Janica awoke to find herself in darkness. She reflected that even if the place had been blazing with light, she wouldn’t be able to see much. But the rest of her senses could come in handy. The air was cold and dank, there were distant sounds of feet and other activity above her head, and she was firmly tied to a wall by way of a heavy chain on one ankle. So she was in a basement or a cellar somewhere, and it seemed like a big house, bustling with activity in the rooms above. A palace? It didn’t seem particularly dungeonny, and the manner of their capture ruled out any sort of official police or government involvement.
And of course she had read the books, and she knew they had been captured by Sammael, posing as Lord Brend, and they had likely been taken straight to the cellars of the Great Hall of the Council, where Sammael had taken command under the name ‘Lord Brend’. Sammael, and apparently Aginor as well. Working together – had they been allied in the books? There was something very strange about it.
“Anybody here?” she whispered, before rolling her eyes at her own stupidity. Reaching up with both hands – they were tied together as well, but not attached to anything – she felt the cool metal of the a’dam. So their captors hadn’t managed to open it. Tracing the slender chain from the collar backwards, she found it looped firmly around Debs’ wrist, and then she discovered that she hadn’t been leaning against a wall at all. She and Debs had been chained together a second time, with more conventional chains, and she had been leaning against her slumbering sul’dam when she awoke.
“Ach,” Debs slurred, and shifted her red-clad bulk slowly. Chains clinked and rattled. “Mah heed.”
“Aye,” Janica whispered. “Not so loud, I don’t think we’re alone.”
“You’re not,” Vamps said boldly from the far wall. “Fear not, I’ll protect you. But my chains are really uncomfortable. And I can’t seem to channel. Oh, and Logain’s over here, but he got hit on the head again, and he hasn’t woken up yet. I don’t know where the Ogier are, and Nynaeve.”
“She’s jes’ here,” Debs said, rolling over and encountering an angry little mass of bones and braid and coma. “She has’nae woken up either. Got a bet of a lump on ‘er noggin.”
Vamps whimpered. “What are they going to do with us? I want to go home. I don’t care if I have to help my mother cook the dinner, and go antique-hunting with her. I liked it in Far Madding. I even miss my big brother. If he was here, he’d kick everybody’s asses.”
“Well, he isn’t,” Janica said, trying to imagine an older version of Puddin, and failing. He was Puddin Taim, and she assumed that meant his older brother was Mazrim. Would Mazrim Taim be any comfort in this situation? Maybe. Would he turn out to be just like Puddin? Possibly. “Luke, does anybody know what happened to the Ogier? They were carrying some pretty important things.”
“I know about your heed,” Janica snapped. “I’m feeling it ten times more than you are, thanks to this stupid a’dam. Now listen. We’re shielded, and we’ve been captured by Sammael. And Aginor. If we-”
She was interrupted by a flash of blue light, which scrawled a line in the middle of the room and briefly illuminated the prisoners. Then the line revolved into a gateway with the whispering sound of paving stones being sliced crossways, and Sammael himself stepped into the room. Even Janica could see that he was dressed very impressively in all-new clothes, was armed with a long black fluted rod that was probably a balefire ter’angreal, and she knew with faint unease that he was swimming in saidin. The overall effect was a little bit spoiled by the fact that he had a large wad of cotton wool stuck in each nostril.
“Ing gase you were wudderig,” he said nasally, “I don’d led eddiebody Heal be if I lozd a fight. Thad’s why I’be god this sgar zdill.”
“Wha’?” Debs – of all people – frowned in perplexity.
It all made sense to Janica. “Sammael has this personality trait that makes him different from the other Forsaken,” she whispered. “He got that scar from Lews Therin, and didn’t have it Healed yet because Lews Therin beat him, so he wears it as a reminder. I guess he’s done the same thing with that broken nose you gave him. I also guess he’s going to have it Healed as soon as he balefires us with that thing in his hands.”
“We’re not going to balefire you,” Aginor stepped through the gateway, looking and sounding more and more like the Emperor from Star Wars with every new scene. “We have something far more … entertaining in mind.”
“Dow, rebeber what Angabale said aboud gloadig,” Sammael snuffled.
“Yes yes, Action First And Gloating Afterwards, In Private,” Aginor said, sounding discouraged. “It’s so unnatural, but I suppose it might work. Okay, let’s get them up to the chamber.”
The channelers were lifted by firm bonds of Air, and yanked bodily away from the walls. They were carried through the gateway and along a corridor somewhere in the bowels of the Great Hall. Soon, they were floated unceremoniously into a large circular room with a great glittering array of lanterns and candles and mirrors around the walls.
“Wha’ the feck’s all this?” Debs asked. Nynaeve stirred in her bonds, and awakened with a moan. She looked around with as much confusion as everybody else. “Are ye gonna bleend us?”
“Oh no,” Aginor said, obviously struggling not to tell them his whole plan and revel in their panic and despair, the way it should be done but which was apparently forbidden. “It’s for light. Can’t have shadow without light.”
“That sounds controversial,” Janica said.
“Only if you use capital letters,” Aginor replied. “And soon we’ll have a lovely collection of shadows.”
“We will id-deed,” said the other Forsaken. “Or by dabe iddn’t Sabbael.”
The whole mood was lost by the sniggering at about that point, and Sammael furiously waved an arm at the door in the far side of the room. It swung open, and a group of black-clad Aes Sedai filed in silently, curtseying deeply to the two Forsaken and looking at the prisoners with interest. There were eleven Aes Sedai in all.
“Sedd for de byrddraal,” Sammael said, and even a couple of the Black Ajah women covered black-lipsticked smiles with black-nail-polished hands. Aginor evidently wanted to make a derisive remark, but controlled himself as if recalling a lesson by rote. He waved a hand, and another door swung open. A rank of black-clad, eyeless figures marched in. There were twelve of them.
“We’re ready to begin,” Aginor said. “Apparently, we should do it right away with absolutely no hesitation, and without leaving them alone in this room for a few minutes while we see to some other matter and assuming they won’t find some way to escape.”
“Right,” Sammael said, and glanced at the halfmen, which were lining up around the room in silence. “Hey, there’s wud bissing.”
A thirteenth myrddraal hurried through the door, giving the assembly an apologetic grin.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said, wiping his sword hastily on his robe before sheathing it once again. “I thought the meeting was on the third floor, somebody forgot to send me a memo.”
“A bebbo?” Sammael scowled.
“Yes, right, a bebbo, not a memo.”
“This is one of those little matters that can wait until later,” Aginor said crisply. “Let’s not get sidetracked. Light the lanterns on my signal.”
The glimmering lanterns were reflected and magnified by the mirrors and curved lenses, and soon the chamber was illuminated with a brilliant silvery light. The Aes Sedai took up their positions, deferring respectfully before the daunting figures of Sammael and Aginor.
“I wish we could have gotten a few glowbulbs,” Aginor said in a low mutter, and Sammael nodded. “Well, let’s do this. Spirit, people. Pure Spirit, if you please.”
One of the Aes Sedai reached out and pulled a cloth away from the centre of the lamp-and-mirror arrangement, and a bright ray of light played across the assembled fades. Their shadows raced across the room, twirling and slithering. The myrddraal moaned and swayed.
“Do the men first,” Aginor instructed, “and then that little one. She’s the most powerful of the women. That fat one can hardly even channel, but they’re linked so we can do them at the same time without burning out too many fades.”
“Ach!” Debs struggled against her invincible bonds. Logain was dragged into the focus of the twirling shadows.
“Will I be forced to have sex with slutty women again?” he asked hoarsely. Aginor laughed.
“We’ll see,” he replied. “It’s up to the Nae’blis now. Process him!”
Upon the curt order, the halfmen increased the tempo of their rocking and moaning, and soon Logain was wreathed in crawling, sinuous shadows. A thick black cable of darkness formed, and swirled inwards with inexorable tidal swirlings. One end of the cord whipped away through the wall, and the other plunged clawlike into Logain’s chest. He stiffened and cried out in alarm. The cord stretched, thinned, and faded to invisibility.
Logain staggered back to his feet. He looked rather puzzled.
“Well?” Sammael said.
“Oh,” Logain said. “What are your commands, Great Chosen?”
“Excellent,” Aginor nodded. “Go outside and wait for your companions to join you. Your shield will be released.”
“Deggzd,” Sammal called.
“Next,” Aginor added when the myrddraal looked confused. Vamps stepped up to the centre of the room.
“Will I be forced to have sex with slutty women?” he asked brightly.
“No,” Aginor replied. “Now-”
That was when Logain kicked the door open, stood defiant with head held high and feet planted wide, and bathed the room in a machine-gun barrage of blazing fireballs.
They rode out of Remen in a disorganised, straggly caravan, Aes Sedai and Borderlanders and wolfbrothers and miscellaneous all mixed up. Chucky ended up riding next to Fain, who seemed to be having a little bit of trouble.
“The screams,” he said. “The screams.”
“There weren’t that many people trapped,” Chucky said defensively. “And anyway they live right next to a river, so they’ll be able to put out the fires pretty easily.”
Fain looked at the gleeman blankly.
“What screams were you talking about?” Chucky asked uneasily.
“I have to talk to those Aes Sedai,” Fain said, and spurred his horse forward. Chucky wincingly followed, not wanting to be left behind with Satters and Perrin. The two had argued earlier on about a certain tree against which they had both pissed, and the whole thing had almost ended in a fight. They’d had to cut down the tree before the two yellow-eyed freaks would shut up about it. Chucky didn’t want to ride – in fact, he didn’t even know where he’d gotten the horse, but he suspected it had belonged to one of the Whitecloaks – because it made his arse hurt. But it beat walking.
He caught up with Fain just as Domon lumbered over from some undoubtedly disgusting errand in the woods and joined in the discussion.
“…to get to Tear as soon as possible,” Fain was saying in a wheedling voice. “The Great Lord commands it.”
“There is no urgency,” Verin said placidly. Her white face-paint had gotten smeared with ash during their flight from Remen, and now she looked a bit like a marble cake. “The Dragon was killed, and nothing else can challenge our forces. The Last Battle will be a joke.”
“But the rebel channelers with their False Dragon…”
Domon interrupted with a watery growl. “We have to go to llian, so we do. The dagger do be there.”
“What dagger?” Verin asked sharply.
Fain stared into space for a short time.
“He’s right,” he said finally. “The dagger is important, we have to get it or all is lost.”
“What dagger? Why is it so important?”
Fain ignored her. “But the Sword is in Tear, and that is where the False Dragon will make his move. With the Sword, he will be a far more powerful opponent. We can’t allow him to steal the advantage…”
“He won’t get into the Stone,” Verin said. “And even if he does, he won’t be able to touch Callandor. Only the Dragon can remove the Sword, and I think we proved rather conclusively that he isn’t the Dragon.”
“He’s got a head, for one thing,” Chucky said helpfully.
“Quite,” Verin nodded in acknowledgement.
Fain straightened in his saddle, and the stern, booming tones of Mordeth returned to his voice. “We shall have to take a triangular route, Servant to All,” he said, staring down his long, crooked nose at Verin. “We will go first to Illian, where we will pick up the items that are ours. Then we will move on immediately to Tear, where we will deal with the threat of the False Dragon.”
“Will we now?” Verin arched an eyebrow.
“Yes, we will. Immediately. You will use the skills at your command. At once.”
“Perhaps I should point a few things out to you, master Fain,” Verin said crisply. “First of all, I have my own means of gathering information. The Nae’blis has a policy of keeping all of his subjects informed of any and all changes to plans. I happen to know that the False Dragon and his followers are no longer a threat, as they have been dealt with in Illian and all of their belongings are safely in our possession.”
Fain’s eyes narrowed.
“The lost secret of traveling has been unveiled by the Nae’blis and the Chosen,” Verin went on, “but even if I was privy to the secret, I would not use it on your command. The need is not urgent. Most importantly, I have been informed that neither you nor Domon nor the gleeman here are considered high priority followers of the Great Lord, and can in fact be dealt with as impostors to our cause.”
“Ah,” Chucky said. “Thing about that is, I was talking to Lanfear and Rahvin and Ishamael and, um, Moridin and Slayer, and they all told me-”
It was done before Chucky could even bring his stupid bullshit arse-saving story to fruition. Fain slipped down off his horse like a skanky moth-eaten shadow, and Verin’s delicate brown gelding screamed and tumbled to the ground. The entire party stopped one bunch at a time, and those in front turned around to see what was happening.
Egwene started to weep hysterically, and hid her face in Perrin’s wide chest. Loial went white and, ears shaking, he covered his own eyes with a pair of handy books.
Fain had somehow managed to pull the leg off Verin’s horse, and he proceeded to beat the little Aes Sedai to death with it. Long after the black-clad body stopped moving, he raised and dropped his arm methodically, squelching and slurping the gore-smeared hoof up and down, spraying pieces everywhere. Soon, the foreleg was clotted red and grey and pink all the way up to the knee, whereupon Fain reversed the makeshift weapon and drove the jagged end of sheared-off bone into the huddled remains of Verin’s chest. There was a ghastly wheezing sound as the final whispers of air were forced out of her perforated lung.
“Make him stop, oh Light make him stop!” Mat cried in a wavering, terrified voice. Fain lurched to his feet and licked his fingers.
“Excellent distraction, all those names,” he said to Chucky. “I’ll wager the ‘Slayer’ one gave her a turn. Well, you have served me well, and you will live another day. You!” he spun away from the frozen gleeman and pointed a finger at Liandrin, who had just rushed back from the vanguard to see what the fuss was about. “Make a gateway. Immediately.”
“You just outlived your usefulness, peddler,” Liandrin cried, and probably started to channel something dangerous. She stopped pretty abruptly when Fain made a sudden movement of his skinny arms. The horse by his feet screamed again, and suddenly a second iron-shod weapon was flying through the air. This one connected sharply with the centre of Liandrin’s forehead, and she fell onto her backside, all the saidar knocked out of her.
“You will follow my orders from now on,” Fain said, marching forward. Liandrin tried to gather enough motor control to scramble out of his way or burn him alive with the One Power, but didn’t quite manage either. He grabbed a handful of honey-coloured braids and hauled her to her feet. “And if you ever try to cross me, I’ll do something so horrible to you that they won’t be talking about it in a thousand years,” he went on. There was a considering silence. “Because it will be too horrible to mention even then,” he clarified.
Liandrin tried to nod, but couldn’t because Fain still had hold of her hair. “I understand.”
Domon looked up from the horse, which hadn’t been dead until he’d knelt down beside it with his breeches open, whereupon it had lost the will to live. “Illian,” he said.
“Make a gateway,” Fain shook Liandrin a little, then released her. She staggered, and tried in vain to straighten her clothing and look dignified.
“I can’t make a gateway,” she said. “Only Verin was taught how to. That is, I was taught how to, but I don’t have the strength.”
“Link with Egwene and Elayne,” Chucky suggested. “What? Why are you glaring at me?”
Dr. Nick emerged from the undergrowth, tucking his cadin’sor discreetly back into themselves. “Sorry about that,” he said. “Shouldn’t have had all that ale last night when we were, um, trying to stop those looters from looting that tavern,” he looked around. “What did I miss?”