They met the New Manetheren High Command – Perrin and Berelain Aybara of Emond’s Field and Mayene; Gaul of the Imran sept of the Shaarad Aiel; Rhuarc and Elyas – at the sideline of the largest of the three massive gateways, where the Lord Goldeneyes was sitting on a horse and watching the mix-and-match army pour through into fuck-only-knew-where.
“I see you, Lord Luc and Billy Joe-Bob al’Peterson Whatever,” Rhuarc declared cheerfully.
“We’re not exactly inconspicuous,” Luc said, “so I shall call you Observo.”
“Do you see me?” Vamps asked.
Rhuarc ignored him. “Have you returned to join in the battle?”
“What battle?” Luc asked. “Sorry to burst your bubble there, Observo, but we came down to find Logain. He, uh, ran off in the middle of his wedding.”
“That hardly seems important now,” Perrin said, giving Luc a discouraging glance, “we’re going to send the Seanchan back to wherever they came from, and he’s helping us with the gateways. That … incident with Rosie Cauthon was just a misunderstanding. Frankly, I don’t blame him for running.”
“You know what would come in handy for this battle with the Seanchan?” Luc said. “A male-operable sa’angreal, and the Horn of Valere.”
Perrin stopped in the act of turning his horse and spurring it away. “What are you talking about?” he asked carefully.
“Ask Logain Ablar,” Luc examined his fingernails. “He’ll know what I mean.”
“I had the Horn of Valere once,” Vamps said. Perrin and Luc ignored him, engaged as they were in a staring contest. “Well, not me as such, more like this Ogier … I just had a horn … by which I mean an-”
“An Ogier blowing the Horn of Valere?” Luc frowned and turned unwillingly away from Perrin. “Would that even work?”
“It seemed to work fine,” Vamps said, “although-”
There was a muted crash and a rising chorus of screams.
“Can we discuss this later?” Perrin said. “We’ve engaged the enemy.”
The Seanchan were everywhere on the far side of the three gateways, wherever it happened to be. The Venir Mountains, according to Perrin, but Vamps was too busy trying to keep his bladder sealed to pay much attention. Insect-helmed soldiers and lightning-panelled sul’dam and riotously drunk men on raken swarmed and blasted at the unexpected intruders, and did so with such regimented efficiency that Vamps found himself wondering if they’d really been all that unexpected.
They found Logain on the edge of the giant mincing machine that invariably happened when people started fighting with the One Power. He was sitting astride a horse, a dead black myrddraal blade in one hand and a gleaming crystal sword in the other and an indecisive look on his face.
“Is that Callandor?” Perrin shouted in exasperation.
“I sure hope so,” Logain said.
“What do you mean?”
Logain looked down at his horse’s feet, where a scattering of what Vamps momentarily mistook for ice cubes turned out to be the remains of a second crystal weapon. “Because if it’s not,” he replied, “then that was.”
Presumably alerted by one of the baubles in her hair, Cadsuane just had time to drop the dowsing ter’angreal, step across to Forsaken_1 and push something cold and hard into his hand before the soft chime sounded and the clamps of Air came down. Or, at least, so Forsaken_1 could only assume, because everyone else suddenly grunted and went stiff as boards with their clothes squished around their arms and torsos.
“I’m shielded,” Elayne gasped.
“Me too,” Alanna said.
“I got a fingerhold under it before it came down,” Mazrim muttered, “it’s clumsy, designed for saidar, I think I can-”
“Don’t try to channel,” Cadsuane growled through clenched teeth. “There’s a weave that will react to it and burn you where you stand. I’ve seen it before. Whatever we’ve walked into, it’s aimed at channelers.”
“Maybe so,” Bashere said, “but it seems to have the rest of us as well.”
Forsaken_1 frowned. “What are-”
“Be quiet and stay still,” Cadsuane snapped, and a gateway swung open. A tall, dark-haired woman strode through, and Alanna, Elayne and Cadsuane were immediately hurled backwards against the walls. Mazrim Taim snarled and strained against his invisible bonds, and the woman swung to face him, dark eyes blazing with fury. The thing Cadsuane had pushed into Forsaken_1’s hand went even colder.
“Don’t-!” Cadsuane choked, as flames licked up briefly around the male channeler. Taim grimaced, the fires winked out, and then he went back to glaring intently at the newcomer. A silent but obviously-ferocious battle of saidar versus saidin ensued.
Before Forsaken_1 could think of any way to use his freedom to tip the scales, Mazrim Taim smiled cockily and raised his hands, shrugging away the bonds of Air. He stepped forward, clenched his fists, and his opponent staggered back with a snarl.
The fight went on for a few moments, but it seemed as though Taim was gradually pummelling the female channeler into the ground. He took another step, then another.
“Oh…” the woman suddenly murmured, as the Power sizzled around them, “you’re bonded.”
She waved a hand. Alanna howled as the Air holding her constricted, crushing her upper body and pelvis, and then she flew into three separate lumps across the room, trailing a wide triple-fan of blood and organs. Taim screamed and collapsed, and the dark-haired woman wiggled her fingers at him judiciously. He flew back against the wall with a loud crunch of breaking bones, and lay still.
“I have a Warder, you know,” the woman said. “He’s very educational, not to mention hilarious to watch the myrddrall trying to figure us both out. And you, you primitive dabblers,” she went on. “Did you really think your feeble array of tricks was enough to challenge the knowledge of the Age of Legends? Oops,” she smiled. “Mustn’t gloat.”
She stepped forward, raising her hands. Elayne shrieked hoarsely as Stifler suddenly crumpled in on himself like an aluminium can, not even given time to scream as he was crushed into a shapeless pulp of bone-shards and trousers. The woman flicked her fingers again, and Loial roared momentarily as his abdomen unzipped like a beanbag, spilling his genitals, entrails and lungs onto the floor like a shelf collapsing at a butcher’s shop. The air in the room was whipping around the woman now, making her hair and clothing billow in an unearthly way as she raised both hands, her beautiful face cold and almost bored. Min and Mazrim, the latter moving unnaturally and still giving off soft crackles and clicks of shattered bones and torn ligaments, rose into the air like puppets and drifted towards one another. Min screamed hysterically as she revolved in the air, legs jackknifing and knees spreading, as Mazrim Taim’s limp form angled inexorably…
“Stop!” Forsaken_1 roared.
The dark-haired woman froze, and turned to stare at the Warder where he stood ankle-deep in Alanna’s head, shoulders and ribs, Cadsuane’s magical scrunchy in one hand and the disturbing foetus-jar balanced trembling on the other. Her eyes narrowed, the ter’angreal Forsaken_1 was holding grew suddenly even colder, and he stepped backwards, slipping a little in the mush. He raised the canister warningly.
“One more bit of channeling,” he said, “and I smash this baby right here on the table.”
“That baby,” the woman said, as Taim and Min sank slowly to the floor, “is the only thing forcing me to kill you quickly. Your ter’angreal won’t protect you forever,” Min landed on her back and scrambled away on hands and feet, while Mazrim simply folded like a rag doll. One foot twitched fitfully. “Is that your Aes Sedai?” she glanced meaningfully at Cadsuane.
“Here’s what I’m going to do,” Forsaken_1 said, feeling particularly brilliant. “I’m going to put this ter’angreal on top of the baby jar, and I’m going to throw them both through that gateway. If I’m right, it’ll dissolve the gateway as it goes through, and you’ll want to be there, waiting to catch the jar, because I reckon there’s a bit of magic flowing through this thing and the ter’angreal‘s gonna switch it right off.”
“The pain in which you will die-”
Forsaken_1 put his hand, holding Cadsuane’s trinket, down on top of the canister. A moment of chill between his fingers, and the soft light inside the amber fluid winked out. “How long do you think this thing can survive with the power off?”
The woman – probably a Forsaken of some sort, he was beginning to suspect – ground her teeth and stepped back towards her gateway.
“This is not the end, for you,” she promised. “It is the beginning of the end, surely, but-”
“Untie my buddies,” Forsaken_1 said, hefting the loathsomely-warm canister in his hands. The foetus inside was moving dreamily.
Their attacker waved a hand as she stepped through the gateway, and the people splayed against the walls tumbled to the floor.
“One of them needs to make a gateway,” Forsaken_1 said, “I don’t know how quickly you’ll be able to come back and kick our arses once your Cabbage Patch Kid here is safe.”
Cadsuane straightened, kicked her way through Loial’s remains, and channeled. A gateway revolved open on an anonymous wooded hillside.
“I think I have been accommodating enough,” the dark-haired woman purred from her own gateway. “Now, you will-”
“Go long,” Forsaken_1 said, winding up. The Forsaken just had time to screech in rage as he tossed the ter’angreal at her and the gateway flashed shut. He spun and dived through their own gateway on top of Bashere and Birgitte, who were dragging Mazrim Taim between them. He went to his knees on the grass, Elayne took the canister from him and studied it intently, and Cadsuane let the gateway close with a complicated motion of her hands.
“Far Madding,” Bashere said, picking himself up and looking down the slope towards the town. They’d emerged just outside the boundary of the guardian ter’angreal. “Smart move.”
Forsaken_1 climbed to his feet, brushed grass off his knees, and glanced at Birgitte and Cain triumphantly. “Huh?” he nudged the haggard-faced Warder. “Huh?”
“That’ll do, pig,” Cadsuane said gently. “That’ll do.”
Holy crap, I’d forgotten that I’d done a Sandersonesque character-cull before it was cool. And Forsaken_1 actually pulled a good move out of his arse.