Chucky wandered through the dusty store-rooms, mournfully cradling his bagpipes in his arms. The patches of his gleeman’s cloak fluttered around the cracked, spear-pierced remains.
“Chucky make it all better,” he crooned. “Chucky make it all better.”
The bagpipes were silent.
Humming to himself, Chucky wandered down the rows of boxes and baskets, looking at the crap. He supposed some of this stuff was related to the One Power, but he knew that the useful stuff had already been ransacked by the assorted channelers. He wondered if there was some sort of bag’angreal somewhere that would restore his musical…
He looked at the twisted redstone doorway for a long, silent moment.
“No light sources allowed, no iron allowed, no musical instruments allowed,” he said thoughtfully. “I don’t think bagpipes classify as any of those. And if they don’t want musical instruments in there, they must know a bit about them. They might even know how to fix them. It stands to reason. Sort of. And anyway, I can ask them other stuff. Yeah.”
It was a Hindle gift that any idea still kicking around in the brain after five seconds was immediately promoted to ‘Best Idea Ever’ by the enthusiastic Hindle ego. Chucky unwrapped his pipes, settled his cloak firmly over his shoulders, and stepped through the doorway.
“You sent what?!”
The Nae’blis strode through the corridors of Tar Valon in a flurry of black and dried-blood red, his latest comrade scuttling along beside like a crab in eveningwear.
“Trollocs and halfmen,” Padan Fain said happily. “Fearsome, deadly, terrifying…”
Angamael let the little peddler burble on for a short time. Fain was happy and a happy comrade was a healthy comrade, and although there were several aspects of Fain that were far from healthy, at least he wouldn’t be plotting against the Darkfriends … at least, not yet. Angamael wanted to keep Fain where he could see him. He let Fain carry on about trollocs for a while – it was funny how the Lugarder really seemed to think trollocs and myrddraal, who a channeler could fry at fifty paces and spot a mile away, were really dangerous. Even in their own day they’d been outstripped by draghkar, gholam and assorted others, and these days there were still other things on the menu. Angamael had sent Aginor, with a team of researchers and useful angreal and ter’angreal, into the Blight to pick up useful biological weapons. He figured even the poisonous plants in the tainted nation could put a team of trollocs to shame, and you didn’t even need to feed plants on endless cauldrons of bubbling human stew. Well … not some of the more sedate varieties of poisonous plants.
After waiting a reasonable length of time he interrupted with another flat, disbelieving clarification.
“In feed wagons.”
“Yes. It’s brilliant. They won’t suspect for a minute that there’s anything but feed in those wagons. They’ll let them past and-”
“Who would send feed to Tear?”
“Presumably, ah, the Tairens would arrange for it.”
“Well, no, but in all the excitement everybody will assume somebody must have…”
“You’ll see, Angamael. You’ll see. It will work out wonderfully.”
“Nae’blis,” a sleepy-looking rubber-clad Aes Sedai stepped up and gave a brisk salute. She wasn’t one of the ones who looked good in the new anti-conversion suits. She wasn’t even one of the ones who looked average, or even acceptable, in the suits, being built along somewhat dumpy and motherly lines. But you couldn’t have everything. Either they all wore the tight rubber, or none of them did. And that way, there was a risk of conversion. No, Angamael was happy with things the way they were. For every Aes Sedai like this in the Tower, there were several sweet-bodied Domani like Leane, the Keeper of the Chronicles. “Nae’blis, we have primary teremtry.”
“What’s teremetry?” Fain demanded, eyes narrowing.
“It’s like telemetry, only it involves Aes Sedai snoozing around with Tel’aran’rhiod ter’angreal, watching things in dream-space,” Angamael explained proudly. “It’s just one of many innovative techniques requiring very little effort-”
“And what’s telemetry?”
“Information gathering of some sort,” Angamael said. “What do you have, child?”
“Three fists of trollocs and a full dozen myrddraal slain in the aftermath of Tear, Nae’blis,” she said, saluting again. “skewered mercilessly by metal rods while they hid in their feed baskets, Nae’blis.”
“Curses!” Fain smacked his palm into his fist in a rather strange reversal of the usual gesture. “Damn that Dragon. Ah, False Dragon,” he clarified.
“It doesn’t matter,” Angamael said serenely. “Plenty more where they came from, and we’ll just go back to Plan A and catch them in the Waste, without Shadowspawn. Now, what about Agent Smith?” he enjoyed the sudden, terrified cowering displayed by his little Lugarder sidekick. “Is he in place?”
“Yes, Nae’blis. Ah, as for the Seanchan contingent, Nae’blis, unable to confirm. Teremetry readings were thrown into disarray, Nae’blis.”
“Disarray?” Angamael raised an eyebrow dangerously. Dangerously, because every other time he’d tried to raise an eyebrow, the other had dipped dramatically and caught on fire. This time, he was lucky. “Thrown into disarray by what?”
“Ah,” the Aes Sedai shuffled her rubber shoes, looking a little embarrassed. “According to these reports, Nae’blis, er, a … a giant flying penis, Nae’blis.”
“Hmm,” Angamael frowned. “They were mostly former Reds, weren’t they, the observers we sent to watch over developments in Seanchan?”
“I imagine a giant flying penis would throw them into disarray,” Angamael nodded. “Very well, dismissed.”
The Aes Sedai retreated with perhaps unseemly haste, but Angamael didn’t blame her. After all, she had without a doubt seen the direction in which they were headed, and didn’t want any part of it, rubber pants or no rubber pants.
Angamael and Fain carried on through the corridors, heading towards the shadowy area of the White Tower that had once been the office of the Mistress of Novices but was now dubbed, by some lark or another, Sheriam’s Lair. Angamael didn’t really like to go into the soot-smeared passageways where the lamps had been permanently extinguished and the floors coated with common tavern-rushes because it was just easier to burn them than clean the carpets, but Fain had insisted. He wasn’t going on any special missions without a full complement, and he had his own weird, twisted requirements for that sort of unit.
Sheriam, the green-eyed Mistress of Novices who had once ruled the white-dresses with an iron fist and a supple switch of Air, had experienced … technical difficulties during her Turning to the Dark One. Technical difficulties. Oh, there was a lovely way of describing what had happened. Several halfmen had ‘burned out’, and the twisting ribbons of shadow had ‘backwashed’, causing a ‘feedback loop overload’. It was an inevitable risk, apparently, when forcibly Turning so many channelers against their will. There were bound to be some hiccups.
If Sheriam was a hiccup, Angamael had decided he didn’t want to see a belch.
Finally they arrived at her door, which had been marked with the Dragon’s Fang by the haughty, cynical Darkfriends of the Tower themselves. The Nae’blis gestured grandly for Fain to do the honours, and the smiling peddler did so with a mocking little bow. The door swung open with a nasty greasy noise that doors shouldn’t make.
“Sheriam?” Fain said, sidling into the darkness. “Sheriam, are you there?”
There was a noise. It sounded, at least on the surface, like an extremely gross person sucking a gross liquid through a gross, porous object of some sort. But that was just the innocent, external part of the noise. The undertones made Angamael want to run outside and scrub himself all over with fine-ground glass.
“Play nice, Sheriam,” Fain said, unflappable.
“What do you want, little man?” Sheriam asked languidly. Her voice was like having warm crude oil forcibly injected into each ear by an ice-cold cow-inseminating device, and at that stage colourful comparisons tended to break down and go home in utter disgust.
“You’re coming with us on a little journey,” Fain said, his own voice jolly and inexpressibly healthy in comparison. “It’ll be fun. Just you and me and Noam and Bayle and Asmodean. One happy pappy family.”
“Will it be warm?” Sheriam – or some part of her which couldn’t be rightly called her anymore – moved slowly on the filthy bed they’d given her when it became clear she was going to come out of her room and look for a bed if she wasn’t given one. “I do so like the warm.”
It was already stiflingly hot in the chambers, a heat that reminded Angamael uncomfortably of two things – the scorching dry heat of the Bore, and the smothering organic heat of the gym locker he always used to get pushed into when he was at High School. It was difficult being a four-foot sixteen-year-old. Neither of the associations were ones he particularly liked.
“Oh yes, hot hot hot,” Padan Fain said cheerfully. “We’re going to the Aiel Waste.”