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Friday, January 6, 2012

The Brothers' War - Chapter 25



Caught!


Chapter 25 - Rack

Tawnos is in the uncomfortable situation of being chained to the floor with manacles around both his writs and ankles in a cramped dungeon cell with nothing but a small table that he can't reach and a skull on the floor. And the war had been going so well.

Mishra had spread himself too thin. The raids by Argive and Korlis into Mishra controlled territory were picking up, and then a group of young Korlisian volunteers were cornered and slaughtered. They were truly fighting because of love for their country and not just for money like common mercenaries and they became martyrs . That's when the campaign really took off.

The people of Korlis demanded their king take action and Urza was prepared to back that sentiment. With Mishra off at Sarinth, there was plenty of manpower to defend the northern passes while backing the Korlisan troops with ornithopter, Yotian soldier, and avenger support, as well as the addition of the latest triskelion inventions.

Over the next two years the Fallaji had to retreat province by province until only the trans-Mardun and the Sword Marches were under Fallaji control. There were cheers as Tawnos led armies to recover the lost lands of Yotia, and then eyes of accusations as the lands were incorporated in the combined kingdoms of Argive and Korlis. The Yotians wanted to be free and instead found they only traded masters.

Many expected for Urza to complete the retaking, but instead the armies were directed towards Tomakul and Mishra. The war was slow and methodical. They marched thirty miles each day, and at each stop a new tower was erected with great mirrors and signal fires and defenses.

But Urza had taken too long. They didn't hear of the fall of Sarinth until it was too late. Misrha's army was no longer occupied, and sporadic attacks on their supply lines soon became regular affairs. The transmogrants were trained to handle Tawno's clay statues by tearing off handfuls of the clay substance rather that use piercing weapons, and so the statues could no longer automatically seal over any damage. And despite destroying seven dragon engines over the years, they were still a threat, especially the new design that could fly. The ornithopters had no chance. Retreat was cut off and they fought on with hope of promised reinforcements that never arrived , and Tawnos was captured.


...Later...

Ashnod arrives, and asks him how he enjoys the oubliette. The dimly lit and cramped cell is a Fallji tradition for making personal enemies disappear. At least the previous dead bodies were removed, except for a single skull left as a reminder.

Ashnod tells him that there is a group of Fallaji that want him dead, and a much larger group that wants him to suffer for a long time. She tells him that her own opinions, of course, aren't influenced by others. Guards unshackle one of his wrists and attach him to a new manacle at the table. With a flip of a switch Tawnos feels a shock drift through his body. She explains that the rack is one of the traditional Fallaji torture devices. Mishra's taken to the concept and developed a wonderful version and Ashnod herself has created her own smaller version .

"Ashnod," said Tawnos, "when you were our prisoner, we treated you well."

"Here's a hint, Duck," said Ashnod. "By Fallaji standards this is being treated well. Most of your compatriots have been killed. Mishra doesn't even trust Yotian slaves anymore. He thinks Urza can read their minds at a distance. Mishra wanted to deliver your head, pickled, to Momma Duck Urza. I talked him out of it; said you had knowledge we could use."

"I won't tell you anything," spat Tawnos.

"I know," said Ashnod calmly. "But it was either this or the pickling jar."

Ashnod tells him that knowing Argivian has fallen out of favor and none of the guards in the room can understand their conversation. She dismisses the guard anyway to ease his fears, and tells him to signal to her when they open the window in the door so she can give him a shock to maintain the torture pretense.

They discuss all manner of topics. She's hurt when he, another artificer, has issue with her transmogrant. She tells him she was overruled when she counciled not stripping Yotia of all its resources. She tells him that Mishra's been distancing himself from her for years now thanks to the chieftans and the Gixians who've now inserted themselves everywhere.

Wait... Gixians? Tawnos tells her they've inserted themselves into Urza's new school as well. He doesn't trust them either.

Ashnod flips the shock switch again, just one instance out of many during the course of this conversation, and Tawnos says he doesn't know if he can take it anymore. Ashnod agrees and says it's time she leave. He says that she didn't even ask him anything about their machines and she replies that they'll learn more from the recovered pieces from the battle than they'd ever learn from him. This whole conversation was just one last attempt for him to prove that he's as smart as she is.

"One last chance to see if you're as smart as I am," said Ashnod, sharply, "and one more chance to embarrass the others on whom Mishra depends on so heavily. If everything goes well, a chance to have you owe me a favor. A girl can never be owed too many favors."

Ashnod flips the switch one more time until he blacks out, and when he comes to, there's a thin gold wire and two earrings in the palm of his hand. Tawnos looks at the skull in the corner and smiles. He can certainly show her he's just as smart as she is.


...A month later...

Ashnod finds herself called to Mishra's court with his newly acquired ankh , the symbol of Sarinth, tucked into his belt. She thought this was to discuss her findings after studying Tawnos' devices, but instead she finds him sitting on his throne with the Brotherhood of Gix present. Tawnos has escaped and he did so using a staff similar to her design. Ashnod denies any such accusations but she realizes how difficult it will be to sway him as the evidence piles up. When she brings out her trump card, and tells him that the Brotherhood is playing both sides, she realizes her mistake of never having included that in her initial report. He tells her that they've already voluntarily told him of such things long ago. She is guilty and she is to be banished. If she's spotted at sunup she's to be killed.

When Ashnod is reported to be spotted heading west towards Terisia City and not east towards the lands under Urza's control, Mishra simply nods and continues the plans for his campaign.

* * *


Betrayal and Leniency

Would Ashnod have betrayed if Mishra has laid his complete trust in her? Maybe... maybe not. But it's not as if Mishra had much a choice if he also wanted to maintain his power among the Fallaji, so he was stuck in a catch-22.

This actually seems like Mishra is genuinely showing leniency to Ashnod, as compared to the other scene where he was buttering her up before sending her off to Sarinth. He has no more use for her, and I think he would have killed any other person. He decides to let her live as long as she doesn't run to his enemy and switch sides. He still has an appreciation for what she's done for him and/or her intellect in general.

That... or he still has plans for her.


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