"Wonderful," the high magister says, and he relates your response to the Senate with an exasperated shrug.
But the Senators look uncertain—you think you've successfully instilled some doubt.
"Very well, who else knows magic in your kingdom?" the high magister asks.
"I can't think of anyone else who can use magic."
You say you can't think of anyone else who can use magic.
"Well, that's more than enough," the high magister says sourly.
"Just one final question for you, then," the high magister says. "Our spies tell us that your Church has, until recently, taught that all magic is a sin. So why do you use it? Do you not believe in your own religion?"
1."I believe the Church is wrong—Abraxas wants us to enjoy all creation, including magic."
2."I believe the Church teaches what they think they must to keep magic out of evil hands."
3."I don't know much about religion, really. I like magic."
"'Don't know much about religion,'" the high magister says with derision. "What, are you saying we know the values of your people better than you? What kind of irresponsible twit are you?"
"What kind of diplomat are you?" you counter, but then the high magister nods to the guards next to you, and you are escorted away.
"Perhaps you can find some religion in our dungeon," the high magister suggests. "Now excuse us—we must discuss whether we intend to bring some responsibility to your savage kingdom."
The Magisterian soldiers escort you to a subterranean corridor made from red-flecked dark marble, lined with cells on either side that are protected by opaque black curtains of negation magic.
You recall stories of the obsidian used to construct this place—you think the ancients used it to imprison wizards, since it contained enough power of the dark sun to negate any spell.
The guards have sadly confiscated all your equipment, and you have little idea where it is now.
At least the guards allow you to keep wearing your black robes. And your pendant as well, once you convince them it's just a sentimental heirloom that's not worth anything. (Lost Fighting.) (Lost Vivomancy.) (Lost Negation.)
Each cell has a pad with a handprint next to its curtain, and when a soldier touches this, it crackles with automation magic.
Your new cell is made of pure obsidian. A white-bearded old man in a tattered once-fine tunic looks up at you in despair. The guards shove you inside and reactivate the curtain of negation. Now you can barely see the old man, as the only light is the soft purple glow of the negation curtain.
You find that you can sear off your bonds fairly easily by holding them close enough to the negation curtain. But every spell you try to cast does nothing.
"Na-t-assay," the old man says miserably. "Opsian interdice magere." Don't try. Obsidian blocks magic.
1."What's your name?"
2."What was your profession?"
3."What were you convicted of?"
4."How long have you been here?"
"How long have you been here?"
The old man blinks in surprise. "Vu…You…dicere…comme…ancien." You speak like the ancients. "Mey…diafortent."
"But different, yes," you say.
"'Different.'" The old man seems to take some small pleasure in how this word feels. "'But different.'"
You glance at the negation curtain. Speaking the language of the ancients, you suggest learning each other's languages.
The old man blinks away tears and nods. "Dai…I…put util an amicaphilo ante ma morte." I could use a friend before I die.
Days pass, and you and the old man try to learn each other's languages. He is quite intelligent and learns your language rapidly, though he can't make that much progress in only a few days. Your knowledge of the ancients' language helps you keep up with him, and your shared excitement at learning languages together helps keep your spirits up. (Increased Empathy.)
Food comes twice a day, unpredictably shoved into the cell only to have the energy curtain return immediately. Both meals consist of a mashed tuber, some unfamiliar green stalks, and a cup of water. At least the water is recognizable.
After a few days, you feel ready to try your questions on the old man again. Your knowledge of his language isn't perfect, but you learned how to ask basic questions in the present tense, along with the basic pleasantries the old man considered essential.
"Qa vu nomina?" you begin. What is your name?
"Espar," the old man says. "Means 'hope.'" He smiles humorlessly.
"Qa vu profes?" What is your profession?
"Emporios?" he says, shrugging because it's a word you didn't cover.
Probably not an emperor, you think. Empire…emporium…. "You're a merchant," you declare.
Espar looks excited. "Yes. Marcanta. Merchant. Not…fortunas. Lucky, rich. Mey…happy."
"Qa vu offendakima?" What is your offense?
"Magere," Espar says. "Like you." He pantomimes casting a spell.
"Magere est…illegal…edere?" you say, pantomiming a spell being interrupted by a stern grip.
"Not for Magisterians."
Surprised, you say, "I thought you were all Magisterians. Na…eberdin…Magisterian?"
The old man chuckles humorlessly. "Ah. When you say, 'learn Magisterian,' I misunderstand, I think you want to talk great. No. Magisterian is our word for fortunas people. Like…old nobilia? But…not by family. Powerful…merchants. But also, antigladi." He makes a sword-swinging motion. "The magister's favorites. Magisterians. Those who can use magere."
"Why magere…only for merchants and fighters?" you say, puzzled.
"Magere is for those who…stipendi," he says, making a motion of doling out money. "Too much for me. Too much for most. And antigladi. They say it keeps the world…happy.
Only magic for those who serve the magister best."
"Cannot contendi…compete?…with no magere," he says with a shrug. "Magisterians have magere, I need magere. All merchants do it…subitere."
"'Subtly?'" you say, trying to look sneaky. "Or 'underground'?" You point down.
"Both maybe?" He sighs. "So all can be put here if a Magisterian wishes."
"Qa vu…subsita…edere?" How long are you staying here?
"Qa vu…subsita…edere?" How long are you stay here? you manage in your broken Magisterian. You think.
Espar looks sad. "Soon."
"What do you mean?" you ask. "Will you be free, or…?"
Espar shakes his head and curls up into a ball, head on his knees. He sobs softly.
You could say something to cheer up the old man.
Squeeze his hand to reassure him. (Requires empathy.)
Put a hand on his back. "We'll get you out somehow." (Requires optimism.)
Tell him a knock-knock joke. (Requires humor.)
I'm not very good at cheering people up. I leave him be.
You don't really see the point of cheering up the old man; he's destined to die, and there's little you can do to change that.
For a while, the only sound in the darkness is the old man's sobs.
A few more days pass in which you and Espar teach each other more of each other's languages.
You also learn a little more about the Magisterians. Interestingly, Espar has never heard of glamor magic before; you think it has been forgotten on this side of the Negative Sea.
You learn that the Magisterians call your people "the Reckless," and until recently, most Magisterians thought they blew themselves up during the Great War. You learn that the Magisterian word for someone who is not a noble is a "plebeian," and that their word for their people in general is the Electi, or Chosen. Disliking the connotations of that term, you decide to go back to calling them all the Magisterians, even if it technically only applies to their nobles.
Then, one day, the negation curtain rises to reveal guards in black armor. Hanging from their belts are both scabbarded swords and black wands. Their hands are exposed, perhaps to improve the flow of energy to their wands.
You and Espar both rise.
"Time to go," one of the guards says to Espar in Magisterian.
The dejected Espar meekly goes along with them. All the fight seems to have drained out of him. The curtain of negative energy is up again soon enough.
Maybe you should have said something. It's too late now.
You spend three more days in your dark cell, alone with your thoughts. Is this the end? It certainly seems that way.
Finally, a group of guards deactivates the negation curtain and binds your arms again.
"Magister Magni dicere vu antifortunas," one of the guards tells you. "Fatamorti."
You try to parse some of the unfamiliar words. Your unlucky fortune: doing-death.
You stand near the center of a bowl-shaped stadium where thousands of people have gathered to watch your demise. The stadium lies in the shadow of the giant mirror at the center of the city, which displays one magisterian crest after another. The mood of the crowd appears to be curious instead of bloodthirsty, if that is any consolation. They're mostly plebeians, but some magisterians have come to watch on personal thrones that render the seats behind them useless.
There is a long walk ahead of you to the headsman, a man wearing brightly colored motley and a contrasting black mask. He bears an enormous ax that would be impractical for any real battle—designed, no doubt, to be seen from even the worst seats. There are any number of ways that magic could make you die subtly or painlessly, but that is apparently not the point. A huge chunk of obsidian forms the stage for this macabre man, his chopping block, and his bucket.
Behind you and to your sides are your three grim escorts, armed with large halberds that themselves seem somewhat ceremonial. You have noticed on the way here that their black helmets are themselves adorned with magisterian crests, but you don't know whether this suggests their affiliation or if some magisterian has bought advertising on their heads. There is still much you don't know about the Neighbors.
The path to the headsman's block is paved with obsidian, shutting you off from the dark sun and probably weakening other magics as well. With your hands bound, its effectiveness is moot.
The guards prod you forward.
1.I grow despondent. My whole life I played it safe, and all for naught. (Requires caution.)
2.I try to subtly wriggle free of the bonds.
3.I face the walk with bravery. There's always a way. (Requires optimism.)