"Gió Nóng’s main assistant is the head of the National Police. Someone called Không Ai. I don’t know his background. We just know his horn is broken from an assassin’s bomb, and he wears excessive clothing. Gió Nóng may be disliked by many, but Không Ai is the most hated person in all Ngua Nam. He has not a single friend, save for an Equestrian Pegasus stallion named Drawn Card, who is an advisor on matters of policing, and part of the attache. The two are said to sit by themselves at a table, eating together in the public lunchroom, as they do many things together. Drawn Card must be a strong influence on Không, as Không likes to dress his officers up in black uniforms, and decorate themselves with the two horseshoes, back to back.”
Khoi moves her hooves so that she can try to form the symbol of the two horseshoes. Her split-toed Kirin feet don’t look like they could fit normal horseshoes.
“Though he does not have the love of the people, he has their fear… His officers arrest suspected rebels by the thousand. They come at night, and during work, and every hour of the day. There are stories about what happens to prisoners... And there are rumors that he is addicted to painkilling opiates, or that he commits crimes against nature with Drawn Card… But you must understand, he is near legendary among the nation. When his name is mentioned, or his National Police is mentioned, ears go up and Kylan look around. He is like a made up creature parents tell their foals to spook them into behaving, lest they be dragged away and eaten. I think the other ministers tolerate him because he is like a mousing cat.”
She pauses for a long moment and looks around
“In the earlier days of the war, the city of Đền Cổ came under siege from the rebels. The garrison there took up position behind the barricade… Until part of the garrison let the rebels through the gate at night and slaughtered the loyalists. Nothing like that has happened since Không Ai has come. If Gió Nóng is a match for Bright Will’s determination and strength of will, then Không Ai is a match for his ruthlessness.”
She takes another pause, this one shorter
“Trên Tán Cây is his opposite. She was born of the peasantry, to a family that has supplied many monks. She went to school in the Griffin lands, and a teacher of hers there, Ailes Bleues I think is his name, has come here to teach. She believes the people embrace the new ideas because of issues like poverty, or anxiety about industrialization. So she promotes helping the poor and the less advantaged. The young Prince made her the Minister of Health, besides roles like land redistribution and resettlement – one of the few staff choices to come from Chắn Sóng and not the Elder King. Their ideas about education and healthcare are similar. She is very popular among the people. Unlike the other Ministers, who stay in their concrete buildings in the walled cities for fear of assassination, she walks out in the open unafraid, from town to town and village to village. Her plans have not been perfect, for even where there is an effort to make them real, they meet opposition, like land reform, or face practical problems, like resettlement, or in the cases of some hospitals, are targeted by the rebels. But she is one of the few with the hope, the ideas, and the compassion to challenge Bright Will’s vision of the future.
When I was in the national service, I was a nurse's assistant in a makeshift hospital under her ministry. There was no air cooling, and there were not always enough beds or doctors or good sanitation, but the Kylan there carried on their duty. I could tell she was an inspiration to them… to all of us.”
“I don’t think the Monarchy knows what it wants to be. And I don’t think it has a singe person, or single idea, to match the fever-dream movement of the rebels. But with the wisdom, the youthful idealism, the determination, the ruthlessness, and the compassion of the many who comprise it, they are collectively a match for Bright Will and his movement. Though they hold only half of a less wealthy vassal state of the Empire, they persevere as a capable and independent nation in spite of a decade of intermittent war and foreign influence.”