Another little hiatus

I will be away from pretty much all keyboards for the next week or two, and I didn’t get a chance to key up the next Steal of Time book for posting. I’m going to focus on trying to get Panda Egg done on my phone in my spare moments but I doubt I’ll have many.

My parents arrive tonight, so I’ve got a weekend’s worth of The Dragon Reforged to post up and then that’s done with. After that I’ll be radio silence for a while.

Yes, I still have the Worldcon report to write. I’ll get to it when I get back.

See you!

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The Dragon Reforged, Part 17

Mister C of 9 swore and chased his flopping, squirting arm around the room, tripping on bodies and sliding on patches of blood. It was such a comical image that even Logain, although he considered himself a slave to the Great One for all of the Wheel’s future turnings, had to give a little giggle. In the meantime, the gateway slid fully open, and people began walking through.

“Is Linking always like that?” Egwene asked, her voice hoarse.

“Normally,” Liandrin replied, stepping away from the gatway, drawing a clearly fatigued Elayne with her. “Why?”

“I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t think there would be quite so many uncontrollable, explosive orgasms.”

Vamps, who was helping Mister C chase his arm, looked up at the last three words, his grin pre-prepared. Nynaeve stepped forward to deal with him, then saw Egwene and gave a shout of relief. Mat and Perrin stumbled through the gate as if pushed from the far side – which is exactly what had happened – and there was a brief, happy reunion in the body-strewn chamber. Then the rest of the newcomers began to emerge.

Bayle Domon came first, snuffling the air and glaring at the world from the thick mangy tufts of hair that covered his face. Nynaeve, Mat and Perrin backed away from the ghastly apparition, who reached down and grabbed Mister C’s arm as it wriggled by. He bit into it with a satisfied grunt.

“Oh, you prick,” Mister C whispered as he watched his arm disappear. Domon wiped his mouth with the severed sleeve, then dropped the gnawed limb on the floor. The bright, clashing Mambo colours were stained with black blood and some awful white stuff that had been encrusted on the sailor’s lips. “You ruined my shirt. I think it’s time to say hello to a little fellow I call Stormbringer Snaga.”

He drew his dread black sword and struck another pose. Vamps, still following behind, shuddered and clutched saidin, drinking in the sickness and the glory of it all in a truly unnecessary piece of flowery prose. He wiped the cold sweat from his brow and glanced at Nynaeve to make sure she could see how brave he was being. Logain, sensing his Master was in danger, stepped up on Domon’s other side, also holding the One Power. Domon looked from one enemy to the next, shrugged, and backed away. Mister C followed him, keeping well away from the gateway.

Masema, Uno, Hurin and a large crowd of Borderlanders came next, with a few Whitecloaks thrown in. They had joined up with the Sheinarans after the fight at the gibbet, and hadn’t been turned away. Already, Fain’s taint was visibly upon them. Loial followed, his ears in a state of permanent droop and his hands fumbling with a pair of ropes. Behind him, attached to the ropes, came Dr. Nick and Chucky, both of them bound and gagged and blindfolded with their ears stopped up. Finally, Fain himself stepped through the glowing gateway with Satsujinki at his side. It had been his idea to gag the gleeman and the Aiel nerd in preparation for the incursions, on the grounds that their constant banter would cause problems in Illian and Tear, where they would have to have their wits about them. The truth was, Satsujinki didn’t want to argue about Catholicism with Chucky unless the fat bastard was incapable of hearing or replying.

Domon, Mister C and the two male channelers formed an interesting centrepiece to the whole confrontation. The halfman’s stump had already stopped bleeding, and the sword clutched in his right hand was trembling with its wielder’s anger. Vamps made a gagging noise and lost saidin as the tense moment stretched out.

Janica broke the silence.

“What’s going on?” she demanded. “I canna see anythin’.”

“Ach, a bunch of people jes’ came through a geetwee,” Debs replied. “I know a few of ’em, but there’s a lot. I danna nae whut they want.”

“What are those women saying?” Fain snapped. “Who are all these people? How dare you threaten my henchman that way, halfman! You back down or you’ll be taught a lesson,” then he did a double-take, and stared at Debs. “You!” he screamed. “You’re the bitch who pushed me into the eternal, screaming darkness of the Ways!”

“Ach, fat lot o’ eternity it was, if ye got oot o’ it so soon!” Debs snapped, not liking the little guilt trip the skinny peddler had just sent her on. She didn’t like guilt trips that she couldn’t place in a Trash Folder. She drew herself up and Janica sighed as she felt saidar roar through her. “Ye jes’ watch yer mooth!”

There was a momentary silence as everybody translated what Debs had just said.

“Please, nobody kill anybody…” Loial said.

Gnaar!” cried Mister C of 9, leaping forward and raising Stormbringer Snaga. Domon spread his arms and roared defiance. Liandrin swore and Logain and Vamps shivered as she embraced the Source, her power magnified by the suddenly-moaning Elayne and Egwene. Fain leapt forward, the male channelers raised their hands, Nynaeve snarled something and began to weave a complicated and destructive piece of nastiness at Liandrin and Debs, in desperation, did the only thing she could think of.

She pulled her sul’dam suit open, exposing her breasts.

The carnage was suddenly averted. Even Logain cocked his head to one side.

“Crikey,” Mister C said, and turned to Domon, nudging him with his stump. “See that? That’s the Hindle gene, that is. I’ve seen it before.”

Liandrin had lost saidar in her shock, but now drew herself up primly.

“You shameless hussy!” she hissed, and then reddened to hear exactly the same thing from Nynaeve’s tightly-pursed lips.

“Mommy,” Vamps said in a meek, dreamy voice.

“I don’t want to know what you’re doing,” Janica said, “and I don’t want to know why I can hear the sound of leather pants being stretched, and I certainly don’t want to know why I’m suddenly feeling very warm and proud of myself and validated in my identity as an independent liberated modern Scottish woman through this a’dam.”

Domon shook his head and turned to Fain. That is to say, his head turned, but his eyes stayed facing in the same direction. “It don’t be here,” he said.

“Mmm? Oh, yes, right, that,” Fain roused himself. “Yes, it has been taken on ahead by our enemies, however they managed to get hold of it.”

“If you’re talking about the dagger from Shadar Logoth, the Forsaken took it off us when they captured us and brought us here,” Janica said helpfully. “I don’t know what happened to any of our belongings after that. Or the four Ogier who were with us.”

“Four Ogier?” Loial said, his hands shaking. “They’re not here anywhere, are they?”

“They could be,” Debs said, her hands on her hips and her bosoms maintaining the peace. “Mebbe we should luke fer them before we try an’ gae anywhere,” she added unwillingly.

“Well, that which we seek is not here,” Fain overrode the meandering conversation with a deep, booming forcefulness. “But now at least we know where it is – it has been taken by the Forsaken, as this Aes Sedai surely knew,” he glanced at Liandrin, who paled in fear. “And now they are in Tear, most assuredly, waiting for their showdown with the False Dragon here,” he favoured Logain with a tragically confused look. “At least, I assume you are the False Dragon. I am getting such confusing messages…” he trailed off again, staring into the depths of his ravaged soul.

Mff,” said Chucky around his gag, breaking the reflective silence. The assortment of people, halfmen, off-brand werebeasts and Ogier shuffled their feet and looked at one another. One of the horses snorted.

“Well, if it isn’t Bela,” Nynaeve exclaimed.

“Yes, I was looking after her,” Egwene said. “I sort of fell off her just now, of course, when I was … Linked.”

Fain seemed to come to a decision with the little committee of nutters in his head. “I suppose we can forego the pleasure of killing these titties, I mean these enemies until later,” he said. “Liandrin, if you please – do the honours.”

Liandrin gave Debs a final scowl as the porridge-fed sul’dam refastened her clothing, then embraced the Source. She turned to where Nynaeve was standing in front of the small group of Emond’s Fielders – and Elayne – with a nail-chewing expression on her face.

“They won’t be Linking with you again, Darkfriend,” Nynaeve said. “Whatever Linking is.”

“Oh, we don’t mind,” Egwene said hesitantly. “Not really. No, it’s not too bad.”

“I think I could do it again,” Elayne said. “In fact, I insist on being allowed to put myself in danger for the good of my friends. And you have to obey me, I’m to be your Queen.”

“You daft slut,” Nynaeve said, and channeled swiftly. Egwene and Elayne gave little cries of alarm as they were deftly shielded. “Look, we all have the same problem. I don’t know about this dagger you’re going on about, but we all need to get to Tear, right?”

“I can stay here if you want,” Loial said. Several assorted others agreed with him in nervous murmurs. Bela neighed again, clearly wanting to be left out of the remainder of the story before the readers started to attribute ridiculous theories to her barely-glue-worthy carcass.

“And my side just came open again,” Vamps whimpered to Nynaeve, dabbing at his wound and displaying his bloodied fingers. Nynaeve gave a sympathetic whimper even in the midst of her determined rage.

Mrf,” said Dr. Nick.

“So since there’s not much point in attacking each other, we might as well work together to get what we want,” she went on. “I’m no more keen on the idea than you are, but maybe if we Linked, we could Heal our injured and get out of here.”

“You have injured?” Fain smiled condescendingly. “How careless of you.”

Nynaeve stared at the Borderlanders, who had been victims of the Herofall that had spelled the end of the Camp of the Dragon Reborn; and at the Whitecloaks, who had been victims of the Borderlanders. “You have wounded too!”

“We do?”

Mlph.”

“Quiet, you,” Fain cuffed Chucky over the blanket-muffled head, and the gleeman stumbled before his guard carefully propped him back onto his feet with a concerned slope to his eyebrows. “Very well, I see we do have wounded. Perhaps we could put our forces together, and get out of this all the faster.”

The two women, staring distrustfully at one another all the while, initiated a Link. Nynaeve promptly cried out and clenched her fists against her lower abdomen.

“What are you doing to me?” she shouted.

“It’s an orgasm,” Liandrin said. “It happens every time channelers Link, for some reason – probably something to do with experiencing the joy of embracing the Source from another person’s sensory apparatus. What’s the matter? It’s not like you’ve never had an orgasm before.”

There was another silence, and Vamps became aware that a lot of people, and Bela, were looking at him. He went red.

“She’s never had just one before!” he exclaimed. “That’s why she doesn’t recognise it!”

“Ooh, another one!” Nynaeve whimpered.

Debs stepped forward. “Things’d go faster if we joined the Link too,” she said.

“No,” Janica planted her heels. “You’re not thinking this through,” she pointed at her a’dam. Debs grinned.

“Ah, c’mon,” she said. “Ye knoo ye’re innerested.”

“In ordinary orgasms? Sure. Magnified through this thing? I don’t think so – I’m not that robust, in case you didn’t notice. We can swap positions, and then try it if you want.”

“Come on, Janica,” Mister C cajoled, seeming to have forgotten about his hand for the time being. “Inquiring minds want to know.”

“No.”

“Do it for science.”

“No.”

“Magic?”

“No.”

Nynaeve and Liandrin worked their way through Fain’s little group of surly, glowering men, Healing as they went.

“Keep away from the bloody eye,” Uno growled as they stepped up to him.

Finally, they were finished, and prepared to form a gateway.

“Watch how they do it,” Janica instructed her sul’dam. “We need to learn how to do this properly.”

“It’d be easier tae see if we jes’-”

“Just watch.”

Fain cracked his knuckles, and grinned at Domon.

“Right then,” he said. “So much for Illian. Next stop, Tear.”

Sattersnoam, in the meantime, was staring at the damane, a thunderstruck expression in his baleful yellow eyes.

You’re Janica?” he demanded.

 


 

Dawn came to Tear with glimmering beauty no amount of evil could spoil. The seagulls wheeled and cried over the curling waves, the crisp breeze rolled over the city, washing away the smells and the stifling heat like a cool balm. All over the city, people stirred and smiled as they realised the unpleasant dreams they’d been suffering in the night were nothing more than phantasms, and that another productive day awaited them.

The sun cast its warming rays across the vast, reassuring bulk of the Stone, and the servants within began to bustle and prepare food and drink for the nobility even as the streets below started to fill with cheerful wagoneers and merchants plying their wares. Angamael stood in the sumptuously-appointed rooms belonging to the High Lord Samon, wriggled his toes in the thick carpet, and sipped the best damn cup of coffee he had ever tasted. He didn’t know what it actually was, but the servants had taken a long time to get it this good, and he was very pleased with the result. He set the cup down on the richly-carved dresser, and went back to peering out of the arrow-slit that served as a window. The view was spectacular.

His dreams weren’t haunted by the distasteful force of Be’lal’s subconsious in the way the rest of the population was afflicted. The Forsaken who was living in the Stone posing as the High Lord Samon may have had trouble shielding his dreams, or he may have been broadcasting them on purpose – either way, the Netweaver was not so stupid as to drag Ba’alzamon into his nocturnal entertainments. So Angamael was well-rested, and could enjoy the crystal tranquility of the morning all the more for it.

As if on cue, the door behind him opened and the daunting figure of Be’lal stepped into the room.

“All is prepared, Nae’blis,” he said. “The tiles have all been re-laid, and the plasterer says the grouting will require only a couple more hours to be completely dry.”

“Excellent,” Angamael said. “You may continue with your exercises now. I want an absolute lack of overconfidence in you and all the Chosen here today, and remember – the guards are to be excused for lapses in minor concentration – not killed.”

“Yes, Nae’blis,” Be’lal inclined his head politely, and turned to leave. He glanced at the book lying on Angamael’s bedside table. “The Dragon Reborn,” he read. “You believe in knowing your enemy, Nae’blis.”

“Or knowing who my enemy thinks he is,” Angamael replied, taking another sip of his whatever-it-was-that-tasted-like-coffee.

“I have never heard of this scholar, this Robert Jo’rdan,” Be’lal continued. He audibly inserted an apostrophe despite the fact that there was not one in the name, and he knew that because he was looking at the cover and apparently the alphabet and languages were the same but it didn’t bear thinking about too much. “Is he a philosopher or a historian? I can not quite place the nationality of the name,” he looked down again. “‘Jo’rdan has come to dominate the world that To’l’kien began to reveal’,” he read on, adding in more apostrophes. “I wonder what that means?”

“Some things mean nothing,” Angamael replied, and Be’lal left the room quietly, leaving the Nae’blis to his thoughts.

Angamael took another sip, and sighed in contentment. Sometimes he wondered if he really had inherited madness when he had assumed Ishamael’s position in the story. He knew for a fact that his decision to become the Nemesis and destroy the world wasn’t exactly stable, but he also knew it didn’t matter, because the world wasn’t real. Or so Mister Hugglepuff had told him, before he had realised Mister Hugglepuff was a figment of his crazed imagination and didn’t actually exist. Was it possible, he wondered, for his insanity to actually be getting better? Because the idea with the tiles, that was brilliant.

He turned and glanced at the three objects laid out on the table.

The apparently-fake Horn of Valere.

The dagger from Shadar Logoth.

And Callandor.

It was amazing how much one could achieve with a map of the Blight, a shovel, a copy of The Eye of the World and a nose-peg. A doctor might be able to tell the difference between a dead body and a living one, but the Heart of the Stone couldn’t.

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The Dragon Reforged, Part 16

“I’ll ask you again. How does it open?”

Frendli elbowed Wyse out of the way and fumbled with the golden chest. His hands were shaking and he was crying softly. Coarshus mumbled vague instructions, but he couldn’t seem to remember how the chest opened, and none of the little catches or buttons seemed to be working. And up until now, it had been easy as easy to open the box and pull out the Horn and get help from it. Now, it was stuck fast. It was almost as if the box itself were some sort of ter’angreal, and it had detected the presence of evil in the little minaret cell, and had sealed itself in response.

“There’s some sort of trick to it,” Frendli said, smiling at the Betrayer of Hope manically as his fingers worked. “It opens if you just push the right part, there’s really no problem…”

“I hope not,” Angamael purred, his blood-red cloak swirling although there was no ventilation in the room – a fact the four Ogier had come to regret over the past few panic-riddled hours. “I would very much like to see what is in this box, and only one of you needs to be alive to show me. The other three are expendable. Of course,” he went on as Frendli’s hands froze, “you haven’t told me which of you is the Horn-sounder, so I need to keep you all alive. Although,” he went on as Frendli’s smile widened, “it is worth mentioning that the Horn-sounder is only an impairment to me, and as soon as I find out which of you he is, I will have to kill him so that I can appoint my own Horn-sounder. But,” he added maliciously as Frendli voided himself, “I can’t be sure that that’s how the Horn works. Maybe the death of the Horn-blower will put the whole thing into dormancy until the next Age, or something else entirely. There just isn’t enough evidence in the books.”

Frendli sighed.

“So you had better open it up, before I just lose interest in the logic of the situation and decide to kill you all.”

“I just remembered the trick to it!” Frendli cried, and hurled the chest against the huge oak closet in one corner. There was a metal-woody crunching noise and the box split along the corner seams. The four Ogier wept with relief and – due to Angamael’s uncertainty principle – terror. Angamael stepped forward and crouched beside the chest. With a swift motion, he ripped it open along the battered edges. Several objects fell onto the floor.

“Well well,” he said, lifting up the broken pieces of cuendillar that had formed the ancient symbol of the Aes Sedai. “One of the Seals. And it seems to be broken. This is interesting, but really of no value. Hmm,” he stood, holding the corners of another article. He shook it out, and smiled humourlessly at the rippling Dragon Banner. “This is more interesting. I’m sure we can do something with this. And looky here,” he went on, beaming happily. “The Horn.”

“There it is,” Coarshus said. “Sure enough.”

Angamael held up the Horn of Valere. It glinted in the candlelight. “Here,” he handed it to Hoarni. “Blow it.”

“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Hoarni said, grabbing the Horn. Then he froze. “How did you know … you knew I was the Horn-sounder all along?”

“Of course. Every time I said ‘Horn-sounder’ just now, your ears twitched. Now blow it. Heh, I guess I do have to tell you twice.”

“Are you sure?” Hoarni blinked. “The Heroes…”

“Do what the man says,” Wyse said, his expression a blend of smugness, relief, and pre-emptive horror at what was about to be done to Ba’alzamon in a very confined space.

Hoarni shrugged, and put the Horn of Valere to his lips.

It went ‘parp’.

There was a long silence. Banks of eldritch mist stubbornly refused to form. Heroes from Ages Past did not ride out to do battle. There continued to be only five people in the minaret cell. Hoarni raised the Horn again.

‘Parp’.

“Well,” Angamael said. “This has been exciting. I think I’ll start out with the True Power, and move on from there to just kicking what’s left.”

He raised his hands. Hoarni made the Horn go ‘parp’ again, and then ‘parp parp parpparpparpparpparpparpparp’. There was a hurried knock on the door.

“Thank the Light!” Wyse cried, and hurried over to the door. He yanked it off its hinges with one hand – of course, the Ogier could probably have escaped at any time, but they were too polite and afraid to have done so. “Oh, master Hawkwing, I’m so sorry we bothered you all those other times, but now we’re really in a fix, and my goodness, you’ve gotten old.”

Aginor pushed past the prisoner and bowed his head coolly at the Nae’blis. “There’s been a setback,” he said.

“Does this have anything to do with why your clothes are burning?” Angamael asked mildly.

“The turning went wrong. Software error.”

“One of the fades? What happened this time? Was it like Sheriam?”

Aginor shuddered. “No, it wasn’t like … that. It was a missed connection, the bond was passed outwards and didn’t reach Shayol Ghul. One of the fades got the shadowplay wrong somehow. The male channeller we were working on came around and attacked us when we were distracted. Killed the fades and most of the Aes Sedai. Sammael and I got away because we listened to your instructions, Nae’blis,” the Forsaken bowed his head again. “Always Have An Escape Plan.”

“Well, at least you escaped alive,” Angamael nodded. “This is the point where a dumb bad guy would kill the minions who made a mistake, even though they were a pair of the most powerful channellers under his command. But there’s no harm done. Look, we’ve got the Banner, and … well, it looks as if the Horn of Valere that our enemies have had all this time was just a fake. So we’re still a step ahead. Let’s take a gateway to Tear and say no more about it. Where’s Sammael?”

“I managed to convince him that it was stupid to keep the burns as a trophy of his defeat,” Aginor replied with a hint of disgust. “He traveled over to Tar Valon for Healing. He was quite angry.”

“Understandable,” Angamael said. “Take these trinkets, and the rest of the stuff we pulled off the prisoners. I want to look through that bag of crap as soon as I have time. We’ll be gone before they think to look for us up here. I’m officially closing down our Illian branch,” he turned to the gaping Ogier. “You’re coming with me,” he added.

After the gateways had slid closed behind the prisoners and their escort, there was silence in the cell. Then, slowly and carefully, the doors of the massive wardrobe swung open. Mist poured out, and was followed by the tentative, peeking helmet of Artur Hawkwing.

“They’re gone,” he reported, and stepped out of the wardrobe. He was followed, in rapid succession, by Rogosh and Gaidal and Birgitte and Prince Caspian.

“What are you doing here?” Birgitte asked the smiling young man.

“Gosh!” Caspian exclaimed. “I suppose I took a wrong turning at the lamp-post. Golly, how very embarrassing. Good day!”

He turned and hurried back into the wardrobe.

“So we got away from them that time,” Rogosh grunted. “But what about next time? We won’t always be able to hide that way. And those ridiculous Ogier are bound to keep on trying with that flocking Horn.”

“That’s what I’ve been thinking about,” Hawkwing said, and drew a parchment out of his armour. “And I think I have a plan. This is what we can do.”

As they listened, the Heroes of the Horn began to laugh.

 


 

“Have you found him?”

“No, I thought it was Sammael, but then I realised that the white thing stuck in his nose was actually bits of brain.”

“Is this him? His clothes are all charred.”

“No, they’re black robes. Look, the difference between burned clothes and myrddraal robes are quite easy to pick,” Janica stepped delicately over a thing on the floor that was thankfully blurred to invisibility. “Give it a shake. See? If it doesn’t wave back and forth when you shake it, it’s a halfman’s robe.”

“That doesn’t work,” Logain said apologetically. “Most of the halfmen are dead, and when they die, their clothes return to ordinary cloth. I’m sorry I made such a mess.”

“I think it’s safe to assume the Forsaken got away unharmed,” Puddin said meekly. “They always do in the books. And when you can’t find their bodies, it usually means they got away. Still, he got most of those Black Ajah ladies, and almost all of the halfmen have stopped flopping.”

“Aye,” Debs glanced across at Mister C of 9, who was pretending to wipe tears from his nonexistent eyes. “Sorry aboot ye’re halfbuds, See. It was them or us.”

“And you did very well,” Janica went on loyally. “Sabotaging the turning process like that, we would have been in a lot of trouble without you.”

Mister C stopped sniffling and his expression went a little guilty.

“Well,” he said, “I didn’t sabotage it so much as … redirect it a bit.”

“Wha’?” Debs asked. A terrible suspicion had already congealed in the middle of Janica’s soul.

“Looks as if they’re gone,” Logain said unhappily, then turned back to the others. He wiped his sooty hands on his pants, and regarded Mister C respectfully. “What would you have me do next, Great Lord?”

“It was an accident,” Mister C cried. “I’ll fix it!”

“Ye’d better,” Debs said grimly. “I’ll nae have the Dragon bloody Reborn bonded tae a feckin’ halfman.”

Mister C struck a pose and was about to launch into a speech about how unfairly he was being treated, and how ungrateful everybody was, considering that he’d saved them all from a fate worse than death, when a gateway slid open right next to him, cutting off his left arm at the elbow.

 


 

Moiraine was in a bad mood.

This wasn’t particularly surprising if you had ever met her. When it became surprising, on the contrary, was after you had known her for a while, and realised that the general potty-mouthed miasma that surrounded her was little more than an average background thing and didn’t count as a bad mood at all. In fact, it counted as a good mood – but that was only apparent when the bad mood arrived.

Contro didn’t notice any of this. Moiraine was shouting funny words, and it was funny.

“I can’t shitting well believe this! This is the worst idea since Suian Sanche and her fabulous fuck-o-pants! I can’t sing, he can’t sing, they can’t sing, and it doesn’t even look as if you can sing! And that dancing, what the fuck is that supposed to be? I always thought the Ugly Stick was a figure of speech, but now I know it’s actually just you.”

“Ha ha ha!”

Someshta rustled unhappily. “I am normally a rather better singer,” he said, “when I have full accompaniment and instruments. Ogier would be helpful, and I only have two Aiel…” he paused, and his leafy features winced. “I mean, one Maiden of the Spear and one Tinker, also known as a Lost One. There are meant to be more Aiel, and several Ogier performing the baritone.”

“Look buddy, if you’ve got a problem with my baritone-” Shannon started, catching himself folding his arms under his breasts. This just made him angrier.

“Not at all!” the Green Man waved his massive hands anxiously.

“So it’s mine that’s the problem, is it?” Forsaken_1 swirled his colour-shifting cloak angrily. “Don’t make me storm off the stage again.”

Contro didn’t understand what they were meant to be doing, but they hadn’t gone very far in the past couple of days. In fact, they hadn’t even packed up their camp and gone as far as a hundred yards! They’d just decided to sit around and sing songs. That was fun – if there was one thing Contro knew about, after his experiences with the Tinker caravan, it was singing – but he had a feeling that they should be going somewhere. Moiraine certainly seemed to be upset about the delays. Leaving them to their argument, Contro went and sat down on the edge of the rickety wooden stage. Min and Cybes were sitting with Lan and Cooper Two, watching the rehearsals with four different types of amusement. The only one who seemed to be unhappy was Cooper Two, who was having another of his periodic attacks of landbound seasickness. Cow was standing nearby, chewing angrily on one of the failed projects that Contro didn’t quite understand. It looked like an ironing board covered in wooden ivy! That was funny enough to make him laugh again.

“Ha ha ha! Funny!”

Min gave Contro a cautious glance, then went back to scratching Cybes’ ears. Cybes was chewing on the leftovers of a deer-haunch that they’d roasted the previous evening. The deer itself had wandered into the camp and Lan had tried to hit it with an empty brandy bottle. It had spun and bounded away, only to be tackled by a gleeful Cooper Two, who had declared that dinner was on him. Dinner had turned out to be on him, Forsaken_1, Cow, the wagon, and hissing and sputtering on the campfire by the time he was finished demolishing the creature.

Cybes was having an absolutely wonderful adventure. So far, she hadn’t had to do anything.

“Alright, are we ready to try again? Contro, if you please?”

Contro stood up and cleared his throat.

“Doe! A deer! A female deer!!! Ha ha ha! RAY!!!! A drop of-”

“Shut up!” Moiraine screamed, and warmed up Contro’s face with a pleasant little puff of warm orange-ish air. “Motherfuck! My fireballs are getting worse and worse! It’s this fuck-all Ghul-damned sitting around that’s getting me too frustrated to channel. I’ll be over at the river-bank,” she said, stalking away from the stage. “There might be some sailors passing by that I can shout at without having to be careful of my fucking language.”

Aviendha was also scowling. “I am not a minstrel, Green Man,” she said.

“I really thought we were getting close that last time,” Someshta said plaintively. “And look, I just found a little splinter in the Talisman I made, it might have been messing up the acoustics. I smoothed it out, so let’s try one more time from the top. Contro, it might be helpful if you sing the proper words this time.”

Contro laughed and looked down at the words on his piece of bark. He couldn’t read most of them because they were in a foreign language, so he said ‘la la’ in their place.

“When the la la came and la la, in the la la la la la la, la la with a la la, in the la la far away!!” Shannon and Forsaken_1 came in with their hesitant, embarrassed accompaniment of ‘dum dum’ and ‘koo koo-a-koo’, and Aviendha grudingly added in whatever was written on her own script. Someshta jumped up and began humming and dancing in a way that proved once and for all that he was indeed a Green Man. No Green Woman would move with that little grace.

From the little gap in the boards at the centre of the stage, a square wooden panel slid up, leaves and vines curling around its edges. It was like a door, a few inches thick and covered in the same leaf-patterns as the vines that were growing on it. It rose to six feet in height, then eight, then ten.

“It’s too high!” Someshta cried. “It’s breaking up!”

Shannon and Forsaken_1 began to sing louder, and Aviendha’s unpleasant voice rose to a screech. Cybes dropped the deer leg and began to howl.

At the sound, the expanding wooden panel leveled out at twelve feet in height, the vines curled around it a final time and then solidified into more carvings, and the whole thing came to a thrumming standstill. Cybes lowered her head with a smug smile.

That,” Someshta said, “is one giant-arsed Waygate.”

“I’ll go and get Moiraine,” Forsaken_1 said, “and then we can get moving.”

Contro laughed again. Honestly! They’d been singing and making silly wood panels for a day and a half, and now they’d done this one they could go? It made no sense. Why had they been making them in the first place? And why were they allowed to go now? It was very funny.

Still, they did go. You couldn’t argue with that. Contro got back into his little wagon and let the blissful haze settle back over him. The singing had been very confusing, having to focus on so many things all at once, and not being allowed to let his mind wander very much. It was nice to get back to the real world, where things just happened. Like night falling. That just happened, and very quickly these days. Contro looked out of his wagon a little while later and it was night-time. That was funny, because it hadn’t even been late afternoon a few minutes before. Now it was so dark he could barely see Cow up ahead, pulling the wagon. Cybes padded alongside. They seemed to be riding along a bridge. Cybes looked up, waved her tail lazily, jumped into the wagon and rolled onto her back. Contro laughed and began to give her a tickle-tum.

They carried on riding along the bridge for a long time, and Contro thought it was strange for a bridge to be so long. Up ahead somewhere, he heard Someshta talking about something in a concerned tone of voice, and Moiraine saying other stuff about the taint, whatever that was. Shannon, who was closer to the wagon but still invisible in the darkness, said that some Waygates had also been swallowed by the Blight. It was all very meaningless to Contro. They came to the end of the bridge, and all stopped for a rest on a little island. Contro looked out of the wagon again, and couldn’t see any water. It was too dark. There were more bridges, though. Some of them were underneath the others. This made no more or less sense to him than any other sort of bridge.

Aviendha marched over to him, and watched him coldly. Finally, she held out a water canteen.

“We get to Tear in a few hours, but Someshta says there is great darkness here.”

“Ha ha ha! Yes, it is dark!!”

“We must ride hard now, Lost One, or we may not reach Tear at all. The Black Wind follows our trail, and none of us have the power to stop it. Drink, and then prepare to – Gah!”

“Ha ha ha!!”

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The Dragon Reforged, Part 15

Janica awoke to find herself in darkness. She reflected that even if the place had been blazing with light, she wouldn’t be able to see much. But the rest of her senses could come in handy. The air was cold and dank, there were distant sounds of feet and other activity above her head, and she was firmly tied to a wall by way of a heavy chain on one ankle. So she was in a basement or a cellar somewhere, and it seemed like a big house, bustling with activity in the rooms above. A palace? It didn’t seem particularly dungeonny, and the manner of their capture ruled out any sort of official police or government involvement.

And of course she had read the books, and she knew they had been captured by Sammael, posing as Lord Brend, and they had likely been taken straight to the cellars of the Great Hall of the Council, where Sammael had taken command under the name ‘Lord Brend’. Sammael, and apparently Aginor as well. Working together – had they been allied in the books? There was something very strange about it.

“Anybody here?” she whispered, before rolling her eyes at her own stupidity. Reaching up with both hands – they were tied together as well, but not attached to anything – she felt the cool metal of the a’dam. So their captors hadn’t managed to open it. Tracing the slender chain from the collar backwards, she found it looped firmly around Debs’ wrist, and then she discovered that she hadn’t been leaning against a wall at all. She and Debs had been chained together a second time, with more conventional chains, and she had been leaning against her slumbering sul’dam when she awoke.

“Ach,” Debs slurred, and shifted her red-clad bulk slowly. Chains clinked and rattled. “Mah heed.”

“Aye,” Janica whispered. “Not so loud, I don’t think we’re alone.”

“You’re not,” Vamps said boldly from the far wall. “Fear not, I’ll protect you. But my chains are really uncomfortable. And I can’t seem to channel. Oh, and Logain’s over here, but he got hit on the head again, and he hasn’t woken up yet. I don’t know where the Ogier are, and Nynaeve.”

“She’s jes’ here,” Debs said, rolling over and encountering an angry little mass of bones and braid and coma. “She has’nae woken up either. Got a bet of a lump on ‘er noggin.”

Vamps whimpered. “What are they going to do with us? I want to go home. I don’t care if I have to help my mother cook the dinner, and go antique-hunting with her. I liked it in Far Madding. I even miss my big brother. If he was here, he’d kick everybody’s asses.”

“Well, he isn’t,” Janica said, trying to imagine an older version of Puddin, and failing. He was Puddin Taim, and she assumed that meant his older brother was Mazrim. Would Mazrim Taim be any comfort in this situation? Maybe. Would he turn out to be just like Puddin? Possibly. “Luke, does anybody know what happened to the Ogier? They were carrying some pretty important things.”

“Mah heed.”

“I know about your heed,” Janica snapped. “I’m feeling it ten times more than you are, thanks to this stupid a’dam. Now listen. We’re shielded, and we’ve been captured by Sammael. And Aginor. If we-”

She was interrupted by a flash of blue light, which scrawled a line in the middle of the room and briefly illuminated the prisoners. Then the line revolved into a gateway with the whispering sound of paving stones being sliced crossways, and Sammael himself stepped into the room. Even Janica could see that he was dressed very impressively in all-new clothes, was armed with a long black fluted rod that was probably a balefire ter’angreal, and she knew with faint unease that he was swimming in saidin. The overall effect was a little bit spoiled by the fact that he had a large wad of cotton wool stuck in each nostril.

“Ing gase you were wudderig,” he said nasally, “I don’d led eddiebody Heal be if I lozd a fight. Thad’s why I’be god this sgar zdill.”

“Wha’?” Debs – of all people – frowned in perplexity.

It all made sense to Janica. “Sammael has this personality trait that makes him different from the other Forsaken,” she whispered. “He got that scar from Lews Therin, and didn’t have it Healed yet because Lews Therin beat him, so he wears it as a reminder. I guess he’s done the same thing with that broken nose you gave him. I also guess he’s going to have it Healed as soon as he balefires us with that thing in his hands.”

“We’re not going to balefire you,” Aginor stepped through the gateway, looking and sounding more and more like the Emperor from Star Wars with every new scene. “We have something far more … entertaining in mind.”

“Dow, rebeber what Angabale said aboud gloadig,” Sammael snuffled.

“Yes yes, Action First And Gloating Afterwards, In Private,” Aginor said, sounding discouraged. “It’s so unnatural, but I suppose it might work. Okay, let’s get them up to the chamber.”

The channelers were lifted by firm bonds of Air, and yanked bodily away from the walls. They were carried through the gateway and along a corridor somewhere in the bowels of the Great Hall. Soon, they were floated unceremoniously into a large circular room with a great glittering array of lanterns and candles and mirrors around the walls.

“Wha’ the feck’s all this?” Debs asked. Nynaeve stirred in her bonds, and awakened with a moan. She looked around with as much confusion as everybody else. “Are ye gonna bleend us?”

“Oh no,” Aginor said, obviously struggling not to tell them his whole plan and revel in their panic and despair, the way it should be done but which was apparently forbidden. “It’s for light. Can’t have shadow without light.”

“That sounds controversial,” Janica said.

“Only if you use capital letters,” Aginor replied. “And soon we’ll have a lovely collection of shadows.”

“We will id-deed,” said the other Forsaken. “Or by dabe iddn’t Sabbael.”

The whole mood was lost by the sniggering at about that point, and Sammael furiously waved an arm at the door in the far side of the room. It swung open, and a group of black-clad Aes Sedai filed in silently, curtseying deeply to the two Forsaken and looking at the prisoners with interest. There were eleven Aes Sedai in all.

“Sedd for de byrddraal,” Sammael said, and even a couple of the Black Ajah women covered black-lipsticked smiles with black-nail-polished hands. Aginor evidently wanted to make a derisive remark, but controlled himself as if recalling a lesson by rote. He waved a hand, and another door swung open. A rank of black-clad, eyeless figures marched in. There were twelve of them.

“We’re ready to begin,” Aginor said. “Apparently, we should do it right away with absolutely no hesitation, and without leaving them alone in this room for a few minutes while we see to some other matter and assuming they won’t find some way to escape.”

“Right,” Sammael said, and glanced at the halfmen, which were lining up around the room in silence. “Hey, there’s wud bissing.”

A thirteenth myrddraal hurried through the door, giving the assembly an apologetic grin.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said, wiping his sword hastily on his robe before sheathing it once again. “I thought the meeting was on the third floor, somebody forgot to send me a memo.”

“A bebbo?” Sammael scowled.

“Yes, right, a bebbo, not a memo.”

“This is one of those little matters that can wait until later,” Aginor said crisply. “Let’s not get sidetracked. Light the lanterns on my signal.”

 


 

The glimmering lanterns were reflected and magnified by the mirrors and curved lenses, and soon the chamber was illuminated with a brilliant silvery light. The Aes Sedai took up their positions, deferring respectfully before the daunting figures of Sammael and Aginor.

“I wish we could have gotten a few glowbulbs,” Aginor said in a low mutter, and Sammael nodded. “Well, let’s do this. Spirit, people. Pure Spirit, if you please.”

One of the Aes Sedai reached out and pulled a cloth away from the centre of the lamp-and-mirror arrangement, and a bright ray of light played across the assembled fades. Their shadows raced across the room, twirling and slithering. The myrddraal moaned and swayed.

“Do the men first,” Aginor instructed, “and then that little one. She’s the most powerful of the women. That fat one can hardly even channel, but they’re linked so we can do them at the same time without burning out too many fades.”

“Ach!” Debs struggled against her invincible bonds. Logain was dragged into the focus of the twirling shadows.

“Will I be forced to have sex with slutty women again?” he asked hoarsely. Aginor laughed.

“We’ll see,” he replied. “It’s up to the Nae’blis now. Process him!”

Upon the curt order, the halfmen increased the tempo of their rocking and moaning, and soon Logain was wreathed in crawling, sinuous shadows. A thick black cable of darkness formed, and swirled inwards with inexorable tidal swirlings. One end of the cord whipped away through the wall, and the other plunged clawlike into Logain’s chest. He stiffened and cried out in alarm. The cord stretched, thinned, and faded to invisibility.

Logain staggered back to his feet. He looked rather puzzled.

“Well?” Sammael said.

“Oh,” Logain said. “What are your commands, Great Chosen?”

“Excellent,” Aginor nodded. “Go outside and wait for your companions to join you. Your shield will be released.”

Logain bowed.

“Deggzd,” Sammal called.

“Next,” Aginor added when the myrddraal looked confused. Vamps stepped up to the centre of the room.

“Will I be forced to have sex with slutty women?” he asked brightly.

“No,” Aginor replied. “Now-”

That was when Logain kicked the door open, stood defiant with head held high and feet planted wide, and bathed the room in a machine-gun barrage of blazing fireballs.

 


 

They rode out of Remen in a disorganised, straggly caravan, Aes Sedai and Borderlanders and wolfbrothers and miscellaneous all mixed up. Chucky ended up riding next to Fain, who seemed to be having a little bit of trouble.

“The screams,” he said. “The screams.”

“There weren’t that many people trapped,” Chucky said defensively. “And anyway they live right next to a river, so they’ll be able to put out the fires pretty easily.”

Fain looked at the gleeman blankly.

“What screams were you talking about?” Chucky asked uneasily.

“I have to talk to those Aes Sedai,” Fain said, and spurred his horse forward. Chucky wincingly followed, not wanting to be left behind with Satters and Perrin. The two had argued earlier on about a certain tree against which they had both pissed, and the whole thing had almost ended in a fight. They’d had to cut down the tree before the two yellow-eyed freaks would shut up about it. Chucky didn’t want to ride – in fact, he didn’t even know where he’d gotten the horse, but he suspected it had belonged to one of the Whitecloaks – because it made his arse hurt. But it beat walking.

He caught up with Fain just as Domon lumbered over from some undoubtedly disgusting errand in the woods and joined in the discussion.

“…to get to Tear as soon as possible,” Fain was saying in a wheedling voice. “The Great Lord commands it.”

“There is no urgency,” Verin said placidly. Her white face-paint had gotten smeared with ash during their flight from Remen, and now she looked a bit like a marble cake. “The Dragon was killed, and nothing else can challenge our forces. The Last Battle will be a joke.”

“But the rebel channelers with their False Dragon…”

Domon interrupted with a watery growl. “We have to go to llian, so we do. The dagger do be there.”

“What dagger?” Verin asked sharply.

Fain stared into space for a short time.

“He’s right,” he said finally. “The dagger is important, we have to get it or all is lost.”

“What dagger? Why is it so important?”

Fain ignored her. “But the Sword is in Tear, and that is where the False Dragon will make his move. With the Sword, he will be a far more powerful opponent. We can’t allow him to steal the advantage…”

“He won’t get into the Stone,” Verin said. “And even if he does, he won’t be able to touch Callandor. Only the Dragon can remove the Sword, and I think we proved rather conclusively that he isn’t the Dragon.”

“He’s got a head, for one thing,” Chucky said helpfully.

“Quite,” Verin nodded in acknowledgement.

Fain straightened in his saddle, and the stern, booming tones of Mordeth returned to his voice. “We shall have to take a triangular route, Servant to All,” he said, staring down his long, crooked nose at Verin. “We will go first to Illian, where we will pick up the items that are ours. Then we will move on immediately to Tear, where we will deal with the threat of the False Dragon.”

“Will we now?” Verin arched an eyebrow.

“Yes, we will. Immediately. You will use the skills at your command. At once.”

“Perhaps I should point a few things out to you, master Fain,” Verin said crisply. “First of all, I have my own means of gathering information. The Nae’blis has a policy of keeping all of his subjects informed of any and all changes to plans. I happen to know that the False Dragon and his followers are no longer a threat, as they have been dealt with in Illian and all of their belongings are safely in our possession.”

Fain’s eyes narrowed.

“The lost secret of traveling has been unveiled by the Nae’blis and the Chosen,” Verin went on, “but even if I was privy to the secret, I would not use it on your command. The need is not urgent. Most importantly, I have been informed that neither you nor Domon nor the gleeman here are considered high priority followers of the Great Lord, and can in fact be dealt with as impostors to our cause.”

Ah,” Chucky said. “Thing about that is, I was talking to Lanfear and Rahvin and Ishamael and, um, Moridin and Slayer, and they all told me-”

It was done before Chucky could even bring his stupid bullshit arse-saving story to fruition. Fain slipped down off his horse like a skanky moth-eaten shadow, and Verin’s delicate brown gelding screamed and tumbled to the ground. The entire party stopped one bunch at a time, and those in front turned around to see what was happening.

Egwene started to weep hysterically, and hid her face in Perrin’s wide chest. Loial went white and, ears shaking, he covered his own eyes with a pair of handy books.

Fain had somehow managed to pull the leg off Verin’s horse, and he proceeded to beat the little Aes Sedai to death with it. Long after the black-clad body stopped moving, he raised and dropped his arm methodically, squelching and slurping the gore-smeared hoof up and down, spraying pieces everywhere. Soon, the foreleg was clotted red and grey and pink all the way up to the knee, whereupon Fain reversed the makeshift weapon and drove the jagged end of sheared-off bone into the huddled remains of Verin’s chest. There was a ghastly wheezing sound as the final whispers of air were forced out of her perforated lung.

“Make him stop, oh Light make him stop!” Mat cried in a wavering, terrified voice. Fain lurched to his feet and licked his fingers.

“Excellent distraction, all those names,” he said to Chucky. “I’ll wager the ‘Slayer’ one gave her a turn. Well, you have served me well, and you will live another day. You!” he spun away from the frozen gleeman and pointed a finger at Liandrin, who had just rushed back from the vanguard to see what the fuss was about. “Make a gateway. Immediately.”

“You just outlived your usefulness, peddler,” Liandrin cried, and probably started to channel something dangerous. She stopped pretty abruptly when Fain made a sudden movement of his skinny arms. The horse by his feet screamed again, and suddenly a second iron-shod weapon was flying through the air. This one connected sharply with the centre of Liandrin’s forehead, and she fell onto her backside, all the saidar knocked out of her.

“You will follow my orders from now on,” Fain said, marching forward. Liandrin tried to gather enough motor control to scramble out of his way or burn him alive with the One Power, but didn’t quite manage either. He grabbed a handful of honey-coloured braids and hauled her to her feet. “And if you ever try to cross me, I’ll do something so horrible to you that they won’t be talking about it in a thousand years,” he went on.  There was a considering silence. “Because it will be too horrible to mention even then,” he clarified.

Liandrin tried to nod, but couldn’t because Fain still had hold of her hair. “I understand.”

Domon looked up from the horse, which hadn’t been dead until he’d knelt down beside it with his breeches open, whereupon it had lost the will to live. “Illian,” he said.

“Make a gateway,” Fain shook Liandrin a little, then released her. She staggered, and tried in vain to straighten her clothing and look dignified.

“I can’t make a gateway,” she said. “Only Verin was taught how to. That is, I was taught how to, but I don’t have the strength.”

“Link with Egwene and Elayne,” Chucky suggested. “What? Why are you glaring at me?”

Dr. Nick emerged from the undergrowth, tucking his cadin’sor discreetly back into themselves. “Sorry about that,” he said. “Shouldn’t have had all that ale last night when we were, um, trying to stop those looters from looting that tavern,” he looked around. “What did I miss?”

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The Dragon Reforged, Part 14

Chucky clung to the crossbeam of the gibbet, watching the troop of mounted Whitecloaks ride down the street. He had exerted himself more in the climbing of that wooden beam than he had ever exerted himself before doing anything, and he was damned if he was going to let it all be for nothing. Failing and trying again was not something Chucky did. It was more efficient to just fail. You might fail the second time too, he reasoned, and then you’ve wasted twice as much time.

“What are we going to do?” Dr. Nick hissed.

“Nothing. Maybe they haven’t seen us.”

“You there, up on the crow-cage!”

“Maybe they’re talking to somebody else.”

“You, the fat gleeman with the wooden octopus on his shoulder!”

Dr. Nick looked at Chucky, daring him to continue with the optimism. Chucky had the grace to shrug slightly.

“Can you fight?” he asked, looking the battered Aielman up and down and taking in the skinny engineer’s body, the bedraggled clothes, the ears, the sallow pale face, the ears and the ears without much in the way of hope. “Or at least nerd them into submission?”

“I can fight, actually,” Dr. Nick grunted. “No, I can. I’m as surprised as you are, but there’s no time to argue about it. I can do Karate Kid shit and everything. I think it was part of the Aiel default settings when we were put into this scenario. A certain amount of statistical data-”

“Shut up. You can’t fight in this cage, can you? I’ll have to get you out.”

“Wasn’t that what you were trying to do anyway?”

“I say, you there!”

“I heard you!” Chucky yelled at the Whitecloak. By now the men and horses were pulled up underneath the gibbet, looking up with suspicious scowls. “We’re sort of in the middle of something here.”

“In the middle of what? Come down here and explain yourself at once, gleeman. Your behaviour is in violation of civil regulations, and we’ll have to escort you away for further questioning. You are consorting with a Darkfriend.”

“…so then the happy little squirrel ran away from the mean old fox as fast as his tiny legs could carry him,” Chucky said casually, unslinging his bagpipes from his shoulder. “And the mean old fox said-”

“What are you doing?” the Whitecloak officer demanded.

“He was upsetting the tavern patrons,” Chucky explained, “so I’m telling him a bedtime story. So, can you guess what the little squirrel did after that?”

“Was it something remotely as dumb as this?” Dr. Nick hazarded.

“He played his Running Away tune.”

“Come down here at once!” the Whitecloak roared, putting his gauntleted hand on his sword hilt.

Over in the Wayman’s Forge, Satters and Domon suddenly howled and climbed under the table, clutching at their ears and urinating in their tattered trousers. Perrin stiffened, but retained enough humanity to remain seated at his place, and shovelled in a bit more food before finally coming over all pale.

It wasn’t that the noise was beyond the range of human hearing – it wasn’t beyond the range of anybody’s hearing.

“It’s that bloody gleeman,” Uno snarled, leaping to his feet. “We’re going to have a problem now.”

“Such noise!” Fain marvelled. “Such awful, awful noise!”

“Inspiring,” Verin said. Liandrin nodded. “Certainly gets the blood flowing.”

Masema drew his ugly, notched sword. “It did in Fal Dara, that’s for sure. Get up, you slumbering goat-lovers!” he roared to his remaining men. “We’ve got a Code Three.”

“What’s a Code Three?” Egwene asked. Elayne exchanged a glance with Mat, and they shrugged.

“Trollocs Screaming in the Pass,” Hurin offered, climbing to his feet nervously. He had to shout to be heard over the wailing and wheezing from outside. “We adapted it since leaving home, to mean … well, Shadow-pipes Screaming in a Populated Area.”

The Borderlanders rushed out into the deafening darkness, howling their own savage warcries.

In the town square, the Whitecloaks were raising seven kinds of Ghul around the gibbet. Several of them were hacking at its foundations with their swords, and a couple with bows were trying to take aim at the figure perched on the crossbeam. This was all made rather difficult by the fact that their horses were screaming and foaming and panicking underneath them, hurling riders and kicking one another in a frenzy of instinctive fear. Chucky was balancing on the gibbet and squeezing his pipes for dear life, while Dr. Nick curled up in the cage and covered his ears. The men of Fal Dara set about the Whitecloaks with a will.

“Shall we peg that fucking gleeman as well?” Uno shouted to Masema.

“What?”

“What?”

“Speak up!”

“I said, should we knock off that gleeman while we’re at it?”

“What? No, kill the damn gleeman!”

“Free the Aiel? Are you sure?”

“Yes! Kill the bastard!” Masema nodded exaggeratedly.

“And what about the Aiel?”

“What?”

Uno gave up, and pantomimed lowering the cage and letting the Aiel free to the other men. They went around to the side of the gibbet and released the chain-lever, and the cage rattled swiftly to the flagstones. The bagpipes fell quiet with a long, drawn-out moan.

“There was a lever?” Chucky demanded. “Why did I climb up this fucking … oh bloody Ghul.”

The Borderlanders released Dr. Nick, who stumbled to his feet and adopted a very stiff, tired crane-position.

“Hwoaaaahhh…” he said, and then gave up. “What’s going on over there?”

Back towards the residential area of Remen, several houses were on fire. Cries of “Tarmon Gai’don!” and “It’s the end of the world!” could be heard through the thickening smoke.

“Those bloody pipes,” Uno growled.

 


 

“What are we going to do with her?” Forsaken_1 asked for the fifth time.

Moiraine shrugged wearily. “I can scrag her if you’re too pissweak to do it.”

“Scrag?” Forsaken_1 didn’t know that particular piece of slang, but it sounded sort of sexual. And it really looked as if Aviendha would be good at it. “I don’t know if you should scrag her. Maybe I should do it. We’ll go into the tent and I can do it slowly.”

Moiraine raised an eyebrow. “I guess you were annoyed by this fuckarow as well. I guess we can make camp here, and you can take all night scragging the little bitch if you want. Just make sure she’s finished with by morning.”

“Okay!”

“And try not to keep us all awake with the screaming.”

Forsaken_1’s hands began to shake. “Well, I’ll try. But there will probably be a lot of screaming. And not just from me, either.”

“From you?” Moiraine frowned, then her brow cleared and she went on in a cold, tired voice. “Alright, what do you think ‘scrag’ means? No, don’t tell me, never mind,” she added hurriedly. “It means kill. Okay? Kill her.”

Aviendha spat on the ground, where she was lying with Min and Cybes sitting on her. Forsaken_1 chose to think she was expressing her own disappointment at the fact that scragging didn’t mean what it really, really sounded like. Then, with a great effort of will, she composed herself and hid her bitter, thwarted disappointment. “You have captured me alive in battle, and although you are not Aiel,” she said quietly, “I am now gai’shain to you,” she frowned in perplexity. “For a year and a day, I will hold no weapon and do no violence, serving you in any way you wish…”

Forsaken_1’s hands began to shake all over again.

“Ain’t that kinda not usual?” Shannon asked. “I thought Aiels only done that with other Aiels. I know when I was done caughtened by the Aiels, only Dr. Nick was … wait. It’s ta’veren, ain’t it?”

“I’d say so,” Moiraine sighed.

Cooper Two stepped out of a nearby thicket, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Mmm,” he said. “Bloody.”

Aviendha averted her eyes from the gholam. She had only managed to survive the carnage by being too far away to join in, and then by being wrapped firmly in the tough creeper-vines of Someshta’s fingers before she could run to the aid of her injured friend. The rest of the aiel Maidens who had been with her were all … scragged. Very, very scragged.

“Ha ha ha!!” Contro said innocently. “Bloody! Bloody good, that!”

“Well,” Shannon went on, uncomfortable about the whole ta’veren thing and hoping everybody would just let it drop, “Dr. Nick left behind a set of gai’shain whites, so she can git on an’ wear them if it makes her feel better.”

“She can get changed in my pants, I mean my tent,” Forsaken_1 offered hastily.

“We’re never going to get to Tear at this rate,” Moiraine growled. “This whole plan with Callandor, it’s a fucking waste of time. The Shadow surely knows everything already, and the Dragon … well, what are we supposed to be doing anyway?”

“You’d better ask the Green Man about that,” Min said, climbing off Aviendha carefully and backing away. Cybes sat back too, and looked bored. So far, apart from a number of weird dreams about a big dork with a hammer, she’d had a tedious time on this adventure. And Contro always woke her up, laughing and telling her that she had been barking and twitching her feet in her sleep.

“The Green Man and his bloody plans,” Moiraine muttered, but nevertheless seemed to give up on the idea of scragging Aviendha for a while. Forsaken_1 wandered over to help Lan set up camp. Contro and Cooper Two cheerfully joined in, each lending a hand in his own uniquely pointless way.

Later that night, Shannon and Forsaken_1 sat at the campfire, mulling things over while everybody else was asleep. Aviendha was asleep in the tent that Forsaken_1 was used to sleeping in. Her white robe was hanging on a peg outside the door-flap, and the very thought of what that meant was driving him to distraction.

“We’re in the Wheel of Time story,” Nancy Sidesaddle was saying in a low voice. “We know that, ’cause that was what the whole durn adventure roleplaying thing was meant to be, and the characters all match. Kinda.”

Naked, Forsaken_1 thought. Or wearing some tiny, functional Aiel underpants. Probably camouflage-colours.

“But there was some sorta screw-up,” Shannon went on thoughtfully. “None of us ended up in the character class we put down on that there entry-form, and the suddenness of it an’ all … I wonder where we are, if we was brought here physical-wise or if we’re experiencin’ some sorta hallucination. I wonder if it’s a simulation, or a settin’ out in the desert somewheres, or some kinda secret military installation … or if we was really sent across a Dimensional rift, if maybe they’s figured out a way o’ makin’ the Wheel of Time world a reality … or if we’all was just frozen in time and the Wheel of Time world really does exist in a potential future…”

Maybe the gai’shain wear white underpants. Little tiny ones that don’t constrict them in their duties. But that would mean the last person to wear them was Dr. Nick. That’s not sexy. No, definitely naked.

“An’ the changes that have done gone happened,” Shannon went on, unaware that his associate was no longer listening, if he ever had been. “The whole goldurn story has got rearranged, there’s characters alive now what oughta be dead, and dead what oughta be alive. Is that meant to happen? Is it part o’ the problem, or is it all part o’ the game? What d’you reckon?”

“And rubbing all over my bedroll and blankets,” Forsaken_1 said dreamily.

“Huh?”

“What? Oh, nothing. I have to go … over to the bushes now.”

“Again? Man, that’s the fourth time tonight. I reckon Chucky was right about how small your durn bladder is.”

“Yeah … yeah, bladder.”

Forsaken_1 walked hastily across to the far side of the camp, hid himself in the shadows amidst a large clump of bushes and fallen branches, and opened his breeches.

“Oh no, not again,” Someshta moaned.

 


 

If there was one thing worse than cities, Mister C didn’t know what it was. Not that he would ever admit not knowing. For a start, they were the ultimate symbol of the human sheep. One person decides to live in a city, and suddenly there are half a million of them, all going to work and walking around in the streets and worrying about commercial matters and saying ‘baa’. It was a pathetic thing to have to see, and here in wherever-he-was, it was even worse.

He’d decided to think of this city as Minas Morgul. It was just easier that way, and all the pieces fit. The populace were a lot more normal and less hostile, but there were other ways in which they were … off. The whole place literally stank of some insidious form of evil. And it seemed to have been taken over by some kind of evil sorcerer.

Debs, Janica, those Ogier, Logain and Vamps and that annoying girlfriend of his had all been captured by the Witch King, and there were no two ways about it. If he was going to save the day – and he knew he was going to – he would have to go alone into the jaws of death and bring his poor helpless colleagues out of harm’s way yet again. It was said, of course, that no son of man could defeat the Witch King – but Mister C of 9 didn’t worry unduly. He was a myrddraal, and that had to count for something. After all, hadn’t the Witch King been defeated in part by a halfling? Well, he was a halfman. A more glaring bit of plagiarism he could not possibly hope for.

Walking through the city streets was a giant pain in the ass, so he began to skip his way forwards swiftly and silently, moving from shadow to shadow on either side of the road, vanishing into the pools of darkness between the inns and brothels and reappearing further on, always following the weird scent in the air, the scent of what could only be Ringwraith magic. Purposefully, he entered the centre of the dark place, and stood for a moment, examining the options.

There were two palaces, and the damn things were identical. One of them was slightly smaller than the other, and the stream of dark magic seemed to flow into one of them … but the trail had gone cold while he’d wasted time having fun with his powers of darkness-harnessy. Now, although he was getting much better at vanishing sideways and moving from place to place on the edges of shadows, he had lost the scent, so to speak. Still, it couldn’t be that difficult to figure out.

“Two palaces,” he said to himself, ignoring the late-night crowds that were making their way back and forth across the square in little insipid flocks, bleating and carrying on as if anything they did made a difference. “Two palaces, each one identical, and the Witch King took the others into one of them. Which one is his palace?”

Of course, the biggest of the two was just too easy. Or was it? So the Witch King had a big ego, and wanted people to know that his abode was the biggest and best. So why a second palace at all? Surely the bigger palace was simply a decoy, to draw attention away from the real power behind the Council of the Nine. But was he crediting this shocking American author with too much subtlety? Or with not enough? Maybe the smaller palace was to draw the attention from the larger, and the thinking enemy would assume the smaller was the most important, for reasons of avoiding the obvious. And so the larger palace would be the real one, because it was too obvious and therefore the unlikely choice…

“Fiendish,” Mister C murmured.

“Good master? Would you like to buy a model? Great for gifts. For the friend who has everything. Nice price.”

Mister C spun in a weirdly motionless swirl of dark cloak, and bore down on the terrified merchant who was frozen in the icy eyeless gaze behind the dead black lenses. A matchstick model was shaking itself to pieces in his hands.

“You’re working late,” he remarked. The man went even whiter.

“I couldn’t sleep, good master,” he said. “Bad dreams.”

“Mmm. What is it that you’re selling?” Mister C asked, still turning the thoughts over in his head and deciding not to make a move before knowing for certain. “Which palace?”

“Oh, this is the Great Hall of the Council,” the merchant said, his voice firming up as he asserted the buyer/seller relationship. “Nice price. Great for gifts.”

“What’s the other one?”

“What, you mean the King’s Palace?”

“Yes. Is that one more important?”

“Oh yes, good master. Oh, much more important.”

“Why don’t you sell this one as the King’s Palace, and charge more for it?” Mister C caught himself and scowled at the thought. He’d been in the city for too long. It was starting to make him capitalistic. “They’re exactly the same.”

“Not at all, good master. The Great Hall is smaller.”

“Yes, but they’re the same. You could just say this one is a model of the King’s Palace, you see? And charge more.”

“No no, good master. I have models of the King’s Palace too. They’re made out of whole toothpicks. As you see, good master, this model has a tiny bit cut off the end of every toothpick, to make it a little bit smaller.”

Mister C leaned closer, and whistled. “That’s high-quality work. But surely it’s a lot more difficult to make these Great Hall models, since every toothpick has to be snipped up?”

“Oh, much more difficult, good master.”

“So you should charge more for them.”

“More than I charge for the King’s Palace?” the merchant laughed nervously. “His Majesty would have my head!”

“Wouldn’t the Great Council guys tell the King not to be such a prat?”

“Well, perhaps, now that Lord Brend is in charge there. They say he has the King eating out of his codpiece,” the merchant said in a low voice. “However, I wouldn’t depend upon the Lord Brend to save my life. I think I’ll just carry on selling my models for the same price if it’s all the same to you. It’s never gotten me into trouble before.”

Suddenly, Mister C of 9 had his solution. Ah, the Witch King was all too predictable. And it seemed as though there had been a slight merging of characters here. The good King had been made into a puppet, possibly by some sort of Wormtongue character. He’d have to see about that, and maybe refine his theory a little. In the meantime, he knew where the true evil lay, and it was the smaller palace.

“Well, this has been like any enlightenment,” he said philosophically to the merchant. “Illuminating, but not particularly enjoyable. Goodbye.”

He stepped into the merchant’s shadow and made his way instantaneously to the dim interior of the Great Hall of the Council.

Some hours later, the merchant was still screaming.

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The Dragon Reforged, Part 13

“Luke!”

Even after all this time, Janica looked around in vain for somebody who might be named Luke before realising two things. Firstly, that it was her sul’dam who had spoken, and secondly, she still didn’t have any glasses. All she could really see was a crowded blur.

“Wha’?” she said, trying not to let the crowds of Illianers thrust her too far away from Debs. The a’dam wouldn’t allow it, and her neck was already bruised. The four Ogier helped them make their way through the Square of Tammaz, since even the gawking tourists and shouting peddlers made way for the four gentle cowardly giants. One man leapt disconcertingly into focus for a second, his face craning down into Janica’s personal space and trying to sell her a model of the Great Hall of the Council made of toothpicks. She pushed past him impatiently.

“Et’s that tavern! Easin’ the Badger! Luke!”

“There’s no taverns in this part of town,” Frendli said. “Ogier built much of Illian, and still work here from time to time, when they’re here…” he trailed off in worried speculation, but did not pursue the thought after the last ultimatum Debs had delivered. “All the inns are over in the Perfumed Quarter, down by the docks at the seaside.”

“Well, there’s a sign for it, anyway,” Logain said in his most diplomatic voice. “See, the man with the shovel? I know it well, it’s almost a franchise, with spin-offs and cash-ins in every town from here to the Spine of the World. It’s a huge capitalist venture.”

“Ye’ve been talkin’ wi’ Mester See tae much,” Debs grumbled good-naturedly. “Can we go there?”

“Um,” Logain hesitated, then shrugged. “Sure, I don’t see why not. It’s a decent place, and the rooms are cheap. And they’re discreet,” strangely, he started to sing a little ditty under his breath as they walked through the thronging square. “Young man, there’s a place you can go, I said young man…” he cleared his throat and looked embarrassed. “Well, anyway, it’s a good place. I’ve been there a time or two.”

The Ogier cheered up greatly when they heard the news – especially Hoarni, which made Janica a little suspicious but not, in retrospect, suspicious enough. Coarshus actually stopped fiddling with the intricate hidden catches on the golden chest for a little while. They’d been even more nervous than usual for some reason, ever since entering the city. The news that there was a new Lord in the Council, and that he was using the nine golden bees of Illian as his own personal standard had gotten them all fretful for no clear reason. The Golden Bees were, Wyse said, the sigil of Illian itself, and none of the Council of Nine ought to be using it as his own. Janica tried to explain that it had probably been a misunderstanding, that the captain of the Snow Goose hadn’t known what he was talking about, but the long voyage in the company of Vamps and Mister C of 9 had turned the Ogier into blubbering messes. Things had not improved when somebody – Debs didn’t want to admit it but Janica was sure it had been Logain – had pointed out that there didn’t seem to be any Ogier in the city at all. From that moment onwards, their trek through the streets had been an endless series of Horn-wrestling, Ogier-comforting, Vamps-reassuring and attention-attracting. Debs had finally declared that nobody was to talk about how afraid they were, or she might do something horrible. When asked what she might do, she said she didn’t know, because she lacked the imagination to describe anything that bad.

Since she had already described haggis to everybody, the entire party was diligently avoiding conversation topics that might make the Ogier nervous. They fastened onto the topic of Easing the Badger as if they were drowning and it was an inner tube. Logain began to regale them with tasteful, interesting anecdotes of his time as a wild youth, when he would wagon-hop from city to city, sleeping at the ‘Easy’ whenever he came to a place that had one. Vamps interjected with his own, less-welcome stories, but would occasionally wince, apologise to everybody for his tastelessness, say he was only joking, and allow Nynaeve to box his ears.

“What does it mean, though?” Coarshus was asking. “Easing the Badger. I’ve never figured it out.”

“Well,” Logain said, “it’s a very old expression, but, ah, hmm, I don’t know what it means, look at what that street vendor is selling, I’ll take two.”

“I’ll take three,” Vamps said promptly. “Nynaeve, can I borrow some coppers please?”

The Ogier, Puddin, Logain and Nynaeve gathered around the wide-eyed hawker for a short time, exclaiming excitedly over the trinkets for sale. Debs, Janica and Mister C hung back and tried to avoid as much attention as possible.

“I guess you didn’t train the consumerism out of these guys quite yet, Eugene,” Janica said with amusement, turning to the gaunt black shape of their Australian companion. “Maybe you should keep trying.”

“Excuse me, little mistress?”

“Don’t call me ‘little mistress’, you.”

“Ach,” Debs blinked and looked around. The dark-clad fellow standing beside them just seemed to be a merchant, albeit one who was dressed up rather unconvincingly as a halfman. Mister C was nowhere to be seen. “Feck it all, we’ve lost him.”

“Would you like to buy a bag of Shadar Candy, ladies? Two crowns for a bag of ten. I’ll throw in a pair of Caramel Kinslayer’s Daggers for no extra cost…”

“Nae, thank ye,” Debs replied curtly. “We’re jes’ passin’ through.”

They finally got clear of the marketplace, and hurried on towards the Perfumed Quarter. The Ogier were actually quite happy now that they had souvenirs (“Illian – One in a Billian!” shirts that would not button up in front, “I braved the Golden Bees and all I got was this stupid hat” hats that perched on top of their giant heads precariously, and each of them also had a small but very sharp hatchet in a box with glass panels in front, like a display cabinet. “In case of Tairen, break glass”, the hilarious inscription read, and even Debs looked enviously at those little axes), and they cheered up even further when they heard that the eerie Mister See of Mayene had vanished.

Then the streets sloped down into the sea-harbour, the Perfumed Quarter began in all its poorly-named glory, and the welcome sight of Easing the Badger appeared in the street ahead of them.

 


 

“I am Aviendha of the Nine Valleys sept of the Taardad Aiel. I am Far Dareis Mai, a Maiden of the Spear,” the Aielwoman said. Her blue-green eyes were fixed on Moiraine. “You have not the look in your face, but we saw the ring. In your lands, you have women much like our Wise Ones, the women called Aes Sedai. Are you a woman of the White Tower, or not?”

“What the fuck is it to you?” Moiraine asked truculently. For somebody with the ability to knock a dead flea off Contro’s horse with the One Power and not much more, Forsaken_1 reflected, she was carrying herself with a great deal of confidence. Especially after the Healing attempts that had left her drained and him still bruised and aching. “Popping out of nowhere like the inside bits of an old woman’s cunt. What are you trying to do, get your narrow fanny balefired?”

Aviendha smiled. “You talk as the Wise Ones do. To the point, and small suffering of fools,” her smile faded, but her voice remained calm. “One of us lies gravely hurt, perhaps dying. The Wise Ones often heal those who would surely die without them, and I have heard Aes Sedai can do more. Will you aid her?”

Moiraine glanced at Forsaken_1, and he felt a flash of fear and concern in the knot of emotions that was the Warder bond. She nodded to him imperceptibly – some sort of signal. What was he supposed to do? She was nodding at him again, cutting her eyes quickly to the Aielwoman and back. She casually raised her hand and scratched at her chin, running her index finger surreptitiously across her throat as she did.

It could have meant anything.

In the meantime, the Aielwoman was nodding. “You agree. I will take you to her.”

Forsaken_1 stared at Moiraine. Was she nuts? She couldn’t Heal a paper cut at this stage! What had ever possessed her to agree to Heal somebody who was close to death? He looked around, and saw several other sweet-ass warrior chicks stand up in the grass where they had been hiding. Well … he had to admit that only one of them was sweet-ass. The rest, he attributed to his heightened sense of sexuality that came from being in a life-threatening situation. Actually, the women were pretty rugged and sandblasted and unpleasant, with leathery faces, gnarled hands, and cracked teeth. They’d lived their entire lives in the burning desert, going from one fight to the next with long enough in between to eat a handful of thorny grass or masturbate with the handle of their spears, and they had been fair-skinned redheads at the outset – not a complexion suited to life in the sun. He shrugged, and shook his head at Moiraine. What exactly they were going to do when they found out she couldn’t Heal their friend, he didn’t know. And now they’d missed their chance to catch them by surprise and get away clean.

And for some reason, she was glaring at him like it was his fault.

“Hullo! Where are we going?”

The Maidens had their spears up and their faces veiled in an instant, but dropped them back around their shoulders when Contro appeared. He’d stayed behind with Someshta to unload Cow and the wagon from the boat. They hadn’t taken very long, but nobody in the advance party had really wanted to wait, so the merry Tinker and his companions had trailed along behind, only now just catching up.

“Lost One,” Aviendha sneered, and turned her back on Contro.

“Ha ha ha!! I’m not lost! Well, actually I might be, because I don’t know where I am! But then again, I’m here with these friends of mine, and they’re not lost! I hope!”

“The Lost One is a friend of yours?” another of the Aielwomen asked Moiraine in surprise.

“A friend is just a stranger you haven’t found a way to make fuck off yet,” Moiraine said philosophically. “Let’s go and see this comrade of yours. I’ll see what I can do for her. Foreskin, come here.”

Forsaken_1, finding it very difficult to look away from Aviendha, joined his Aes Sedai as they started off again. He felt a little better when he saw that he wasn’t alone. Shannon, Cooper Two, Lan and Min were all watching the Aiel woman, different kinds of consideration on their faces. As he went into conference with Moiraine, he heard his companions beginning their own plays, evidently hoping to cut their handsome opposition out of the contest before he could get in some really great pick-up lines.

“So … got any oosquai?” Lan asked.

“You’re the woman from my viewing,” Min remarked, her voice wretchedly confused. Forsaken_1 noted that one down – he’d have to try it sometime.

“I know I look like a woman…” Shannon attempted.

“You know, I really like Aiel,” Cooper Two said cheerfully.

Moiraine slapped Forsaken_1.

“Ow! What was that for?” he rubbed his face and tried his best, most Latino-style brooding scowl. Antonio Banderas meets Anakin Skywalker, sort of thing.

“A lot of things. Not paying attention when I’m talking to you, for one thing. Secondly, because you’re a fucktard,” Moiraine hissed. “I gave you the ‘kill’ gesture, and you bunged it! And what’s wrong with your face? Did you get bitten by a clenchmuscle?”

“A what?”

“Shut up! Look, you’ve gotten me into a big damn mess here, and only blind putzing luck is going to get us out of it. I want you to mosey quietly back to the wagon, and tell Someshta about the situation we have.”

“Do you want me to give him the ‘kill’ gesture?”

“Don’t try to be smart.”

“Only I don’t think he’ll do anything to these girls. He’s got this whole Aiel thing going on, I don’t understand it, but he wants to reunite them or something. He might try his whole telling-the-Aiel-story thing again – maybe that would make them throw away their spears and leave us alone.”

“Not a bad idea, but what I mainly wanted him to do was help me Heal this wounded woman,” Moiraine whispered. “Remember, he managed to fix you up without using the One Power, and I’ll wager you took a lot more putting back together than this little slag.”

“Right. I’m on it.”

Whistling innocently, Forsaken_1 dropped back through the little parade of people and even ducked back and forth between some trees, hiding behind his cloak for dramatic effect, all the while playing nonchalant. He realised he was moving too slowly, and rushed the final few steps to the side of the wagon, which was trundling along at the steady, fuck-you-all pace dictated by the ever-charming Cow. He looked around to make sure he was unobserved.

Apart from all the people looking at him, which was only natural given his simmering sensuality, he had pulled off the stunt without calling undue attention. He lifted the flap at the side of the wagon.

“Hello there, Foreskin,” the Green Man said. “What’s going on out there? I don’t have much of a view from over here. All I can really see is Cow’s backside, and if he realises I can see it, he’ll use it to gross me out in some way. I just know it.”

“Moiraine sent me back to talk to you,” Forsaken_1 whispered, “but I can’t remember why anymore. It was something about an injured person, and she wants you to fix her. And they’re Aiel. She wanted me to kill them, but she didn’t tell me anything until it was too late. I think that was about it actually. Yay me, I remembered everything.”

“Somebody is injured?” Someshta rustled. “I hope it isn’t serious. If there has been blood spilled, it may set Cooper Two off. I don’t know much about his kind, but perhaps it would be best if I held onto him. I could use the excuse that he never got that maintenance I promised him,” the wagon rolled to a halt. “If you bring him over here, I’ll get to work on him with a quick wax and lube song, and keep him distracted while Moiraine sees to the injured as best she can.”

“Wax and lube song? That’s gross.”

“Not as gross as what might happen if Cooper Two sees a lot of blood in one place.”

“Right, I’ll tell him to come over,” Forsaken_1 nodded, spun, and ran face-first into something extremely soft and firm and pleasant.

“If you’re done talking to the firewood,” Aviendha said dryly, “the Aes Sedai would like to know if you are ready to assist with the Healing.”

“Boobies, ah, I mean, troobies, um, truly. Truly, I am,” Forsaken_1 stammered. “I just need to talk to my buddy Cooper…”

“No need, Warder. The strange thin man with the sharp teeth has already hurried to assist the Aes Sedai in any way she requires,” Aviendha told him, and was just starting to say something else when the screaming started.

 


 

Logain grinned in delight as they stepped through the door into the ‘Easy’, and the cool shade and cheerful music washed over them. It seemed like any other inn to Janica, but there was something else … something was raising her hackles, although not necessarily in a bad way, and she didn’t know what it was. She couldn’t see, and Debs was no help.

“Coo,” the sul’dam said. “There’s a lot o’ gude lukin’ fellers in here.”

Nynaeve sniffed. “As long as they have baths somewhere, I don’t care how many well-turned calves there are in the place.”

“There’s hot baths just down the hall, darling,” a huge, shirtless man with bells in his braids told her as he walked past. The drink in his hand was a giant, colourful affair with pieces of hay and grass in it, an egg floating on the top, and an apple on a stick. His pants were glossy. “And by the way, I just love your hair, it’s so strict! Just gorgeous!”

“This is a gay bar,” Vamps said.

“I don’t know,” Wyse disagreed slowly. “A lot of the people out on the streets seemed angry and unhappy, as if they were troubled by poor sleep. And the folk in here seem no different.”

“No, I mean gay, a gay bar, full of gay guys,” Vamps explained.

Nynaeve sniffed again. “Well, that man with the bells was certainly polite, and maybe he was cheerful – I wouldn’t say gay myself, but definitely cheerful. Now, can we see the innkeeper about rooms, and then get to those baths?”

Hoarni tapped Debs diligently on the shoulder.

“Wha’?”

“I was just wondering,” Hoarni asked, pointing across to a pair of people dancing in front of the minstrels, staring happily into one another’s eyes, “which one of those was the woman? I’d like to be sure I’m looking at the right one.”

Debs looked.

“Look, I promise, I didn’t know it was that sort of place!” Logain protested as they marched in a ragged line down the street. “I swear! It always seemed so … it never occurred to me.”

Frankly, Janica would have preferred to stay at the Badger, which had at least appeared reasonably clean. There hadn’t been any point in attempting to talk the others out of leaving, though, with both Debs and Nynaeve insistent on keeping Logain and Vamps away from ‘bad influences’ and the Ogier too frightened to stop to think about the relative peace of Hoarni in a tavern without any remotely interested women … of course, the whole thing just raised more potential concerns and opportunities for disaster, but it wasn’t as if any other place would be better.

“Let’s jes’ stop here, then,” she said, pointing at the inn on the corner. It seemed pleasant enough, in that any of the inns in this world were actually pleasant. “Unless I’m looking at a brothel, or a tattoos-and-sex-change parlour, or a literary salon, or some other apparently horrifying and unacceptable thing. It sounds like an inn.”

“Oh, that’s an inn alright,” said a voice from behind them, “one of our best. But you fine people don’t have to stay in a place like that.”

They spun to find a well-dressed man standing in the street behind them. He was a solid, powerfully-built fellow of average height, and standing close to Debs and Vamps and the Ogier made him seem rather on the short side, but his compact build made up for the deficiency. He had golden hair and blue eyes, and would have been quite good-looking if it weren’t for the livid, jagged scar across his face from chin to hairline. He was smiling a small, friendly smile. Coarshus began fumbling with the golden chest straight away. The smile fell away from the man’s face, and Janica suddenly realised that something very wrong was happening.

Saidin!” Vamps cried, and Debs reacted instantly. Janica felt the One Power rush through her, up the a’dam

And then it stopped as if it had been cut by a knife and walled off by solid diamond. She could feel saidar glowing just out of reach, but could not touch it. She looked at Logain and Vamps, but the two channelers seemed welded to the road. Her eyes went to Nynaeve, who might have been able to channel – she was certainly angry enough after missing her opportunity to bathe – but she too was frozen.

“Shield this, Jimmy!” Debs roared, and swung her ham-sized fist in a vicious Scottish roundhouse. It connected with the centre of Sammael’s face in a wet crumpling of cartilage and bone, and for a moment Janica was free. Saidar roared through her, and she began to weave something fatal at the well-dressed blur that had attacked them. Suddenly, however, the Power was gone again. She saw a little puff of something that might have been a fireball out of the corner of her eye, and Logain swore in frustration as he, too, was robbed of saidin.

“I’ll be damned,” a wizened voice said from the doorway of the inn. “Angamael was right. Teamwork.”

Sammael staggered to his feet, holding his nose, which was streaming blood.

“I could have had them,” he said. “This one just took me by surprise for a moment.”

“Bah, you’d have been lost without me. But alright,” Aginor said in a more conciliatory voice. When he continued, Janica could have sworn that he was reciting something from a cue-card. “Teamwork Isn’t Just Working Together, It Also Means Not Arguing And Mocking One Another, And Allowing One’s Victims To Escape Due To Internal Bickering. So I agree with you, and we both congratulate ourselves on a job well done. Yes?”

“Yes,” Sammael said grudgingly, wiggling his nose back and forth with an audible crackle. “But Not Until The Job Is Done.”

Janica was suddenly blasted out of consciousness by what she would later identify as a club of Air, multiplied tenfold by the celestially unfair workings of the a’dam.

“Don’t hurt me,” Coarshus said as the sul’dam and damane dropped to the cobblestones. “Hurt Hoarni, he’s the one with the Horn of Valere.”

“Is he?” Sammael said in surprise. “I did not know that. Well, fear not. We’re not going to hurt any of you. We’re just going to take you all somewhere safe, and see to it that you are no longer a risk to our larger schemes. Shall we, Aginor, old buddy?” he paused. “Old, as in a friend of long standing, not as in an insult.”

“Of course.”

The two Forsaken bundled up their prey in iron-hard bonds of Air, opened a Gateway in the middle of the road, and hustled them through.

As the hole vanished in a bright blue stripe of light, Mister C of 9 stepped out from a nearby alleyway. He had no idea what had just happened, but he could see something extremely strange. There were stripes of energy in the air, tangles and knots of saidin that he could see even though he had no eyes. Perhaps because he had no eyes. Some of the Power was fading already, a residue that he could feel but would soon be lost … but one solid stripe led away towards the King’s Palace, and the identical, though slightly smaller Great Hall of the Council. Mister C turned to follow it.

“Idiots,” he muttered. “Get into all sorts of trouble without me.”

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The Dragon Reforged, Part 12

There was a momentary panic when they rode into the Wayman’s Forge and the innkeeper, one Gainor Furlan, grinned broadly and said, “Well, if it isn’t more Ogier.”

Loial went immediately wild-eyed, and demanded that they go and sleep elsewhere.

“Not a bad idea,” Furlan grunted. “If the Hunter sees you, I’ll not be held responsible for what she does.”

“Hunter?” Perrin asked suspiciously.

“Oh no,” Chucky sighed, remembering. “Ahh, crap. No, not her.”

“Who?” Perrin asked.

“Nobody.”

The innkeeper swept his dubious glance across the large crowd of men and women and miscellaneous, the stragglers of which were still wandering into the common room. “A gleeman, eh?”

“Um, yeah.”

“Ask him about Yoru,” Masema said enthusiastically. “Just don’t let him blow those things he has over his shoulder.”

“You’re all funny,” Chucky grunted, and walked away from the bar. Furlan assured Loial that the other Ogier had left already, and that he had beds free for him and all his friends. There had apparently been some sort of disturbance involving Ogier a day or so ago, and a Hunter of the Horn named Bashere – whether Mandarb Bashere or Faile Bashere or Zarine Bashere, nobody could quite decide, but she’d been inconvenienced and had spent the time since locked in her room, opening the door only long enough to scream at the innkeeper every now and then. Frankly, Chucky wasn’t interested. He’d been hoping against hope that he wouldn’t get caught up in this part of the plot, but it seemed as if fate had had different ideas.

Fain and Domon were conferring quietly in the entry of the inn as Chucky went past, getting their fair share of strange looks from the other patrons. Fain was twitching, and Domon was snuffling – but then, so were Satters and Perrin and, to a lesser degree, Egwene and Elayne, so that tended to take away some of the strangeness.

“It don’t be here, so it don’t,” Domon was saying. “It did go south from here, on the water. If I did have my ship-”

“Well, we don’t,” Fain said, settling smoothly into the plummy tones and overbearing manner of … well, one or another of his blended personalities, probably the one from Shadar Logoth that thought it was a great Lord of some kind. Ordeith, or Mordeth, or whoever. “We will have to make do with what we have … and the help of these unexpected allies. Ah, gleeman,” he went on, turning to Chucky with a smile. Domon snarled silently. “I see you are stepping outside. Have you caught any germs yet? You must show them to me sometime.”

Chucky had never quite gotten used to the conditions in the towns and cities, the filth and dirt and the unnecessary ugliness, and Remen was no exception. It was made even worse by being built along a river, which offered strange, terrible water-borne diseases, an unhygienic sewage outlet, masses of rats, mud and algae, and other things that Chucky couldn’t guess at but knew were just waiting to surprise him. He thought it was unfair that Fain and the others refused to acknowledge the simple fact that they were putting their lives at risk by breathing. He’d tried to explain to them about germs, but Satters had ruined it by saying something breathtakingly ignorant, and now they all thought germs were like ticks and fleas, and that Chucky collected them.

He went on past the two weird men without comment, and passed Verin and Liandrin, who stopped their own whispered conversation and cast him coolly respectful glances. The innkeeper had seen them already, but he must not have realised they were Aes Sedai, because he hadn’t paid them any more attention than the rest of the bizarre gathering. Maybe he thought they were mimes, Chucky thought, looking at their makeup.

“The Horn is not here,” Verin said. “We think-”

“-it went south, on the river,” Chucky said. “On a boat, I’m guessing.”

Liandrin gasped. “How did you know? Have you communed with the Darkhounds, and sent them on ahead, scouting our trail and sniffing out our quarry, and do they then report back to you as their highest authority?”

Chucky tapped his nose, and hurried away.

“Don’t wander far,” Verin called after him. “I think we will be moving on as quickly as we can, once the horses are rested and we are all fed. We have to catch up with those who have eluded us.”

The bedraggled gleeman wandered over to the town square, where one great stone had been lifted out of the paving to make way for a creaking gibbet. The cadin’sor-clad man inside was squatting awkwardly, his arms wrapped around his knees and his shoufa wrapped around his head. Some kids had been throwing stones at him, but had stopped and run away when the Borderlanders rode into the town.

“Don’t worry, Gaul,” Chucky said, looking up at the miserable figure and feeling suddenly better about his own situation. “Perrin Aybara is here, and he’ll be coming over to rescue you before too much longer. Then you can get in a fight with some Whitecloaks and be back on your way before nightfall.”

“I wish you dicks’d stop saying that,” Gaul muttered. “I’m not Gaul. And what are you guys all meant to be, some sort of freakshow? It’s Chucky, isn’t it? Nice cloak, you look like you’re off to Mardi Gras. And it goes really well with the Guinness shirt and the sweat pants by the way.”

“Sweat pants? What are sweat pants? These are tracky-dacks. Anyway, did you say you’re not Gaul?” Chucky frowned. There was something familiar about that voice, and the whole confusion with the clothing was somehow familiar. “Who are you, then?” the Aielman reached up and pulled away his veil. “Nick! What are you doing here?”

“I won the contest, same as you. Second round. I turned up in the Aiel Waste with Shannon, and we were captured by, whaddaya know it, Aiel. Only I was an Aiel to start with, and they made me a gai’shain. Then we sort of got to travelling over the mountains, and Gaul was with us, but he sort of wandered off when the Green Man told him the truth about the Aiel. And then we came in here, and one of our companions … attracted attention, and I was captured.”

“The Green Man?” Chucky demanded. “What’s he doing telling the Aiel story? Oh wait, he survived the climactic ending of the first book, didn’t he? So now he’s still wandering around…”

“I kinda thought it was weird, too,” Dr. Nick said, “but then, he was hanging around with Contro and this wolf…”

“Contro,” Chucky groaned. “He’s not here, is he?”

“He ran off with Moiraine and the others,” Dr. Nick muttered. “Bastards. Kill them all. Lousy damn … that Moiraine, I bet she did it all on purpose.”

“Potty mouth, isn’t she?”

“Tell me about it,” Dr. Nick rolled his skinny shoulders, and winced at the crackling noise. “Look, how about you get me out of here?”

“I don’t know…” Chucky said doubtfully. “The narrative says that Perrin…”

“Perrin rescues Gaul, not Doctor Nick Riviera!” Dr. Nick snapped. “I could be stuck here until the day I die, which might be tomorrow! I haven’t eaten anything in almost two days. I haven’t had a drink since one of the townswomen emptied a chamber-pot on me.”

“Two days? You should be dehydrated.”

“I’m Aiel,” Dr. Nick said, his voice filled with gentle pride and quiet dignity. “Anyway, according to Someshta, I can store water in my earlobes.”

“I believe you,” Chucky grinned. “Look, I’ll go and tell Perrin you’re here, and then we can do this properly.”

“You cunt. You’re no better than that little skinny chick and the fat one with the funky accent.”

“The who?”

Dr. Nick examined his fingernails. “Oh, nobody. Nothing.”

“Come on, tell me who you saw. It was this group that was just in town a day or two ago, wasn’t it? The one all the people at the inn are talking about.”

“Was it? I can’t think straight, in this cage.”

“Aw, Nick, you know who it was. We were separated when we were brought here, and I ended up stuck with Mister C. I’ve been worried about her – come on, tell me what happened to them.”

“La la.”

“Alright,” Chucky growled. “You win. I’ll get you down, and you tell me about these two women.”

Chucky was clambering up the splintery wooden pole to the lock holding the gibbet aloft, then there was a jingling of harnesses and a clopping of hooves and a patrol of Whitecloaks rode into Remen.

 


 

The boat was called the Blue Crane, the captain’s name was Chin Ellisor, and he could honestly say that he had never hauled stranger cargo in his long and checkered career. He’d been surprised to find them all standing on the bank of the river, arguing and shouting back and forth, but had taken them all on board without hesitation. They were all too interesting to pass up.

“Once,” he said to Lan and Contro, who were the only people who would listen to his anecdotes, “I helped a friend of mine carry some strange artworks. It wasn’t really smuggling, mind you, because these artworks didn’t belong to anybody. My friend was a bit of a collector of strange things, he’s gone all over the place looking for the weird and the wonderful. These artworks were odd, they glowed and made the strangest noises…” he trailed off, thoughtfully. “That Domon was a strange one,” he said. “But I don’t think he ever carried anything as strange as you and your friends.”

“Ha ha ha!” Contro said merrily.

“Brandy,” Lan said, reaching out a shaking hand for the captain’s bottle. Ellisor had, essentially, a captive audience. Contro was listening intently because he was Contro. Lan was listening intently because Ellisor had alcohol. “My whistle. For the Creator’s sake, my whistle.”

“Of course,” Chin said, and handed over the little bottle. Lan took a long, shuddering swallow, and for a while they sailed along in silence, watching the wreckage on the Cairhienin side of the river. There was a civil war in Cairhien, apparently, the origins of which were difficult to establish. Some people said it was because a group of merchants had been killed and the nobility of Cairhien had seen it as a grave insult, or perhaps a peasant uprising. That the merchants had been carrying items for the strict use of the nobility, whatever those items may have been, was glossed over in most tellings of the tale. As was the fact that the merchants had been dressed as trollocs, and killed in a simple village panic. Not only that, but there was also war with Andor. That was pretty much standard, as far as anybody was concerned. “Ahh, it’s a good time for a riverboat captain.”

“And a Tinker!” Contro exclaimed.

“How do you mean, friend?” Ellisor asked with a smile. He hadn’t been in contact with Contro long enough to realise that his problems went beyond a little bit of over-cheerfulness.

“Well, it’s always a good time to be a Tinker!” Contro replied happily. “Ha ha ha! Can’t argue with that!”

“Indeed,” Ellisor said, and tipped Lan a knowing wink. Lan closed his eyes and took another draught of the brandy.

Forsaken_1, recovered from his multitude of injuries but still pale and haunted by his experience with the Portal Stone, stepped up to the three men hesitantly. He knew Lan’s drinking had increased since that fateful day, just as he knew Moiraine and Someshta had gotten reclusive and thoughtful, Shannon had stopped looking anybody in the eye, and Cybes had taken to washing herself daily. In fact, the only people unaffected by the adventure, as far as he could tell, were Cooper Two and Contro. And that, he thought, really said everything you needed to say about it.

Not liking to draw Contro’s attention down on himself, Forsaken_1 nevertheless felt obliged to speak up – he’d been sent on an errand, after all. He straightened his Warder cloak, cleared his throat, and said, “Moiraine Sedai is ready to negotiate passage all the way to Tear.”

“Excellent,” Ellisor said expansively, giving no hint of the pale face and shaking hands that normally accompanied a meeting with the aggressive little woman. “I’ll see her in my-”

The Blue Crane ran up on a mud bank at top speed. Ellisor was flung backwards into Lan, who swore and fumbled his bottle. Contro was thrown against the railing, where he laughed in delight. Forsaken_1 went head-over-heels off the side of the boat, landing heavily on his back in the mud.

“Fuck,” he said. The bank was sodden and runny, as if it had just risen up out of the river moments before. The boat was buried solidly in the slop, and the whole bank seemed to be vibrating gently.

“Yay!” Contro cried, finally tripping and toppling over the railing and landing on his face in the mud right next to the Warder, splattering his face and chest with thick, syrupy muck.

“Son of a bitch!” Lan grated from above, as the brandy bottle slipped through his fingers. It fell in slow-motion, glinting in the sun as it descended towards Forsaken_1’s upturned, brown-smeared face.

It landed beside him, on the other side to where Contro was cheerfully floundering, and was promptly sucked under with a greedy slurp. Forsaken_1 breathed a sigh of relief.

“Well, that could have been worse,” he said. “Contro could have landed on my genitals, and then the bottle could have smashed on my face. It could have been a lot worse.”

There was a crack, and Forsaken_1 looked up in time to see the mast begin to fall, the leafy mass of Someshta riding in the crow’s nest, walnut-eyes popping out of his head in vegetative horror. He closed his own eyes, lay back, and refused to take part in what happened next.

Some hours later, he sat shivering on the deck as Moiraine muttered and growled and swore through her third attempt at Healing him. The weaves fell apart, tangled, or simply didn’t do anything. She stopped mid-channel, and rummaged in the pile of trinkets Shannon had brought with her. Him. Her.

“Here’s another one,” she said, pulling out a necklace of what looked like little wooden fruits and dropping it around her already-laden neck. Her hands were clustered with bracelets and rings, and she was wearing what looked ludicrously like a World War 2 fighter pilot hat and goggles, except the little glass discs of the goggles themselves were black-and-white Aes Sedai symbols. “Where did you get all these fucking angreal?”

“Found ’em here and there,” Shannon replied, rubbing his bosom. It had sustained minor bruising in the crash, but he had been lucky enough to miss the main action. “I sure hope they’re helping.”

Moiraine lowered the stupid disc-goggles over her eyes, and groped for her Warder. “They’re hardly doing fuck-all,” she admitted, channeling the frigid weaves of Healing once again, pecking and picking at the multitude of bruises and splinters of Green Man, “but they’re better than nothing. I can’t fucking believe you were up in the crow’s nest.”

“I’m sorry,” Someshta said for the fifteenth time. “The mast seemed perfectly strong, and it wasn’t until it broke open that I saw it was riddled with wood-worm. I’m sorry, Foreskin. I was keeping an eye open for mud-banks. I am sure I would have seen this one, but it rose up out of nowhere. You saw it yourself, the eruption…”

“That was rather a surprise,” Chin Ellisor agreed. “You don’t often see geysers like that, particularly not ones full of raw sewage. I guess it must have backed up from all the towns that dump into the Erinin, but I’ve never seen one blow like that. You must have flown a hundred spans in the air!” he chuckled down at Forsaken_1 in honest good cheer that really should have justified murder. “You and your extraordinary wooden friend. Why, you’re lucky you weren’t killed when you landed back on the mast stump on your testicles, and then your friend here landed on top of you.”

“And that whirlpool that came up as all the sewage started to flow away,” Someshta said. “Contro was lucky – he not only escaped unscathed, but the rushing water washed all the dung off him and deposited him safely on the bank. With Lan’s brandy bottle, completely without a scratch.”

“Amazing luck,” Lan said, taking another long, contemplative drink and looking down at Forsaken_1 without sympathy.

“I want Nancy Sidesaddle off this boat,” Forsaken_1 growled. “Right now.”

“We’re all off the boat,” Moiraine said. “Don’t worry about that. We’ll fucking walk from here. We’re going to head towards the closest town on the Cairhien side. It’s being held by Andoran soldiers at the moment, but I think we’ll be okay. We’re better off taking our chances there, than continuing along this death-trap of a Ghul-damned river. Ellisor can take his banged-up tub and stick it right up his fart shaft.”

“Charmed, Moiraine Sedai,” Ellisor stammered.

Eventually, Moiraine declared Forsaken_1 ‘Healed e-fucking-nough’ and the party disembarked, leaving Chin Ellisor and the Blue Crane to their repairs. They headed into the bracken on the Cairhien side of the Erinin, walking single-file. Cooper Two began to sing a jaunty travelling song, but trailed off into hurt mutterings when everybody except Contro and Cybes told him to pipe down.

“I’m thirsty,” the gholam said.

“Me too,” Lan replied.

“I have some cold berry juice in my canteen,” Forsaken_1 offered, limping along behind the two gripers. Knowing perfectly well in advance what both of them would say to his offer, he was not afraid to be generous to the pair that had caused him such heart, lungs, skull and spineache.

“I’d rather drink forkroot, Foreskin.”

“I’d rather drink … well, you know. Hey, why don’t we ask these so-called Aiel if they have any spears I could lick?”

“What Aiel?” Forsaken_1 said, tucking his canteen away with satisfaction. “I don’t see any-”

A pair of legs and a shoufa stepped out into the path in front of them.

“Whoa momma,” Forsaken_1 murmured.

 


 

“So this is Illian,” Janica said, looking out over the vaseline-lens blur of landscape. “It’s more or less what I was expecting.”

“Isn’t it a wonderful city?” Jaim Adarra, captain of the Snow Goose, asked enthusiastically. He made another casual-but-blatant attempt to put his arm around Debs’ hips, and she sidestepped him with agility that belied her frame. “City of romance, city of love, city of bees…”

“Bees?” Janica frowned, trying to ignore the indignant waves that cascaded through the a’dam. Her own tiny backside felt black and blue from the dozens of pokes, prods, pinches and frank double-handed ‘jellywobbles’ her sul’dam had suffered on the trip downriver. “Are there bees around, then?”

“There are these days,” Adarra said, guiding the Goose slowly and steadily into port. “Lord Brend joined the Council of Nine this winter, and he’s slowly taking over the city. That’s his house standard – the nine golden bees, you see. Very Illianish, with the nine and everything. But not many of the little people are happy with it.”

Debs sideskipped again. “Ach, well, we’re nae bothered with that p’litical stuff,” she said stoutly. “We’re jes’ passin’ through anywee. Sleep a bet, an’ heed orff first thing in the mornin’ fer Tear.”

Jaim looked vaguely disquieted by this stream of near-gibberish, but it didn’t bother his hands at all. The women were obliged to return to their cabin, pleading fatigue. Debs looked about as fatigued as a cement truck, but Janica could at least pass for slightly frazzled, and so they escaped the friendly captain and returned to the scant relief of Puddin, Nynaeve, Logain, Mister C of 9, and the Ogier.

“Did we sink yet?” Coarshus asked, trying to hide his eyes behind his huge, quivering ears. “Are we drowned?”

“We’re almost in port,” Janica replied, trying to keep the edge out of her voice. It had been a short trip, but not for her patience. “There were no pirates, no tidal waves, and the boat didn’t fall apart around us. I told you.”

“Where to now?” Vamps asked, jumping to his feet and trying to look purposeful. Mister C of 9 stayed where he was, perched on top of the golden chest that he was guarding from the terrified Ogier. He looked out of a porthole with extreme disinterest on his sunglasses.

“Now I guess we head east,” Janica replied. “We’ll get out of Illian as quickly as we can – apparently there’s a new Lord in charge here, and he probably won’t like to meet us. We’ll see about a boat to Tear, or we’ll just have to walk there.”

“What about pursuit?” Logain asked, giving Vamps a discouraging glance.

“Well, the … people who were after us weren’t at Remen yet when we went through,” Janica said, not needing to see the Ogier to know they were agonisingly frightened and edgy, “so I see no reason why they’d be this far ahead already. And remember, they think we’re going to Tear, and this river wasn’t the quickest way to get there. It’s not like they can track us by smell.”

“Fain could,” Vamps said helpfully.

“So could a Darkhound,” Wyse added.

“Or a draghkar,” Frendli said.

“Or a halfman with a group of sniffer trollocs,” Coarshus went on.

“Or a Dreadlord,” Hoarni whimpered. The Ogier began to make a soft, harmonic keening noise of terror.

“Or a ghargazoid.”

“Or a snern.”

“Or a krattler.”

“Oh shut up,” Janica said. “Now you’re just making shit up. Tryin’ to scare us.”

“It’s not working,” Vamps said, gripping Nynaeve with trembling, white-knuckled hands. At that moment, the Snow Goose bumped up against the pier and the Far Maddingite gave vent to a high-pitched scream, setting the Ogier off in great billows of bumblebee-sobs.

“I want my mam!” Coarshus moaned.

“I want your mam too!” Hoarni added mournfully.

“Can’t we at least blow the Horn one more time, and have the Heroes escort us across Illian and out of the gates?” Wyse asked, his voice shaky. “Maybe, once we get into the countryside, there won’t be so many people chasing us, and trying to dismember us and eat us while we’re still alive and screaming…”

Frendli covered his face with his hands and whined.

“Look,” Mister C of 9 stood up, and slapped Coarshus’ fingers as he immediately reached for the golden chest. “We don’t even know if there are Orcs or Nazgul in this city-”

“Orcs and Nazgul!” the Ogier cried.

“All we have to do is remember our mission. Maybe it would be better if we split up. Like Frodo did.”

“Who?” Nynaeve demanded.

“It’s a storrie,” Debs said, scowling at Mister C. “He’s a gleeman ‘prentice, remember?”

“This isn’t a story,” Logain said with a hint of disapproval. “But then again,” he went on, considering, “maybe it would be better if we split up. We could meet up again outside the city…”

“We’ll go with ye’,” Debs asserted.

“Us too!” Frendli squeaked.

“You’re not leaving us with him,” Nynaeve growled, standing up and pointing at Mister C of 9. “We’re coming too.”

“So we’re splitting up and basically that means I go off on my own,” Mister C grunted.

“We’re nae spletten’ up,” Debs said, and the Ogier drooped with relief. “We’ll jes’ get oot o’ the city as soon as we can.”

“And try to stay off the radar of this Lord Brend fellow,” Janica added.

“He has a radar?” Mister C perked up. “Cool.”

They disembarked.

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