The group of channelers seemed to be mostly trainees, recognisable by their fresh-faced near-sanity and the sort of mindless violence with saidin that was more accidental clumsiness than premeditated butchery. After hanging around with Forsaken long enough, Chucky and Dr. Nick were beginning to be able to spot the subtle differences between acts of One Power mutilation. Chucky, in fact, could now tell the difference between whimsical early-evening head-crushing and bored afternoon Air-clubbing. The time of day was only one indicator.
There was a lot of squinting and scowling and asking of veiled codeword-questions – always good for a laugh, because rampant misinformation and a persistent inability to communicate resulted in nobody really knowing what the code questions and responses were, which led to some hilarious extended two-person comedy routines. Generally between two people more accustomed to cutting things off until they heard what they wanted than asking just the right question about the price of white peppers in whereverthefuck.
There were only two full asha’man in the group, one of whom eventually introduced himself as Charl Gedwyn, Tsorovan’m’hael. The other introduced himself as Manel Rochaid, Baijan’m’hael.
“Nynaeve al’Meara,” Lanfear said, “gesundheit.”
Charl Gedwyn scowled. “The titles mean-”
“Storm Leader and Attack Leader,” Lanfear translated with a roll of her eyes. “Yes, very impressive.”
“Can you actually make storms?” Dr. Nick asked from the outskirts of the summit meeting, enboldened by his collection of One Power-blocking ter’angreal.
“I think it means he stamps around, being angry,” Chucky remarked.
“And who are you?” Rochaid asked, eyes narrowed.
“I’m Chucky,” Chucky said, “I, uh, call myself the, uh…”
“Drugsrbad’m’hael,” Dr. Nick improvised.
“Don’t ever try to help me again,” Chucky undertoned, then did his best to look simultaneously harmless, high-ranking-Darkfriendy and a vital part of whatever organisation these asha’man happened to represent. “What can we do for you, sirs?”
“We’re looking for the Dragon Reborn,” Gedwyn replied, looking extremely disgruntled and as if he would very much like to explode something. Chucky took a surreptitious step backwards and into what he hoped was Dr. Nick’s saidin-free zone, and endeavoured to add ‘something that would be no fun to explode’ to his current look. “Have you seen him around?”
“Not for a while,” Chucky admitted, glancing at Lanfear. Her look of guilty shiftiness surprised him, and he was getting used to some pretty inappropriate reactions and facial expressions in the course of conversations with the NPCs. “Have you seen him?” he asked.
“What? Me? No,” Lanfear said, and tugged on her braid theatrically. “No, I haven’t. What, is he missing?”
“No, we’re looking for him because he’s sitting in Caemlyn with a turnip up his clacker,” one of the asha’man Soldiers snapped. The Dedicated next to him began slapping at invisible bugs, and the sarcastic rejoinder was forgotten in the momentary kerfuffle.
“I’m sure he’ll show up,” Chucky said as a couple of other Soldiers dragged the twitching man away, “we’re not lucky enough for him to ass himself to death in some conveniently out-of-the-way location,” this, regardless of the loyalties of the male channelers, seemed an attitude nobody could find fault with, and several people on both sides of the confrontation nodded. “I guess if we run into the dude, we can let him know you’re out looking for him.”
“Do that,” Gedwyn said, “tell him his brother the M’hael has a plan to cleanse saidin.”
Mazrim Taim agreed to make a gateway to a place nearby where he happened to know there was a Portal Stone. It was a Black Tower encampment of sorts, used for what the M’hael referred to as “research and development.”
“We have a few asha’man who are powerful enough and skilled enough to use the Portal Stones properly,” he said, “but it’s still pretty hit and miss. They usually come back more or less unharmed, and it’s a good place to practice some of our more destructive weaves without causing environmental damage,” Taim, his conditionally-paroled Aes Sedai bonder Alanna, Davram Bashere, Elayne and her Warders, Cadsuane and Forsaken_1, Min and Loial filed through the gateway and into a roped-off area on the edge of a small cluster of tents. It seemed the asha’man penchant for cutting people apart with gateways did not extend to their own comrades, although Forsaken_1 couldn’t help but notice a few stains on the ground that probably weren’t ketchup. In the middle of the tents was a grassy depression in the ground, with a few well-worn stones poking through it and a mossy, crazily-tilted monolith covered in arcane symbols. “Stand down,” Taim added, stepping over the rope and nodding at a pair of black-coated Soldiers.
“I don’t know about this,” Forsaken_1 said. The last time he’d gone through a Portal Stone, it had been an unpleasant experience for all involved. Especially him.
“If you know a better way to get into the Worlds of If, I’d love to hear it.”
“Maybe we should just wait for him to come back on his own,” Forsaken_1 suggested. “You know, I’ve often found if you stop looking for something…”
“How do you know about these things anyway?” Cadsuane wanted to know. “Portal Stones were long forgotten even back when I was wearing short skirts.”
“I read about it in a book,” Taim said, “but thank you for putting that picture in my head,” he stepped up to the column and stood looking at it while the rest of the team sidled uncertainly into place.
“Do you need us to do anything?” Elayne asked. “I can probably make a ter’angreal…”
“Don’t bother,” Taim replied, glancing across the lip of the depression at the on-duty asha’man Soldiers. “We’ve assigned some of the more highly-strung boys out here, it would be bad enough if they knew you were channelers, but if they were to actually feel you embracing the Source…”
“Sounds to me like they need their ears boxed,” Cadsuane declared.
“Cadsuane Sedai, I would pay cash,” Bashere remarked.
Mazrim Taim channeled.