The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose out of nowhere. In utter disregard of the laws of meteorology, it generated itself out of still air on a plain known as the Caralain Grass. It thumbed its nose at the Coriolis Effect and swept directly into an area of high pressure, where it gave convection currents a wedgie by sweeping upwards as it cooled…
Wilson Paperclip sighed and set the paper down atop the larger manuscript that was growing out of the Wheel of Time Experiment. It was going so well. What brought a tear to the eye was, only he could recognise the fact that it was going well. If he showed this to the Head Publisher, the poor man would blow a hole in the wall with beard-shrapnel. No, there were going to have to be some creative reports from now on, and things would carry on nicely without any unwanted attention from those who would disapprove.
As if on cue, the intercom on Paperclip’s desk went ping, and he shuffled together a bunch of discarded material from Crossroads of Twilight. It was sufficiently deviated from the original storyline that the Head Publisher wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, and yet it was still what he would deem acceptable.
As an afterthought, Paperclip picked up the first page of the newly-arriving manuscript, and threw it in the waste-paper basket under his desk. That would have to be re-done anyway.
A thermal updraft of hot air wafted from the crest of Dragonmount and cooled as it ascended on its own inertia. Then it began to descend in accordance with the laws it knew and respected, before becoming, to all intents and purposes, a gentle wind. The wind was not exactly scientifically correct. There is neither sense nor science to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a wind.
North and west the wind blew, across the villages of Jualdhe and Darein and Alindaer, where bridges like stone lacework arched out to the Shining Walls, the great white walls of what many called the greatest city in the world. Tar Valon. The wind swept through the streets and along the wide avenues between the ancient buildings, sweeping towards the greatest of them all…
The wind was suddenly sliced into a matching pair of divergent breezes by the opening of a gateway which swung into being in the middle of a large crowd of petitioners, men and women noble and common alike who had gathered to have their problems solved by the Aes Sedai. Those who had not been touched by the opening gateway screamed and scattered down alleyways. Those who had been touched by it just screamed.
A tall man with close-cropped white hair and a red silk coat with black stripes on its sleeves stepped out of the gateway and looked around at the dispersing crowd with distaste. His elaborate silver-worked boot came down on a severed piece of a petitioner, and there was a squishy noise. He growled and strode on through the localised wreckage, hefting a sack on his shoulder. As he approached the entrance to the White Tower, Angamael appeared in the doorway in a swirl of blood-coloured cloak.
“Ah, I see you fetched quite a haul,” he remarked.
“Yes, Nae’blis,” Be’lal replied. “The Great Holding held some useful items, but many ter’angreal were too heavy for me to move away. Perhaps we could open a larger gateway, and take a team of oxen at a later date. Still, I have brought what I could.”
“What happened to your clothes?” Angamael pointed at the front of the red silk coat, where a vivid stripe of white had been scrawled across the material. Be’lal grunted.
“I was … attacked in the Great Holding,” he replied. “A woman was down there looking at the merchandise, and when she saw me she fired … well, balefire at me. I spun reflexively, as you can see, but it was too late, and she hit me dead centre. However, it was the weakest little effort I have ever experienced – it scarcely burned the pattern out of my coat, let alone burning me out of the Pattern. Ha ha.”
“Ha ha,” Angamael replied dutifully. Be’lal had a terrible sense of humour, and for an American to notice, that was terrible indeed. “So what happened then?”
“She said an awful word, and ran away. I took a shot at her and missed, but didn’t give chase with regards to your regulation about giving chase to mysterious people and forgetting the primary goal of operations before the opportunity to give chase came up.”
“So I picked up what I could, and left. I also went back through Illian as you commanded, and found something rather interesting.”
Be’lal reached into the sack, and pulled out a fragment of shattered pottery of some sort. It was white, except for a little sliver along one edge, which was black.
“I found it lying on the floor in the room we had set aside for turnings,” he said. “It looked as if it had fallen out of somebody’s pocket, and broken on the floor where it landed. It is one of the seals of the Great Lord’s prison, Nae’blis. I found another of them in the Great Holding,” he went on, “this one intact. I now hand them over to you.”
Angamael took the sack. “I don’t suppose Callandor, or that fake Horn of Valere, or a certain ruby-hilted dagger were anywhere to be found?” he asked, rummaging in the sack and pulling out the black-and-white disc of the intact seal. He reached out and banged it experimentally on the side of the doorway. White dust was chipped out of the ancient stone, but the seal itself did not crack.
“I found nothing like that, Nae’blis,” Be’lal replied. “Shall I inform, er, Asmodean that he is to return to his role in Illian?”
“Yes, I think that would be best,” the head of the Chosen nodded thoughtfully. “In the meantime, we have a lot to do, and you have some new friends to meet…”
“Nae’blis?” Be’lal said, seeming to pluck up courage from the soles of his silver-wreathed boots. “When you gave us all of our assignments, and sent Asmodean and I to Illian, you were aware that it was Asmodean and not Sammael, weren’t you?”
Angamael looked blank as only a man who has been diverging from sanity for millennia can manage.
“I don’t follow,” he said.
“Sammael has died the final death, as all those who betray the will of the Nae’blis,” Be’lal prompted. “He has been dead for some time. Remember? You had his corpse chopped up and you put it in the cooking pot of that elite group of trollocs of yours.”
Angamael laughed, and his eyes and mouth flashed with fire. “Oh yes. But … Rahvin, was it?”
“He really looked like Sammael. He had the scar and everything, and he didn’t get Healed…”
“When you told him, ‘Sammael, you will go to Illian with Be’lal’, he was a little concerned,” Be’lal said tactfully. Asmodean had, in fact, almost thrown a fit when they were in the privacy of the Skimming Plane. “He is well-known as a performer, however, so in order that you not be displeased or thrown off-guard, he impersonated Sammael, right down to the personality traits.”
“That must have been painful,” said Angamael, remembering the reports of Sammael’s broken nose and his refusal to have it Healed in the proper manner.
“Well yes. He drew the line at the burns when we had the … accident with the myrddraal,” Be’lal said. “He would like to go back to being Asmodean now, however, and if that puts his assignment in jeopardy-”
“Oh, no! It’s not a problem. He’ll be required for another assignment soon anyway. It’s all part of the meeting I was planning for later on,” Angamael beamed. “Now that’s all sorted out, we can carry on. Things are going nicely in Illian, and ‘Lord Brend’ can take a back seat, and Lord Whoever-you-were can take over.”
“I can be Lord Brend just as easily as Asmodean could,” Be’lal bristled ever so slightly.
“I believe you could, Balthamel. I truly believe you could.”
“Balthamel is also dead, Nae’blis.”
“So he is. Now come on. We have plots to hatch.”