“Uh … Coop?”
The gholam paid no attention to the nervous Warder as they hurried up a narrow spiral stair towards the apartments at the top of the Stone. Cooper Two was talking into his imaginary earpiece again. Mister C of 9 and the four frightened Ogier were following along behind, more for something to do than out of any specific loyalty.
“Coop … I really don’t think this is a great idea.”
“Roger that, proceeding to the target.”
“Quiet, man. I’m proceeding,” Cooper Two said urgently. “You can’t go interrupting me mid-proceed. I might proceed wrong and have to start all over again.”
Miserably, Forsaken_1 followed the gholam up towards the rooms where the Dragon Reborn was apparently making himself at home. Due to the confusing nature of the decision, Forsaken_1 wasn’t even sure if Coop was about to kill the real Dragon or not.
Then they arrived in the corridor outside the Dragon’s apartments, and Forsaken_1 breathed a sigh of relief. The giant leafy form of the Green Man was hunched up in the hallway, looking a little bit nervous about something. He looked up and saw the group approaching. Coop himself slowed and finally stopped in the corridor some distance from the huge figure, looking thoughtful.
“Are you actually guarding?” he asked the towering Nym.
“For now,” Someshta rustled and tightened his grip on the struggling man he was holding. “Moiraine said that if she couldn’t see the Dragon Reborn, then I should make sure nobody else could. Of course, I had to clean that up a lot,” he admitted.
“Of course. So when are you going to stop guarding?”
Someshta looked uncomfortable. “We might be heading away soon, there’s a lot that needs to be done. But I really wish you’d reconsider about killing him, Cooper Two.”
“Can’t do that. Now stand aside.”
“No can do. And anyway, I think you’ll find the room is a minefield of anti-gholam ow’angreals. Moiraine and some of the other people who serve the Dragon have been collecting them, and once it became clear that you were in the Stone with the intent of killing…”
“Oh alright,” Coop said unhappily. “But you guys are really messing up my mission, you know,” his eyelid twitched. “First three thousand years pass, then there was the whole downfall of civilisation thing, then the Dragon was dead, then he was reborn, then he was dead again, and now you won’t even let me kill the impersonator. Can I at least kill Moiraine or somebody?”
“That would kill Warder Foreskin,” Someshta said. “You wouldn’t want that, would you?”
“I honestly wouldn’t mind.”
“Okay first of all, ouch,” Forsaken_1 said, then continued confidently, “and second of all, it actually wouldn’t kill me. That’s not how Warder bonds work.”
“It isn’t?” the Green Man blinked.
“Oh,” Someshta looked puzzled for a minute, then shrugged. “Listen, Cooper Two – I’m sure we can find a new mission for you, and just … put off this one for a while. It’s already been put off for this long, there’s no harm in putting it off a bit longer, right? Surely that isn’t a breach in your mission.”
“I’ll have to look that up in the manual,” Coop said. “We’ll continue this later.”
“Okay. Oh, by the way…” Someshta went on. “You, um, wouldn’t happen to know any good ways of dealing with Grey Men?”
“Grey Men?” Forsaken_1 exclaimed, jumping and looking into the shadows worriedly. Mister C of 9 looked back at him from the shadows with a scornful expression on his face. “There are Grey Men around?”
“Just killing them always seems to work for me,” Cooper Two said. “They’re pretty useless Shadowspawn, really. Of course, only the really dumb Darkfriends ever signed up for the duty, thinking it would be cool but not really ever thinking about the whole deal. Yeah, there’s nothing much to it.”
“Oh,” the Green Man closed his giant woody hands inexorably. There was a squishy crunch, and Forsaken_1 suddenly noticed the pulpy remains of the man who had been struggling in Someshta’s grip for the entire course of the conversation. A dagger fell from the nerveless fingers of the corpse.
“Look at that!” Forsaken_1 shouted, pointing. “A Grey Man! That was awesome! Did you see it, Coop?”
“Sure,” Cooper Two shrugged. “It’s got an Aginor Bio-Weapons Corporation logo on its forehead.”
“Did you see it?” he asked the Green Man.
“Difficult to miss,” Someshta replied. “He walked up without even trying to hide himself, and when he was close enough he said ‘ooger booger’.”
“You guys?” Forsaken_1 turned helplessly to the Ogier.
“Well yeah,” Frendli said nervously. “We Ogier are extra-sensitive to the presence of men holding knives who might try to stab us with the knives.”
“Yep,” Mister C tapped his sunglasses. “Glee-o-vision of guys-not-there-spotty.”
“Ha ha ha! She says she can’t go! She says she’s feng-shui! Ha ha ha!! Funny that!”
Moiraine stood outside the colourful little wagon and ground her teeth. If her ability with the One Power weren’t still faded to uselessness, she’d have done her best to systematically demolish the entire Stone long since. “Contro, if you’ll just let me talk to her…”
There was some more murmuring from the wagon, and Contro laughed some more. “Sorry!!! Not feng-shui! She says she’s Guy Smiley! That means she can’t go to the Waste and see the Wise Ones, I guess!! I guess she has to go on the Muppet Show and make announcements or something! I think!!! Mind you, I could be wrong!”
“Aviendha, I don’t give a slick, slippery well-oiled fuck if you’re gai’shain!” Moiraine roared. “If you don’t get out here right fucking now I’m going to come in there, and if I have to do that there isn’t a word in the Old Tongue for what you’ll be when I’m cunting well done with you!”
A couple of seconds later, a silent, sulky white-robed Aviendha stepped out of the wagon and stood to casual attention out of Cow-range. Moiraine nodded in satisfaction. Cow snorted and shat expressively on the floor.
“Right. I got this letter,” the little Aes Sedai said to Aviendha, brandishing a sheaf of parchment. “It orders you to report to Chaendaer near Rhuidean. It also requires that I hand this information on to Rhuarc, and I have already done so. I don’t know why I’m always the one who has to deal with these things, but there you go. The letter has spoken. Rhuarc’s getting ready to go as we speak, but it’s likely to be a little while longer. I don’t want you out of my sight until we leave.”
“You’re coming too?” Aviendha asked.
“Of course. You Aiel have a Car’a’carn to confirm, and we have Prophesies to deal with, and they’re all connected. I’ll be fucked if I’m going to be left out in the cold after all the Ghul-damned hicks I’ve had to talk to in the past twenty years.”
Contro stuck his head out of the wagon, and smiled. “Hello! Ha ha ha!”
“What do you want?” Moiraine asked in disgust.
Contro lifted one of the gaudy canvas flaps and seated himself merrily on the edge of the wagon, swinging his feet. “Sorry to be a bother!! I was just wondering what I should be doing! Only I’ve been waiting in this wagon all night and all morning, and I’m getting pretty hungry! Ha ha ha!! And Cow keeps doing funny things with that other horse!”
“I don’t want to know about this,” Moiraine growled. “I’m slowly being frozen out of the Dragon Project when it was my bloody ashy bloody idea at the very start, every Aes Sedai I try to talk to could be a Darkfriend, it’s like we’ve been a step behind for the past six Creatorforsaken months,” she fixed Contro with a fierce glare. Contro smiled again. “You stay here. We’ll be ready to move in a few days. I’ll bring you some food, and we’ll be loading up as much as we can into this wagon before we leave.”
“As much what???”
“Whatever the fucking Aiel don’t walk away with,” Moiraine snapped. “It’s not like they even overthrew this place the way they were meant to in the Prophesies, but does that stop the illiterate cunts from looting? Oh no.”
Aviendha bowed her head. “I have made things difficult for you, Aes Sedai,” she said. “I should not have been hiding away from my responsibilities in the wagon of this irritating Lost One,” she squared her shoulders. “I have toh.”
Contro looked down at his swinging, mismatched shoes, and opened his mouth.
“Don’t say it,” Moiraine warned. “Just. Fucking. Don’t.”
“Ha ha ha!! I’ve forgotten what I was going to say now anyway! Isn’t it funny when that happens???!”
Moiraine strode away from the wagon and continued her irritated search for her Warder. She knew, from the familiar sensations of the bond, that he was somewhere in the Stone … but that location changed swiftly, and without warning. It was as if he was lost, or wandering aimlessly. Knowing Foreskin, that was the exact case. Muttering to herself, she headed upwards. The Green Man would be guarding the corridors still – at least he would be if he knew what was good for him. And he had the two fake Callandors hidden in his undergrowth. Moiraine harboured whimsical ambitions of sneaking into the bedchambers of the Logain Reborn at some point, and swapping his Callandor with one of hers. Just so everybody knew she wouldn’t be lightly cast aside.
But that could wait. Right now, she had a trip into the Aiel Waste to plan, and time was of the essence. She decided it was just about time to consult with a group of experts. Just as soon as she had her Warder back at her side.