Of the five hundred and eighty one Younglings he’d roped into the mission, less than two hundred of them were still alive, and even that, Gawyn reflected, was nothing short of a miracle.
The creatures that had attacked them had looked like Aiel, but they had been something else. Creatures of the Dark One, wrapped in diseased flesh. Their presence had debilitated the warriors, their very touch had caused madness and death. The terrible explosion of the One Power, or whatever it had been, had come as a relief, and most of those suffering slow deaths from the Shaido attack had found release from their torment.
In the confusion, Gawyn had taken the last healthy remnants, and fled.
North of Dumai’s Wells, in ones and twos, they’d regrouped with a few other scattered, dazed survivors. Galina and a couple of other Aes Sedai, the foaming madman Sattersnoam who ran on hands and feet like a dog … and, finally, Padan Fain himself.
While Fain’s reappearance had come as a strange comfort to the ailing Younglings, his companions were anything but welcome.
The scrawny, ragged peddler had managed to get hold of a wagon from somewhere – the stains on its canvas cover were not ink, and the bone from which he was sucking marrow when the Younglings intercepted him was not chicken – and three Aiel were squirming and growling inside. There were two women and one man, although the distinction was fairly irrelevant as far as Gawyn was concerned. Fain had nailed them to the wagon bed with long, U-shaped iron hoops, piercing their bodies through at clavicle and kidneys.
“What do you want with them?” Gawyn demanded roughly, as Fain’s wagon rumbled to a halt in the midst of the Youngling camp. The mule out front looked as if it had been driven hard and fast, fuelled by terror. By all rights it should have dropped dead of exhaustion, but was being kept alive out of fear for what might happen to its body when it fell.
“I’m not sure,” Fain replied, scratching at his nose, “but we were set up, and I want to get to the bottom of it. These Shaido have been altered in some way.”
“No kidding,” Gawyn said. Sattersnoam prowled around to the back of the wagon, rose briefly onto his hind legs to look at the hissing, writhing creatures within, then edged away, growling.
“They are of the Great Lord, and yet they are of Shadar Logoth,” Fain went on, ignoring Gawyn’s sarcasm. “It seems they were created in much the same way I was, with layers of alteration and repeated filtering of their minds … created to oppose us. But we were doing the Great Lord’s bidding, were we not?” Fain muttered to himself. “Why would he send creatures such as these to attack us and foil our purpose?”
“Beats the shit out of me,” Sattersnoam said. “I don’t even try to understand anymore.”