The Mortal Tourney
The Mortal Tourney is a black-and-white film written and directed by famed Voxelian director Carde Ellegos. It was filmed on location in and around The Dodge Room in Silkenvault in 9986 AR. A noir supernatural suspense film, The Mortal Tourney follows the events of a Vyozha game where the stakes are literally the vital essences of the participants.
SynopsisThe Mortal Tourney begins with a male Servant of Ironies sitting in a smoky snug at an unnamed jazz cabaret (implied to be The Dodge Room) when a woman enters and asks for a divinatory game of Vyozha. The man agrees, explaining that he is a specialist Servant of Lyvianne, Goddess of Misfortune. The woman explains that she is a Navigator with the Navigator's Guild and has been feeling conflicted between her own desires and her devotion to her professsion (requiring her to profess no loyalties which might bring her geopolitical neutrality into quesiton).
As the Navigator and the Servant are discussing, an older gentleman enters the snug. He sits at the table and asks if the Servant can perform a divination on his behalf. As Vyozha can be played by up to four players, the Servant agrees, though he cautions that all participants must agree - on pain of death - that they will not disclose what is discussed within the seal of the sacrament. The man readily agrees, though the Navigator is does so with a degree of trepidation.
As the Servant shuffles the deck, he begins the ritual by asking the Navigator about any pertinent events which could have led her to this state. She explains through flashback that she had met a roguish, intelligent man during a trip to Intercostia and had a whirlwind romance with him in the air raid bunkers while awaiting a new assignment. When she was leaving, she discovered that he was from 'the other side' of the War of Reunification from her birth state, though which side that might be remains unmentioned. This makes her question her position, as pursuing a relationship with the man might bring her loyalty to the Guild into question while isolating her from her old friends and family in her native homeland.
As the Servant is dealing the cards, he deals a 'spiritual' fourth set as normal for a game of Vyozha where there are an odd number of participants. It is at this point that a third man enters the room. The Navigator and the Tycoon are obviously uncomfortable, but just why that might be is not made immediately obvious. The Servant encourages the man to sit and have his fortune read, but enjoins him to also refrain from discussing what is said within the seal of the sacrament. He agrees and sits, but seems to keep an eye on the Tycoon. The game begins to progress as the man explains, through another flashback sequence, that he is a private detective specializing in untangling the webs woven by extortionists and racketeers. the Detective explains that he is torn on what he should do regarding an offer from someone he investigated recently. He explains that he has a very sick sister for whom medicine is very expensive; some of the proceeds from his investigations is socked away to pay for her treatment, but business had been slow until recently. His current client, a weasly man who is never identified, has been threatened with personal violence if he goes public about a wealthy businessman's assault on his own sister - a state of affairs which caused the Detective, empathizing with the man, to offer his own services at greatly reduced price. The Detective explained that he tracked down the businessman, eventually pursuing him to Intercostia. In the course of these events, the Detective met a woman at a local bar and initiated a romantic connection with her. This woman is revealed to be the Navigator. The Detective doesn't recognize the Navigator in her civilian clothes and makeup at the table, as Guild members keep their uniforms on in Intercostia to help ward off kidnappings - no would-be slaver or ransomer in Intercostia would dare incur the far-reaching wrath of the NavGuard, but they might make an attempt on wealthy-looking club patrons. Eventaully, the Detective confronted the businessman, who, realizing what has transpired, offers the Detective an incredibly large amount of NGC to look the other way - enough to cover the Detective's sister's treatments in perpetuity. It is at this moment that the businessman comes out of the shadows in the flashback to reveal that he is the Tycoon.
The man - revealed to be a dieseltech tycoon - explains though another flashback sequence that he is torn on a question about how he should split his fabulous wealth upon his retirement. The Tycoon explains that he wants his sons, as the inheritors of his family, to gain his wealth. However, the Tycoon knows that his sons - taking after their father in many ways - are decadent and perverse and not suited for the management of a company. At the same time, his company is a far prouder legacy than his sons are, but it will not carry the Tycoon's family name forward.
He apologizes for the suprise and for not introducing himself properly before: he is, in fact, the embodiment of Zevtwill, God of Verbal Irony. The Servant then enjoins them to sit once more - better to have a hand in one's own fate than let the cards play out on their own. The second act of the movie takes place over a tense game, during which the Detective and Navigator face off against the Servant. The Navigator is struck by the Detective's resolve and, at length, realizes that the Detective is subtly working against the Servant while also throwing the game for his own part. She tries to force him to win, but the Detective seems resolute in sacrificing himself. As the game draws closer to a close, the Navigator is crying and begging the Detective not to throw his life away for someone like her. Unfortunately, the Servant surprises both of them by wining despite the work of the Detective and Navigator to undermine his chances. The Servant whispers the Detective's true name, causing him to dramatically suffer a massive, lingering heart attack. The Detective dies in the Navigator's arms. The Servant remarks calmly that he 'shouldn't have let greed lead his heart astray.' In the third act of the movie, the Navigator alone stands against the Servant in a final game to decide whether she lives or dies. The Servant cajoles the Navigator for her belief in the illusion of choice, explaining that people almost always believe that they have more control over events than they actually do. Even in this moment, he explains, her fate is being engineered by external forces, and it would take 'clear eyes' to percieve the 'cogs of fate' in motion as they truly are.
Back in the present, the Tycoon asks the Detective if he has had time enough to consider his choice. At this moment, the Servant places his last card and, grinning, whispers the Tycoon's real name. This causes the Tycoon to dramatically suffer a sudden, massive stroke; the Servant remarks calmy that the man should have 'thought harder on his life choices.' Frightened, the Detective and Navigator run to the door to get help - only to realize that the door is locked. Unruffled, the Servant tells them to sit, assuring them that this all according to the progress of the 'Vyozha of True Fate.'
In a series of shots designed to portray both the eerie silence of an empty universe and the ethereal feeling of being watched, the Navigator moves down streets where spatial continuity is not maintained between scenes; she makes six right turns without coming back to where she started and climbs a staircase only to find herself emerging from an underground accessway in what is presumably Intercostia. At length, she finds herself rounding a corner dressed as she was in her flashbacks, the street here having been changed to the one on which the bar where she met the Detective was located. Looking into a window, she sees the Detective waiting at the same table where they would eventually meet. Momentarily struck by the idea of entering - recreating the events of history - she forces herself to walk off into the foggy night. She enters a hotel and calls upon the Tycoon who lets her come in on the assumption that she is coming to seduce some money out of him rather than any recognition. Instead, she shoots him dead and walks into the fog once more. The movie ends with her looking out the window of her Honeyguide, the next day, her NavGuard attendant asking her if she enjoyed her shore leave. She sees the Servant, disguised as a skyport worker, waving to her from the tarmack, a knowing grin spread across his sinister face.
The game is tense but, in a narrow victory, the Navigator comes out on top. The Servant simply smiles and whispers her name, but nothing happens. The Servant then gestures to the door, telling her to 'struggle against fate' on her own terms. Confused, the Navigator stubles out into the club only to find that it is silent and empty. She wanders out into the street and finds it both empty and distorted into a mishmash of architectural forms.
Some critics and members of the theater-going criticized the film for supposedly trying to provoke 'outrage sales' with its provocative religious content. The Mortal Tourney was only a moderate financial success at the local box office. The film relied primarily on its writing (as most Ellegos films do) to achieve its suspense and had very few character in it. It also had a very small special effects budget for a film ostensibly about a supernatural encounter with a murderous god. These factors allowed it to turn a profit after less than a week of showing, despite middling critical reception. Once translated into Elovisian, the film exploded in popularity, becoming the sleeper hit of 9987 AR. Middling Voxelian artistic quality is - due to the effort put into artistic works by the New Voxelian culture - of masterpiece quality elsewhere in the Manifold Sky. The lack of direct refferences to the characters' nationalities also allowed the film to penetrate into markets where Voxelian materials are supressed, namely the Coalition states. Ellegos' studio partnered with the College of Bards and MartMart International to ensure that this universality of plot was pared with universality of distribution. Whether this was done as part of a concerted attempt to expand Voxelian cultural influences (a facet of the Council of Liars' long-term geopolitical strategy) or merely out of a desire for expanded profits remains unknown.
The Mortal Tourney annoyed some clergy members in the Church of the Unexpected, especially Servant of Ironies specializing in Lyvianne, Goddess of Misfortune. On the other hand, Servants of Zevtwill, God of Verbal Irony were surprisingly pleased with the work, variously praising the work for its portrayal of Zevtwill as an overturner of preconceptions and brushing off the complaints of certain critics that the film was too offensive for mainstream audiences. Voxelian critics gave the film an average to good rating, with many praising its writing and deft use of limited studio resources while others complained that it was only 'par-for-the-course' among its many contemporaries.