The Ballad of Big Shooey, Part 7

Magdus folded his upper arms, planted his lower fists on his hips, and gave an appreciative whistle. In spite of really, really not wanting to be, he found he was impressed.

“Mighty pretty,” he congratulated Stansgaard. “Don’t quite get how it proves you’re a Vahoon and I’m not an idiot, but she’s mighty pretty.”

“You should have seen her in her prime,” Strangle said sadly. “She’s lived the cora laar since then, sorry to say.”

“What is she? Shuttle? Fighter? Doesn’t really look like either one,” Magdus circled the elegant nose of the ship and the heavy, scarred block of … well, some sort of engine component, that arguably detracted somewhat from the overall aesthetic. He knew pretty when he saw it, but would be the first to admit he didn’t have much experience with starships. “She’s not a prototype like the Þurskip. They didn’t make any more prototypes after the retrofit started.”

“No,” Stansgaard replied. “She doesn’t have a classification. Not one you’d recognise. She’s one of a kind.”

“The Fleet only builds vessels of standardised classifications…” Magdus said, then paused. “She’s not made by the Fleet at all,” he whispered. “Is she human?”

“Ah,” Stansgaard smiled sidelong at Magdus, then went back to looking up at his ship. “That’s where we begin to get to the point.”

“Praise be.”

“Humans didn’t build her,” Stansgaard said. “Humans didn’t build a lot of the things they have down there. In fact, they didn’t really know what they had. Which made it all even more convenient for us – politically speaking.”

It was actually easier to accept that some other non-Fleet dumblermar had constructed the vessel than to countenance the possibility that the adys oko had. Let alone some fantastical ancient ancestors thereof, as some of the Fleet xenopologists were fond of speculating. But that still left a very pressing follow-up question. “Then who did build her?” Magdus demanded.

Stansgaard made another of those curiously rehearsed-looking gestures. Let’s put that line of discussion on hold for the moment. “She’s been the source of the Fleet’s eyes-closed plausible-deniability inspiration,” he said. “For the retrofit. Getting you back into Cursèd’s Playground as quickly and tidily as possible.”

Magdus took note of that you. There were strict agreements about where the Worldships of the Fleet flew. Not even the Blaren were questioning that. Not even the Separatists. Some had tried. Some had gone against the Fleet’s decision. The aki’Drednanth had put an end to it. Not that there’d been much fight left in anyone, after the First Feast.

If Strangle was harbouring some intention of defying Fleet protocols and policy, Magdus didn’t want to know about it. “You reverse-engineered the Worldship relative field generators using this?” he asked. If he squinted, he could sort of see it. The ship did have large grey-black bumper extensions that could have been some kind of relative torus. To be honest, they looked retrofitted onto this ship too.

“To an extent. Of course a lot of it we figured out on our own, and we’ve been steadily improving since the commissioning of the Þurskip. Certainly things have progressed in – pardon the expression – leaps and bounds since Margan Karturi’s first disastrous attempt. I mean, we don’t destroy solar systems hardly at all when we decelerate out of relative speed now.”

Magdus spared Strangle a narrow look. “I thought all the Þurskip data came from Earth,” he said, “not a weird secret prototype. And certainly not from Margan’s time.”

“A certain amount was made possible by the science corps and the Vanjing think-tank,” Stansgaard agreed, “but scaling up for Fleet requirements … it may have escaped your notice, but we have a bit of a power generation problem that the humans don’t have to worry about.”

“Because they’re living on a giant slab of pure energy,” Magdus grunted.

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was pure, but yes,” Stansgaard said easily. “Bridnaks will only get us so far. Which is why this is as much about the transpersion plant as it is about the relative generator. Getting the Worldships moving without turning them into giant ghost-filled geodes like the Shoo, or needing to tow a second Worldship full of Bridnaks behind each one,” he gestured at the ship. His ship, Magdus was prepared to accept for the time being. Although it seemed preposterous that any non-officer, non-aki’Drednanth, would just be given such a thing. Even a Vahoon. “She’s the convenient template we’ve used so we didn’t need to go begging to the humans or admit to ignorance too much. Imagine the shame, the ignominy.”

“Doesn’t bear thinking about.”

“We jest, but it’s the simple truth,” Stansgaard said seriously. “The Fleet Council of Captains will allow us to commit just about any violation of the Twin Species Social Code in the name of avoiding being beholden to the monkeys. As long as nobody asks. Nobody questions. As long as they don’t have to ever see their dirty deeds held up in front of their pristine innocent faces.”

At least he was back to saying us, Magdus reflected. The less said about the rest of his pronouncements, however, the better. “Can you be demoted from Vahoon to Blaran?” he asked. “This conversation is starting to sound like a good way to find out.”

“Ah yes,” Stansgaard said, “I did sort of imply that I was about the get to the point about that whole Vahoon thing, didn’t I?”

“You did very heavily imply that,” Magdus said, “and we’re none of us getting any younger.”

“A little cruel, coming from a Primer,” Stansgaard said with injured dignity, “but I’ll allow it. Very well. What would you say if I were to tell you, Magdus Foylaa, that I am a Vahoon – that it is the quite literal truth? That the legends are simple fact? And that, at the same time, they are absolute shooey from beginning to end, and I am just a regular – albeit clever, and admittedly a bit on the ungainly side – Molran?”

“I’d say you were clearly dragging your feet in circles around the damn point,” Madgus said, “in the hopes that I would figure it out based on the clues you’re dropping, but it looks like I’m destined to disappoint you.”

“Ah,” Stansgaard put on a mournful expression. “Disappointment may be my lot in life, it’s true. I’ve done my best to come to terms with that.

“Very well,” he repeated, brightening, and turned back to look up at the bizarre, lovely, damaged vessel. “I will cease to drag my feet around the point, then, and I will do so using my ship as an illustration. But first, if you will indulge me just one more time … tell me, have you heard the human myth about the Sun Thief, and Zed of the Silent Spaces?”

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Posted in Astro Tramp 400, IACM, Oræl Rides To War, The Book of Pinian | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Farce of Heaven, Part 10

Puddin Taim sighed happily, stretched, and scratched the back of his neck. He scratched and scratched and scratched, delighting in the sensation, delighting in the fact that nobody was around to stop him from doing it. Nynaeve was off somewhere, Moiraine was shouting at the Wise Ones, Debs and Janica were shouting at Moiraine, the Wise Ones were shouting at everybody … he scratched until he felt warm, thick liquid trickling down his spine, his teeth bared and low mutters escaping his stiff white lips.

Eianrod had been more or less abandoned when the Seanchan or the Shaido or some other people beginning with ‘s’ had come through, but Debs and Janica said there were signs of attacks elsewhere. The Maidens of the Spear wanted to go out in patrols and find out who was rendering the countryside uninhabited. Vamps wanted to tell people stories about the Maidens, sex stories, so people would be impressed. So far, Puddin had stopped him. Vamps hated Puddin a lot, and wanted to kill him with balefire. As soon as he found a way of hitting himself with balefire, he would.

He could not, however, rule out the possibility that he’d already found a way, several times, and then balefired himself to a point before he’d figured out how to balefire himself, thus no longer balefiring himself and forgetting how to balefire himself. This was clearly a problem that would only be solved with more balefire.

Even though it was a little town and the residents hadn’t been too choosy about packing up neatly when they left, Puddin had been given the finest quarters that could be found, as befit the Car’a’carn. Vamps thought they could probably do better, maybe including a little harem-room. When he’d suggested having a large group of Maidens in the merchant’s house with him, they had been very pleased, as was only natural. But then Puddin had ruined everything by suggesting a selection of representatives from all the septs and Clans, and Debs and Janica and Moiraine and the Wise Ones had agreed. The Maidens had been bitterly disappointed, because they all wanted him. Sexually. It was yet another annoyance to lay at the twitching, charred, balefired feet of Puddin God Damn Taim.

The guards and the attendant gai’shain respectively nodded and lowered their eyes when he approached. He nodded back, adding a little swagger to his steps. He even managed to ignore the seething, chittering mass of bugs that seemed to be crawling over one of the white-garbed Aielmen. In fact, it hadn’t seemed that there’d been an Aielman in the clothes at all. Just bugs.

Shrugging off the nasty sight, and raising his hand for another good scratch, Vamps pushed open the door to his rooms.

“Bguh!”

The merchant woman, Nancy Sidesaddle, was standing in the middle of the room, flabby and white and naked, evidently caught in the middle of admiring herself in the mirror. It occurred faintly to Puddin – very, very faintly – that Nancy was in fact a person he knew. Another girl named Shannon, perhaps. He wasn’t quite sure, and hadn’t been ever since he’d made the mistake of asking Contro to explain it. Maybe she’d been checking out her new body, taking advantage of her supposed privacy to see how all the various bits worked.

Puddin was mortified at walking in on a woman in such a state, but his time was over, and the Day of Muffin Vamps was dawning. He grinned in an exceedingly charming way, and advanced.

“Git the fuck away from me y’all!” Nancy screamed coyly. She backed away, trying to cover herself with her hands, but even though she had very large hands for a woman, the rest of her was larger still. Cutting to the left in a feint, she dodged and ducked right, skirted the room and made a dash for the far door. Vamps gave chase.

He caught her in the corridor, about ten feet from the main bedroom. She was standing, hands on knees, puffing and shaking her head.

“I’m too durn tubby,” she panted. “I can’t run no more.”

Muffin Vamps reached out for her, and coherent thought ended.

 


 

There was silence in the wagon as Valan Luca reviewed the notes he’d made in the course of the entirely disturbing interview. The notes were either an extremely complicated shorthand or – and Dr. Nick was beginning to suspect this was the case – Valan Luca was completely illiterate, and insane, and had just scribbled random doodles on the sheets of paper while the others were talking, and was now pretending they were notes and that he was reading them, and if anybody pointed this out, Valan Luca would probably try to bite them.

Coarshus shifted uncomfortably on the pillow he’d been offered while he sat on the floor. The wagon itself shifted uncomfortably on its axles as the weight of the four Ogier upset the delicate balance.

Valan Luca was a matrix of sexually-transmitted diseases, held together by hair wax and gold earrings. He twitched, and scratched his genitals, and occasionally spat into a soggy handkerchief and paused to examine the contents before resuming his twitch-and-scratch routine. He was one of the most disgusting things Dr. Nick had seen since entering the Wheel of Time universe, and considering that among his first experiences had been a mad gholam on a feeding frenzy, Valan Luca occupied some pretty lofty real estate.

“So,” the tragically raw and unedited man said eventually, “your group is heading in our direction, and want to travel undetected, and you want to be a part of my … menagerie.”

“Yes,” Dr. Nick confirmed, not at all sure this was the case but aware of the glowing, innocent earnestness of the four huge morons behind him.

“And your group consists of…” Luca pretended to peer at his notes, but discretely glanced over the top of them and did a stock-take of the applicants, “four Ogier, an Aielman, and a giant wolf,” he pondered for a moment, and added, “and three comatose women in a wagon.”

“Right.”

“Right,” Luca paused to scratch. “And you wanted to be a part of the menagerie because the Ogier heard the crowds and thought it sounded like fun, and came to watch, but then you decided it might be even better to join in as part of the act.”

Dr. Nick, having lost this particular battle with narrative drive, nodded. “Yes.”

“Yes,” Valan Luca pondered for a moment, then put his notes down and pulled out his handkerchief. “I think you – hrkk – might have – gbltooeyh – gotten the wrong idea – pt – about this menagerie,” he said, and spread the handkerchief open and put his eye up close to it. He twitched, almost inserting his nose into the vile clots. “We cater for a very … select audience.”

“Even so,” Frendli – not having picked up the agonisingly familiar vibe to Luca’s voice that Dr. Nick had recognised without any difficulty whatsoever after a lifetime of experience – leaned forward eagerly. “Even so, your audience cannot be so grand that a group of Ogier would not be of any interest to them,” his ears drooped. “That is to say, in my opinion they could not be, if I do say so myself. Ogier are well-received by nobles and common folk alike, and while I do not know your audience-”

“You certainly don’t,” Luca said, not unkindly. He was addled with syphilis and numerous other things that made the syphilis seem like the charming one, but he wasn’t so far gone as to offend a creature that was ten feet tall and could tie a knot in an iron bar. “We specialise in animal shows. We’re a menagerie, after all, not a circus.”

“Cyberwollf is a very intelligent wolf,” Wyse ventured, as Dr. Nick started to think furiously about how to get away.

“Yes, but we already have a dog show,” Luca pointed out. “Clarine has a wide selection of dogs, many of them as large as your wolf and far more savage-looking. That adds to the entertainment. We have Latelle with her bear, and we already have several miscellaneous acrobats to fill in. And of course, to steal the show, we have Cerandin and her giant boar-horses. If you think you can add to that, I’d be only too happy to take you on.”

“But four Ogier,” Wyse persisted, while Dr. Nick looked at the windows and discounted them as an escape route. “We can sing trees into wondrous shapes, and make the grass grow, and amaze everybody with-”

“Can you make the trees fuck?”

“And we can astonish the … what?”

“Well,” Valan Luca put down his notes and folded his arms, “we’ve got quite a show, and I doubt even an Ogier can better what a boar-horse can swing. No offence, I’m sure. But even if you all piled onto one of your comatose women, or did a sort of multi-act with all three of them, it might be a bit of an anticlimax. And I don’t think you could do it,” he glanced at Hoarni. “Except maybe you.”

Wyse, Frendli and Coarshus stared. Cyberwollf stared. Dr. Nick continued to plan an exit.

“Of course,” Luca went on consideringly, “a lot of people around these parts are veterans of the war, and there’s a lot of hard feeling about the Aiel even today. And with the rumours of the sand-chewers crawling back over the Spine of the World for another slapping, things are very tense right now. If the four of you are offering to take turns with the Aielman, and finish off with a humourously-shaped tree or the wolf or something … but no, that wouldn’t work.”

Dr. Nick’s backside unclenched and he stepped up his departure schedule.

“The wolf’s a female,” Luca concluded. “We could finish off with the bear instead, at least until you get into the flow of things, and then we could move on to the boar-horse. Do you think you could do that?”

Wglm,” Dr. Nick said, every orifice in his body clenching simultaneously.

“Four nights on, three nights off, naturally.”

Zgfw.”

Hoarni leaned forward and raised a hand diligently.

“Are there any female boar-horses?” he asked.

“Sorry to waste your time,” Dr. Nick jumped to his feet and ducked through the gap offered as the Ogier leaned. “We’ll be on our way now. Didn’t realise this was the arrangement, we’ll just stick to being audience members, we’ll get out of your way now.”

He jumped out of the wagon, straightened his cadin’sor and took a deep, relieved breath of the admittedly unpleasant air. There were a lot of animals in the menagerie, and their excrement was probably the source of the most pleasant smells. He didn’t like to think about the rest of it.

Cybes joined him, a knowing look in her eyes.

“What? I’m not going to be a performer,” Dr. Nick snapped. “Not after the crap I put up with on that Sea Folk boat. And if the Ogier still want to see the show, well … okay, I can’t deny I’m just a little bit curious. Can’t you imagine?” he tried to spark Cybes’s enthusiasm. “An elephant show!”

Cyberwollf sighed.

“No, I can’t imagine it either,” Dr. Nick admitted. In the near distance, there was a loud trumpeting sound, an audible splash, and a cheer. “Hey, maybe they’re rehearsing.”

Cybes gripped his sleeve in her teeth.

“Aren’t you even the slightest bit curious as to how it, you know, works?”

“Woof woof.”

Dr. Nick snatched his hand away while she was barking, and took a prudent couple of steps to one side. “Was it two barks for ‘yes’ or two for ‘no’?”

Cybes growled. The door of the wagon opened again and the Ogier began to awkwardly push themselves out, like removals men negotiating a grand piano out of a hatchback. The decorative little house-car rose significantly on its wheel-rims as the four giants disembarked. They stood around the Aielman and the wolf, ears down and faces miserable.

“Right,” Dr. Nick said before any of them could start bumblebeeing. “Now that our little trip to the circus is over, can we get on? Preferably before master Luca changes his mind about my pull with the local rednecks?”

“It sounded like such fun while we were listening to it from a distance…” Frendli mumbled, wringing the already-tortured material of his Illian shirt in his hands.

“Maybe, since the girls are already asleep, I could do one show and see how it goes down…” Hoarni added hopefully.

Dr. Nick would have put it to a vote, but he knew the three dependable Ogier would wait until Cybes voted before making up their minds to do the same thing as she was, and that would just leave him and Hoarni looking like perverts.

“Okay,” he said, trying to muster a little dignity. “Can we at least agree that the circus wasn’t as fun as it sounded from a distance, and that it’s not the sort of cover we need to get closer to Tar Valon without being noticed?” he looked around. “Or we can wait here,” he went on, “and talk it over a bit more.”

“That’s okay, master Riviera,” Wyse hastened. “We shall think of another disguise, I am sure.”

“We can wait if you want,” Dr. Nick insisted.

“There’s no need.”

“We’re almost out of drugged tea, and I’m sure the ladies will be fascinated by this whole escapade.”

To his satisfaction, that got everybody moving.

 


 

“Rosie Cotton, Rosie Cotton…”

Chucky, Mister C, Logain, Perrin and Berelain sat and watched Bran al’Vere go through his ritual performance, pretending he didn’t know every single female human being of marriagable age – and not a few of the quadrupeds – in the Two Rivers area, along with their addresses, and the location of their bedroom windows in relation to those of their parents.

“No … can’t say as I know any Rosie Cotton,” he concluded, even going so far as to pull down a large tome of village history and leaf through the final few crispy pages written before literacy had deserted the shores of Old Manetheren more or less permanently. “Nobody like you say, really.”

“Nobody at all?” Logain said, casting a concerned look at his master, who seemed to be fading away into a sweaty little white shadow.

“Well … of course … unless you mean…” al’Vere hesitated theatrically, and glanced at his wife. “There’s always Rosie Cauthon. That might be who you mean.”

Marin al’Vere twitched. Chucky wasn’t really paying attention to the transaction, being far more engrossed in a couple of the other members of the household at the time, and convinced that the whole thing was just more of Mister C’s ineffable silliness. But he still realised something shonky was going on.

“That’s her,” Mister C of 9 said, from his position reclining on Bran al’Vere’s most expensive couch with all his butchered limbs spread out and slightly elevated to ‘assist the healing process’. He was extremely conspicuous and obviously non-human, but nobody seemed to notice. That was because, Chucky reflected, they were all unwashed hillbillies. “That’s the one. We’ll want to kick things off as soon as possible.”

Bran and Perrin exchanged a glance.

“I can … perform the ceremony, my Lord Goldeneyes,” Bran said diffidently. Chucky waited for Perrin to protest about being called a Lord, but his relationship with Berelain had obviously stopped him from being such a whiny pain in the ass. For that matter, Berelain seemed a lot less annoying than he remembered as well. In fact, something about her reminded him alarmingly of Janica. They were in the al’Veres’ house, which had been transformed into the Lord Aybara’s manor until such time as an actual manor could be built, and Perrin didn’t even seem uncomfortable with that. He was still the big, gap-toothed simpleton Chucky had come to know and not-quite-hate back at the Gentlemen’s Club, but at the same time there was something about him that said, ‘if you call me a gap-toothed simpleton I shall pull off your scrotum and stamp on it while you scream and bleed’.

“But she’s-” Marin al’Vere started to protest, and was brought up short by her husband’s elbow in her midriff.

“Fetch her,” Mister C said, waving his protohand feebly.

There was another moment or two of consideration, and then Marin, lips pursed disapprovingly, headed out to fetch Rosie Cauthon with all possible haste.

“And let the Lord Luc know that there is to be a wedding,” Bran called after her, “and tell the Women’s Circle and the Council, and-”

“What do you take me for, Bran al’Vere?” Marin snapped. “Of course I shall tell everybody.”

“So,” Chucky said cheerfully, “Lord Luc is still here, I take it?”

“Yes,” Perrin replied, looking a bit uncomfortable. “He arrived a while ago, only shortly after we did ourselves, and he’s made himself quite useful. Him and that … friend … of his. Actually,” Lord Aybara hesitated, “he’s sort of acting as a gleeman. He’s not as good as you, though,” he added hastily. “He doesn’t know any stories about Yoru. Actually, he mostly only knows stories about Luc.”

“Ah,” Chucky nodded. “Sort of like Vamps. And then there’s this Slayer guy. You said he was a problem? In the Wolf Dream? I seem to recall you mentioning him.”

“Yes,” Perrin frowned. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all. Down, get down, get off. Yes, thank you, there’s a good … chap,” Chucky had learned the hard way, in the first couple of minutes of his stay in the house of the Lord Aybara of Mayene, that the wolves lolling around the fireplace did not take kindly to being called ‘dogs’, and took even less kindly to being called ‘doggies’.

But they did take kindly to tickle-tums, which was one thing all canines seemed to have in common, with the possible exception of Darkhounds. Chucky didn’t know anything about Darkhounds. He didn’t relish the idea of giving them tickle-tums, in any case. You’d have to be a certified nutbar to even try.

Now, he leaned over in his chair and began administering a tickle-tum to Runs While Pooing In The Oak Grove, or whatever the wolf’s stupid wolf name was. He was about to make some more remarks about Lord Luc, ask about this ‘friend’ of his, and perhaps link him with Slayer and from there to Sharky, just to get Mister C’s attention, when Marin al’Vere returned with Rosie Cauthon.

“Whoo,” Chucky murmured, eyeing the newcomer and then turning to his companions. “Now that’s a chairful,” he murmured under his breath, so only Mister C could hear.

Mister C favoured him with a dirty look from his sunglasses. “You’re one to talk.”

“Maybe I am,” Chucky allowed magnanimously, “but at least I’m only one to talk. Marrying her might count as polygamy.”

Rosie Cauthon was so fat, it seemed impossible that both she and Debs were currently existing on the same plane of reality and there was enough matter left to make planets and stuff. She also had a nose with nostrils that pointed straight outwards, eyes about a foot apart, webbed fingers, and only one tooth. In a world of disgusting inbred horrors, she was a masterpiece.

While Marin was fussing in the doorway, readying Rosie with a little bouquet of flowers (and Chucky had never been so relieved that his bouquet-catching days were over, at the thought of accidentally snagging that clump of weeds and being introduced to Rosie’s potential twin sister), Bran filled the wide-eyed spectators in on the colourful history of the Cauthon family.

Matrim Cauthon and his sisters were only one branch of the tree, it seemed. The other branch, a branch even the Emond’s Fielders referred to as The Ugly Stick, was one nobody really liked to talk about, and indeed kept well-hidden as much as possible. Rosie was the result of an early-teen union between Abel Cauthon and his own sister, a now-dead behemoth with tentacle hands and feet and the ostentatious name Ektherthyth Ekthtreme Cauthon. Abel hadn’t, and Rosie had been the result.

Logain was looking a little green, but at a nod from his Great Lord he stood up and readied himself for the fulfillment of merciless narrative causality. Mister C generously offered to be the best man, as long as he didn’t have to get up, and as long as the rings were small enough to fit in his tiny little foetus-hand. Since Rosie had webbed fingers, of course, and everybody was in a hurry to marry her off, there were in fact no rings required. Bran took position near the fireplace, and Chucky concluded Rubs Balls On Carpet’s tickle-tum in time to stand decorously while the Lady Berelain Aybara led the blushing – or perhaps vapour-locked – bride up the metaphorical aisle.

“Psst. Loggers,” Chucky hissed, and extended his hand. “Congratulations, and good luck.”

“Thank you. I – gah!”

Chucky snatched his hand back and shook it briskly. “Damn it, sorry, those fucking wolves, I … Loggers? Logain?”

Logain had pivoted on the ball of his right foot, spun, bobbed between Bran al’Vere and the fireplace and skirted around the wall to freedom. And he’d done it all at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light.

“What was that?” Mister C snapped. “Where did he go?”

“Lef’ at dur altar agin,” Rosie slurred with ponderous unhappiness. “Jus’ like las’ time, when Cenn Buie’s brother woke up.”

“This is all very irregular,” Marin al’Vere said disapprovingly. “What are we to do now?”

“Isn’t it the tradition-” Chucky started.

“Don’t you fucking dare.”

“…that if the groom runs off-”

“Shut up.”

“…the best man goes through with the marriage?”

“Oh, you cunt.”

The Aybaras, the al’Veres and Rosie all beamed. So, too, did the lounging wolves.

“Come on, Mister C,” Chucky prodded his reclining friend. “Take one for the sake of the storyline.”

 


 

In an amusing twist, the Lady Morelin Sedai was nowhere near Chaggabaggawoggaland at the time. She was, in fact, relaxing in the nice little apartment she and Shannon had rented in Manhattan, with the aim in mind of being even closer to the action for the next time Chucky came to New York, and still manage to skeeze out of meeting him.

It was nice and quiet and peaceful in the apartment without the chubby, sulky presence of Shannon around, glooming and sighing about how nobody read his posts. Since the two of them had gotten together, they had achieved the mathematically impossible and posted less than zero times, as if the combined mass of their lack of input had made a black hole in Usenet and actually sucked up some of their messages. Since the sucked-up messages were Shannon’s unfinished stories and nobody had read them anyway, the whole amazing event hadn’t been noticed. Which was a shame, because it would have made Stephen Hawking jump out of his wheelchair.

Even considering this, Shannon had managed to complain about how boring the group had been, and how little they appreciated his efforts. He’d complained about this a lot, verbally rather than in text, where his complaints might have actually registered as posts to the newsgroup, and finally Morelin had gotten annoyed with it and volunteered him for the Wheel of Time Experience, which he had won, and that got him out of her hair for a while.

She hoped he was having fun, wherever he was.

Morelin was enjoying the solitude in a way most of her rabid followers in the cyber-slut world would have found very disappointing – by sitting on the couch, reading a paperback. And she was even wearing pants. The only sound was a ticking clock on the wall, and the endless drone of traffic outside.

And then a polite cough.

Morelin looked up. An extremely skinny, extremely under-dressed man stood in the doorway, looking embarrassed.

“Afternoon, miss,” Cooper Two said, hands on hips. “Your door was locked. Can you come and open the deadbolts for me, so I can get my clothes?”

 


 

The reception for the wedding of Mister See of Mayene and Rosie Cauthon was a colourful and noisy affair. The people of Emond’s Field were celebrating the injection of new liquid into a gene pool that had long since relinquished all claim to the lofty title of ‘pool’ and was now struggling valiantly to maintain ‘eyebath’ status. Mister C was mourning the fact that the aforementioned liquid was his liquid, and that he was too limb-reduced to make any sort of getaway unassisted by Chucky. And Chucky was in no fit state to offer assistance, celebrating as he was the greatest and most amusing gag he had played on Mister C since the fabulous Coke? No, This Is Pepsi gag of 1998.

“So,” Chucky said expansively, leaning back against the bar of the Winespring Inn, fluttering his freshly-washed cloak and securing his bagpipes over his shoulder, “what are you going to do? The ol’ Dave Lister ‘I just want to slip into something more comfortable’ trick? The Edmund Blackadder ‘I’m afraid the bride is not a virgin’ trick – which incidentally you can count me right out of in the help department? Or will you go for your classic?” Chucky grinned nastily. “The Mister C of 9 ‘I should have told you before, but I’m from Queensland’ trick?”

Mister C of 9 slurped angrily on his moonshine. Perrin had taken pity on him, and crafted a hat with a whisky bottle on the side, and a piece of hollow reed bent around from the neck of the bottle to the halfman’s mouth, so he could drink unaided. Mister C was doing so, slugging down neat hooch as if it was water. He was strapped to the bar so he could stand there without feet, but even if he’d had feet it was doubtful if his verticality would have been guaranteed by that time.

“Ung of ese ays, Hatgoy,” he gritted, “ung of ese ays. Oo ill reap the irl-ind.”

“I’m sure I will,” Chucky agreed happily. “In the meantime, get used to talking through that straw. You’re going to need a lot of whiskey.”

Behind the gleeman a huge man spun around, sloshed his giant clay pot of beer foam over Chucky’s cloak and bagpipes, roared with laughter, and slapped him on the back, causing him to spill his own dreadful booze onto his favourite Guinness shirt. “Blood and ashes, gleeman! Can’t hold your drink!” he laughed.

“Hick,” Chucky muttered, and returned to his anticipatory perusal of the wedding feast menu. It was amazing what these farmwives could rustle up at a moment’s notice. He wondered how much of the meat was trolloc.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“You called me a hick.”

Chucky shuffled his feet, aware that he was without backup. Normally the old ‘nothing’ trick worked. The hick would believe nothing had actually been said, and move on. This hick, however, was proving very persistent. And some of the other nearby hicks were pausing in their conversations and looking around.

“I wasn’t talking to you.”

“Oh? Who were you calling a hick, then? Him? Or him? Or his wife?”

“Oh for fuck’s…” Chucky sighed. “I didn’t say hick. I said…”

“You said hick. I heard you.”

“But not to you.”

“Who to?”

“To … him. Him over there. It’s an old joke, he doesn’t mind.”

Even the old ‘point vaguely over there’ trick didn’t work. “Who, specifically? What was his name?”

“His name? Oh, his name was, uh, his name…” Chucky glanced at Mister C for support, then rolled his eyes at his own stupidity. Mister C was looking on eyelessly, handlessly and footlessly, with a big grin. “Um, his name is … Billy … Joe-Bob … al’Peterson,” he ad-libbed desperately, and looked down at the menu in his hand. “Meatballs,” he added, then topped the whole thing off with, “Smith.”

The whole room fell silent, and there was a frightening sound of chairs scraping back and people ducking down behind tables. A murmuring, whispering, Western-salooney sort of noise filtered through the silence.

“He called Billy Joe-Bob al’Peterson Meatballs Smith a hick!”

“He couldn’t!”

“He wouldn’t dare!”

“Not Billy Joe-Bob al’Peterson Meatballs Smith!”

“A hick!”

A wide aisle opened up between Chucky and the Winespring Inn’s front door which, he noticed all of a sudden, had been widened and made a good deal taller since the last time he and Mister C had raised the roof with their tale of Druss. Then the widened, heightened doorway was eclipsed by a giant, craggy shape.

“I’se Billy Joe-Bob al’Pederzen Meadballz Smith,” the impossible looming shadow said, its voice as slow and inevitable as death by chess. “Whadz going on?”

Posted in Kussa mun hopoti? | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

That New Hellboy (a review)

My esteemed friend and associate Mr. Bloom of the excellent Toisto site loaned us this movie on Blu-ray. I don’t think he’s fully reviewed it on Toisto but he did have some good things to say about it and encouraged us to take a look.

I won’t go so far as to disagree with my lad Mr. Bloom here – the good things he had to say about the new Hellboy movie are definitely things I concur about. Overall, though, I think we’re going to need one more reboot.

Here’s the thing.

I enjoyed the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies. Like, all three of them. I don’t know that I loved them, but I enjoyed them. They had Bruce Campbell in them. They were fine. And the Amazing reboot came so hard on their heels and just stank up the place so much, I didn’t even bother watching them for a long time. I don’t think I’ve actually seen either one all the way through, just some bits with the electrical guy (was it Denzel Washington? Fuck me). Anyway, this isn’t about Spider-Man. Not really.

Then when they rebooted Spider-Man (I know, this isn’t about Spider-Man, I’m getting to that) again for the Avengers story, I was back on board and realised that yes, they got it right now, this is Spidey as he’s meant to be.

Same shit with Hellboy, only even more so. Because while I was mildly entertained by the Raimi Spider-Man movies and was there for Bruce, I really liked the Del Toro Hellboy movies and was there for Ron, Doug, Selma, and pretty much all the actors and characters and the story in general. It was, if not perfectly accurate to the comics (with which I am unfamiliar but I trust my sources), then at least a pretty spot-on film adaptation. And I can’t say a bad word about Del Toro’s vision. Every movie he touches turns to golden nightmare fuel of the most wonderful kind.

So, this movie is basically Amazing Hellboy. It felt like a movie they were making just to hold onto the intellectual property rights, even if that’s not what was happening. An attempt was made, as they say on the Internet these days. And now we can sit back and wait for the Dark Horse Expanded Universe re-reboot which will, once and for all, get it right and allow me to watch a Hellboy movie without saying “I miss the Ron Perlman ones.”

Because this wasn’t that. I knew, as soon as the metaphorical curtain went up and we were back in fucking King Arthur’s Britain and Merlin was there, that this wasn’t that. This was the one we had to have before we get to have that.

But still, for all this lengthy and whiny preamble, it wasn’t a horrible movie. It had some glimmering moments of greatness. It had some visually stunning scenes (particularly the attack of the apocalypse-monstrosities in the last ten minutes). It had, of course, a lot of hilariously brutal mega-violence and a certain amount of swearing. Which, you know, fine.

They were pretty damn amazing, for a few seconds. And there were a few others throughout the movie and some really nice visuals. Very Del Toro even if he wasn’t involved.

David Harbour, who we know and love from Stranger Things (and I didn’t even know it was him until I read about it later, I could not have picked it) did a pretty great job. No, he couldn’t do as well as Perlman, because Perlman has become the only possible movie Hellboy, until some as-yet unforeseen Tom Holland equivalent appears and makes us realise Perlman was kind of a Maguire. But he did a good job anyway. I am unfamiliar with the comic, like I say, but I think he got closer to the original comic character, and he was close enough to a raw version of the Perlman movie Hellboy that it was satisfying for a Perlman-Hellboy fanboy to watch.

Nope, still can’t see it.

He just didn’t have much to do, sadly. Just a lot of being thrown around and stabbed, then walking it off, then being bashed some more. Raimi would definitely have made Bruce Campbell do this shit. He got maybe two chuckle-aloud funny lines in the whole movie. The dialogue was bad, and the overall screenplay was a mess. I blame the writers for the former but not the latter, by the way. I feel like they did the best they could with a set of demands they could never have met. But it wouldn’t have killed them to give us better dialogue. They had David Harbour and Ian McShane. Ian McShane, for God’s sake!

You know what would be cool, and what I will be pretending was the case until further notice? That Hellboy and American Gods are part of the same universe and Professor Broom was Mister Wednesday all along, and we’re building up to a crossover. The mythos and worldbuilding wouldn’t even need to be changed!

There were a few other characters in it, chiefly Sasha Lane as Alice Monaghan (medium? Psychic? Witch?) Milla Jovovich as Blood Queen Nimue, and Daniel Dae Kim as Daimio. All of whom did the best they could with the material they were given, but were definitely let down by the material they were given.

“Why don’t we put her in charge?”

I was interested to read that Ed “Frances” Skrein had turned down the role of Daimio because of the whitewashing issue, incidentally. I think he made the right call, for several reasons. Daniel Dae Kim did a decent job with a not-particularly-compelling character, and everyone’s happy. I would have been disappointed to see Skrein there, he’s typecast for me now (after Deadpool and Alita) as a love-to-hate type of sneering jerk.

So, yeah. There it was. A messy and over-crowded set of plot events and scenes (just going the Spider-Man Homecoming route and taking out the origin story that was directly cribbed from the old movies anyway would have been one less set of scenes to follow), an absolutely stupid Chief Baddie’s Minion (whose story folded into the other characters’ back-stories nicely, but would have been better if the minion character himself had been literally anything but Bebop from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and a whole lot of pacing and dialogue issues made this a splattery bit of meh for our Sunday evening. It will come as no surprise to anyone that I award this movie an Amazing Spider-Man out of a possible Marvel Avengers Spider-Man.

Posted in Hatboy's Movie Extravaganza | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Farce of Heaven, Part 9

Sheriam landed near the Tower, and deposited Chucky carelessly on the ground.

“What are we doing here, exactly?” he asked, hefting his bagpipes and turning to look once again at the thing that had carried him through the World of Dreams, or World of Nightmares, or whatever World it had been. He’d looked before, but had somehow convinced himself that he hadn’t seen anything. He spun back around very quickly, and stared determinedly at the Tower of Ghenjei. “Remind me never to look at you again, okay?”

Sheriam, from the sounds Chucky couldn’t quite tune out, was preening.

“Do you find me distasteful to look at?” she asked. In another universe, from another entity, the words might have been, “does this miasma make me look fat?”

“Um, not exactly,” Chucky admitted, and caught himself before turning to look again. It was an overwhelming compulsion, like picking a mental scab. It wasn’t something he ever wanted to see again, but at the same time his brain was telling him it couldn’t possibly have been that bad. “What are we doing here?” he changed the subject. “And what was that … orange stuff under your … tail?” he changed the subject back just as quickly.

“Roe,” Sheriam said simply, “and you are here to play, when the time comes.”

“Anything in particular? Funeral stuff? Party stuff? Did you say ‘roe’?”

“Yes.”

“You mean, like, eggs?” Chucky wondered why he was still on this topic.

“Yes.”

“Um,” Chucky floundered for something else to talk about. “What are we going in here for do you mean you’re going to mate or something?”

“I am looking for answers,” Sheriam said simply. “We shall enter the Tower now.”

“I’m not sure if I can. I already went into both of these worlds, through the red doorways.”

“You can.”

Chucky stepped forward, and suddenly there was a flurry of activity. There was a swishy noise, and then some noises that he immediately erased from his mind. He was dimly aware of something striking him from behind, something hairy, and had time to register relief that it was hairy, because no part of Sheriam that he had seen had been hairy, and that meant it was something else. He felt teeth clamping on the back of his neck, and registered relief again. Maybe he was going to die. That might make it a bit more difficult for Sheriam to catch him.

Janica, too.

Then the hairy thing lifted off him, and the teeth eased. Chucky looked out of the corners of his eyes, and saw a wolf. It was staring at him with wide golden eyes and a fluffy, amazed look on its face. He looked out of his eyes’ other corners, and saw another wolf. This one was sniffing his bagpipes. There were a few other wolves behind her, panting. Her? Yes, it was a female.

He switched back to the original corners, and Perrin was sitting there, wiping his mouth.

“Chucky?” he said, astonished. “What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?” Chucky shot back reflexively.

“Hey!” the gleeman turned his head and saw one of the other wolves was glaring and bristling. It also looked like it was trying to change to human form – there were occasional flickers of opposable thumbs and the ears vacillated wildly – but it remained lupine. “Don’t be using my lines now, bi-otch.”

Chucky squinted.

“Satters?”

He looked at the other wolves. The female sat back, blurred, and became Berelain the First of Mayene, sitting on the grass looking smug. The other, a white-muzzled male, shifted into a grizzled-looking old man with long hair and a pair of rabbit-skin pants. The rest of the wolves went on watching, or circling, but didn’t seem to be changing shape at all.

“What are you all doing here?” he demanded. “And how did Berelain get to be a wolfbrother, um, wolfsister?”

“Perrin bit me,” the First of Mayene shifted elegantly back to her wolf-form.

“We’re Dreaming,” Perrin replied. “Berelain and I are near the Two Rivers, Satsujinkinoam is somewhere in the Jangai Pass, and Elyas won’t tell us where he is. We were getting together in the Wolf Dream, having a little pack-meet. It was Cyberwollf’s idea, but she left a while ago. We caught the trail of some strange interloper, and followed it here. It attacked the nightmare that was menacing you, and the two of them disappeared,” he paused uneasily. “The question is, Chucky my old Gentleman’s Club Colleague, what are you doing here? In the flesh?”

“It wasn’t my idea,” Chucky said miserably. “I was just minding my own business, when Sheriam hijacked me.”

“That thing was Sheriam?” Satters went completely wolf, but his voice somehow translated itself to Chucky’s ears. “I can’t believe I ate my food next to her.”

“She changed somehow, and…” Chucky trailed off. “You seem very … collected right now,” he commented. “I haven’t seen you dribble any foam at all.”

“You should have seen him when we were on the chase,” Machera said dryly.

“Being around his own kind tends to calm him,” Perrin added. “Now, we have to get you out of here. If you come back with us to where our bodies are sleeping, we’ll see if there’s some way of pulling you free,” he climbed to his feet, and somewhere in the middle of the movement he blended back into the heavy, shaggy form of Young Bull. “Do you think you can follow us, two-legs?”

“Do you have to talk like a racist cartoon Injun just because you’re in wolf-form? My name’s Chucky.”

“It is the way of things, two-legs,” Berelain said primly.

“Yeah, okay,” Chucky muttered. “Lead the way, six-boobs.”

The rest of the wolves were separating, flashing away on their separate paths, to other parts of the Dream or to their waking bodies. Chucky fell in between Perrin and Berelain, slinging his pipes once again over his shoulder, and together they began to accelerate in effortless bounds, crossing hill and forest and river.

“Did you say you were chasing something?” Chucky said to pass the time.

“Yes,” Perrin replied.

“Was it Slayer? Did he attack Sheriam?”

“Slayer?” Berelain exclaimed, her hackles rising. “Who told you about him?”

“I learned it in gleeman school,” Chucky said quickly. “So if it wasn’t him, who was it you were chasing?”

“It was a thing,” Perrin said, and suddenly grinned. “It’ll make a great story for our next Club meeting. Elyas and Hopper think it was some sort of remnant from the Primal Howl that recently tore through the Wolf Dream.”

“The Primal what?”

“Oh, it’s something that happens when a lot of repressed memories come churning up through the Dream,” Perrin explained. “It brings dead wolves with it, and all sorts of nasty things. We don’t know what caused this one. Anyway, it was a giant flying penis, so it had to be some sort of repressed emotion.”

“A giant flying penis.”

“Yeah,” Perrin laughed. “It even had a mouth.”

“It was puerile,” Berelain declared.

“And it … attacked … Sheriam,” Chucky was hating his brain for the dots it was currently joining together, wholly uninvited, on the inside of his skull. He was trying to watch where he was going, so as not to bound off in the wrong direction and lose his little animal guides, but his eyes were seeing thick, glistening orange clumps of Sheriam-roe.

“Well, not so much attacked,” Young Bull clarified. “It more sort of … I don’t know, rammed her. And then they sort of rolled away together, squelching.”

Chucky remained silent for several more of the mile-devouring Dream-leaps.

“I’d like to get out of here now,” he said.

 


 

“So, here we are.”

Chucky looked around. The little group had finally stopped in their leaping charge, and they were now standing in the awfully familiar setting of Emond’s Field. It was still the strange flickering twilight of Tel’aran’rhiod, but the town was easily recognisable. Occasionally, limp banners would appear and vanish over the inn and a couple of the houses. Wolf’s head and eagle, and a big one with Perrin’s face on it, which Chucky couldn’t remember from the story. Being in the World of Dreams in the flesh was slowly beginning to lose its appeal, and Chucky was beginning to feel decidedly uneasy. He wanted to get out of the place before Slayer turned up – or, worse, Sheriam.

“Any idea how you’re going to do this?” he asked the two wolves politely. The rest of the dream-pack had scattered, leaving just Perrin and Berelain to escort the gleeman to the Two Rivers. “Have you ever taken a person out of Tel’aran’rhiod before?”

“Nope,” Perrin admitted, switching to human form, “but how difficult can it be?”

“Was that a rhetorical question?”

“How can I tell if it’s a rhetorical question if I don’t know what ‘rhetorical’ means?”

“Not now,” Berelain said, shifting to human form and talking in a swift, no-nonsense tone. “I was thinking that maybe it took a channeler to bring a person whole into the Dream, but it doesn’t necessarily take the One Power. None of us can channel,” she looked at Chucky. “Can we?”

“For fuck’s sake, no, okay? How many times?” Chucky sighed. “So, what are we going to do?”

“We will use need,” Berelain said, “except instead of using it to move us from one place to another, we will use it to open a doorway through which you can walk. We will all concentrate on the same place at the same time, and think the same thing as strongly as we can,” she pointed. “We’ll put the doorway there.”

Chucky shrugged, glared at the empty patch of street, and tried to concentrate on creating a way out.

It was amazingly easy. Or perhaps not so amazing, considering that Chucky, Perrin and Berelain had all seen Sheriam quite close-up. At first the door was misty, then it flashed in and out of existence like a badly-tuned radio, but soon it solidified and gained detail. It was an actual wooden door, which Chucky supposed was a subconscious symbol, standing in the street attached to nothing, its planks rough-sawn and nailed together solidly, the knob a battered brass shape without adornment. Soon, under their combined concentration, the image stabilised and gained depth. Chucky reached for the knob.

“Hey, Chucky,” Perrin said, smiling faintly. The gleeman looked back. “You know how, when you enter Tel’aran’rhiod in the flesh, it’s said that you leave a part of yourself behind each time?”

“Yes,” Chucky said carefully. “What about it?”

“Well, do you think the part you leave behind could be your bagpipes?”

Still growling under his breath, Chucky swung open the door and stepped through into the exact same street he’d been standing in before, as if he’d just walked through a wooden archway standing in the middle of the road. But a few significant details were different.

First of all, it was broad daylight, a sunny mid-morning that looked to be shaping up as a lovely day indeed, if you like that sort of thing. Secondly, the flickering shadowy details all either vanished or resolved into solidity – the wolf’s head, the Eagle of Manetheren, and the gaudy icon of Perrin’s face with GOLDUNISE daubed underneath its bearded grin, were all fluttering proudly above the Winespring Inn. Thirdly, which was a relief, the feeling of unease and soul-drainedness that Chucky usually only felt after accidentally channel-hopping onto a daytime chat show, had faded as soon as his mortal coil had uncoiled from the mass-unconscious of Andor. Fourthly, which wasn’t so much of a relief, the thick, rustic stench of Emond’s Field (or, possibly, Emond’s Cesspit) assailed his nostrils with a vengeance.

Fifthly, he’d opened his doorway and stepped into the middle of the street just as a man pulling a litter behind him had passed through the same region of spacetime. Chucky was pitched over suddenly into the thin, pale, screaming face of a thin, pale, screaming man who had just been separated from the handles of his pallet, his sweating attendant and, perhaps most importantly, his feet.

 


 

It was cooler on this side of the Spine of the World, which wasn’t saying much. The gai’shain had already set up the tents of the Wise Ones, around which the rest of the mass would slowly begin gathering. The Dragon Reborn, his attendants and sub-Chiefs and Wise Ones and Shannon, had begun setting out a place for themselves even as the Aiel nation continued to march around them. Thousands of men and women were descending from the mountains, following the Car’a’carn, and there were bound to be difficulties in getting so large a group moving in the morning, and stopping them at night.

Janica had vowed that if anybody tried to make her part of that problem, she would quite noisily make them part of the landscape.

Whatever agency was responsible for replacing the Shaido with an equally destructive force somehow capable of using gateways – all-too-available facts still seemed to indicate Seanchan – they hadn’t stopped upon entering the Wetlands. Farms and villages and even the walled city of Selean were blackened, rent asunder by detonations of the One Power, and riddled with extraordinarily wide gateway-slashes. The latter bothered Janica more than the impaled bodies she couldn’t see and the wounded Aiel honour she couldn’t care less about. If the enemy had access to gateways, why did they seem to be making their way through the pass in some sort of pattern? Why were they burning and killing in the path of the Aiel, when they could feasibly go anywhere – and in great numbers, looking at the slice-marks? And why were they taking such apparently huge numbers of prisoners?

Somebody was sticking to the Shaido modus operandi all too closely, upsetting the Aiel a great deal, and at the same time doing entirely their own thing. Janica didn’t like it.

Janica also didn’t like the fluttering coloured patches of the gleecloak in the misty edge of her peripheral vision. Because the person cringing and smiling in an eager-to-please way inside the cloak was a thoroughly cowed Forsaken. The person cringing and smiling in an eager-to-please way inside the cloak should have been her husband.

On the plus side, the Wise Ones had mostly fallen into line. They’d growled and sworn and sulked, but Janica was used to all that. They’d even threatened her physically, a problem she’d solved by the usual expedient of standing chin-to-sternum with the offending woman, glaring up at her, and asking how stupid she’d look trying to beat up somebody as small as Janica. This had appealed to their sense of decorum, if nothing else.

Only Amys had failed to take this under advisement, and she now sat glowering in the corner of the tent, her hair tied up in ribbons and her hands slowly wringing the dolly she’d been forced to make by her fellow Wise Ones. She stared unseeing into the heaped truckload of toh she’d accumulated towards Janica in the process of being drubbed by her peers. The rest of the Wise Ones, under the no-nonsense direction of Sorilea, ignored her completely.

“The Car’a’carn must stand up to the Clan Chiefs,” Sorilea was saying. “If they think he is soft, they will not follow him. And the Clans will not follow. The Car’a’carn must be-”

“Whew!”

Janica turned and looked at the vague outline in the tent doorway, and a sustained burst of irritation from the a’dam told her it was the Warder.

“Well?” she asked.

“A shit,” Forsaken_1 said with proudly. “A very palpable shit.”

Janica sighed. “What’s the mood among the Aiel?”

The camouflage-cloaked buffoon gave a chuckle. “Apart from the ones closest to the longdrop?”

“Apart from them,” Janica said with infinite patience. “The leftover Shaido. The ones Someshta spoke to and gave a dose of the bleakness. The Maidens. What’s the mood among the Maidens of the Spear?”

“Gee,” Janica could hear his pleased grin. “Ehh, toey,” he laughed. “Get it?”

“It was bad enough when the Aiel thought members of the Shaido were out there killing people and breaking the ways of the Aiel and everything,” Janica said. “Now that they think it’s channelers of some sort, there’s no telling what they might do.”

“Gee-ehh-toey.”

“They accept the ways of the Wise Ones,” Sorilea replied, “and they will bear the Aes Sedai of course, but they do not know anything of these new enemies. If they are Aes Sedai, then the Aiel will not fight.”

“They’re nae Aes Sedai,” Janica assured the assembled Wise Ones. “It’s possible that they’re Darkfriends, maybe of a similar kind to … Debs and myself. But under the control of one or another of the Forsaken themselves.”

“This makes things still more difficult,” Bair declared. “If they are your kind, there will be no reason for anybody to trust you.”

Ji’e’toh-ey. Oh come on, that was good.”

“Ye c’n trust us,” Debs growled, “but ye’re gonna have tae listen tae us aboot thengs. Leek, who’s an enemy and who is’nae one. Ye’re gonna have tae trust us, e’en if ye danna want tae.”

“I didn’t understand a fucking word she just said,” Sorilea snapped.

“We’ll deal with the Seanchan, or whoever it turns out to be, when the time comes,” Janica assured the Wise Ones. “But until the time comes, we’ll have to keep things just between us.”

“Ji’e-glumpf.”

Debs tied off the weave, smiled with satisfaction, and turned back to the Aiel women. Forsaken_1 flailed helplessly and – most importantly – in complete silence. “You worry aboot the Car’a’carn,” she said, “an’ leave the rest tae us.”

“Easily said,” Sorilea grumbled, “but less easily done. Our apprentice is surly and refuses to get close to the fool man,” she gestured at the silent shape of Nancy Sidesaddle, who was sitting on the far side of Jasin Natael and evidently wishing she wasn’t part of the discussion. “She hasn’t been beaten enough.”

Natael stifled a giggle and plucked innocently on his lute. “I have done my best to talk with the Car’a’carn, revered Wise Ones,” he said politely, “and it seems to me that he suffers a great deal. The rough tongue of the Sidesaddle woman, and other such underhanded methods of gaining his ear, do not seem the best way to go about it.”

“If I wanted your opinion, Wetlander, I’d have walked over to the fuckwit tree, looked upwards, and said, ‘what is your opinion, Wetlander?’,” Sorilea retorted. The Wise Ones may have decided to mind their manners where Janica and Debs were concerned, but it certainly didn’t apply to the strange flutter-cloaked dandy who was for some reason allowed a place in the company of Wise Ones and Aes Sedai. “So until then, shut the fuck up.”

Asmodean took a deep, calming breath and smiled. A second later, Moiraine burst into the tent.

“What the fuck have you done to my Warder?” she demanded.

 


 

“Are you okay?” Chucky climbed to his hands and knees, and blinked down at the whimpering thing on the pallet. It tried to knee him in the groin, but he jumped back in time and got away with only a nasty splattering of thick, black blood over his tracksuit pants.

“Cunty fucky shit poo shit fucker fucko fuck!”

Chucky stood, wiped ineffectually at the inky discharge, and looked embarrassedly around the presently-deserted street. Behind him, a tall man with long hair and a tight leather shirt was standing with a long wooden pole in each hand and a pair of shoes surrounded by more black goo by his feet. He was staring at them in stricken astonishment.

He looked back at the thrashing apparition on the makeshift stretcher. He looked at the shirt.

“C?”

Mister C of 9 stopped gurgling long enough to rock up into a sitting position, trying to stem the bloodflow from his severed ankles but failing because, Chucky suddenly realised, he had no hands.

“Jesus, man,” he said, crouching back down, “what happened to you?”

Mister C reached up with the stump of his left wrist and dashed the sunglasses off his face. The eyeless stare chilled Chucky to his bones, but the pure fury was the icing on the cake.

“Oh nothing,” the myrddraal gritted. “Nothing at all. I just saved the world and this is the thanks I get. Now take me to Sharky’s mill so I can bleed on him.”

Chucky stood up carefully, walked over to the pair of shoes, and picked them up. The leather-shirted man went on staring.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but you need to stop this bleeding,” Chucky said. “I can’t believe you got this far without doing something about it. Not much good having a nice litter if you don’t stop the bleeding from your injuries.”

“I was perfectly alright three seconds ago!” Mister C of 9 snapped as the gleeman dug the feet out of the shoes, and peeled off the socks with a grimace. “The Great Eagles dropped us just outside of town, and Samwise was helping me back to Bag End so I could recover from the trip. And then you came dropping out of nowhere like a giant tub of shit, with that fucking gateway of yours!”

“Oh. Right, that makes a lot more sense, yeah,” Chucky crouched back down, shouldered his pipes, and tied a sock around each cleanly-severed ankle in a crude tourniquet. “Bag End, huh?”

“Never mind that now,” C growled. “Samwise, why are you just standing there?”

“You’ve harmed the Great Lord,” the leather-shirted man said. He advanced, raising the two poles threateningly. “I should kill you where you stand!” he looked questioningly at the halfman.

“No,” Mister C said, grudgingly.

“Very decent of you,” Chucky said.

“Wait until I’m better, and I’ll kill him myself,” C went on. He raised his right arm, and a little … thing wobbled in the sleeve somewhere below the elbow. “They grow back, you see. Sooner or later, they all grow back.”

“All’s well that ends well, then,” Chucky said, pleased.

“Oh yes,” Mister C said, his voice quiet and daydreamy. He leaned over, pushed back his sleeve with his left wrist, and a tiny white hand emerged from the cloth. He picked up his sunglasses, and navigated them slowly and carefully back onto his face. “Oh yes, all will be well.”

“Now, what was this about Sharky?” Chucky said. “Don’t tell me you’re still thrashing that Lord of the Rings horse.”

“Is the Shire or is the Shire not being scourged?”

Chucky looked at the banners.

“I suppose it might be,” he admitted.

“Ha!”

“But it’s not Saruman, or Sharky, or whoever,” he went on. “I’m not sure who it is – last time I checked, Padan Fain was in the Spine of the World. It was meant to be him, and a bunch of Whitecloaks, but I don’t think that has happened now,” he thought about it for a moment, wiping his hands on his gleecloak. “It might be Lord Luc, or some other pack of Darkfriends. There might be trollocs, which means we can use you to scare them away.”

“And Wormtongue?” Mister C collapsed weakly back onto his pallet.

“I don’t know,” Chucky admitted. “Let’s go and see Perrin, and find out what’s been going on. I’ll tell him how you saved the world, if you want.”

“Do that,” C said weakly. “And tell him to find Rosie Cotton and get the Party Tree ready. Samwise wants to get married as soon as possible.”

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The Farce of Heaven, Part 8

http://www.bbc.news.co.uk/~breakingnews/Jordan.htm”

Org sighed. He hated Squiggle-Brian-Squiggle so much. He always found links and posted them before Org could, and Org so liked to look clever. It was difficult enough to look clever at the best of times, but he needed to get up very early in the morning to pretend to know something before Squiggle-Brian-Squiggle did. The damned American had learned to post links before he’d learned to talk. In fact, he may not have actually learned to talk yet.

He certainly hadn’t learned to sing.

The responses, as he scrolled down, were about what he’d come to expect.

“This is ironic!” Akantha said.

“No it’s not,” replied Ilya promptly. The incoherent Russian, in the absence of Chucky and Janica, seemed to be overcompensating, particularly when it came to Americans who wouldn’t know irony from their elbows. He disagreed with everything, even when he shouldn’t. Especially when he shouldn’t, actually. Org didn’t like that – he considered it to be his job, and Ilya did it … well, if not better, then at least more loudly. “You wouldn’t know irony if it haloed a basketball and coruscated with coriolis Coruscant television!”

That was another thing. Wasn’t babbling utter crap also Org’s job? Org clicked ‘next’ with an annoyed finger, resolving for about the fifth time to stop trying to smoke goat-hair and try to get his hands on some actual drugs sometime. If he wanted to stay current in this game, he knew, he’d have to enhance himself. Ilya obviously did.

“Actually it is sort of ironic,” Aaron Sanders chimed in regular as clockwork, defending his countrywoman. “We’ve been talking about it for so long, and now it’s finally happened. That’s how the dictionary defines ‘irony’.”

“That’s not what ‘ironic’ means,” Mark Whitaker objected. “You can talk about Martians landing on Earth for a long time, and it isn’t ironic when it happens.”

“It would be if they landed on a fish,” Ilya helped.

“It’s ironic the way it happened,” Akantha burbled. “A fan, that’s ironic, because we’re fans and it makes me feel sort of ironic.”

Akantha tended to use the word ‘ironic’ the way the United States used the United Nations: disrespectfully, inappropriately, and when nothing else came readily to hand or mind. And in a state of blissful unawareness of the fact that the rest of the world was looking on in mixed horror and amusement.

“I’m just ironic to hear it,” she concluded.

“It’s very bad news,” Lorna commented, “and I mean that as a true bisexual Wiccan.”

“It’s not bad news,” Wubbles refuted decisively. “It means they’ll actually get somebody with talent to finish the series and we’ll all be better off for it. Or they won’t finish it at all and we’ll be even more better off. Or they’ll publish the remaining notes and let us finish it. Penis,” he added.

Org sighed again and opened the link.

BESTSELLING AUTHOR MURDERED!

Marilyn Manson CDs Destroyed in Mass Quantities by Steamroller.

A tragedy has occurred in the offices of Tor Publishing in New York City. James Oliver Rigney, Jnr., author (under the pseudonym Robert Jordan) of Tor flagship-novels The Wheel of Time, has been killed by a crazed fan of the series. The man, described by witnesses as ‘very thin, with imitation fangs and a clearly insane look in his eyes,’ broke into the offices as the famous author was making a brief visit for editing purposes. The suspect was then seen by several witnesses, staggering around and talking in what was tentatively identified as a made-up language from the Wheel of Time novels.

He allegedly leapt at Mister Rigney and bludgeoned him to death with a blunt instrument that police and witnesses have confirmed as a porcelain decoration of some description. A leak to the press has identified this object as a replica of an artifact described in the book as being one of the seven seals of Hell. The object was ritually broken in the assault, and the perpetrator made a disorganised escape. He was later apprehended by police and placed in custody, but escaped from a locked cell in suspicious circumstances, killing seven officers, two police dogs, three squirrels and a pizza delivery boy. The NYPD and the NYPD Canine Unit are hot on the heels of the perpetrator. Protestors have lodged a formal complaint at the Bureau of Environmental Protection on behalf of the squirrels, which are a protected species.

The crime has been linked to heavy metal music as a major influence, and experts have pointed out the similarities between the execution and images filmed in a recent Marilyn Manson music video…

Org stopped reading.

Robert Jordan dead! It was like some sort of wonderful dream. Wubbles was right. With the blocks pulled out from under the creative machine, and some pithy young note-scraper behind the wheel, somebody who would progress the story quickly and brutally, killing off characters and resolving storylines and failing to describe every room right down to the cornices. Did rooms have cornices? Who cared? That was the point. He was sure the people at Tor had racks of eager young copywriters and assistant editors willing to take on the job of finishing what Jordan’s appetite for caviar couldn’t allow him to finish.

There was only one problem, and unfortunately bruce had already brought it up.

“What if this is a hoax?” he asked in that achingly reasonable tone of his, that somehow came across in text form. “It sounds like big news, and we’ve always worried that Jordan might die before the series was finished, and worried about what might happen next, but remember the aliens with cancer?”

Everybody remembered the aliens with cancer.

“Wasn’t that true, though?” Aaron Sanders demanded. “The guy who posted it was stationed at Area 51, where they test saucer-shaped military aircraft. He was there. I don’t see how anybody could doubt the truth of his post.”

“The BBC news website editor worked at Area 51? How did you arrive at that conclusion?” Whitaker exploded.

“Oh look, he’s disagreeing with me, what a surprise,” Sanders responded promptly. “Do you actually believe what you’re saying this time, or are you just disagreeing for the sake of saying the opposite of what I’ve said? Jeez, would it kill you to just agree with me or back up my points or find evidence for me once in a while?”

“I was so surprised I jumped back from my computer and bumped my irony!” Akantha exclaimed.

All the best responses were taken, all the behavioural niches were filled, and once again Org was at a loss. In the end, he decided to respond to the news by not posting any replies to any of the messages, except a couple of completely random and pointless posts featuring phrases like ‘your teh suck’, and by putting off the website updates by another month. It was a sign of how much the story had upset him, that he automatically responded in his regular default way.

And life went on.

 


 

Dr. Nick and Cyberwollf padded through Tel’aran’rhiod side by side. That is to say, Cyberwollf padded, and Dr. Nick walked normally. He’d tried to take a wolf form – since he’d learned to walk the Dream as an extension course in Wolf Dreaming and he wasn’t sure if the twisted stone ring ter’angreal even worked, it seemed fitting – but he’d proved unable to maintain a steady form. Plus, when he started to run, his ears caught the wind, turned inside out, and almost flipped him over nose-first into his own asshole.

The World of Dreams seemed to have settled back, more or less, to normal. Occasionally, the landscape itself would go ‘blop’ and dispense a thick bubble as though the whole scene were drawn on a piece of celluloid, under which a cigarette lighter had been lit. The bubble would pop, and there was either a weird smell of vanilla, or a muted nattering of horrified, frightened voices. The first couple of times it happened, Dr. Nick was afraid they might be Bubbles of Evil from the Dark One, but these seemed to be more or less harmless. He concluded that they were most likely aftershocks from the de-repression cascade. Nobody had been of any help about the phenomenon, but at least the damage seemed to be healing itself and they weren’t in any more danger. In fact, the bubbles seemed to be most concentrated around the place where, in the waking world, the Ogier would be sitting around their tiny campfire, worrying about the fact that everybody seemed to be asleep and they were all alone.

“Maybe we should go back and get some proper sleep now,” Dr. Nick suggested as they reached the approximate location of their campsite and the wagon with its load of drugged annoyances. “Did you find the stuff you wanted to find?”

Cyberwollf barked once, which Dr. Nick knew was code for “yes” or “danger, Will Robinson, danger.”

“Good.”

They’d flitted around Tar Valon for a while, but hadn’t made much progress. The White Tower was certainly infested with Darkfriends at this point, but an alarming amount of the town was … shielded, somehow. All the buildings and furniture and things were faint and semi-transparent and colourless, and the Aielman’s hands went straight through them when he tried to pick things up. Details were blurred. It was obviously some mass-ward on the Dreamscape, most likely constructed by a frightening number of evil channelers operating at peak efficiency and with the knowledge of aeons behind them.

He wondered, again, why they were heading directly towards the place.

So then they’d done their best to get to Salidar, which was where the rebel Aes Sedai were meant to be heading. They weren’t sure if that would still happen now, because the Tower hadn’t been so much broken as swallowed, but if there were Aes Sedai and Warders who had escaped the net, and they were narrative-characters, Dr. Nick found it pretty plausible that they might meet in Salidar anyway. He thought they should turn the wagon that way, and rid themselves of the wondergirls once and for all.

Cyberwollf was of a different mind. The story had been altered a great deal, and it wasn’t just the good guys. Somebody was helping the Darkfriends. That itself wasn’t much of a revelation – Cybes had known the Monkeys for a long time – but if she and Dr. Nick knew about Salidar, it was a fair bet that the Darkfriends did as well. Which could spell some kind of trap. And if the person – Cyberwollf had already taken to calling this person by the wolf-name Shadow Monkey – got hold of Nynaeve and Elayne, and their power and skill, and Min, with her visions … it could spell trouble, as well.

She barked again, concentrated, and let herself drift into normal sleep. In the flickering shadows near the campfire, her paws stopped twitching and she sat up.

Dr. Nick looked around, and sighed as he saw some telltale flashes at about waist-height nearby. The women in the wagon were coming out of their drug-slumber, and returning to deep, ordinary sleep. That wouldn’t do.

Then he was shocked awake by a cold, wet nose on his neck.

“Blurgh,” he opened his eyes. Cyberwollf sat down and grinned at him. “I thought we were just going to get some proper sleep.”

“Woof woof.”

“Well, you’re right. I need to give the girls some more tea.”

“Woof.”

“How are the-” he turned to the campfire, and stopped. “The Ogier are gone.”

“Woof.”

“But the bubbles,” he insisted. “They were right here,” he walked across to the fire, and down. They’d written him a note. He picked it up. It was a small novel. He admired the cover, which was leather pressed with a little brand depicting a group of Ogier sitting around a campfire. As he leafed through the first couple of pages, it became increasingly obvious to him that Coarshus, Frendli, Wyse and Hoarni had spent a truly Ogierish length of time composing what was, to them, a hasty and rather thoughtless message explaining where they’d gone and why. It hadn’t just taken them most of that night. They’d probably been working on it for the past three or four nights, while they sat in an assortment of camps and watched everybody sleep. In fact, according to chapter three, Three Days and Four Nights To Explain Things To Matt, they’d spent three days and four nights coming up with the note. And from the look of the fire, and the bubbles in Tel’aran’rhiod, they’d only just left.

He skipped to the epilogue.

There was a groan from the wagon, and the four concerned Ogier were suddenly certain that everybody would be waking up soon, and perhaps worrying about them. So they left the note lying beside the fire, and stole away to see the circus, because they really didn’t think anybody would mind. The end…” he turned the page. “…?,” he added. “They’ve left room for a sequel, at least.”

Cyberwollf sat back down, and sighed deeply.

“Circus,” Dr. Nick frowned. “Do you know what they’re talking about?”

“Woof,” Cybes replied reluctantly.

“There’s a circus going on nearby?” Dr. Nick hadn’t paid much attention to the landmarks and traffic during their journey to date. Most of the time, he’d been in a state of near-unconsciousness due to lack of real sleep.

“Woof.”

“And it’s been travelling in much the same direction as us for the past few days?”

“Woof.”

“Close enough for the Ogier to maybe hear it at night while they’re sitting here watching all of us sleep?”

“Woof.”

“Oh,” he thought about it. “Oh wait,” he said, as several pieces fell into place. “It’s not Valan Luca’s menagerie with the elephants and the tightrope, is it?”

“Woof.”

“Oh,” he thought about it again. “Do you think we should try to stop the Ogier before they get there?”

“Woof.”

 


 

Mister C of 9 sat up.

He was quite pleased. Now that he’d run the Lord of the Rings storyline right through to its conclusion, it should have purged it all from his system, leaving him ready to get on with more important business. It was a process of cleansing that any psychiatrist would be proud to have recommended.

“Sam?” he looked around, then caught himself. Sam? That wasn’t right. The unconscious figure lying near his feet wasn’t Sam. Had he purged everything after all?

No.

He smiled, impressed at his analysis. Of course, The Lord of the Rings didn’t end here. He was still in Mount Doom. For complete closure, he’d need to return to the Shire and stop Saruman from starting the Industrial Revolution.

He sat up, and reached out to shake Logainwise into wakefulness.

And then, of course, he remembered that he had no hands.

He looked at the ragged, bleeding stump of his left wrist, and the tiny wriggling white forearm that was growing out of the stump of his right elbow, about two inches long, the bones as brittle as fried chicken and the skin like paper. It was quite useless. He sighed, and kicked his loyal friend instead of shaking him.

“Get up! You need to carry my stuff. And also me.”

Logain groaned, and raised his head.

“What happened, Great Lord?” he rubbed his eyes, pressed his fingers to his temples, and clambered to his hands and knees. “I tried to use Callandor, then…” he shook his head. “Then there was pain, and a crushing sensation, and saidin was gone,” he looked at his master, and suddenly noticed the significant piano-playing challenges he was facing. “Great Lord, you’re hurt!”

“Very fucking observant of you.”

“Let me help you.”

“Um, let me think. Okay.”

Logain staggered to his feet, and then bent to pick up his transparent swords, and Stormbringer Sting Snaga, and their bags, and finally turned to Mister C of Bag End. The myrddraal was lighter than the two Callandors, and Logain shouldered him without much effort.

“Ow. I’ve got a sword hilt jammed in my lower back.”

“Sorry, Mister Frodo.”

“Ow. Now it’s in my kidneys.”

“Sorry.”

“Ow. I have kidneys on that side, too. Now my baby-skulls are coming off. Ow.”

“Are you sure you can’t walk, Great Lord?”

“Don’t make me fire you. You need me.”

By this time Logain had staggered down the wide, gently-sloping tunnel to its entrance, and the looming shape of a second halfman stepped out of the gloom. Mister C turned his head and frowned at the myrddraal eyelessly.

“That’s my cloak,” he said petulantly.

“It’s a bit big for you, I’m afraid,” Shaidar Haran said, “but we’ll see about getting you a new one if you like. That’s what I’m here for. Any help you might need, you’re welcome to it. We owe you that much for destroying the … you know.”

Mister C of 9’s frown deepened. “I thought you were meant to die.”

Shaidar Haran had just become a good deal more powerful with the destruction of another of the Seals, but the Nae’blis had given him his lines and he was cheerfully determined to deliver them as well as possible. As far as he was concerned he was looking at a defective halfman and a hilariously botched turning-job, but the Powers That Be tended to disagree. And it had gotten one of the Seals broken, so Shaidar Haran did his job.

“Oh no,” he said, “not dead. Saved. The Seal was destroyed and we were all freed.”

Mister C of 9 sighed. That was such a typically American lamening of a good story. Freed. Saved. Oh, the cry of the wild Televangelist. He could weep. Except he’d have to do it through his nose because he had no eyes, and he’d have to get Samwise to hold the hanky while he had a good blow, because he had no ever-fucking hands left.

“Do you want some dembas?” Shaidar Haran asked in a solicitous voice.

Lembas,” Mister C corrected absently.

“That too.”

“We should wait here for the eagles,” he said to Logain, who stopped and let his swords and bags fall readily enough. Shaidar Haran helped set the weary myrddraal on his feet, of which he still had two, at least. For now. “Gwaihir the Windlord and Landroval and Meneldore the Swift will be coming to find us, and bear us home.”

“Fliers, you say?” Shaidar Haran nodded, and spoke quietly into the collar of his cloak. He was in constant communication with the Nae’blis anyway, but Angamael preferred it when the Hand of the Dark spoke into his collar. It looked more professional. In the New Order, everybody was professional, everybody talked to everybody else, and everything was organised. Their new allies already had a network, and Shaidar Haran had high-level access to their flight patterns. “I’m sure they’re on their way. Grayhere and-”

“Gwaihir.”

“Yes. And Landrover and Men Galore. Oh look, there they are now. I’ll be off. Congratulations again,” Shaidar Haran stepped into the shadows leewards of the tumbled stones beside the tunnel entrance, and vanished. Seconds later, three great raken settled on the slopes of Mount Doom.

“Ach! Need a reed, do ye, begorrah?”

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The Farce of Heaven, Part 7

The offices of Tor were in an uproar, assistants and assistant editors and assistant editing assistants and Hans the janitor running around every which way, cleaning and hiding offensive sticky notes and making sure everything was in its place.

Today was a big day. Today, rather than sitting at home and writing half a page of his next novel, Mister James Oliver Rigney, Jnr., was coming for an inspection tour. And that meant that everything had to be just so.

Hans and his minions were mucking out editors’ booths. Usually this was an easy task, since editors were a tidy subspecies given to meticulosity of nature and regular routines which allowed them to rearrange their little kingdoms and groom one another frequently. At Tor Publishing, however, the editors had gone feral. Long neglect, year upon year of being left to their own devices without so much as a pamphlet of written material to cut down, had driven the editors to slovenly and disgraceful degeneration. They were slobby, half-dressed, encrusted with burritos and their own filth. Only the Grand High Editor, the Almighty Harriet, had any input in the editing process, and that was usually along the lines of a rumbled, “this is too good to touch,” or “what are they wearing? The readers deserve to know.”

“I need a mop over here!” one of the sub-janitors cried, trying to fend off a rabid editor with his standard-issue squeegee. The bedraggled academic was slavering and ranting about adverbs, clothing descriptions as the backbone of civilised society, and closed-circuit Email. One of the embattled man’s comrades threw him a mop, which he snatched out of the air and used to push the yowling apparition back into his booth, where a third janitor hurled a bucket of soapy water to the accompaniment of piercing reeeeeees.

Wilson Paperclip made his way serenely past the battlefield and into quieter, calmer parts of the building. The cafeteria was gleaming in a way he doubted it had gleamed even when new. The corridors leading up to the office of the Head Publisher were vacuumed and shampooed in preparation, and the entrance to Paperclip’s modest private office had been liberally scrubbed, even though he kept it habitually clean.

He stepped inside.

The filing cabinets gleamed, the computer tower hummed softly and the monitor glowed with a screensaver featuring the Tor and Wheel of Time logos bouncing back and forth like Pong balls. The modem, all the intricacy and power of Paperclip’s True Masters contained within its neither eldritch nor gibbous (and entirely unbatrachian, although occasionally as it dialled up it did sound somewhat like a whippoorwill) beige plastic casing, displayed a row of green lights. Everything seemed to be in place and, Wilson Paperclip thought, it all looked innocent enough to the foolish passer-by.

“Ah, Paperclip,” the huge, ruddy face of the Head Publisher popped around the doorframe in an amusingly timely manner. “I was just passing by.”

“Of course you were, sir,” Paperclip said, folding his hands and smiling expectantly. “Is … Mister Rigney, is he on his way?”

“We’ve got a few minutes,” the Head Publisher stepped into the office and closed the door behind him. “I left him in Sweet’s studio with one of those foam-rubber baseball bats my son got from the fun park last summer.”

“That was unnecessarily cruel, sir.”

“Yes, I know, but we don’t want to lose Sweet. Did you see those new covers?” he shuddered. “Black, with a logo. The latest edition looked like a Prince album.”

Paperclip, who had employed Darryl K. Sweet from an especially-molten echelon of his own family with the express intention of sapping the will to live from all readers of fantasy fiction, merely shrugged. In his opinion, the Sweet version of ‘Winter’s Heart’ in which only a Holmesesque exercise in deduction could identify the characters portrayed on the cover – and then only hesitantly – was an unqualified success. Indeed, every cover in which Rand al’Thor appeared to be a different person tipped millions of nerds a few Hail Marys closer to damnation.

The Head Publisher got right to the point.

“How are we going to play this?”

“Sir?”

“Oh come on, Paperclip! The re-write of the series. The new characters. The altered plot. How are we going to sell it to him?”

“We sold the whole Far Madding idea to him without any problems, sir. And a lot of the events that took place there directly contradicted information from earlier…” Paperclip trailed off, realising the Head Publisher had only pretended to read the books. “You should leave it to me, sir. Mister Rigney will be pleased with the developments we have made to his story. It will demonstrate to him how solid and realised a world he has created, and the new inputs will offer character stimulus.”

“In English, Paperclip.”

“He’ll think it’s mint, sir.”

The Head Publisher glared at Wilson Paperclip for a long moment, scanning for sarcasm or condescension. He came up negative, as Paperclip had known he would. The Head Publisher was American, after all.

“Ah! So this is where the magic happens!”

The hearty, booming voice preceded its source into the office by several seconds, then James Oliver Rigney, Jnr. burst into the office like a huge, feather-hatted, hand-beringed, ebony-cane-with-silver-knob-bearing battleship entering harbour. Paperclip and the Head Publisher spun and stared. Ridiculous as it was, the sight of Robert Jordan in the flesh never failed to amaze. The man was a parade float.

“Only the lesser magic, Mister Rigney,” Paperclip clarified smoothly. “By which I mean-”

“God, who invited that Darryl Sweet guy in?” Rigney interrupted in his usual graceless shout. “What a clown! I can’t believe you’re still letting him make my covers!”

“The contract was for the series, sir. We didn’t realise the series would run to over eleven-”

“I should make my own covers! Tolkien made his own cover designs, why shouldn’t I?”

The sheer volume of potential replies to that one rendered Paperclip momentarily speechless. Surprisingly, the Head Publisher came to his rescue.

“Show him the new material,” he said. Rigney turned from one to the other with a suspicious expression on what little of his face was visible. The Head Publisher turned a very similar expression on Paperclip from a very similar face, and for a moment the lone clean-shaven man in the room felt like a pygmy being menaced by a pair of angry hedges, one of which was also a pimp for some reason. The moment passed.

“We have undertaken to develop a new range of characters-”

“New characters? I like new characters!”

“We’d noticed that,” Paperclip murmured as he led the other two across to his computer. “We’ve also researched into a new set of plotlines-”

“I like them too!” Rigney’s brow lowered, resulting in a momentary but frightening disappearance of his face altogether. “But who’s writing these new characters and plots? God knows it’s not me.”

“Indeed,” Paperclip jigged the mouse and turned happily to his employers. “You might say it’s writing itself, sir. It’s a roleplaying simulation, specialising in placing reactive agents into the environment you have created, and recording their interactions with-”

“It’s downloading something.”

Paperclip blinked, and turned back to the screen. Sure enough, in the little graphic box where a badly-rendered version of the Wheel of Time PC game should have been .gif-ing, a download bar was almost completely concluded. Even as he watched, a final digitised scrap of paper drifted across from one folder icon to the other, and the counter reached 100%.

 


 

Cooper Two blinked in the sudden light, and shook his head to clear it of the ringing, warbling noises crashing through his mission protocols. When his skull cleared and returned to its normal state of militaristic crystalline clarity, he suddenly realised something astonishing.

The seasickness was gone. It had faded, of course, when he’d escaped the violent ta’veren swirlings that surrounded the fat merchant woman, but the queasy feeling was always around. Wherever there was a Pattern, there was a certain degree of predestination, and accompanying tummy upsets. It was one of the things that made gholam perpetually cranky. Now, it was gone entirely.

Almost as if there was no Pattern.

And that wasn’t the only thing that was gone. His uncertainty and confusion had receded to an impossible distance, the clashing demands his mission had made on his inner being were all gone. Upon his awakening in the stasis pod and finding that the Dragon was thousands of years dead, and already reborn as somebody else, Coop had found himself immersed in a metaphysical quandary that was as disastrous to his mental wellbeing as ta’veren were on his digestion. But now it had just … gone. His mark wasn’t dead, wasn’t alive – his mark didn’t even exist.

It was bliss!

Cooper Two’s delighted reverie was interrupted by voices.

“Brubble blub,” one of the voices said, in a deep, rolling baritone.

“Bleeb,” replied a second, in a lighter, obsequious tone that at once grated on his nerves and filled him with a faint apprehension. “Breebleweeble blib blib blibbb-”

“Brubel.”

Coop tried to focus his eyes, and eventually three human figures swam out of the mist. Two were heavyset and bearded, the third lean and delicate and narrow of face. He stood between and before the two larger men, and Cooper Two realised he was in the presence of some sort of weird no-Pattern-universe Chosen and his two Dreadlord bodyguards.

Only he couldn’t detect the ability to channel in any of them.

He couldn’t detect the One Power at all.

“Blipple-lipple blepp bleebleweeble wee,” the smaller man said, tilting his head and looking at Coop with intense curiosity. Coop realised the man was wearing spectacles. Some of the Tech-Dreadlords in Aginor Bio-Weapons had worn things like them. He wondered if the whole horrifying experience since being awakened in the desert had been some sort of fantasy. A test-run of some sort. To measure stress.

Yes … yes, that made sense. He’d never been assigned to kill the Dragon at all. He’d been put through a combat simulation, and the program had involved ridiculous twists and changes and obstacles, like his mark dying and being reborn thousands of years later, and civilisation itself reverting to a medieval feudal type of arrangement, to test his adaptability to circumstances. Yes. Of course he hadn’t been put into stasis and coincidentally woken up just at the right time to try to kill the Dragon’s reincarnation. Of course, that stupidly extreme ta’veren effect had been induced to test his endurance under pressure. The simplest explanation was often the correct one. He was back in the lab, they’d just run a test on him, and now everything was alright.

“Bweebie weebie wibble blib,” the little man went on, turning and deferring to one of the hairy ones. Coop did his best to look cool and casual and ready to discharge his next set of performance tests, easing himself into parade-ready and eyes-front. “Bwibble. Blip blipple-”

“Blob,” the big furry man interrupted, and frowned mightily at the gholam. “Bob burlob.”

Of course, it had all been a simulation, hadn’t it?

And that was when Cooper Two looked down, and saw the Seal in his hand.

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The Farce of Heaven, Part 6

By some sort of Warder’s intuition, Forsaken_1 was riding between Moiraine and Janica as they made their way through the Jangai Pass, to stop them from coming to blows. Debs, on the far side of the little damane, periodically glowered at him. She seemed to blame him for Logain vanishing. He wondered bitterly if she would thank him for keeping Logain around, and perhaps revealing the False Dragon’s little secret.

Unappreciated in his own time, that was what Forsaken_1 was.

On the other side of Moiraine, Vamps rode extremely awkwardly, listening to Moiraine lecture him about politics. Or, possibly, simply concentrating on not falling off his horse. He seemed to be experiencing some awful sort of allergy, and possibly heatstroke as well. Sometimes he would stare into the distance, or at Shannon, who walked alongside looking extremely pissed off with his skirts in a bundle around his waist and sweat turning his shirt unappealingly transparent. Once upon a time Forsaken_1 might have been turned on by hairy cleavage, but that was before he met Shannon in, as it were, the flesh.

Moiraine hadn’t been sleeping well. Forsaken_1 knew that even without the bundle of weary, frayed nerves in the back of his head. Her eyelids drooped, she yawned a lot and she said “shitflap” a lot more regularly than usual. He knew it was because she’d been visiting Tel’aran’rhiod, using just about the last ter’angreal that worked for her, that she’d found in the great square in Rhuidean. Whatever was wrong with her channeling ability, it was getting worse. She’d told him that Siuan Sanche had been deposed and stilled, and that Elaida was now Amyrlin Seat. She said that the White Tower was now fully in the power of the converted, and that those still following the Light had been exiled. Forsaken_1 wasn’t sure why he was being told – he was mainly along to draw in the female readership – but he was happy to act as a sounding board for her ideas.

“You should not trust any Aes Sedai except for me, and Nynaeve and Elayne,” she was saying to Vamps, adding a grudging, “and that big shitflap and her skinny pillowfriend over there, I suppose.”

“Can I just…” Vamps leaned over and brushed something invisible off Moiraine’s shoulder. Forsaken_1 felt her horrified shudder through the bond. “You had a cockroach on you. There’s another one,” he flicked at her other shoulder, and then began patting her hair frantically.

Moiraine sat and put up with it for a while, then pulled the thick stone ring ter’angreal from her bodice and banged it on the side of the Car’a’carn‘s head. “Enough,” she said. “They’re my lucky pet cockroaches, alright? I like them fine where they are, so keep your shitflapping hands to yourself.”

They passed some ancient ruins and Forsaken_1 tried to ignore Moiraine’s explanations and history lessons. He had to save the room in his head for important things. It wouldn’t do to end up in an emergency where he needed to know Warder-stuff, only to find that the only things in his head were facts and figures about old kings and buildings and Ages of Legends and things. He’d look a bit stupid if that happened, he reflected with a smile. From the ruins they proceeded to the first town on the path through the Pass, Taien.

“Now you take the lead,” Moiraine said patiently to Vamps.

“I shouldn’t, Mistress,” the sudden appearance of Puddin Taim was disconcerting. “Maybe a lady should go first, and I will follow behind.”

“But you-”

“Wouldn’t be the first time I went behind a woman…” Vamps added, and waggled his eyebrows. “Behind. You know, behind. Sexually. With sex.”

“That’s it,” Moiraine raised the ter’angreal. Forsaken_1 wondered if that was the way she used it to get into the World of Dreams. Maybe she was too weak to channel into it, and so she had to bang herself in the head with it instead. She froze at the apex of her lunge, and quivered. “You cunts,” she growled, glaring at Debs and Janica. Debs was smiling serenely. “I wasn’t going to hit him hard.”

“Ah knoo,” Debs heeled her bandy-legged horse closer, dragging Janica and her little grey pony along with her, and plucked the stone ring out of Moiraine’s hand. Then she turned and applied it to Vamps’s forehead in a powerful backhand clout that almost threw the Dragon off the back of his saddle. “That’s wee I thought et’d be beast if I tuke aever.”

“What?”

“Nothing,” Janica tugged a bit of slack into her a’dam, and leaned towards the glaze-eyed Vamps. “You have to go in front, because you’re the Car’a’carn,” she said firmly, addressing his cloak-buckle. “The Aiel at the back of the column behind the wagons can’t see you, but you can’t hide from everybody. The Maidens won’t allow it. You’ll go first, and Asmo-Jasin Natael will follow along with your banner, and everything will be okay.”

“Or ye c’n have a wee bit more o’ thess jobbeh,” Debs added, her accent thickening in her frustration.

“Can we get on?” a slurred, surly voice called from the nearby wagons. Contro’s gaudy Tinker wagon was there, and Fain’s scabby-looking thing. Cow and Bela respectively had been hooked up to the two wagons, since they seemed to have reached an understanding and something had happened to Fain’s horse. It seemed to have been eaten, or at least chewed on and left to decompose in a festering black puddle. That this incident coincided with the disappearance of ‘Isendre’ was another in the long list of things about which Forsaken_1 didn’t want to think. In any case, the voice had come from Contro’s wagon, where Lan was resting up after a big night of oosquai.

“Don’t make me come back there,” Moiraine warned.

“Ha ha ha! Honestly!!!!!!”

There was a groan from Lan. “Now you woke him up.”

“You look like you have a headache!! I know what’s good for headaches! I think!!! A hair of the dog that bit you! Or so I’ve heard!! Isn’t that a funny saying???!? Ha ha ha!! Well, it is! Oi! Cheeky!!”

Lan groaned again, and Forsaken_1 grinned.

“Why couldn’t he have been killed by those Darkhounds?” Moiraine muttered.

 


 

“Where are you taking me?”

It was cold. It was like the Ways, and a bit like New Year’s Eve in Finland, but not as pleasant as either sensation. And it was dark, except for the occasional thing that drifted past. They were a bit like phosphorescent soap bubbles, but they had things inside them. Growing things, like little foetal nightmares. Chucky had looked at one of them, and then closed his eyes every time he heard one coming. They were easy to pick – they were the only sound apart from his own voice. They made a noise like popcorn cooking.

Evil popcorn.

He’d been on his way to Vamps’s headquarters when he’d been caught. He’d known that the Car’a’carn was preparing to leave the Waste along with Moiraine and the peddlers and Aiel and everybody, and he knew Debs and Janica would be close at hand to stop him from doing anything stupid like heading in the wrong direction. And he knew he’d left it far too long. Putting it off would only make it worse, and besides, his worry about Janica being mad had faded into the background, and he’d made his decision.

Then, just as he was approaching the building – from the far side, so as to avoid giving the impression that he’d just staggered out of a huge boozy Aiel party – he’d been swooped upon and lifted into…

Well, not into the air. He’d been grabbed and pulled in another direction entirely. A direction that was dark and cold and scattered with pulsating things he didn’t much like.

His captor hadn’t given him an answer so far, and it gave him none this time either. Chucky wondered if it was a draghkar, which had carried him into the weird shadow-place where halfmen could travel. Or maybe it was a Forsaken, or somebody else, and he’d been taken outside the Pattern, into a vacuole or something.

But he knew it wasn’t any of those things. It was Sheriam. He recognised the tatters of blanket hanging in front of his face, and the smell. It was neither a blanket nor a smell he had ever wanted to be this close to.

“So, where are we g-g-going?”

There was no answer. It felt as though they’d been floating for days. He was hungry, and his bagpipes were digging into his shoulder and back in a rather uncomfortable way owing to the manner in which he’d been grabbed. That he was hungry wasn’t much of a revelation, but the pipes were becoming a real problem.

“Can you hear me?”

No answer. But now something seemed to be happening. Chucky’s stomach was telling him that they were performing a long, slow sideways loop in the nothingness, which made a bit of a change from his stomach telling him that it was hungry. He saw bubbles swirling past from the corners of his eyes, and felt a faint wibbling as they drifted into their own slipstream. Then he looked ahead, and saw one of the glowing blobs growing closer. It was heading straight for them.

“Um.”

It swelled and expanded until it filled the entire darkness, and Chucky couldn’t avert his eyes anymore. He tried to close them, but they treacherously disobeyed. The shape in the bubble squirmed and bulged, pressing at the membrane as if it was trying to escape.

“Um, you’re pretty close to that thing, Shezza…”

Then a pair of long, pale hands extended from somewhere above and behind him. Except they weren’t really hands – they were too thin, too translucent, and had too many joints. He could see veins under the skin, or at least strange black threads that looked like veins and pulsed like veins. But mainly he saw what the hands were about to do.

“No!”

The hands clenched in the bubble’s outer surface, puncturing it and ripping it. The popcorn-popping noise rose to a howl, the soapy surface snapped away, and the black stuff inside engulfed them both.

Chucky opened his eyes to find himself standing on a warm hillside. The sky above was a mild twilight and he couldn’t see the sun. The grass and flowers at his feet flickered and shifted endlessly, though there was no wind. He realised he was in Tel’aran’rhiod.

“Just a dream,” he said cautiously. “It was all just a dream.”

He turned and looked at Sheriam.

Not a dream,” he acknowledged, and looked away up the slope of the hill. They were near the crest, and he could see a silent, deserted forest beyond it. “What are we doing here? What do you want with me?”

“You have a musical instrument,” Sheriam said quietly. “We will need it, where we are going.”

Chucky turned, and looked down the hill.

The Tower of Ghenjei gleamed enigmatically in the directionless light.

 


 

They neared Taien, stopping several times to allow Bela and Cow to fight or fornicate or something that was a deeply unpleasant combination of the two, and for assorted members of the team to spy out the land ahead.

“Look at that, hanging from the walls,” Jasin Natael, who had sharper eyes than the Aiel and even the bond-enhanced Warder, pointed ahead at the town. Forsaken_1 looked, determined not to be outdone by a gleeman in lace.

“Shop window mannequins,” he reported.

“They’re dead bodies,” Natael said.

“Oh yeah?” Forsaken_1 bristled. “How would you know? Seen a lot of dead bodies, have you?”

Natael looked at him. The look said that, not only had he seen a lot of dead bodies, but that he was looking at one at that very moment. At least insofar as time was an abstract concept and every moment was really taking place simultaneously, only to be interpreted by blinkered linear human consciousness. Forsaken_1 went back to looking at the mannequins that might feasibly be bodies.

“Was this the Shaido?” Debs murmured.

“Couldn’t’ve been,” Janica said. “They fell into line when Couladin was killed and then Sevanna suddenly decided to get married at Alcair Dal and Someshta talked to some of the others and they walked off into the desert. The Forsaken might still be trying to lead the leftovers into trouble though. Did anybody keep an eye on Sevanna and her lot?”

“I did,” Forsaken_1 said helpfully.

“Really?”

“No.”

A towering Aielman stepped out of the rocks at the side of the path, and stopped in front of the horses. Jasin Natael pulled up sharply.

“I see you, Car’a’carn,” Rhuarc said.

“I saw you first,” Vamps remarked quickly, then looked a bit embarrassed as Puddin Taim reasserted himself for a brief moment. “Um, what do you have to report?”

“It was not the work of Shaido, although Shaido have come this way,” Rhuarc claimed. “I would say it was Shadowspawn, but if it was, then it was no Shadowspawn I have ever seen. They came on many of the treekillers outside the town, and there is sign of a fight, but no bodies that we can find. There is none of the dismemberment or evidence of feeding that would suggest trollocs, and no evidence of myrddraal. It seems, speaking for the town itself, that there was some resistance, and I have seen a body near the town gates like a giant three-eyed rock-toad. The attack was swift, and left the town mostly undamaged. The survivors may have more information. See, they come now.”

Debs and Janica exchanged a glance.

“Seanchan,” Janica muttered. “What are they up to?”

“Could be Darkfriend Seanchan,” Debs suggested. “Could be they’ve alleed themselves wi’ the Shaido.”

A small group of ‘treekillers’ came cautiously out of the gates. The man in the lead carried what might have been a white flag, and might otherwise have been the underpants he’d soiled when the grolm attacked.

“We haven’t been fighting,” he reported clearly to the spear-laden scouts, waving his underpants at Vamps and Moiraine. “We didn’t do that to your friends,” he pointed at the walls. “It wasn’t us. I’m a humble saddle-maker, my name is Tal Nethin and this is my sister and brother-in-law Aril and Ander Corl. We’re not warriors, and we’re not armed. And I know your people usually have a law against taking us treekillers,” he added wryly.

“These aren’t your people?” Rhuarc demanded before Vamps or Moiraine or Debs could say anything. Forsaken_1 looked once again at the things hanging from the walls. They still looked like mannequins to him, if slightly twisted and blackened ones. He was pretty sure he was right. They were mannequins. “Who are they?”

“Why, we thought they were your friends,” Tal said, clasping his grundies like a talisman. “They’re Aielmen.”

“Shaido,” Rhuarc said to Vamps, who nodded wisely. “What happened here?”

“You … they … they charged at the walls shortly before dawn, and were going to kill us or take us prisoner,” Tal reported, and the nearby Aiel muttered angrily at the unnatural idea. “They entered the town before we could close the gates, but then there were creatures flying out of the sky, and running along the ground out of nowhere, and they attacked the Aiel. They killed the ones that were outside, or captured them, I know not. They had great winged beasts with enormous baskets, and they herded men and women into them. Other beasts were carrying soldiers, and others still were simply running loose, killing and devouring,” he shuddered. “The Aiel in the town tried to hole up and defend themselves, but they were taken. It is some of the casualties you can see hanging from our walls. We have not been able to pull them down yet. We meant no disrespect,” he added quaveringly.

Rhuarc seemed not to listen to that.

“There were a lot of Shaido,” he said quietly. “Sevanna and her new husband commanded the loyalty of many. And you say they are all gone?”

“They were carried away by the great flying beasts,” Ander Corl volunteered. “And many of them were rounded up and pushed through holes in the air, which vanished behind them, leaving no trace.”

“You what?” Rhuarc snapped. “Don’t fuck with me.”

“Show me one of the places where the holes were,” Janica said, jumping down from her pony and swinging for a moment before Debs lowered her arm. Forsaken_1 noticed that the tips of her little grey shoes had been sliced off, so her grey damane-issue socks stuck through a tiny bit. “Glargh, thank you.”

“Sorry.”

Forsaken_1 followed Moiraine, who followed Janica and Debs, who were following the Taienites, across the wide space of trampled ground before the town walls. They stopped at an area more trammelled than most, the footprints and scuffmarks ending neatly at a wide stripe of rocks and pebbles which had been cut with razor precision right down the middle.

“Geetwee,” Debs muttered darkly. “They used a geetwee.”

“A what?” Tal asked.

 


 

Mordor was a strange and terrible place. It was difficult for Mister C of 9 to put his finger on it, but there was something very wrong about the land through which they walked. It wasn’t so much the grim, smoke-choked air, or the nasty grasping thorn bushes. It wasn’t so much the forbidding mountain towards which they stumbled, or the lack of food or water. It wasn’t even the sense of doom and impending danger that upset him.

It was something about the armed escort, and the cheering crowds of trollocs to either side of the path. Yes. It was definitely that.

“Well done, Frodo!” a burly Ko’bal bandsman grunted, waving a studded leather handkerchief.

“Give ’em Ghul, kiddo!”

“Three cheers for the halfman! Hip hip!”

“Hazzah!”

He glanced at his trusty gardener, but found absolutely no explanation there. Logain was staring at the natives in amazement, and hadn’t stopped reaching for his swords even now. Their path to the mountain was strewn with little glinting scraps of metal, the Mordor equivalent of flower petals, and the trollocs and myrddraal and draghkar leading the way were making sure none of the rabble got too close, but it was difficult to trust them. Mister C understood that. He had been fingering Stormbringer Sting Snaga halfway across the country as well. They’d been on the road a long time, the One Seal was weighing down on him most cruelly, and it seemed like Mount Doom was only just now beginning to draw closer.

“Do you have any more lembas, Sam?” he whispered, and glared suspiciously and eyelessly at several trollocs who rushed forward to give him platters of meat and bread and all sorts of other things without lentils in them that he couldn’t digest. Another trolloc threw a garland of baby skulls over his head, which he thought was really quite lovely. He straightened it proudly.

Finally they reached the foot of the mountain. A huge myrddraal stood at the opening to a tunnel. It had a wide smile on its face and it stepped aside and ushered the hobbits inside.

“Welcome,” it said.

“The Witch King of Minas Morgul,” Mister C of 9 told Logain, then raised his voice. “Say hello to Éowyn for us, you fiend!”

“I sure will,” Shaidar Haran nodded. He’d been told by the Nae’blis to just agree with everything the halfman and his companion said, and that was what he intended to do. “And your gholam friend says hi too.”

“Gollum!” Sam hissed, but Mister C had been prepared for that, and just patted his friend encouragingly on the swords. They entered the tunnel, only to find it was cathedral-sized. The floor was smooth and level, the stalactite-hung ceiling so distant as to be almost invisible in the gloom. The walls to either side were likewise smooth, and the tunnel itself led upwards in easy stages. A warm red glow began to reflect from the walls, and shortly they came to an opening. Far below, the eternal fires of Mount Doom swirled and churned. Mister C of 9 cleared his throat, scratched idly at his budding arm, and prepared for his little performance.

“No, no, I don’t want to give it up, it’s mine,” he drawled. “My precious, mine.”

Logain looked at his Great Lord blankly. Unseen by either of them, Cooper Two oozed his way out of a crack in the wall, and stole forwards.

“You’re not going to destroy it, Mister Frodo?” he asked. “But I thought that was what we came all this way to do.”

“No, mine mine mine, I won’t destroy it, not ever,” Mister C unwrapped the bundle and held it lazily in his good hand, waiting for Gollum to come charging out of nowhere and struggle with him. He was supremely confident.

Coop saw the Seal, and realised the halfman was attempting to violate one of Aginor Bio-Weapons Corporation’s founding directives, only just in formation at the time of his cryo-stasis but nevertheless quite central to his being.

Destroy the Seals. Free the Dark One.

“You have to!” he yelled, and sprang forward. He pushed the channeler aside easily, swept up to the edge of the precipice, and grabbed the myrddraal by the hanging-still-lapels. He gave him a shake. “You’ve got to, it’s in your basic training, soldier!”

Logain drew Callandor, and then screamed and passed out from the pain of trying to channel so close to the Bore. It was probably just as well, because at the time Cooper Two had forgotten the human existed and being channeled at, although it wouldn’t have had any effect, probably would have reminded him.

“Mine!” Mister C said, putting a bit of heart into it. This was his big scene, after all.

“Dickhead!” Coop fumed, grabbed Mister C’s arm, and bit off his fully-grown hand just above the wrist. He stepped back, spitting black blood and prying the clutching fingers away from the One Seal. “Now let’s just-”

“You cunt!” Mister C snapped out of his utter shock, lunged forwards and kneed the gholam in the groin. Coop folded up, gasped once or twice, and tumbled backwards over the edge of the chasm.

“My testicles!” Gollum’s fading cry floated up as he fell.

When the bleeding hobbit crawled to the edge and looked over, there was no sight of him.

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