Satsujinki was angry.
That wasn’t saying much, just by itself. The majority of his life had been defined in shades of futile red rage. Some of the sunnier times of his life, when he had been a young boy growing up in downtown Aukland, with many friends and the love of a healthy, well-adjusted family, he could remember being simply unsatisfied, frustrated and generally pissy. The pinnacle of his life, when he had been to see Akira at the mega-screen in Wellington, he had been merely disgruntled. But most of the time, he had been much, much angrier than your average person.
Right now, he believed he had a special reason to be angry, a damn good reason that would make even a normal person mad, and that was when Satsujinki was at his furious best. At times when he had real reasons to be angry, his impotent rage faded away and the righteousness set in, stoking the hot fires of his hatred to a furnace of white-hot vitriol. At these times, he almost broke the psychological scales and re-emerged on the other side, in a state of glacial calm.
Satsujinki read the letter again. Aloud. That was the only way he had ever learned to read.
“Dear Satsujinki,” his finger left a faint smear of pizza grease across the computer monitor as he tracked from left to right. “Congratulations! You have been accepted in the Wheel of Time Experience’s Last Chance Draw! Your entry has been recalled from the first-time winners, and the error that resulted in your removal from the game has been reviewed…”
As with all the other times, Satsujinki was unable to continue. He choked, spluttered, and bent over and put his head between his knees. He growled and chewed on his tongue, until the thick ribbons of foam slavering from his lips were streaked with red. He felt hot tears of rage building up behind his eyeballs, and clenched them back furiously, using them to increase his indignation.
The fucking Wheel of Time Experience! He’d gone along with it, and had even had the presence of mind to take along a huge stash of modern weaponry and all the other things that he thought he might need. And he’d been dropped into the middle of Shayol Ghul or some place, as a rat, and had been stamped on by Ishamael. The unfairness of it was enough to reduce him to incoherent grunts and gurgles, even months later.
The only thing that had been able to cheer him up, in the meantime, was visiting the newsgroup. All the cunts were gone. That smarmy Scottish woman Debs, and her oh-so-reasonable stance on his behaviour – gone. That dribbling freak Vamps – gone. Contro, Forsaken_1, Shannon, Dr. Nick, and all the other whining yes-men and assholes who fawned and kissed ass all day long, filling the group with Knightly bullshit – all gone. Even Mister C of 9, with his towering class that made Satsujinki feel small and inadequate and weaselly – gone. And best of all, the flabby Australian supercunt-and-a-half with cheese, Chucky the Apostate, and his tiny narrow-minded shrew of a wife Janica, gone. The newsgroup was his own personal playground.
He’d entertained himself, since his return to the real world, by doing all the things he’d ever wanted to do. He’d declared himself the oldest poster in the group, and when some cunt called Fallen Angel had disagreed with him, he’d shouted at her until she’d fucked off. He went to the afrj website and flooded it with one-word messages and votes and meaningless comments. He’d posted new rules and then the old rules under new names, with “NOT” stuck in the front of each rule. When a shitty little Greek wanker called Org had asked him why he wasn’t away in Randland like all the other people who’d won, Satters had shouted at him until he ran away as well. Org hadn’t actually really left, but Satsujinki knew without a doubt that he’d won, and that Org would be too afraid to talk to him again, without his Knights to protect him. The cheeky bastard. How dare he? Asking a question like that. What a retard. Satsujinki hated him so much, and had shown him so, but he’d done it so skillfully that Org had gone away thinking Satsujinki was suave and collected and intellectual, and had spent the entire time laughing into the back of his hand at the Greek boy’s naïve manner. Anything Org said now was just … sour grapes. Yeah, sour grapes. He’d lost, and he knew it. Even if he kept posting. Which okay, he had. But still.
Satsujinki had almost forgotten the whole embarrassing, annoying, infuriating Wheel of Time Experience had ever happened. And now this e-mail arrived, and brought it all flooding back.
And they wanted him to go back for more! What did they think he was, an Australian rugby player?
“Dear complete and utter fuck,” Satsujinki began to draft his reply. “You fucking retarded fucks, you really thought I ever wanted to join your retarded juvenile baby game in the first place?” he’d heard Chucky the Apostate use the word ‘juvenile’ once, and thought it was pretty nice, even though he didn’t know and didn’t care what ‘juvenile’ meant. “Get a fucking life, you lying fucking fucks. Why would I ever want to be a part of your stupid baby roleplaying, like you didn’t force me to last time, and I was a really good sport about it, but I never went because I wanted to, but you never made me do it except your lies made me think it would be fun to take the piss out of you, you deceived me into going along and you fucked up all the way, and if I have to explain this to you it just proves how retarded you are, you retarded cunts,” he paused again, and put his head back between his knees. He took a few deep breaths, almost inhaling a long strand of his own saliva in the process. “And if you think I’m angry,” he went on, “you’re even dumber than I thought, and that’s saying something. Wait,” he muttered to himself. “This doesn’t have the right number of capitals.”
He went back and capitalised ‘Retard’, ‘Piss’ and ‘Wanted To’. Then he smiled and continued.
“I’m not mad, I’m laughing, and I’ll keep on laughing if you fucks think I’m ever going back to your stupid little fucking game, fuck you all, you fucks. Fuck,” he concluded firmly. “Sincerely, Satsujinki. Ha, there, that’ll prove how calm and cool I am.”
He grinned savagely and sent the e-mail. His modem pinged. The screen faded to blue, and a message scrolled across from left to right.
THANK YOU FOR ACCEPTING OUR CHALLENGE!
“Oh, you cun-”
“Can you hear me, Foreskin?”
Forsaken_1 opened his eyes and looked up into a mass of nervous foliage.
“You’re okay,” Somashta said with relief. “I was afraid the Betrayer of Hope had managed to kill you after all. He was … most thorough.”
“Shot me,” Forsaken_1 mumbled. It was all he could really remember, but it was such a huge part of his recent memory, it seemed like a vast and all-encompassing event, unable to be sufficiently explained by two little words. “Shot me. Cunt shot me.”
“Then had you thrown from the top of the White Tower, to ensure that you did not survive. And declared a week’s worth of non-channeling in Tar Valon, punishable by unspeakable torment in the embrace of Machin Shin,” the Green Man added. “He’s got Black Ajah Aes Sedai all over the place, ready to detect even the slightest hint of the One Power being used. So we couldn’t depend on Moiraine’s Warder bond to help you very much, and of course she can’t Heal you. We had to do it the other way.”
“Sleepyhead leaf, a wooden scalpel, four litres of potato-liquor and a generous serving of good old-fashioned Singing for Luck.”
“And that saved me from the fall?”
“Oh no, that just saved you from the pellets of lead in your belly. When they threw you off the roof, you happened to land in … well, in me. I caught you, and they saw you in the branches of a big tree, all broken and stuff, and gave you up for dead. By all rights, without Healing, you ought to be.”
“She realised the best thing for you would be rest, so she’s outside trying to stop Contro from coming in to wish you well.”
Forsaken_1 felt a sudden surge of gratitude. He lay back, and looked up at the striped canvas ceiling above him. “I’m in his wagon,” he said.
“It was the safest place for you,” Someshta chuckled. “Believe me, it’s a tight squeeze in here. I’m helping to maintain the illusion that Cow is pulling along nothing but a wagon-load of firewood and shrubbery. I think I’m sticking out in a dozen places. I haven’t had this much fun in centuries.”
“And we haven’t been found yet?”
“Not yet. We’re continually moving around the city. Surprisingly enough, your Tinker friend and his wolf are causing more trouble than me and you combined.”
“That’s not surprising,” Forsaken_1 frowned. “How’s the operation going? The Aes Sedai? Are they all back to normal?”
Someshta looked uncomfortable, as only a twenty-foot man made of bracken stuffed into a Tinker wagon can. “No,” he confessed. “In fact if anything, it’s taken a step in the wrong direction. The Betrayer of Hope has found an ingenious method not only of protecting his servants from transformation, but also of finding the non-Darkfriend Aes Sedai, and changing them back.”
“He has people walking the grounds, asking, ‘Are you a Darkfriend?’ to every woman they meet. Aes Sedai can not lie, and so they say ‘no’. And they are hustled away for reprogramming. The novices and Accepted are more difficult to find, but all it takes is one reprogrammed Aes Sedai to blow the whistle on the whole operation and how many we’ve managed to turn. It’s not good,” the Green Man gave a rustling sigh. “I think we should give Tar Valon up for lost, and concentrate on the Aiel – all of the Aiel. But Moiraine has said she will die rather than give Tar Valon up to the Betrayer of Hope.”
“I bet she didn’t really say that.”
“No,” Someshta admitted. “She used a lot more cuss-words.”
“So what are we going to do?” Forsaken_1 demanded.
“Well, you’re going to lie here and get well. We’ve heard promising things from Toman Head – apparently the Dragon Reborn rose up and did battle with the Dark One.”
“But that can’t be right. I saw him-”
“That’s what we’ve heard. It means the new Dragon Debs and Janica are raising is doing his work. It’s what the people see that’s important, after all.”
“I guess so,” Forsaken_1 muttered.
“In the meantime, there are a few things I’m thinking about doing,” Someshta went on. “Once you’re feeling better, you might want to help me. There might be a smarter, easier way of getting Tar Valon back than just walking around electrocuting the Aes Sedai.”
The Green Man began to explain his incredibly clever scheme, and Forsaken_1 quickly tuned out and went to sleep.
“Bloo that feckin’ thing one more time, Hoarni…”
“I’m sorry, it just seemed like the best thing to do in the circumstances.”
“Ach, sorry Artur, this was a wee false alarm. We were sorta talkin’ amongst oorselves aboot what tae do next, like, an’ when we dinna deceed stratawee-”
“What’s she saying?”
Janica sighed. “False alarm,” she repeated. “We weren’t sure what to do, and whenever we’re not sure what to do, Hoarni … well, blows the Horn. We’ll try to stop him in future.”
“See that you do. We’re not handmaidens.”
Janica scowled at Hoarni as the Heroes stamped back into the billowing mists. “What was that for? The Heroes of the Horn aren’t going to carry us into the Mountains.”
“They won’t. And if you keep calling them, they’ll get pissed off wi’ ye and then we’ll be in real trouble.”
“Ach, go easy on the big laddie,” Debs grinned. “What’re they gonna dae? Streek?”
“If they decide to streak, I’m just glad I can’t see anything.”
“I mean, go on streek,” Debs explained. “It’s nae like they can just stop commin’.”
“We don’t know that!” Janica hissed. “Mat only blew the Horn once in the story.”
“How far away are these mountains?” Mister C of 9 asked.
“A week or more, on foot,” Janica said hesitantly. “That’s how long ago we let Vamps and Logain go off with those Borderlanders. They’d be in the moomins … I mean moontins … I mean mountains, already. But I didn’t realise there’s things we need to tell Logain, to make sure he does his job properly.”
“Plus, there’s probably Aes Sedai with him noo, and they might be Darkfriends,” Debs added.
“No way am I walking for a week,” Mister C said flatly. “I’m not a halfcamel.”
“There’s got to be a better way,” Janica said. “Don’t even think about it, Hoarni.”
“I waffn’t,” Hoarni said around the mouthpiece of the Horn.
Mister C of 9 sat down under a tree and plucked disinterestedly at an arrow that was lodged there. “Why did you let Logain get so far away from you anyway?” he asked. “If he’s the Dragon now, why did you let him get hustled off?”
“It had to happen that way,” Janica said. “It happened that way in the books, you see. He was injured, and he went off with the Borderlanders and they became the first wave of his army. Then he ran away from them, and went to Tear to fulfill another of his prophesies. We told Logain all of that, but we’re not sure if he was all the way on board about it.”
“Why didn’t you go with him?”
“We had to round these guys up, and make sure everybody was okay,” Janica grumbled. “They may treat it like a toy, but the Horn is very important, and we couldn’t lose track of it. Then, what with one thing and another, we just got stuck here. The fighting kept going back and forth, and then there was that big storm two days ago, and Hoarni blew the Horn to get the Heroes to protect him from the thunder…”
“And we were lukin’ fer sommat,” Debs added. “In the palace.”
“What were you looking for?”
“One of the seals,” Janica said. “Eugene … Mister See … have you actually read the books?”
“The Lord of the Rings?”
“No. The Wheel of Time.”
“Why would I read that? American crap.”
“Okay. Anyway, we were looking for a seal,” Janica lowered her voice. “A seal to the Dark One’s prison. It’s a disc about this big, half black and half white, like a yin-yang. We’ve got two already. There was one, broken already, in the chest at the bottom of the Eye of the World. Moiraine took it, but we got it back from her while we were in Tar Valon. And there was a second one on board Bayle Domon’s boat.”
“That cunt. I remember him. I was on his boat earlier on, and I got shot full of arrows and I got pushed over the side and almost drowned.”
“Only Debs thinks there was another one. I seem to recall, in the books, that Domon was captured by the Seanchan and taken to High Lord Turak, who stole all his cuendillar pieces and added them to his collection. Domon had a seal, and Turak had another one. Since we already took Domon’s stuff, we were wondering where Turak’s one was,” Janica paused. “I’m not at all sure about there being a second seal in Turak’s collection, but it’s about the only thing in the book that Debs is sure about, apart from all of Logain’s scenes in microscopic detail.”
“I haven’t set eyes on anything like that,” Mister C of 9 said innocently. “Hey, if you want to get to this Dragon guy quickly, why not catch a ride with those guys?” he pointed up through the bare branches of the tree, at several circling specks in the air.
Debs looked upwards, and Janica felt the rush of smug glee and pre-emptive drunkenness slosh down through the a’dam.
“The raken boys?” she asked.
“Aye,” Debs replied.