The Path of Blaggers, Part 11

The group of channelers seemed to be mostly trainees, recognisable by their fresh-faced near-sanity and the sort of mindless violence with saidin that was more accidental clumsiness than premeditated butchery. After hanging around with Forsaken long enough, Chucky and Dr. Nick were beginning to be able to spot the subtle differences between acts of One Power mutilation. Chucky, in fact, could now tell the difference between whimsical early-evening head-crushing and bored afternoon Air-clubbing. The time of day was only one indicator.

There was a lot of squinting and scowling and asking of veiled codeword-questions – always good for a laugh, because rampant misinformation and a persistent inability to communicate resulted in nobody really knowing what the code questions and responses were, which led to some hilarious extended two-person comedy routines. Generally between two people more accustomed to cutting things off until they heard what they wanted than asking just the right question about the price of white peppers in whereverthefuck.

There were only two full asha’man in the group, one of whom eventually introduced himself as Charl Gedwyn, Tsorovan’m’hael. The other introduced himself as Manel Rochaid, Baijan’m’hael.

“Nynaeve al’Meara,” Lanfear said, “gesundheit.”

Charl Gedwyn scowled. “The titles mean-”

“Storm Leader and Attack Leader,” Lanfear translated with a roll of her eyes. “Yes, very impressive.”

“Can you actually make storms?” Dr. Nick asked from the outskirts of the summit meeting, enboldened by his collection of One Power-blocking ter’angreal.

“I think it means he stamps around, being angry,” Chucky remarked.

“And who are you?” Rochaid asked, eyes narrowed.

“I’m Chucky,” Chucky said, “I, uh, call myself the, uh…”

Drugsrbad’m’hael,” Dr. Nick improvised.

“Don’t ever try to help me again,” Chucky undertoned, then did his best to look simultaneously harmless, high-ranking-Darkfriendy and a vital part of whatever organisation these asha’man happened to represent. “What can we do for you, sirs?”

“We’re looking for the Dragon Reborn,” Gedwyn replied, looking extremely disgruntled and as if he would very much like to explode something. Chucky took a surreptitious step backwards and into what he hoped was Dr. Nick’s saidin-free zone, and endeavoured to add ‘something that would be no fun to explode’ to his current look. “Have you seen him around?”

“Not for a while,” Chucky admitted, glancing at Lanfear. Her look of guilty shiftiness surprised him, and he was getting used to some pretty inappropriate reactions and facial expressions in the course of conversations with the NPCs. “Have you seen him?” he asked.

“What? Me? No,” Lanfear said, and tugged on her braid theatrically. “No, I haven’t. What, is he missing?”

“No, we’re looking for him because he’s sitting in Caemlyn with a turnip up his clacker,” one of the asha’man Soldiers snapped. The Dedicated next to him began slapping at invisible bugs, and the sarcastic rejoinder was forgotten in the momentary kerfuffle.

“I’m sure he’ll show up,” Chucky said as a couple of other Soldiers dragged the twitching man away, “we’re not lucky enough for him to ass himself to death in some conveniently out-of-the-way location,” this, regardless of the loyalties of the male channelers, seemed an attitude nobody could find fault with, and several people on both sides of the confrontation nodded. “I guess if we run into the dude, we can let him know you’re out looking for him.”

“Do that,” Gedwyn said, “tell him his brother the M’hael has a plan to cleanse saidin.”

 


 

Mazrim Taim agreed to make a gateway to a place nearby where he happened to know there was a Portal Stone. It was a Black Tower encampment of sorts, used for what the M’hael referred to as “research and development.”

“We have a few asha’man who are powerful enough and skilled enough to use the Portal Stones properly,” he said, “but it’s still pretty hit and miss. They usually come back more or less unharmed, and it’s a good place to practice some of our more destructive weaves without causing environmental damage,” Taim, his conditionally-paroled Aes Sedai bonder Alanna, Davram Bashere, Elayne and her Warders, Cadsuane and Forsaken_1, Min and Loial filed through the gateway and into a roped-off area on the edge of a small cluster of tents. It seemed the asha’man penchant for cutting people apart with gateways did not extend to their own comrades, although Forsaken_1 couldn’t help but notice a few stains on the ground that probably weren’t ketchup. In the middle of the tents was a grassy depression in the ground, with a few well-worn stones poking through it and a mossy, crazily-tilted monolith covered in arcane symbols. “Stand down,” Taim added, stepping over the rope and nodding at a pair of black-coated Soldiers.

“I don’t know about this,” Forsaken_1 said. The last time he’d gone through a Portal Stone, it had been an unpleasant experience for all involved. Especially him.

“If you know a better way to get into the Worlds of If, I’d love to hear it.”

“Maybe we should just wait for him to come back on his own,” Forsaken_1 suggested. “You know, I’ve often found if you stop looking for something…”

“How do you know about these things anyway?” Cadsuane wanted to know. “Portal Stones were long forgotten even back when I was wearing short skirts.”

“I read about it in a book,” Taim said, “but thank you for putting that picture in my head,” he stepped up to the column and stood looking at it while the rest of the team sidled uncertainly into place.

“Do you need us to do anything?” Elayne asked. “I can probably make a ter’angreal…”

“Don’t bother,” Taim replied, glancing across the lip of the depression at the on-duty asha’man Soldiers. “We’ve assigned some of the more highly-strung boys out here, it would be bad enough if they knew you were channelers, but if they were to actually feel you embracing the Source…”

“Sounds to me like they need their ears boxed,” Cadsuane declared.

“Cadsuane Sedai, I would pay cash,” Bashere remarked.

Mazrim Taim channeled.

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The TV adaptation formerly known as Night Watch

So this looks like happening at some point. Just to add to our glut of TV adaptations of beloved fantasy and science fiction books. I assume they’re calling it The Watch so as to avoid confusing the poor dumb bastards who would otherwise wonder if this is a Game of Thrones spin-off.

My expectations are pretty low, mainly because the Discworld series has had some pretty hit-and-miss adaptations already. Most of them I kind of liked, because I adore the books and can overlook whatever they kind of messed up in the adaptations.

And none of them have been as flawless as Good Omens.

Now this one, I think I’m really going to have to squint. And work hard to remind myself that TV adaptations are their own thing and don’t need to really have much to do with the original material. They can be considered a form of fan fiction.

discworld-night-watch-1

I had to chuckle at this take on the TV adaptation. If I have to be a curmudgeon about it, I’m okay with being Vimes.

At worst, I may just ignore it the way I ignored the attempted US version of Red Dwarf. No you pieces of shit, I haven’t forgiven you for trying to inflect that on us yet. Yes, I’m still working my way through the 1990s in terms of grudges. There is a lot of healing left to do.

But Sibyl Vimes as a social justice vigilante with what looks like a bright red River Song wig[1]? No, don’t. A female Vetinari who combines the “characteristics of Dracula and Elvis”? Don’t. Hakeem Kae-Kazim as Keel? I mean … okay, but you’re … how … look, I’m not used to being on this side of the argument but you’ve got Richard Dormer as Vimes, right, and the plot of the book is that Vimes goes back in time and Keel accidentally gets killed and Vimes becomes Keel for the purposes of timeline preservation, right? He managed that in the book because he kind of looked like the guy. Okay, so I suppose it’s easy enough to just say “Keel was just arriving and nobody knew what he looked like” and pass it off. Okay, that’s fine. Or change the plot significantly. That might be better. Because Night Watch, the book, was very dependent on the dozens of Discworld books that came before, and the world that had been built. You can’t do a time-travel episode until you’ve established your world.

[1] And I get that it’s meant to be a wig, because she’s a dragon keeper and they all have their hair burned off in the first week and she wears wigs as a result. So okay, semi-pass.

That said, there’s plenty I am there for. Chérie Littlebottom is amusing, and I’m fine with them changing her story so it’s more about a non-binary person than about a female in a species that denies the gender’s existence. Angua wasn’t what I was imagining but whatever. Vimes looks alright. Carrot is fucking perfect.

This was my favourite ever Discworld book. It’s going to be difficult to switch that off and attempt to enjoy this on its own merits. I may not bother.

Or, as I said on Facebook:

discworld-night-watch-2

Was talking about this with Mrs. Hatboy and this was exactly the image she’d always had of Sibyl Vimes as well. So glad I married the right girl for me.
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The Path of Blaggers, Part 10

The group made its way with casual aimlessness in a meandering sort of northerly direction, any illusion of progress shattered by the occasional glitch in the universe that turned them around or changed their intended destination. Still, the pointless and time-wasting journey gave Chucky ample opportunity to discover Lanfear’s true identity, and come perilously close to getting himself torn to pieces – or worse – with the One Power in the process. The Forsaken was still unwilling to take the chance, however, that the Gleeman was really as chummy with “Angamael” as he pretended to be.

For now.

“Loversknot is the worst name for a horse ever,” Chucky insisted.

“It is if you say it that way.”

“How am I supposed to say it? I mean yeah, if you say it a certain way, I’m sure it’s fine. You know, if you write it down maybe. What were you thinking? You’re riding on a horse called Loversnot.”

“I didn’t call it that,” Lanfear growled. “As you know perfectly well, Nynaeve called it that, before I took her place.”

“It’s bad enough that we’re apparently heading for a rendezvous at an estate belonging to the Hornwells,” Chucky went on, “but you’re doing it on a horse called Loversnot. I’m just saying. Hoarni has been a handful as it is, he doesn’t need the help of suggestive-sounding names.”

“When you say he’s been a ‘handful’,” Lanfear said, “do you mean your own personal hand?”

“See?” Chucky waved his gleestaff. “Soon nothing we do or say will be free of innuendo,” he paused in his waving, lowered the gleestaff carefully, and wiped his hand on his cloak. “And then where will we be?”

“At the manor, I hope,” Lan said from Lanfear’s far side. “I’m heartily sick of this whole venture.”

“I don’t even know why we’re going there,” Chucky confided. “I lost track weeks ago. I figure, nobody else cares, so why should I?”

“What are your orders, Gleeman?” Lanfear demanded. “What has the Great Lord instructed you?”

“Need to know basis,” Chucky said.

“I need to know.”

“Obviously not,” Chucky replied, for once pleased to have had such extensive experience debating with Mister C, “or you’d know already.”

“Insta-lose,” Wyse opined from the sidelines.

The journey went on, interminably. Dr. Nick had not succeeded in nursing Nynaeve back to health, if indeed she was Nynaeve, and there was nobody more qualified to even try. The Ogier had finally shown up after wimping out on them during Operation Wind, but after what the other Nynaeve had done to the Green Man they were desperately unhappy and even more prone to stomach upsets than usual. And there was nothing quite like an unhappy Ogier with an upset stomach to hinder the healing process.

And speaking of Wind, Olver was still riding alongside on the universe’s most flatulent quadruped, absent only when he veered off their path from time to time to get himself immersed in some calamity or other, most of which somehow contrived to make him even uglier. By the time they reached the Hornwell estate, it was entirely likely that Olver would have undergone metamorphosis into some hitherto unknown form of Shadowspawn.

All in all, Chucky had to admit he’d fallen in with the worst possible combination of people he could have imagined, short of Contro being present, with whom to share the mid-series doldrums they were very obviously experiencing.

When their paths crossed, seemingly by complete coincidence, with a group of asha’man, Chucky was almost relieved. A bit of bafflement and suspicion followed by a brisk and bloody culling of excess characters was just what the proverbial doctor ordered.

 


 

The search for Puddin Taim had reached a new and, in Forsaken_1’s opinion, unnecessarily complex stage. After deeming Shadar Logoth too unstable and hazardous to look for the big whining dork, the Aes Sedai following Cadsuane had settled on a confusing system combining asha’man spot-checking parties, Tel’aran’rhiod, standard grid-pattern search procedure and a weird ter’angreal Elayne had ‘accidentally’ made one morning when she was trying to heat up her tea.

Now they were all in the throne room, standing around with their metaphorical thumbs up their butts. Except for one of Mazrim Taim’s henchmen, who Forsaken_1 was beginning to suspect was literally butt-thumbing it. From where he was standing on the far side of the Lion Throne next to Cadsuane, he could hear the asha’man with his hand down the back of his pants muttering quietly about “not letting them escape”.

“It detects and reacts to specific shifts in the Pattern,” Elayne was explaining from the throne, “a combination of ta’veren and saidin which we have managed to tune – at least I think we have – to resonate against some of the events the Dragon Reborn is supposed to cause,” the Queen of Andor glanced at Min in irritation. “Min’s viewings are becoming less useful by the hour, and some of them are downright insulting.”

“I can’t help it-”

“Keep those ones to yourself next time,” Elayne snapped.

“Yeah, and tell us later,” Stifler added. The Queen’s three Warders were lounging behind the throne on a little trio of chairs with a table in between. Or, at least, Stifler and Birgitte were lounging while Gaidal Cain, whose turn it was to be ‘on duty’, was standing close behind Elayne’s right armrest and watching everyone in the throne room with bland dislike.

Elayne turned and leaned over to give her Warder a look around the bulk of the Lion Throne, then gave the ter’angreal a shake. To Forsaken_1 it looked like one of those forked sticks that insane people used to try to find water, only made out of glass … or perhaps glass tubes with water inside. Sparkly little coloured things moved around inside the glass, but he couldn’t get a good look at them. Cadsuane was blocking his line of sight, and every time he tried to crane his neck to look over her shoulder, she told him to stop looking at Her Majesty’s breasts. “Anyway,” she said, “the upshot is that this thing should be detecting Puddin Taim.”

“So is it working or not?” Cadsuane asked.

Elayne gave the ter’angreal another shake, and glared at it. Mazrim Taim shifted his feet and a couple of his non-thumb-butt minions glowered, which Forsaken_1 took to mean Elayne was channeling. She had the ter’angreal by the forks with the shaft pointing across the room towards the main doors, and when she suddenly swung it around it almost smacked Min in the face. Then she swung the other way, but Cadsuane had already prudently stepped back. Forsaken_1 felt a weird buzzing in his ears as some sort of invisible beam from the end of the ter’angreal passed through his chakras. Probably radiation, he thought, and spared a moment to be glad Elayne was wielding the thing at head-height due to the elevation of the throne.

“It’s working,” she declared. “According to this, he’s a long way off, and there’s something very weird about these readings…” she gave the ter’angreal another shake.

“I think we all know there’s something very weird about the Lord Dragon Reborn,” Davram Bashere said, “and Cairhien and Tear used to be a long way off too, but all it takes is for one of our inestimable asha’man comrades to wiggle his fingers, and we’ll be able to just reach through a gateway and grab him by the lapels. If he happens to be wearing a coat. Or indeed anything. The main variable is what we grab him by, is my point.”

“Hey, thanks for that mental picture,” Stifler said.

“You’re the one who can’t stop yourself from picturing Vamps naked,” Forsaken_1 pointed out. He was getting sick of Stifler getting  the juiciest lines. Cadsuane turned and smacked him swiftly in the back of the head. “Ow.”

“You behave yourself, young man,” the ancient and horrible Aes Sedai said sharply.

“Yeah,” Stifler grinned. “That’s what you get.”

“Don’t make me get down off this throne,” Elayne said, although she was still preoccupied with the ter’angreal. “I’ll turn this rescue operation right around.”

“Speaking of this rescue operation,” Mazrim Taim said, “you want me to make a gateway to where, exactly?”

“I’m not sure,” Elayne said, “but I think … I think … Puddin is in a World of If,” she frowned, “quite close to this world but separated from it by vast gulfs…” she looked up. “And also, he’s not on this continent in the World of If. He’s in Shara.”

Forsaken_1 considered asking whether the ter’angreal was programmed to detect False Dragons, dead Dragons, foreign Dragons or only genuine Dragons, but gave the question up as too difficult before even arranging it in his mind. Cadsuane would only slap the back of his head again anyway.

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The Path of Blaggers, Part 9

The arrival of Moghedien in Graendal’s palace was unexpected but not entirely unprecedented. After a polite chime the gateway rolled open in its normal place, and the Spider stepped through into the room.

“Moghedien,” Graendal said as pleasantly as she could. Rules, after all, were rules. Cordiality was the drink of the month. “Welcome to Arad Doman,” she hesitated when a second woman stepped through the gateway and stood close behind Moghedien, looking annoyed. “Both of you.”

“You’re very kind,” Moghedien said graciously. Both she and the other woman – a plain, rather dumpy specimen who looked like a typical potato-field peasant – were dressed in smart black and red livery.

“May I inquire as to the purpose of your visit?” Graendal asked. She was just opening her mouth to make a slightly more sarcastic remark – borderline unacceptable, even – when the space behind her writing desk flickered and an enormous myrddraal straightened out of the shadow with an audible spine-pop.

“Ooh,” Shaidar Haran said, putting his pasty-white hands to his kidneys and stretching with another series of crackles. “Cramped.”

The Chosen were quite familiar with the quirky-yet-frightening halfman by now, and knew that he spoke for the Great Lord of the Dark. Or at least, he did when speaking in his official capacity, which he generally indicated by standing on his tip-toes and affecting a deep, booming intonation and finishing off with a theatrical flourish and sometimes even the words “ooger booger”.

On most other occasions, he could be accurately said to be speaking for himself. Which, considering the fact that he was a myrddraal, was almost as scary.

“Do you have instructions for me, Hand of the Dark?” Graendal asked.

“Well, we’re working on that,” Shaidar Haran replied. “Things are confused at the moment. The Dragon Reborn is missing, presumed lost in a bubble of the Great Lord’s presence that erupted around his party in Aridhol. There have been no reports about his being found again, although we have teams out looking. That nasty ol’ skank Cadsuane is rushing around looking for him too, but she doesn’t even know where to start. Last I heard, she was in the Sun Palace, and she was trying to enlist the help of the asha’man. That’s where our busty friend here comes in.”

“Who are you?” Graendal asked, turning to confront the sour-faced newcomer.

“Cyndane,” the woman replied, then scowled. “I mean Nancy, I’m Nancy. Fuck it all, no I ain’t, I’m Shannon, God damn it.”

“She’s a bit out of sorts,” Shaidar Haran said with a smile, “which is to be expected, after her mindtrap broke. She’s lucky to be alive, really. We haven’t quite figured out how she managed it. Or,” he shrugged, “maybe she’s having woman troubles. I really wouldn’t know.”

Cyndane, or Nancy, or possibly Shannon, snarled and pulled a shiny length of silvery links from her vest, moving so unexpectedly Graendal almost embraced the Source out of instinct. Only the presence of the huge myrddraal made her think twice.

“I got yer woman troubles right here,” the liveried peasant woman growled.

Graendal stared at the leash, the open bracelet at one end and the dangerously-gleaming open collar at the other. They dared to bring one of those filthy a’dam things into her presence? What did they mean by it? First this talk of mindtraps, and now this … it was making her very nervous, and the unexpectedness of the feeling made it even worse. All the Great Lord and the Nae’blis had inspired in her since she’d been freed from Shayol Ghul had been confidence and loyalty, strange as that was.

“Where did she get that?” Graendal hissed.

“She had it with her when we found her,” Shaidar Haran said.

“An escaped damane, perhaps?”

“Cyndane is not actually a channeler, as far as we can ascertain,” Moghedien shook her head, “but she is ta’veren. She’s ta’veren up the proverbial wazoo.”

“I wouldn’t know about that either,” Shaidar Haran offered.

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The Path of Blaggers, Part 8

In the field of self-destructive lunacy, Galina had to say that Padan Fain took the cake in almost every contest against some pretty impressive opposition. He couldn’t even remain the same person for more than about five minutes at a time, and all his alternate personalities were dangerously unhinged and shockingly violent. And in the history of disastrous policy decisions, she would further have to say that his decision to release the Shaido was an easy contender for Padan Fain’s Top Five.

Still, there was little she could do about it at the present time.

“You’re supposed to be questioning him,” she said, looking down at Sevanna and the Shaido soldier with a weariness that had long since replaced her horror and disgust.

“He had nothing to say.”

“Was that before or after you ate his eyes?”

Sevanna, or the thing that had once been Sevanna, examined the soldier’s dirt-caked fingernails. “Both.”

Galina sighed. They had been in Ghealdan ten days, moving from place to place apparently without purpose. Occasionally, Fain got one or another of the Aes Sedai to weave a gateway, a feat for which many of them needed to Link. Then they would wander the countryside for another few days. Apparently, Fain was “triangulating”. This concept summoned up just the right mental image of the crazed peddler turning into a simplistic musical instrument as far as Galina was concerned.

She became aware that Sevanna had said something.

“What?”

“I said, I don’t need to question him to get the information we need anyway, and Fain knows it.”

“Is that so,” Galina said, trying for a menacing purr and finding herself incapable of anything close. It was very difficult to impose her will on the twisted Aiel, especially since she still had little idea what they were capable of. The few things she did know they were capable of were bad enough. “So why is Fain telling you to question our prisoners, then?”

“Probably just to keep us happy,” Sevanna shrugged. “I like the squeaky noises you make.”

I make?” Galina tried not to squeak.

“You humans. I mean, we humans,” Sevanna corrected herself carelessly. “Alexander says that we already know everything there is to know about these Seanchan, because we have a friend in their royal court.”

In Galina’s considerable experience, nobody who had imaginary friends named Quincey and Alexander could possibly be an asset to the team. “You’re not supposed to be finding out about the Seanchan. You’re supposed to be finding out about the Dragonsworn.”

“What about them? The Seanchan don’t know anything about them. And Fain knows all about them, because he’s the Prophet of the Dragon. He’s been leading them all along. Didn’t he tell you that?”

“N-” Galina clamped her mouth shut and looked at Sevanna narrowly. “Is that why we’ve been traipsing around Ghealdan for days? Why wouldn’t he tell me something like that?”

“Why indeed?” Sevanna replied lazily.

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The Path of Blaggers, Part 7

The farm was a smouldering ruin, bodies and their possessions scattered around with various pieces missing, and the whole lot was nicely char-grilled. There didn’t seem to be any survivors.

All in all, it made Perrin feel a bit … well, hungry. His inner wolf smelled the body-parts, smelled the fear and madness still thick in the air, and it wanted to make the best of the situation. He knew it wasn’t an appropriate response, but the times being what they were, appropriate responses were hard to come by.

Janica’s response, “you should be investigating the exact same scene somewhere in Ghealdan right now”, also lacked a certain sense of reality.

“And this is the only perpetrator you could find?” he asked, frowning at the Two Rivers soldiers and the bloodied man they held between them.

“I keep telling you,” the prisoner said, “I had nothing to do with this.”

“So what were you doing at the scene? Looting?” Perrin demanded. The man had, after all, been carrying an unnecessary number of swords, at least two of which seemed to be Callandor. Perrin blinked, then looked more closely at the battered figure. “Wait a minute. I know you. The wedding of Rosie Cauthon. You’re Logain Ablar.”

The Two Rivers men scattered, the Aiel whipped their veils up over their faces and the asha’man Grady and Neald stepped forward, faces purposeful and a thick, roiling scent coming off them that Perrin had come to recognise as the smell of a man attempting to keep saidin from destroying him.

“Relax,” Logain said, “if I was going to channel, I would have done it before now. I’m not going to hurt you,” he eyed Perrin up and down. “Especially not you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Uh, you’re Lord Perrin Goldeneyes of New Manetheren, aren’t you?” Logain said quickly. “I, um, I’ve been seeing you on posters and banners for the past few months, especially the closer I got to Andor. Or New Manetheren, whatever you want to call it. Unfortunately I don’t remember you from the Two Rivers. That whole episode is a bit of a blur to me.”

“The only blur I saw that day was you, heading for the hills,” Perrin said, still not entirely sure he liked the smell that was coming off the male channeler. “There are some local lads who were really looking forward to that wedding.”

“Well, ahem, anyway, I mean you no harm. In fact,” Logain staggered to his feet and did his best to straighten his clothes, pretending to ignore the threatening postures of the Aiel and asha’man, “I’ll do you a favour. I would strongly advise against channeling at all. My peaceful intentions are only half of it.”

“What do you mean?” Perrin demanded. Berelain stepped up close beside him.

“There are some … people … after me,” Logain explained. “At least one of them can sense channeling somehow,” he shrugged and smiled apologetically. “Lord Luc, and his friend Smith. They’ve been chasing me ever since I left the Two Rivers.”

“Oh great,” Perrin grumbled, “them again. Are they close behind you?”

“No way of knowing,” Logain shrugged again. “I was trying to lose them along the edges of Shadar Logoth, the evil in the stones there tends to throw off the scent…”

“No need to tell me that,” Perrin grunted. They’d been marching for several days, to give the troops a bit of exercise as well as the channelers a bit of a break from making gateways. He couldn’t have picked a worse place to take a stroll.

“Ah, right. Well, I don’t know if it worked … and what happened here, anyway?”

“I was hoping you could tell us. Some sort of fanatical supporters of the Dragon,” Perrin replied, turning back to survey the carnage. “I don’t know which Dragon, exactly.”

“Well, not me,” Logain said. “I was only ever a false Dragon anyway. And only because they forced me.”

Four days ago, there was a small and extremely confusing war in Illian, after which it became at least semi-clear that Janica and Debs and the glorious forces of the Dragon Reborn had managed to take the city, although there were some ominous details in there that Perrin and Berelain hadn’t quite straightened out. The Wolf Dream was a useful means of communication, but it tended to depend on wolves to do most of the communicating, and when it came to cities and wars and the One Power, wolves tended not to give a short sharp shit. Janica and Debs, Perrin suspected, were beginning to take advantage of that when there were things they didn’t think he needed to know.

Three days before the attack on Illian, the Seanchan had invaded and taken Ebou Dar, but whether that also meant Janica and Debs and the glorious army of the Dragon Reborn, or whether it meant something else entirely, Perrin had no idea. He had long since given up trying to figure these things out.

All he knew was that somebody was taking their worship of the Dragon Reborn a bit too far, and they were doing it right on his doorstep. He’d become used to seeing such atrocities in Ghealdan, but he was supposed to be taking care of this part of the world. From what he could see, the victims here had been feeble and mostly unarmed. One of them looked to be a woman old enough to be his great-grandmother. It was enough to make him-

“Mmm, that’s a big pile of dead Wetlanders.”

Perrin spun to see a pair of annoyingly familiar figures approaching across the burned field.

“What are you two doing here?”

Gaul, and Elyas Machera, stopped in front of Perrin and looked hurt.

“Well, that’s just not very nice,” Elyas said.

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The Path of Blaggers, Part 6

“Boy, are you lucky we found you when we did.”

The filth-caked man opened his eyes and squinted suspiciously up at the silhouette standing between him and the sun. It was an enormous silhouette, craggy and misshapen – some sort of statue, a voice in his head assured him calmly. No threat.

“I’m over here.”

Another figure, this one squatting by his side, leaned over and grinned. The man – he couldn’t remember his own name, only his gender, but that struck him as the most important thing anyway – shuffled sideways on his shoulder blades until he was almost lying on the statue’s misshapen feet, and narrowed his eyes as he glared at the stranger.

“Gargh,” he managed to rasp.

“Don’t try to talk,” the smiling stranger said, “you chewed through a lot of drywall to get out of there. Didn’t he?”

“He zhure did.”

Blinking dazedly, he turned and peered back up at the statue. It looked back down at him with an unreadable expression on its nasty, deformed excuse for a face. Although he still had no idea who he was, the man suddenly knew who he wasn’t, and that was somebody who wanted to be anywhere near that face.

“Where am I?” he asked, although it didn’t really matter. All that mattered was where he wanted to be, which was essentially a subsection of who he wanted to be.

“Just outside Arid-uh, Shadar Logoth,” another winning, highly-suspicious smile. “You were lucky to get out. A right sorry sight you were, too, crawling through the dirt. Of course, I’ve had more than my share of adventures in Aridhol. I’ll give you a highlights package.”

“Do any of them involve me?” for some reason, this seemed very important.

“Only the most recent one,” the cheerful stranger admitted, “and I have to say you don’t have much of a role.”

“You weren’t there. You wouldn’t understand.”

“I was there,” the stranger disagreed with a puzzled frown.

Something in the air made him feel extremely vulnerable, and a very convincing inner voice told him that the safest thing for him to do would be to use his magic powers to blow everybody up, leaving himself relatively unscathed. Since, until that moment, he’d had no idea he was actually capable of magic power-type feats, he stumbled over the whole idea. After a few seconds of grimacing, he was left feeling dizzy and nauseated, the fellow leaning over him going momentarily double in his vision but stubbornly refusing to blow up. He gave up the whole venture as a bad idea.

“What’s your name?” the blurry fellow asked, finally having the decency to return to singularity.

“Pud-” the syllable popped out before he could stop it, and suddenly Puddin remembered who he was. “Puddin Taim. Ask me again-”

“No need, I got it the first time,” the stranger interrupted breezily. “I’m good with names. I mean, if I wasn’t, I’d probably never remember this big fellow’s moniker. Am I right?”

“I don’t know,” Puddin replied, glancing nervously up at the … thing … looming over him. “What’s his name?”

“Billy Joe-Bob al’Peterson Meatballs Smith.”

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