Part 9: Lo Pheng and the Terrible, No-good, Rotten Country of AssholesLo Pheng and the Terrible, No-good, Rotten Country of Assholes
: The kingdom of Frisia. The town of Wodan.
: A procession approaches the city.
Meet Lo Pheng. He's the mysterious third protagonist I wouldn't shut up about, and is probably my favorite of the three because he kicks ass in combat and he doesn't put up with as much stupid bullshit as the other two. More on that later.
: You are a bodyguard of the highest rank-a warrior of the Shadow Clan. Your client, Count Pelko Soturi, shows you off like a golden belt buckle. It makes no difference to you. In the end, you are loyal to your clan.
: The streets are full of gawkers-city dwellers and villagers who brought their whole families to the festival. However, Temple inquisitors, no mere itinerant entertainers, preside over the ceremonies.
I wonder if that redheaded woman will be important in any way? Nah.
: Remain impassive
: The count notices your lack of reaction and balls his small fists in anger.
: No need to fret, Count. The third legion is already on the march. You should let fate do the work when considering the command of three legions. Other commanders might suffer from falling sickness, or their tents could be attacked by bandits. Do you follow me?
: (Surprised) Does the Temple... permit such tricks of fortune? And how should I pursue a fate such as this? Will the Temple advise me?
Count Soturi is really awful at this intrigue thing, isn't he? I'd also love to see a fictional conspiracy where people just avoid the euphemisms and straight out say they're going to murder people. This never happens.
: Listen in
: (Lowering his voice) If the Eikons are as adept as they say, then here is your solution. Your bodyguard will do anything you wish-unless, of course, it's not in his contract.
: Everyone knows that I have an Eikon in my service! They'll know it was me. Besides, I do not want to lose a bodyguard of his caliber. They say an Eikon is worth fifty Frisian warriors. Moneywise, that's certainly true.
I'm not sure what the deal is here, exactly. If Nakoma can just pardon people for mass murder in broad daylight, then why is Pelko so worried about being caught? Lo Pheng, I assume, is good at sneaking around being from the Clan of Shadows and all. The answer is that Frisia is a country run by idiots and assholes, and we'll get to why shortly.
You are absolutely still. A premonition touches you like a breeze, but your inner peace is undisturbed. You are always ready for whatever may happen.
: A satisfied grin blooms across the count's face. He has interpreted your nod as a bow it seems.
:: This day last year, two murderers were tortured to death in the city square. This year brings many more victimes, but they look nothing like murderers...
I make the executive decision to talk to the redhead girl. Hopefully we will have more luck than Charlie Brown.
: More women stand behind the red-haired girl, but she alone watches you. You remain calm and impassive... even when she calls out to you in Eikon.
: The red-haired girl is definitely not Eikon - if she were, you would have been forced to abandon your service and save your kin. Nothing else can interfere with your service to Pelko Soturi, who pays you so well.
You know, I'm not sure why she's wearing one unconnected sleeve, and I'm not sure I want to know.
: You remain silent. Your inner peace is absolute.
: So what?
: Think of the law of the clan! If a Reaping begins, you shall serve your clan only! You should fight the Reapers wherever they appear! The law of the Shadow Clan binds you to oppose the Reaping and the Reapers! Do you remember your duty?
She knows the Shadow Clan laws and Eikon tongue...are we sure she's not Eikon?
: No one understands what the red-haired prisoner is screaming about, but the guardsmen dare not shut her up. Nakoma's eyes are daggers. She knows something she should not. Still, none can foretell a Reaping!
: I heard your words.
: You may think me foolish but, please, be vigilant. To your client, you're just fodder... much like us.
: You remain silent. The warrior's code of the Shadow Clan prescribes inner calm-otherwise you are useless. They receive substantial sums of money from count Pelko Soturi.
Yea, this is the third story they didn't quite get enough Kickstarter money to finish but were good enough to add anyway. Some of the writing could have used another pass.
Chatting up the executioner. I'm sure he's a conscientious man trapped in a job he doesn't want...right?
: The executioner checks the steel spikes protruding from the wall and then looks into a tin box. "Augrin! Damnation, why did we drive this herd to Wodan? You can only hang ten people at a time here! Do you mean to drive the rest back?"
We peek into Augrin's bag.
: Mel giggles. "I remember your collection. What should I cut off that's different? Noses perhaps? As for the grand cause... I'm happier arranging smaller affairs. Smaller and sweeter."
: Augrin laughs. "Don't tell me! I saw you drool-slicing a wench from breast to crotch, just to see her guts spill! Just wait for it. You'll soon have it your way. We'll slay them by the hundreds!"
: Mel rubs his hands together. You wonder why anyone would drive prisoners toward war. Usually, it would be the opposite.
These guys are evil, but not in a fun or interesting way. I'm gonna take a completely unfair example from literature and bring up Shakespeare's Iago. Iago is a bad dude who is out to do bad things because he hates Othello, but ultimately he's interesting because he deceives Othello and plays on his paranoia. We care about Othello because he's a good man tragically destroyed by his paranoia and wracked with guilt over the horrible shit he did listening to Iago. We do not care about Mel and Augrin, because while they are assholes they have yet to threaten anyone we care about. I suppose you could jump in and point out they're probably going to get their hands on poor Reet, but they're just evil for the sake of evil. They're not interesting, and while Mel's love of cutting open women is horrible it's not something you couldn't find in a newspaper on a Tuesday.
This is a novel that shows you that no conflict has a right or a wrong side because even your enemies have mothers and children.
Huh? There is nothing sympathetic about Nakoma, Augrin, Mel, or Soturi. They're not interesting. Soturi is a coward sucking up to Nakoma to get power he doesn't deserve, Nakoma is so powerful he can throw away his soldiers on a whim and just excuse murder in the street, Augrin and Mel are petty thugs who want to inflict harm on people because . The best that can be said of this sequence is that it's to show how inured Lo Pheng is to all this, as we are going to get into why Lo Pheng's inner peace is so strong. These guys are evil and degrading, but we don't see how low the pit goes for individuals, just for masses of people we have no reason to care about.
: Nakoma nods in your direction. "Did you ever torture a man from the Shadow Clan? Burn him with hot irons, cut his sinews? They say these men feel no pain."
We show that Nakoma what for!
: Show Nakoma that you've heard everything
: You meet Nakoma's eye and place a hand on the hilt of your sword. The Temple servant smiles.
: Nakoma pats the old man on the shoulder. "Soon you shall see everything for yourself. All we need is to spill some blood... a great deal of blood in the proper place. Wodan is only the beginning, Augrin..."
: Give me a name.
: A couple of officials wish to do away with me. Three of us seek command of the legions, but only one shall prevail. If you do not stop them, you'll soon have no client left to protect.
: A threat may not be obvious.
: Are you worried about the contract? Fear not-you're carrying out my orders.
: I want to test you first. There's a wench who dared scorn His Holiness. The red-haired scum mocked him all the way to Wodan. Kill her, and if I become commander of three legions, I will double your pay.
: I can slay anyone.
: Is that the only test?
: No, but the next one will cost you nothing. When you put the girl out of her misery, the guards will attack. Kill them too. Several runaway prisoners will add to the confusion, and nobody will blame me for the turmoil.
: Because they will blame the Shadow Clan?
Do we kill Reet? On one hand, our client is paying us to and our client's will must be honored by the laws of the clan. On the other, we know the Reaping's already begun. If Reet is right about our laws then we don't owe Soturi jack shit and we need to go kill Reapers and check in with our kin.
Choose wisely, goons. This decision may affect the storylines of all three protagonists.