Ancient Labyrinth, Ephemeral Flame

Game Master Iadel

(An experiment: playtesting a method for playtesting)


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The next morning

At the door of the Duke’s study, Ivaia waits while one of the Palace servants announces her. Inside the room, the Duke stands up from behind his desk. “Welcome back, my Lady. Please, take a chair. First, I’d like to state that I am not expecting you to respond to what I am about to tell you. You may say nothing at all, if you choose. This is a message for your aunt, Lady Elavandra, to relay to her husband.”


Kineticist

As soon as the Duke mentions her uncle, Ivaia’s shoulders tense and her pulse picks up speed. The words aren’t surprising - Aunt Ela guessed that the banquet invitation was a prelude to negotiation. But…

He’s demonstrating how serious this is. Last night, he treated me as an honoured guest. Now, he offers me nothing apart from a chair, as if I’m an envoy from a hostile force. Which I am, perhaps. Is he going to show mercy? How much? And what conditions will he impose?

She sits down opposite the Duke, clasps her hands together tightly and tries to look patient and calm.


The Duke also sits down. “I want your uncle to present himself at my court and do three things,” he says. “Confess his part in the plot, ask for my pardon and give his word that he will obey the laws of Tuarensi in the future. Once he's said all of that, I will pardon and free him - there will be no further consequences for what happened in the past. I understand that your family may not trust my motives. But my request for a confession is not a trap. I am prepared to guarantee my side of the bargain in writing. Or proclaim it publicly, if necessary.”


Kineticist

Ivaia nods, to show that she has understood.

Will Ivaia raise the possibility that her uncle is innocent? (60% probability of Yes)
Decision: 1d100 ⇒ 23


Kineticist

It seems he really does want to end the feud. Even the demand for a confession is reasonable - it would provide some clarity for the people of Tuarensi. But…

“Your offer is magnanimous, your Grace,” she says. “As long as we assume that my uncle is guilty. What if he’s innocent, though? Is it fair to force him to lie for a chance to live with his family again?”

Why am I taking this risk? My aunt will be appalled if she ever hears about this. But perhaps my uncle would want me to speak.


The Duke leans back in his chair. He rests his hand on the desk, taps a finger once against the dark polished wood and gazes at Ivaia for a while before he speaks. “You do not have to answer this question - I promise that I won’t draw any conclusions from silence. But I am curious. Do you really think it’s possible that your uncle is innocent?”


Kineticist

“I know I’m influenced by childhood memories - my uncle always seemed to be filled with life, laughter and generosity. The only thing that ever made him angry was injustice. Or any sort of unfairness, really. So I find it almost impossible to believe that he would try to harm you and your brother in revenge for something your father might have done.”

She looks down at her hands as she continues talking. She’s used to her family talking around serious topics or minimising them, and she realises she’s fallen into that habit herself, saying the word ‘harm’ to a man who was stabbed in the back and very nearly killed.

“I know the evidence. The surviving assassin claimed that my uncle hired and paid him. That could have been arranged, using disguise or coercion. My parents’ departure, though… Their passage was booked days before the attacks, and timed too conveniently. It’s very hard to explain unless my father knew in advance. But what I wonder is… Could it have been my father’s plan alone? What if my uncle wasn’t involved at all? It would explain why my uncle pleaded not guilty but refused to give any other testimony at his trial. He didn’t want to perjure himself but did want to protect his younger brother. Perhaps he thinks you’ll put more effort into pursuing my father if you believe he was the only one responsible.”

I should feel like a traitor for saying this. But it’s the only explanation that’s ever made sense to me. I don’t want it to be true… but I owe it to my uncle to suggest the possibility to the man who controls his fate.


“Interesting,” says the Duke. As usual, his tone is emotionless, leaving open the question of whether he’s being sincere or sarcastic. “But rather far-fetched, I think. It would imply that your uncle has remarkably little confidence in his brother’s ability to remain hidden in a foreign country.”


Kineticist

“If you’re so certain, your Grace, then why is my uncle still in prison? You could have made this offer of a pardon two years ago. He would be free or dead now, but not locked up alone, day after day…” Is my uncle still a man filled with life, laughter and generosity? Can those traits survive the isolation that’s been inflicted on him? Aunt Ela only ever mentions his physical health… “Your delay suggests a man with doubts. Or a mind that’s changed.”

As soon as she’s spoken, Ivaia asks herself what she was thinking. Why couldn’t I just nod and say thank you, rather than risk angering him? Maybe he uses that emotionless voice deliberately, to provoke other people into trying to get some sort of reaction out of him… If so, it’s certainly worked on me.


“That’s a-” the Duke begins, then cuts himself off. His voice is just a little quieter when he starts speaking again. “That’s not a question I am willing to answer at this time. Do you have any other questions, my Lady?”


Kineticist

“None, your Grace.” She pushes back her chair and stands up. What had he been about to say to her? “I will take your message to my aunt. Thank you.”


The Duke stands up as well. “My Lady… Ivaia, if I may. You don’t have to go back. I mean, not permanently. I gather that your aunt has been placing tight restrictions on all your family still living in Tuarensi. I believe you’re rarely allowed to leave the estates? I assume she wants to reduce the risk of people acting rashly or drawing suspicion. Understandable, but it seems unfair. If you wish, I can order you to attend my court.” He smiles for a moment. “It needn’t be as unpleasant as it sounds. This palace is overlarge and half-empty. You could have a suite of rooms here and hardly ever see me.”


Kineticist

“I… I will need some time to consider, sir,” Ivaia says. “Perhaps when you’ve received an answer from my uncle, I’ll be able to decide…”

I’ve spent so long hating all my aunt’s rules and instructions, and now I’m being offered a chance for freedom, but…

She tries to picture herself accepting. It would seem like a betrayal. The Duke is suggesting a pretence, but Ivaia will know the truth even if her family never guesses that she was summoned to the Palace because of a choice she made.

I can’t agree until I’m sure I can trust this man. What’s his motive? Kindness, or an attempt to weaken my family by dividing it?

It could be both. It’s easy to imagine his Grace having six or seven different reasons behind everything he says.


The Duke nods. “I understand. It’s your choice. And will be, always.” He glances at the necklace Ivaia is wearing. Then he picks up some papers from his desk, sits, and starts to read.


Kineticist

He noticed that I’m wearing the necklace he gave me. And I assume he wanted me to notice that he’d noticed. And…

And there’s no point wondering about the Duke’s motives any more right now.

Her talk with him has been a distraction - and almost a welcome one, despite the main subject of the conversation - from the other message she received earlier that morning. The Duke’s summons created a stir at home when it was delivered during breakfast, but Ivaia was expecting it. She had not been expecting the letter she found on the carpet just inside her bedroom, as if it had been pushed beneath the door while she slept. She mentioned the note to no one, and she could not think of another reason to ask if anyone had heard or seen anything unusual during the night. How did the note arrive?

She’s trying not to think too much about that question - all of the answers that have occurred to her so far are at least slightly troubling.

She realises that she knows one side of the letter from memory, without having made a deliberate attempt to learn it:

You have found each other. Now you must hide each other, or your enemies will find you and enslave you. Choose a place out of sight, stand facing each other at equal distances and recite the words on the other side of this page in unison. Focus your minds on each syllable that you speak. When you are done, burn each page before you leave.

The words on the other side were written in a different ink - blue with occasional blotches of fiery red - and were in some language Ivaia has never seen before.

She curtseys to the Duke even though he is no longer looking at her, and walks out of his study. I need to talk to Karalisel and Farenthar. What do we do about this letter? Should we actually follow those bizarre instructions?

She hopes they understood the cryptic hints she tried to give them during the carriage ride last night - Rodairos was sleepy but not actually asleep, and she didn’t want him to hear her arranging a meeting with strangers…


Psychic

Karalisel spots Farenthar standing on the other side of the square in front of the Palace, and she starts hurrying forward, dodging among the various well-dressed people walking in different directions. She’s assuming he received a letter too, but she wants to be sure. I never thought anyone would send me anything as strange as that… What should we do? There’s really no information for us to base any decision on. Except for what we witnessed last night, and I barely understand any of that. Although…

Will Karalisel argue in favour of following the instructions? (50% probability of Yes)
Decision: 1d100 ⇒ 38


Mesmerist

Farenthar sees Karalisel approaching, and he waves to her. I need to talk about that letter. Can we really trust a warning from someone who doesn’t even reveal their name? This feels like deception. On the other hand…

Will Farenthar argue in favour of following the instructions? (35% probability of Yes)
Decision: 1d100 ⇒ 81


Kineticist

Ivaia nods to the footmen who open the front doors for her, and then she quickly steps out of the Palace and looks around at the busy sunlit square. Good, no sign of our carriage driver. And there are Farenthar and Karalisel. Maybe they’ll have sensible thoughts about this letter. All I can think about is one word. ‘Enslave’.

Will Ivaia argue in favour of following the instructions? (65% probability of Yes)
Decision: 1d100 ⇒ 91


Kineticist

Ivaia notices the actor and walks quickly down the Palace steps. She’s glad she dressed plainly today despite her audience with the Duke - the combination of dark brown and brick red in an unornamented style allows her to cross the square and approach Farenthar without drawing too much attention. How should I greet him? Perhaps with some light, ironic words before we start discussing anything serious?

“Did you get a weird letter?” she asks him as soon as he’s within earshot.


Psychic

Karalisel reaches the other side of the square in time to hear Ivaia’s question. “I received a letter,” she says quietly. “And yes, ‘weird’ would describe it.”


Mesmerist

“And mine completes the set, I assume. Do you have time to talk? And would either of you object if we go somewhere out of the way? I’d rather not be overheard on this particular topic.”


Kineticist

“I have a carriage, but I’ve told our driver that my audience with the Duke will take several hours, and that he should find some distraction or pastime - or just a place to get a drink… So I’m unescorted, in the city,” she adds in a quieter voice, as if talking to herself.


Mesmerist

“I know a place - a small park, not far from here. Public but usually not busy. Our company rehearses there sometimes when the weather is good.”

In normal circumstances, I would be backing away quickly. Getting involved in any way with a rebellious young noblewoman is not a wise idea. But a chance to talk about that letter seems more important than anything else right now…

He glances at Karalisel and Ivaia to check that they’re happy with his suggestion, and then he leads them around one of the grand buildings facing the Duke’s Palace across the square. They walk over wide streets and a few narrower ones, follow cobbled alleyways between old shops, and go down a few steps to the riverside park.


As usual, the park is quiet - one courting couple is standing arm-in-arm beneath a tree, and two men dressed like merchants are engrossed in conversation as they walk together along a path. Nearby is a sturdy wooden bench, large enough to sit three people comfortably.


Mesmerist

Farenthar glances at the bench, but he knows he’s too tense and restless to be comfortable seated. He takes out the letter from a pocket inside his jacket. “Are yours just like this?”


Psychic

Karalisel stands next to Farenthar and holds her letter up alongside his.

“Same words, same ink, same handwriting.”


Kineticist

Ivaia is briefly distracted by the ever-shifting glimmers of sunlight reflected from the surface of the river. A tributary flows through our estates, she thinks. It’s not as though I can’t look at a river at home. But it’s always the same banks, the same trees, the same…

She hears the baker’s words half-echoing her thoughts, and she quickly turns away from the river. She holds out her letter. “I assume mine’s the same too.”


Psychic

“So, what do you think?” Karalisel asks, speaking softly but rapidly. “Do we follow the instructions? This all seems… bizarre and suspicious. But I have to confess I’m curious. Last night, I felt as though as I was seeing things in a way I never have before… I want to find out if these words will actually do anything.”

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