Forsaken_1 trudged through the gardens of the White Tower, pausing to kick at any particularly happy-looking bushes or vindictively-colourful flowers. He was a tortured and tormented hero, and no mistake.
Debs and Janica were gone, with that awful Logain guy, to fight the Dark One, or Ishamael, or whoever. They didn’t know what he knew – that Logain wasn’t interested in being the Dragon Reborn, and now that he had his power back he was going to scarper as soon as he saw an opening.
If that opening happened to belong to Forsaken_1, he would likely scarper all the faster.
Forsaken_1 shuddered. It didn’t bear thinking about. Logain had said he would hang around, for the sake of the man he had set his heart on, but did that extend to the fight Debs and Janica were dragging him into? Forsaken_1 didn’t think so. And what was more, the forces of evil already knew about the plan. And that was his fault. Never mind that it had turned out to be exactly the right thing to do – nobody would understand that.
And now he was stuck here, Wardering for Moiraine and babysitting Contro.
“Ha ha ha!!! That was a good one! Anybody else?”
“There’s no more in the area for now,” Moiraine said, sitting on the edge of the wagon. “But that’s eight Aes Sedai and thirteen novices we’ve done. Before too much longer, we’ll be able to come out of hiding and move into the Tower. There are powerful Darkfriends in there … perhaps even more than that. You’d better get charged up again.”
“Do you think there’s any way we could turn those … you know, the Forsaken … the same way we turned you and the other Aes Sedai?” Forsaken_1 asked. The beginning of a plan was forming in his mind – a way to redeem the really dumb things he had done in the past. Some of the really dumb things he’d done, at least.
Moiraine frowned. “First of all, Foreskin, I’m not sure if they even are Forsaken. Secondly, I don’t know if it’s really this damn Tinker and his cuntable wolf who are responsible for the turning. It might just be a coincidence. And thirdly, I don’t want to be reminded that it happened to me. And you were there and everything, and you didn’t manage to stop it from happening. Sometimes I think I’d be better off with that wineskin of a Malkieri,” she paused, then smiled. “But then I remember why I picked you.”
Forsaken_1’s shoulders slumped, and he watched Moiraine walk away into the garden. Then and there, he made his decision. He squared his shoulders, stuck out his chin and headed for the wagon.
Contro looked up from his tickling as Forsaken_1 lifted the bright blue canvas flap.
“Hello!!” he cried, and touched his finger to Forsaken_1’s chain mail.
“Hi Con – agh! You little cunt!” Forsaken_1 clutched his chest and hopped around in a little jig of rage.
“Ha ha ha! I was just checking!! Ha ha ha!! I think! Was that a good one?!!”
“I’m freakin’ well not a Ghul-damn Darkfriend!” Forsaken_1 growled, accessing Moiraine’s profanity and adding it to his own.
“Well no!! Ha ha ha! Not any more!!! It was a good one then, was it?! Ha ha ha!! Honestly! Of course you’re not a Darkfriend, I just zapped you, didn’t I? Maybe I didn’t!! Ha ha ha! Isn’t it funny that you’re not a Darkfriend even though I didn’t zap you! Maybe the trick is for me to not zap people!!”
“The trick is not to zap me,” Forsaken_1 said as calmly as he could. “Not every fucking time I lift up this fucking wagon cover.”
“Oh! That’s not what I was told before!!”
“Are you sure?”
“Ha ha ha! Funny name that! Who are you talking about?!?!??”
Forsaken_1 exchanged a look with Cybes, and sighed. Cybes looked up at him and gave a happy, fuzzy, upside-down, well-tickled shrug.
“Okay, look, I don’t have time to explain this, but I need to give Cybes a tickle-tum,” Forsaken_1 went on. “It’s very important.”
“Alright! Go for it, but don’t do it wrong! Ha ha ha!! Because if you do it wrong, she dry-humps you and it’s all icky and horrible!”
“Uh huh. Look, why don’t you just go outside and sit in the sun for a while?” Forsaken_1 patted Contro’s gaudily-coloured shoulder. “It’ll do you good.”
“Okay! Ha ha ha!! Sit in the sun! It’s a funny saying, isn’t it?! Wouldn’t it be awfully hot to sit in the sun? Ha ha ha! Right inside it, I mean!”
“Don’t go far from the wagon,” Forsaken_1 said. “Just … stay within sight, and don’t wander away. And don’t eat anything. And remember to keep breathing in and out.”
He climbed up into the creepy little wagon as Contro jumped out, and sat down next to Cybes. Cybes lifted her front paws up over her head and looked up at the Warder expectantly.
“Why do you put up with that kid?” Forsaken_1 grumbled.
Cybes arched her back expressively, and turned her belly towards the man.
“I guess it’s okay for you, you can’t talk.”
Cybes wagged her tail, tucked her back legs up and made a complete liar of Forsaken_1 with her eyes.
The Californian Warder reached out and began to rub vigourously. Cybes lay quite still and felt rather good about herself.
The mist curled down over the city of Falme. Chucky and Mister C of 9 watched as the upper storeys of the houses vanished, and the visibility was reduced to a few metres on either side.
“What do we do now, chief?” Mister C asked, making himself comfortable on the ground beside a big barrel of apples.
“I don’t know,” Chucky said. “This is the first big battle with the Seanchan. Mat’s supposed to blow the Horn of Valere and Rand’s supposed to fight Ishamael for the second time and kill him again. But that’s not going to happen, because-”
“I’m supposed to blow the bloody what?” Mat exclaimed, spitting apple seeds everywhere.
“Nothing. It’s a story I was memorising,” Chucky winced. “Um, different Mat. Yeah.”
Loial leaned over from the other side of the apple barrel. They all agreed that the barrel was an excellent source of cover, but none of them seemed to agree on where the danger was actually coming from.
“If I eat many more apples, I’ll get myself a nasty case of channeling the flows,” he reported. Perrin yodeled with laughter. “Chucky, can I go over to that bread stall and get myself a roll or two? I’ll leave some money.”
“All right,” Chucky said unwillingly. “But make sure you come straight back. I don’t like this mist,” the sounds of distant battle filtered through to them, and another patrol of grolm-mounted Seanchan galloped past on the main road. They didn’t stop to look at the gleeman and his companions.
“So what do we do?” Mister C asked again.
“Um, I’d suggest staying down and keeping out of the way,” Chucky replied.
“Who do we get to kill?”
“Nobody. I don’t know who we’re supposed to be killing. If you try to kill the Seanchan, their damane will blow you up. There’s Whitecloaks, but I don’t know if you should go out and kill them. That might be a bad idea,” Chucky was still tempted. The Whitecloaks were annoying and pointless. “So we shouldn’t kill anybody just now.”
“But I don’t like not killing anybody,” Mister C complained.
“I think we should have stayed with Liandrin Sedai,” Loial moaned. “And Verin Sedai. They would have protected us.”
“They’re long gone,” Chucky said.
“You should have stayed with Liandrin Sedai,” Mat said. “She liked you.”
“She never,” Chucky snapped. “That was a big misunderstanding.”
“She wanted your gleestaff,” Perrin added with a leer.
“Shut up! I’m a married man!”
“Sure you are,” Mat said sympathetically. “You tell a great story, Chucky, but married? Come on, none of us would buy that for a half-crown on Bel Tine.”
“I am so married!”
“Yeah, sure – what’s her name?”
“Yah-nee-car? Any relation to Yoru and Yuo?”
“Shut up,” Chucky growled, and rummaged in the apple barrel to hide his face. “Look, I think it’d just be better if we just stayed here and kept quiet. Okay?” he turned, fully intending to wrangle agreement from Mister C of 9, Loial, Mat and Perrin. But they were nowhere to be seen. “Hi,” Chucky said instead.
“You be dead, so you do be,” Bayle Domon growled. Behind him, Padan Fain gave a nasty little weaselly giggle.
Janica insisted that Debs describe exactly what was happening, for the benefit of those who were short of sight.
“An’ the men and women are, like, ridin’ doon oot o’ the mest,” Debs said breathlessly. “They’re on horses an’ in chariots an’ all sorts o’ things. There’s a guy with a rocket-pack! And a woman over there, she’s got two lances!”
“That’s stupid,” Janica said, her practical nature taking over. “Is Artur Hawkwing there?”
“Better yet, is Lews Therin Telamon there?” Logain said suddenly.
Debs and Janica froze.
“I never thought o’ that,” Janica admitted.
“Me neither,” Debs agreed. “Wait, here comes Artur Hawkwin’.”
The Ogier were watching in awe as the Heroes rode down the banks of mist. A tall, hook-nosed man rode out at the head of the group, and halted facing the sul’dam and the damane. His massive sword, Justice, hung unconvincingly at his side.
“What’s all this?” he called in a booming voice. “Who has summoned us?”
Debs cast an irritated glance at Hoarni. “He did.”
“Good grief,” Artur said, fixing Hoarni with a piercing glare. “An Ogier. That’s twisted.”
“Can ye go doon there an’ kill some Seanchan for us?” Debs asked. “They’re invadin’, and ye’re supposed tae scare them off fer a little while, and there’s some other fightin’ as well … luke, most o’ them are Darkfriends, alreet?”
“Who are you people?” Artur demanded, fingering Justice casually.
“We’re nobody important. You might recognise the Dragon Reborn, though,” Janica said, and pointed at Vamps. Debs gripped Janica’s wrist and turned her finger so it pointed at Logain. The Heroes stared at him for a long, silent minute.
It was Gaidal Cain who first started to chuckle. He nudged Rogosh Eagle-Eye and murmured something to him, and Rogosh guffawed. Another one started to giggle, and then another, until the whole host was roaring. Birgitte fell to the ground and rolled around, clutching her belly. Logain cast an apologetic look at Debs. Janica sidled back to the Ogier, and began whispering urgently with Wyse. Slowly, the laughter died down.
“Ruh…” Artur Hawkwing wheezed, and wiped his eyes. “Ruh … uh … Ruhha ha ha ha hahahahahand! Rand, come over here.”
The ranks of Heroes parted, and Rand al’Thor stepped through. A burning heron-marked sword hung at his side.
Debs stared. “Ye’re nae Lews Therin! Ye’re Rand!”
“Of course I am,” Rand said coolly. “When I was alive, I was Lews Therin reborn, but when I got killed I was returned to the Horn. I’m the Dragon, unborn. When I get reborn next, I’ll be Rand al’Thor reborn. I can only remember it when I’m in between lives, though,” he grinned. “It’s mint being a Hero of the Horn.”
“I’ll be fecked,” Debs murmured.
“Did he say ‘mint’?” Janica asked.
“I’m afraid so,” Artur Hawkwing said. “I fear it will be even more annoying in a thousand years’ time. But as you can see,” he went on with a grin, “this is the Dragon right here. So your fine swishy friend here can’t be Lews Therin reborn, let alone Rand al’Thor reborn, let alone the Dragon.”
“There’s a wee problem wi’ tha’,” Debs said. “The Last Battle’s commin’. And the Dragon – Rand – was killed by Ishamael. We need a new Dragon, begorrah.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Artur said. “Rand is the Dragon. We follow the Dragon, not some guy who says he’s the Dragon because the Dragon happens to be dead. That’s not the way it-”
There was a swish, a celery-chopping crunchy noise, and Logain stepped back, sheathing his sword. Rand’s head fell onto the ground, and there was a lot of blood for a few seconds. With expert timing, Janica stepped forward and shoved the Dragon banner into Logain’s hands.
“Who’s the Dragon?” Debs asked in a forbidding rumble.
“Let’s all go kill some Seanchan,” Artur Hawkwing quickly declared.
Tingling with static electricity and covered in itchy grey wolf-hair, Forsaken_1 stalked through the halls of the White Tower. He climbed stairs and took long, sweaty breaks to get his breath back. Then he walked some more.
Finally, he arrived at what he had begun to think of as the Oval Office, where the Amyrlin Seat and all her cronies sat and plotted the downfall of the world. He walked into the room that, with typical bad-guy overconfidence, had been left not just unlocked, but wide open. Holding the humming, buzzing Finger of the Light out in front of himself like a beacon, he slipped behind the lines, to do whatever he had to do to save his soul.
“What are you doing here?”
He spun, and came face to face with the towering, darkness-wreathed figure of Angamael. Endless caverns of fire roared and pulsed behind his eyes, and his grin was a furnace. It was all a little bit overdone, but it still gave Forsaken_1 a good scare.
“What are you doing here?” he squeaked. “You’re meant to be at Toman Head, fighting.”
“Are you serious?” Angamael laughed. “What sort of an idiot do you think I am? I knew those rebels were up to something, and I know they’ve come up with some sort of replacement Dragon. Why would I go and fight him? I might get killed,” Angamael laughed again, loud and long and mocking. “You really are a stupid little – ow you cunt!”
Angamael jumped up and down as the electricity coursed through him, and then stared at Forsaken_1 in disbelief.
“Is that all you’ve got?” he sneered. “How about if I whup your ass for you?”
“Better you than Logain,” Forsaken_1 muttered.
“Is that who they have over at Toman Head?”
“Like I told you,” Forsaken_1 peered closely at Angamael, but couldn’t see if his zapping had had any sort of effect at all. “Remember? And you said you’d go and kill him.”
“I never said that,” Angamael said. “But don’t worry – no matter how many Dragon Reborns they throw at me, I’ll get rid of them. What I want to know is, why did you give me the old carpet-zapper? What was the point of that? If it was supposed to turn me from the Dark One, the way you’re apparently turning back my Aes Sedai, forget it – it doesn’t work with willing participants. We’ve been experimenting. I should thank you, really. Not only have you alerted me to a potential threat to my rule here in Tar Valon, but you’ve given me every excuse I need to dress the Aes Sedai up in latex.”
Forsaken_1 gasped. “You are truly the master of evil,” he said with no small amount of admiration. “But I can’t let you get away with this. As much as I’d like to see it.”
Angamael stepped back, and drew his shotgun. “Ready then, bitch?”
“A gun?” Forsaken_1 asked, wrinkling his nose. “What are you, some kind of a wuss?” Angamael froze. “Come on,” Forsaken_1 went on, raising his fists. “Fight like a man, for once in your sissy, girly life.”
“Ahh,” Angamael said. “This is the part where the good guy taunts the bad guy and the bad guy throws away his gun and they fight hand-to-hand and the good guy wins, right? Well, you’re shit out of luck, because even without this shotgun, I have the One Power, the True Power, and even without those, I could still whip you, but you know what?”
Angamael pulled the trigger.
“I’m still not going to fall for it,” he concluded.
Vamps wandered through the streets of Falme, completely alone and encumbered with the bag of crap they had long ago stolen from Bayle Domon’s ship. Debs and Janica had gone off with Logain, to make sure he got in the right fights and did the right thing, and was seen in the air above Toman Head and all that. Vamps just wished he could go home to Far Madding and have a cup of cocoa and have his Mom tell him a story about … well, about…
He sighed. He’d seen all the Heroes now, and they weren’t as exciting as the stories he’d heard. They smelled bad, and they swore, and they had horses and bulls and camels and giant apes to ride, and they all smelled terrible too and even some of them swore. Rogosh Eagle-Eye said he’d been a long time dead and wanted to wage at least half of his campaign in the nearest whorehouse, and Timmy Tinderstriker said the same thing, except in a much nastier way. It made Vamps’ ears burn just thinking about it.
So when he met the man with the gimp mask, and the unsavoury deep breathing, he assumed it was just Zorro, under a slightly different name.
“Are you the Dragon?” Zorro asked, his voice wet. “The new Dragon for whom I was sent here?”
“What? Oh, no, you’re looking for Lews Therin reborn,” Vamps recited his lines dutifully. He looked around, but suddenly couldn’t see anything in the mist. “He’s around here somewhere. Fighting the Dark One.”
“Is he, now?” Zorro said. “Well, it just so happens that I am the Dark One, and I am here to kill the Dragon. Again.”
“You’re not the Dark One,” Vamps said, suddenly realising what the little flickers and flashes of light were meant to be in Zorro’s eyes and mouth. “If anything, you’re Ishamael, but I don’t think you’re even him.”
“You know much,” Ishamael said softly. Then his leather-clad shoulders slumped. “Okay, I’m not Angamael,” he confessed. “The Nae’blis sent me here to fight for him. He said the whole thing was a farce anyway. But we have to keep up appearances. Now, I just saw your hand when you picked your nose-”
“I was scratching.”
“So you might as well admit you’re the fool they have set up to be the next Dragon. I am afraid, therefore, that I must kill you now.”
Vamps looked down at his burned hand. “There’s been a mistake,” he said. “I’m not-”
Balthamel turned, and was suddenly holding a long, charred-black staff. His eyes flamed a lot more convincingly. “Come, Lews Therin,” he boomed. “Choose your weapon.”
Vamps fumbled for the Source, and almost retched as the taint slid over him in a greasy wave. He lost saidin very abruptly. He pulled out his sword, and Balthamel slapped it with his staff. The sudden vibration stung Vamps’ fingers, and he dropped the sword with a scream. The weapon flashed away into the rolling clouds. Suddenly, there didn’t seem to be any ground underneath him at all. Vertigo robbed him of any courage he may have had left at all. His clammy, terrified hands fumbled with the bag of junk from Domon’s ship.
“Now I end this, Lews Therin,” Balthamel recited dutifully, and thrust his staff forwards like a spear. It punched into Vamps’ side, and Vamps shrieked like a little girl and weed in his leather pants. His hand closed around the hilt of a knife, and he slashed blindly at his attacker as darkness gathered at the edges of his vision.
All over Toman Head, warriors looked up at the sound of the terrible, watery scream. They saw two great figures struggling in the sky – one cloaked in darkness, the other sort of pallid and frightened-looking. The first had his weapon, a great black staff, thrust cruelly into the side of the second … and yet it was the first that seemed to be dying. With another horrible scream of agony, the dark figure flew backwards, clutching at a wound on his arm. Then, the mist seemed to thicken as vile black-green smoke started to pour out of the Dark One’s eyes and mouth and anus. He collapsed, and collapsed, and continued to collapse, folding in on himself and bubbling until there was nothing left but a small black puddle in the air, bubbling and frothing and giving off great clouds of stink. A zipper-wrapped gimp mask floated to the surface for a moment, and was gone.
“What is it?” Janica asked in hushed tones.
“Nothin’,” Debs replied, casting Logain a warning glare. “Nothin’ at all.”