“Look,” Moiraine leaned forward and stared directly into Debs’s eyes. “I have no idea where Logain went. I was never allowed near him. That’s what I was trying to chew you out about, when this fucking gleeman hit you from behind. I don’t have any idea where Logain is now. I didn’t have any idea where he was to start with.”
“She’s telling the truth,” Someshta said quietly. They were sitting together in a large audience chamber – with Loial, Perrin, Berelain, Vamps, Lan, Chucky and Forsaken_1 also sitting around and watching the interrogation, it was rather crowded. “I don’t think she had anything to do with Logain’s disappearance.”
“I keep trying to tell you, he didn’t want to be Dragon,” Forsaken_1 interjected. “He just wanted to pick up guys. He was gayer than anything I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some of the e-mails I send to Chucky.”
“He’s right,” Chucky agreed. “About the e-mails, I mean. I don’t know about Logain. I think he had sex with women in the books.”
“Ach,” Debs said, rearranging the still-unconscious Janica in her arms. Chucky looked on with a pale green face. It wasn’t that he was worried about Janica’s health – Debs had assured him the damane was fine – but rather what was going to happen to him when his wife woke up. He’d made an innocent mistake, but the tenfold-magnification of the a’dam had made that mistake a rather inconvenient one for Janica. He wasn’t sure how she would feel about it. “Logain’s not gay,” Debs went on. “Foreskin’s been sayin’ that from the very beginnin’. He’s jes’ jealous. Anywee, I bet he’s gone off wi’ that damn Mister See o’ Mayene.”
“He was in the company of a Mayener?” Berelain, seated comfortably in Perrin’s lap but no longer stuck there, leaned forward in interest. “Who is this Mister See?”
“He’s my apprentice,” Chucky said quickly. “I don’t think he was really from Mayene, it was just a sort of a stage name. He was a little strange. Anyway, why would Mister See be hanging around with Logain?”
“Well, Logain and Mister See formed a sort of … bond,” Vamps spoke up, seeing the chance to shine. “You might say they became somewhat … attached … to each other,” he paused, and then added a judicious, “…” to the end of his statement.
“You mean the Forsaken tried to convert him to the Dark One by use of channelers and halfmen, and the process went wrong and Logain was converted to the worship of Mister See of Mayene?” Chucky exclaimed.
“Uh…” Vamps was crestfallen. “Yeah.”
“Extraordinary!” Loial said, scribbling in his notepad.
“There is more bad news,” Someshta admitted. “Before he left, Logain accidentally broke Callandor. It was only one of the fake ones that seem to be cropping up,” he added hastily as Debs and Moiraine and several other people exchanged worried glances, “but even so, a lot of High Lords saw it happen. We have to deal with that.”
“Why not do an Andúril?” Chucky spread his hands. “Take the pieces and put them in the Heart of the Stone, and say that when the Dragon returns the Sword That Is All Busted Up will be reforged anew and then the world will be rekindled, or whatever. You know. All we really need is a bit of mumbo-jumbo for the High Lords to be impressed by. Even Vamps could do that. Vamps can channel, right?”
Debs and Moiraine exchanged another look, this one altogether less worried and a lot more devious. Puddin looked from one to the other with a pensive expression of his own.
“What are you thinking, mistress Debs? Moiraine Sedai?” he asked meekly.
“We have an appointment to keep out in the Aiel Waste,” Moiraine said. “We’ve already got one False Dragon knocking around here, but the Aiel haven’t seen him yet.”
“And we need the Aiel clans,” Someshta put in. “They’ll rally together under the Car’a’carn, and that will begin things nicely, with regard to the reunification of the Aiel.”
“They’ll rally together unner whoever we bring,” Debs said. “Nobody ever sid the Dragon an’ the Car’a’carn were the same guy, an’ if we canna feend Logain fer this bet, we can jes’ fill him in later, like.”
Moiraine smiled. “We have time. It might just work. Send some people to find Logain, and in the meantime we’ll keep the Aiel busy with somebody else, and convince them it’s the Car’a’fucking‘carn.”
Everybody was suddenly on their feet, bustling around, getting busy.
“Where are we going?” Forsaken_1 asked, standing up and following Moiraine. “Sorry, I tuned out for a minute there.”
“Let’s face it, Mister See. We’re lost.”
Mister C of 9, haggard and miserably weary, sat down on the edge of the street. In front of him, the crowds thickened and swirled around the marketplace leading up to the front entrance of the Stone of Tear, which they just couldn’t seem to get away from. They’d walked for the better part of ten minutes, and just couldn’t seem to find the outer limits of the city. The glimmering, shimmering ocean taunted them with its proximity, but they couldn’t reach that either.
The One Seal dragged Mister C’s head down. There was no reason for it to do so, because he hadn’t been able to fashion a neck-chain for the cumbersome thing, and was now just carrying it in the breast pocket of his tattered Mambo shirt, but it dragged down on his head nevertheless. He had to get to the Cracks of Doom and be rid of the thing before it gained an even greater hold on his body and soul and mind. Even now, he could hear it whispering in his brain, bidding him to put it on, put it on…
He probably would have done so by now, if he could figure out how.
Logain plopped down beside his master, and rested his head disconsolately across the myrddraal’s bony knees. The pedestrians on the street eddied around the two, who were flopped down dramatically in the middle of the market area making a complete spectacle of themselves.
“This isn’t much of an adventure, is it Mister See?”
“No, Sam, I’m afraid it isn’t,” Mister C replied. “I’m sorry you had to come along with me. Have we got any more lembas?”
While they sat, looking in weary defeat at the mocking Stone, the two adventurers were unaware of a dark, skinny shape stretched out across the upper storey facade of the nearest tavern. Watching them.
It wouldn’t have surprised Mister C at all to discover that their unwanted shadow was called gholam.
Janica awoke with a hoarse moan. Her body was divided neatly into three distinct areas of discomfort – a throbbing numbness like frostbite below the waist, a pounding headache above the neck, and an overcompensating normality in between that just served to make the rest all the more unpleasant.
She refused to say “where am I?”. Sitting up and looking around, she saw the usual very-little-indeed. There was scorching hot sand and slate underneath her, sloping downwards quite sharply. Off in the distance there was a mist-filled valley, but that was more assumption than actual sighting. Towers and domes emerged from the thick fog like unnecessary comparisons in a piece of prose. She was on the slopes above Rhuidean, the mountainous area known as Chaendaer. She was lying near a Portal Stone – again, more logic than vision – and she wasn’t alone.
“Ye’re all better, lass,” Debs said happily. “Sorry aboot tha’, but we had tae keep ye unconscious fer a wee while. It was the best wee.”
“You channeled through the a’dam while I was unconscious?” Janica rubbed her head. “I didn’t know that worked.”
“Me neither,” Debs shrugged her wide shoulders. “It was Moiraine’s idea.”
“She tried to attack us, didn’t she? What was all that about?”
“Ach, she was jes’ mad aboot the wee we were keepin’ her from helpin’ the Dragon,” Debs replied. “We sorted everythin’ oot in the end, she’s gonna help us wi’ Vamps. Anywee, we gave it a try an’ it seemed tae work, even though ye were oot cold. We Linked, an’ Moiraine used the Portal Stone, usin’ yer pooer. There were’nae even any misteeks.”
Linked. Well, that explained one of her problems. As for the other… “What happened to my head?”
Debs’s face darkened. “Apparently yer idiot husband clocked me one while we were in the Greet Holdin’, jes’ after Moiraine attacked us,” she said. “We were booth knocked oot, an’ I woke up first an’ we decided tae try things this wee.”
“Chucky,” Janica climbed to her feet and winced. “Where is he noo?”
“He, um, well, he went intae Rhuidean wi’ Vamps an’ Moiraine,” Debs said hesitantly. “Said summat aboot his bargpeeps.”
“His bagpipes? He didn’t have bagpipes!”
“He’s had them every time I’ve seen him,” somebody, eye-jarring in a colour-shifting Warder cloak, T-shirt and jeans, came across the sand from a little collection of tents farther up the hill. Somebody else, equally eye-jarring in gai’shain whites, followed him meekly. Janica could make out the weird effects of the cloak, the startling white of the robe and something gaudy and awful in the near background that could only be a Tinker’s wagon, but everything else was a hot, sandy blur. She assumed it was Forsaken_1 and Aviendha, if only because of Debs’s aggressive sigh and a faint angst concerning women with long legs simmering through the a’dam. “And he had them when he ran off with Vamps,” he added helpfully.
“The Wise Ones were angry,” Aviendha said. “They do not want the sanctity of Rhuidean to be soiled by Wetlanders, and they were already here overseeing the raising of Clan Chief of the Shaido. Muradin is in Rhuidean undergoing the tests already, and they are worried that he might be disturbed. It was bad enough that Moiraine Sedai took advantage of our debt, and went into Rhuidean herself. The Wise Ones were very upset.”
“You should’ve heard them,” Forsaken_1 said, a tremble in his voice. “They made Moiraine sound like a nun.”
“Who else is here?” Janica asked. She looked around in vain, but apart from the vague lumps and swirls of Rhuidean in the near distance, and some more lumps that were probably tents on the hillside, she didn’t see much of anything.
“Well, there’s you two and me, and Aviendha,” Forsaken_1 reported, lingering on the Aiel Maiden’s name for an over-long period of time. “Aviendha was meant to go into Rhuidean, apparently, to do some sort of test but she can’t for a while now because she’s gai’shain and that has to be finished with first. Anyway, Chucky and Vamps and Moiraine went into Rhuidean, Lan and Contro are over at Contro’s wagon with that horse of his, and Bela’s there as well, and Mat and Loial are here, and the Green Man, and Shannon got dragged off by the Wise Ones for a beating or something, I don’t know what all that’s about.”
“What about Perrin and Berelain?” Janica asked.
“Oh, Perrin heard about something going on in the Two Rivers, and he wanted to go and check it out, and Berelain said something about having to take care of her homeland, but they might have headed off together. I wasn’t paying much attention when they left,” Forsaken_1 admitted.
“Mmm,” Janica frowned. “And when did everybody go off into Rhuidean?”
“Just now,” Forsaken_1 said, happy to volunteer information. “Well, half an hour ago or so.”
“I guess it’s too late to follow them,” she muttered, “and besides, we need to get back with the program,” she rubbed the back of her head tenderly. “We’ll just have to hope that Vamps does the right thing. Now, Shannon. She’s – he’s – a ta’veren, right?”
“Oh yes,” Forsaken_1 once again replied promptly, without, for example, waiting for a month before doing so as he would normally do. He knew things, and he was eager to divulge them. “In fact he’s what Cooper Two called a sa’veren. Ha ha.”
“Anyway, yeah, he’s been twisting the Pattern fit to make Coop spew up his toenails – and gholam can actually do that. Why, just when the Wise Ones were about to hustle Shannon away into one of their big tents, a whale landed on it. Just fell out of the sky. And this guy, Couladin, whose brother’s going to be a Clan Chief? He was making a big fuss and bother about killing Wetlanders and there not being any Car’a’carn, and everything, when a flower pot fell out of the sky and smashed his head open like a ripe melon.”
“Killed him?” Janica exclaimed, grabbing the colour-shifting blur and shaking it in her little fists.
“Hey! Let go! Hell yeah it killed him. Debs, make her stop shaking me.”
“What did the Wise Ones do about it? What did Sevanna say?”
“I don’t know. Bla bla bla, that’s all it was,” Forsaken_1 made the International Signal of the Gabbing Woman with his left hand, opening and closing his fingers like flapping jaws. “I tuned it out.”
“God save me from Thirty_fuckin’_1,” Janica muttered fervently.
“Yeah, there were a lot of bad words,” he replied amiably. “Worse than the ones you know, though.”
Vamps stepped gingerly through the gleaming crystal columns, feeling like a bit of a cut-scene from Flash Gordon as he did so. The whole effect of the pillars and the reflections and the tinkling was all a bit unnecessary, but he went through with it anyway. Up ahead, he saw the shadowy figure of somebody – this Muradin guy, he supposed – standing in the midst of the glass tubes and looking distorted in a funhouse-mirror sort of way.
He stepped forward, and with an extremely tacky harp-noise he was immersed in a flashback.