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Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Brothers' War - Chapter 20



Ashnod comes out to play.


Chapter 20 - Transmogrants

After a few months left to her own research, Ashnod is prepared to show her prototype.

It drooled and had a shuffling step. It was hairless and toothless and had skin that resembled a bluish cracked plaster. And it stank.

But when Ashnod gave the command it almost kills three elite guards all on its own, it ignores all pain as spears pin it to the floor, and it dies after a long struggle when its organs finally shut down.

Mishra was pleased and gave Ashnod permission and resources to build an army of her "transmogrants ," of these things that were once living beings but now were little more than organize automatons, controlled by Ashnod's word.

If Ashnod noticed the fearful and disgusted faces of the Fallaji as her prototype was hauled from the room feet first, she said nothing. Nor did she notice the dark-robed northern priests among the assemblage, who whispered to each other in excited tones.


...A year later...

It took some time before Ashnod was able to improve her technique to have a success rate larger than fifty percent, but the time came to put them to work. The Korlisians have hidden behind their so-called neutrality for too long. Mishra knows they're secretly working with the Argivians and Yotians. The Argivians have their mountain passes guarded, but if they can just break through nearby Korlinda, they can gain a strong foothold.

Mishra's generals strongly object to having a woman command them, especially one with cursed hair. General Jarin is the last to voice complaints, finally yelling that she is not Fallaji and uses outlander wizardry. When Mishra reminds him that their qadir is an outlander and asks if they would prefer to not have his wizardry at their disposal the general finally shuts up, and all further complaints remain unspoken.

The army is assembled in a big parade while Mishra and his people watch them march off to war. Cheers follow as the ranks of cavalry, scouts, and footmen pass. When Ashnod appears in her ornate armor with her three hundred transmogrants walking in an eerily coordinated gait, the crowd becomes silent with but a small scattering of polite applause. The cheers return louder than before as four of Mishra's new dragon engines pass by, controlled by Fallaji from within.

The march is slow. While the transmogrants walk at a slower pace than the Fallaji, they at least are tireless and walk through the night and regain any lost ground. The dragon engines on the other hand aren't anywhere near as efficient as the the originals. By the end of the tenth day into the mountains, an ornithopter spots them and the Fallaji know any chance of surprise is lost. What's worse, is that it seems as if they can't even reach the crucial junction where they planned to mkae their stand before the Korlisians can reach it and stand no chance at winning.

Ashnod decides they'll leave the dragon engines behind. If the transmogrants are commanded to go on ahead right now they can make it. The transmogrants can be the solid center of the army to rally around that the dragon engines were supposed to fill. There are questions and doubts, but Mishra put her in charge and they must obey her orders.

The battle begins with a line of Fallaji foot in front, hiding the army of transmogrants behind them. The plan is to lure the Korlisians into thinking the Fallaji can be crushed. When they meet much stronger resistance than they expected in the form of her creations, the cavalry will be sent in to crush them from the side. The battle seems to be going well until the Korlisans reveal a secret of their own. They have disguised their own machines! Automatons hidden behind beetle-like armor and larger ones covered in some kind of mud. Ashnod's transmogrants would have crushed any human resistance but against these the advantage is gone.

While her creations fair decently well against the smaller machines , the larger ones are the clear threat. There's still time to salvage the situation if the cavalry strikes now. Ahsnod gives the command to the signal flags, but Jorin remains still. She sends the command again, and again the cavalry doesn't respond. When the cavalry turns around and leaves, the battle turns into a route and Ashnod has no choice but to signal the retreat.


...Later...

The transmogrants had to be left behind, but they must have crippled the enemy forces enough that there was no pursuit besides one trailing ornithopter, which had to turn around once they met up with the dragon engines.


...Mishra's Workshop...

It's Ashnod's word versus Jorin. Ashnod claims treason while Jorin says that he makes no claim that she's lying, but sometimes in battle signals are missed. Mishra is disappointed in her failure, and she claims that they're just afraid of her, of both of them. Mishra on the other hand tells her that they think he relies on her too much. He has a new assignment for her. She's to go south with a small force selected by herself and acquire the fealty of Sarinth and their resources. When she asks what happens if she cannot do so, he says he'll have to sent a larger force lead by a real commander.

Ashnod bristled but said nothing.

Mishra's eyebrows arched, and a kindly look passed over his face. It was an expression Ashnod had not seen in a long time.

"My student," he said, "you do many things better than any man, better than any individual, in my empire. But you are part of that empire, and you must go as your qadir commands."

Ashnod bowed formally. "I respect your wishes, Most Wise Among Us," she said woodenly. "Let me make my preparations for departure."

And one last thing. Mishra tells her she's not to kill Jarin. That would make things difficult.

* * *


Life is Rough

Clearly it's easy to see Mishra as the villain of this book, and easy to partially excuse his evil to the influence of Phyrexia. It's also easy to see Ashnod's take scientific approach towards new discoveries as disgusting, but it's also hard to not feel a little bad for her. She has the best possible ruler to be working under, one that appreciates her approach, but she serves in a culture that is absolutely the most hostile towards her as it can be.

Even caught by surprise by the clay statues of Tawnos, the fight might have gone differently if the Fallaji worked as one rather than to actively oppose her.

How do I feel about Mishra's moment of sympathy? I've been impressed by Urza's moments of humanity, but while there is some of that when it comes to Mishra, I also can't help but feel that it's a little bit like an abusive husband apologizing to an abused wife. Ashnod has no where else to go, no one else that will accept her, so she is forced to accept whatever kindness Mishra will show her and is forced to like it. There's a sinister undertone of manipulation to it that there isn't with Urza.

This might be because of the clear Urza = Good and Mishra = Bad bias, but it it's also because we know that Urza has no social skills so when he breaks, we know it's genuine, while on the other hand we know that Mishra is an expert of manipulating social situations, so there will always be a little bit of doubt when it comes to his sincerity.


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