The Path of Blaggers, Part 18

Berelain’s horse, which she had smirkingly named Swallow, panicked a bit when Elyas and his four-legged buddies came out to play, so she dismounted and sent the horse galloping back towards Emond’s Field with a swift smack on the rump. Her relationship with Perrin had long since brought her into the world of the Wolfbrothers as well, and Swallow had been growing increasingly unwilling to take her as a passenger in any case.

They were just beginning to come to terms with the logistics of a hunting pack with two humanoids – it was all so much simpler in the Wolf Dream – when a ragged group of people emerged from the dry, almost-dead trees nearby. Elyas began to growl, and the wolves all around them followed suit, their fur bristling with unease.

A moment later Berelain caught it herself – a thick, oily scent of horrible wrongness rising up and creeping out from the men and women who were approaching them, like tentacles of smoke unfurling from each individual and forming something almost alive in its own right, something that wanted to crawl into her nose and molest her brain.

“Greetings,” an emaciated little man stepped forward from the gaunt, malformed crowd. He was dressed in the ragged remains of several different outfits, including a Tinker coat and a once-decorative pair of merchant’s trousers. “I am Padan Fain, the Prophet of the Dragon Reborn. I have followed his scent to this place. And I think you know what I mean,” he smiled and delivered a florid bow, sweeping off his entire thick, matted clump of hair like a hat and revealing that it was in fact the rotting scalp from another person.

Another man, this one even more raggedly-dressed and moving on all-fours like an animal, slunk forward and sniffed at one of the stiff-legged wolves. Both man and wolf immediately commenced to growling and baring their teeth at one another.

“Satters?” Elyas exclaimed.

“No!” Satsujinki yapped. “I am Padan Fain, the Prophet of the Dragon Reborn!”

Fain sighed. “Could we possibly get this over with before eroding too much of our credibility?” he gestured, still holding the awful flapping scalp in one hand. “As for the rest of us, you may not know,” he went on, pointing out each individual in turn. “Galina and her fellow Aes Sedai … Sevanna, Therava and Rolan, formerly of the Shaido … and of course the Younglings of Tar Valon,” he waved at the rest of the crowd, some one or two hundred ragged and crazed-looking soldiers who were still emerging from the woods. They all looked more or less interchangeable, except for the three Shaido who were grey and black-mottled and unspeakably bloated. They stared at the wolves with hungry eyes, and even the foam-drizzling Satsujinki seemed to be giving them a wide berth.

“What do you want?” Berelain asked.

“Good question,” Fain said, using his scalp-hat to polish a little brooch in the shape of a flower that he had pinned to his lapel. “I’m not entirely sure anymore, but I am following the urgings of my master and trailing the Dragon Reborn like a faithful hound. I think we’re going to-”

Kill!” Elyas shouted, and leaped at Satsujinki. The rest of the wolves likewise sprang into action, ripping and tearing at the disfigured creatures all around them. “Berelain, run to Emond’s Field and warn the others!”

“Grab her!” Fain thundered, as Berelain spun, clawed the throat out of one of the charging Younglings, and sprinted for the village.

Suddenly she was yanked off her feet and wrapped in bands of invisible steel, something crashed into the back of her head, and she sank into noisy unconsciousness.

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