A Crown of Frauds, Part 17

Vamps slowly and unwillingly regained consciousness. There was a whispered conversation going on somewhere nearby, a conversation that might actually be an argument. He wondered if it was women, arguing over him again. It wouldn’t be the first time. Hence his mental use of the word ‘again’.

“You’ll have to tell me all about these viewings of yours,” one voice was saying quietly.

“They don’t mean anything half the time,” another voice, probably Min’s, said, “and these days, everybody has images. Not just, you know, important people. Everybody. And objects, too, like chairs. And they’re all meaningless. And it’s like the images want to be the real thing, and the real things want to be the images, and sometimes … sometimes they swap…”

“Interesting,” the first voice said. “Anything about me?”

“There was a strange one about you teaching Puddin and the Asha’man something,” Min said. “Something they won’t like learning from you.”

“Ooh, let me guess,” a male voice muttered.

“Shut up, Foreskin.”

“I’m doing well to just filter most of them out,” Min went on. “Otherwise I’d go mad.”

“Yes,” the second female voice said, and now Vamps recognised it as Cadsuane, “we can’t have anybody else in this room going mad.”

Vamps, realising that now was his moment, groaned and tried to sit up.

“I have owwies and boo-boos that demand your immediate attention,” he said.

“You’ve got nothing,” Cadsuane said bluntly, stepping up to the bed and scowling at him, “except an old injury in your side that seems resistant to most forms of Healing. That, and the fact that you are a big crybaby.”

Wincing and groaning, Vamps pushed himself into a sitting position and swung his legs off the mattress. He looked around.

There were four people in the room, apart from himself. Cadsuane, Min, and Forsaken_1 were standing around the bed and watching him with expressions ranging from amusement to mild disgust. A fourth man, a black-coated fellow who Vamps hesitantly identified as Damer Flinn, was standing in one corner, whittling on a piece of wood using an invisible knife of Air.

“What happened?” Vamps asked.

“We managed to get out of the mist and back here to Cairhien,” Cadsuane said, “but not without cost. Many people lost their lives. The rebels are essentially finished, but larger issues have arisen,” she glanced at her Warder. “I attempted to find out who this ‘Padan Fain’ fellow was, this man who was passing himself off as ‘Jeraal Mordeth’ … but about all I got out of Foreskin here was that he was a Darkfriend, or maybe a peddler. He didn’t smell like either to me.”

“And what’s, um, Flinn doing here?” Vamps asked.

“I’m Corlan Dashiva, Lord Dragon,” the Asha’man said, dropping his stick and stepping closer. “I’m just guarding the gateway.”

“Um, what gateway would that be?”

Dashiva pointed. “The gateway you wove, and then opaqued and blocked open, before passing out,” he said, “Lord Dragon.”

On the far side of the room stood a wide rectangular shape that Vamps had previously mistaken for a privacy screen. Whatever it opened onto was impossible to see, because the surface was darkly tinted. Half a coffee table lay across the mouth of the gateway, angled over a blockage woven of Air. Pieces of pottery lay scattered over the floor.

“Oh, that,” Vamps said, and thought for a moment. Oh yes. He’d been very pleased to be channeling again after so long, and he’d blown a lot of things up, and balefired the evil mist, and Cadsuane had slapped him … but he didn’t remember much about their escape from the rebel camp. “Yeah, I wove it open and left it, because we’re uh, that’s where we’re going next,” he smiled. “It’s good, isn’t it? And I did it while I was practically unconscious. Um, where does it lead?”

“Illian, apparently,” Dashiva reported. “The Square of Tammaz.”

“Oh, right, Illian,” Vamps said, and by a sheer fluke remembered something from the books. “We’re going to go and take out Sammael.”

What?” Cadsuane exploded.

“He’s in Illian,” Vamps said complacently, “posing as Lord Brend. He’s taking over. Using Compulsion or something.”

“Sammael’s dead,” Dashiva said. “Died months ago.”

“How would you know that?” Cadsuane snapped.

“Because, uh, because Puddin, I mean the Dragon Reborn, did it himself,” Dashiva said, and turned to Vamps. “Remember, Lord Dragon? You blew his head off, didn’t you?”

“Oh yeah,” Vamps said, jutting his chin out. “I remember now. Fuck, I was awesome.”

“Do you also remember saying that we were going to go to Illian and kill Sammael, who had been using Compulsion on people, not twenty seconds ago?” Cadsuane demanded. “One of you is playing silly buggers, and if I have to spank every last person in this room I will get to the bottom of this.”

“Heh,” Forsaken_1 said, “bottom.”

“If you try to spank me,” Dashiva said, “I’ll baleslap you so hard your grandmother will wake up with a black eye.”

“Stop,” Min said suddenly, recoiling from the bed as Cadsuane and Dashiva faced off and drew themselves into Street Fighter poses. In a not-exactly-unusual turn of events, she was staring in horror not at the angry channelers, but at the air above their heads, and the empty spaces around the room. “Stop it, be quiet, all of you.”

“My girl,” Cadsuane said, “don’t go thinking you can take that tone of voice with-”

“Who’s that?” Min pointed.

Everybody turned to look.

Something went thwack, and suddenly it was late evening and Mashadar was everywhere.

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