“Sorry about that, really. I guess I just got the old blood up, heh heh, and you took the sword and everything, I just didn’t recognise you from the rafters.”
Forsaken_1 picked himself up. He was bleeding in a half-dozen places from the shattered pieces of Callandor, which had broken as he fell on it.
“Don’t mention it,” he said. “I didn’t think the thing would break that easily. I guess the Warranty That Is Not A Warranty just expired,” he grinned at his joke, which didn’t get the response it deserved, like all of his other jokes. This thought reminded him briefly of Chucky and the hateful Pole Thogugh, and he frowned at the remembrance. “Sorry you, uh, didn’t get your man.”
“Makes no sense,” Cooper Two said, shaking his head. “The Dragon has to come and get the sword. This one was a fake, of course, because I think this here’s the proper one,” he gestured to the sword slung across his back. “Maybe I should have waited to see who was going to come back for it. But I was driven by the Prophesy, you see. I was sure the Dragon would come to the Heart. That’s what they do, sooner or later. Dragons, I mean. Always going for the Heart of the Stone. Oldest trick in the book, the old Go For The Heart of the Stone Trick.”
“So where do we go now?”
The gholam looked at Forsaken_1 with a horrifying sort of concern on his face. Forsaken_1 realised he was dripping delicious nutritious blood on the floor, and tried not to seem terrified and vulnerable to the sharp-toothed weirdo. Finally, Coop seemed to rouse himself and come to a decision. It was clearly a non-killing-Forsaken_1 decision, too, because Forsaken_1 was still alive, which he wouldn’t be if Cooper Two had made the other sort of decision.
“Well, I guess we can see who’s in charge now, and get you patched up. Then I can get to concentrating on where exactly Lews Therin has gotten to, and how I might get to him. But we’ve got plenty of time. He’ll come to me because I have the sword, and in the meantime I’m just enjoying not having a churning stomach and spinning head for once.”
“Huh?” Forsaken_1 frowned. “Oh, right, that,” he brushed the crumbs of glass off his colour-shifting cloak. “So where do you think we should go?”
“Can’t go down any further. There’s nothing down there. All the people are up there. I can smell them. Well, they’re all over the place, but … well, we might as well go this way.”
The gholam sheathed the glimmering sword in the back of his shirt, and did a quick barrel-roll to the closest set of pillars, where he flattened himself against the thick redstone column – literally. Then he peeked out, barrel-rolled across to the next pillar, and repeated the procedure. Forsaken_1 limped after him.
It wasn’t long before their path crossed that of some individuals coming the other way.
“Hah! Eat ter’angreal, Lews Therin Tela… oh. Whoops.”
“Don’t hurt me!”
The other three Ogier gathered around their cowering comrade and looked at Coop worriedly in turn. Coop contrived to look apologetic, and re-sheathed the Sword That Is Not A Toy. Forsaken_1 stood and watched the little scene, wondering who was going to get killed next. Nobody, it seemed.
Coarshus climbed to his feet and looked down at the grinning gholam. “Hello…” he said uncertainly. “You have the Horn of Valere.”
“What? Oh yes. Parp parp,” Coop grinned again. “You haven’t seen Lews Ther-”
Mister C of 9 stepped out of the shadows of a nearby pillar. Like Cooper Two flattening himself, it was not a figure of speech, and Forsaken_1 could have lived without seeing it. “I’m rescuing these guys,” the sunglassed halfman said, “so whoever you are, you’d better not interfere. Oh, hi Child Foreskin. Or are you meant to be some sort of Ranger now? Foreskin Son of Arathorn? This is the dumbest story in the world.”
Cooper Two was looking at Mister C with great interest.
“You’re an Eight-sixty model!” he exclaimed.
“A what?” Mister C of 9 turned his normally chilling eyeless stare on the first humanoid he had ever encountered that was actually thinner than he was while not turned sideways.
Coop spread his arms. “Aginor Bio-Weapons, service with a smile-”
“-and a smile with a catch,” Mister C’s frown deepened. “How did I know that? Where’s it from? It’s an advertising jingle. I hate advertising.”
“You’re a Fetch. Eight-sixty model, from Aginor Bio-weapons. Same as me. I mean, not exactly the same, you’re a production-line churnout of a different weapon-class, but we’re from the same ‘dar.”
“What is he talking about?” Mister C demanded. Forsaken_1 shrugged. The Ogier looked nervous, but that wasn’t actually an alteration on their earlier expressions.
“Oh come on. Eight-sixty, as in one out of every eight hundred and sixty trollocs turns out to be like you.”
“Trollocs!” Coarshus moaned. “I knew it, you’re a halfman!”
“It’s a disguise,” Mister C of 9 assured the whimpering giants. “You’ve all seen it. I’m a gleeman, remember?”
“I heard you were only an apprentice,” Forsaken_1 corrected.
“Glad you’re here,” Mister C growled.
“Right,” Angamael said, looking around the table purposefully. The Amyrlin’s office had been cleared, and a large conference table moved in. It was a wonderful old piece of furniture, with seven-striped laquer that Angamael had planned on peeling off and replacing with black, but he hadn’t gotten around to it yet. “Righty right right.”
The people gathered around the table looked at him nervously. Asmodean fingered the side of his face. Padan Fain scratched his nose. Bayle Domon ducked his head under the table and came up with a mouthful of coarse, wiry black hair.
“There isn’t much to add at this stage, I’m not calling a full meeting for another few months,” the Nae’blis said. “In the meantime, your assignments are to continue. There’s the issue of the Aiel Waste, of course.”
“Yes, Nae’blis?” Demandred said.
“The new Dragon – the False Dragon – will be heading there to ensure the Aiel support his cause,” Angamael said. “I have seen it in … the books.”
The Forsaken nodded. The books. They were on familiar, if slightly wacky, ground now.
“Anyway, they will be heading in that direction, and we will need to see to it that they are, if not stopped, then at least observed.”
“We can send a force of trollocs and draghkar…” Rahvin said, glancing at Aginor for confirmation. Aginor made a note in a small pad, and nodded. “They’ll make short work of this small band. Uh, unless that’s false confidence, Nae’blis,” he added hastily.
“It certainly is,” Angamael said, sounding pleased. “Do you know what the trollocs call the Aiel Waste, Asmodean?”
Asmodean looked up with a wince. “Yes, Nae’blis?”
Angamael turned his attention from Rahvin without missing a beat. “Well?”
“The … Dying Grounds, Nae’blis?”
“Right. Something like that. So we’re not going to be idiots and send Shadowspawn out there, are we?”
“No, Nae’blis,” the group chorused. The shaggy yellow-eyed lunatic sitting on Fain’s other side laughed derisively.
“We’ll send out somebody the Aiel won’t kill. A peddler,” he turned to Fain. “Think you can manage this?”
“Of course. And I am to kill the Dragon?”
“Yes. And the dagger – which will undoubtedly be with the Dragon and his friends – is yours,” Angamael nodded. “And Lanfear, I suppose you’ll be wanting to go along.”
“Why, to keep up with the … oh wait,” caverns of flame erupted as Angamael laughed. “Of course, Lews Therin is dead again, there is no reason for you to go into the Waste. But it would be a good idea to put a couple of people into their group. People they will trust.”
“That’s me out,” Fain said dryly.
“Me too,” the one known as Noam said quickly. “They know I’m evil.”
“I’ll go,” Asmodean said. “I am a master of disguises.”
“Hmm,” Angamael said, thinking about it. Pure narrative drive pushed him towards the decision, but he knew how Asmodean would end up if he was sent into the Waste. It was inevitable. “I’ll have to think about it. In the meantime, Aginor-” this time, he turned to the right guy. Aginor was the wrinkliest person in the room, and very difficult to get mixed up with anybody else, “-will you please introduce us to our latest … asset?”
“Of course, Nae’blis,” Aginor nodded smoothly, concern and embarrassment and uneasy pride on his wizened face. The former two emotions, he managed to hide from Angamael, but the others saw it as he turned from the table. He made a beckoning gesture with his fingers. Several of the Forsaken shifted in their seats as he channeled. Old habits died hard, and the Chosen were still not at ease about letting their colleagues embrace the One Power while they remained defenceless.
There was a heavy shuffling sound, and a vast grey shape moved into the room. There were gasps from all around the table. Padan Fain, most notably, had gone utterly white and was staring at the enormous rough-hewn figure as if staring at something out of his own terrible, haunted past.
It’s entirely likely that he was.
“This,” Angamael said happily, “is Smith. Say hello, Smith.”
“Ullo,” Smith said. His distorted little face puckered like a collection of deformed sphincters.
“It’s a forger,” Demandred said. “But … but they crumble to dust when taken away from Thakan’dar!”
“Aginor Bio-weapons is back in business,” Aginor said, still looking worried. “I managed to introduce an inhibiting agent to the calcification…” he paused, and saw the polite expressions on the faces of his associates. “Smith can leave the forges, for extended periods of time,” he simplified. “He will get, after a while, a similar affliction to that of the Ogier – the Longing, if you like, and he will need to return. But until then, he is autonomo…uh, free to roam.”
There was silence for a moment.
“Why?” Padan Fain whispered hoarsely. “Why? Why have you brought this … this thing? This torturer? This devourer of souls? This destroyer of lives? This dunker in the riverer of peddlers?”
“I was wondering that myself,” Aginor admitted.
“Because, ladies and gentlemen, we have a rather large problem, which should have been dealt with a long time ago,” Angamael planted his hands on the table. “The Green Man, who has been an ironic thorn in the side of the Blight for thousands of years, still lives, and he will be making trouble for us. His powers are unforeseeable, and his wisdom is unmatched. He is a loose cannon.”
“What’s a cannon?” Graendahl asked.
“Never mind. Smith?”
“What is the Green Man?”
“And what do you forgers use Nym for?”
Angamael grinned as, slowly and painfully, comprehension dawned on the faces of his highest and most mighty lieutenants.