“Look, it ain’t my fault, alright? I’m ta’veren, and these things just done plum go on an’ happen when y’all’re ta’veren.”
“You’re also a woman. I think a part of me always knew it, to be honest.”
Chucky and Dr. Nick had blundered around in their bonds, gags and blindfolds for some time after Loial had panicked and dropped their leashes, before finally falling by staggering good fortune onto the back of a wagon. Riderless, the two stressed draft horses had cantered across the city, finally depositing the two prisoners on an overturned stack of feather mattresses before wheeling, galloping away down the street, and being swept away by a freak flood from the stormwater drains.
That was when they had met up with Nancy Sidesaddle.
Shannon had been left in the lurch by their dramatic escape from the Ways, since everybody had bolted every which way when Machin Shin descended upon them. He’d wandered around the grove for a while, and then finally headed out onto the streets, where he found the Aielman and the gleeman. He pulled off the gags, and was regretting it by the time they got to the Stone. Chucky was an even bigger prick in real life than he was on the newsgroup. It wasn’t made any better by the fact that Shannon’s effect on the Pattern seemed to be getting more acute. As they ducked and bobbed through the riotous streets, no fewer than five weddings had unexpectedly started in the midst of the fighting, the cobblestones had opened up in a new faultline and almost engulfed them, and stones kept falling from neighbouring houses and hitting Dr. Nick on the head. Luckily, they never seemed to actually hurt him, thanks again to the ta’veren effect.
When they got to the Stone, things improved a little. A huge crowd of trollocs and myrddraal were gathered at the main entrance, and they promptly attacked. Every swing seemed to go wrong, however, every sword-thrust missed and every axe swung wild. Soon all the Shadowspawn were dead or injured on the floor, and the three adventurers headed inside.
They were immediately lost.
“That’s not possible,” Chucky said in frustration, spinning and looking behind him. There were just more stairways and corridors. “We only just walked into the doorway and turned around one corner. How can we be lost already? Not even I get lost that fast.”
“Probably me again,” Shannon admitted. “Let’s just a-wander this ways and see where we end up.”
They turned a corner, descended some stairs, and found themselves in the Heart of the Stone.
“Not bad for a fat chick,” Chucky said admiringly.
“Look,” Dr. Nick hurried forward, shouldering his spears. “There’s three swords up there. Which one’s the right one?”
“More to the point, what does it matter?” Chucky demanded. “We’re not supposed to take them. It’s probably just a test, or an illusion, or something.”
“We should go on an’ take the right one, and give it to Someshta,” Shannon said. “Only that’ll mean the Prophesy’ll come true and who’all’ever picks it down’ll be the Dragon.”
“Nonsense,” Chucky asserted, shifting the bagpipes on his back into a more comfortable arrangement. “The Dragon gets the sword, and that’s good enough. If we pull it down, and then give it to whoever, then they can be the Dragon,” he looked at Nick and Nancy, who stared back at him sceptically. “Oh for fuck’s sake,” he muttered. “I’ll get it myself.”
Chucky went over, grumbling, and looked up at the swords. They hung in a triangle. He glanced down, and saw that one of them seemed to be in the centre of the floor. The other two were probably illusions put in place by the incredibly stupid bad guys. He reached out.
“Wait!” Dr. Nick hurried forward. “It’s an optical illusion. Look at the floor. And the pillars. If there was one in the middle of the pillars, in the proper middle of the room, it’s gone now. The one in the fake middle, that you were about to take, is probably a trap.”
“I knew that,” Chucky said. “But what if the bad guys thought of that, and put the real one in the fake middle of the room, thinking we’d think it was a trap, thus choosing one of the others, which are in fact traps?”
“This is a Jordan book, dude.”
The gleeman nodded, reached out and grabbed one of the other swords.
Someshta arrived just as a new wave of trollocs and myrddraal swept into the entrance of the Stone, relieving the previous guards who had apparently killed one another. He set the wagon down carefully, then ran to meet the Shadowspawn.
Moiraine jumped down out of the wagon to a cacophony of splintering crashes and bestial howls as the Green Man methodically demolished the small army of enemies barring their way. She turned from the scene of destruction, and glared into the wagon. Lan and Contro sat there, looking individually stupid and collectively very stupid.
“Come on then,” she said. “We haven’t got all day.”
Lan climbed out of the brightly-coloured wagon, staggering to an almost-upright position. His white robes were stained and smeared with a number of unattractive substances. He belched. Contro laughed.
“On second thoughts, both of you stay here with the wagon,” she growled. “I can’t believe you let Foreskin fall out while we were running.”
She turned on her heel and followed Someshta into the cavernous building. The Green Man made his way confidently inwards and downwards, and they reached the Heart just in time to see a bunch of Defenders come pouring in from all sides. They stopped when they saw the towering leafy monstrosity, and then they ran away when he rose from a crouch and roared like vengeful deforestation. Soon enough they were alone in the red-pillared space. Moiraine looked up at the two swords.
“Which one is it?” she asked.
Someshta reached out, and flicked one of the swords with a barky fingernail. It went ‘ping’. He flicked the other one, which made the same sound.
“Neither,” he said. “These are just glass.”
“So where’s the fucking real one?”
“What am I, the cunting Ghul-damned Answer Tree?”
Moiraine gasped. “Someshta!”
“Well, why should you be the only one with a dirty mouth?” the Green Man sighed. “I don’t know where Callandor has gone, Moiraine Sedai, but I do know that the important thing is not the extra One Power the sword can bestow. It is about the symbolism of the thing. So it does not really matter which one of these we take, as long as we use it properly.”
He leaned down and grabbed the sword that seemed to be slightly off-centre to the tiles of the floor, from his elevated viewpoint at least. He was a tidy fellow when he wasn’t stamping on trollocs, and the remaining sword was nice and symmetrical.
Forsaken_1 tried riding Cow for a little while, but the horse was having none of it. He dismounted, and the unruly beast immediately galloped off after a brown mare that had passed by in the street ahead carrying a screaming woman with hairy legs who was somehow vaguely familiar to him. Footsore and tired of dodging the swarms of Shadowspawn and Aiel and Borderlanders that were pillaging the city, he pulled the colour-shifting cloak over his head and crept along the edge of the street, unseen by the otherwise-engaged citizens. One small group, he noticed with bemusement, seemed to be attending a wedding, even though a group of unshaven Whitecloaks were busily butchering the guests at the back of the crowd.
Things went from bad to worse when he arrived at the Stone. The entrance and the stairs were awash with blood and pulped bodies, scattered limbs and various squashed organs. It made him queasy just to look at, and the thought of wading through the wreckage to get inside was simply too gross.
“Hullo! Ha ha ha!!! Fancy seeing you here again!”
It was dark and quiet inside the Stone, and Forsaken_1 paused to wring out his shoes and the lower half of his jeans. There didn’t seem to be any more guards coming to hold the entrance, but nobody seemed to be attacking either. From what he had seen, all the Aiel had been running in the opposite direction, towards the docks. The rest of the fighters had just been enjoying themselves in the lawless city.
He focussed on the little knot of anger and frustration and swearwords that was Moiraine’s presence in his head, and started dowanwards. Eventually he came to a huge hall full of enormous red pillars, with a weird tile-pattern on the floor. He sensed that Moiraine had just left, and was now heading elsewhere. He hurried through the vaulted emptiness, and suddenly came to a halt. Hanging in the air in the absolute centre of the hall was a shining crystal sword.
“Finally,” he breathed. “It’s about time I get to be the hero.”
He reached up to claim his destiny, and it fitted in his hand pretty darn good. Admiring the gently gleaming blade, he gave it a few practice swings. Yeah. Yeah! He was the Dragon now. No more ‘Child Foreskin’. No more ‘rub my back, no, lower, lower’ from Moiraine. No more!
“Yah! Die, Lews Therin Telamon! Die!” Parp parp!
With a defiant blast of his trumpet, Cooper Two dropped from the ceiling, plummeting towards ground zero like the Wrath of the Creator, only skinnier.
Angamael grinned as he headed back towards his rooms. It had all gone pretty nicely. At last report, three different parties had each taken one of the false Callandors, and he had given Be’lal some final instructions before heading off. The stash of ter’angreal and trinkets he had recovered from the Ogiers’ companions had proven invaluable, and they’d only just begun to scratch the surface. But it looked like things were all falling apart here – it was time to withdraw all forces, and leave the pitifully confused collection of enemies to kill each other. It didn’t pay to be Ishamael in the Stone of Tear at the end of Book Three.
He paused as he entered his room, reaching out with saidin and attempting to deactivate the ter’angreal he had left behind, guarding some of his more valuable items. But it seemed to have already been deactivated. Scanning the room for comatose bodies, he didn’t see any. Then he turned to the dresser.
The Horn, the dagger, and most importantly the Sword That Was Not A Sword – all gone. Even the little sleepy-hog was gone. Angamael swore. Somebody had gotten past the ter’angreal, and made off with his stuff. At least they hadn’t gotten the banner, and the rest of the assortment. He’d already sent that on ahead with Rahvin or Asmodean or somebody. But to lose Callandor…
“Damn it, crap fuck shit motherfucker,” he muttered. “Oh well, easy come easy – gark!”
A long, thin hand wrapped around his neck from behind, and a second hand gathered up a fistful of the back of his pants, yanking him onto his toes. Saidin fled. Tears welled in his eyes – he’d thought he’d received his last wedgie. He’d been wrong.
“Where is it?” a reedy voice rasped from behind him. “Where’s my dagger, you thieving little bastard?”
Angamael gurgled, fumbling for the Source. It eluded him. The grip tightened, tightened … then suddenly released.
“You don’t know,” Fain said, his voice distant and uncaring. “It seemed to vanish a little while ago, smothered by something that I thought I recognised, some sort of phenomenon that was … familiar to me. I thought maybe it had been brought into contact with some sort of ter’angreal that damped pernicious radiation. But it was right here,” he ignored Angamael’s blend of outrage and puzzlement, and gestured to the dresser. “I can feel it, sitting here … and now it is gone.”
“I know who you are,” Angamael said. “We once served the same master, you and I. Although I looked better while doing it,” he crossed the room, working his trousers back down out of the crack of his buttocks discreetly. He felt calm return, and saidin with it. He turned and smiled. “If you are looking for the people who stole your dagger, then we’re on the same side once again. I’m looking for the people who stole from me, and all of the items were in the same place. They were all taken by the same people. And thanks to a little trick I have learned from my colleagues from the Age of Legends,” he went on, “I have a vague idea of where at least four of these enemies can be found. Perhaps the things we seek will be with them – or if not, at least some clues as to their whereabouts. I suggest we work together.”
And it was written that no hand but his should wield the Sword held in the Stone, but he did draw it out, like fire in his hand, and his glory did burn the world. And then it was that somebody else said, “Wait, ye’re nae the feckin’ Dragon,” and another did say, “Behold! Who’s the Dragon, then?” and somebody else did say, “Yea, verily, um, I’ve got this sword…” Thus did it begin. Thus do we sing his Rebirth. Thus do we sing the beginning.
of the Third Book of
The Steal of Time