos searched his heart for some time after hearing that, holding his head in his hands. Turning everything over in his mind, he came to the agonized conclusion that, much as he desired to be a man of the people, to hear every voice, to strive with all his skill to keep every ball in the air... that wasn't what his city needed. Emporopolis didn't need a man of the people at this juncture; it needed a man of decision. A man who could make his own voice heard, and let the balls fall where they may.

    [SuentisPo: "I'm seizing Power from you." Me: "Do tell. How are you going about it?" "Milos is going to stop caring what everyone thinks and just do what he sees needs to be done." "Okay, that explains how you're changing Roles to Power, but it doesn't explain how you're taking mine away."]

    [He grinned. "In this air of crisis, you think anyone has time to listen to a blackmailer? You can only get things done if you can get people to sit still long enough to listen to you. What are you going to do, release everyone's secrets at once?" "Oy." SuentisPo turned to JoJoz. "So what Price do I have to pay?"]

    ["Hmm. I'm open to suggestions." I said, "Well, if you're not going to be Milos the Mild any more, there's bound to be a lot of pissed-off nobles. Supposing a mid- to high-ranking family goes into open rebellion?" Cautiously, "...Just how high-ranking are we talking about?"]

    [An idea came to me and I grinned wickedly, "Why, the Eumanioi, of course. You've already slighted them twice, and they're making noises." "Ouch! Yeah, much as I hate to say it, that makes way too much sense." JoJoz: "Sounds perfect! That's your Price." After a moment's thought, "Okay, done. Oh, and Fylakas? Your use of Authority just went bye-bye." "Yeah, yeah." I had the choice of changing Roles to Perspective or Touchstone; I elected for the former - since Fylakas knows all the secrets of the city, he has great insight into where it's heading.]

    Milos rose to his feet, firm for once in his life with decision. "You must excuse me, my friend. There is much work to be done."

    ---------------------

    [At that point, the Crisis level of the game overflowed. (We now realize we had misinterpreted the rules, and it probably shouldn't have at this point. But it all worked out okay.]

    The Eumanioi, fed up with their weakling Governor, raised their banners in rebellion against Milos, saying that he would capitulate to the Empire's demands without protest. Other noble families joined them.

    Milos was consumed with the irony of it - they were rebelling against the very course of action he had just made a firm decision against! Nonetheless, his newfound decisiveness did not desert him. He ordered his page, "Bring me my armor." The bewildered youth said, "My Lord?!" He hadn't worn it in years. "Since I have not yet appointed a Strategos, it falls upon me to lead the men myself. Go."

    Fylakas met with Maldark and ordered him coldly, "I desire for the Patrikios of the Eumanioi to suffer a convincing heart attack." The idiot, starting a rebellion right in front of the Ambassador! Maldark nodded just as coldly. "I'll do it myself."

    Kerdizo battened down the hatches, organizing the Merchant's Guild to weather the storm. Whatever happened, the trade would flow, lest the city starve.

    [At that point, we voted on whether or not Emporopolis would survive the Crisis, at any rate in its current form. The vote came out unanimous: Yes, it would. There followed the aftermath.]

    Milos' men clashed with those of the rebels, the Governor himself leading the charge. The rebels, disheartened by the sudden loss of their leader the Patrikios to an untimely heart attack (doubtless brought on by stress...) quickly folded and sued for peace. The Patrikios' brother, the former Strategos, died in the battle.

    The two surviving sons of the Patrikios were hustled into the Governor's throne room and dumped on their knees before Milos. He was still wearing the scarred armor he'd worn while defeating their father's army.

    He told them coldly, "I am giving you a chance to save your family's lives." He paused to let that sink in, and a shocked silence spread through the court. Then he said, "Swear eternal and abject fealty to me now, and instruct all your father's followers to do the same." He looked to the elder son. "Now, please."

    The young man stammered, "What assurance do we have that-" Milos quelled him with a single glance, then looked expectantly to the younger son, still in his teens.

    This one said earnestly, "We and all our house pledge our undying fealty to you forever, Governor!" Milos nodded. "Congratulations. Your family will live, and you have just inherited the title."

    At this point, the court began emitting a shocked buzz of talk, mostly to the effect of, "Can he really do that?!"

    Milos gazed around the room with authority, and it fell silent. He stated, "Nonsense. The second son always inherits if the first son is dead. ... I prefer to think of this as mercy."

    [SuentisPo's portrayal of Milos was masterful. He was clearly the same man, yet he had somehow gone from being Milos the Mild to, as we joked, Milos the Frickin' Terrifying! In-game, he quickly got dubbed with the more flattering sobriquet of Milos the Mighty.]

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    [I've got some time off work, so I've had time to write!]

    [Now the Crossroad resumed, with a scene by me.]

    Fylakas met with Maldark. "Neither of us can afford to have these so-called 'Graycloaks' poking about in our affairs." Maldark said sourly, "You need not remind me! What do you propose we do about it? Your connections among the nobility do not seem to be what they once were."

    Fylakas glared. "Mind your tongue! I know enough to bring you down many times over." Maldark replied silkily, "And I also know things you would not want bruited about, yes?"

    "Pshaw! If you so much as tried, it would bring more wrath upon your own head than on mine!" "True," Maldark admitted. "And you are right, we do have common cause here. What do you propose?"

    Fylakas sighed, rubbing his face with his hands. "We will have to throw your man - the one who killed Spitha - to the wolves. You must surely admit he has it coming, after all the trouble he has brought us." "I do admit it. And yet, what will come of his interrogation?"

    Fylakas shrugged. "That sounds much more like your problem than like mine. But if you are so concerned, I am certain you can arrange for an unfortunate death once he has made a clear and unequivocal confession. Betrayal and murder is your forte, is it not?" "As secrets is yours. Can you not hide our doings from notice?"

    "I can. But I would as soon use mundane means of secrecy for the nonce. You know what those damnable wizard-bloodhounds are like!" "All too well, I assure you. Why do you think I came to a city where sorcery was still legal and the Church has no police powers?"

    Fylakas said mock-lightly, "There were other reasons too, I think..." and savored Maldark's involuntary flinch. He continued, "Given how sorely you are wanted by the Empire, we will have to consider what we could convincingly offer them in your own case as well. Perhaps a double? They surely only have a rough description of you."

    Maldark pondered. "Mayhap. I will think on it - you are right, they will not rest until they are convinced they have my blood. ... How far will they go, think you? Will it come to war?" Fylakas sighed. "Perhaps. But the Empire will not attack right away, it is not their way." [A Prediction: If the Graycloaks are not sent in, the Empire will not attack right away.] He shook his head. "Keep me apprised of developments."

    Maldark assured him, "I will do so." When Fylakas had left, he approached Mathitis and told him coldly, "Your master is falling. For now, he is still too useful to dispense with. But there may come a day where that will change... On that day, your own fate will largely depend on how valuable I have found you to be."

    Mathitis met his gaze; not quite the foolish boy he had been. "Perhaps your fate will likewise hinge on your usefulness. I know why you jump when my master whistles; but I could perhaps find it in me to forget, were you a reliable ally."

    Maldark looked at him sidelong. "He shares such things with you? He trusts you so much, after so much folly?" "Try me. Shall I speak a certain name?" Maldark winced. "That... will not be necessary. I am quite certain we can work together." "Oh, grand. That does indeed warm the heart."

    [Please note that at no time did we ever establish just what Fylakas' hold on Maldark actually was. :) Part of the fun was roleplaying around it without ever actually specifying!]

    [As for the dagger, I'm not 100% it ever actually existed; Maldark might just have been stringing Mathitis along the whole time. By this point, I think even Mathitis might have suspected that.]

    ----------------------------

    [At this point, the Side Effect was revealed: If the Graycloaks are allowed in, the Hierophant will be exposed and the resulting scandal will tarnish Kerdizo's reputation as well. In retrospect this wasn't a good Side Effect, as I'm really not sure how Kerdizo was supposed to see it coming in character. Ah well, we were still learning.]

    ----------------------------

    Kerdizo came to the Logite Temple upon his cousin's urgent request. In the usual parlor, he encountered not just his cousin the Hierophant... but another priest whose white robes were covered in a cloak of pale dove-gray.

    The Hierophant was more formal and agitated than usual. "Cousin, I would like you to meet, ah... a visiting priest. From the Imperial Capital." Kerdizo's bushy brows climbed to meet his hair at this news, but offered his hand. "A pleasure, I'm sure. Kerdizo Kerma... and you are?"

    The other man smiled and said in a melodious voice, "My name is not important, good Kerma. I am a servant of the Logos." The Hierophant added, only a touch nervously, "Our guest is here as, ah, an investigator. We wish to get to the bottom of the threats made against me some time ago."

    Kerdizo frowned. "Now see here. Isn't allowing his sort into town precisely the matter that is before the Governor as we speak?" The Hierophant winced, but the investigator raised an elegant hand. "No fear, friend Kerma. Given the delicate diplomatic situation, I am here for now simply as a private person. I have obeyed all of Emporopolis' laws scrupulously; there are none I know of against asking questions."

    Kerdizo was still frowning. "Well, I suppose not... so long as you take 'no' for an answer." "So I have and so I will," the man assured him. The Hierophant jumped in again. "But we will know better what questions to ask, cousin, if you could tell us the name of the young apprentice who visited me? Better yet, the name of his master?"

    The merchant folded his arms stubbornly. "His master's a customer of mine. A good one. He's always played straight by me, and so I'll play straight by him, by all the Spirits!" (He used the epithet defiantly in the temple, though the Graycloak turned not a hair.) The Hierophant said, "But he hasn't played straight by me, cos, you know that! You heard what the apprentice said, how brazenly he lied!"

    Kerdizo snorted. "As far as I'm concerned, the apprentice is a slimy little toad. Never did trust him. But his master's a decent sort who's never played me false. And I don't much hold with the Empire poking about here behind our Governor's back!" [An Attitude, that.]

    Both men tried to persuade him, but he stood firm, eventually taking his leave - cordially of his cousin, frostily of the Graycloak.

    ---------------------------

    Milos told his herald, "Summon the ambassador." The man gasped, "My Lord! One does not simply summon an Imperial Ambassador!" Milos turned a steady gaze on him and stated flatly, "I believe that I just did. Therefore it is indeed among the things that I do." The man took that in and scurried off without a further word of protest.

    When the irate Imperial Ambassador marched into Milos' throne room (accompanied by the red-faced herald), he found the Governor seated on his throne wearing the scarred armor he had recently worn in battle... and with his bared sword across his knees. That took a bit of the bluster out of him, but he still demanded, "What is the meaning of this?"

    Milos stated dangerously, not rising to greet the man, "We might ask you the same question, Lord Ambassador." (This time he used the royal 'we'.) The man paled slightly, but bulled onward, "Explain yourself. I have no patience for games."

    "Nor do we. Three days, you said - excuse me, His Imperial Majesty said. And yet before three days have run their course, we find ourselves putting down a rebellion of previously loyal subjects. An interesting coincidence, don't you think? In fact, it rather strains our credulity."

    The man drew himself up to his full height, outraged. "His Imperial Majesty had no hand in this! In fact, His Imperial Majesty is gravely insulted that you so much as suggest it!"

    Milos smiled, and his smile was frightening to behold. "Oh? Truly? Was it not the case that during those aforementioned three days, His Imperial Majesty was awaiting our answer as to whether the Logite investigators known as 'Graycloaks' were to be permitted to work within our demesne? And yet we have intelligence that there is at least one already covertly here at work. Here is a conundrum! Surely there must be an explanation, as none could believe His Imperial Majesty would so brazenly flout his own words to a fellow sovereign?"

    The Ambassador paused, then said cautiously, "It may be that certain elements among His Imperial Majesty's government have taken actions without his knowledge. That... would indeed be unfortunate." "Oh indeed! There we are agreed. It is most unfortunate." Though his words were outwardly conciliatory, his tone more than suggested that lethality underlay them. [Like I said: Milos the Frickin' Terrifying!]

    The man swallowed. "Under the circumstances, His Imperial Majesty would consider graciously, ah, extending the time in which he requires your answer?" "Oh, very graciously, we doubt not. In fact, we do think you should return to your Empire's capital to confer with him upon the details of his reply." The court gave a collective muted gasp: No matter how politely it was phrased, expelling the Ambassador was a diplomatic slap in the face.

    The Imperial Ambassador did his best to salvage his dignity and his Emperor's face. "Yes, ah, quite. We see the wisdom in your... suggestion."

    Kerdizo and Fylakas, both in the crowd, watched in stunned amazement with everyone else at the change in Milos. Mathitis, who was also present, was less affected; he was still overcome by being at court in the first place.

    -----------------------------

    Milos met with Fylakas and Mathitis in the audience chamber, still clad in armor. "I cannot spare you much time, my friend, so speak quickly. And I don't believe I've met your... son?"

    Fylakas smiled. "My apprentice. Yes, friend Milos, I know you are most busy of late. Your work must be a great burden."

    "It is," Milos admitted, "and yet it must be borne. If not by me, then by whom? Decisions must be made, and I know my city."

    ["I'm seizing Power back from you." "Oh really! And just how are you going to do that?!" "I'm a sorcerer, remember? And I've got my apprentice with me to help out."]

    "Indeed you do. And yet, friend Milos, I believe I know the secret of your heart." Mathitis began chanting softly at this point, and Fylakas' eyes became strangely compelling, his voice oh so sympathetic. "In your heart of hearts, you desire to be Milos the Mild again, don't you? It is not even buried very deeply. You want to be a man of the people."

    Milos stared into Fylakas' grey eyes, which had become reflectionless pools he could drown in. "A man... of the people." Fylakas chanted softly for a time in harmony with Mathitis, then said in that mesmerizing tone, "Yes, a man of the people. A man who holds no truck with harsh words. A man who can always keep everyone happy."

    When Milos came to himself, he looked down at his armor and flushed. "Dear me! Have I been making rather an ass of myself?" Fylakas put a friendly arm about him. "It is all right, my friend. I know you were only doing what you thought was best at the time."

    Milos' eyes flew wide. "Oh! And the things I said to the Ambassador...! Is it too late to apologize, do you think? What will my dear people say? You know I've always wanted to be a man of the people." Fylakas told him gently, "I'm afraid it is indeed too late, Milos. But I am sure we can salvage the situation. Together."

    Milos put a hand to his head, momentarily confused."Yes, of course. Together. You've never failed me, my friend. What would I do without you?" Fylakas knew a moment of genuine sympathy; the man may be an oaf (though with unexpected depths), but he didn't truly deserve this.

    But he answered, "I'm sure I don't know, Milos." Mathitis looked on wide-eyed, and his master belatedly suffered just a moment of doubt. What lesson was the boy learning from this? Ah well, it had to be done.

    Milos abruptly said out of the blue, "All this sorcery the Empire's upset about... d'you think the people will stand for it?" [SuentisPo's parting shot: A Prediction, now that he was Perspective again, that if the Graycloaks were not allowed in, tensions against sorcery would flare.] Fylakas smiled at him, but the smile was strained. "I'm sure they will. They would be even more upset should you yield to the Empire's will; they might even go so far as to remove you."

    [Pending Authority: If the Graycloaks are allowed in, the Governor will be removed. I did this to help keep SuentisPo from having any funny ideas during Crossroad resolution, which was imminent. He could perhaps have complicated things if he'd put his mind to it.]

    [The irony of it all is that Milos was going to resolve the Crossroad the way I wanted him to! But he was just too much of a loose cannon, in Fylakas' eyes; and my hold on Maldark was slipping dangerously. Most of all, Fylakas simply didn't know what to do when he couldn't manipulate the nobility any more.]

    [As for my Price... Let's just say that Mathitis' loyalty was to be in ever more question.]

    ------------------------------

    [Crossroad resolution! It went smoothly enough, though the results were disquieting. The Graycloaks were refused entrance to Emporopolis, and therefore the Empire would ultimately attack, though not right away. And tensions against sorcery within the city were beginning to flare up. And even though we'd just had a Crisis, the level was already climbing sharply, due to all the threat of war. Meanwhile, the Governor was not removed.]

    ------------------------------

    [Now it was SuentisPo's turn again to make a Crossroad, lucky me!]

    The Empire's response to the expulsion of the Ambassador was stark. A tersely-worded demand that Maldark the sorcerer be remanded to Imperial custody was delivered, enforced by the naked threat of a fleet bearing Imperial Marines making its way toward Emporopolis' harbor.

    [And the Crossroad question was, of course, "Will Emporopolis turn over Maldark to the Empire?"]
    Last edited by The Shadow; Wednesday, 19th June, 2013 at 05:25 PM.

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    [Properly speaking there ought to be a scene by Kerdizo here, but darned if I can remember it at all. Pity. :( As far as I can recall, Kerdizo started organizing the merchants and other common folk in preparation for war and disaster. Next one:]

    Milos held court tremulously, supported by a cane. Where he had seemed ten years younger while leading the charge against the rebels, now he seemed at least twenty years older.

    Fylakas watched him with pain in his eyes. I have destroyed many men, he thought to himself. But never before have I destroyed a good man by inches, and had to watch each faltering step of the way.

    The hell of it was, it did not need to be this way! It would be so easy for Milos to simply go with the flow, to let the spell gently channel him down the path of least resistance! It was doing nothing more than strengthening his own natural inclinations, after all; the power of Secrets could do no more than that.

    And yet Milos fought it, every moment, every day! He strove futilely to be the ruler he thought his people needed: Milos the Mighty. Occasionally that forceful man peered through Milos' eyes; but then the spell prevailed and he would lapse back into being Milos the Mild. The struggle was killing him.

    "My people!" Milos croaked, "My dear people! It is with anguish in my heart that I have received this message from the Chrysian Empire! And yet is my dearest hope that, if we can find this felon, this Maldark, we may yet prevent outright war!" [A Prediction, naturally.]

    With sudden forcefulness, he said, "We cannot, we will not, permit the Empire to dictate our actions! Were he not a criminal, we should never hand him over!" Then he faltered as the spell reasserted itself and turned a desperate glance to Fylakas, asking plaintively, "Right?"

    His heart breaking, Fylakas said, "It is well said, my Lord." He knew the court had to be suspicious that Milos was leaning on him so openly, but he could not bring himself to care. He had never suspected Milos, not only of such determination, but of such essential goodness and selflessness.

    When court ended, he made his way home, his face clouded with sorrow and doubt.

    [Feel sorry for Milos, but not for SuentisPo. He took immense delight in, as he put it, "Twisting the knife!" :)]

    -------------------------------

    [Side Effect time! If Maldark is not turned over to the Empire, Fylakas will suffer a crushing degree of guilt. Frankly, I more than half suspected the same "Side Effect" would occur if it went the other way too!]

    -------------------------------

    When Maldark arrived at their usual meeting-spot, Fylakas had hardened his face into a mask of business once more. "Have you found a suitable double to give the Imperials?" Maldark grimaced. "I fear not. I had one who seemed suitable, but his face was too badly burned during the, ah, acquisition." [I don't think I want to know...] "We are running out of time." "I know it well! Half my men are considering claiming the reward on my head! What do you suggest?!"

    Fylakas said, face hard and cold, "A body-swap." Maldark sucked in his breath. "Truly? ... I have not the ability to pull off such a working alone." [Anything involving souls is Heap Big Magic in this setting. It's a really big deal.] "The boy and I will assist you."

    Maldark rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Secrets... what is your angle in this?" "The opposition to the working will come from the innermost soul of the subject, his most secret self. With the rites of Shaprenka, we can suppress this opposition and ease the transfer. You can see something similar at work in the governor, I trust."

    Maldark shook his head. "It is a dire extremity. I have spent years building up a reputation with this face, and to throw it all away!" Fylakas told him impatiently, "I can easily make you an item to keep your appearance secret and show the world a seeming of your old self, whenever you please."

    The man looked impressed. "That would indeed be a boon. Yes, I think this can work. We must simply find a suitable victim." He pondered, and Fylakas knew he was considering which of his allies he could afford to betray and murder.

    "Yes, I can find such a man. When shall we do the deed?" "The sooner, the better. I will prepare the working in my sanctum; it should be ready by tomorrow. Then bring me to the man; I can make him docile for our work." "Agreed."

    -------------------------------

    Kerdizo stalked into the Golden Goblet, weighed down by troubles and decision. Spotting Fylakas already seated there, he moved to join him. "So. What is your opinion of our psychotic, bipolar ruler?" [SuentisPo: "Yeah! Twist that knife! Twist it, I say!" :)]

    Fylakas hid his grimace behind a swallow of wine. "I rather assiduously strive not to have opinions about psychotic, bipolar rulers at all. They tend to take it badly."

    Kerdizo snorted. "That they do. ... I have reached a decision, friend Fylakas." "Oh?" "Yes. I have decided that an invasion by the Empire would be bad for trade." [Attitude!]

    Fylakas shrugged. "No doubt and it will, but what can you or I do about it?" Kerdizo replied matter-of-factly, "I intend to destroy the Empire's economy."

    Fylakas stared at him. "Friend Kerdizo, are you feeling quite well? All this stress..." Kerdizo waved that off. "I'm quite serious. The Empire debased their currency during the civil war - the more fools they. And I am sitting upon a large stock of old, pure silver coins. Further, there is an old Imperial Mint here in the west, as you know - in which I have acquired an interest."

    He continued, "I have trade factors throughout the Empire's territory. By manipulating their currency by the carefully-considered spreading of pure coin, I will be able to distort prices beyond their ability to cope. They will not recover for a decade, if that."

    Fylakas' jaw dropped. He had raised the manipulation of a city to an art form; but the idea of manipulating an entire continent had been quite beyond his ambitions. When he could speak, he said quaveringly, "You... show unexpected depths, my friend. Is this truly practicable?"

    "Not yet," Kerdizo admitted. "It will require a great deal of coin, more than I have yet amassed. But I am in the process of doing so." "Why are you telling me this?" "The Governor listens to you. We must delay war for as long as we can... and then we must inform the Empire through diplomatic channels. I should rather use the threat of economic destruction to prevent war, than to take vengeance for one already in progress."

    Fylakas shook his head in amazement. "I will see what I can do, though I can promise nothing." "The attempt is all I ask. What man can promise more?"

    ---------------------------

    [The Crisis level was starting to get really high, with all the threat of war. (Again, we'd misread the rules, so it probably shouldn't have been quite so high. But it all worked out fine regardless.) These next few scenes were played under the expectation war was coming.]

    Milos received Fylakas and Mathitis in his audience chamber once more, looking worn and used-up. (Mathitis regularly accompanied Fylakas to court now, in case the spell should go awry.)

    He said weakly, "Oh, my friend, my friend. I do not know what more I can do for my dear people." Fylakas took his hand. "You have done well, friend Milos. No man could ask more of you."

    Milos rallied. "I ask more of myself! I would shed my blood a thousand times for Emporopolis!" Then he retreated into himself and said weakly, "I think? Does that sound right?"

    Fylakas swallowed, and Mathitis watched with wide eyes. "I know that you would. I have... watched you struggle, for this city. You have done so with honor."

    "Will... will they remember me, do you think? It will not all be for naught?" Fylakas promised, "If none else, I will remember you, my Lord. I swear it."

    "Good... good. It is good to have a friend. Good Fylakas! I have always been able to rely on you." Fylakas swallowed again. "Yes, Milos. I also have seen you as a friend."

    As Fylakas and Mathitis left the palace, Fylakas abruptly said earnestly, "Promise me something, my boy." Mathitis asked warily, "Master?"

    "Promise me that you will be a better man than I have been. Promise that you will never betray anyone as I have betrayed Milos. It is ... wrong, what I have done. He deserved better of me..." [SuentisPo, laughing: "Huh! I see I'm not the only one who can twist a knife!"]

    Mathitis gulped. Fylakas had not made it a command under the terms of his Vow, so he could promise freely... for now. "I, ah, of course, master." "Say it. Please." "I promise, master." "Good."

    ---------------------------

    Fylakas' sanctum in the back of his shop was festooned with arcane implements, prepared for a working greater than any other he had ever attempted. Candles burned in strategically-chosen spots; incense and exotic herbs choked the air; wire of silver traced nameless patterns between walls, floor, and ceiling.

    Maldark was here for the first time, suitably impressed by the preparations. With him was a young, muscular thief, a blissfully blank expression on his face; the power of Secrets kept him from being aware of his surroundings. They discussed the final details of the spell.

    Fylakas explained, "It is simple enough, for all the power that it requires. You leave your body, then the boy and I enact the rites of Shaprenka to lower the vessel's resistance. You occupy him, and he will gravitate into your own former shell."

    Maldark nodded. "Understood. And remember, I must be the one to kill the mark. Odd as that will be, killing a man wearing my own accustomed flesh! But if I do not betray a life to my Nameless Lady in such a working as this, She will betray me and take mine own." He shrugged. "That was the deal."

    Fylakas nodded. "Yes. Now, the Rites of Shaprenka demand that my presence be ritually 'secret' to you, so I must stand behind you, like so. The boy will stand... here. Are you ready?"

    Maldark sighed, and looked into the blank eyes that were soon to be his own. "Ready." He began to chant, slithering syllables that the ear rejected; the Nameless Lady of Betrayal and Murder was more alien than most of the Spirits. Swaying back and forth, he produced a dagger and placed it in the victim's right hand... then he went rigid as his spirit left its home.

    Fylakas then calmly reached forward and slit his throat.

    The magic in the air abruptly froze, and a silent scream shook the aether; then Maldark's lifeless body dropped, shedding surprisingly little blood.

    Mathitis goggled, frozen with shock. "Yuh, you, but!" Fylakas sent him a knowing glance, then snapped his fingers in front of the erstwhile victim's face while handing him the bloody knife. "Good job, man! You've killed Maldark in self-defense! Now go, take him to the palace to receive your reward!" It was the flip of a coin whether that 'reward' would be money or a hangman's noose, but no matter.

    The man was seriously confused at suddenly appearing in this strange place, but he understood the idea of 'reward' readily enough and soon obeyed.

    Fylakas grinned mirthlessly at the still-incoherent Mathitis. "Well, my boy! Do you suppose that was betrayal and murder enough to satisfy the Nameless Lady? I must go and ensure an orderly transition of power for the Thieves' Guild. [Authority, natch.] You stay here and clean up the mess."

    Mathitis stood there nervelessly and whispered, "Y-yes, master."

    [My willingness to discard my pawn completely blindsided SuentisPo. (JoJoz twigged to it as soon as Fylakas said he had to stand behind Maldark, but didn't say anything.) What can I say, you gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. :)]

    [From Fylakas' point of view, it was just too perfect: We'd be able to give the Empire Maldark's genuine body, even with traces of sorcery on it - and only his own flavor, at that. Maldark had become a liability, and as an added bonus, it enabled him to send a firm message to his apprentice. Something along the lines of, 'Stop that.' ;)]

    [It looked like the Crossroad was going to give me everything I wanted and nothing I didn't want. Perspective had assured us that outright war would not occur, so it seemed likely we'd get the Empire off our backs. Crisis was still high, but we could bleed it off if need be.]

    [How wrong I was! Because SuentisPo still had a trick up his sleeve.]

    ----------------------

    [Crossroad resolution! Emporopolis gave Maldark's body to the Empire, so we were spared outright war. The Thieves' Guild had an orderly transition of power. Fylakas did not suffer crushing guilt under the Side Effect.]

    [Me: "Okay, my turn!" SuentisPo: "Hold on, we're not done with the Crossroad yet." "Huh?" "I'm changing Roles to Touchstone."]

    [JoJoz and I both stared at him. "Wha?! How? WHY?" He grinned at us. "You'll see."]

    The court buzzed with relief as Maldark's body was delivered on the very eve of war. Milos gave a triumphant yet strained speech. "My people! My dear people! We have found the villain Maldark, and this is good! And we will turn him over to the Empire as they have asked, and this also is good! ... And yet, and yet," here he faltered, "I fear I have bad news as well." Pausing to gather his strength against the spell, he said, "There are, more sorcerers, out there! Among us! Doing... terrible, terrible things!" And then he pitched forward, suffering a massive stroke.

    [SuentisPo grinned at us, daring us to say that wasn't a high enough Price. Then, as a newly-minted Touchstone, he formalized that as an Attitude... and gave the Crisis level the last nudge it needed to overflow.]

    [And all. Blazing. Hell. Broke loose.]

    Fylakas rushed forward, kneeling by the rapidly-fading body of his friend. "Oh, Milos, forgive me! I am so sorry!" He continued kneeling there, weeping, oblivious to the hysteria that was breaking out in the court and beyond.

    The city erupted in convulsions of paranoia. Long-simmering resentments against sorcerers, fanned by the recent rabble-rousing of Logite priests, burst into flame - literal as well as figurative. Spontaneous witchhunts broke out, and resentments between neighbors now overflowed into accusations and denunciations of practicing foul arts. Fires were set to purify the homes of the accused, and these often spread.

    Milos died within days of his apoplexy.

    Fylakas shielded himself and Mathitis from notice with the power of Secrets. Still stunned with shock and grief, he did manage to order the Thieves' Guild to come out of hiding and work openly with the Watch to help maintain order.

    Kerdizo, having already had some success in organizing the populace, worked to stem the worst abuses and organize fire-fighting brigades. Many looked to him for guidance in the troubled weeks ahead.

    [We voted on the survival of the Kingdom, and it came out 2-1 against. (Mine was the vote for.) So there came the aftermath:]

    When the Imperial fleet arrived in harbor, the people greeted them with open arms as saviors from corrupt nobles and foul sorcerers. [And thus there was no outright war, as had been Predicted.] The Logites received conversions in droves, and clamor arose for Emporopolis to re-accede to Imperial rule.

    Thus it came about that Milos' dearest wish was granted shortly after his death; the city returned to the Empire's fold peacefully. And indeed, it was a very generous and honorable offer, granting the city a notable degree of autonomy. Rather more generous than the Empire was accustomed to granting, in fact...

    Kerdizo did not yet have enough coin to destroy the Empire's economy, but he had enough to run a colossal bluff. On the strength of that deceit, he wrung concessions from His Imperial Majesty's representatives without mercy. When the dust settled, he had been appointed as the first Lord Mayor of the Imperial Free City of Emporopolis, with enough of a title patent to keep the local nobility from getting too restless. The only downside was that his sway now ran only over the city's immediate environs, rather than the whole province in which it had formerly resided. [Thus explaining the somewhat odd political structure 300 years down the road, with the capital of the province being a dinky little town compared to Emporopolis.]

    [SuentisPo: "They'll insist you convert, you know." JoJoz: "Do they insist I actually believe it?" Me: "Nah. So long as you make a big show of converting, they won't care." JoJoz: "Kerdizo is like, 'Eh, fine, whatever.'" :)]

    [It happens, by the way, that in the FATE game 300 years later, JoJoz' character is a small-time con artist named Timios. We joked that if Timios could see what Kerdizo had done - running a con on the entire Empire! - he'd probably worship Kerdizo as a god. :)]

    The new Lord Mayor gathered the now-outed members of the Guild of Thieves in a courtyard. "I thank you for your service to your city. You may continue to serve as members of my new City Watch and receive pardon for all your crimes prior to this date, or. ... I will leave the finishing of that sentence to your imagination."

    Apparently the thieves had good imaginations; they all signed up.

    [Which fits the fact that we know, 300 years later, that Emporopolis doesn't have a unified Thieves' Guild, but a fragmented underworld where different warlords struggle for control.]

    [What happened to Fylakas and Mathitis? As it happens, I wrote up an Epilogue for them the night after the game, and that's in the next post! In the post after that, I'll give some of my thoughts and analysis about the game.]

    [And let me just note one final irony: Since he was a Touchstone at the time, Milos did in fact die as a Man of the People. ;)]
    Last edited by The Shadow; Friday, 21st June, 2013 at 07:21 AM.

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    [This is an epilogue to the game. If you haven't seen the end of the game, go up and read that first!]

    Mathitis' Tale

    When Fylakas told me curtly, "Attend me in the sanctum," I knew that my doom was at last going to fall upon me. I'd been expecting it for a week, and the waiting had been a torture in itself... I hadn't lied when I'd told the Hierophant that my master could inflict spiritual torments upon me; I had only lied that I thought he would. But that was before.

    Before he'd calmly slit Maldark's throat right in front of me, discarding him and all his plots revolving around him as if paring one of his fingernails. As the man's lifeless body fell, Fylakas had sent one little glance my way... One little glance that told me that he knew everything, all my plots with Maldark against him. How had I ever thought I could keep a secret from him, of all people?! He'd taught me everything I know about secrets.

    Before the city had erupted against us, and against all sorcerers. Even as he spoke, the mob raged through our shop, destroying and burning, though of course they couldn't penetrate the Veil of Unknowing he'd placed over the back rooms where we lived and did our real work.

    In that week of terrified, breathless anticipation, I had learned some awful truths about myself... That I was a blind fool, as Fylakas himself had told me the year previous. He'd tried to show me, blinding me with a spell for a week, but I'd learned nothing from it except to resent him more. That I wasn't any good at manipulation, as the Hierophant had told me. (How the memory burned!) That - for one of the first things a sorcerer of the Demon God of Secrets learns is to hear what people say about him behind his back - I was a 'slimy little toad', as Merchant Kerma had put it.

    I couldn't even work up any resentment against him for it, though I wasn't sure of the context in which he'd said it. He was right.

    I stood before Fylakas... my master, my teacher, the only father I'd ever known. I stood before him cringing, head down, shoulders slumped; nor was I faking it, as I had when he'd caught me out last year. I'd learned nothing then, and now it was too late.

    "Look at me," he commanded, and the force of my Vow compelled me. I raised my eyes to his, miserable and fearful. And I saw that, to my surprise, he wasn't angry with me. He was... sad. He looked nearly as miserable as me, I thought.

    But my misery lurched abruptly into shock as he pronounced, slowly and clearly, "Mathitis, I release you from your Vow of service." I felt it snap within me and wondered wildly for one split second if it was all a trick, a test... but no. Not even Shaprenka himself could fake something that profound - it rocked me to the core of my being, then passed as quickly as it had come.

    I could do nothing but gape at him open-mouthed like a fish out of water as he said slowly, sadly, "You have been a son to me, the only son I will ever have. And I know I have given you reason enough to hate me. But promise me once more, now that you are free: Be a better man than I have been. Never betray anyone as I betrayed Milos, whom I now realize too late was my friend. Promise me, Mathitis."

    I stammered and stuttered, then managed to get out, "I promise, Master." He shook his head. "Master no longer." I blinked back tears. "F-father, then." An orphan of the streets, what other father had I ever known? He opened his arms to me and I fell into them as I hadn't since I was a little boy. He embraced me, then slowly kissed my forehead. Somehow I sensed it - he was saying goodbye.

    He released me, then said sadly, "I cannot continue with the burden of things I have done, son. If it will give you any peace of heart after the things that have passed between us, you may kill me yourself. Otherwise, I shall take my own life."
    This was all too much to process after the week of frightened expectation I had endured - my own fear, I now realized, blinding me to Fylakas' own suffering. "I... I... I can't! You can't!"

    He told me with a terrible soft gentleness, "I can and I will. You need not watch unless you wish." I fled from him then, the tears flowing freely now, scalding hot. I wanted to plead with him, scream at him, beg him, tell him I loved him, tell him I hated him, anything but look into those soft sad eyes, so different from any expression I'd seen in them before. I wanted to sleep a week, spend a month thinking through my life, and know he'd be waiting for me at the end. Perhaps I'd find a way to make him proud someday.

    The one thing I assuredly did not want to do was watch him die.

    But Shaprenka, my Demon God, was fickle as ever. He gave me the Sight, all unbidden, for secrets are cruel and cut like knives. (That had been Fylakas' first lesson, the first words he'd said to me after I'd sworn my Vow.) I watched, unable not to watch, as Fylakas selected a ritual dagger, tested its edge against his thumb. He tidied his workspace for the last time, always a fastidious Worker. He laid down a tarp to avoid staining the floor.

    And I wept as he slowly cut his own wrists lengthwise, the Old Imperial way, the way for regaining one's honor. Then he lay down on the tarp, straightening himself with dignity and crossing his arms over his chest as his life drained away. He did not waver, did not cry out. Only near the end did he speak, whispering, "Milos, forgive me."

    I didn't know where my life would lead me after that. But I did know that I would have my own small revenge against Shaprenka: Fylakas' life and death, both the good and the bad, the bitter and the sweet, would not remain forever a secret.

    And I knew that I had a promise to keep.
    Last edited by The Shadow; Friday, 21st June, 2013 at 07:26 AM.

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