Once they got talking, Forsaken_1 and Contro discovered Carridin to be a veritable fount of information. The amount he knew about the books, for a start, was amazing.
“Caemlyn is not a great centre for the Game of Houses, and the people thereabouts are quite tall,” he remarked as Forsaken_1 tried to explain the situation to him. “Perhaps you are talking about Cairhein.”
“That’s the place. Only she’s not from there anymore, she’s Aes Sedai, from the White Tower … and she’s going to be coming from somewhere in Andor-”
“It’s Manethren! The place they’re from! Or it was!! Ha ha ha! I can never remember! I think they’re bringing Manethren back, but not yet!!!”
“Yes, it was called Manethren, and the old blood is still strong,” Forsaken_1 nodded. “Something like that, anyway. It’s a place called the Two Rivers.”
“I know of it,” Carridin said thoughtfully. “An unassuming place.”
“Only the Dragon’s from there.”
“And this other one – this Wolfbrother who you think is such a threat.”
“Perrin. He kills a lot of Whitecloaks, and starts a sort of war with them when they move into the Two Rivers. That’s not happening yet though. They fight trollocs, and then somehow the Whitecloaks get to take over Andor…”
“Impossible! Morgase is in the thrall of the Tar Valon witches, she would never surrender territory to us.”
“Man, dude, you must have read the books, like, seventeen times to know all this,” Forsaken_1 scratched his head. “Well, I can’t quite remember all the details, and all this might change anyway, so forget it. The point is, they’re all travelling one way, and we sort of know where you can catch up with them. You can catch up with Perrin at least, and he’s the key to the important one. The three are connected. I’m sure Ba’alzamon told you.”
Carridin nodded. “So we find this Perrin…”
“Yes. He tangles with some Whitecloaks, there’s a Bornhald and a Byar in the party, and they’re somewhere outside of Caemlyn when it happens.”
“I know the group. The Bornhalds are very influential within the regular Children’s ranks.”
“Perrin gets captured, then free again. The important thing is, he meets up with some Tinkers before the Whitecloaks find him, and later on one of those Tinkers becomes his personal bodyguard. If we can get to that band of Tinkers, and replace that one Tinker with Contro … it should work. If Contro’s simple presence doesn’t change the Pattern, then we can find some other way to stop this other Tinker from following Perrin around.”
“This sounds unnecessarily complicated. I was instructed to find these three boys – if I can do that, then I should just report their location and do my best to capture one of them, even if it is an unimportant one.”
“Except your attempts to capture these guys always ends in you looking like an idiot and a halfman killing one of your sisters.”
“You don’t know that! Do you have the Foretelling? You said you could not use the One Power.”
“I can’t. But I do know you won’t be able to capture this guy. Just try it our way, okay? Get us onto that patrol, or whatever, so we’re there in the area when Perrin and his friends go past. Better yet, try and find this Tinker group, so we can infiltrate it.”
Carridin, as it turned out, could do just that. The network of spies and informers for the Hand of the Light was almost ludicrously extensive and detailed, and went into organisations and places that not even a Questioner could possibly have any interest in. He arranged for Forsaken_1 and Contro to be placed in a sleek, comfortable carriage and sent out with a small band of reinforcements, and soon they were speeding across Amadicia to their rendezvous with the Whitecloaks under Bornhald, and the little Tinker party. The only problem was, neither of them knew much about the Tinkers at all. Or about the Whitecloaks, for that matter.
“We’ll just find a band of Tinkers and ask them if they know the wolf guy,” Forsaken_1 said. “What was his name? Eggbert, or something like that. They know him, and he’s with the guys when they go past the Tinker group.”
“Wasn’t he a Warder?” Contro asked. “I thought he was a Warder!”
“I can’t remember. Look,” Forsaken_1 tried to get things straight in his head. “How many Tinkers can there be? We’ll find this caravan of Tinkers, and if it’s not them, then we’ll find another caravan of Tinkers. Perrin is a ta’veren anyway, so he’ll make sure we get the right caravan.”
“Why would he do that? Ha ha ha! Funny thing for him to do!! Why would he change things to help us??!”
“Because otherwise,” Forsaken_1 muttered, “I’m not going to change things to help him.”
The platoon of Whitecloaks rumbled across the countryside.
Once again, sul’dam and damane stood alone on the windswept plain.
“Aye,” Debs’ accent was inevitably rubbing off on Janica, and the past few hours singing raken songs with the fliers hadn’t helped at all. “It’s Raken Men (Hallelujah It’s Raken Men)” and “I Feel Like Raken Love” were fine songs, but tended to wear thin after hearing them. Once. “Let’s try it.”
“Can ye remember hoo it’s done? From the books, like?”
“Not really … I can remember the way Moridin did it, but I’d probably better not try it that way.”
“Aye. Try and do it another way.”
“Right,” Janica concentrated, and felt the One Power fill her. She tried to weave a patch of air and open it, or twist it somehow, bending space so there was nothing in between.
There was a bright, blurred flash of light, and she heard a voice say, “Zuul.”
Janica released the Source and the light winked out. “What was it? What happened?”
“I’m nae tellin’ ye. Ye might do it again.”
“I’ll try something different then,” Janica opened herself to saidar and once again wrestled blindly with the flows. Suddenly a razor-thin stripe of blue light slashed across the sky, turned and opened into a square hole in the empty air. Through it, Debs stared in disbelief and Janica blinked near-sightedly.
“Well?” Janica said. “Did it work? I can’t see, remember?”
Debs stared back at herself.
“Nae,” she managed to say, seeing her duplicate mouthing the same. “Nae, it did’nae work. It just, er, opened to the same place, like. Backwards.”
“I opened a gateway to right here?” Janica found this very exciting. “Really? Well, that’s a start. Do you want to try walking through it?”
“Nae!” Debs turned to one side and saw her copy do the same in that alternate universe. “I canna believe the sides of my ass hang doon so much,” she murmured. The gateway slid blessedly closed.
“That’s given me an idea anyway – we’ll try it this way,” Janica said. “Remember when Egwene discovered how to move through the World of Dreams? That was easier. We’ll still have to move across the sea, but we can do it faster, and using Dream things. It should be easy enough. I can remember how she did it, too. She made a region of the Dream exactly like the real world, and stepped through…”
Debs closed her eyes in terror as her near-blind damane once again embraced the Source. There was a weird shifting sensation, and a feeling as if she were falling asleep on her feet. Then she opened her eyes, and saw a rectangular outline wavering in the air, like a gateway leading nowhere, but a bit easier to look at than the last effort.
“Looks aboot right,” Debs admitted. “We’ll have tae go through t’ knoo fer sure.”
“Let’s go then,” Janica stepped forwards.
“This way, dearie,” Debs said, guiding the little damane through the gateway.
On the other side, things were a bit dimmer but otherwise unchanged. Debs experimentally tried to change her clothes, and found that she couldn’t. But she could conjure up a large wooden mallet out of thin air, so she assumed that her physical appearance was fixed – they were in Tel’aran’rhiod in the flesh.
“It worked!” Janica exclaimed, reaching out and grabbing a pair of spectacles. “Oh, thank God!” she put them on and looked around. “That’s not a good colour for you.”
“Yah yah. Hoo’re we gonna get tae…” Debs flinched, “…Chaggabaggawoggaland?”
“Let’s just fly there.”
Debs had never thought of herself as terribly aerodynamic, but she managed to lift herself up off the ground with only slight concentration and disregard for natural laws. “Reet! Which wee d’we goo?”
Janica floated on the end of her leash. “I have absolutely no idea,” she admitted.
At last, Angus was nearing his goal. The slopes of Shayol Ghul reared ash-dead above him, the ancient fires at the summit churning angrily even here in the Dream World. He strode up to the column-flanked tunnel-mouth at the base of the mountain, and closed his eyes. Concentrating on where he wanted to be, he felt Tel’aran’rhiod shift around him and his spectral form home in on his goal.
He opened his eyes, and was there.
“If this bit was in the books, I’m a six-foot stallion,” he muttered to himself, rearranging his dark-crimson cloak and patting down his tall-person’s torso reassuringly. He looked around at the extension of the Bore – a place that might not even exist in the waking world.
He seemed to be standing in a huge, darkened hallway, narrow and immeasurably long. It was quite featureless, the walls slightly curved and slick with some sort of slime or fungus, the distant end of the passage all but invisible in the wavering, blurred air. Angus could make out the vague shapes of people standing frozen along the length of the corridor, but except for the first three in line, he could make out no details. They were the Forsaken.
Two of these, frozen motionless and staring in horror at something only they could see, were wizened and burned by the passing of the years. Their faces were unrecognisable, their bodies contorted and wasted so badly as to be inhuman. They were several feet away down the corridor, out of reach and very definitely trapped, but still affected by the outside reality – if reality you could call it. Aginor and Balthamel, most probably.
In front of them, right on the edge of the junction between the passage and the opening into Tel’aran’rhiod, Ishamael paced and capered, long ribbons of drool hanging from the corners of his mouth. Angus stared at the specter, unwilling to concede the similarities in their appearances, but unable to deny them. He had evidently been slotted into Ishamael’s position in this story, and yet the Nae’blis was still here – not free, not trapped, raving and wandering on the threshold of the World of Dreams.
“Her her her her … started the trolloc Wars … her her her her … we lost, her her … sent Hawkwing to Seanchan … her her her her her … whispered in his ear … her her her her … he killed all the Shadowspawn … her her … invented microwave dinners that were impossible to open … her her her…”
The endless rasping monologue filled the dark space and bored relentlessly into Angus’ head. Whatever this man had once been, it was quite abundantly clear that now, he was just a vegetable.
“Can you hear me?” he stepped up to Ishamael, his usual bluster and aggression somehow muted. He felt, truth be told, like a complete fairy. The air thickened around him as he progressed into the Bore, and he knew that at Aginor’s level it would be completely solid. Here, however, it was just … heavy. The Seals were weakening, and the air would thin out in a matter of months, but for now, only Ishamael seemed to have any mobility. “Ishy, can you hear me?”
“I’m the Dark One … her her her her her her her her her-”
Angus slapped him. The mechanical, desperate laughter cut off as if a switch had been thrown.
“Can you hear me?”
“I hear you. Who are you? I can not see, my time is now, I wander the world, whisper in ears, make people kill Shadowspawn, her her…”
“I’m you,” Angus said quietly. “I’m you without this madness thing, and I am completely free. You have to do the right thing now, Ishy – you have to hand the mantle over to me, and let me finish your work. I can do it right.”
“How can you do it better than me?”
“I’ve read the Handbook of the Evil Overlord,” Angus replied. “I got it on Email from a friend of mine. You know – all the rules that super-villains like you always break, and that’s why you lose. I know them all.”
“Explain yourself!” Ishamael’s fiery, gaping eyes roared vacuously, staring at a spot three inches to Angus’ left.
Angus held up his finger. “That’s one of the rules. Never explain more than necessary. Especially not to the person you’re about to kill.”
“You can not kill me! I am forever!”
“Okay. Tell me one thing. Where are the dreams? The three farmboys you visit – where are their dreams? I couldn’t find them in the dreamscape.”
Ishamael looked crafty, and opened his blood-red cloak. In his vest, close to his maniacal heart, three points of light glimmered. “I keep them safe.”
“Good for you,” Angus said, and reached behind him. “Bye now.”
The shotgun made a bizarre popping sound in the thick air, and the smoke curled out in strange flattened curls. Ishamael collapsed to the ground, where Angus pumped three more shells into him to make sure. He also expended some of his precious supply of kerosene jelly from Satsujinki’s pack, and set the body on fire. Then he stood and watched until it was completely burned down to ash. Then he kicked it. The glittering ash spread out slowly in the corridor, the particles moving slower and slower as they spread down towards Aginor and Balthamel, finally freezing in the air as they drew level with the next two Forsaken. Angus watched the pieces fixedly for a moment, and was quite sure Ishamael was completely done. Then he reached out and plucked the three swirling lights into his hand. They settled there obediently, and he tucked them into his vest.
“See you soon,” he grinned at the other prisoners, and stepped back onto the slopes of the mountain. “Take me to the Dark One,” he said to the massive halfman he found there. “I’ve got a deal to offer Him.”
Shaidar Haran raised his cloak and enveloped his new employer in shadows. Angus was suddenly standing on a ledge overlooking the seething lava pit, and the impossible mind-twisting emptiness that was the true Bore.
ISHAMAEL. HOW’S TRICKS?
“Not bad, Shai,” Angus said, tucking the shotgun back into his backpack. “Not bad at all. But I should tell You, I had to dispose of the other Ishamael.”
MY INFLUENCE ON THE WORLD IS STILL WEAK, the Dark One said. EXPLAIN THIS TO ME IN SHORT WORDS.
“I’m not actually Ishamael,” Angus said, “You can call me, uh, Angamael, if You want. Anyway, I am going to do the job Ishamael was, only I won’t fail. I won’t make a complete hash of it the way Ishamael was going to, and it’ll all work out a lot better.”
THIS IS MOST IRREGULAR.
“No kidding,” Angamael muttered. “I wanted to be a merchant.”
JESUS WANTED TO BE A CARPENTER.
“You knew him?”
There was an uncomfortable silence. “Well, anyway, I can do the job, and better. But I’ll need Your help, of course.”
THIS MAKES ME CURIOUS. I SHALL SEE WHAT YOU ARE CAPABLE OF. I SHALL MAKE NOTE OF YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS AND JUDGE YOUR WORTH. WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE OF ME AT THIS TIME? WOULD YOU BE NAE’BLIS?
“Well, sure … I thought I was already.”
The immensity of the presence was beginning to give Angus a migraine. “Okay, all I need right now is this – no resurrecting. Don’t bring Ishamael back – it won’t work. He’ll just get killed again. Maybe not by me, but he’ll still get killed. He’s a dud.”
VERY WELL. YOU SHALL TAKE HIS PLACE, AND ATTEMPT TO SAVE YOURSELF BY SURPASSING HIS DEEDS.
“I’m already taller than him.”
YOU ARE SOMEWHAT SHORTER THAN DEMANDRED, HOWEVER.
“Yeah, we’ll see about that,” Angamael turned on his heel and strode out of the cave. The stalactites in the ceiling rose a respectful distance above his head, but that just annoyed him even more. He couldn’t shake the feeling that the Dark One was just pointing out how short he might be.
Shaidar Haran was waiting impassively on the mountainside, watching without eyes the endless work of the Smiths down at Thakan’dar.
“Let’s go down there,” Angus said, clapping Shadar on the shoulder. “We’ve got an order to pick up.”
They started down the mountain. Just as the ground began to level out, Angus looked up and saw something streak across the sky. He couldn’t see it very clearly, and it was moving at terrific speed, but it had almost looked like the shape of a young girl in grey, carrying an enormous red-and-blue balloon. Angus shrugged to himself and followed Shaidar Haran down into the grim valley.
Debs looked down.
“Ach, I think we o’ershot,” she muttered. “Back up a bit.”
Janica swooped around in a half-circle and directed her sul’dam using the leash as a tow-rope. Debs was buoyant, but had absolutely no steering ability. She peered down at the landscape below with her conjured spectacles as they accelerated past.
“Was that Angus?”
“Nae lass! He must’ve been six foot feeve.”
Then they were gone.