Mister C of 9 swore and chased his flopping, squirting arm around the room, tripping on bodies and sliding on patches of blood. It was such a comical image that even Logain, although he considered himself a slave to the Great One for all of the Wheel’s future turnings, had to give a little giggle. In the meantime, the gateway slid fully open, and people began walking through.
“Is Linking always like that?” Egwene asked, her voice hoarse.
“Normally,” Liandrin replied, stepping away from the gatway, drawing a clearly fatigued Elayne with her. “Why?”
“I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t think there would be quite so many uncontrollable, explosive orgasms.”
Vamps, who was helping Mister C chase his arm, looked up at the last three words, his grin pre-prepared. Nynaeve stepped forward to deal with him, then saw Egwene and gave a shout of relief. Mat and Perrin stumbled through the gate as if pushed from the far side – which is exactly what had happened – and there was a brief, happy reunion in the body-strewn chamber. Then the rest of the newcomers began to emerge.
Bayle Domon came first, snuffling the air and glaring at the world from the thick mangy tufts of hair that covered his face. Nynaeve, Mat and Perrin backed away from the ghastly apparition, who reached down and grabbed Mister C’s arm as it wriggled by. He bit into it with a satisfied grunt.
“Oh, you prick,” Mister C whispered as he watched his arm disappear. Domon wiped his mouth with the severed sleeve, then dropped the gnawed limb on the floor. The bright, clashing Mambo colours were stained with black blood and some awful white stuff that had been encrusted on the sailor’s lips. “You ruined my shirt. I think it’s time to say hello to a little fellow I call Stormbringer Snaga.”
He drew his dread black sword and struck another pose. Vamps, still following behind, shuddered and clutched saidin, drinking in the sickness and the glory of it all in a truly unnecessary piece of flowery prose. He wiped the cold sweat from his brow and glanced at Nynaeve to make sure she could see how brave he was being. Logain, sensing his Master was in danger, stepped up on Domon’s other side, also holding the One Power. Domon looked from one enemy to the next, shrugged, and backed away. Mister C followed him, keeping well away from the gateway.
Masema, Uno, Hurin and a large crowd of Borderlanders came next, with a few Whitecloaks thrown in. They had joined up with the Sheinarans after the fight at the gibbet, and hadn’t been turned away. Already, Fain’s taint was visibly upon them. Loial followed, his ears in a state of permanent droop and his hands fumbling with a pair of ropes. Behind him, attached to the ropes, came Dr. Nick and Chucky, both of them bound and gagged and blindfolded with their ears stopped up. Finally, Fain himself stepped through the glowing gateway with Satsujinki at his side. It had been his idea to gag the gleeman and the Aiel nerd in preparation for the incursions, on the grounds that their constant banter would cause problems in Illian and Tear, where they would have to have their wits about them. The truth was, Satsujinki didn’t want to argue about Catholicism with Chucky unless the fat bastard was incapable of hearing or replying.
Domon, Mister C and the two male channelers formed an interesting centrepiece to the whole confrontation. The halfman’s stump had already stopped bleeding, and the sword clutched in his right hand was trembling with its wielder’s anger. Vamps made a gagging noise and lost saidin as the tense moment stretched out.
Janica broke the silence.
“What’s going on?” she demanded. “I canna see anythin’.”
“Ach, a bunch of people jes’ came through a geetwee,” Debs replied. “I know a few of ’em, but there’s a lot. I danna nae whut they want.”
“What are those women saying?” Fain snapped. “Who are all these people? How dare you threaten my henchman that way, halfman! You back down or you’ll be taught a lesson,” then he did a double-take, and stared at Debs. “You!” he screamed. “You’re the bitch who pushed me into the eternal, screaming darkness of the Ways!”
“Ach, fat lot o’ eternity it was, if ye got oot o’ it so soon!” Debs snapped, not liking the little guilt trip the skinny peddler had just sent her on. She didn’t like guilt trips that she couldn’t place in a Trash Folder. She drew herself up and Janica sighed as she felt saidar roar through her. “Ye jes’ watch yer mooth!”
There was a momentary silence as everybody translated what Debs had just said.
“Please, nobody kill anybody…” Loial said.
“Gnaar!” cried Mister C of 9, leaping forward and raising Stormbringer Snaga. Domon spread his arms and roared defiance. Liandrin swore and Logain and Vamps shivered as she embraced the Source, her power magnified by the suddenly-moaning Elayne and Egwene. Fain leapt forward, the male channelers raised their hands, Nynaeve snarled something and began to weave a complicated and destructive piece of nastiness at Liandrin and Debs, in desperation, did the only thing she could think of.
She pulled her sul’dam suit open, exposing her breasts.
The carnage was suddenly averted. Even Logain cocked his head to one side.
“Crikey,” Mister C said, and turned to Domon, nudging him with his stump. “See that? That’s the Hindle gene, that is. I’ve seen it before.”
Liandrin had lost saidar in her shock, but now drew herself up primly.
“You shameless hussy!” she hissed, and then reddened to hear exactly the same thing from Nynaeve’s tightly-pursed lips.
“Mommy,” Vamps said in a meek, dreamy voice.
“I don’t want to know what you’re doing,” Janica said, “and I don’t want to know why I can hear the sound of leather pants being stretched, and I certainly don’t want to know why I’m suddenly feeling very warm and proud of myself and validated in my identity as an independent liberated modern Scottish woman through this a’dam.”
Domon shook his head and turned to Fain. That is to say, his head turned, but his eyes stayed facing in the same direction. “It don’t be here,” he said.
“Mmm? Oh, yes, right, that,” Fain roused himself. “Yes, it has been taken on ahead by our enemies, however they managed to get hold of it.”
“If you’re talking about the dagger from Shadar Logoth, the Forsaken took it off us when they captured us and brought us here,” Janica said helpfully. “I don’t know what happened to any of our belongings after that. Or the four Ogier who were with us.”
“Four Ogier?” Loial said, his hands shaking. “They’re not here anywhere, are they?”
“They could be,” Debs said, her hands on her hips and her bosoms maintaining the peace. “Mebbe we should luke fer them before we try an’ gae anywhere,” she added unwillingly.
“Well, that which we seek is not here,” Fain overrode the meandering conversation with a deep, booming forcefulness. “But now at least we know where it is – it has been taken by the Forsaken, as this Aes Sedai surely knew,” he glanced at Liandrin, who paled in fear. “And now they are in Tear, most assuredly, waiting for their showdown with the False Dragon here,” he favoured Logain with a tragically confused look. “At least, I assume you are the False Dragon. I am getting such confusing messages…” he trailed off again, staring into the depths of his ravaged soul.
“Mff,” said Chucky around his gag, breaking the reflective silence. The assortment of people, halfmen, off-brand werebeasts and Ogier shuffled their feet and looked at one another. One of the horses snorted.
“Well, if it isn’t Bela,” Nynaeve exclaimed.
“Yes, I was looking after her,” Egwene said. “I sort of fell off her just now, of course, when I was … Linked.”
Fain seemed to come to a decision with the little committee of nutters in his head. “I suppose we can forego the pleasure of killing these titties, I mean these enemies until later,” he said. “Liandrin, if you please – do the honours.”
Liandrin gave Debs a final scowl as the porridge-fed sul’dam refastened her clothing, then embraced the Source. She turned to where Nynaeve was standing in front of the small group of Emond’s Fielders – and Elayne – with a nail-chewing expression on her face.
“They won’t be Linking with you again, Darkfriend,” Nynaeve said. “Whatever Linking is.”
“Oh, we don’t mind,” Egwene said hesitantly. “Not really. No, it’s not too bad.”
“I think I could do it again,” Elayne said. “In fact, I insist on being allowed to put myself in danger for the good of my friends. And you have to obey me, I’m to be your Queen.”
“You daft slut,” Nynaeve said, and channeled swiftly. Egwene and Elayne gave little cries of alarm as they were deftly shielded. “Look, we all have the same problem. I don’t know about this dagger you’re going on about, but we all need to get to Tear, right?”
“I can stay here if you want,” Loial said. Several assorted others agreed with him in nervous murmurs. Bela neighed again, clearly wanting to be left out of the remainder of the story before the readers started to attribute ridiculous theories to her barely-glue-worthy carcass.
“And my side just came open again,” Vamps whimpered to Nynaeve, dabbing at his wound and displaying his bloodied fingers. Nynaeve gave a sympathetic whimper even in the midst of her determined rage.
“Mrf,” said Dr. Nick.
“So since there’s not much point in attacking each other, we might as well work together to get what we want,” she went on. “I’m no more keen on the idea than you are, but maybe if we Linked, we could Heal our injured and get out of here.”
“You have injured?” Fain smiled condescendingly. “How careless of you.”
Nynaeve stared at the Borderlanders, who had been victims of the Herofall that had spelled the end of the Camp of the Dragon Reborn; and at the Whitecloaks, who had been victims of the Borderlanders. “You have wounded too!”
“Quiet, you,” Fain cuffed Chucky over the blanket-muffled head, and the gleeman stumbled before his guard carefully propped him back onto his feet with a concerned slope to his eyebrows. “Very well, I see we do have wounded. Perhaps we could put our forces together, and get out of this all the faster.”
The two women, staring distrustfully at one another all the while, initiated a Link. Nynaeve promptly cried out and clenched her fists against her lower abdomen.
“What are you doing to me?” she shouted.
“It’s an orgasm,” Liandrin said. “It happens every time channelers Link, for some reason – probably something to do with experiencing the joy of embracing the Source from another person’s sensory apparatus. What’s the matter? It’s not like you’ve never had an orgasm before.”
There was another silence, and Vamps became aware that a lot of people, and Bela, were looking at him. He went red.
“She’s never had just one before!” he exclaimed. “That’s why she doesn’t recognise it!”
“Ooh, another one!” Nynaeve whimpered.
Debs stepped forward. “Things’d go faster if we joined the Link too,” she said.
“No,” Janica planted her heels. “You’re not thinking this through,” she pointed at her a’dam. Debs grinned.
“Ah, c’mon,” she said. “Ye knoo ye’re innerested.”
“In ordinary orgasms? Sure. Magnified through this thing? I don’t think so – I’m not that robust, in case you didn’t notice. We can swap positions, and then try it if you want.”
“Come on, Janica,” Mister C cajoled, seeming to have forgotten about his hand for the time being. “Inquiring minds want to know.”
“Do it for science.”
Nynaeve and Liandrin worked their way through Fain’s little group of surly, glowering men, Healing as they went.
“Keep away from the bloody eye,” Uno growled as they stepped up to him.
Finally, they were finished, and prepared to form a gateway.
“Watch how they do it,” Janica instructed her sul’dam. “We need to learn how to do this properly.”
“It’d be easier tae see if we jes’-”
Fain cracked his knuckles, and grinned at Domon.
“Right then,” he said. “So much for Illian. Next stop, Tear.”
Sattersnoam, in the meantime, was staring at the damane, a thunderstruck expression in his baleful yellow eyes.
“You’re Janica?” he demanded.
Dawn came to Tear with glimmering beauty no amount of evil could spoil. The seagulls wheeled and cried over the curling waves, the crisp breeze rolled over the city, washing away the smells and the stifling heat like a cool balm. All over the city, people stirred and smiled as they realised the unpleasant dreams they’d been suffering in the night were nothing more than phantasms, and that another productive day awaited them.
The sun cast its warming rays across the vast, reassuring bulk of the Stone, and the servants within began to bustle and prepare food and drink for the nobility even as the streets below started to fill with cheerful wagoneers and merchants plying their wares. Angamael stood in the sumptuously-appointed rooms belonging to the High Lord Samon, wriggled his toes in the thick carpet, and sipped the best damn cup of coffee he had ever tasted. He didn’t know what it actually was, but the servants had taken a long time to get it this good, and he was very pleased with the result. He set the cup down on the richly-carved dresser, and went back to peering out of the arrow-slit that served as a window. The view was spectacular.
His dreams weren’t haunted by the distasteful force of Be’lal’s subconsious in the way the rest of the population was afflicted. The Forsaken who was living in the Stone posing as the High Lord Samon may have had trouble shielding his dreams, or he may have been broadcasting them on purpose – either way, the Netweaver was not so stupid as to drag Ba’alzamon into his nocturnal entertainments. So Angamael was well-rested, and could enjoy the crystal tranquility of the morning all the more for it.
As if on cue, the door behind him opened and the daunting figure of Be’lal stepped into the room.
“All is prepared, Nae’blis,” he said. “The tiles have all been re-laid, and the plasterer says the grouting will require only a couple more hours to be completely dry.”
“Excellent,” Angamael said. “You may continue with your exercises now. I want an absolute lack of overconfidence in you and all the Chosen here today, and remember – the guards are to be excused for lapses in minor concentration – not killed.”
“Yes, Nae’blis,” Be’lal inclined his head politely, and turned to leave. He glanced at the book lying on Angamael’s bedside table. “The Dragon Reborn,” he read. “You believe in knowing your enemy, Nae’blis.”
“Or knowing who my enemy thinks he is,” Angamael replied, taking another sip of his whatever-it-was-that-tasted-like-coffee.
“I have never heard of this scholar, this Robert Jo’rdan,” Be’lal continued. He audibly inserted an apostrophe despite the fact that there was not one in the name, and he knew that because he was looking at the cover and apparently the alphabet and languages were the same but it didn’t bear thinking about too much. “Is he a philosopher or a historian? I can not quite place the nationality of the name,” he looked down again. “‘Jo’rdan has come to dominate the world that To’l’kien began to reveal’,” he read on, adding in more apostrophes. “I wonder what that means?”
“Some things mean nothing,” Angamael replied, and Be’lal left the room quietly, leaving the Nae’blis to his thoughts.
Angamael took another sip, and sighed in contentment. Sometimes he wondered if he really had inherited madness when he had assumed Ishamael’s position in the story. He knew for a fact that his decision to become the Nemesis and destroy the world wasn’t exactly stable, but he also knew it didn’t matter, because the world wasn’t real. Or so Mister Hugglepuff had told him, before he had realised Mister Hugglepuff was a figment of his crazed imagination and didn’t actually exist. Was it possible, he wondered, for his insanity to actually be getting better? Because the idea with the tiles, that was brilliant.
He turned and glanced at the three objects laid out on the table.
The apparently-fake Horn of Valere.
The dagger from Shadar Logoth.
It was amazing how much one could achieve with a map of the Blight, a shovel, a copy of The Eye of the World and a nose-peg. A doctor might be able to tell the difference between a dead body and a living one, but the Heart of the Stone couldn’t.