“I tell you, mistress Janica, I saw it with my own eyes,” Elder Haman insisted. “Trollocs came through the gateway, and were completely unharmed. I saw Thakan’dar itself on the other side of that gateway.”
They were on a short recess, during which the Forsaken and their assortment of creepy bodyguards had Traveled back to whoever-knows-where and the Ogier had returned to Cairhien to report their progress. They were accompanied by the silent, meek, white-clad Aviendha, whose servitude seemed to be approaching permanent status. She had been forced to learn how to weave gateways by a combination of Aes Sedai, Wise Ones, and the two Hindle women. It was uncertain as to which party was more outraged by the idea, but everybody had to admit there didn’t seem to be any other use for her, and the gai’shain found a certain cultural happiness in assisting the Ogier. Just to be on the safe side, they were still Skimming rather than Traveling, and Aviendha was strong enough to make a platform big enough to carry the three huge diplomats.
“I don’t care, it’s a trick,” Janica declared. “I don’t trust Angus. He’s up tae something. Stick to your guns,” she frowned and revised her statement, “I mean, stick to the points you were going to make originally. If Angus is all for banning the use of cuendillar against gateways, that’s fine. We’re happy to let this particular weapon be forgotten again … at least until we figure out some way of coordinating our Traveling network, so all our gateways are authorised and any unauthorised gateways can be assumed hostile, and detonated,” she took a moment or two to pick at the problem again, the way the inestimable Dragon Reborn often picked at his boils. Like the boils, the problem didn’t seem to have an immediate solution. Also like the boils, the whole problem was really starting to get deep, sticky, and smelly.
“If we did that, he might decide to do the same thing…” Elder Haman murmured.
“That’s part of the problem,” Janica concurred, “and he’s got all the advantages when it comes to knowing where his minions are Traveling to. For all we know, the Dark One Himself might keep Angus informed of the things the Forsaken are channeling, through those black cords,” she noticed the sad, baffled expression on Haman’s huge face. “You know – the link to the Dark One. It manifests itself as a black cable, and it somehow siphons away the taint. Surely you’ve read about it.”
“Oh, oh yes, I think I read something…” he sighed. “But why would Angamael lie about the Shadowspawn being able to Travel?”
“To freak us out, make us paranoid,” Janica explained. “Ask yourself this: if Shadowspawn could Travel, would they really have avoided doing so for the past three thousand years, just to lull us into a false sense of security? And then tell us that was what they were doing? When, exactly, were they thinking of pouncing?”
“Maybe they really were hiding it from us, and were intending to use it as the ultimate surprise tactic,” Haman protested, “and Angamael decided to share it with us as a gesture of good faith,” his ears drooped as Janica, Debs, and Chucky laughed cynically. Vamps joined in a half-second too late. “You really think he’s lying?”
“Maybe he did mean it as a gesture of goodwill,” Janica took pity on the poor old Ogier. He was like a giant kicked puppy in a waistcoat. “Maybe he really does intend to seek a peaceful solution to this and stop the Pattern from tearing itself apart. But keep in mind that this is the chief minion of the Dark One, and the Dark One wants to destroy the Pattern and rebuild it in His own image. It’ll be a lot easier for Him if the Pattern is already destroyed when He gets free, right?”
“Angus might even be banking on these disturbances in the Pattern getting bigger,” Chucky added. “His whole strategy might be geared towards us ignoring his suggestions,” he paused. “I don’t know whose side of the fence that remark belongs on.”
“The point is, don’t let him mind-feck ye,” Janica said. “This whole thing is some sort of psych, it has to be. He’s trying to draw you off the point and undermine our confidence. If we start thinking that maybe Shadowspawn can Travel, it makes us think that maybe this does affect him as much as us, maybe we can trust him … and meanwhile, Shadow Monkey is working on new ways of getting his trollocs from point A to point B, and cutting down his own Traveling network until he can safely detonate any opening gateway…”
“Ach, mah breen hurts,” Debs groaned.
“This is what she’s like all the time,” Chucky said fondly. “Sometimes, I can’t get to sleep at night, lying there listening to her thinking,” he made a vaguely mechanical rhythmic squelchy noise in the back of his throat, and moved his fingers as if holding them over the top of some sort of pulsating thing. “Splrt … splrt … splrt … splrt … splrt … splrt-”
“Stop that,” Janica said, but couldn’t hold back a smile. “Everybody’s tired of your brain impression. It’s exactly the same as your lactating boobie impression anyway.”
“An’ ye’re penis impression,” Debs added.
“We had best get back,” Haman inclined his head politely, and he, Erith, Covril and Aviendha stepped away to the corner of the throne room where an all-slashed-to-shit collection of paving stones marked their unofficial transport hub.
Janica waited until the gateway had vanished, and then rubbed her hands together. “So … I say we give them a half-hour to get back into the swing of it, and then get started.”
“Reet,” Debs said, cracking her knuckles.
“Do you really think this is a good idea?” Asmodean asked. “I mean … the Lord Dragon Reborn isn’t exactly in the most stable condition. Giving him full access to saidin and the Choedan Kal, and linking with him, and giving him instructions on what to do with so much power … it just seems, well, insane.”
“That’s wee we’re not giving him any of the above,” Janica said, “we’re giving it to you. Vamps is just going to take the credit.”
Vamps looked up from his groin. “What?”
“Nothing. And don’t pick at that.”
“So let me see if I understand this right,” Asmodean said. “We’re going to go into the foothills near Aridhol, and we’re going to funnel all of saidin through the place using a tube of saidar, and this will make the taint and the power of Shadar Logoth cancel each other out, and incidentally destroy the whole city and cleanse saidin.”
“Correct,” Janica nodded.
“And this will, incidentally, also kill Angamael, and any of the other Forsaken, Darkfriends and Shadowspawn who are in the area, as well as the Ogier you sent in there to keep them talking.”
“And you’re alright with this?”
“Not really,” Janica replied, “I’d prefer not to have to kill anybody … but I don’t trust Angus. Since we have to do this sooner rather than later, just to keep our friend Puddin here from going completely off the rails, why not do it when a big pile of the Pattern’s biggest enemies are in the same place?”
“And I’ll help you do this?” Asmodean raised an eyebrow painstakingly.
“It’s not as if you have a choice,” Janica pointed out. “Your only away out of this alive is to kill the Forsaken and throw in your lot with us. Otherwise, you’ll get caught eventually, and they’ll do all those icky things to you that you’re always complaining about.”
“I’m more worried about the storyline,” Chucky said. “I mean, it’s all very well to say we have to do this because Angus is threatening the Pattern and we have to keep it coherent … but the taint isn’t…” he paused, and looked around the room. The only real witnesses at this stage were Asmodean and Egwene, and neither of them overreacted the way Moiraine used to when he talked about the books. “The taint isn’t meant to be cleansed for a long while yet, and those Forsaken aren’t meant to be killed. How can we save the Pattern by making this huge divergence from the plot?”
“The problem is,” Janica replied, “not knowing whether Angus really intends to make the Pattern better, or if he just intends to go on screwing around with new Shadowspawn and new weapons and tripping us up at every turn and shooting main characters in the face with a shotgun.”
“He said in his message that he didn’t want the Pattern to implode before we get to the Last Battle,” Chucky pointed out, “and I sort of believe him about that.”
“I believe him too,” Janica sighed, “it’s just that, the way things are going, we’re going to get to the Last Battle a long time before Jordan. Judging by Cairhien, they’re more than ready to start the attack a few books ahead of schedule. We could set them back, and incidentally fix the storyline quite a bit, by killing a few Forsaken off, and eroding a bit of Angus’s authority even if we don’t manage to kill him. If there was some other way of doing that, we could think about it. But this is one of the few times we’re going to know where Shadow Monkey is. And we can’t risk doing something else, like exploding a gateway in Shadar Logoth. It might destroy the only way we really know of to cleanse the taint.”
“Not that we really know Angamael is in there,” Asmodean said. “He might have handed the whole thing over to his underlings.”
“An’ we danna knae hoo thes cleansin’ caper’s s’pos’tae work anywee,” Debs added. “No’ exactly.”
Janica sighed. “Who would have thought I’d be the one arguing for mass-execution of the Forsaken, while everybody else sits around suggesting less drastic alternatives?” she shook her head and pointed at Vamps. The others turned to look, then turned away again quickly, embarrassed. “If he gets any worse, we’re not going to get through this anyway. Healing only seems to work so well. I suppose we can try to replace him with his brother. They look similar, and Taim – Mazrim Taim, that is – seems a lot more sane. But one way or another, Vamps has fulfilled the prophecies of the Dragon. Mazrim hasn’t.”
“We only picked Vamps because Rand got shot,” Chucky pointed out meekly.
“Yes, but it seems like the Pattern has absorbed him,” Janica replied. “Right from the start, he seemed to be a lot more integrated into the story. He’s even got family here. Nobody else does, that I’m aware of,” there was a bright slash of light in the corner, and a gateway revolved open. “Nynaeve, didn’t we tell you that Traveling is dangerous? You should Skim-”
“There is no time for that,” Nynaeve said bluntly. Several Aes Sedai, and Shannon, stepped through the gateway behind her. “We have urgent news from Salidar. We will be raising a new Amyrlin Seat, and the Sitters have sent me here to convey their summons.”
“Oh, are they still insisting on using Egwene?” Janica said doubtfully, looking across at the distressingly vapid young woman. She was beginning to suspect that long exposure to Contro in the murky depths of that Tinker wagon had addled her brains. “Well, I don’t think it’ll do ye much good, but-”
“The Hall of the Tower does not want this wilder from the Two Rivers,” one of the Aes Sedai declared, marching forward and planting herself directly in front of Janica and Debs. “It is for you we have come.”
“Nae feckin’ wee,” Debs gasped.
There was a long silence in the Dragon Reborn’s chambers.
“What did she say?” the Aes Sedai demanded.