After a stretch of time that could have been hours or weeks, Shannon suddenly had company in his featureless little cell.
“Hi,” Shaidar Haran said. The word was obviously meant to set people at ease, but the fact that it came out of the mouth of Shaidar Haran had a certain mitigating impact on its reassurance value. He’d probably heard other people use the word, or maybe he’d read it somewhere, and never really had much chance to practice it.
Still, it was the first conversation Shannon had been offered since his escape from Salidar, and he was willing to take it.
“Hi,” he said, standing up and failing to keep himself from smoothing his skirts. “This sure is a nice vacuole y’all got here.”
“Isn’t it, though?” Shaidar said with a smile.
“The wallpaper really gives it a homey feel.”
“That’s what I said to the Nae’blis,” Shaidar nodded, casting his chilling eyeless gaze around at the wallpaper which, in spite of being Smurf wallpaper, was just about the creepiest thing Shannon had ever seen on account of the fact that the Smurfs didn’t have eyes, “he said it would be motivational.”
“Motivational,” Shannon snapped his fingers, “that there’s exactly the word I was lookin’ for. Can I please leave now?”
Shaidar Haran spread his hands. “That’s what I’m here for.”
“Y’all ain’t gonna put no mindtrap on me, are you?”
“No,” Shaidar chortled. “We’ve been given strict orders not to do stuff like that to PCs anymore.”
Before Shannon could figure out just what the fuck that was supposed to mean, Shaidar Haran grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him through the wall.
The room in which he found himself was not a vacuole, nor had it been subjected to the Shaidar Haran school of interior design, but it was still quite grim and unpleasant. Nynaeve, her injuries mostly healed but a haggard, terrified expression on her face, was sitting huddled in one corner. At a table in the middle of the room, sipping coffee from cups marked with the Flame of Tar Valon, were a pair of men.
“Ah, there you are,” one of them, a huge muscular dude with singed eyebrows and a pair of poorly-dyed black slippers underneath which the seven bands of the Ajahs were clearly visible, acknowledged Haran with a nod. “Didn’t get lost, I hope?”
“Only briefly,” Shaidar Haran said, “but I found a vacuole full of remote controls and pairless socks, which was cool.”
“Please,” the other man said, gesturing to a free chair, “take a seat, sir.”
Shannon glanced at Haran, wondering if the black-suited young man was talking to the giant myrddraal. It suddenly occurred to him that everybody was looking at him.
“Did…” Shannon cleared his throat. “How’d y’all know I’m meant to be a guy?”
“It was on your application,” the young man said, “but I can explain all that in due course. Please,” he gestured again to the seat, and Shannon hitched up his dress and sat down. He noticed, as he did so, that the blue-eyed fellow had a pair of mindboxes around his neck.
“You must be Moridin,” he said.
“So you may call me,” Moridin replied serenely. “And this imposing chap here is Ishamael, the Betrayer of Hope,” he cleared his throat delicately. “Angus McSmashie.”
“What’s done happened to your eyebrows, McSmashie?” Shannon hooted.
“I have been observing your actions for some time,” Moridin said, “and once I began to see how things were turning sour, I realised that this adventure required more of a careful hand.”
“What, are y’all some sorta admin?” Shannon frowned.
“Not at all,” Moridin hastened, “think of me as a facilitator. Anyway, when a gholam came through in the opposite direction, and killed Mister Jordan, I knew that all of Tor’s hopes for the ending of this series – and all of my hopes for the souls of millions of readers worldwide,” he added as an aside to McSmashie, “were pinned on the conflict between good and evil. And let’s face it – as far as the conflict between good and evil is concerned, we’re going to need something original here.”
“Like the main character not being a dwarf,” McSmashie said hopefully.
“Better,” Moridin smiled a tiny, thin, entirely British smile. “I am talking, Nae’blis, about the bad guy winning.”
Without knowing how exactly she’d gotten to where she was, Nynaeve returned to a close approximation of consciousness. Her memories were jumbled and, as far as she was concerned, that was a bonus. She didn’t know what had happened, only that a giant halfman and Nancy Sidesaddle had apparently been involved, and it had been very confusing, and now she was in a sedan chair making her way across a hillside at a seasickness-inducing pace. Seasickness, she thought, would be the best thing to happen to her in months.
“Where am I?” she muttered, because it seemed the thing to say.
“You’re in Ebou Dar,” one of the bearers turned his head and began speaking in a swift, highly-confident voice, reminding Nynaeve inexplicably of Padan Fain – the old Padan Fain, back in the good old days – trying to sell her a new type of mop. “The Rahad district, formerly known as Barashta. During the Trolloc Wars, women who were sent away from the White Tower migrated to Barashta to escape persecution from-”
“And what is this I’m wearing?”
“Red and black,” the man said promptly, “the colours of your new master.”
“It’s a bikini.”
“Senior Co-Nae’blis in charge of Atrocities and Foreign Policy Angamael insisted.”
“Did he, by Ghul.”
The sedan chair rocked its way gently across the landscape, finally slowing as it reached a point overlooking the Rahad and the waterfront. Nynaeve leaned over, twitched aside the curtain, and looked out quickly, hoping nobody was passing by to see her in such an unclothed state. To her chagrin, she seemed to have been parked near the front door of an inn called The Oarsman’s Pride. It was, fortunately, deserted at present.
“The Chosen who has taken over your identity,” the ever-helpful bearer said, “is just boarding the boat you can see at the dock.”
Nynaeve squinted, but couldn’t really see much of the docks. Mention of Lanfear, however, was more than enough incentive for her to embrace saidar. With the One Power aiding her vision, she clearly made out the familiar figure of herself, walking serenely across empty air from the dock to a small boat.
“Right you cunt,” Nynaeve growled, “I hope you were wearing clean underwear fifteen minutes ago, because you’re about to eat balefire.”
She marched into the inn. Patrons and employees alike prudently got out of her way as she marched for the stairs, then climbed through a hatch to the roof. By the time she got to a workable position, the boat had pulled away from the dock and was heading out into the harbour, its nose pointed directly towards a large Sea Folk ship in the middle of a scattering of floating wooden debris.
Baring her teeth, Nynaeve watched as the little boat crept through the water. Then, when it slipped out into a clear space, she channeled. A blinding bar of blue fire as thick as her arm lanced out, cutting through the boat and sending it burbling towards the bottom of the harbour. The intervening distance it had moved in that time was erased and, with a brief but intense smell of burning toast, the neatly-sliced and sinking halves of the boat were back at the dock, disappearing rapidly from view.
Nodding to herself in satisfaction, Nynaeve climbed back into the hatch and returned to the sedan.