“I heard your serenade from my window.”
“Was it nice?” Chucky asked. “They tune themselves, you know.”
“I’ll have to take your word for it. I don’t exactly have an ear for the pipes,” the stern-faced woman behind the desk leaned back in her chair. “I am Nemene Damendar Boann Sedai, but you can call me Semirhage.”
“I’m Chucky, but you can call me,” Chucky paused. “Chucky,” the Mistress of Novices picked up a shiny wooden paddle from the desk, and he couldn’t help snickering. “Oh, you’re going to spank me?” Chucky’s amusement faded a little as Semirhage pressed a button on the handle of the paddle, and several shiny steel blades flicked out of the wood at various angles. “A paddling with that will probably hurt quite a lot.”
“I’m not going to paddle you with it.”
“You’re not?” Chucky knew better than to slump with relief. “What are you going to do? Stick it up my bottom?”
“Lord, no. That would be awfully messy,” Semirhage pushed the blades carefully back into their settings with her fingertips, reversed the paddle, and offered it handle-first to the gleeman. “You’re going to stick it up your own bottom.”
Chucky wondered whether he would get away with pressing the button while the paddle was still in Semirhage’s fingers, thus impaling her hand on the blades and giving him an opportunity to grab the inkwell from her desk, fling it into her eyes, head-butt her and make an exciting getaway, stopping long enough to rescue Mister C of 9 from the recycling plant, probably by swinging on something, and then rejoining the infiltration team just as they were about to be captured, and saving everybody with suave ease, making a witty one-liner possibly utilising a pun on the name “Semirhage” and being an admired hero for just enough time that it didn’t become embarrassing.
Instead, he took the paddle and pulled down his tracksuit pants.
“That paddle’s the size of a ping-pong bat,” he said, bending over as the Compulsion gripped him. “It won’t fit in my bottom.”
“Of course it will,” Semirhage said, “but I’m not going to lie and tell you it’s going to be-”
She was interrupted by a little bleepy noise, and she sighed. Chucky, still getting himself into a likely-seeming position, looked up and saw her talking into a small golden penis pinned to her lapel.
“Nae’blis here. I understand you have the gleeman that these bagpipes arrived with.”
Semirhage straightened in her chair. “Yes, Nae’blis.”
“Is he still in one piece?”
“Good! Bring him to me, immediately.”
“As you wish, Nae’blis,” Semirhage signed off with a sigh. “Oh well. Maybe next time.”
Before Chucky could rally some sort of defiant exclamation, Semirhage had rounded the desk, grabbed him in flows of Air, snatched the paddle out of his hand and woven a gateway. She thrust him through before the opening had even finished revolving to a halt, and it was already closing as she stepped through and bowed.
“Nae’blis,” she intoned.
The Nae’blis was standing at a long table, which was piled with all sorts of junk. Chucky recognised his bagpipes, of course, as well as the Horn of Valere – the Nae’blis must have gotten it from one of the Darkfriends who had apparently stolen it from Mister C at some point. There were a couple of broken seals, a third one that seemed undamaged, and the little fat man angreal that Chucky seemed to recall Rand using on several occasions throughout the book. He also couldn’t help but notice the Dragon banner, spread out across one end of the table and stacked high with more angreal, ter’angreal, and assorted ancient rubbish.
There was also a pile of books, books that seemed disturbingly familiar.
“Angus McSmashie,” Chucky said, “we meet at last.”
“For the first time, for the last time?” the tall, ostentatiously-dressed man grinned, and his eyes and mouth became endless caverns of flame. Chucky reflected that it might sound impressive on paper, but in reality it looked kind of silly. Plus, he couldn’t help but notice that Angus had no eyebrows, probably as a direct consequence of the endless flame caverns thing. Also, his dreadful dried-blood cloak and evil black shirt didn’t go very well with the fluffy dressing gown with the seven-striped waistband. The stripes were clearly supposed to have been re-dyed black, but it hadn’t been a very good job. “I don’t go by that name anymore, Charles.”
“That’s a shame,” Chucky shrugged. “I don’t go by the name ‘Charles’, either, unless I’m in trouble.”
“Who says you’re not?”
“Oh,” Chucky shuffled his feet. “Right.”
Angus dismissed Semirhage with a curt nod, and she vanished through another gateway. Angus shook his head, picked up a small claw-hammer from the table, and whacked the intact seal halfheartedly. It didn’t break. “What am I going to do with you, Chucky?”
“Are you actually asking me?”
“No,” the head of the Forsaken put down the hammer and strode up the table. “Was it your idea to zap half of my channelers back to the Light and get them all to run off to Salidar?”
“I’m not sure whose idea that was,” Chucky admitted. “Why are you on the bad guys’ side anyway?”
“Oh come on, man. You know these guys need all the help they can get. Didn’t you ever feel sorry for them? They were hopeless! I’m just giving them a fighting chance. With the possible exception of Satsujinki, I’m the only one helping them out. You guys have got … how many?”
“Well, let’s see, there’s…” Chucky paused. “Wait a minute. You’re trying to get information from me.”
“Better me than Semirhage.”
“That’s true, but pointless,” Chucky said, “and look, you’ve got the Wheel of Time books … Crossroads of Twilight? What’s a Crossroads of Twilight?”
“The latest book,” Angus said with a grin. “I’m a step ahead of the game.”
“Damn,” Chucky said with grudging admiration. “How did you get that?”
“I know people.”
“Was Crossroads of Twilight any good?”
Angus snorted. “It was crap.”
They shared a knowing chuckle.
“So,” Chucky said, “can I have my pipes back?”
“Actually, yes,” Angus replied. “I had a couple of my Chosen look at them, and they identified them as Ael’finn or Eel’finn work, but they have some weird problem with musical instruments, so these aren’t exactly normal pipes. We can’t play them, not that we’d ever want to, and we can’t destroy them either.”
“I had some other pipes before,” Chucky said, “but they got all fucked up and when I asked the Ael’finn to fix them, I got these. And they told me to marry the Daughter of the Nine Moons and stuff. You know how it goes.”
“Janica’s going to kick you in the balls.”
“I’m not actually going to do it,” Chucky insisted. “I think they say the same thing to everybody. One of them was reading out of a phrase book,” he picked up the pipes, and slung them over his back. “Can I go?”
“What makes you think I’d let you leave?”
“I dunno,” Chucky shrugged. “Comradely fellow-monkey nobility and honour and mutual respect and stuff?”
Angamael’s fire-caverny laugh was interrupted several minutes later by a little bleepy noise from a small gold cock on the table. He picked it up, composed himself, and said, “Nae’blis.”
“Nae’blis, this is Netweaver, repeat, Netweaver, over.”
Angus sighed. “Hello, Be’lal. What do you want?” he waited for a few seconds, then tsked and added, “over.”
“The fox is among the chickens. I repeat, the fox is among the chickens. Over.”
“That’s nice. Over.”
“And … let me see … the raken has landed, Nae’blis. Repeat, the raken has landed. And the jo’car has reversed out of the-”
“Over and out,” Angus dropped the little gold wang onto the tabletop and sighed. “They’re hopeless,” he said, “but somebody has to try,” he sighed again, his eyes and mouth becoming momentary and quite whimsical, though still endless, caverns of flame, a visual effect that was fast losing its impact. He leaned across the table and picked up something that had been covered by a fold of the Dragon banner. “You’re an inconvenience. I’m going to have to get you out of here.”
Chucky shuffled backwards. “‘Out of here’, I assume, doesn’t mean the good thing I thought it meant up until the second you picked up that shotgun.”
Angus thumbed a cartridge into the breach, at least Chucky thought that was what it was called in a shotgun, and grinned. “Don’t worry,” he said, “it won’t hurt. A clean shot, and you’ll be back in the real world and out of my way,” he raised the gun and closed one eye. “Oh, and Chucky…?”
“Pull your pants up.”
Chucky sighed, retrieved his formerly-lowered tracky-dacks from around his ankles, and did his best to stand in a dignified manner while Angamael sighted carefully down the barrel.
That was about the moment Mister C of 9 swung out of the shadow of a nearby wardrobe, gripping one end of a series of knotted-together halfman-cloaks in his teeth, and stumped Angamael savagely about the head and shoulders. As Angamael went down with a roar of fury, the crippled halfman dropped on top of him and delivered a devastating headbutt.
Mister C of 9 spat out the makeshift rope, which swung back into the shadow, and flicked his hair out of his nonexistent eyes with a toss of his head.
“Recycle that,” he said. And fell over.
The big courtyard they’d agreed to use as a staging-area for their unrehearsed invasion of Caemlyn offered up a surreal and disturbing new spectacle, that Debs had to describe to Janica verbally so the little damane could get the picture.
“Weegeets,” the sul’dam said in a puzzled brogue, “a beg peel o’ Weegeets.”
The wide-open space, formerly so neatly flagstoned, was indeed scattered with Waygates of all shapes and sizes, most of them enormous. The smallest was hardly big enough for a person to crawl through; the largest was like a great vine-carved double-garage door. They seemed to have thrust themselves up out of the pavement like extremely fast-growing trees, at various angles and in no recognisable order. The Aiel Maidens and assorted other survivors and hangers-on picked their way through the display, occasionally poking at one or another of the doors with their spears.
Janica turned to one of their recently-acquired prisoners, who was at least recognisable even as a blur thanks to her bright red-and-blue outfit.
“Care to expleen what this is all about?” she inquired.
The Seanchan had cleared out, for the most part, leaving only a few dazed sul’dam and drunk raken-riders. Apparently, the damane and sul’dam had been forcibly converted to the Dark One, and ordered to perform strange feats of channeling. A lot of this had involved Linking, and whatever had been done in that time had been forgotten in the orgasmic haze. When they’d been unexpectedly freed, their first instinct had been to attack their former masters, and there had been a number of casualties. Then their rulers had sounded a general withdrawal, and little else was known after that – where they went, why they had stopped fighting against the Darkfriends, what was going to happen next. The Seanchan who had helped raid and pillage their way down into Cairhien were stunned and confused.
“Ah canna remember,” the sul’dam admitted, though she was clearly uncomfortable talking to a damane, and settled for talking to Debs instead. “There was some sort o’ talisman, an’ we managed to get some o’ the Gardeners tae seng, but they got pessed off an’ one o’ em kelled thes bloke when he laughed, and then ah reckon … we jes’ made these thengs, like.”
“Why would they get the channelers tae make all these Waygates?” Janica wondered.
“Maybe they were practicing,” Someshta suggested, nudging one of the Waygates with his huge barky toe. It stood less than knee-high to the enormous nym. “It can take a while to get the dimensions right, and whatever benefits they might have received from having a growing ter’angreal, they probably lost by not having any nym or any decent singers.”
“And this might have been the best way of getting out safely,” Loial added in an uncertain rumble. “We saw how deserted this place was. What if they all escaped through the Ways? Opening multiple doors might have meant that Machin Shin was drawn to one door, while they all escaped through another.”
Janica was skeptical. “Surely it’s more efficient to just make a gateway and then close it behind ye.”
“Hoots mon, leashie, Shaddaespawn canna git thrae geetwees,” slurred one of the raken boys. He took two long swallows of oosquai from a pint glass he’d asked – using surprisingly good pantomime – the Aiel to fill up for him. “Kell’zem.”
“What did he say?” Moiraine demanded.
“Shadowspawn can’t Travel,” Asmodean explained, looking puzzled. “Of course, I remember now – that’s one of the reasons we lost the war,” he glanced at Moiraine, who looked entirely unimpressed. “That’s what I read, anyway.”
“Trollocs die if they set foot through a gateway, and myrddraal … well, let’s just say they die too,” the brightly-dressed Forsaken shuddered and looked into the middle-distance of his imagination. “It’s nicer that way.”
“Were you planning on sharing this information with us at any stage?” Janica fumed. “Why didn’t you ever tell me that Shadowspawn can’t use gateways?”
Asmodean blanched. “The subject never came up.”
“It gives us quite a big advantage,” Janica pointed out, “but we’re left with the problem of this city now having a couple of dozen extra Waygates leading into it, which could open at any time and disgorge thousands upon thousands of Shadowspawn.”
Vamps, who had been wandering in and out among the doorways for the past few minutes, suddenly seemed to come to a decision. Gripping the remote-connection ter’angreal in both hands, he grimaced and embraced saidin. The ground shook, and the temperature began to rise as Waygate after Waygate began to glow red-hot.
“Shield him!” Janica yelled. “Shield that dumb bastard!”
“I can’t!” Asmodean screamed. “He’s drawing too much of the Power through the Choedan Kal!”
“If you don’t do something, I’m going to fireball him in the slats!” Moiraine threatened, jangling her ridiculous collection of angreal and ter’angreal. “So help me, I am!”
They backed as far from the Waygates as possible, but the courtyard was so crowded with the things that it was difficult to get anywhere without moving too close to one of them. A few of the Maidens managed to break away, but by then the Waygates were so hot that the only escape routes led too close to the white-glowing panels.
Swearing, Janica embraced saidar through her own Choedan Kal statuette and did her best to cool the air around them. Vamps, regretfully, was far too powerful to try to cut off. She considered braining him with a flow of Air, but grudgingly decided against it. She couldn’t see him well enough, and besides – braining him with a flow of Air would first involve giving him a brain with a flow of Brain.
The smaller Waygates began to melt into puddles of white-hot slag. They made little ‘whee’ noises as they dissolved, like the saddest party-tweeters in the universe. One by one, the larger gates started to wilt, their vine-carvings running like melting wax. One of the largest bowed, drooped, and sagged open as its door folded in on itself. Somewhere behind the dazzling white of burning stone, Janica’s saidar-enhanced vision made out a vague outline of utter blackness.
The heat intensified, and the mindless chattering mantra of Machin Shin filled the courtyard.