The Shadow Plagiarising, Part 8

Logain strode out of the audience chamber, massaging his bleeding hand and grinding his teeth. Yet another meeting with yet another silly group of nobles. Some of them had been very good-looking young nobles, and he was considering an announcement of a new fashion – what he called the bare-cheeked look – by way of a test of his authority. After all, these people had been conquered by the Dragon, and seemed intent on imitating and fawning as best they could. There must be some way he could take advantage of it all. After all, wasn’t that why he had become a False Dragon in the first place? To take advantage of hicks and pick up cute boys?

He wondered where Foreskin was. Was he still undergoing his endearing little personality crises, skipping like a dandelion seed from Warder to Whitecloak? What would he be tomorrow? A captain of the guard, a dashing sailor, perhaps even a pirate? Yes, that sounded like Logain’s mashiara. But Foreskin, at this moment, was the least of his concerns. Even his urge to take advantage and live well on his play-acting, his desire to fleece the gullible and laugh at the stupid, took a back seat in the priority wagon in relation to his most driving urge at this very moment.

Right now, the Great Lord was on the move. And He needed Logain’s help. If not his help, then at least his service. He may not realise it right now, but somewhere along the way He would be in need of Logain’s honest, hard-working diligence, his unwavering loyalty, and his immense skills in the art of ducking responsibility and shirking duty in favour of a bit of lazy, wasteful fun. Logain got the impression that his Great Lord was an even more skilled artist in this field than he was – that was, after all, why He was the Great Lord – but He would still need Logain’s service.

With a diffident crackling, Someshta the Nym formed up alongside Logain and accompanied him along the corridor.

“How did it go?” the Green Man asked quietly. “I heard shouting.”

“Oh, that was mostly me,” Logain said. “I told them about the trollocs in the feed wagons, and they wouldn’t listen. I had to take the report and a couple of still-twitching fade-heads in there to show them that I’d been right, and I expected them not to ignore my commands – or the suggestions of Debs and Janica – any more,” Logain hadn’t much liked the idea of handling the not-quite-dead pieces of myrddraal he’d recovered from the failed attack down at the docks. But when he thought about halfmen as taking his Great Lord’s form in vain, and brazenly imitating His Magnificence, well, that made it okay to chop them up, didn’t it?

“And did you fulfill the piece of the Prophesy we were talking about?” Someshta asked.

“I tried,” Logain grunted, holding up his hand. “When I tried to thrust Callandor into the Heart of the Stone, the damn thing broke. This leaves me in a bit of a dilemma.”

“Indeed,” the Green Man said, his walnutty old face wrinkled with concern or perhaps just with ordinary walnuttiness. “You are the Dragon Reborn, and yet you require The Sword Which Is Not A Sword in order to fulfill your manifest destiny.”

“What? No. I require Healing on my hand, but I can’t go to Debs and Janica because they’ll find out I broke Callandor and Janica will say something withering to me. That’s my dilemma.”

“Oh,” Someshta clumped along for a time without saying anything, then reached into his shrubbery. “Here,” he said in a conspiratorial rustle. “I have two. They’re fake, but there’s no reason for them to know, is there?” The huge, ancient being gave a sombre wink.

Logain took the gleaming crystal length, and hefted it in his hand. It was completely indistinguishable from the apparent sa’angreal – ‘apparent’ because Debs and Janica hadn’t let him actually use it yet – he had just smashed very embarrassingly on the floor in front of thirty Lords and Ladies of Tear. “Thanks,” he said in surprise. “You know, I thought you were just set to watch me, by one or another of the Aes Sedai factions who wanted to control my destiny. But … after this, I really feel I can trust you.”

“I think I have a different perspective than most people,” Someshta said expansively. “Once you’ve seen the Prophesies of the Dragon get turned inside-out and used to beat out a scrub-fire, you don’t really care what happens next. I just hope the entire Pattern doesn’t get rolled up like a rug,” they had arrived back at Logain’s rooms, which were in a state of typical shambles as the preparations went ahead for the approaching trip. Boxes and crates lay around, with clothes haphazardly stacked everywhere. “Where is everybody, anyway?”

“I left them just after my earlier meeting with the High Lords,” Logain said, “and that wasn’t long ago. When word came to me about this trolloc attack, I thought they’d be all over it with the ‘I-told-ye-sae’s, but I didn’t hear from them.”

“Probably down in the Great Holding,” Someshta said. “That’s where they go, you know. When they’re not trying to bother you, they’re down in the Great Holding saying ‘ooh, look at this one,’ ‘ooh, what does this do?’ and ‘ooh, let me try this one.’. It’s silly, but I suppose they find objects of the One Power fascinating.”

“I suppose they do,” Logain had snuck down to the Great Holding himself, looking for angreal. But he hadn’t found anything remotely useful – it looked like the best stuff had already been nicked. Still, if they were going to be down in the Holding for a while longer, maybe there was an opportunity … he just had to get away from the comforting but nevertheless awkward presence of the gigantic Nym. “Say, Someshta, I don’t suppose you could do me another favour?”

“What’s that?”

“I need to get a message to…” what had her name been? She’d been bothering him for a while now. “Moiraine. I think she’s down in the Great Holding too. If you see her, or Debs, you could give them this message … see, I think it would be better for me to stay here in my apartments, out of harm’s way. I promise I won’t let anybody in.”

“Well, alright,” Someshta said doubtfully. “What was the message?”

Dreaming up something suitably convincing and using all of his gleeman-level skills to make it seem of world-shaking importance, Logain sent the Green Man lumbering off as only animated lumber can. When the echoes had died away, he was alone in the luxurious rooms.

Alone, and free to muddle through the confusing imperatives in his head.

 


 

Chucky, cradling his bagpipes, examined his new surroundings without much enthusiasm. The twisty spiral columns were an ugly mustard-yellow colour, the room’s dimensions seemed not to match up, and the windows he could see from where he stood did not look out on the same planes of reality. All in all, it was hardly the dwelling-place of a successful instrument-repairman. For such work, you generally needed to have an eye for detail and a certain amount of skill with measurements and construction. Whoever had built this place had had no idea. Chucky shuddered to think of the non-euclidean bagpipes these cretins might make. Shaking his head, he turned to leave.

“Fuck!”

Standing right behind him, looming in the most sinister, creepy, scoutmasterish way, were a bunch of guys who made Mister C look positively rotund. They were wearing just incredibly stupid-looking clothes, their pupils were slitted like those of cats, and one of them … yes, it was moulting. Thick, greasy layers of translucent skin were flaking off its face and hands, and the soft, mushy skin underneath smelled absolutely rank, even at a distance. At least the gaunt, elongated freak had the decency to look a bit embarrassed about it. The others – in fact, all of them – just looked like hippies in Halloween costumes.

“Blurble,” said one of the snake-men. “Blurble gurble burble plorble. Yerble?”

“Fuck’s sake,” Chucky sighed, resorting to Moirainity in his momentary distress. He had a vague recollection, in the books, of these things talking in the Old Tongue. Mat had been the point-of-view character at the time, and he’d been able to understand the Old Tongue without knowing it. It didn’t seem fair that Chucky was expected to talk the Old Tongue. And this didn’t even sound remotely like the Old Tongue. He’d heard a few phrases in the Old Tongue, and this wasn’t it. This sounded like an Irish Teletubby. “I can’t understand you. You’ll have to speak English, or very very slow Finnish. You’re ‘finns, you must be able to speak Finnish. Sorry, just a little joke there.”

“Gorble.”

“Marble,” Chucky said helpfully. “Gurgle.”

The skinny things turned in a swish of bad clothes and worse body-odour, and Chucky followed them through a badly-designed set of corridors to the huge, dark audience-chamber which he remembered with equal vagueness from his long-ago reading of the books. There were three columns in the middle of the room, each with a snake-hippie on the top of it.

“I hope you guys speak English,” Chucky said, “because otherwise this is just going to be stupid.”

There was a hasty blorbling and florbling, and finally a loud crunch. Like some sort of carnival game, a fourth column chunked up out of the floor and ascended abruptly to the same elevation as the others. Perched precariously on top of this fourth column was another skinny, skanky snake-hippie person with unpleasant dress-sense and a dogeared paperback book in one hand.

“I are, um, I is, horble gorble, interpreter,” the fourth weirdo said, shuffling through the pages and looking very nervous. It pushed a pair of little round John Lennon spectacles up on its scaly nose with an audible rasp. “I will be translorble what you sorble to the others. Orble.”

“Right,” Chucky rolled his eyes. “I ask questions and you answer them, and no, that wasn’t a question.”

The interpreter looked at its colleagues from the corner of its eye and leafed through the book. “Um, yes,” it said finally. “Yes, sounds good. You ask quorble now.”

Chucky held up his bagpipes. “Can you fix these?”

There was a bit of sniffling and snuffling and unsavoury mouth-breathing, and the snake-hippies looked at the empty space above Chucky’s head. Then one of them spoke at length to the interpreter, who licked its lips with a thin, forked tongue and shuffled through the book for a very, very long time. It glanced across at its associates nervously, and they looked back with obviously mounting irritation. Chucky noticed with a detached sort of hilarity that, under the weird trousers of one of the individuals, a nasty phallic lump had risen and was shaking back and forth with a distinctive rattling noise. This seemed to upset the interpreter even more.

“Um, um um um, um,” it said, then leapt to its feet. “You must go to Rhuidean!” it exclaimed.

“Are there bagpipe repair-men in Rhuidean?” Chucky asked skeptically. “And no, wait, no! That wasn’t my second question, start over.”

There was more quiet, faintly-digestive conversation above. The interpreter, however, seemed to be on a roll. It cast down the little phrase-book and pointed a long finger at the gleeman. “If you do not go to Rhuidean you will die!”

“I doubt it, and anyway, that wasn’t my second question, didn’t you hear me? And no, that wasn’t my third, ahh fuck you all.”

The interpreter jumped up and down. “You will have sidestepped the thread of fate, blorble, left your fate to drift on the winds of time, horble, and you will be killed by those who do not want that fate fulfilled! To marry the Daughter of the Nine Morbles! To die and live again, and live once more a part of what was! Flor, flor, florble! To give up half the light of the world to save the world! Go to Rhuidean, Chuckster! Go, bagpiper! Go! Blorble!”

Chucky was grabbed from behind by a sudden throng of smelly snake-hippies, bundled back along the corridor and thrown through the twisted redstone doorway into the dusty darkness of the Great Holding.

 


 

In the excitement of Cooper Two’s increasingly-silly attempts to get past Someshta and kill the Dragon Reborn, Mister C of 9 had slipped away. It really hadn’t been that difficult, all things considered. He’d just stepped into a shadow and then he’d been gone.

Now, at the main entrance of the Stone of Tear, he stood looking back regretfully. He knew, now, what he must do. Although it would be hard, and thankless, it was his duty and his destiny.

The fingers of his remaining hand tightened around the circular lump underneath his thick black robes. His face, pale and worn beneath the sunglasses, set in determination. Taking a deep breath, he set off down the street, through the bustling crowds of peasants and beggars.

“Mister See! Mister See, wait!”

Mister C didn’t look back as he heard the plaintive voice of Logain, his sworn protector and servant, rising up behind him in protest.

“No, Sam,” he murmured to himself.

“Mister See! Wait for me!” Logain launched himself into the crowd, and floundered bravely out after his Master. He flailed, struggled, and his head went under. Once. Twice.

“Sam, you can’t mosey!” Mister C cried in sudden panic. “You have to move with the crowd!”

Logain vanished into the busy street. Mister C sighed and turned back, knowing he was a helpless pawn of narrative drive. He reached into the crowd, and pulled Logain free. The well-dressed man spluttered and coughed, and wiped peasant-muck from his lapels.

“I made a promise, Great Lord,” he said tearfully. “A promise for my salvation and hope of rebirth. ‘Don’t you leave him, Logain Ablar.’ Well I don’t mean to, Mister See. I don’t mean to.”

Mister C blubbered out of his nose. He had to, because he had no eyes.

Together, they slipped away into the busy marketplaces of Tear.

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The Shadow Plagiarising, Part 7

Chucky wandered through the dusty store-rooms, mournfully cradling his bagpipes in his arms. The patches of his gleeman’s cloak fluttered around the cracked, spear-pierced remains.

“Chucky make it all better,” he crooned. “Chucky make it all better.”

The bagpipes were silent.

Humming to himself, Chucky wandered down the rows of boxes and baskets, looking at the crap. He supposed some of this stuff was related to the One Power, but he knew that the useful stuff had already been ransacked by the assorted channelers. He wondered if there was some sort of bag’angreal somewhere that would restore his musical…

He looked at the twisted redstone doorway for a long, silent moment.

“No light sources allowed, no iron allowed, no musical instruments allowed,” he said thoughtfully. “I don’t think bagpipes classify as any of those. And if they don’t want musical instruments in there, they must know a bit about them. They might even know how to fix them. It stands to reason. Sort of. And anyway, I can ask them other stuff. Yeah.”

It was a Hindle gift that any idea still kicking around in the brain after five seconds was immediately promoted to ‘Best Idea Ever’ by the enthusiastic Hindle ego. Chucky unwrapped his pipes, settled his cloak firmly over his shoulders, and stepped through the doorway.

 


 

“You sent what?!”

The Nae’blis strode through the corridors of Tar Valon in a flurry of black and dried-blood red, his latest comrade scuttling along beside like a crab in eveningwear.

“Trollocs and halfmen,” Padan Fain said happily. “Fearsome, deadly, terrifying…”

Angamael let the little peddler burble on for a short time. Fain was happy and a happy comrade was a healthy comrade, and although there were several aspects of Fain that were far from healthy, at least he wouldn’t be plotting against the Darkfriends … at least, not yet. Angamael wanted to keep Fain where he could see him. He let Fain carry on about trollocs for a while – it was funny how the Lugarder really seemed to think trollocs and myrddraal, who a channeler could fry at fifty paces and spot a mile away, were really dangerous. Even in their own day they’d been outstripped by draghkar, gholam and assorted others, and these days there were still other things on the menu. Angamael had sent Aginor, with a team of researchers and useful angreal and ter’angreal, into the Blight to pick up useful biological weapons. He figured even the poisonous plants in the tainted nation could put a team of trollocs to shame, and you didn’t even need to feed plants on endless cauldrons of bubbling human stew. Well … not some of the more sedate varieties of poisonous plants.

After waiting a reasonable length of time he interrupted with another flat, disbelieving clarification.

“In feed wagons.”

“Yes. It’s brilliant. They won’t suspect for a minute that there’s anything but feed in those wagons. They’ll let them past and-”

“Who would send feed to Tear?”

“Presumably, ah, the Tairens would arrange for it.”

“Did they?”

“Well, no, but in all the excitement everybody will assume somebody must have…”

“Really?”

“Undoubtedly.”

“Oh.”

“You’ll see, Angamael. You’ll see. It will work out wonderfully.”

Nae’blis,” a sleepy-looking rubber-clad Aes Sedai stepped up and gave a brisk salute. She wasn’t one of the ones who looked good in the new anti-conversion suits. She wasn’t even one of the ones who looked average, or even acceptable, in the suits, being built along somewhat dumpy and motherly lines. But you couldn’t have everything. Either they all wore the tight rubber, or none of them did. And that way, there was a risk of conversion. No, Angamael was happy with things the way they were. For every Aes Sedai like this in the Tower, there were several sweet-bodied Domani like Leane, the Keeper of the Chronicles. “Nae’blis, we have primary teremtry.”

“What’s teremetry?” Fain demanded, eyes narrowing.

“It’s like telemetry, only it involves Aes Sedai snoozing around with Tel’aran’rhiod ter’angreal, watching things in dream-space,” Angamael explained proudly. “It’s just one of many innovative techniques requiring very little effort-”

“And what’s telemetry?”

“Information gathering of some sort,” Angamael said. “What do you have, child?”

“Three fists of trollocs and a full dozen myrddraal slain in the aftermath of Tear, Nae’blis,” she said, saluting again. “skewered mercilessly by metal rods while they hid in their feed baskets, Nae’blis.”

“Curses!” Fain smacked his palm into his fist in a rather strange reversal of the usual gesture. “Damn that Dragon. Ah, False Dragon,” he clarified.

“It doesn’t matter,” Angamael said serenely. “Plenty more where they came from, and we’ll just go back to Plan A and catch them in the Waste, without Shadowspawn. Now, what about Agent Smith?” he enjoyed the sudden, terrified cowering displayed by his little Lugarder sidekick. “Is he in place?”

“Yes, Nae’blis. Ah, as for the Seanchan contingent, Nae’blis, unable to confirm. Teremetry readings were thrown into disarray, Nae’blis.”

“Disarray?” Angamael raised an eyebrow dangerously. Dangerously, because every other time he’d tried to raise an eyebrow, the other had dipped dramatically and caught on fire. This time, he was lucky. “Thrown into disarray by what?”

“Ah,” the Aes Sedai shuffled her rubber shoes, looking a little embarrassed. “According to these reports, Nae’blis, er, a … a giant flying penis, Nae’blis.”

“Hmm,” Angamael frowned. “They were mostly former Reds, weren’t they, the observers we sent to watch over developments in Seanchan?”

“Yes, Nae’blis.”

“I imagine a giant flying penis would throw them into disarray,” Angamael nodded. “Very well, dismissed.”

The Aes Sedai retreated with perhaps unseemly haste, but Angamael didn’t blame her. After all, she had without a doubt seen the direction in which they were headed, and didn’t want any part of it, rubber pants or no rubber pants.

Angamael and Fain carried on through the corridors, heading towards the shadowy area of the White Tower that had once been the office of the Mistress of Novices but was now dubbed, by some lark or another, Sheriam’s Lair. Angamael didn’t really like to go into the soot-smeared passageways where the lamps had been permanently extinguished and the floors coated with common tavern-rushes because it was just easier to burn them than clean the carpets, but Fain had insisted. He wasn’t going on any special missions without a full complement, and he had his own weird, twisted requirements for that sort of unit.

Sheriam, the green-eyed Mistress of Novices who had once ruled the white-dresses with an iron fist and a supple switch of Air, had experienced … technical difficulties during her Turning to the Dark One. Technical difficulties. Oh, there was a lovely way of describing what had happened. Several halfmen had ‘burned out’, and the twisting ribbons of shadow had ‘backwashed’, causing a ‘feedback loop overload’. It was an inevitable risk, apparently, when forcibly Turning so many channelers against their will. There were bound to be some hiccups.

If Sheriam was a hiccup, Angamael had decided he didn’t want to see a belch.

Finally they arrived at her door, which had been marked with the Dragon’s Fang by the haughty, cynical Darkfriends of the Tower themselves. The Nae’blis gestured grandly for Fain to do the honours, and the smiling peddler did so with a mocking little bow. The door swung open with a nasty greasy noise that doors shouldn’t make.

“Sheriam?” Fain said, sidling into the darkness. “Sheriam, are you there?”

There was a noise. It sounded, at least on the surface, like an extremely gross person sucking a gross liquid through a gross, porous object of some sort. But that was just the innocent, external part of the noise. The undertones made Angamael want to run outside and scrub himself all over with fine-ground glass.

“Play nice, Sheriam,” Fain said, unflappable.

“What do you want, little man?” Sheriam asked languidly. Her voice was like having warm crude oil forcibly injected into each ear by an ice-cold cow-inseminating device, and at that stage colourful comparisons tended to break down and go home in utter disgust.

“You’re coming with us on a little journey,” Fain said, his own voice jolly and inexpressibly healthy in comparison. “It’ll be fun. Just you and me and Noam and Bayle and Asmodean. One happy pappy family.”

“Will it be warm?” Sheriam – or some part of her which couldn’t be rightly called her anymore – moved slowly on the filthy bed they’d given her when it became clear she was going to come out of her room and look for a bed if she wasn’t given one. “I do so like the warm.”

It was already stiflingly hot in the chambers, a heat that reminded Angamael uncomfortably of two things – the scorching dry heat of the Bore, and the smothering organic heat of the gym locker he always used to get pushed into when he was at High School. It was difficult being a four-foot sixteen-year-old. Neither of the associations were ones he particularly liked.

“Oh yes, hot hot hot,” Padan Fain said cheerfully. “We’re going to the Aiel Waste.”

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The Shadow Plagiarising, Part 6

Try as they might, Debs and Janica just couldn’t get the High Lords and the Defenders of the Stone to listen.

“Grain barges and wagons of supplies would really come in handy for us,” one of the completely interchangable, foppish Lords said, holding a scented bag of salts and flowers up to his nose. “We have plenty of food, but the servants who prepare our meals and make up our delightful banquet settings need to eat as well. You see, we are in touch with the common man. These bags of plain food you mention would be very useful in feeding those common men. That way, we wouldn’t have to share our actual food with them.”

“They wouldn’t appreciate it anyway,” a second Lord said. “Egads, and you want us to do what with the barges?”

“Burn them,” Janica said, fingering her leash in frustration. They’d been arguing about this ever since they had settled the last of the fighting and gotten down to the serious business of arranging policy changes and areas of authority for the new master of the Stone. “They contain trollocs and halfmen. You have to burn them and let them sink. And throw the wagons in on top of them.”

“Or at least steck beg speeks through the baigs,” Debs added. The High Lords looked at one another. Two or three more of them raised frilly sleeves to their noses.

“Or at least stick big spikes through the sacks of provisions,” Janica translated. “That would be a good way of making sure that the barges contained food and not Shadowspawn. Then none of the food would go to waste. But think about it – who would send us food anyway? This is the capital city. If there was any sort of mass shipment of feed on wagons and barges, you’d have heard about it. It doesn’t seem likely that any of your neighbours would send it to you, and it doesn’t seem likely that the farmers on nearby properties would just put it together out of the kindness of their hearts. It’s not as if you ever did anything for them.”

High Lord Whoever drew himself up and looked at Janica imperiously. “My dear lady, you forget yourself.”

Debs was just about ready to show these stuck-up Tairen knobs just how much self-control Janica had really had during the course of these arguments, when the doors at the end of the hall swung open and Logain appeared, resplendent in clothing that warranted a half-page description but ‘resplendent’ would have to do in this case. The sight of it was enough to make the hefty sul’dam coo, and Janica rolled her eyes expressively as the a’dam conveyed in no uncertain terms who had just made an entrance.

“At least he might make them listen,” she muttered so only Debs could hear.

“Wha’?” Debs looked down at the grey-clad damane dreamily. “Did ye say summat?”

“Nothing.”

Logain, carrying Callandor casually in the crook of one arm, glared at the High Lords fiercely. His gaze lingered perhaps over-long on one particularly youthful, glossy-haired nobleman, and the silence became unnecessarily strained. Then he tore his eyes away from the young man’s down-turned boots and tight hose, and went back to his fierce glaring. Behind him, Vamps and Loial sidled into the hall looking, for all of their superficial physical differences, almost identical in their wretchedness. Loial was clutching a pair of books and looked prepared to use them in defence of his life, and Vamps was bravely clutching his side and blinking away tears. Following along with them was another figure, a blur that was not quite so familiar to Janica as the shapes of the Ogier and the Far Maddingite American. Debs looked over at the newcomer and murmured, “Mat,” to her near-sighted companion.

“Not Uncle Travelling?” Janica hissed in disbelief. “He’s here too?”

“Nae nae. Mat from the Tae Rivers,” Debs had a think about that. Back in Illian, when they had been accosted by Padan Fain and his followers, she could have sworn she’d picked up a very familiar sort of vibe from one or two of the hangers-on. One of them might have been Dr. Nick. It was difficult to say for sure, because the guy’s head had been all wrapped up in blindfolds and gags. “It’s nae Uncle Travellin’.”

“Oh.”

“Any incoming food shipments will be checked as possible sneak attacks,” Logain said firmly. “All efforts will be made to ensure that this city remains safe, and the citizens cared for. Shadowspawn and Darkfriends will be drawn to this place now, and you must be more aware of it than ever before. This land is now ruled by the Dragon Reborn, and his word is law,” he paused thoughtfully, and looked at the younger Lordling again. Debs wondered if maybe Logain suspected this good-looking young fellow of enemy conspiracy, and whether the Dragon might thank her for delivering his head on a silver platter. Well, maybe later. “I will also be grooming a select few of you to act as my … personal go-betweens,” he went on in a strangely thick voice, and Debs realised he was still staring at the nobleman. “You will be liaisons between myself and the soldiery, and you will be privileged to remain … almost permanently … in my company.”

Logain’s eyes seemed a little out-of-focus and dreamy, but Debs didn’t notice. She knew how he felt sometimes. It must be nice to always be able to look at oneself in a mirror and see somebody like Logain, she thought. She didn’t even notice when Janica gave a low growl and prodded her in the belly with an extremely pointy elbow. The little damane picked herself up off the floor and glowered. Some of the High Lords looked a bit nervous – particularly the glossy-haired one, who had realised the Lord Dragon was staring at him.

“But the barges,” Janica said, getting the conversation back on-track.

“Yes, the barges,” Logain said, suddenly businesslike again. Debs wondered with a motherly pang of concern if the pressures of rule, or perhaps the taint itself, were having an effect on their chosen champion. “If any barges are sent to Tear – and I doubt there will be many – they are to be thoroughly searched. End of story.”

The High Lords stumbled over one another in their haste to agree, saying it was a marvellous and sensible plan. Logain turned on his heel and strode back out of the hall, declaring that he would be in his rooms if anybody – particularly any hopeful young liaisons – wanted to speak to him. Debs and Janica joined Loial, Vamps and Mat in the corridor.

“What’s going on?” Janica asked. “Has there been any attack by Shadowspawn at all? We’re going to look pretty stupid if this doesn’t happen. It seems to me like the Darkfriends and the Forsaken all left very suddenly. There was stuff going on that didn’t happen in the books. They might not try again in the same way. The changes might be too complete.”

“It prolly will’nae come fer a few more days,” Debs said. “We’re only jes’ gettin’ o’er the last attack. Give it a wee while.”

“Heh heh. Wee,” said Mat. He nudged Loial, who chuckled. “Speaking of wee, has there been an official article of re-establishment for the Gentlemen’s Club yet? I was sure that since we were all in the area…”

“I don’t know,” Loial said, pocketing his books and looking a little mournful at the prospect of being crammed back into a human-sized smoking jacket. “I hadn’t heard any rumours of-”

“We should ask Chucky. He’d be happy to chair an emergency meeting. I bet this place has its own monogrammed stuff, too. We could open a Tear branch of the Club, right here in the Stone.”

“Did you say Chucky?” Janica snapped. “He’s here?”

“Oh ayuh,” Mat said, grinning cheerfully from under his straw hat. “He’s around. I saw him just today actually. Seems like everybody’s here.”

“Where?”

“I saw him a little while ago, he was wandering around looking for a blacksmith or a panelbeater or something that sounded like ‘panelbeater’, and don’t shake me so much, ma’am, I had a big breakfast down in the Defenders’ canteen this morning…”

“Where was he exactly?”

“Oh, I don’t know, he looked to be heading for the Great Holding last time I saw him, but we were both lost and the floors are all caved in around there and he was in a hurry…”

Janica dropped Mat and spun around. “Let’s go,” she said.

Debs, Loial and Vamps, astounded at the display of antlike super-strength from the little woman, stood and stared. She tugged on her leash angrily, and Debs was jostled into action.

“Alreet, alreet, nae need tae git carried awee,” the sul’dam murmured placidly, and Mat chuckled again.

They hurried down the corridor, and suddenly bumped into Berelain and, standing very very close behind her, Perrin. The First of Mayene and the huge redneck looked dishevelled and embarrassed, and were both covered by a disarrayed collection of blankets and bearskins. Mat stared at his friend in growing delight.

“Perrin!” he cried. “Well done! She’s a ten!”

Perrin looked even more acutely embarrassed. “Thank the Light we found you,” he said. “I don’t know what I would have done … I can’t explain … this is so horrible…”

“Ow! Don’t jostle like that!” Berelain snapped, but didn’t look entirely displeased.

“What’s going on?” Janica asked.

Red in the face, Perrin explained. Everybody gasped except for Janica, who nodded.

“Perfectly natural,” she said. “You should have realised it yourself, what with your eyes changing and your increasing contact with wolves. You have been having dreams about wolves and talking with the pack and things, haven’t you?” she asked.

“Well … not so much recently, in the cities they seem to fade away…” Perrin admitted. Mat and Berelain stared at him as if they were seeing a terrifying monster. Well … Mat stared at him. Berelain tilted her head to one side and tried to stare at him out of the corner of her eye, but couldn’t quite manage to turn around far enough. Loial seemed excited.

“A Wolfbrother!” he said. “There hasn’t been one of your kind since-”

“Elyas Machera,” Janica said dryly.

“But how did you know?” Berelain asked her new mentor. It seemed she had come to terms with her awkward position, and wasn’t going to let it humiliate her any further. Janica sort of respected that. “Has this kind of thing happened to you?”

“To me? No!” Janica snapped. “Animal Planet. I saw it on Animal Planet. This happens to wolves after they have sex. It’s to aid insemination and stop other males from … why are you all looking at me like that?”

“You said ‘insemination’,” Vamps whimpered.

“How extraordinarily interesting!” Loial exclaimed.

“I don’t believe you,” Mat said. “Show me. Is it the size of my arm, or what?”

“Come on,” Janica tugged on the a’dam again. “We’re wasting time.”

 


 

Shannon gave a happy sigh, lay back, and prepared for his first real snooze since Dr. Bloody Nick had awakened the cheerful, mindlessly aggressive Cooper Two. He didn’t care that it was already well into the middle of the morning and that there were things to do. He just didn’t care. He was bone-weary, and the disadvantages of living in a society that had yet to invent the bra were … to coin a phrase, weighing on him. It would be nice to take the load off for a while, and the guestrooms in the Stone were pretty nice. After all the nights he had spent shivering in the battered merchant wagon, it was paradise. And after he’d swept up the dismembered pieces of whatever Lord had been living in the room until the arrival of the Aiel, or the Borderlanders, or Coop … well, it was quite nice. Good enough for him to sleep in, anyway.

Nancy Sidesaddle wondered, foggily, what had happened to those Borderlanders. They had been a nasty-looking bunch, even though he had sort of expected nastiness. There had been Whitecloaks with them and everything – or at least some guys who had been Whitecloaks until they had turned their backs on the concept of bathing. Chucky said they had all been under the influence of Padan Fain and his evil Shadar Logoth powers, and that they had all gone off somewhere else to plot evil schemes and hatch evil evils. But Chucky was full of shit.

The tubby gleeman had headed downstairs to look for some woodworkers or blacksmiths or field surgeons who might be able to help him with his bagpipe problems, and Dr. Nick was off seeing the sights with Cybes and Min. Knowing the hopeless little engineer, he was busily trying to get into Min’s pants, although Shannon couldn’t think of a damper, hairier, more disease-ridden place to be. They had agreed, in spite of their extreme reservations about each other, to meet up later on and try to stick together. None of them were very sure about what was going to happen next, and so far they had all been denied access to any facts, let alone the little gang that was apparently fluttering around the Dragon, guiding his decisions and movements. The Dragon Reborn was off-limits. Shannon grinned as he thought about how crazy that must be making Moiraine.

“Ahhhh,” he said, and settled back even further in the pillows. He waited, thinking that this was the moment when somebody would crash in through the ceiling and drag him off on another pointless adventure. “Ahh,” he added, uncertainly. Was that Cooper Two pouring himself underneath the door, coming to haul him off on another mission? He looked. No. Just a shadow. “Ah,” he waited for the inevitable ta’veren swirling that would land the struggle between the Light and the Dark firmly on his petticoats.

He closed his eyes. He was asleep in three seconds.

He was asleep for three seconds.

Looking around, he found himself right back where he had started from. The merchant’s wagon stood on his left, and the burning sands extended in every direction to the purplish horizon. There was no sun in the sky, but there seemed to be a clear, sourceless illumination filling the atmosphere with a sort of bright twilight. In the distance, mesas and buttes sweltered in the shimmering heat-haze. He was in the Aiel Waste.

Just in front of him, across the high spoked wheels of the wagon, a young Aiel woman was hunting a big spiny animal of some sort. A pig, Shannon’s mostly-dormant hick genes tentatively identified the creature. That was when he realised where he was. This was the World of Dreams. He was looking at Amys, Wise One of the Nine Valleys sept of the Taardad Aiel. How he knew this, he couldn’t say. But he had a sudden, horrible vertigo-feeling of utter despair.

The boar charged at him. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them he was in Tanchico. He’d never been there before, but that was where he was. He was in the museum in Tanchico where all those stupid skeletons and Mercedes Benz hood ornaments had needlessly complicated the narrative universe. He looked around, and nodded to himself. Giraffe. Ter’angreal. Was that a Sega Megadrive? Yes. Yes it was.

“Aw man,” he said. He turned around and was back in the Waste. “No!” he cried. “I ain’t the one y’all should be doin’ this with! It’s not me, y’hear! I cain’t channel! I ain’t not even hardly a woman at all!”

“You could have fooled me, Wetlander,” the Aiel said, shouldering her spears and looking at Nancy directly. Shannon realised he wasn’t wearing any clothes. He quickly imagined a nice pair of shitkickers and some denim dungarees, and was promptly and properly dressed. “Such unusual clothing.”

“Yeah, well listen here,” Shannon growled, and approached the Wise One. “I ain’t the one y’all’re after. I ain’t no Dreamwalker or whatever. It’s Egwene. So I’ll just go on back to sleep, an’ stay away from Tanchico an’ the Waste and all. You can wait for Egwene, I’m sure she’ll be toddlin’ right along,” even as he said it, he wondered if it was true. Would Egwene be hunting the Black Ajah with a Tel’aran’rhiod ter’angreal? Would she be interested in becoming an apprentice Wise One? Would she be called upon to become Amyrlin Seat of the Salidar Aes Sedai? Would the Salidar Aes Sedai even happen?

Did he really care?

No. In fact, following the whole thing through that way only made him sure of one thing. He did not want to be here. He turned towards the wagon, and saw out of the corner of his eye a tall, statuesque woman with a silver bow and a baffled look on her face. He resolutely closed his eyes and refused to take part in the whole unfolding stupidity. When he opened his eyes again, he found himself back in Tanchico.

“Fuck’s sake y’all,” he said. “How’s I s’posed’ta wake up? This is nuts.”

“You are walking the Dream, Wetlander,” the Aiel woman said. “I am Amys-”

“I know, I know, Amys of the Nine Valleys sept of the Taardad Aiel,” Shannon sighed. “Y’all want me t’ come be an apprentice with you down at the Two Dogs Hold.”

“Cold Rocks.”

“Right,” Shannon gave up. “Right, Cold Rocks.”

“Good,” Amys folded her arms. “I was worried I’d have to lose my temper.”

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The Shadow Plagiarising, Part 5

“Uh … Coop?”

The gholam paid no attention to the nervous Warder as they hurried up a narrow spiral stair towards the apartments at the top of the Stone. Cooper Two was talking into his imaginary earpiece again. Mister C of 9 and the four frightened Ogier were following along behind, more for something to do than out of any specific loyalty.

“Coop … I really don’t think this is a great idea.”

“Roger that, proceeding to the target.”

“Coop?”

“Quiet, man. I’m proceeding,” Cooper Two said urgently. “You can’t go interrupting me mid-proceed. I might proceed wrong and have to start all over again.”

“Sorry.”

Miserably, Forsaken_1 followed the gholam up towards the rooms where the Dragon Reborn was apparently making himself at home. Due to the confusing nature of the decision, Forsaken_1 wasn’t even sure if Coop was about to kill the real Dragon or not.

Then they arrived in the corridor outside the Dragon’s apartments, and Forsaken_1 breathed a sigh of relief. The giant leafy form of the Green Man was hunched up in the hallway, looking a little bit nervous about something. He looked up and saw the group approaching. Coop himself slowed and finally stopped in the corridor some distance from the huge figure, looking thoughtful.

“Are you actually guarding?” he asked the towering Nym.

“For now,” Someshta rustled and tightened his grip on the struggling man he was holding. “Moiraine said that if she couldn’t see the Dragon Reborn, then I should make sure nobody else could. Of course, I had to clean that up a lot,” he admitted.

“Of course. So when are you going to stop guarding?”

Someshta looked uncomfortable. “We might be heading away soon, there’s a lot that needs to be done. But I really wish you’d reconsider about killing him, Cooper Two.”

“Can’t do that. Now stand aside.”

“No can do. And anyway, I think you’ll find the room is a minefield of anti-gholam ow’angreals. Moiraine and some of the other people who serve the Dragon have been collecting them, and once it became clear that you were in the Stone with the intent of killing…”

Oh alright,” Coop said unhappily. “But you guys are really messing up my mission, you know,” his eyelid twitched. “First three thousand years pass, then there was the whole downfall of civilisation thing, then the Dragon was dead, then he was reborn, then he was dead again, and now you won’t even let me kill the impersonator. Can I at least kill Moiraine or somebody?”

“That would kill Warder Foreskin,” Someshta said. “You wouldn’t want that, would you?”

“I honestly wouldn’t mind.”

“Okay first of all, ouch,” Forsaken_1 said, then continued confidently, “and second of all, it actually wouldn’t kill me. That’s not how Warder bonds work.”

“It isn’t?” the Green Man blinked.

“Nope.”

“Oh,” Someshta looked puzzled for a minute, then shrugged. “Listen, Cooper Two – I’m sure we can find a new mission for you, and just … put off this one for a while. It’s already been put off for this long, there’s no harm in putting it off a bit longer, right? Surely that isn’t a breach in your mission.”

“I’ll have to look that up in the manual,” Coop said. “We’ll continue this later.”

“Okay. Oh, by the way…” Someshta went on. “You, um, wouldn’t happen to know any good ways of dealing with Grey Men?”

“Grey Men?” Forsaken_1 exclaimed, jumping and looking into the shadows worriedly. Mister C of 9 looked back at him from the shadows with a scornful expression on his face. “There are Grey Men around?”

“Just killing them always seems to work for me,” Cooper Two said. “They’re pretty useless Shadowspawn, really. Of course, only the really dumb Darkfriends ever signed up for the duty, thinking it would be cool but not really ever thinking about the whole deal. Yeah, there’s nothing much to it.”

“Oh,” the Green Man closed his giant woody hands inexorably. There was a squishy crunch, and Forsaken_1 suddenly noticed the pulpy remains of the man who had been struggling in Someshta’s grip for the entire course of the conversation. A dagger fell from the nerveless fingers of the corpse.

“Look at that!” Forsaken_1 shouted, pointing. “A Grey Man! That was awesome! Did you see it, Coop?”

“Sure,” Cooper Two shrugged. “It’s got an Aginor Bio-Weapons Corporation logo on its forehead.”

“Did you see it?” he asked the Green Man.

“Difficult to miss,” Someshta replied. “He walked up without even trying to hide himself, and when he was close enough he said ‘ooger booger’.”

“You guys?” Forsaken_1 turned helplessly to the Ogier.

“Well yeah,” Frendli said nervously. “We Ogier are extra-sensitive to the presence of men holding knives who might try to stab us with the knives.”

“C?”

“Yep,” Mister C tapped his sunglasses. “Glee-o-vision of guys-not-there-spotty.”

 


 

“Ha ha ha! She says she can’t go! She says she’s feng-shui! Ha ha ha!! Funny that!”

Moiraine stood outside the colourful little wagon and ground her teeth. If her ability with the One Power weren’t still faded to uselessness, she’d have done her best to systematically demolish the entire Stone long since. “Contro, if you’ll just let me talk to her…”

There was some more murmuring from the wagon, and Contro laughed some more. “Sorry!!! Not feng-shui! She says she’s Guy Smiley! That means she can’t go to the Waste and see the Wise Ones, I guess!! I guess she has to go on the Muppet Show and make announcements or something! I think!!! Mind you, I could be wrong!”

“Aviendha, I don’t give a slick, slippery well-oiled fuck if you’re gai’shain!” Moiraine roared. “If you don’t get out here right fucking now I’m going to come in there, and if I have to do that there isn’t a word in the Old Tongue for what you’ll be when I’m cunting well done with you!”

A couple of seconds later, a silent, sulky white-robed Aviendha stepped out of the wagon and stood to casual attention out of Cow-range. Moiraine nodded in satisfaction. Cow snorted and shat expressively on the floor.

“Right. I got this letter,” the little Aes Sedai said to Aviendha, brandishing a sheaf of parchment. “It orders you to report to Chaendaer near Rhuidean. It also requires that I hand this information on to Rhuarc, and I have already done so. I don’t know why I’m always the one who has to deal with these things, but there you go. The letter has spoken. Rhuarc’s getting ready to go as we speak, but it’s likely to be a little while longer. I don’t want you out of my sight until we leave.”

“You’re coming too?” Aviendha asked.

“Of course. You Aiel have a Car’a’carn to confirm, and we have Prophesies to deal with, and they’re all connected. I’ll be fucked if I’m going to be left out in the cold after all the Ghul-damned hicks I’ve had to talk to in the past twenty years.”

Contro stuck his head out of the wagon, and smiled. “Hello! Ha ha ha!”

“What do you want?” Moiraine asked in disgust.

Contro lifted one of the gaudy canvas flaps and seated himself merrily on the edge of the wagon, swinging his feet. “Sorry to be a bother!! I was just wondering what I should be doing! Only I’ve been waiting in this wagon all night and all morning, and I’m getting pretty hungry! Ha ha ha!! And Cow keeps doing funny things with that other horse!”

“I don’t want to know about this,” Moiraine growled. “I’m slowly being frozen out of the Dragon Project when it was my bloody ashy bloody idea at the very start, every Aes Sedai I try to talk to could be a Darkfriend, it’s like we’ve been a step behind for the past six Creatorforsaken months,” she fixed Contro with a fierce glare. Contro smiled again. “You stay here. We’ll be ready to move in a few days. I’ll bring you some food, and we’ll be loading up as much as we can into this wagon before we leave.”

“As much what???”

“Whatever the fucking Aiel don’t walk away with,” Moiraine snapped. “It’s not like they even overthrew this place the way they were meant to in the Prophesies, but does that stop the illiterate cunts from looting? Oh no.”

Aviendha bowed her head. “I have made things difficult for you, Aes Sedai,” she said. “I should not have been hiding away from my responsibilities in the wagon of this irritating Lost One,” she squared her shoulders. “I have toh.”

Contro looked down at his swinging, mismatched shoes, and opened his mouth.

“Don’t say it,” Moiraine warned. “Just. Fucking. Don’t.”

“Ha ha ha!! I’ve forgotten what I was going to say now anyway! Isn’t it funny when that happens???!”

Moiraine strode away from the wagon and continued her irritated search for her Warder. She knew, from the familiar sensations of the bond, that he was somewhere in the Stone … but that location changed swiftly, and without warning. It was as if he was lost, or wandering aimlessly. Knowing Foreskin, that was the exact case. Muttering to herself, she headed upwards. The Green Man would be guarding the corridors still – at least he would be if he knew what was good for him. And he had the two fake Callandors hidden in his undergrowth. Moiraine harboured whimsical ambitions of sneaking into the bedchambers of the Logain Reborn at some point, and swapping his Callandor with one of hers. Just so everybody knew she wouldn’t be lightly cast aside.

But that could wait. Right now, she had a trip into the Aiel Waste to plan, and time was of the essence. She decided it was just about time to consult with a group of experts. Just as soon as she had her Warder back at her side.

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The Shadow Plagiarising, Part 4

Moiraine looked at the two swords and sighed. Then she turned to Someshta.

“Well?” she demanded.

The Green Man shuffled and rustled. “Well, they’re both fakes,” he said. “I imagine this is the second fake we saw in the Heart. There may be more. They do perform some sort of One Power function, but they are most certainly not sa’angreal.”

“But it doesn’t matter,” Moiraine said, just a little acidically. “It’s the symbolism of the thing that matters, right?” She’d been annoyed since Nynaeve had shown up, claiming the Black Ajah prisoners had been killed, and waving the second Callandor around as if she were swatting bitemes with it. Moiraine had sent her away in no uncertain terms, and was now attempting to get her story straightened out before she had to face the High Lords.

“Well, yes, but the symbol is effectively diluted when there’s two or three or more of the symbols floating around,” Someshta replied carefully. “That was probably the intent of the enemy.”

“So the Forsaken have the real sword now?”

“Perhaps.”

“How the fuck did they get it?”

Someshta shrugged with a creak. “It doesn’t matter. One could hardly call this the worst obstacle the Prophesies of the Dragon have ever come across.”

“Touché.”

“So,” Lan scratched his unshaven cheek with an unsteady finger. “What do we do now?”

Moiraine looked at him scornfully. “We take this False Dragon and we make him as believable as possible,” she said. “I don’t know who these bloody women are who are parading Logain around, but we have to make the most of it. They won’t let me get close to him – I spoke to him a couple of times, but it was always in a very controlled situation. No weapons, not even any scrolls or … ahh, fuck,” she slapped her fist into her palm. “They’re running a better puppet show than Siuan and I ever planned. It’s just a matter of whether it will work. I mean, he’s not even the real Dragon. And the Tairen High Lords know about Logain. Will they believe he’s the Dragon after we bundled him off and gentled him already?”

“They might after he channels for them,” the Green Man suggested.

“Maybe. If we can prove it’s really him and not some Aes Sedai doing the work.”

“And will it matter, even if it is?” Someshta pursued. “I mean, we are already substituting a normal man for the Dragon. Why stop there?”

“Because we have to fucking well stop somewhere,” Moiraine replied curtly. “I’m not going to make a tit of myself in front of the High Lords of Tear and try to tell them that that fat Debs bitch is the Dragon Reborn.”

“So … what do we do?” Lan pursued.

“You are going to have a bath,” Moiraine said firmly. “And then we’re going to find my Warder, and we’re going to get to work uniting the Aiel. Right, Someshta?”

“Right,” the Green Man said as positively as he could. “Speaking of Aiel, where is Contro?”

“I left him down in the wagon when things looked like cooling down in here,” Lan reported. “He seemed happy enough playing with the piles of junk he’s collected from all over the place.”

“Some of that junk happens to be ter’angreal and angreal,” Moiraine pointed out. “What if he sets one of them off?”

“So much the better. He’s a chirpy little cunt who could do with a good ter’angrealing.”

“Well, I have to agree with that,” Moiraine said grudgingly. “Have we got any horses? We might have to ride if we can’t find a better way.”

“Two,” Lan confirmed. “That vicious beast of Contro’s turned up again, with a mare in tow. It’s that one that came from the Two Rivers with us, if I recall. I left them both down there with the wagon. If any Shadowspawn try to steal that junk, they’ll wish they’d never been … well, whatever verb it is that makes new Shadowspawn. Spawned, I guess.”

“Go have a bath,” Moiraine repeated. “And leave that bottle.”

“Alright,” Lan set the bottle on a table, and turned to go.

“The other one too.”

“Fuck.”

 


 

“So basically, I need to re-define my mission parameters.”

“Huh?”

Forsaken_1 had understood literally nothing of the explanation Cooper Two had just given out. He exchanged a glance with Mister C of 9 and the four Ogier, and saw that they were as confused as he was. Well, Mister C didn’t look confused, but that was a sure sign that he was confused. He didn’t like to show any sort of weakness to the enemy. And when you were as contrarian and mercurial as Mister C of 9, everybody tended to be your enemy. If they’d spoken to you for long enough.

“Lews Therin Telamon is dead. Rand al’Thor is Lews Therin Telamon Reborn. This means my mission to take out the Dragon is unchanged. But,” Coop raised a long, boneless finger and smiled disturbingly. “Now I hear that Rand al’Thor is also dead. What does this mean?”

“Mission accomplished?” Forsaken_1 hazarded.

“You’d think tho, wouldn’t you?” Coop’s voice raised an octave and he seemed to have developed a lisp for no real reason. Forsaken_1 reminded himself that the gholam was quite mad. “If my mithion ith to kill the Dragon Reborn, and the Dragon Reborn ith dead, then my mithion remainth the thame – kill the Dragon Reborn!”

“Yours is a truly dizzying intellect,” said Mister C who, for all his faults, at least understood the reference.

“I’m jutht getting thtarted! The Dragon will be Reborn all over again, a fact evidenthed by the Horn of Valere’th failure to bring him back on thubthequent blowingth,” he turned to Hoarni, who nodded because it seemed to be expected of him. “Ath thuch, he’th already been Reborn, and now the target ith the newborn baby Lewth Therin!”

“So this baby, wherever it is, is the one you have to kill?” Mister C pursued.

“Not even cloath! If the Dragon ith the one who ith meant to fulfill the Prophethieth, and there are people theeing to it that thomeone elthe fulfillth the Prophethieth, then that man ith the Dragon and he ith the one I mutht kill! But!” Coop squealed, spraying bloody saliva from his lips, “killing him won’t fulfill any but the motht general and non-thpethific guidelineth of my mithion – I’ll have killed who everybody thought wath the Dragon Reborn, even though he wath a Falthe Dragon, and nobody need ever know I didn’t fulfill my actual mithion, which wath to kill the real Dragon Reborn!”

“So what do you do?” Forsaken_1 still didn’t understand, but he was enthralled.

“Say ‘what’s that over there?’ and switch the baby with the False Dragon while nobody’s looking!” Mister C exclaimed.

“What? No,” Cooper Two said quite calmly. He stood up and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “I have to go and kill them both. Come on, we’ll do Logain first, he’s closer.”

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The Shadow Plagiarising, Part 3

“Ahhh, that’s more like it. Nothing quite like a good gleestaff in your hand.”

“Chucky, can you please stop talking about the comforting firm hefty meaty weight of a gleestaff in the tight grasp of your right hand?” Dr. Nick hissed.

“Anyway, it ain’t no gleestaff. That thar’s just a curtain rod,” Shannon pointed out. “There ain’t no such thing as gleestaffs nohow.”

“Gleestaves,” Chucky corrected. “And there’s obviously such thing, look!” he wielded his gleestaff provocatively.

“Stop holding it that way!” Dr. Nick whined.

“You’re repressed,” Chucky said loftily.

“I’m tellin’ y’all, there ain’t no such thing as-”

“Quiet, woman!”

Shannon glowered, and tried not to because he knew it was the thin end of the wedge that would end with his braid bristling like the tail of a cat, even though he didn’t have a braid. Yet. “Y’all’d better hope your wife ain’t around to hear you a-talkin’ thatwise.”

Chucky thought about that, and then nodded agreement. “Now, let’s take this sa’angreal and get the Ghul out of here.”

“How are we gonna find Someshta so’s we can give that there thing to him?” Shannon asked, looking around. They were in a corridor with arrow-slits on one wall, through which pale dawn light was glimmering. He didn’t know what time it had been when they had fled into Tear from the Ways, but he seemed to recall it being early morning. Had they been in here for an entire night? Things had gone fuzzy for him since the last desperate flight from Defenders, during which a section of corridor had collapsed coincidentally underneath them, sending them on a terrifying roller-coaster ride down through the basements of the Stone, leaving them dusty but unharmed at the end, surrounded by pulped bodies and pieces of furniture. “Assuming it ain’t a fake, o’course.”

“I’ll think of something. Let’s just get out of this Stone before your ta’veren‘ness gets us all killed. Or married.”

“You already are married.”

“And do you have any idea how much trouble I’d get in if I got married again?” Chucky demanded. “Sheesh, you Americans. Just come on, and try to maintain motor control,” he shifted the bagpipes on his back, balanced them with the cumbersome crystal sword on his other shoulder, and juggled briefly with his new gleestaff.

Right then, somewhere outside, a rooster crowed.

 


 

“Ach, is it mornin’ already?” Debs grunted, standing at the junction of two corridors and scratching her head. Janica winced as her scalp was tenderised by the a’dam, then went back to talking to the imposing, scantily-clad blur at her side.

They’d spent most of the night trying to consolidate their mastery of the Stone, bringing together the Defenders and telling them what was what. At the same time, they had tried to minimise their own impact, placing the mantle of saviour and Dragon firmly around Logain’s reluctant shoulders, and keeping the rumours to an absolute minimum. They hadn’t actually met up with Moiraine yet, but she was around, and she had definitely had words with Logain earlier on, as much as they had tried to keep her at arm’s length – and they had certainly made sure not to let her see Callandor. Things had been rather confused for a while, and now they didn’t know where Moiraine was at all. An attack of angry, un-punctual Aiel from the nearby docks sometime in the tiny hours of the night had thrown everything back into confusion, and fighting was still going on in the lower levels. But most of the authorities now knew that the Dragon Reborn was in command of the Stone and of the Sword.

And Janica had a new project.

“You’re not exactly at your wits’ end, you know,” she said. “It’s not as if you have no money, no resources, no power to draw on. A woman with absolutely nothing might be forgiven for using her body to stay alive. But you’re a queen. You have subjects, and an army, and a treasury, and a brain. Or at least I think you do. Something has to be making your eyes blink.”

“You know, you’re right,” Berelain said, sounding quite stunned. “I do have other faculties at my command. Why have I been sleazing around trying to ally myself with more powerful nations by the whore method? Actually, when you think about it, my country is of great strategic importance – far from being threatened by larger neighbours, I should be advocating a policy of neutral ground, and creating advantage out of the geo-political situation.”

Janica wasn’t sure the male readers of the series would like that, but she was through giving a hoot about what the male readers wanted. The story was already changed irrevocably. “And for feck’s sake put some decent clothes on,” she added judiciously.

“You’re right,” Berelain repeated as they headed through into a large room with full-length mirrors lined up against one wall. She looked at herself critically – and there was a lot of herself to look at, given that she was wearing a scarf and pretending it was a nightie. “I’m dressed like a strumpet. I’m dressed like a strumpet who’s been sent home on Slutty Strumpet Eve for dressing too trashily.”

Janica nodded, and turned back to Debs. What her sul’dam had just said was filtering through the rightenous indignation she herself was feeling. “What did you just say? Morning already?”

“Did’nae ye hear the cock?”

“Was it my cock?” Vamps asked immediately, having been waiting to deliver the line ever since the rooster had crowed.

“Oh,” Janica said. “No, I mustn’t have heard it. Maybe it was too small…”

“Help!” Loial suddenly cried out, and Janica spun to see a bulky red-and-blue blob step out of the wall. She wouldn’t have seen much more even with her glasses, of course. A smaller grey figure stepped out as well, and she suddenly realised she was looking at Debs and herself – their images had emerged from the mirrors. Turning slowly, she saw more of the shapes appearing all over the room. Berelain screamed.

“It’s a bubble of evil!” Janica exclaimed. “Remember? No, don’t attack them! They can do everything we can, but there’s some way to channel to absorb them, we just have tae figure it out.”

They gathered together in the middle of the room, and the menacing mirror-figures surrounded them.

“A bubble of evil, did you say?” Loial quavered. “Have you seen one before?”

“Not quite like this,” Janica said. “It’s to do with the Dark One’s prison. As the seals weaken, these fumes of evil are spreading out through the Pattern. They make strange things happen, and it’s different every time. It shouldn’t be here though – none of us are ta’veren as far as I know, and the miasma moves through the Pattern looking for ta’veren. Or something like that,” she couldn’t remember much about these parts of the book. All she really remembered about the Stone of Tear was that in a few days some grain barges were going to arrive, and they would be full of trollocs and halfmen and there would be a big fight all over again. Some of the Shadowspawn would be against the others, and the Dragon was meant to kill them all with Callandor, and then try to resurrect a dead child … but would that even happen anymore? It seemed like nothing was going the way it was supposed to. Except Berelain. She was coming along nicely. Given time, she might be taught to be a decent ruler instead of a third-class tramp. She just needed to throw off the shackles of her narrative stereotyping, rise above the one-dimensional characterisation that Jordan had forced her into, and discover herself as an actualised-

“Luke at mah arrse!” Debs cried, her extreme distress thickening her accent to near-incomprehensibility. “Et’s huge!”

“I can get rid of them, if I just channel through this,” Logain said, hefting the glassy weight of Callandor. “If what you’ve told me is true, the One Power I can wield through this is…”

“Nae,” Janica said. “We have to deal with this on our own. Quickly, smash the mirrors before more can come through. We can do that, at least.”

Vamps and Logain made short work of the mirrors, and then Debs and Janica turned their attention on the swarming duplicates.

“Those ones came out of broken mirror fragments!” Janica insisted, pointing at some tiny grey blurs off to one side. “I’m not that short!”

“No, they came out of full-sized…” Vamps paused. “You’re right, of course.”

“Let’s just channel at ’em,” Debs growled. “I wan’ ’em gone. Luke at that arrse.”

“But we don’t know-”

Debs embraced saidar through the a’dam, and Janica felt some sort of fumbling weave stretch out. She didn’t think it mattered what sort of weaves were used against the duplicates, they would be absorbed anyway – and then, with a shocking suddenness, they were. The room was suddenly silent, except for tinkling glass and Berelain’s ragged almost-sobbing. When the First of Mayene saw Janica glaring at her, she drew herself up and wiped her eyes.

“Sorry,” she said. “I’m alright now. Well, that was invigourating. A near-death experience always gets the adrenaline going.”

Loial brushed bits of mirror off his shoulders. “Bubbles of evil,” he murmured. “Bubbles. Of evil. Bubbles.”

The door burst open, and the giant gap-toothed figure of Perrin lurched inside, sweating and weilding a gleaming axe he had gotten from somewhere. He gaped at the scene of destruction, and more specifically at the dishevelled Berelain. His yellow eyes gleamed appreciatively.

“Are you okay?” he asked, his hick voice brimming with concern. “There’s some strange things a-happening, and I heard noises.”

“We’re fine,” Berelain said regally. “Tell me – you’re not of any specific strategic or political importance, are you?”

“Uh, no ma’am.”

“Good,” the First of Mayene flicked a glance at Janica, but the little damane didn’t see it. “This whole incident has unsettled my nerves somewhat. How about you take me back to my apartments, and fuck me raw? Afterwards, I will be able to concentrate on more important matters without the distraction of sexual tension.”

Perrin’s grin could have entered the record books. “Ma’am, yes ma’am!”

Janica sighed. “Oh well, it’ll have to do,” she murmured. “I did my best, and at least she’s empowered. Now if we can track Mat down, I’ll have a word with him about his whining.”

“Nyuh! Nyuh! Guh! Nah! Huh!”

“Puddin,” Logain stepped across to the Far Maddingite, who was over in a corner, stamping on something vigourously. “What are you doing? Oh – more of those small replicas coming from the mirror-fragments?”

“What?” Vamps gave a final stamp, and turned to look at Debs and Janica. “No no, nothing like that. Spiders. There were spiders all over the wall. Didn’t you see them?”

 


 

Chucky looked down at the remains and sighed. Then he reached down and pulled two of Dr. Nick’s gleaming spears from the tartan rags. There was a mournful ‘whaaaar’ noise.

“My bagpipes,” he said. “My poor bagpipes. What did they ever do to you?”

“Jumped off your shoulder and tried to eat me, is what they done gone an’ goddamn did,” Shannon growled, and gave the broken remains a swift kick. There was another ‘whaaaar’, this time a bit fainter and decidedly watery.

“It was a bubble of evil,” Chucky said, crouching down and picking up the base drone. It was snapped clear at the stock, trailing pieces of hemp and dripping unspeakable bag dressing. It was, in short, a normal bagpipe again. But it was completely ruined. “And it came out here because of your ta’veren‘ness, Nancy.”

“Stop calling me Nancy.”

“What are you doing?” Dr. Nick demanded as Chucky gathered up the pieces and carefully wrapped his gleeman’s cloak around them.

“It can be fixed. I know how to do that, at least.”

“But why would you want to?”

Chucky tucked the bundle under his arm, and put Callandor back on his shoulder. “Let’s get out of here,” he said, handing the spears back to Dr. Nick. “We’ve got places to go.”

“We gots to find Moiraine and the Green Man,” Shannon said. “They’se in here somewheres. Matter o’ fact, they’se probably takin’ charge o’ the Stone by now. There was still a bunch o’ trollocs and halfmen around, but most of ’em seemed to have done pulled back. Anyways, Moiraine had herself a plan to set up some sort of False Dragon, at least I think that’s what she sayd.”

“Those Shadowspawn vanished awfully fast,” Dr. Nick remarked. “Maybe the Forsaken used gateways and got rid of all their troops when they realised they’d lost. Does that sound even remotely like something the Forsaken would do?”

Chucky shrugged. “Who knows what they’re going to do? They’re idiots. Never know what an idiot’s going to do.”

They rounded a bend, and encountered the grey shaggy form of Cybes, and the almost-equally shaggy form of Min.

“Finally, a pair of actual women,” Dr. Nick muttered, then went on in a louder voice, “oh, what’ve you got there, Cybes?”

“It’s a trolloc’s heart,” Min said. “I tried to get her to drop it, but she thinks it’s a game and runs away.”

“Cybes?” Chucky asked in bafflement. “She appeared as a wolf? Wolf wasn’t an option!” he looked at Shannon and Dr. Nick and had the grace to grin apologetically. “Well, I guess there must have been a bit of a mistake and we all came as things we didn’t, ah, expect.”

“Diplomatic bastard ain’tcher,” Shannon noted, and started on down the corridor. “Look, can we get a-movin’? The sooner we give this stuff to Moiraine, the sooner we can stop a-frettin’ and a-worryin’ about it and I can get me some goldurn sleep. I’m so tired I could jus’ lie down right here and-”

“You can’t come in here! We’re questioning Black Ajah Aes Sedai! Moiraine Sedai’s orders.”

Chucky almost dropped his ruined bagpipes. Egwene folded her arms under her breasts and a waft of pre-hygiene farmgirl stench managed to escape from … well, somewhere. Egwene fixed Dr. Nick and the gleeman with an accusatory glare, and then turned on Shannon and Min. Min looked at the space above Egwene’s head, and sighed in absolute disgust.

“My visions are getting sillier and sillier,” she said. “I thought you were the one with the seven-striped stole, but now it looks like-”

There was a scream from the other side of the heavy door Egwene was standing in front of. It was repeated, and then there was a strange cacophony of grunts and thumps and puddley-noises. Then the door swung open and Nynaeve staggered out. She was gory to the elbows.

“Amico Nagoyin said something insulting,” she choked, white-faced. “I leaned forward to slap her, and my hand must have slipped because suddenly I accidentally cut her throat and Joiya’s too, and then I tripped and reached out to grab something to steady myself and I grabbed onto their tongues and spun around and accidentally nailed them to the door…”

Cybes dropped the heavy piece of fibrous muscle she had been gnawing, and stood on her back legs. She tugged one of the still-squirming tongues off the cell door, and chewed happily.

“It was a complete accident!” Nynaeve was sobbing. In the cell, Elayne was throwing up.

“I believe you,” Chucky said, glancing at Shannon.

“Oh, it’s you again,” Nynaeve went on, noticing Chucky for the first time. “I see they took your gag off.”

“That’s funny.”

“Have you seen Puddin around?”

“Have you seen Moiraine? Egwene just said you were acting on her orders. You weren’t going to learn anything from those two anyway.”

“On the contrary, we learned that they were planning some sort of Darkfriend action in Tanchico,” Egwene snapped. “We’ve learned a lot from them, and Moiraine says-”

“Speaking of Moiraine, we have this to give to her,” Chucky brandished Callandor, and was satisfied to hear the awed gasps from the two Rivers women.

“Where did you get that?” Nynaeve exclaimed.

“Oh, it was in the Heart of the Stone,” Chucky replied, giving the sword a few practice-swings. “Yeah, things like this just seem to happen when-”

Nynaeve whacked him on the ear, and snatched the Sword That Is Not A Sword. “That’s something we should be looking after,” she said. “Moiraine told us so.”

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The Shadow Plagiarising, Part 2

“Sorry about that, really. I guess I just got the old blood up, heh heh, and you took the sword and everything, I just didn’t recognise you from the rafters.”

Forsaken_1 picked himself up. He was bleeding in a half-dozen places from the shattered pieces of Callandor, which had broken as he fell on it.

“Don’t mention it,” he said. “I didn’t think the thing would break that easily. I guess the Warranty That Is Not A Warranty just expired,” he grinned at his joke, which didn’t get the response it deserved, like all of his other jokes. This thought reminded him briefly of Chucky and the hateful Pole Thogugh, and he frowned at the remembrance. “Sorry you, uh, didn’t get your man.”

“Makes no sense,” Cooper Two said, shaking his head. “The Dragon has to come and get the sword. This one was a fake, of course, because I think this here’s the proper one,” he gestured to the sword slung across his back. “Maybe I should have waited to see who was going to come back for it. But I was driven by the Prophesy, you see. I was sure the Dragon would come to the Heart. That’s what they do, sooner or later. Dragons, I mean. Always going for the Heart of the Stone. Oldest trick in the book, the old Go For The Heart of the Stone Trick.”

“So where do we go now?”

The gholam looked at Forsaken_1 with a horrifying sort of concern on his face. Forsaken_1 realised he was dripping delicious nutritious blood on the floor, and tried not to seem terrified and vulnerable to the sharp-toothed weirdo. Finally, Coop seemed to rouse himself and come to a decision. It was clearly a non-killing-Forsaken_1 decision, too, because Forsaken_1 was still alive, which he wouldn’t be if Cooper Two had made the other sort of decision.

“Well, I guess we can see who’s in charge now, and get you patched up. Then I can get to concentrating on where exactly Lews Therin has gotten to, and how I might get to him. But we’ve got plenty of time. He’ll come to me because I have the sword, and in the meantime I’m just enjoying not having a churning stomach and spinning head for once.”

“Huh?” Forsaken_1 frowned. “Oh, right, that,” he brushed the crumbs of glass off his colour-shifting cloak. “So where do you think we should go?”

“Up.”

“Up?”

“Can’t go down any further. There’s nothing down there. All the people are up there. I can smell them. Well, they’re all over the place, but … well, we might as well go this way.”

The gholam sheathed the glimmering sword in the back of his shirt, and did a quick barrel-roll to the closest set of pillars, where he flattened himself against the thick redstone column – literally. Then he peeked out, barrel-rolled across to the next pillar, and repeated the procedure. Forsaken_1 limped after him.

It wasn’t long before their path crossed that of some individuals coming the other way.

“Hah! Eat ter’angreal, Lews Therin Tela… oh. Whoops.”

“Don’t hurt me!”

The other three Ogier gathered around their cowering comrade and looked at Coop worriedly in turn. Coop contrived to look apologetic, and re-sheathed the Sword That Is Not A Toy. Forsaken_1 stood and watched the little scene, wondering who was going to get killed next. Nobody, it seemed.

Coarshus climbed to his feet and looked down at the grinning gholam. “Hello…” he said uncertainly. “You have the Horn of Valere.”

“What? Oh yes. Parp parp,” Coop grinned again. “You haven’t seen Lews Ther-”

Mister C of 9 stepped out of the shadows of a nearby pillar. Like Cooper Two flattening himself, it was not a figure of speech, and Forsaken_1 could have lived without seeing it. “I’m rescuing these guys,” the sunglassed halfman said, “so whoever you are, you’d better not interfere. Oh, hi Child Foreskin. Or are you meant to be some sort of Ranger now? Foreskin Son of Arathorn? This is the dumbest story in the world.”

Cooper Two was looking at Mister C with great interest.

“You’re an Eight-sixty model!” he exclaimed.

“A what?” Mister C of 9 turned his normally chilling eyeless stare on the first humanoid he had ever encountered that was actually thinner than he was while not turned sideways.

Coop spread his arms. “Aginor Bio-Weapons, service with a smile-”

“-and a smile with a catch,” Mister C’s frown deepened. “How did I know that? Where’s it from? It’s an advertising jingle. I hate advertising.”

“You’re a Fetch. Eight-sixty model, from Aginor Bio-weapons. Same as me. I mean, not exactly the same, you’re a production-line churnout of a different weapon-class, but we’re from the same ‘dar.”

“What is he talking about?” Mister C demanded. Forsaken_1 shrugged. The Ogier looked nervous, but that wasn’t actually an alteration on their earlier expressions.

“Oh come on. Eight-sixty, as in one out of every eight hundred and sixty trollocs turns out to be like you.”

“Trollocs!” Coarshus moaned. “I knew it, you’re a halfman!”

“It’s a disguise,” Mister C of 9 assured the whimpering giants. “You’ve all seen it. I’m a gleeman, remember?”

“I heard you were only an apprentice,” Forsaken_1 corrected.

“Glad you’re here,” Mister C growled.

 


 

“Right,” Angamael said, looking around the table purposefully. The Amyrlin’s office had been cleared, and a large conference table moved in. It was a wonderful old piece of furniture, with seven-striped laquer that Angamael had planned on peeling off and replacing with black, but he hadn’t gotten around to it yet. “Righty right right.”

The people gathered around the table looked at him nervously. Asmodean fingered the side of his face. Padan Fain scratched his nose. Bayle Domon ducked his head under the table and came up with a mouthful of coarse, wiry black hair.

“There isn’t much to add at this stage, I’m not calling a full meeting for another few months,” the Nae’blis said. “In the meantime, your assignments are to continue. There’s the issue of the Aiel Waste, of course.”

“Yes, Nae’blis?” Demandred said.

“The new Dragon – the False Dragon – will be heading there to ensure the Aiel support his cause,” Angamael said. “I have seen it in … the books.”

The Forsaken nodded. The books. They were on familiar, if slightly wacky, ground now.

“Anyway, they will be heading in that direction, and we will need to see to it that they are, if not stopped, then at least observed.”

“We can send a force of trollocs and draghkar…” Rahvin said, glancing at Aginor for confirmation. Aginor made a note in a small pad, and nodded. “They’ll make short work of this small band. Uh, unless that’s false confidence, Nae’blis,” he added hastily.

“It certainly is,” Angamael said, sounding pleased. “Do you know what the trollocs call the Aiel Waste, Asmodean?”

Asmodean looked up with a wince. “Yes, Nae’blis?”

Angamael turned his attention from Rahvin without missing a beat. “Well?”

“The … Dying Grounds, Nae’blis?”

“Right. Something like that. So we’re not going to be idiots and send Shadowspawn out there, are we?”

“No, Nae’blis,” the group chorused. The shaggy yellow-eyed lunatic sitting on Fain’s other side laughed derisively.

“We’ll send out somebody the Aiel won’t kill. A peddler,” he turned to Fain. “Think you can manage this?”

“Of course. And I am to kill the Dragon?”

“Yes. And the dagger – which will undoubtedly be with the Dragon and his friends – is yours,” Angamael nodded. “And Lanfear, I suppose you’ll be wanting to go along.”

“Why, Nae’blis?”

“Why, to keep up with the … oh wait,” caverns of flame erupted as Angamael laughed. “Of course, Lews Therin is dead again, there is no reason for you to go into the Waste. But it would be a good idea to put a couple of people into their group. People they will trust.”

“That’s me out,” Fain said dryly.

“Me too,” the one known as Noam said quickly. “They know I’m evil.”

“I’ll go,” Asmodean said. “I am a master of disguises.”

“Hmm,” Angamael said, thinking about it. Pure narrative drive pushed him towards the decision, but he knew how Asmodean would end up if he was sent into the Waste. It was inevitable. “I’ll have to think about it. In the meantime, Aginor-” this time, he turned to the right guy. Aginor was the wrinkliest person in the room, and very difficult to get mixed up with anybody else, “-will you please introduce us to our latest … asset?”

“Of course, Nae’blis,” Aginor nodded smoothly, concern and embarrassment and uneasy pride on his wizened face. The former two emotions, he managed to hide from Angamael, but the others saw it as he turned from the table. He made a beckoning gesture with his fingers. Several of the Forsaken shifted in their seats as he channeled. Old habits died hard, and the Chosen were still not at ease about letting their colleagues embrace the One Power while they remained defenceless.

There was a heavy shuffling sound, and a vast grey shape moved into the room. There were gasps from all around the table. Padan Fain, most notably, had gone utterly white and was staring at the enormous rough-hewn figure as if staring at something out of his own terrible, haunted past.

It’s entirely likely that he was.

“This,” Angamael said happily, “is Smith. Say hello, Smith.”

“Ullo,” Smith said. His distorted little face puckered like a collection of deformed sphincters.

“It’s a forger,” Demandred said. “But … but they crumble to dust when taken away from Thakan’dar!”

“Aginor Bio-weapons is back in business,” Aginor said, still looking worried. “I managed to introduce an inhibiting agent to the calcification…” he paused, and saw the polite expressions on the faces of his associates. “Smith can leave the forges, for extended periods of time,” he simplified. “He will get, after a while, a similar affliction to that of the Ogier – the Longing, if you like, and he will need to return. But until then, he is autonomo…uh, free to roam.”

There was silence for a moment.

Why?” Padan Fain whispered hoarsely. “Why? Why have you brought this … this thing? This torturer? This devourer of souls? This destroyer of lives? This dunker in the riverer of peddlers?”

“I was wondering that myself,” Aginor admitted.

“Because, ladies and gentlemen, we have a rather large problem, which should have been dealt with a long time ago,” Angamael planted his hands on the table. “The Green Man, who has been an ironic thorn in the side of the Blight for thousands of years, still lives, and he will be making trouble for us. His powers are unforeseeable, and his wisdom is unmatched. He is a loose cannon.”

“What’s a cannon?” Graendahl asked.

“Never mind. Smith?”

“Yezzuh?”

“What is the Green Man?”

“Nym, zuh.”

“And what do you forgers use Nym for?”

“Firewhud, zuh.”

Angamael grinned as, slowly and painfully, comprehension dawned on the faces of his highest and most mighty lieutenants.

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