“Ahhh, that’s more like it. Nothing quite like a good gleestaff in your hand.”
“Chucky, can you please stop talking about the comforting firm hefty meaty weight of a gleestaff in the tight grasp of your right hand?” Dr. Nick hissed.
“Anyway, it ain’t no gleestaff. That thar’s just a curtain rod,” Shannon pointed out. “There ain’t no such thing as gleestaffs nohow.”
“Gleestaves,” Chucky corrected. “And there’s obviously such thing, look!” he wielded his gleestaff provocatively.
“Stop holding it that way!” Dr. Nick whined.
“You’re repressed,” Chucky said loftily.
“I’m tellin’ y’all, there ain’t no such thing as-”
Shannon glowered, and tried not to because he knew it was the thin end of the wedge that would end with his braid bristling like the tail of a cat, even though he didn’t have a braid. Yet. “Y’all’d better hope your wife ain’t around to hear you a-talkin’ thatwise.”
Chucky thought about that, and then nodded agreement. “Now, let’s take this sa’angreal and get the Ghul out of here.”
“How are we gonna find Someshta so’s we can give that there thing to him?” Shannon asked, looking around. They were in a corridor with arrow-slits on one wall, through which pale dawn light was glimmering. He didn’t know what time it had been when they had fled into Tear from the Ways, but he seemed to recall it being early morning. Had they been in here for an entire night? Things had gone fuzzy for him since the last desperate flight from Defenders, during which a section of corridor had collapsed coincidentally underneath them, sending them on a terrifying roller-coaster ride down through the basements of the Stone, leaving them dusty but unharmed at the end, surrounded by pulped bodies and pieces of furniture. “Assuming it ain’t a fake, o’course.”
“I’ll think of something. Let’s just get out of this Stone before your ta’veren‘ness gets us all killed. Or married.”
“You already are married.”
“And do you have any idea how much trouble I’d get in if I got married again?” Chucky demanded. “Sheesh, you Americans. Just come on, and try to maintain motor control,” he shifted the bagpipes on his back, balanced them with the cumbersome crystal sword on his other shoulder, and juggled briefly with his new gleestaff.
Right then, somewhere outside, a rooster crowed.
“Ach, is it mornin’ already?” Debs grunted, standing at the junction of two corridors and scratching her head. Janica winced as her scalp was tenderised by the a’dam, then went back to talking to the imposing, scantily-clad blur at her side.
They’d spent most of the night trying to consolidate their mastery of the Stone, bringing together the Defenders and telling them what was what. At the same time, they had tried to minimise their own impact, placing the mantle of saviour and Dragon firmly around Logain’s reluctant shoulders, and keeping the rumours to an absolute minimum. They hadn’t actually met up with Moiraine yet, but she was around, and she had definitely had words with Logain earlier on, as much as they had tried to keep her at arm’s length – and they had certainly made sure not to let her see Callandor. Things had been rather confused for a while, and now they didn’t know where Moiraine was at all. An attack of angry, un-punctual Aiel from the nearby docks sometime in the tiny hours of the night had thrown everything back into confusion, and fighting was still going on in the lower levels. But most of the authorities now knew that the Dragon Reborn was in command of the Stone and of the Sword.
And Janica had a new project.
“You’re not exactly at your wits’ end, you know,” she said. “It’s not as if you have no money, no resources, no power to draw on. A woman with absolutely nothing might be forgiven for using her body to stay alive. But you’re a queen. You have subjects, and an army, and a treasury, and a brain. Or at least I think you do. Something has to be making your eyes blink.”
“You know, you’re right,” Berelain said, sounding quite stunned. “I do have other faculties at my command. Why have I been sleazing around trying to ally myself with more powerful nations by the whore method? Actually, when you think about it, my country is of great strategic importance – far from being threatened by larger neighbours, I should be advocating a policy of neutral ground, and creating advantage out of the geo-political situation.”
Janica wasn’t sure the male readers of the series would like that, but she was through giving a hoot about what the male readers wanted. The story was already changed irrevocably. “And for feck’s sake put some decent clothes on,” she added judiciously.
“You’re right,” Berelain repeated as they headed through into a large room with full-length mirrors lined up against one wall. She looked at herself critically – and there was a lot of herself to look at, given that she was wearing a scarf and pretending it was a nightie. “I’m dressed like a strumpet. I’m dressed like a strumpet who’s been sent home on Slutty Strumpet Eve for dressing too trashily.”
Janica nodded, and turned back to Debs. What her sul’dam had just said was filtering through the rightenous indignation she herself was feeling. “What did you just say? Morning already?”
“Did’nae ye hear the cock?”
“Was it my cock?” Vamps asked immediately, having been waiting to deliver the line ever since the rooster had crowed.
“Oh,” Janica said. “No, I mustn’t have heard it. Maybe it was too small…”
“Help!” Loial suddenly cried out, and Janica spun to see a bulky red-and-blue blob step out of the wall. She wouldn’t have seen much more even with her glasses, of course. A smaller grey figure stepped out as well, and she suddenly realised she was looking at Debs and herself – their images had emerged from the mirrors. Turning slowly, she saw more of the shapes appearing all over the room. Berelain screamed.
“It’s a bubble of evil!” Janica exclaimed. “Remember? No, don’t attack them! They can do everything we can, but there’s some way to channel to absorb them, we just have tae figure it out.”
They gathered together in the middle of the room, and the menacing mirror-figures surrounded them.
“A bubble of evil, did you say?” Loial quavered. “Have you seen one before?”
“Not quite like this,” Janica said. “It’s to do with the Dark One’s prison. As the seals weaken, these fumes of evil are spreading out through the Pattern. They make strange things happen, and it’s different every time. It shouldn’t be here though – none of us are ta’veren as far as I know, and the miasma moves through the Pattern looking for ta’veren. Or something like that,” she couldn’t remember much about these parts of the book. All she really remembered about the Stone of Tear was that in a few days some grain barges were going to arrive, and they would be full of trollocs and halfmen and there would be a big fight all over again. Some of the Shadowspawn would be against the others, and the Dragon was meant to kill them all with Callandor, and then try to resurrect a dead child … but would that even happen anymore? It seemed like nothing was going the way it was supposed to. Except Berelain. She was coming along nicely. Given time, she might be taught to be a decent ruler instead of a third-class tramp. She just needed to throw off the shackles of her narrative stereotyping, rise above the one-dimensional characterisation that Jordan had forced her into, and discover herself as an actualised-
“Luke at mah arrse!” Debs cried, her extreme distress thickening her accent to near-incomprehensibility. “Et’s huge!”
“I can get rid of them, if I just channel through this,” Logain said, hefting the glassy weight of Callandor. “If what you’ve told me is true, the One Power I can wield through this is…”
“Nae,” Janica said. “We have to deal with this on our own. Quickly, smash the mirrors before more can come through. We can do that, at least.”
Vamps and Logain made short work of the mirrors, and then Debs and Janica turned their attention on the swarming duplicates.
“Those ones came out of broken mirror fragments!” Janica insisted, pointing at some tiny grey blurs off to one side. “I’m not that short!”
“No, they came out of full-sized…” Vamps paused. “You’re right, of course.”
“Let’s just channel at ’em,” Debs growled. “I wan’ ’em gone. Luke at that arrse.”
“But we don’t know-”
Debs embraced saidar through the a’dam, and Janica felt some sort of fumbling weave stretch out. She didn’t think it mattered what sort of weaves were used against the duplicates, they would be absorbed anyway – and then, with a shocking suddenness, they were. The room was suddenly silent, except for tinkling glass and Berelain’s ragged almost-sobbing. When the First of Mayene saw Janica glaring at her, she drew herself up and wiped her eyes.
“Sorry,” she said. “I’m alright now. Well, that was invigourating. A near-death experience always gets the adrenaline going.”
Loial brushed bits of mirror off his shoulders. “Bubbles of evil,” he murmured. “Bubbles. Of evil. Bubbles.”
The door burst open, and the giant gap-toothed figure of Perrin lurched inside, sweating and weilding a gleaming axe he had gotten from somewhere. He gaped at the scene of destruction, and more specifically at the dishevelled Berelain. His yellow eyes gleamed appreciatively.
“Are you okay?” he asked, his hick voice brimming with concern. “There’s some strange things a-happening, and I heard noises.”
“We’re fine,” Berelain said regally. “Tell me – you’re not of any specific strategic or political importance, are you?”
“Uh, no ma’am.”
“Good,” the First of Mayene flicked a glance at Janica, but the little damane didn’t see it. “This whole incident has unsettled my nerves somewhat. How about you take me back to my apartments, and fuck me raw? Afterwards, I will be able to concentrate on more important matters without the distraction of sexual tension.”
Perrin’s grin could have entered the record books. “Ma’am, yes ma’am!”
Janica sighed. “Oh well, it’ll have to do,” she murmured. “I did my best, and at least she’s empowered. Now if we can track Mat down, I’ll have a word with him about his whining.”
“Nyuh! Nyuh! Guh! Nah! Huh!”
“Puddin,” Logain stepped across to the Far Maddingite, who was over in a corner, stamping on something vigourously. “What are you doing? Oh – more of those small replicas coming from the mirror-fragments?”
“What?” Vamps gave a final stamp, and turned to look at Debs and Janica. “No no, nothing like that. Spiders. There were spiders all over the wall. Didn’t you see them?”
Chucky looked down at the remains and sighed. Then he reached down and pulled two of Dr. Nick’s gleaming spears from the tartan rags. There was a mournful ‘whaaaar’ noise.
“My bagpipes,” he said. “My poor bagpipes. What did they ever do to you?”
“Jumped off your shoulder and tried to eat me, is what they done gone an’ goddamn did,” Shannon growled, and gave the broken remains a swift kick. There was another ‘whaaaar’, this time a bit fainter and decidedly watery.
“It was a bubble of evil,” Chucky said, crouching down and picking up the base drone. It was snapped clear at the stock, trailing pieces of hemp and dripping unspeakable bag dressing. It was, in short, a normal bagpipe again. But it was completely ruined. “And it came out here because of your ta’veren‘ness, Nancy.”
“Stop calling me Nancy.”
“What are you doing?” Dr. Nick demanded as Chucky gathered up the pieces and carefully wrapped his gleeman’s cloak around them.
“It can be fixed. I know how to do that, at least.”
“But why would you want to?”
Chucky tucked the bundle under his arm, and put Callandor back on his shoulder. “Let’s get out of here,” he said, handing the spears back to Dr. Nick. “We’ve got places to go.”
“We gots to find Moiraine and the Green Man,” Shannon said. “They’se in here somewheres. Matter o’ fact, they’se probably takin’ charge o’ the Stone by now. There was still a bunch o’ trollocs and halfmen around, but most of ’em seemed to have done pulled back. Anyways, Moiraine had herself a plan to set up some sort of False Dragon, at least I think that’s what she sayd.”
“Those Shadowspawn vanished awfully fast,” Dr. Nick remarked. “Maybe the Forsaken used gateways and got rid of all their troops when they realised they’d lost. Does that sound even remotely like something the Forsaken would do?”
Chucky shrugged. “Who knows what they’re going to do? They’re idiots. Never know what an idiot’s going to do.”
They rounded a bend, and encountered the grey shaggy form of Cybes, and the almost-equally shaggy form of Min.
“Finally, a pair of actual women,” Dr. Nick muttered, then went on in a louder voice, “oh, what’ve you got there, Cybes?”
“It’s a trolloc’s heart,” Min said. “I tried to get her to drop it, but she thinks it’s a game and runs away.”
“Cybes?” Chucky asked in bafflement. “She appeared as a wolf? Wolf wasn’t an option!” he looked at Shannon and Dr. Nick and had the grace to grin apologetically. “Well, I guess there must have been a bit of a mistake and we all came as things we didn’t, ah, expect.”
“Diplomatic bastard ain’tcher,” Shannon noted, and started on down the corridor. “Look, can we get a-movin’? The sooner we give this stuff to Moiraine, the sooner we can stop a-frettin’ and a-worryin’ about it and I can get me some goldurn sleep. I’m so tired I could jus’ lie down right here and-”
“You can’t come in here! We’re questioning Black Ajah Aes Sedai! Moiraine Sedai’s orders.”
Chucky almost dropped his ruined bagpipes. Egwene folded her arms under her breasts and a waft of pre-hygiene farmgirl stench managed to escape from … well, somewhere. Egwene fixed Dr. Nick and the gleeman with an accusatory glare, and then turned on Shannon and Min. Min looked at the space above Egwene’s head, and sighed in absolute disgust.
“My visions are getting sillier and sillier,” she said. “I thought you were the one with the seven-striped stole, but now it looks like-”
There was a scream from the other side of the heavy door Egwene was standing in front of. It was repeated, and then there was a strange cacophony of grunts and thumps and puddley-noises. Then the door swung open and Nynaeve staggered out. She was gory to the elbows.
“Amico Nagoyin said something insulting,” she choked, white-faced. “I leaned forward to slap her, and my hand must have slipped because suddenly I accidentally cut her throat and Joiya’s too, and then I tripped and reached out to grab something to steady myself and I grabbed onto their tongues and spun around and accidentally nailed them to the door…”
Cybes dropped the heavy piece of fibrous muscle she had been gnawing, and stood on her back legs. She tugged one of the still-squirming tongues off the cell door, and chewed happily.
“It was a complete accident!” Nynaeve was sobbing. In the cell, Elayne was throwing up.
“I believe you,” Chucky said, glancing at Shannon.
“Oh, it’s you again,” Nynaeve went on, noticing Chucky for the first time. “I see they took your gag off.”
“Have you seen Puddin around?”
“Have you seen Moiraine? Egwene just said you were acting on her orders. You weren’t going to learn anything from those two anyway.”
“On the contrary, we learned that they were planning some sort of Darkfriend action in Tanchico,” Egwene snapped. “We’ve learned a lot from them, and Moiraine says-”
“Speaking of Moiraine, we have this to give to her,” Chucky brandished Callandor, and was satisfied to hear the awed gasps from the two Rivers women.
“Where did you get that?” Nynaeve exclaimed.
“Oh, it was in the Heart of the Stone,” Chucky replied, giving the sword a few practice-swings. “Yeah, things like this just seem to happen when-”
Nynaeve whacked him on the ear, and snatched the Sword That Is Not A Sword. “That’s something we should be looking after,” she said. “Moiraine told us so.”