Chucky was shaken awake by Mister C of 9, who had apparently overcome his remorse long enough to get a decent night’s sleep.
“Wake up,” the myrddraal was saying insistently. “Wake up, something’s happened.”
Chucky rubbed his eyes and looked around.
“I fucking knew it,” he said. “I can’t believe this, who did it? Was it you? I bet it was you.”
Mister C looked around, bafflement clear in his sunglasses. “What’s going on? We’re not where we were when I went to sleep.”
Hurin dashed up. “Oh, good Lords, where are we? Master gleeman, you have to tell me, you have to help us get back to where we were. I don’t know what’s going on, but everybody else has gone, and I’m terribly worried…”
“Everybody? Where’s Loial?” Chucky frowned, and climbed out of his bedroll.
“He’s here too,” Hurin answered. “He said it was very interesting, and went to try and find something over the way, I don’t know what he was thinking of, but he was reading out of a book.”
“I’m glad I don’t have any eyes,” Mister C of 9 muttered. “I’d have had to pluck them out right about now. Chuck, would you please put your cloak on?”
Chucky grunted and crossed the smooth stone surface, pulling his clothes on as he went. “It’s a Portal Stone,” he said, stopping and looking up at the monolith in annoyance. “It’s a relic from before the Age of Legends, and the Aes Sedai used to use them to travel to other worlds, for some reason. This is a different stone to the one we went to sleep next to, obviously.”
“That’s right,” Loial said in surprise. The Ogier stepped over the lip of the wide depression in which they stood, and trundled down the wide stone terraces – each one coloured like an ajah. “This one is in far better repair, but is obviously connected to the one we left behind. How did you know that?”
“Old stories,” Chucky said. “The problem is, you have to channel to get them working, and none of us can channel. So how did we get here? Where were you anyway?” he looked up at Loial, who managed to look meek.
“I was looking at the surrounding countryside,” he explained. “I thought it might make it easier to find out where we are, and how to get back. But it is a strange world…”
“We have to get back, sirs,” Hurin was rubbing his nose. “Sirs, oh kind Lords, we have to get back, my wife, Melia, she’ll be lost without me, I’m her only provider … can’t we get back?”
“Not unless you can channel,” Chucky growled. “Best thing would be to keep on following that scent of yours.”
“We’re in a new world, my Lord gleeman,” Hurin said miserably. “How are we to follow the…” he trailed off, and sniffed. “Light!” he yelled. “I can still smell it!” he rubbed his nose again. “But there’s other smells here, fearsome bad. It’ll be a problem to keep on track.”
“We’ll sort it out as we go,” Mister C of 9 strode purposefully towards the terraces. “Let’s get moving.”
They set out through the quiet, strangely washed-out new world, Hurin in the lead, Mister C and Chucky arguing in the middle, and Loial bringing up the rear, a book in his hands and a troubled expression on his face. The land itself seemed burned and there were strange linear clouds in the sky.
“Are we ever going to find out who’s flying those jets?” Mister C asked, pointing.
Chucky shook his head. “I’m afraid not. They’re just for background atmosphere. If you ask me, this entire place is-” he was interrupted by a scream. “Ah, that’ll be Lan- uh, Selene.”
“Is Lan here, then?” Hurin asked hopefully.
“No, I was going to say it’s Lan’s cousin, Selene, but Lan doesn’t have a cousin called Selene, does he?”
“I wouldn’t have thought so,” Hurin frowned. There was another scream. “She sounds like she’s in trouble.”
“Grolm, I expect,” Chucky examined his nails.
“Are the Foo Fighters here, then?” Mister C asked.
“Maybe that’s what made the contrails,” Chucky replied, because it was just easier than explaining.
“How do you know all this?” Loial demanded with uncharacteristic heat.
“You hear those noises?” the gleeman raised a finger, and they all stood silently. There were distant, echoing barking sounds. “Those are grolm. I trained as a gleeman with one of the greatest storytellers of all time – uh, you know the man I mean.”
“Jonen Vasquez,” Mister C said in a knowing voice.
“That’s right. The man who told the heart-warming tale of Johnny, and the Happy Noodle Boy, and so many others. Anyway, he told me a tale about Seanchan, as part of my final year of, uh, my degree. Bachelor of Glee.”
“If you put ‘Bee Gee’ after your name I will kill you in your sleep,” Mister C warned.
“Perish the thought.”
“What’s a Seanchan?” Loial frowned mightily.
“The land over the Aryth Ocean where Artur Hawkwing took his armies,” Chucky said. “Anyway, there’s grolm there. I remember, because, uh, Vasquez made those noises as part of his story.”
“Oh,” Loial nodded. “Well, should we maybe take cover?”
“Why’s that?” Chucky asked.
“I think they’ve finished eating Selene, and they’re coming this way.”
“Are we in Tar Valon yet?”
“Are we in Tar Valon yet?”
“Are we in Tar Valon yet?”
“Are we in Tar Valon yet?”
“Are we in Tar Valon ye – owww, those are my little Ogiers, ow, quit it!”
Debs grunted and released the Source. “Are ye gonna shut the feck up?” she delivered the ultimatum in a bored tone of voice, and to tell the absolute truth it wasn’t hard to put on. The trip had been one long, boring, uneventful enterprise from day one. Even before they started, they’d had to sail out of Illian in the dead of night, steal around the coast like pirates, and navigate their way through the Fingers of the Dragon to the east. Then, they had to sail up the river past Tear, and after that was done they were still half a Chaggabaggawoggaland away from the city. Debs was even getting tired of watching Bayle Domon cavorting around like a madman. Janica, who lacked even the slight amusement of being able to see their captain, had been at her wits’ end for almost a week.
“I’ll be quiet,” Wyse said, sounding a little sulky. “I’ll go over here and coil this rope.”
He did so, but it wasn’t long before he was stopped, and was obliged to explain himself, to a narrow-eyed, suspicious-looking Captain Domon.
“You’re making a noose to hang me! So ye are!”
“I’m not! I’m really not, honest!”
“Ye are! Well, I think I’ll just kill you instead, so I will! Take this, murderer!”
Debs didn’t even watch this time, as Wyse was forced to hit Domon on the head and drag his slumped body back to his cabin for perhaps the fiftieth time since their departure. Domon had no less than twelve knives hidden around his body, and some poison darts and a little axe as well. Debs had no idea why he was acting like such a cunt.
Janica had a vague idea, and she didn’t like it.
“Debs…” she said.
“Noo we’re nae feckin’ at Tar Valon yet! Ach!”
“I know we’re not … I was just thinking. When we do get there, I think it would be a good idea to rob Bayle Domon.”
In spite of herself, Debs winced and looked around for the paranoid captain. “Really?” she whispered. “You mean, for real, really rob the scunner? Like he thinks we already are?”
“If he already thinks we are, he won’t be too disappointed, will he? Anyway, I was thinking about the story – and it’s pretty obvious that he has a nice little collection of angreal, and ter’angreal, and he’s got that seal to the Dark One’s Prison as well. It might be worth just … taking … all that stuff.”
“Wha’ aboot nae messin’ wi’ the storrah?”
“We’re travelling to Tar Valon to rescue Logain and set him up as the Dragon to replace Rand, who was shot in the face by a shotgun. I think we’re well past the ‘messing with the story’ stage,” she brightened. “Anyway, remember what happens to Domon in the books? At some point, he gets captured by the Seanchan and joins up with them, and gives all his toys to the Seanchan Lord anyway. And we’re sort of, technically, Seanchan. So it wouldn’t be stealing.”
“Jes’ early-takin’,” Debs grinned. “Ye’re married tae an Australian, alreet.”
Vamps swaggered up just as they were concluding their conversation. “Married to an Australian, huh?” he asked innocently. “Want to know who I’m married to?”
“No,” they both said.
“I know you do really,” Vamps grinned. “But listen, I had something more important to say – I can tell you about my really attractive wife who loves getting it on with other girls and who I am considering dumping for a porn star and maybe having sex with her little sister as well, later. What I was wondering is, how are we going to get Logain out of his, uh, prison? It’s in the White Tower, isn’t it?”
“Have’nae thought of that yet,” Janica said distractedly. “I’m sure something will come up. Maybe we can offer some of these trinkets of Domon’s in return for Logain’s freedom. I mean, if we’re too late and he’s been gentled – which is probable – the Aes Sedai will see no harm in him and possibly just hand him over. Then we can Heal him straight away.”
“You can Heal stilling?” Vamps asked. “The way Nynaeve did?”
“The way Nynaeve hasn’t yet,” Janica corrected with just a touch of satisfaction. “We already tried it, and it works. Of course, we tried it on a woman and she, uh, didn’t come back as strong as before, but with a male, it will work even better.”
“Wanna try et oot?” Debs offered warmly.
Puddin Taim backed away silently and respectfully.
In the distance, the White Walls gleamed.
“…and that, I believe, is how the Song was actually written.”
Contro laughed and applauded loudly. Cybes, as close to despair as any animal capable of licking its own genitals can ever be, lowered her head onto her paws. Contro and the Green Man had been talking about the Song for going on three days. Finally, in desperation, she had called out to other wolves nearby, but had gotten only distrustful answering-machine messages in reply.
-You have reached Dappled Water. I can not answer your call right now, but leave a splash of scent on that tree over there, and I’ll get back to you and most likely roll in it for a while. Bleep.
-This is Runner Runs Runningly. I’m not here right now. Guess what I’m doing. Leave me a message, and I’ll you-know-what over to you and sniff your posterior at the earliest possible convenience. Bleep.
-Hi, you’re speaking to the mind of Baby Tree. I’m paranoid about werehumans, so I’m screening all my calls. If you stay in my thoughts long enough, I’ll get a headache, and then we’ll all be in trouble. Bleep.
And on and on and on. None of the wolves seemed to want anything to do with the strange group that had trundled out of the Blight late in the night roughly a week before. The horse named Cow was possibly the most normal one of the lot of them, and even Cow had his problems. Cybes had half-heartedly attempted to open communications with the horse when it didn’t seem to panic at her presence, but all she had gotten for her trouble was a day-long impulse to whinny, a craving for wild oats and sugar-cane, and the deep, abiding desire to urinate on Contro’s shallow, salted grave.
The Green Man himself was excellent company. He could talk the language of wolves, but it was a bit pointless to do so. Every time he tried, Contro laughed and told him he was speaking mumbo-jumbo and that he was very funny, and what was he trying to say, was he trying to tell Contro something embarrassing? So the Green Man was obliged to explain that he was using the special language of the wolves.
Every time he used it.
And then Contro wanted a translation, and when it became clear that Cybes understood human speech anyway, the Green Man quit using the wolf-tongue altogether, and everybody was a lot happier that way.
Then Contro had started to ramble on about the Song.
The Green Man had explained patiently that the Song of which the Tinkers spoke was indeed a mystical catalyst that would turn the entire world into a paradise, and it had been designed and assembled by Ogier, Nym, Aiel and Aes Sedai back in the misty dawn of time, the pinnacle of civilisation, in fact. But the One Power was required to make it work, and a whole host of ter’amplifiers and sa’woofers from a city lost in the Breaking of the World, and none of the original artists were alive to perform the song, except for Someshta himself.
“And as you know, Contro, a tribute album done by new bands simply isn’t the same, even when one of the original players is still around.”
“Yes! Ha ha ha!! True, that! What do you mean?”
“I think it will be quite impossible for the Song to be used now, at least in the way the Tinkers mean.”
“Oh! Right!! Ha ha ha! Maybe it would work better if you sang the Song! You know, the Song which makes everything all better again? Maybe if you sang it, then all the things you need would be fixed, and we could sing the Song!! Wait! Ha ha ha! That doesn’t make much sense, does it! Oh look, Cybes is going for a walk! Bye bye!”
Cybes leapt off the wagon and trotted off into the woods to be alone for a little while. They were a few days’ ride away from Tar Valon, and she supposed that was another reason the wolves weren’t talking. There just wasn’t that much need for them to come so close to human settlements. Cybes ran on, curving around trees and little ponds and trying to outdistance the cheerful chirping of Contro’s incessant, endless voice. It wasn’t an easy task.
Lost in her gloomy reflections, Cybes didn’t notice for a moment that she wasn’t alone. All of a sudden, however, she found herself staring at a grizzled man in a white robe, standing, swaying and gazing rather unhappily into the undergrowth. As she watched, he turned with a remnant of dangerous grace, and seated himself on a fallen log. He spotted her just as she was about to slink away into the woods.
“Hello girl,” he said in an emotionless voice. “Who’s a good wolf, then? Eh?”
He chuckled and pulled a flat metal flask out of the top of his boot, hiking his white robe up to his knees to do so. Cybes saw the golden sunburst and crimson shepherd’s crook of the Hand of the Light – the man was a Questioner. And from the looks of things, he wasn’t alone. A Whitecloak Questioner, sneaking away from his troop for a quiet drink, just days away from Tar Valon. To venture this close to the Aes Sedai, there must be thousands of them.
Suddenly, Cybes wondered what the Whitecloaks might do if they encountered Contro, the Green Man, and the homicidal Cow. Not to mention the fact that she was running with them – she knew most sober Whitecloaks didn’t like wolves very much. And if this guy was from the rear of the party, the front of the column would just about be…
She dug her claws into the earth, coiled herself, and bolted back the way she had come.
Forsaken_1 didn’t doubt that there was a shining good reason for the trip to Arafel. He also didn’t doubt that Mister C of 9 would have had a lot to say about it. Moiraine, apparently, was going to the house of some retired Aes Sedai, to research some old texts in the hope of uncovering something about the Prophesies of the Dragon. It seemed somehow familiar. While everybody else was bustling around and getting into trouble, Moiraine was planning on sitting in a dusty old library somewhere, looking through scrolls and conferring with wise old individuals.
He had to admit, it would be the last place he’d look.
“Rand al’Thor is dead,” Moiraine confided in him as they rode out of Tar Valon and bore north. “Matters in Tar Valon will take care of themselves for the time being – there are barely even fifty novices in the Tower, and most of them are not worth raising to Accepted. If the Great Lord intends to convert all the Aes Sedai, it will be done, of course.”
“Of course,” Forsaken_1 said, concentrating on not falling off Mandarb’s back. The massive black warhorse was by no means used to him, and all attempts to become buddies with the beast had fallen tragically flat. He had even tried to give it some of his plum-cake from the previous night, and had nearly lost his fingers. Then the horse had – with viciousness aforethought – contracted chronic diarrhea from the plums, and crapped all over Forsaken_1’s bedroll. Lan had laughed way too loudly. Since then, Mandarb had been atrocious at every turn. Forsaken_1 wasn’t sure he’d ever get used to the damn thing. “Yeah, the Great Lord,” he went on, looking back over his shoulder furtively. Lan was somewhere back there, riding a pony and looking completely silly in his Whitecloak gear. He’d been drinking steadily since the bet, and had switched from ale to hard spirits when Nynaeve had returned from her meeting with the Amyrlin Seat and declared that the Great Lord would never allow her to fall in love with a lousy drunk. “I’ve been meaning to ask you about that…”
“There is no need to ask fucking questions, my dear Warder,” Moiraine said happily. She fingered her new black-edged shawl happily. “We are heading to Tifan’s Well for a very bloody good reason, and it is this – the Dragon is dead, but so was Lews Therin Telamon. If Lews Therin can be reborn, surely so too can Rand al’Thor? We must find out if there are any provisions in the Prophesy to allow Rand al’Thor to die and return in any other form – or for him to die, and be replaced, or for him to die, and still win. In other words, how we can still be hog-tied and fucked over a slow flame, even though we’ve killed their kingpin. Reborning fucker that he is.”
“Right, but this Great Lord…”
“Adelas and Vandene have been retired from the White Tower for many many years,” Moiraine went on, “but they are not without their uses. They know many things, and have access to ancient texts I have never even seen. They are writing a history of their own, you see, and they will be able to tell me what the death of Rand al’Thor means in terms of the Prophesy.”
“I thought the general consensus with Siuan Sanche was that we were fucked,” Forsaken_1 offered. He was quite proud of himself for remembering this little snippet of information. “Rand gone, no more Dragon, Dark One wins.”
“That’s the general plan, yes,” Moiraine smiled. “But there might still be a way we can be defeated. That is what I must find out from Adelas and Vandene.”
“Uh huh. So, how likely are they to help you while you’re wearing that, uh, makeup? Morticia?”
Moiraine turned in her saddle, assaulting Forsaken_1 with the full effects of medieval mascara, black lipstick and white face-powder. Forsaken_1 had to admit it was somehow arousing. Maybe because it made her look like one of those silent movie stars from the Twenties – those women were so quiet and blinky and never spoke, but they were obviously aching for it, at least Forsaken_1 always thought so. It was something in their eyes.
“Do you have a Ghul-damned problem with my makeup?”
“Apart from the fact that it spatters on me when I ride behind you?”
At that moment, an enormous grey wolf bounded past them, overtaking and vanishing up the path. Moiraine’s graceful little white Aldieb pranced away from the terrifying beast, almost tipping the Aes Goth-ai into the shrubbery. Mandarb tried to trample the wolf, but it had already dashed into the forest ahead. Forsaken_1 heard it howling and yapping furiously.
“That idiot of a Whitecloak might have fucking warned us about the cunting wildlife,” Moiraine snapped. “I ought to go back there and castrate him with blunt flows of air-”
She suddenly reined her horse up, jerking savagely on the reins and baring her teeth in a silent curse. Mandarb jolted to a stop as well, almost tipping Forsaken_1 over the front. Then, the Warder heard voices.
“Ha ha ha!! What are you doing! No, we’re going this way!! Ha ha ha! Honestly! You’re going the wrong way now! Hello, who’s this? Hey, don’t I know you? Maybe I don’t, but I’m sure somebody does! Ha ha ha!!”
Forsaken_1 buried his face in Mandarb’s mane, and sobbed.