Graendal and Rahvin stood looking at each other for a long, careful moment.
“What are you doing here,” Graendal said, “and why do I keep expecting you to be Sammael?”
Rahvin shrugged uncomfortably. “Probably for the same reason I seem to be expecting to perform some sort of roundabout pointless banter with you, and swear a lot, and wonder what secrets you’re keeping from me and whether you know the secrets I’m keeping from you,” he looked baffled. “Which is stupid, because I actually can’t think of any secrets I’m keeping from you – not strategic ones, anyway, since we had that Trust Seminar thing.”
Graendal shivered at the memory. If there was one thing she had thought not even the Great Lord of the Dark could compel her to do, it was walk blindfolded around one of Aginor’s “hot-zone” laboratories with only the shouted directions of her fellow Chosen to keep her from wandering into an experimental germ culture or new Shadowspawn-in-progress. And letting herself fall over backwards into the promised waiting arms of Demandred had been even creepier.
Creepiest of all, Demandred hadn’t even tried to cop a feel.
“Where are we?” she asked, looking around. The room was bare and nondescript. It could have been a storeroom or a bedroom or a palace drawing room, since they all tended to look much the same when all the furniture and decoration was scraped out, right down to the paint job. The whole place looked like it had been sandblasted, even the room’s single window, which was cracked in a bizarre elongated pattern.
“If I had to guess,” Rahvin replied, walking to the window, “I’d say we were in Arad Doman. I think those are the Mountains of Mist I can see through there, but it’s a bit difficult to make out. There’s blood pressed into the cracks here,” he went on in a very thoughtful voice. “This reminds me of something Elan … Isham … Angamael told me once.”
“Collapsing vacuoles,” Graendal said, nodding as she crossed to look at the strangely-cracked window. She had never really paid attention to Ishamael’s philosophical diatribes, particularly towards the end when he’d really started to rant and accuse people of eating his pens, but some of it had been quite interesting. “He said he’d seen a collision once that caused a palace corridor to be scraped completely empty.”
“The servants from the previous morning were suddenly standing in the passageway, carrying sheets that they’d thrown away for cleaning the day before,” Rahvin mused, “and the people who had been in the corridor at the time – including Lord Bustington-Baerly – were pressed out through the solid stone walls like dough through a pasta roller.”
“It must have been a big collapse, to clear a room this big,” Graendal remarked, “maybe two or three colliding at once … and I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been here in my life.”
“Neither have I.”
“So why do you think we were dragged here, and why do you think these strange ideas were put in our heads?”
“I don’t know,” Rahvin said firmly, “but I think it’s something the Nae’blis would be interested in hearing about. Don’t you?”
“Yes, I do,” Graendal replied, and made a polite gesture. “Would you care to do the honours?”
“By all means,” Rahvin smiled, embraced saidin, and wove a swift gateway.
Graendal’s heart barely accelerated as he did so, and she didn’t even reach for saidar to defend herself. She followed him through the gateway into Tar Valon, the strange counterproductive distrust already fading from her mind.
A few leagues out of Caemlyn, a patch of unassuming farmland suddenly expanded, stretching out to almost three times its previous length with a sound like a fast-forwarding dictaphone and a strong smell of burnt toast. A bird flew into the air above the field, searching for dry grass. There was an abundance of dry grass – the crop had died due to lack of water, and the summer was just going on and on.
Even more suddenly than it had expanded, the parched field sprang back to its original dimensions with a thwack.
A few feathers drifted to the ground.