If there was one thing more dangerous than walking around Tear with four nine-feet-tall Ogier wearing “Illian – One in a Billian!” shirts, it was walking around Tel’aran’rhiod with them. But it was something Dr. Nick had to do. Nynaeve and Elayne had told him that the search for Darkfriend Aes Sedai was something they had to take care of and that he could be of no help, and had proceeded to sniff and snort and fold their arms and freeze him out of the operation altogether. This was just fine with Dr. Nick, except he just knew that he’d be sitting there one night on wake-up duty and they’d be attacked and the Ogier would run away and Min and Cybes would be captured in spite of their formidable ass-kicking skills, and he’d be hit in the face with something and Nynaeve and Elayne would be carried off without being awakened from their Dreamwalking comas, it would all somehow be his fault and at some point he’d be obliged to lead the bumbling, terrified unlikely Ogier heroes on a daring rescue and get absolutely no thanks for it and frankly, that was all something Dr. Nick could live without.
How this resolution had translated itself into him insisting on learning how to Dreamwalk and come along looking for Black Ajah members … well, that was a mystery. He was travelling with a group of Ogier and women, and the Ogier were the more familiar species. But he had made a stand, and gotten himself involved.
Elayne’s attempts to make duplicate ter’angreal were thus far totally unsuccessful, in spite of Dr. Nick’s helpful advice and assurances that he knew she was destined to make ter’angreal of her own. It seemed to have planted the idea in her head, though, which was something. His later attempts to plant the idea of having sex with him in her head were somewhat less victorious, and his attempts to wear their twisted stone ring ter’angreal and have them channel into it had left him feeling jetlagged and mildly effeminate. He wasn’t even sure who had sent them on this stupid mission and where the ter’angreal had come from, because the women wouldn’t talk to him about it. He often walked unexpectedly in on their conversations, and they stopped talking and stared at him until he left. The fact that he often did this while they were bathing or trying on new clothes was, in his view, entirely coincidental. If you waited for a Jordan character to stop bathing or trying on new clothes, he justified to himself, you’d never get anything done at all.
Fortunately, there was a better way. While Nynaeve, Min and Elayne wandered around Tanchico and got in adventures, he waited in the inn with Cyberwollf, and she taught him to Dreamwalk. Just like that. The Wolf Dream, of course, was just another way of getting into Tel’aran’rhiod, and after a few long afternoon dozes he was ready to join in the fun.
Coarshus, Wyse, Frendli and Hoarni didn’t want to be left behind, so they did their best to learn the Wolf Dream as well. Dr. Nick had many good things to say about an adventure where most of his time was spent sleeping, even if it was sleeping with a giant grey timber wolf and four Ogier. It didn’t work perfectly, of course. From what little Cybes could communicate, Dr. Nick gathered that Ogier were not suited to the World of Dreams. It was a psychosphere of purely human subconsciousness. Ogier had their own, possibly, but Cybes could teach them nothing about it, and Ogier presence in Tel’aran’rhiod made strange changes and corruptions to the unseen world. Wyse recalled in a quiet, worried voice that they’d walked through Tel’aran’rhiod in the flesh once, and nasty things had happened. But they still wanted to come. And in the end that was what clinched it, sad as it was for Dr. Nick to admit. Nynaeve and Elayne and Min had agreed to allow ‘the boys’ to come along, because they didn’t want Hoarni to be left awake with their sleeping bodies. That simply didn’t bear thinking about.
So here he was, wandering through Tel’aran’rhiod’s reflection of the Heart of the Stone, waiting for their contact with the Wise Ones. Cybes was a misty, wolfy presence beside him, Nynaeve a prickly, braid-grippy presence in front, and the Ogier a clusteredy, edgy presence behind.
This time, when Shannon, Amys and Bair appeared, they were faint and insubstantial. Shannon was tilted at a thirty-degree angle to the rest of them, and kept moving in and out of focus with a weird rhythmic pulse. The Wise Ones nodded at Nynaeve, and then stared at Dr. Nick and his companions.
“You brought Ogier into the Dream,” Amys said. “Have you taken complete leave of your senses? Were your parents stupid, as well as brother and sister?”
“Amys is getting soft in her old age,” Bair said, crossing the floor. “She wouldn’t normally talk so nicely to an Aielman who was so stupid.”
“What’s with Shannon, uh, I mean Nancy?” Dr. Nick asked.
“We’re ridin’ … owards Alca … n horses, an … y ass is killi…” Shannon said, fading and returning periodically. “It’s diff … stay asleep whe … r ass hurts this mu…”
“We are teaching Nancy Sidesaddle to enter the Dream while partly-awake,” Amys said, still looking hard at the four Ogier. “We ride for Alcair Dal now, with all haste. The Car’a’carn wishes to delay no further, although I suspect he is acting on the wishes of his Wetlander advisors. When they found out that the peddlers had left early in the morning, and already had a half-day start on us, they wanted to leave immediately. So we doze as we ride. And Nancy Sidesaddle can not overcome the discomfort and maintain full concentration. She is a useless flabby Wetlander slurry.”
Shannon rolled his eyes.
“How is my Puddin?” Nynaeve blurted. “I mean, the Car’a’carn. Is he well? Is he wearing those woolens I knitted for him? Is he putting ointment on his rash?”
“And how is Loial?” Coarshus added. “We promised to find him and bring him home, but we’re so far away right now, it would be good to have news of him.”
“Loial is well,” Amys said grudgingly. “He’s spending most of his time with the Green Man and the Lost One. He’s not messing with the natural order by hammering his square neuroses peg into a round human hole.”
“Cor,” Hoarni grinned.
“We will meet again in seven days,” Bair said, “but now we have to leave before those four Ogier reach critical mass and trigger a de-repression cascade.”
“A what?” Coarshus whimpered.
“When something horrible happens to a man or a woman, they will repress it, deep into their minds,” Bair replied. “It gets buried deep, but it is still there. It is still here,” she gestured to the quiet, gently-flickering vault of the Heart, “and it builds up. Sometimes, the sum of all the world’s repressed horror can rise up through Tel’aran’rhiod and destroy everything in its path. And a disruption in the balance of the Dream can do that. And Ogier in a human place would most certainly constitute a disruption.”
“When will this happen, exactly?” Wyse ventured.
“No way of telling.”
“Why don … ake up now,” Shannon said, and vanished. Amys and Bair were quick to follow. Nynaeve spun and glared at Dr. Nick, Cyberwollf and the four unhappy giants.
“Well, we didn’t come here for gossiping,” Dr. Nick said bravely. “Aren’t we looking for Black Ajahs?”
“I think we should wake up too,” Frendli wavered.
“No,” Nynaeve snapped. “We didn’t come here to gossip, master Nick. We are looking for the Black Ajah.”
“That’s what I just said!” the Aielman protested. “And it’s doctor Nick, not master!”
Cybes shook her head, closed her great yellow eyes, and moved them all roughly out of the Stone, into the museum inside the Panarch’s Palace in Tanchico. If it wasn’t for her, she thought, things wouldn’t get done at all.
“What are we doing here?” Nynaeve demanded, letting go of her braid long enough to fold her arms under her breasts.
Dr. Nick crossed to one of the display cases. “See this?” he said, pointing to a pair of bracelets and a thick black metal collar. “Channelers can use this to control Vamps. I mean Puddin. If it falls into the hands of the Black Ajah or the Forsaken…” Cyberwollf had crossed to another little pedestal, and was standing on her hind legs, sniffing at the cuendillar figures and wagging her tail. One of the pieces was a black-and-white disc. “And there’s one of the seals to the Dark One’s prison,” he went on. “I suppose we could leave that here for the Black Ajah as well. Or we could come back here in the waking world, and take care of all this, and the Black Ajah who are living here, and…”
Dr. Nick became slowly aware of a deep, growing rumble, like distant thunder approaching with the speed of a runaway express train.
“What’s that?” Nynaeve snapped.
“Black Ajah?” Coarshus guessed.
“Forsaken?” Wyse added.
“A triggering de-repression cascade?” Frendli struck home.
Now the sound was loud enough to rattle the objects in their display cases, and Dr. Nick could hear voices interspersed in the background, like soundbites played over the top of a thunderstorm.
“Oh no … not the twine again…”
“Uncle Bran, what are you taking off my pants for?”
“Mother, don’t call me ‘Wigglybear’ in public…”
“Now I have more toh than I can ever repay…”
“Why did I come to court wearing only my underwear?”
“My daughter? Marrying a Tairen?”
The rumbling grew louder. Underneath the cowering Ogier, the floor began to buckle and bulge upwards. Above them, the roof began to sag. Dr. Nick and Cyberwollf exchanged a nervous glance. Nynaeve unfolded her arms and reached uncertainly for her braid, before realising, perhaps, that this situation called for a response that she simply didn’t have in her repertoire.
“She’s gonna BLOOOOW!”
The yell came from somewhere on the far side of the museum. A tall woman with a blonde braid ran past, unslinging a huge silver bow and a quiver of arrows as she went, dropping them to the floor in the name of greater speed. She barreled past the Dreamwalkers, cast them a swift and incurious glance, and army-rolled out of the main door. She was closely followed by a stocky, extremely ugly man with two empty scabbards on his back and his unattractive features set in a grimace of determination. Throwing his arms up over his head, he also leapt for the door.
“Maybe we should go,” Dr. Nick said. “How do we wake up from this thing anyway?”
Cyberwollf trotted over, circled the Aielman delicately, and sank her teeth deep into his scrawny behind.
“All I’m saying is, Mister Frodo, a lot’s changed, and I’m a different man now.”
“You don’t need to tell me, Sam. I’m aware of the whole latent-homosexuality subtext inherent in the story,” Mister See of Mayene, or Mister Frodo Baggins or possibly sometimes Underhill of Bag End as he preferred to be called, reached out with his remaining hand and patted Logain on the arm. “It’s a classic Freudian psychoanalysis thing. Sam was a closet homosexual, and had unrequited feelings for Frodo, and at the end he was subsumed back into peer-delineated normalcy where he pursued a sexual relationship with ‘Rosie’, a common slang term for masturbation. He lived alone with his desires, and lived them out through fantasy, which was the only way he could get by in such an unforgiving society that didn’t understand him,” Logain’s Great Lord straightened his dead black cloak and nodded. “And don’t even get me started on Frodo’s departure with Bilbo to ‘the Undying Lands’ and Sam’s decision to stay behind with ‘Rosie’. Classic denial.”
Logain was forever impressed by his Great Lord’s wisdom. “So what we saw, it might have once been true, but not anymore?”
“It was a possible way the future would go, I suppose,” Mister Frodo shrugged. “It wasn’t much fun.”
According to Gollum, the Portal Stone had brought them very close to the Borderlands, hundreds of miles closer to their destination at a single bound. More accurately, the Portal Stone had brought them about three spans above the Borderlands, and then dropped them rather painfully. But Gollum insisted that he was improving. And of course they had been assailed by a set of weird visions, but Gollum had come up with a way of suppressing them – just in case, he said, they wanted to use the Portal Stone a second time.
Logain fingered the hilt of Callandor at his waist, then fingered the other hilt of the other Callandor on his back. And watched Gollum closely.
“It’s this way now, um, good masters,” Cooper Two was confused, but going with the flow of the whole thing. It wasn’t as if working for the terminally unusual was outside of a gholam‘s mission brief. “Nice masters, nice gobbets.”
“Hobbits,” Mister See fingered his arm-stump, then rubbed at it as if it were itching. “Not gobbets.”
“Where are we going, Sméagol?”
Cooper Two’s eyes narrowed, expecting a trick from the sunglassed Great Lord. “To … see Mordor? And destroy the One Seal in the Cracks of Doom? And avoid Sauron if we can possibly manage it?”
“Where are you taking us now?”
“Um … into Mordor. Oh,” he snapped his long, gnarly fingers happily. “Through the Black Gate, otherwise known as Tarwin’s Gap.”
“Right,” Mister See of Bag End or whatever turned to look at his faithful servant, and gave a mysterious nod. “How far are we, Sam?”
Logain squinted at the foothills, and sensed that the rich decay of the Blight was near. But not very near.
“We’ll have to camp yet one more night before we get to Tarwin’s Gap, Mister Frodo,” he said, “and we’ll have to take care to conceal ourselves. This isn’t friendly territory, and we don’t want to be held up,” a lot of the Borderlanders would know him, he knew, from his early days as a False Dragon. He wasn’t so famous as Mazrim Taim over in Saldaea, of course, but he was still well-known, and travellers in the Borderlands were always treated with suspicion. “I can find a place to make camp where nobody will find us. And water. We’ll need water in the Blight.”
“Is there a waterfall around here?” Mister Frodo of Mayene asked suddenly.
“Don’t think so,” Logain said, “why?”
“That’s where we have to meet Faramir.”