A Crown of Frauds, Part 18

Mat groaned and raised his hand shakily to his eyes.

“Ach, danna try’n move, laddie,” a gruff male voice said from somewhere above him. “Ye tuke a wee tumble.”

“What?”

“Aye,” another voice agreed. “Reet oot th’ windeh, boonced offa th’ opposite wall, an’ got yerse’ a doose o’ cobblestoon pois’nen.”

Mat finally opened his eyes, and looked up at the large group of humanoid insects gathered around him. One of them was squatting at his side, offering him a hip flask. Mat closed his eyes again, in the hopes that what he had just seen would do the decent thing and go away.

“Can ye feel yer laigs, ye ken?” one of the insects asked.

“My name’s not Ken,” Mat said, “it’s…”

“Et’s wha’?”

“Um,” Mat frowned, but the muscle usage made his head hurt even more. “I don’t remember. Maybe it is Ken.”

“Wahl, Ken lad, lukes leek ye ran afool o’ one o’ oor damane teams,” the insect with the hip flask said. “Damn shame, tha’. I did’nae knoo we had eneh leashies workin’ en thes street ye’,” there was the unmistakable sound of the giant insect giving its flask a shake. “Ye sure ye danna wan’ a wee dram? Et’s the gude stuff.”

Mat opened his eyes again, focussing past the gobbledegook-talking bugs and up towards the window from which he’d been thrown. It seemed a ludicrous distance. He licked his lips and opened his mouth hesitantly.

“I,” he said, and then the sixth floor of the building exploded. The insects leapt away with incomprehensible curses, and the last thing Mat saw was a huge, burning mass of logs and branches descending on him like a vegan asteroid.

 


 

The deadly curls of glowing mist surrounded the bed, and the people gathered around it, illuminating five stunned faces with a deathly luminescence.

“Seriously,” Forsaken_1 said, “what is this dude’s fascination with mist? Was he sexually molested by a mist when he was a kid or something?” Then he blinked. Five faces? “Min, Cadsuane, Vamps, that Asha’man guy … so who are you?”

The large man sitting on the end of the bed had black hair, a black coat, and looked at least as surprised as everybody else. Cadsuane, Vamps and Dashiva were also staring at him. Min, who’d presumably had a bit more time to get used to his presence, was staring in horror at the deadly fog closing in on all sides.

“We’re in Shadar Logoth,” she whispered.

“You fool,” the stranger said, climbing off the bed with a series of squeaky spring-noises. As if in response to the sound, Mashadar brightened and began to close in with sinister purposefulness. The man shouldered Cadsuane aside and helped Vamps to his feet. “Count yourself lucky I don’t care to see you die today,” he went on, obviously working from a script and determined to get full value out of his cameo appearance. “Are you going to help? I don’t intend to carry you on my shoulders, or kill Sammael for you,” he paused, and scowled. “Oh, wait,” he added, “Sammael’s dead.”

“I know I say this a lot,” Forsaken_1 said plaintively, “but this time I really think my question has merit. Can somebody please tell me what the fuck is going on?”

“Who are you?” Cadsuane demanded, “and how many people were watching when Puddin blew Sammael’s head off anyway?”

“Puddin couldn’t blow the head off a pint of ale,” the stranger chuckled. “Anyway, let’s just say I’m a wanderer passing through.”

“Let’s,” Forsaken_1 said. “In fact, let’s go right on passing through, and all go back to wherever we came from.”

The mist descended on the bed. Both Vamps and the dark-haired man turned and shot balefire across the glowing banks of fog, burning it back, and when their beams struck one another they both fell over as if they’d been poleaxed.

“What was that?” Vamps gasped.

“You crossed the streams,” Forsaken_1 quipped. “Didn’t anybody ever tell you that would be bad?”

It would, he reflected as they piss-bolted for their lives into the shadowy ruins, almost be a shame to leave Shadar Logoth. He was on fire tonight.

 


 

Whimpering, Vamps limped deeper into the uncharted depths of Shadar Logoth. The deadly banks of mist fell away behind, but more dangers lurked in every shadow, every tumbledown wreck of a building. He saw things moving. People-shaped things, Trolloc-shaped things, and thing-shaped things. There were whispers, and sniggers, and scuttling little feet. He couldn’t even tell which of the terrifying effects were coming from his own head.

“Just channel,” he whispered to himself. “Make a gateway, and get out of here. There’s nothing else to do.”

His head was ringing. That much, at least, was internal. Whatever had happened when his balefire hit the other guy’s balefire, it had messed him up even more than he already had been. Now, he was seeing double as well as hearing things. And with the sights and sounds on offer in Shadar Logoth at night, there was no real benefit in getting any of it more than once.

Vamps stepped over a bleached, eyeless skull and ducked into the ruins of what must have been a tavern or something. The battered, cobweb-hung sign outside said ‘Shadar Chugoth’. He ran straight through to the back of the main room, ducked behind the dusty remains of the bar, and gathered his thoughts.

He couldn’t actually remember weaving a gateway, but he knew he’d done it at least a couple of times. And the One Power was beckoning. For once, there were no shields or ter’angreal or disapproving women standing in his way.

His first attempt caused a terrible squeal of feedback, and the gateway, although it appeared and swung open and cut the corner off the bar and sliced a paper-cut in the wall and everything, didn’t remain long enough for him to jump through. It winked out as soon as he clutched his head and vomited from sudden vertigo, saidin vanishing instantly. The wall crumbled and a pair of giant hairless albino rats plopped out onto the floor. They promptly started fighting over the puddle of half-digested meat and potatoes Vamps had brought up, hissing and squirming like a pair of giant maggots. Vamps shuffled backwards away from them as quickly and silently as possible.

“Puddin!” Dashiva’s shout came from right outside, and the two rats fell immediately still. “I mean, Lord Dragon or whatever! Where are you?”

“Don’t go into any of the buildings!” Cadsuane added loudly.

“He went in there,” Min said. “I can see him in the viewing-images around the doorway and stuff.”

“You dingus,” Forsaken_1 called cheerfully. “Did you go into the building? That’s really bad for some reason.”

“He went in there and then channeled,” Dashiva added, speaking more quietly now. Vamps had clawed his way back to mastery over saidin, and could hear a bit better than before in spite of the dizziness. The other four were gathered outside in a sort of pre-game huddle. The rats were slithering cautiously towards the door, grey-red slime dripping from the wounds they’d inflicted on one another. “Looks like he made a gateway.”

“So he’s gone?” Cadsuane said. “Can you feel anybody channeling in there now? Holding saidin? Anything?”

Vamps tried desperately to think of some weave he could make, something that would call attention to himself without … well, calling attention to himself. He settled for picking up a rock and throwing it across the common room with a bit of Air.

“Hmm,” Dashiva said, “nope. He’s gone alright. Gatewayed to safety as soon as he got the chance. We should do the same.”

“Yeah,” Forsaken_1 said, “this damp weather is making my shotgun wound ache.”

“Alright, fine,” Cadsuane said grudgingly, and Vamps felt a faint prickle of goosebumps as she channeled out in the street. “Let’s go.”

“Wait!” he whimpered, struggling to his feet and lurching around the bar. “I’m in here! Come back!” he tripped over the block of petrified wood his momentary gateway had trimmed off, and fell to the floor. “Stop!”

The shiver of saidar went away, the momentary light of Cadsuane’s gateway through the window winked out, and there was silence in Shadar Chugoth. Vamps climbed to his hands and knees, sobbing quietly, and found the pair of bloated white rats watching him curiously. A slow, heavy rustle from behind him suggested that more rats, or perhaps a single much larger rat, or some horrible combination of both those things, were pushing themselves out into the common room.

Something grabbed him by the seat of his pants, tearing through and piercing his left buttock, and hauled him bodily into the crumbling slit in the wall. With a hopeless, dwindling scream, Vamps disappeared.

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