The Dragon Reforged, Part 11

Of course, the more they tried to make her lose interest, the more suspicious Faile became of the entire group. She refused to leave them alone, until finally Janica and Debs gave up in disgust.

“Alreet, I’ll level wi’ ye’,” Debs said. “We’ve got the Horn o’ Valere, it’s reet here in this box.”

“I don’t believe you!” Faile screeched. “You’re lying!”

“No, we’re really not,” Janica said, fumbling with the golden chest on Frendli’s lap. “See? There it is.”

“It’s a fake!” the Saldaean shrieked. All four of the Ogier, and Vamps, cringed in their chairs. “I hate it! It’s ugly! It’s an ugly fake, and you’re lying!”

“Reminds me of my girlfriend,” Mister C of 9 muttered, casting a furtive look around to make sure she wasn’t around, and hadn’t heard.

“Mine too – my two, I mean. Two, plural. Girlfriends,” Vamps said, and gave his own version of the furtive look, which was in effect a room-encompassing leer and person-by-person check to see who had heard him and if anybody had missed the remark and perhaps if he should repeat it louder. He made it as far as Nynaeve, who clenched her fist expressively. “I mean, I have no girlfriends, only Nynaeve.”

“That’s better.”

“And women I fuck arg, my balls.”

Janica sat holding the Horn of Valere, staring at the misty blur of the Hunter in mute disbelief. “You don’t actually care about the Horn, do you?” she said. “You’re just trying to get yourself into an adventure.”

“I still want to know how you knew my name! I demand to know! I demand to know right now, tell me, now!”

“Please,” Wyse said plaintively, “can you stop shouting so loudly? We have very sensitive ears…”

“I’m not shouting!”

“Luke,” Debs said reasonably, “we’re nae innerestin’ people. We’re jes’ merchants from Cairhien, there’s nae adventure tae be had here. We’re waitin’ fer a contact of ours, a fella named … ah…”

“Falcon,” Janica said quickly. “Padan Falcon. He’s a peddler from Lugard. We call him Faile because that’s the Old Tongue word for ‘falcon’, you see.”

“But you said this Faile person was a chick!”

“That’s a figure of speech,” Janica replied. “You know, because he’s a young peddler, a young falcon, therefore just a chick, it’s a little teasing sort of thing we do to him. Padan Faile,” she added forcefully, nudging Debs through the a’dam.

“Reet,” Debs said. “Padan Faile. Peddler. Named after a falcon.”

“I just changed my name to Faile for the same reason,” Faile said. “I used to call myself Mandarb, but there were some guys in here a few nights ago, and they mocked me about my name. Well, I showed them who was a horse!” her voice rose inexorably to its usual squealing, harridanesque pitch. “The Whitecloaks chased them out of town, and Orban fought some of them single-handed! There was a terrible giant with them, and a pack of wolves, and a fierce blood-drinking-”

“Do you think Perrin and the others could have gotten back ahead of us?” Janica whispered under cover of the gale-force screeching. “That giant could be Loial, and the wolves would be tagging along with Perrin, right?”

“Aye, but hoo’re we gonna feend oot?”

“…and then there were Aielmen everywhere, and Orban managed to kill twelve and capture one, who screamed and surrendered saying he was too young to die at the hands of a jock. But I did my share. I took the oath with the others in the Square of Tammaz in Illian! Orban and Gann think the Horn is in the Forest of Shadows, but I think it’s in the Mountains of Mist-”

“You sure it’s not in the Swamp of Despair or the Chasm of Helplessness?” Mister C muttered snidely.

“Where are those?” Faile demanded, slamming a fist on the tabletop.

“Listen,” Logain said pleasantly, “we’re really not interesting people. You wouldn’t get in adventures with us, you’d just get bored. It would be much better for everybody if you just-”

“You’re a pretty man,” Faile said, “and even if you weren’t part of this very odd little crowd, I’d travel along with you just to make sure no harm came to that face of yours.”

“What about my face?” Vamps asked nonchalantly.

“But the truth is, you are part of an odd crowd, and I know you’re up to something, so I’ll just come right along with you and your well-filled breeches, thank you so very much.”

“Ach, keep yer mitts an’ yer peepers orff his breeches!” Debs growled. Janica stiffened in her seat as she felt saidar wrenching through her, and an impromptu face-rearranging weave arranged itself at Debs’ angry command. “Ye jes’ bloody well keep yer-”

“What’s it to you, fatty?” Faile screeched. Suddenly a knife materialised in her hand. “As if you have a chance with him! I may just come along to prove you wrong! Just because you’re three times my weight, doesn’t mean you’re three times the woman! Why, I…”

Janica, divorcing herself from the proceedings as she was getting increasingly accustomed to doing, suddenly noticed that the four Ogier were humming and pom-pomming in a strangely inappropriate musical warmup. They sounded, during the lulls in screech and bellow, like a gigantic barber-shop quartet preparing to sing So Long My Coney Island Baby.

“She’ll stay right here…” “You have no fear…”

“She’ll stay right here…” “Just have a beer…”

“She’ll stay right here…” “So be a dear…”

“She’ll stay right here…” “Lend me your ear…”

“And if you think you’ve got a chance of stopping me from coming along, you’re as stupid as you are hefty, woman! Would you damn Ogier shut up?!”

“Let’s go,” Wyse said, standing up with a furtive expression on his wide, honest face.

“The quicker the better,” Coarshus agreed. Suddenly all the Ogier were on their feet.

Debs, Janica, Vamps, Nynaeve, Logain and Mister C exchanged a glance, and shrugged. These sudden bouts of claustrophobia and panic were becoming frequently common, and they had learned the hard way that when the Ogier wanted to leave, it was best to leave before the crying, pant-wetting, or Horn-blowing began. A few nights ago, Coarshus had decided he didn’t like the site they’d chosen for their camping ground, and the debacle had ended with a stony-faced Artur Hawkwing telling him a bedtime story about the little Ogier who, with some muttering and obvious misgivings, lived happily ever after in spite of being very, very irritating.

“Right, I’m all packed, I’m coming with you!” Faile screamed, and tried to stand up.

The Ogier looked smug.

“Let me up! I’m stuck to the chair! And the table!” Faile shrieked, a crystal-shattering note of outrage. Sure enough, thick cords and roots of wood and bark had grown out of her chair and out of the table, pinning her arms and hips and legs in a dozen places. Leaves and new branches were still slowly curling out of the legs of the furniture, and the other patrons in the bar were beginning to gather around and stare in amazement. “Let me UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUP!”

Mister C of 9 reached out, plucked an apple from the new growth, and jammed it delicately into Faile’s mouth.

“The silent minority,” Wyse said sagely.

“Down with the oppressive forces of the matriarchy,” Frendli pumped a giant fist sedately in the air.

“You’re damn right,” Mister C grinned. “Now, shall we go?”

They ran out of the Wayman’s Forge and down the street. As they passed the gibbet in the town square, Debs called up to the Aielman within.

“Don’t worry, Gaul! Somebody’ll be along tae peck ye up before tae much longer!”

“…the fuck you say?”

Then they were charging on, towards the docks. The towering Ogier and their bags and boxes of valuables thumped and whumped on the wooden pier as they hurried across to the single solitary boat that floated on the scummy, reeking river surface. It was a filty little vessel with the ludicrously inappropriate name Snow Goose. Without pausing, the Ogier vaulted on board, bowling over several hapless sailors. One of them fell into the water and didn’t come back to the surface.

“Let me help you, ladies,” Logain said, straddling the gap between the dock and the Goose, and offering his hand.

“Ach, what a gennleman,” Debs crooned, and they clambered on board.

“Oh, uh, yeah, let me help you, or whatever,” Vamps said, catching Nynaeve’s glare and feeling it bring Puddin Taim out into the open. “I’ll just, yeah, I’ll carry you, I’m that buff. Arg, my back, I think I slipped a disk! Nynaeve, carry me!”

“Blood and bloody flaming ashes,” Nynaeve growled, and hauled the weeping man on board.

Mister C stood on the pier.

“Let me help you, Mister C,” he said. “Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly impose, no no, I insist, well, okay, what a nice fellow you are.”

He jumped aboard with the fluid grace of a cat’s shadow.

 


 

“And ye’re sure it’s goin’ t’ go on an’ work this time?”

Cooper Two looked up from the eroded remains of the Portal Stone and gave Shannon a long, steady glare. Standing nearby with sweat already beading on her forehead, Moiraine did the same. Shannon held his hands up in self-defence.

“Just askin’, y’all. Yeesh.”

“No reason why it wouldn’t work,” Cooper Two said curtly. “With the Power-free method, I was obviously making some navigational mistakes, due to the length of time I…” he trailed off, twitching.

“Yeah, all’a that,” Shannon said hurriedly.

“That. So, with a little bit of channeling to help keep things in control, and a bit of know-how at the helm concerning wherever we’re supposed to be going, this should work out nicely. So you’ve got that, Mwah? Just squirt some One Power into this symbol, and another little dollop or whatever into these others-”

“Don’t call them dollops, and don’t call me Mwah,” Moiraine wiped her brow and scowled at the gholam. “I can’t channel in this part,” she added. “The weaves just vanish all the time.”

Coop moved his hand. “Try it now.”

The Aes Sedai’s eyes narrowed. “Okay, now it’s working. That’s fucking weird. If I didn’t know any better-”

“Well you don’t, so make with the saidar, Servant to All.”

“What the gibbering sweaty fuck did you just say-”

Forsaken_1 began to fidget in Someshta’s shadow. “Is this going to take much longer?”

“Maybe this Portal Stone is too badly damaged to successfully transport us anywhere,” the Green Man suggested meekly. “I’ve seen Stones in the Blight that were no good for even the slightest jumps. Of course, when their internal scopes are all eaten out by acid fungus, there’s not a lot one can do-”

“Mind awfully if I can get a fucking thought in edgeways over here?” Moiraine snapped.

“Sorry.”

They stood quietly in the vague depression in the forest floor, waiting for Moiraine and Cooper Two to work their Portal Stone magic. Min and Cybes, still bedraggled and dripping from their death-defying adventure in the river, were suffering themselves to be rubbed down by a conscientious Contro and a huge, multicoloured towel.

“Ha ha ha! You’re all wet! Did you fall in some water?!!? That happens to me when I fall in water too!! Funny that! Mind you, I bet it doesn’t happen to everybody!! But it should! Fish live in water! I wonder if they get wet!! And you know what else? They’re funny!!!!! Well, it’s certainly a point!”

The continual jabber washed over Forsaken_1 and he tuned it out, dazed as he was already by the weariness and annoyance ringing into him through the Warder bond. Moiraine didn’t have the strength in the One Power to do anything very effective to the Portal Stone, and she lacked the expertise in such ancient things to make it work anyway. She was as suspicious of Coop as Forsaken_1 himself was, but so far Shannon – Nancy Sidesaddle – hadn’t told them very much about him. Only that it was wise not to talk history with him. Hailing from Los Angeles as he did, Forsaken_1 was quite easy to convince about that particular rule. He had also decided, all on his own, not to ever ask Cooper Two about his drinking habits again. Ever.

Then there was a shimmering, flickering rush of weirdness all up and down Forsaken_1’s body, and he heard Moiraine’s voice rise with weary satisfaction.

“Here we go. Now something’s beginning to…”

The world flickered.

Forsaken_1 stood at the top of the White Tower, staring in disbelief as the masked monster in front of him pulled out a shotgun and pointed it at him. He felt the familiar sinking feeling as he knew what was about to happen. Ishamael grinned, caverns of fire shimmering behind his eyes.

There was a click.

“Misfire!” Forsaken_1 gasped, and leapt forward, pressing his advantage.

“I still have the One Power, you dickhead,” Ishamael said, and killed him.

Flicker

Forsaken_1’s head spun. Distantly, he heard Moiraine continuing to talk. “…happen. It’s about…”

Flicker

He was in the Blight, surrounded by Warders and Aes Sedai. Together, they were hacking and slashing and burning the evil, rotting vegetation away, destroying it as if it had never been, striking an inexorable course northwards, towards Shayol Ghul. Behind them, he knew the massed armies of Andor, Illian, Tear, Altara, Murandy, and a lot of other countries he didn’t know the names of were arranged, in battle formation, waiting for the Aes Sedai and their Warders to clear the way for them, so the great assault could begin. Forsaken_1 grinned through the blood and grime and sweat, flung his colour-shifting cloak over his shoulder to free his sword-arm, and swept the head off a myrddraal in the same powerful movement. He felt alive.

To either side of him, a pair of truly sweet Green Ajah Aes Sedai had been giving him calf-eyes all afternoon. They were twin sisters, barely old enough to wear the shawl, but the White Tower had churned out a lot of raw recruits in the arms race that had led up to the Final Battle. Their Warders were all stodgy, boring older men, and they had admitted freely to the need for young blood in their little family. He’d tentatively tested the waters with Moiraine, and she’d been … receptive.

“A team that sleeps well together, fights well together,” she’d said with her usual brutal efficiency. “And we’ve got a long fucking hike to Dark One Hill.”

Forsaken_1 chuckled and kicked a trolloc in the gigantic balls, gouging its throat with his sword as it buckled over, then heaved the whole body upwards and into another charging pair of beastmen. They went down in a tangled heap, and he was upon them, his blade flashing death, before they could move.

“You’ve got the moves there, big boy,” one of the Greens said admiringly.

“Yeah,” Forsaken_1 grinned, and Sheathed the Sword.

In himself.

Flicker

“…fucking time. Wait a minute, something’s…”

Flicker

He was a Supreme Lord High Poobah of the Hand of the Light, golden sunburst and crimson shepherd’s crook proud on his breast, heavily-armoured white warhorse between his legs, and naught but righteous purity in his heart. He was riding at the head of an inconceivable mass of Children, sweeping like a white tide across the continent towards the festering evil of Tar Valon. They’d converted Seanchan, the Aiel Waste, and worked their way east and west in a pincer movement.

With a momentary pang of regret, Forsaken_1 remembered the friends and allies and loved ones he had destroyed to get where he was. Nancy Sidesaddle, burned at the stake. Cooper Two, locked in a box and thrown into the sea for being basically weird. Someshta, chopped up for lumber. Cybes, slaughtered in the Great Wolf Cull of ’73. Moiraine, Min and Lan, early victims of the Tar Valon Witchcraft Trials. Contro…

It was a very brief pang of regret.

“The White Tower is in sight, Grand High Mighty Awesome Poobah,” Jaichim Carridin said at his elbow. “We can begin bombardment with the explosive cow-dung Illuminator cannons at your command.”

“Shoot me with a fucking shotgun, will you,” Forsaken_1 grunted, and leaned forward in his saddle. “On my command!”

He fell.

He heard the noise as his neck broke.

Flicker

“…all fucked…”

Flicker

With a shuddering gasp, Forsaken_1 bolted upright in bed, cold sweat dripping off his naked body. He’d felt Moiraine die, and had been feeling it for the past ten years. The empty, devastating hollowness that had invaded his being at the severing of their bond had driven him to the brink of insanity, before he’d found something else to fill his days and nights.

His beloved rolled over in his sleep, murmuring quietly.

“You’ve taken all the blankets again, mashiara.”

“Sorry, Logain,” Forsaken_1 whispered. He climbed out of bed, making sure not to disturb his lover’s rest any further, and made his way to the kitchen. Their cosy little farm house was everything he had ever wanted, everything he needed to forget the chilling desolation that was all he had to remember Moiraine by. He stepped into the moonlit dining room, and sliced himself a piece of pie from the batch Logain had baked that afternoon. Sighing in contentment, he turned around-

And felt the cold invasion of steel between his ribs, stealing his breath away.

“Remember me, Faggot Foreskin?” Lan snarled.

Flicker

“…up!”

“NOOOOOOOOOOO!” Forsaken_1 screamed, and hurled himself onto the ground. Retching weakly, he heard other howls and wails from all around, screamed denials and helpless sobs. The ground spun, and he saw a crazily-tilting Portal Stone, the tops of some trees, the sky, a river, Someshta, then the cool, blessed ground.

“Okay,” Cooper Two was saying somewhere in the distance. “Alright, no more Portal Stones.”

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The Dragon Reforged, Part 10

Padan Fain and the two Aes Sedai began to grate on each other’s nerves about half an hour into the journey, and by the end of their first day on the road they were ready to kill each other. Unfortunately, their loyalties stopped the black lace twins from doing anything about it, and Fain’s wretched state of confusion and his ‘responsibilities’ to his ‘peons, minions, underlings and grunts’ kept the peddler from nailing anybody to handy doors.

At least they were in agreement about what they were meant to be doing. They were following the Dragon Reborn. Or a false Dragon. Or the Horn of Valere. Or the dagger from Shadar Logoth. Or a force of evil nasty ol’ Darkfriends.

Okay. At least they were in agreement about where they were going. Tear. They just couldn’t agree on when, how, and why. And in one confusing case, who.

Chucky, at least, was glad they’d met up with the large group of battered Borderlanders. It slowed their progress to a crawl, but at least it meant they weren’t chased out of towns anymore. Even with Satters being a bad influence on Perrin, and Mat being a bad influence on Domon, and everybody being a bad influence on Fain, they were an almost civilised group under the direction of the two unusual Aes Sedai.

Hurin, the sniffer, explained that they’d been attacked by some sort of flying Darkfriends one night, and the Dragon Reborn had run off in the confusion. Nobody seemed quite sure who these Darkfriends were, and the Aes Sedai in particular had been quite upset by it, and were hesitant to agree that it had been Darkfriends at all. Since there was no real alternative, however, they had been forced to admit that the strange attackers had indeed been Darkfriends. They had been the victims of what Verin and Liandrin called an “Unsanctioned Shadow Action”.

Chucky found it amusing to hear Masema talking about being a “bloody victim of that flaming USA,” but nobody else saw the funny side of it. With the possible exception of Sattersnoam, who called him a cunt but who he later caught chuckling and saying “USA” under his breath.

Still, their journey ground down to less than walking pace. Every time Fain underwent a personality switch and demanded that everybody bow down to him, the whole group stopped in the middle of the road to argue about things. Every time Domon demanded that he be allowed to do what he wanted with the “pretty horses” that the Borderlanders had with them, the whole group had to stop and tie him to a saddle with a bag of ice between his legs. And ice was very difficult to come by, since the Aes Sedai refused to channel anywhere near the sailor and his strange friends. Every time Perrin and Noam got in a digging, howling, tail-chasing, pissing or flea-catching competition, the whole group stopped to place bets and make fun of the loser. Perrin normally lost, because he had very few fleas, he didn’t like pissing in front of people, he quickly realised he didn’t actually have a tail, he thought howling was unnecessary and digging was stupid. Satters always took full advantage of the fact that he won by rushing around all the assembled spectators for ear-scratches and strips of jerky.

And so the days passed with relentless, unending boredom and irritation.

They rode east through various little villages, uninhabited stretches of woodland, and boring riverside vistas. Chucky caught himself thinking that the whole process might have taken Jordan several hundred pages to accomplish in the real books, and that was without stopping to describe just how sad, filthy, disease-ridden and badly-built the villages were, how green and fetid and meningitis-and-malaria-ridden the water was, and how bad a set of allergic reactions a person could get from plants that did not really exist in the real world. Chucky had been suffering from these afflictions for as long as he could remember, but now was about the first time he’d had leisure to actually notice them. It was the first time he’d gone more than a week without being attacked by something.

And he wasn’t even free from attack now. Every day or so, Fain or Domon or Sattersnoam would insist that he do a girly dance, although the humiliating choreography had become a little more scarce with the reappearance of the Borderlanders and their subtle demands for Yoru stories. Also, Mat and Perrin and Loial were around to cheer him up, and Egwene was around to make Bela look good. And then there was Liandrin, who rode alongside and talked shop with the gleeman in a casual, extremely creepy manner. Occasionally Verin would ride on the other side, interjecting with questions and comments every now and then. She was very obviously a Darkfriend of some sort, although she seemed to be a beginner. Liandrin remained convinced that Chucky was some sort of extremely high-level friend of Ba’alzamon, and it was a charade that he would have found absolutely impossible to keep up unless she hadn’t unwittingly helped him at every step of the way.

“So how did you become a follower of the Great Lord of the Dark? Were you seeking for a way to make your ballads and epics last forever? A magical musical instrument? Perhaps the ability to win over your audience and have them shower you with gold?”

“Instrument. Definitely a magical musical instrument,” Chucky patted the bagpipes that hung on the pony’s saddlebags. “I really wanted to try the Horn of Valere, you know – I reckon you could get a Ghul of a sound out of that baby – but the Great, um, Lord gave me these instead. Or, well, He led the way to them. I actually got them from this innkeeper, who got them from Bayle Domon. But I was in the right place at the right time, and the, um, He led me there.”

“But how did you rise so high, so young? Did you put propaganda speeches into your songs, poison the wine cups of our enemies, and delve into the lost secrets of the Age of Legends to further the dark cause? Were you granted the secret knowledge, and given great tasks? Were you involved in the slaying of the Dragon, and the scattering of his followers in disarray and confusion?”

“Yeah. Uh, all of those.”

“And the … the Lady Selene? Did you perhaps meet her while studying the Portal Stones? Did she appear to you in a dream and show you how to break their secret, and then take you and Mister See adventuring through the lost Worlds of If, in an extension of your unholy schooling?”

“You got it.”

“Amazing!”

“And what is your role here?” Verin asked.

Chucky didn’t like Verin. She didn’t answer questions before he got a chance. Luckily, Liandrin was there, and she replied with a pout and a toss of her multitude of tedious, annoying braids that Chucky spent a lot of his time trying to describe as any colour other than ‘honey’. Yellow. They were yellow. Sort of dark yellow.

“He’s undoubtedly attempting to bring the Horn of Valere to the Great Lord’s use,” she said. “And following the same orders we are, concerning this false Dragon.”

Chucky turned to Verin and pointed at Liandrin in a gesture that said I’m too lazy to even acknowledge that shit she just said.

Verin nodded thoughtfully. “But why weren’t we informed about your … presence?”

“Well, I don’t really … it’s not like … well, it’s a sort of thingy … I couldn’t … um…”

“We can’t expect to be told of every little detail of the Great Lord’s plan,” Liandrin hissed. “The Chosen do their great work in secrecy, and we are just tiny, insignificant pawns. It is not our place to know the workings of the Great Lord’s mind.”

“Pawns,” Chucky said with a nod.

“Hey,” Loial rumbled, trudging up in between Chucky and Liandrin. “I heard that!”

“Oh, um, hi Loial, er, we were just, um…”

“No talking about porn unless a Gentlemen’s Club quorum can be reached,” the Ogier said in his giant bumblebee voice. “I’ll tell Mister See and Child Foreskin, and they’ll probably paddle you.”

 


 

“Creator fucking cuntery Whitecloaks and ever-shitting Ghul-blasted Hunters of the befuckered Horn! The bane of my cock-burned life!”

“For once, Moiraine Sedai, I completely agree with you!”

“Shut up and run, you! And don’t let go of the wagon! We’re all still back here, you know!”

“Don’t worry, Foreskin! I’ve got hold of you! Careful, there’s a bit of rough ground ahead!”

“Ha ha ha!!!!!!! Yay! This is fun!! But I’m getting sick! Ha ha ha! It’s still fun! But if I wasn’t sick, it would be more fun!! So it’s not very fun at all, because I’m sick!!!! Oi!! Ha ha ha!!!!! You punched me in the nose!! You cheeky chimp!”

“Good one, Lan.”

“Shut up, Foreskin. I feel like having a bit of a seven-striped-stole myself. Where’s that bottle?”

“Uh, I think it fell down to the other end of the wagon when Someshta picked us up. Yep, look, it’s down there, alright. Looks to be broken.”

“Shit.”

“We’re coming to a river, hold your noses, I’m going to ford it!”

“No, wait! It’s too fucking deep. Just wait, and I’ll make a bridge of Air.”

“Okay. Hurry up though, I think they’re gaining. And the wolf can’t carry me much further.”

“Stop being so gol-durn cheerful, Cooper! It’s your fault we’all’re in this mess to start with! What in the Lord possessed you to place an order like that in the first place? They’se superstitious types ’round these parts! You cain’t just walk up an’ ask for somethin’ like that, no way nohow! Anyway, didn’t you have no more barrels?”

“Sorry, Nancy. It was just a joke, I didn’t expect them to take me so seriously. You said as soon as we got across to the Wetlands I could let my hair down.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t mean … not like that, for fuck’s sake! Them thar’s Whitecloaks, they get edgy when you go sayin’ shit like that. And they was edgy anyways, what with the Aiel attacks an’ all. You gots to learn to read situations, an’ decide what’all’s appropriate.”

“Hey, I’m falling out from the wagon, let me climb back up. The canvas at the bottom’s ripping, and all that junk of Nancy’s is dropping on the ground too.”

“Leave it, Min. Just get on the back of Aldieb. The tubby bastard could do with a bit of extra lifting anyway.”

“Ha ha ha!!! Aldieb! That’s funny for some reason, like pickles!!! Ha ha ha! Oi!!!!! Cheeky!”

“Good one, Lan.”

“Oh Light, I want a drink.”

“Well, I could always-”

“No, Coop! He don’t want none o’ that!”

“Nancy, you’re a real party pooper, you know? Anyway, don’t you want to pick up that stuff? You seemed to think it was pretty important…”

“Alright, if we’re gonna be here a whiles … Moiraine, you done shilly shallyin’ with that bridge of Air thang yet?”

“…the fuck up, Sidesaddle. I’m concentrating.”

“Alright, I’ll just get on down and … Cow, if you bite my tits one more time, I’ll do somethin’ real bad to you.”

“Cretin.”

“I’ll jus’ throw it all on in this here sack and tie it to the saddlebags, an’ strap up the canvas best I can … did that horse just say ‘cretin’?”

“Trick of the vocal cords. I once knew a cat that said ‘spackle’ whenever you squeezed on it hard enough. But it was just its entrails wriggling up its throat.”

“Damn useful stuff, spackle.”

“Yuh, you can say that again, Foreskin.”

“Don’t say ‘Foreskin’ in that tone of voice. Nancy.”

“Don’t say ‘Nancy’ in that tone of voice. Foreskin.”

“Please, people, can’t we just get along?”

“Shut up, Someshta!”

“Y’all done finished yet, Moiraine?”

“Yes I’m fucking finished, you sassy bitch. Just because you asked, you can fucking well go across first. Go. Go on! Faster! You’re going to have to hurry, it’s … no, don’t stop in the middle! Run!”

“Argh!”

“She fell in! Your bridge collapsed!”

“Fuck up, Mandragoran! She’s heavier than she looks, okay?”

“Moiraine Sedai, you’re exhausted! If you’d told me that making a weave of Air was so difficult, I would have insisted that we ford the river manually. Look, I’ll just carry everybody-”

“Um, guys?”

“Shut up, Cooper! If your stupid Portal Stone hadn’t taken us to the wrong place, we wouldn’t be in this mess, and Dr. Nick would still be around! It’s all your fault!”

“Yeah, I know.”

“You’re a murderer!”

“Well, yeah, I guess so.”

“You sentenced him to death! You could have killed us all!”

“I still could.”

“You … okay, that creeped me out.”

“I just wanted to tell you, that hairy chick just got swept off downriver, and the wolf ran off after her as soon as I climbed off to help Nancy with the bag of crap. Downriver? Or is it upriver? They went the same way the water is going.”

“Ha ha ha!!!!! I – oi!!! Sheeky shimp!!!!! Now my lip’ff all schwollen!”

“Good one, Lan.”

“We’re crossing now. Everybody hang onto a branch. Um, no, Moiraine, not that branch.”

“It seems solid enough.”

“It’s not for touching.”

“There’s nothing wrong with it. Look, I can rub my hands up and down on it, and hang my entire weight on it, and it doesn’t bend. It actually seems to be getting stronger. I can even straddle it and – oh, fuck, that’s disgusting!”

“Don’t worry, we’re going into the river straight away.”

“It’s all over my Ghul-damned dress!”

“Okay, I’ve got everything, let’s go. What about Min and Cybes?”

“They’ll catch up with us. Come on. The Whitecloaks are gaining.”

“Ugh, my hair, it’s in my hair!”

 


 

Debs, Janica, Mister C of 9, Logain, Puddin Taim, Nynaeve and the four Ogier stumbled into the fairly sizeable town of Remen just as night was falling. They had followed the river into the town, but had intended to just skirt around and continue on their way. The Ogier, after all, weren’t exactly the sort who fitted in in backwater cities. But one thing and another had led them to abandon their original plan and go into Remen after all.

One of those things was the tearful assertion from Puddin that if he didn’t have a mug of warm milk before bedtime, he would be dead by morning. He had become increasingly convinced of this, and everybody was heartily sick of hearing about it. Frendli had gotten tired of singing up an endless supply of milkweed and cocoa-beans for the teary channeler, and for a wonder Hoarni had even gotten tired of providing the thick, protein-rich substitute that Janica had suggested in a moment of spite. Puddin, who never saw from where the Ogier sung their wonderful treats, rather liked the milkstitute, saying that it didn’t matter how it tasted, as long as it was warm and thick.

Another thing drawing them to the town was the Ogier themselves. They swore absolutely blind that a ta’veren the likes of which none of them had ever seen was at large somewhere in the area, and all signs pointed to Remen. Debs and Janica thought about it, and eventually decided that they would need a ta’veren anyway. Neither Vamps nor Logain were ta’veren, but the Dragon had been, and they might actually need the phenomenon at some stage. For all they knew, Janica and Debs agreed, the whole thing might rest on the Dragon being able to move the Pattern around. So if they could pick up some innocently bystanding hick, and overawe him with the One Power and various gold and trinkets, then it couldn’t hurt.

And so they made their way to the first public house they could find – the Wayman’s Forge.

“One large frosty glass of coke,” Mister C of 9 said, striding up to the bar.

The barman gave a low chuckle. “Well, we haven’t got any of that, but at least you’re not asking for blood,” he spared the other newcomers a long, suspicious glance. “You’re strangely-dressed.”

“We’re from Cairhien,” Janica said. “But these are real Ogier, before you ask.”

“And I’m a real man,” Vamps offered, free of charge.

“You certainly are,” Nynaeve agreed, taking her cue. “You were especially manly last night. I can barely walk. We shouldn’t talk about it now, it’s not polite, but that thing you did, I just can’t stop myself from talking about it. It was kinky. You’re so cool.”

Puddin looked acutely uncomfortable. “Nynaeve, please.”

“Sorry.”

The innkeeper examined the group suspiciously, before deciding that being polite to Ogier outweighed the social urge to turn away weirdos. “Gainor Furlan’s my name,” he said, “and I’ve got enough rooms for all of you. Even you Ogier. We’ve got Ogier beds made of sung wood, they’re a thousand years old or more, and no extra charge. Lucky thing, though. There’s Hunters of the Horn in town, and things are busy right now. You’re just lucky to find a place to stay. There’s been strange folk about. Aiel and Darkfriends and all sorts.”

Debs looked out of the window at the gibbet they’d seen as they wandered into town. “Ah guess tha’s an Aielman ye’ve got there, then,” she said, jerking a thumb.

Furlan scratched his armpit with a fork he was drying, before throwing it back into the drawer. “That’s right. Caught him a few days ago, part of a big group that came to kill us all in our beds. The Hunters caught him, managed to chase off the rest with the help of the Whitecloaks. There’s a lot of them about too. That’s why you were lucky to get a room.”

“Well, we don’t want trouble with any of those,” Janica said firmly, and the others all fumbled over one another in their haste to agree. “We’re just going to be staying here one night, and then we’ll be on our way. We’re off to Tear. A big marketing convention doing on over there.”

Mister C was peering at a menu, the candlelight and sunglasses rendering him almost as shortsighted as Janica herself. “Do you do vegetarian meals?”

“Reet,” Debs said, slapping her hands and almost tugging Janica off the floor in the process. “We’re after some grub.”

“I’ll bring it out to you,” Furlan said, giving Mister C of 9 another narrow, suspicious glance. He turned on his heel and headed into the kitchen, muttering ‘vegetarian’ and ‘Cairhienin’ under his breath. The group of newcomers made their way self-consciously to a large table, and sat down. The Ogier sat on the floor, and still towered over the humans, but the other patrons in the Wayman’s Forge weren’t looking at the Ogier. They were staring at the sul’dam dress, the silver a’dam, the crying man with the braid, and the Mambo shirt.

“So Gaul was there in the cage?” Janica asked in a low voice.

“Aye,” Debs replied. “He was there alreet. He luked bloody daft, but he was there.”

“Okay. So we’re ahead of Perrin and the others,” Janica said thoughtfully.

“Of course we are,” Vamps said, frowning through his tears. “They’re chasing us.”

“They’d be fools not to,” Nynaeve said warmly.

“Yes, but they obviously don’t know we’re headed for Tear,” Janica said. “They don’t know where Logain is going, and they haven’t overtaken us, or gone past and doubled back. They haven’t been through here because Perrin would have picked up Gaul.”

The food came out, and Mister C looked at it glumly.

“Even the potatoes are blood-fried,” he said. “Can’t they do anything without meat?”

“You dinnae have tae eat et,” Debs said curtly.

“My beef’s too tough,” Vamps whined.

“I’ll chew it for you,” Nynaeve promised.

“So,” Mister C of 9 folded his arms and pushed his plate to one side, where it was promptly demolished by Wyse. “What about this Faile chick? Where’s she?”

The hatchet-faced woman at the next table leapt to her feet. “Hey, how in the Light did you know my name?”

Debs sighed.

 


 

Angus settled into the deck-chair that Siuan had carried for him, and peered through the pair of binoculars he’d found in his bag of tricks. The distant specks down on the field sprang into sharp focus. Ten confused-looking peddlers and merchants conscripted at random from the streets of Tar Valon, an assortment of hastily-built wooden houses and wagons and catapaults, and one thoroughly zealous and overjoyed Aes Sedai were assembled on the plains beneath Dragonmount.

“Tell them we’re ready to begin,” he said to Shaidar Haran.

The Hand nodded politely, and turned to one side. He reappeared a moment later, and cleared his throat with a ratchety sound that made Angus’ ears stand on end. “Entering primary countdown,” the giant myrddraal intoned. “Twenty, nineteen, eighteen…”

Aginor, Be’lal, Demandred, Lanfear, Mesaana, Moghedien, Semirhage, Graendahl, Rahvin and Asmodean were assembled behind Angamael’s deck-chair, along with several of the most powerful Black Ajah Aes Sedai who had been let in on the Ultimate Weapon Project. Aginor, scientifically-minded and curious about all things, stepped forward and spoke in as un-wizened a voice as his ancient vocal cords would allow.

“I don’t understand, Nae’blis … if this woman is to open a gateway, surely it would be better to open it to a place where she could actually do some good. If she opened it, perhaps, to the sleeping quarters of this new Dragon, and poisoned him where he slept … I do not see how opening it to the sky could possibly…”

“Well, that’s why you’re all here,” Angus said. “To learn. And that’s why you taught this woman to Travel in the first place.”

“Eleven, ten, nine, eight…”

“And I think it’s a bad idea, tactically,” Rahvin said, “to give these children the power to make gateways. What if it were to fall into the wrong hands?”

“Relax, Asmo,” Angus said. Rahvin had learned by now not to correct him. “She’s the only one who knows, and in a few seconds it won’t matter.”

“But if she were to-”

“One, zero … Source touched … saidar accessed … flows weaved … ignition.”

There was a tiny flash of light on the field below, and Angus watched in delight through his binoculars. The rest of the Chosen and the new Dreadlords leaned forward and embraced the Source to clarify their vision, and gasped in amazement at what they saw.

A huge jagged cone of rushing, roaring air had appeared in the middle of the field, lying sideways on the ground across the target point, terminating in the tiny blue glow of a gateway. A terrible, howling vortex was being created, ripping up grass, houses, merchants and soil, and pushing it through the gateway at unimaginable speed. Sliced-off pieces of debris fanned out behind the gateway and formed eddies of sharp-edged detritus. The cone of suction expanded and became a hurricane, audible all the way to the mountainside where the spectators stood in awe.

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the destructive gale ended. Dust fell back to rest, pieces of shrubbery rolled across the ground, and all that was left was a broad, vaguely triangular swath of bare, stripped earth terminating in the tiny little straight line of a vanished gateway. There was nothing left of any of the test subjects. Nothing at all.

Fucking Ghul,” Mesaana breathed. “What happened?”

“I told you,” Angus said. “When you go up a mountain, the air gets thinner. If you go far enough, there’s no air at all. If you go even higher, there’s no nothing. And if you open a gateway there, it will cause a loss of equilibrium, and air gets sucked out at incredible speed. Air, and anything that happens to get in the way. Unfortunately, it kills whoever makes the gateway as well.”

“Kills them?” Rahvin leaned back, shaken to his core.

“Explosive decompression,” Angamael explained with relish. “Their blood boils, their skin freezes, the air in their lungs explodes, and their bodies tear themselves apart. Or something like that.”

“Of course,” Aginor said. “That’s why the gateway closed. The channeler is killed, and the weaves dissolve.”

“We’ll have to come up with some way of using this weapon so it doesn’t kill the wielder every time,” Angus said thoughtfully. “The last thing we want is disillusioned kamikaze warriors with the ability to channel and the knowledge that the one weapon they can use will also kill them.”

“We can keep using the children,” Semirhage said, gesturing lazily to the Aes Sedai. “They’re not useful for anything else, and they don’t need to know the weapon is lethal.”

Angus rolled his eyes, a movement that was somehow even more effective while ‘caverns of flame’ was engaged, as it was at that moment. “Fools,” he said. “Haven’t any of you seen a film? The bad guy is always defeated by the disgruntled suicide soldier who realises he’s been sent out to die. Well, not always, but I know this shit. We have to come up with another way.”

“What if you were to open the gateway facing in the other direction?” Shaidar Haran asked.

The Forsaken exchanged glances.

“Can we do that?” Be’lal murmured.

 


 

Many hundreds of years ago, the Lugard Road had been paved with stone. Now, it was just hard-packed dirt, but paving stones still worked their way to the surface sometimes.

Even without the footprint on it, this simple piece of stone would have been reason to break out the tents. Verin saw the chance to natter about history – a subject that, in spite of her obvious evilness, still managed to thrill the dumpy little Aes Sedai. Fain took the whole Lugard Road thing as a chance to reminisce about his life as a peddler, and the miscellaneous adventures he’d gotten in before being sent to the Two Rivers. Loial welcomed the chance to compare notes with Verin; Hurin took the opportunity to mention that this paving stone, along with everything else all around him, smelled terrible and wrong; Perrin morosely agreed with him; Mat had a good whine about being dragged along on an adventure he had no part in; Bayle Domon used the distraction of the paving stone to do more unspeakable things to himself and his horse; Elayne, Egwene and Liandrin took the chance to flirt with the Borderlanders; and Satters jumped on the stone and began biting it for no real reason.

“And then there was the taxation along the Manetherendrelle, and King…”

“Ahh, that was a lovely little village in its time, sure enough. I went through there with Bel Tine poles and a little mobile smithy, like a Tinker I was, carefree and happy, and then suddenly the Great Lord was behind my eyes, eating my skin, curdling my blood…”

“Was that King Dubloon or King Har’old? I seem to recall reading a book back at the stedding that concerned taxation along the rivers of the southern part of the continent, and…”

“…I smelled a dead halfman once, and whatever it was that killed him was … well, this smells just the same, only worse, it’s like that smell is here, but there’s also the smell of Shadowspawn, Darkfriends, and worse…”

“It’s a burning, sulphur sort of smell…”

“…want to go home, I hate this road, I hate this paving stone, this is all pointless, I don’t want to end up like Rand, I just want to go and see my ma and pa, my sisters will be missing me…”

“Stand still, there’s a good horse…”

“…never done it with a man with an eye patch…”

“Fucking Catholics! Fuck!”

Chucky sighed and made himself comfortable. He’d laid out his bed-roll, set up a campfire and was just beginning to wonder about food when Perrin nervously pointed out the footprint on the stone.

“Oh that. That’s just a Darkhound. Nothing to worry about. Gah, er, that is, it would be nothing to worry about, if we happened to be Darkfriends, but in our case, because we’re not Darkfriends, well, it’s still nothing to worry about, because it’s obviously in front of us, see? And it’s pointing this way, which means it’s heading away from us in any case. Probably chasing the Dragon Reborn, like we are. Gosh, I hope we get to him before those awful Darkfriends and Shadowspawn do, right Liandrin? Liandrin?”

“Mmm, do those scars go all the way down…? What? Oh yes, Verin, hate those Darkfriends.”

Verin beamed, and dusted her hands. “See? Darkhounds. Nothing to worry about. We’ll protect you all.”

“Darkhounds are tight.”

“Bayle, don’t be disgusting,” Fain said without turning around. “Ahh, yes, this reminds me of the good old days. I was halfway between villages, and my horse fell in a pothole, so the great Lord made me pick up my wagon and carry it all the way, and I ran and I ran, screaming, and He drove me and lashed me, and I howled and howled…” the little beak-nosed peddler stopped clawing at his own face for a moment, and looked around at the assortment of worried and insane faces. “Well then, should we camp here for tonight?”

“Hello,” Chucky said, and rolled himself in his blankets.

The large, poorly-matched group settled down for the night, after a bit of digging and tussling and pissing from Satters and Perrin, an argument over whose horse to eat between Fain and the Borderlanders, and a lot of rustling and giggling from the blankets of the varied girls and their ‘mystery guests’. Chucky wondered, not for the first time, if he should make a break for it in the night, but as always he ended up being too damn lazy, and went to sleep instead. The last thing he heard as he drifted away into unconsciousness was Masema complaining bitterly about how tough his horse was, and Domon weeping and snuffling about needing his precious.

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The Dragon Reforged, Part 9

“They did too!”

“They didn’t.”

“Did!”

“Satters, they didn’t.”

“My name’s Noam, you cunt!”

“But before, you said you didn’t want to be called Noam, you said your name was Satters.”

“Padaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!”

Fain rode forward with a fatherly clucking of his tongue.

“Now now, what happened this time?”

“This stupid fuck refuses to believe that the Catholic Church stole the idea of wedding rings from the Ckelts,” Satters tried to sniff and growl and put a ‘k’ in ‘Celts’ all at the same time, and ended up almost choking. He glowered at Chucky as if he was responsible for the wolf-man’s gnawed lips, saliva-streaked face, and tear-filled eyes. In a way, Chucky supposed, he was. “He’s a complete stupid fuck!”

“You are a stupid fuck, gleeman,” Fain said in a chiding voice, and gave Chucky a playful cuff around the ears. “Now tell me. What is a church?”

“Huh?”

“Well if I don’t know what a church is, it’s a bit hard for me to tell what a Catholic one is supposed to be, yes?”

“Oh, well it’s a kind of institution that believes in the Creator. The Children of the Light could be considered a church, only a militant version. Knights of the church, perhaps.”

“I see. And a C-k-elt?”

“Um, the Celts are – were a group of people, um, from a long time ago,” Chucky said. “Lots of modern cultures are meant to be descended from them. He thinks he is one,” he pointed at Satters. “It’s a bit like saying you’re descended from two-legged people, if you’re a Caucasian…”

“Slow down,” Fain cuffed Chucky again. “Now, a wedding ring. Is that anything like a wedding knife?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” Chucky went on, rubbing his ear grumpily. “Sort of a cross between a wedding knife and a Great Serpent ring, perhaps.”

“The Whitecloaks stole Great Serpent rings from two-legged people,” Bayle Domon grunted in conclusion from his hunched position over his horse’s back. “So they did. I wouldn’t put it past them, so I wouldn’t.”

Satters shrieked in triumph, then dropped to his haunches with a hunted look in his shining yellow eyes. The three mounted men watched him in the indirect corner-of-the-eye way they had learned to watch Satters, who didn’t like being watched, or ignored.

“Intruders,” he hissed. “I can smell them. That way,” he pointed.

Fain and Domon exchanged a glance, then turned and looked the way Sattersnoam was pointing.

“I don’t be seeing anything, so I don’t,” Domon said.

“Quiet,” Fain said. “It’s those damned Borderlanders. I recognise their minds,” the crazed peddler scratched at his eyeballs furiously. “Behind my eyes, my eyes, they’re in my brain, crawling in their sockets, argh.”

Chucky sighed. “What are you going to do?”

“We’ll travel with them,” Fain said suddenly. “Noam, stand up straight. Bayle, stop doing that thing you’re doing.”

Chucky glanced across at the sailor just as Domon stopped doing the thing. He sighed in relief for the comparative blessing of not having seen the thing actually happening.

“Now,” Fain hissed. “Just remember. You are Sissybitch the gleeman, travelling with me. I am Ordeith, um, Ordeith…”

“Grima Wormtongue?”

Excellent. I am Ordeith Grima Wormtongue, a merchant, and these are my guards. Their names are-”

“Chucky!”

Chucky spun around to see Mat and Perrin charging out onto the road. They were grinning broadly, and behind them were some other familiar faces.

“Well, if it isn’t Padan Fain the peddler, and old Bayle Domon from the Spray!” Mat said in delight. “Who’d have thought we’d meet up with you again? We have a lot of catching up to do – lots has happened since we were all on that boat together,” he hurried forward and grinned up at the awful Domon. “I saw you in Falme – I was hoping you’d met up with Chucky and gotten out of there alive. Ahh, it’ll be just like old times, eh? Just like the trip to Whitebridge. halfmen on one side, Shadar Logoth on the other!” he turned to Chucky. “Yee haw! Still got those pipes you found in Baerlon, I see. Remember that? Lawks!”

“Still a hick,” Chucky couldn’t help grinning. “Who else is there? Hi Perrin. I guess it was only a matter of time before we found you all again.”

Perrin displayed his grin, showing that he had lost a couple more teeth in his time away from the gleeman. “Good to see you too,” he said, and turned to Fain, who was looking extremely edgy. “Master Fain, you look terrible. Why, I could almost believe some of the things Chucky was saying about you – ow. You kicked me.”

“Ha ha,” Chucky said, glaring at Perrin. “Nothing wrong with Fain. Fain the Main, that’s what I call him.”

“The Main what?” Mat asked, squinting in an outrageously hicklike manner.

“The Main Fain,” Chucky peered into the emerging crowd, which consisted mainly of injured Sheinarans. He looked up. “Hey, look, it’s Loial. Hi Loial, haven’t seen you since Falme either. None of you guys, actually,” he added grudgingly, turning back to Mat and Perrin. “You all just ran off and left me.”

“Your apprentice Mister See said he saw a Nazgûl,” Loial rumbled, hurrying over to join the reunion. “We didn’t know what a Nazgûl was, but the young men here were worried, and I was very curious,” his ears twitched mournfully. “Thank the Light you ended up somewhere safe, in the company of this beloved peddler from Emond’s Field.”

“Yes, thank the Light! Oh Lighty Light Light! Creator bless us all!”

Chucky’s pony tried to rear up and flee as a dense black mass of cloth and eyeshadow emerged from the trees, flapping its hands and weeping extravagantly. It was followed by an equally black-clad shape that was recognisably more female, and – thirdly and finally – the not-entirely-welcome sight of Egwene astride Bela.

“You’re alive and well!” Verin exclaimed, rushing forwards theatrically. “I was so worried that the awful Darkfriends might have gotten you, damn those Darkfriends to Ghul! You’re safe…” she flinched when she saw Chucky. “Ah, the gleeman from Damodred’s manor,” she said. “Liandrin, you remember Chucky.”

“Indeed,” Liandrin said, and almost bobbed a curtsey. “Is your … apprentice around?”

“No, we went our separate ways when he saw a Nazgûl,” Chucky said dryly. “I’m glad you got away from those nasty Seanchan Darkfriends in Falme too.”

“Yes, damn those Darkfriends,” Liandrin sniggered, and Verin nudged her with a black lacy elbow.

Hurin the sniffer came forward with Masema and Uno. Chucky gave them a nervous wave, and got a whole series of scowls, sneers, grunts, and surreptitious Yoru-salutes in response.

“And the Lady Selene?” Verin was carrying on. “Has she sent you any word?”

“Um,” Chucky tried desperately to keep track of the complex series of lies he’d accidentally bricked himself up behind. “Um no, she went her own way as well. Sorry. I was just wandering around, and I met up with master Fain and his friends. This is Bayle Domon, as some of you know, and this is Noam.”

Satters and Perrin were watching each other intently, and had been for some time. Slowly, and with exaggerated casualness, they sauntered towards one another, stiff-legged and staring. Perrin lowered his head and sniffed Satters’ ear. Satters turned with a haughty expression, clawed open his breeches, and urinated on the leg of Chucky’s pony.

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Chucky muttered.

 


 

Angamael was disgruntled.

He knew there were things he should be doing. He had estimated that currently he was making his way through The Dragon Reborn, having just put the whole Seanchan-battle-in-Falme and second-death-of-Ishamael behind him. He had been disappointed to lose Balthamel in that incident, but it could have been worse. Balthamel had been a lecher and a creep, and there was only room for one of those in the White Tower. Plus, he’d been a wrinkled old man in a gimp mask, and wrinkled old men in gimp masks really freaked Angus out. So in all, it hadn’t been too bad. He’d warned the fool about the ‘sheathing the sword’ move, and had thought Balthamel was well-defended from that angle. How Logain had managed to pull a swiftie on the situation was anybody’s guess.

Then Logain had literally fallen into his hands. Making use of his Aes Sedai, Angamael had subverted the new Dragon and set him up nicely, keeping him where he could see him. Verin, a singularly clever woman even if she wasn’t one of those ones who looked good in medieval latex, had identified another male channeler as Puddin Taim, brother to the infamous Mazrim Taim, and had realised his potential as a backup and fall guy for their false Dragon. But disaster had struck. Somehow, Logain had escaped with this Taim fellow, and now Verin and Liandrin were in hot pursuit. Well … Liandrin was in hot pursuit. Verin was in dumpy, motherly pursuit.

To add to the bad news file, the operation to turn Aes Sedai back from the Light once their enslavement had been broken was not proving as easy as he had thought. His plan to find the women was working, and all the Aes Sedai were back under his thumb and wary of Tinkers in a way no Aes Sedai had ever been before. He’d received word of no less than seventeen unsanctioned executions so far, and most of those were just innocent men and women with bad fashion sense. That was always a cause behind which Angamael was happy to get. However, things still weren’t perfect. Many novices and Accepted had slipped through the net, and the announcements he’d made concerning the search for “Coloured Ajah Aes Sedai” had alerted his enemies in Tar Valon. They’d slipped out from between his fingers before he could capture any of them – Tinker, informant, wolf, psychotic horse, giant shrub-man and all.

Angus blamed the narrative for the dumb ideas that may have cost him valuable servants. “Are you a Darkfriend?” sounded like such a good plan, but it didn’t work very well on Aes Sedai who had been freed of their Oaths. He’d told the other Forsaken this. They hadn’t listened. They were idiots. In fact, Balthamel was largely to blame. He didn’t have much respect for women. The only reason Angamael had allowed the plan to carry on was his own reasoning, which had turned out to be workable. Aes Sedai may not be under Oath, but they were used to being under Oath, and in many cases they could not comprehend the fact that they could lie. They’d spent so many decades being unable to lie, it was practically a conditioned response, ingrained in their psyche. Angus knew all about that shit. Not much use being a bad guy if you didn’t have a passing understanding of the human mind.

As such, the plan had worked as well as could be expected, and the possibility of more stupid plans had been erased with Balthamel.

The Betrayer of Hope had another ace up his sleeve. Actually, he had nine – blocky, unwieldy, papery aces, that he had found in the bottom of the bag of tricks he’d found upon his arrival. The entire Wheel of Time series. It hadn’t proven very useful yet, but Angus knew it would prove to be worth its weight in gold. Or paper, at least.

Even so, he was disgruntled, and he couldn’t quite put his finger on why. He leafed through The Dragon Reborn slowly, easing back in his seat and resting his feet on an expensive three-legged stool with intricate carvings that he’d found in the Amyrlin’s sitting room. He’d enjoyed a nice hot bath recently, and was now reclining in a soft dressing gown, a seven-striped stole wrapped around his head to help dry his hair, and a pair of seven-striped slippers on his feet. Let his minions wear the all-black uniform. Angus had a little bit of style.

“Things are okay,” he said. “If they stick to the story, they’ll all be traipsing over to Tear next, and that’s where Ishamael dies for the third time. Here in the Stone,” he leafed back a few chapters. “Rand escapes and they all follow him, but they don’t find him. Verin and the others probably won’t find Logain either. And being bad guys, they’ll probably do something dumb which stops them from catching him, even though I’ve told them where he’s going. Or my friends from the real world who are manipulating things might know that’s where the Dragon has to go, and take him somewhere else. It’s not like the Dragon uses Callandor until four books later anyway. Hmmm.”

The whole thing was, Angus wasn’t smart. He had a certain amount of low cunning, and he watched way too many movies, but he wasn’t a mastermind. All he knew was what not to do. He was an expert at not doing things. He knew all the rules, he knew all the critical blunders bad guys made, and he knew all the stupid ways good guys could win. But all he could do with that was stay one step ahead. The thing about staying one step ahead was, you had to wait for the good guy to walk along behind you, so you could tell whereto be one step ahead next time. And that shit was tiring.

He knew that the pursuit of perfection and neatness and absolute rule was one major stumbling block to bad guys, and so he wasn’t being overly meticulous in his pursuit of loose ends. No point in chasing one lone solitary bad guy into an ambush just because that one bad guy was trying to make a woman you liked fall in love with him. Bide your time, kill everybody – including the girl – and then console yourself with an army of sluts, that was Angus’ reasoning.

Of course, there was such a thing as going too far. That was where the next major trap was – the “Ha ha ha, I shall kill him later at my leisure,” trap. It didn’t pay to assume everything would be alright, and let your enemy run around free so you could “torment” him. Kill the enemy, and buy a hamster if you were keen on mindless aggression.

Angus turned from his studies and pulled on a silken bell-cord he’d just had installed. It wasn’t really necessary, but he found that coupled with a relaxed attitude and the depressingly bad-guyish behaviour displayed by most of his staff, it was a very effective way of getting people to pay attention to him. Sure enough, seconds after pulling on the cord, the Amyrlin Seat appeared and dropped into a deep curtsey.

“Fetch me Shaidar Haran,” Angamael said softly.

 


 

“Where’s he going then? Ha ha ha! He went away!! Typical, that! Ha ha ha!!! As if it was a bad thing to be a Tinker! What a cheeky chimp he is, walking off like that!! I bet it was his turn to do the dishes or something!”

Dr. Nick cast a discouraged look at the gleeful Contro.

“It’s the bleakness,” he said. “He’s confronted the truth about, um, our origins and it depressed him to find that he’s descended from people who follow the Way of the Leaf. Should I go after him?” he added just a little hopefully. The merry Tinker was beginning to get on his skinny little droopy engineer tits.

The Green Man sat in the dust behind the wagon looking, as a particularly poor player of words might put it, glumber than usual.

“I didn’t know he’d react like that,” he said. “There’s no possible reason to expect that such a story would have that effect. It didn’t affect either of you. Of course, in a way, the Tinkers never departed from the Way of the Leaf, and they have remained true to many Aiel ideals.”

“Well,” Dr. Nick said as diplomatically as he could, “Contro’s not all there, and I’m not precisely a normal Aiel myself. That reminds me,” he went on in a rebellious little mutter. “Sir There’s-A-Thing left a set of cadin’sor and all his spears and shit behind. I’m changing out of these damn stupid whites.”

“Yes,” Someshta was looking thoughtful. “I should have been able to tell from looking at you that you were as much a relic as that gholam. Did you get placed in a stasis box as well? I heard, in the last throes of the War of Power, that there was a stasis box Ark Project started up, but I also heard that it got balebombed in its final stages, all the units scattered.”

“Something like that,” Dr. Nick agreed, rummaging through the bags and boxes they’d recovered from the ruined wagon. “Hey look, he left his maps behind. This could be useful – there’s maps of the Aiel Waste as well as the, um, mainland.”

“Yes, you are quite recognisably closer to the original Aiel root than these others,” the Green Man went on. He chuckled. “You have those amazing palmleaf ears…”

“Yeah yeah. Hey look, he left his share of the other stuff we found in the stasis box,” Dr. Nick lifted up a handful of trash. “I wonder if he left behind his anti-Power thing as well. I always thought it was a bit of a waste of time giving him one of them. Ta’veren that strong probably couldn’t get fireballed anyway. The fireball’d turn into a rabbit halfway towards him.”

Ta’veren?” Someshta frowned with a little rustle. “The Aielman? I’m sure I’d have noticed. Well, it’s difficult to notice any ta’veren going on with that Lightforsaken whirlpool around your merchant friend.”

Dr. Nick paused in the middle of pulling the soft, flowing cadin’sor over his head. The sand-coloured material caught in his ears. “Shan…Nancy? Nancy’s a ta’veren too?”

“Like nothing I’ve ever seen,” the Green Man asserted. “You know, while standing in the presence of Artur Hawkwing, it was possible to actually see the Pattern shaping itself into Age Lace around him. With Nancy Sidesaddle, well, it is almost possible to smell it.”

“What does it smell like?” Dr. Nick couldn’t help asking.

“Burnt toast,” Someshta confided.

Dr. Nick jumped out of the wagon and walked across to Gaul’s discarded spears just as Contro started laughing and crapping on about beans on toast. Strangely, it felt good to be back in proper Aiel clothing. He knew he wasn’t a real Aiel, but somehow the gai’shain white had been … humiliating. Perhaps that had just been because of all the menial labour.

Hefting his spears and buckler and even managing a slight swagger, he headed over to the fire, where Shannon was sitting with Min and the great grey wolf that Contro had not quite managed to identify for him, and…

…a disembodied floating head…

The momentary confusion passed, and Dr. Nick saw that the floating head was in fact a Warder. The colour-shifting cloak was far more effective than he had expected it to be. The Warder stood up and approached him, grinning broadly.

“No way are you Lan,” Dr. Nick said. The Warder was about as stony-faced as Jim Carrey. In fact, he looked like a bit of a schmuck. There was something strangely familiar about him.

“You must be Dr. Nick,” the Warder said, and grabbed him by each earlobe. “Say, ‘hi everybody’! Say it!”

Without preparing for the motion, and without even feeling himself move, Dr. Nick suddenly found himself standing on the Warder’s wrists, a spear resting against the wide-eyed man’s throat. There was a moment of frozen tension.

“Don’t. Touch. The ears,” he said, trying for Clint and managing Ween.

Then he felt something prod him in the small of the back.

“You’d best get the fuck up off of my Warder, you pajama-wearing sack of sheep swallop.”

He turned slowly to see the woman he’d been told was Moiraine, standing behind him with a little ivory figurine clenched in her fist and a brick-eating expression on her otherwise extraordinarily youthful and pretty face. He stepped off the Warder and thrust his spears away with a smooth gesture that he knew looked extremely cool … but had no idea how he managed it.

“How did he know who I was?” he demanded.

Shannon was staring at the Warder, who was picking himself up and dusting himself off and trying to look as if he’d fought the good fight and won. “Um,” the voluptuous merchant said, and cleared his throat. “Ay eff arr jay?”

The Warder gaped. “Eff Wun!” he exclaimed. “Oo-hay oo-yay? Ass-kay? Orelin-may?” he hesitated. “Elob-shay?”

“He Who Is,” Shannon muttered, and sighed bitterly when Forsaken_1 fell to the ground again, this time doubled up with laughter.

“You three cunts had better start talking sense,” Moiraine said, pocketing the angreal and folding her arms under her breasts.

“We’re old friends,” Dr. Nick explained. “Sort of friends. We just didn’t recognise each other. We’ve never met before.”

Moiraine rolled her eyes and turned away. “Well, when you’re done fooling around, bring everything over to the Portal Stone. Your freak of a friend Cooper Two has promised to bring us directly to Tear.”

“Alrighty,” Shannon grinned in spite of the continued howls of mirth from Forsaken_1. “About time we got in on the gol-durn story.”

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It’s worse

For today’s Bonus Post, I have copied and pasted verbatim from a Facebook post by Marc Doll. Chances are you will have seen this before but I am signal boosting it and I would like to talk about it. Only problem is, it’s depressing as fuuuuuck unless you have deep-seated psychological issues (and it’s pretty depressing then, too).

Will throw more of my own thoughts into the comments, I think. But this pretty much speaks for itself. It’s a long read but you should be used to that by now.


*Last updated August 19*

I realize there is something I have known for some time but have never said, and, since I have just spent another 4 hours of my life in climate change academia I have to get this out of my system.

Please understand that many you reading this won’t live to an old age… and likely will start scrolling after one or 2 more paragraphs… (edit…Ok I was wrong on this point. This is now my 2nd most shared post of all time..(edit)…make that my most shared)

The IPCC report and Paris accord are incredibly overly optimistic and that commits the world to a target that means the death of hundreds of millions if not more.

But it is worse than that.

Even the commitments made by countries in the Paris accord don’t get us to a 2-degree world.

But it is worse than that.

The 2 degree target is now unattainable (unless of course the entirety of civilization does a 180 today…) and is based on geoengineering the climate of the earth as well as the sequestering of every molecule of carbon we have produced since 1987, as well as every molecule we are producing today, as well as every molecule we produce tomorrow…. with magical technologies that don’t exist, won’t exist and, even if they did would likely cause as many if not more problems than they fix.

But it is worse than that.

The 2-degree target of the IPCC does not factor in the feedback loops such as the increased absorption of heat due to a drastic reduction in the albedo (reflectivity) effect caused by the 70% loss of Arctic ice,..- the release of methane from the thawing Arctic. (there is more energy stored in the arctic methane than there is in coal in the world). This is called the methane dragon. If the process of the release of the methane, currently frozen in the soil and ocean beds of the Arctic, which may have already begun, but if it spins out of control we are looking an 8-degree rise in temperature. On an even more depressing not a recent report states that the loss of sea ice is happening 70 years faster than what was predicted just a few years ago.

But it is worse than that.

The report which gives us 12 years to get our head’s out of our arses underestimated the amount of heat stored in the world’s oceans, as we discovered in mid-January by 40%… so no, we don’t have 12 more years. And the contention that this destructive anthropogenic effect on climate is either new or natural is incorrect. A recent study of tree ring size the world over has found synchronized global droughts since about the year 1900. A phenomenon which did not exist in the 1000 previous years.

But it is worse than that

The conservative, American Meteorological Society indicates that our willful blindness and greed will have effects well beyond the climate. The world’s oceans will see a 150% increase in acidity and over a full degree Celsius in warming. This well down the path to the Permian extinction where 96% of marine species disappeared forever.

But it is worse than that.

The IPCC report ignores the effects of humans messing up the Nitrogen cycle through agricultural fertilizers and more… Don’t go down this rabbit hole if you want to sleep at night.

But it is worse than that.

Sea level rise will not be gradual. Even assuming that the billions of tons of water that is currently being dumped down to the ground level of Greenland isn’t creating a lubricant which eventually will allow the ice to free-flow into the northern oceans; it is only the friction to the islands surface that is currently holding the ice back. Then consider the same process is happening in Antarctica but is also coupled with the disappearance of the ice shelves which act as buttresses holding the glaciers from free-flowing into the southern ocean. then factor in thermal expansions; the simple fact that warmer water takes up more space and It becomes clear that we are not looking at maintaining the current 3.4mm/yr increase in sea level rise (which incidentally is terrifying when you multiply it out over decades and centuries.) We will be looking at major calving events that will result in much bigger yearly increases coupled with an exponential increase in glacial melting. We know that every increase of 100ppm of C02 increases sea level by about 100 feet. We have already baked in 130 feet of sea-level rise. It is just a question of how long it is going to take to get there… and then keep on rising.

But it is worse than that.

Insects are disappearing at 6 times the speed of larger animals and at a rate of about 2.5% of their biomass every year. These are our pollinators. These are links in our food chain. These represent the basic functioning of every terrestrial ecosystem/

But it is worse than that.

58% of the biomass of vertebrate life on earth has been lost since 1970. That is basically in my lifetime! Additionally, a new study has shown that over 1 million species are now in danger of extinction due to human activity. Millions of years of evolution are being wiped out on a daily bases.

But it is worse than that.

The amount of Carbon we add to the atmosphere is equal to a yearly a human-caused forest fire 20% bigger than the continent of Africa. Yes, that is every single year!

But it is worse than that.

Nitrogen oxide a gas 300 times more potent than CO2 according to A Harvard study is being released 12 times more intensely than was previously thought from the thawing permafrost in the Arctic. Coupled with the fact that the permafrost is thawing much faster than accounted for in the IPCC report and you can conclude…

It is worse than that.

Drought in nearly every food-producing place in the world is expected to intensify by mid-century and make them basically unusable by the end of the century… Then factor in the end of Phosphorus and the depletion of aquifers and you come to the conclusion that feeding the planet becomes impossible with industrial agriculture. Couple that with a recently released study which indicates that the lower wind speeds over the oceans and higher temperatures over land are resulting in fewer water particles in the air. The lower availability of water particles in the air has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the growth rate of natural systems.

But it is worse than that.

We can no longer save the society that we live in and many of us are going to be dead long before our life expectancy would suggest.

If your idea of hope is having some slightly modified Standard of living going forward and live to ripe old age… there is no hope. This civilization is over…

..but there is hope..

There is a way for some to come through this and have an enjoyable life on the other side. Every day we delay can be measured in human lives. There will come a day of inaction when that number includes someone you love, yourself or myself.

So we have 2 options.

Wake the fuck up. If we do we will only have to experience the end of our society as we know it aka…the inevitable economic collapse which is now unavoidable, but be able to save and rebuild something new on the other side. This would require a deep adaptation. Words like sustainability would need to be seen as toxic and our focus needs be on regeneration. Regeneration of soil, forests, grasslands, oceans, etc…. This is all possible.

Option 2 is the path we are on thinking that we can slowly adapt to change. This not only ensures we experience collapse but also condemns humanity to not just economic and social collapse but in a 4-6 or even an 8-degree world… extinction.

I am sick of pipeline discussions. I am sick of any argument that is predicated on the defeatist assumption that we will continue to burn oil at an ever-increasing rate simply because it is what we have always done. Fact is if we do we are not just fucked, we are dead. I am sick of perceived futility or the idea that “other countries pollute more than us” being used as an argument against leadership. If no one leads, no none follows and again we are not just fucked, we are dead. I am sick of people who don’t understand how their food is produced, and its effect on the climate.(both carnivores who eat feed-lot meat and vegans who eat industrially-produced-mono-cropped-veggies as they are equally guilty here. The consumption of either is devastating). I am sick of the tons of shiny new clothes people are wearing without realizing 1 Kg of cotton takes over 10 thousand Liters of water and incredible amounts of energy to produce. I am sickened by the amount of that same clothing hits the landfill in near new condition. I am sick of the argument that our oil is less poisonous than someone else’s. Firstly, no it isn’t and secondly, It doesn’t fucking matter. I am sick of people that can’t even handle the ridiculously-small, only-the-tip-of- the-iceberg-of-changes we need to accept; a carbon tax. I am sick of the fact that the political will seems only capable of focusing on the individual consumer through small measures like a carbon tax but no elected Party seems to have the fortitude to enact policies that take it to the small handful of companies that are responsible for an overwhelming amount of our current C02 production. I am sick of my own hypocrisy that allows me to still use fossil fuels for transportation. I am sick of those who use hypocrisy as an argument against action. I am sick of the Leadership of my country that argues we can have economic growth and survivable environment… we can’t. I am sickened by the normalizing of the leadership of our Southern neighbour who as the most polluting nation in the world officially ignores even the tragedy that is the Paris accord and would submarine an international Arctic accord simple because it contains the words “Climate Change”. I am sick that the next image I put up of my kids, cheese, pets or bread is going to gain immeasurably more attention than a post such as this which actually has meaning… I am sick about the fact that all the information I referenced here is easily discoverable in scientific journals through a simple google search but will be characterized by many as hyperbolic.

I am confused as to who I am more upset with. Those who have fallen for the denier propaganda, those who choose to be willfully ignorant, those who understand this issue and throw their hands up in a fit of lazy despair or those who are as cognitive as I am to the urgency of this issue yet continue living day-to-day feeling self-satisfied with their recycling, electric car, voting record or some other equally inane lifestyle modification while waiting for society to hit the tipping point so they don’t have to actually put their values into practice (which despite my recent life changes still more or less includes me). All that said…

There is a path forward.

But every day we delay the path forward includes fewer of us. Build community, build resilience, work for food security, think regeneration, plant food-producing trees, think perennial food production, turn your waste products into resources and if that isn’t possible, don’t consume it! Eat food that does not mine the soil and is locally produced, eat meat that is grass-fed in a holistic or intensively rotated (ideally holistically grazed in a silvopasture ) that is used to provide nutrients to vegetation, get to know a farmer or become one yourself. Don’t be a carnivore, herbivore or an omnivore… be a ‘greenivore’. Park your car, do not vote for anyone who either ignores climate change or says we can have our cake and eat it too, quit your job if it is fossil fuel-related (it is better than losing it… which you will), stop buying shit, stop buying expensive cars and overly large houses and then complain that local planet-saving food costs more than Costco. Stop buying things that are designed to break and be disposed-of, let go of this society slowly and by your own volition (its better than being forced to do it quickly), Rip up your lawn and plant a garden with perennial veggies, fruit bushes, fruit trees, and nut trees. Learn to compost your own poop (it is easy and doesn’t stink). Buy an apple with a blemish, Get a smaller house on a bigger lot and regenerate that land, Plant a guerrilla garden on a city road allowance. Return to the multi-generational house, Realize that growth has only been a thing in human civilization for 250 years and it is about to end and make preparations for this change. If you are perusing Wealth; Stop! Nothing on the planet is more destructive and brings upon more violence, pain, and climate destruction and, by willful ignorance, all at arms reach and without the wealth seeker’s knowledge labour or effort. Teach these lessons and this reality to your children. Buy only the necessities, Don’t buy new clothes-go to the thrift store. Don’t use single-use plastic or if you do re-purpose it, Unplug your garburator (yes Facebook spell check, that is a word) and compost everything, Relearn old forgotten skills. Don’t let yourself get away with the argument that the plane is going there anyway when you book a holiday. Understand that there is no such thing as the new normal because next year will be worse, Understand before you make the argument that we need to reduce human population … meaning the population elsewhere… that it is not overpopulation in China or India that is causing the current problem… It is us and our “western” lifestyle, Understand that those that are currently arguing against refugees and climate change are both increasing the effects of climate change and causing millions of climate refugees… which will be arriving on Canada’s doorstep because Canada, due to our size and Northern Latitude, will, on the whole, have some of the best climate refugees. Understand that every baby using disposable diapers is responsible for the equivalent of a cube van full and every woman using disposable feminine hygiene products is responsible for an equivalent amount of un-compostable incredibly high energy-intensive waste that will be here for 500 years. Also, understand that there are alternatives to both.
Understand that the densification of cities is condemning those in that density to a food-less future. Stop tolerating the middle ground on climate change. there is no middle ground on gravity, the earth is round, and we are on the verge of collapse.

(But it is worse than all that! For quite some time I continued to update the above with the most up to date science but it is now coming in too fast and too strong for me to keep up.
Instead of updating this piece I am linking the newest info here in a Compilation of Climate-related articles across my feed and updated daily:

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At last check over 50000 shares. Thank you for reading. I appreciate those who when hitting the share button take a moment to add a personal comment (I read most of them) Forging that, cut and paste what to you is the most impactful line or paragraph.

Thanks to Dr. Eric Rignot, Dr. Jennifer Francis, Dr. Jim Anderson, everyone at Berkely Earth those that put keep the FB page C02.earth and Environmental Advanced Sciences on FB up to date, the treasure trove of academic presentations on the Climate State Youtube Channel and so many other climate scientists whose work has inspired this piece. Thanks as well to the 16 yr old Gretta Thunburg who gave me the courage to take what was in my head and put it to paper and Rupert Read for the mnemonic. I encourage you to dig deep. Listen to talks where scientists are talking to scientists. They are less likely then to use the conservative filters they impose on themselves and you will get to the cutting edge.

*on a personal note, since I post about my children, I don’t accept friend requests from people I haven’t met. That said as of today, I have figured out how to enable the “follow” button on my account. I have been blown away by all the fantastic and heartfelt messages and commitments to change I have received due to this post and look forward to reading them.

——————————————————————————-

Reflection after 30 thousand shares

When you have a post translated by several individuals into languages as unexpected as Hungarian and Italian, tuned into pamphlets by people at Gretta Thunberg ‘School Strikes’, adopted into 2 Ph.D. theses, inspired 2 poems and 2 original songs you can’t help but be impressed by the reach of social media.

I spent a good amount of time reading many of the comments and shares that the post garnered and some things surprised me.

• People are crying out for coverage of this issue. As so much of our media institution’s time and energy is wasted on the insanity of the man I have refused to name online for over 3 years now South of the border or Brexit so little is directed to our basic survival on this planet. People don’t share some anonymous dude from Canada’s 8 page ,4 thousand word, a science-heavy rant from a personal Facebook page with such alacrity if the information therein was well covered by the Fourth Estate.

• It is time to stop candy coating these issues. I was originally criticized, not for being scientifically incorrect, but for turning too strongly to fear. The argument is that people do not get motivated by fear. My contention at the time, and now heavily buttressed, is that truth is not fear and when the truth is fearful, we need to face it head-on. I am now well positioned to tell you that the level of ignorance on what our scientists are telling us is beyond reason. One can only speculate as to why so little of what is know is making the front pages. Covering the effects such as the most recent devastation in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Eastern Canada, Afghanistan…is not enough.

• The Truth does inspire change. I challenge you to click on the share button and spend some time studying how people reacted to this post. For the most part, it is inspiring.

• Vocal climate change deniers are few and far between. Despite the near 2 million engagements with this post I only received 3 messages from deniers and only a dozen or so managed to muster up the incredible amounts of courage required to but an ‘angry face’ emoji to the post.

Information does lead people to profess to change how they live, vote and consume. I can’t count how many people sent me messages let me know how the post affected them to their core and professed they intention to make drastic changes. The messages were humbling and underscored how much more we as a family still have to do to live our own values.

There were other reactions that were worthy of mention. The one I found the most depressing were those that fully embraced the science, say we somehow need to basically kill off a few billion people but are making little to no change in their lives. Obviously, the few billion that needed to be removed did not include themselves…

Posted in Hatboy's Nuggets of Crispy-Fried Wisdom, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

The Dragon Reforged, Part 8

Cooper Two dusted his long, powerful hands and looked around with a pleased expression that displayed his awesome array of blood-extractors.

“I can’t believe the old hunk of junk actually worked,” he marvelled. “Now, if I figured it correctly, we should be in the park on the corner of Chora Avenue and Al Caldazar Boulevard, near the jo’bus station,” he looked around, and slowly his face fell. “I don’t remember there being a volcano.”

Shannon pulled himself from the ruins of the wagon. “It’s been a whiles, remember?” he said helpfully. “Thousands of years done gone passed? Everythin’ changed?”

“Where are we, then?” Dr. Nick said, staggering to his feet nearby. They’d tumbled out of the air after being unceremoniously plucked up by the Portal Stone, and how Coop had managed that was anybody’s guess. “What happened? None of us can channel, can we?”

“And we weren’t standing near no Portal Stone,” Shannon said. “Gaul woulda seen it and said ‘now there’s a thing’.”

“Where is Gaul?” Dr. Nick frowned and turned this way and that, looking for a moment like a cluster of flesh-coloured sunflowers seeking for sunlight.

Cooper Two pointed up the road they had landed on, where a gaudily-coloured wagon stood beside a copse of trees growing incongruously in the middle of the cobblestones. “He almost landed on top of some people. One of them looks to be a Cairheinin woman, and he’s attacking her.”

There was a gentle little explodey-noise, and a shocked silence.

Creator-fucking-dammit,” the woman on horseback snarled. “What sort of a fireball was that? Why can’t I channel for shit? It’s been the same ever since those Ghul-damned bitches in Fal Dara. Yeah, you just stay down,” she continued belligerently. “Next time I’ll blow off more than your eyebrows.”

Gaul, thoroughly chastened, was crouching on the side of the road, wisps of frizzled hair sticking out of his cadin’sor. “Aes Sedai,” he said. “I did not know you were … I have toh. Major, major tohage, as my friend Nancy Sidesaddle might say.”

“You’re Aes Sedai?” Cooper Two said, hurrying over. “Novice, more like it. That fireball was feeble,” then his gaze swept across the rest of the group they’d landed near, and his smile returned in all its disturbing, knife-rack glory. “A Nym!” he exclaimed. “Wonderful! I need maintenance, now make with the fah-la-la.”

“Hey,” Dr. Nick said. “There’s somebody underneath the wagon.”

Sure enough the ruined assemblage of wood was shifting feebly from side to side, and finally a grasping, trembling hand emerged. The woman on the horse gave a strangled oath and dismounted.

“I wondered why I was feeling concussed,” she said. “That’s my ever-fucking Warder!”

“What’s a Warder?” Coop asked, helping the diminutive woman rummage through the debris. Eventually, they uncovered a huddled shape in a cloak that was shifting colour to match the road, and the wagon bed, and the spokes of the wheel that had cracked itself around the head of the hapless … man. Yes, it was a man, Dr. Nick saw as they uncovered it.

The Aes Sedai turned her glare on the giant leafy shape of the Nym. “I trust we’re far enough from Tar Valon to channel without being detected?” she said. “I may not be able to light a cunting candle, but I can Heal these bruises at least.”

“Yes, that should be fine,” the Nym rustled. “We should be beyond the eyes of the Betrayer of Hope by now.”

“What in the fuck is all this?” Shannon said softly.

 


 

The male channelers had reached an amicable agreement concerning what had happened at the camp of the Dragon Reborn. Puddin Taim was shocked and upset and didn’t want to talk about it. Logain was stricken with guilt and self-disgust at what he had done, and didn’t want to talk about it either. Muffin Vamps, completely pissed that it hadn’t been him in bed with all those fine women, wanted to pretend it had never happened either, or if it had, that it had been him who got all the action, or at least that it had been him that all the girls had been thinking of while they were in bed with Logain. So none of them were talking.

Logain confirmed that it had been an Aes Sedai who had used Compulsion on him.

“She was a strange-looking one,” he said to Debs and Janica as they walked eastwards, guided by the haphazard woodlore of the four Ogier. “She was short, and sort of birdlike, and she was wearing all this paint on her face like some sort of circus tumbler. I don’t doubt she was a Darkfriend, but she was no Forsaken. I’d have been able to overpower her, I think, if it hadn’t been for the things they did. Her and that other one. She was pretty, with her hair tied into many braids, and … well, she had … strange habits. She, too, was a Darkfriend, and they used Compulsion on me. Or so they told me it was called. Then they made me burn these into my hands,” he showed Debs the heron-brands on his palms.

“Ach, nae,” Debs crooned, and embraced saidar through Janica before the damane could do anything. “Soon have tha’ fexed,” she said in a businesslike manner, and channeled a complex series of flows into Logain’s slender pianist’s hands. The deep, angry-pink scars smoothed out and vanished as he stared.

“Thank you,” he said softly. “Thank you, Debs.”

Debs fluttered her eyelashes, and Janica almost swooned with the cascade of delight that roared down the a’dam.

“I have owwies too,” Vamps said meekly.

“Debs,” Janica said, picking herself up and trying to speak reasonably, “did you just Heal the heron-marks on Logain’s palms?”

“Well, aye, but-”

The Dragon’s palms? The heron-marks on the Dragon’s palms, that the Prophesy says have to be there?”

“But I jes’ thought-”

“That the Dragon has to have on his hands in order to actually be the Dragon? Like we’re trying to do with Logain, since the real Dragon is dead? Is that what just happened?”

“It hurts,” Vamps insisted, lifting up his shirt and showing off the puckered scar in his side. “It’s like a burning, icy pain. Sort of like being stabbed by an icicle.”

“Luke, I was’nae thenken’,” Debs snapped. “It’s nae a beg problem, alreet?”

“Is her accent getting thicker?” Mister C of 9 asked, materialising out of the undergrowth like a … like … well, like a myrddraal. “Or is it just me?”

“She lapses into full-Scot when she’s angry,” Janica sighed. “Though I don’t know why she would be angry now. She’s the one who did something stupid.”

“Ach!”

“What were you doing anyway, See?” Janica peered at the fuzzy blob of darkness and gaudy Mambo colour that was Mister See of Mayene. “You’ve been back and forth all afternoon.”

“I got it when I was fighting against the Dark One,” Vamps persisted. “Or whoever it really was. He stuck his staff in me and it hurt, lots and lots. And then I got another owwie on my hand, just after the fight-”

“Oh, I was just trying out this shadow thing,” the halfman replied, rearranging the folds of his cloak and the blade of Stormbringer Snaga that kept catching in his skinny legs. “It’s really quite cool. Watch,” he walked across to a nearby tree, moved into the shadows underneath, and became one with the darkness. Then he stepped back out on the other side of the path, from another tree’s shadow altogether. “Isn’t that cool? I jumped out in front of the Ogier a while ago, but I managed to calm them down before they could blow that trumpet of theirs.”

Janica sighed. “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to get those marks put back on now?” she asked Logain without too much hope.

“No thanks,” Logain said firmly. “Look, I’ll do whatever I need to do, and I’ll help keep us away from those Aes Sedai. I’ve been running away from Aes Sedai for years, and I don’t think Darkfriends are much smarter. But no more mutilations. Alright?”

“I fell down out of the air and hurt my knee on some rocks, but that wasn’t the main one. Then this guy attacked me, a weird-looking guy with a Scottish accent and a stupid haircut, he ran at me with a sword. I was all burning and stabbed and stuff already, and I was worried I was going to die…”

Debs and Janica continued down the path, Debs watching Logain with not-entirely-motherly concern, and Janica turning her own attention back to Mister C.

“Now,” she said. “You say you left Chucky in Falme after the fighting began to die down,” she said in her grim summary-voice. “What were you doing before that? Why were you in Falme in the first place?”

“I’m not really sure,” Mister C of 9 said with a bony shrug. “I was just following along, you know. Chucky gets these ideas in his head, and gets all serious about it and I sort of feel obliged to go along and help him, otherwise he messes it up and gets in trouble.”

“Even though you don’t actually know what you were doing?”

“I’m good at it. We were sort of pulled along by events. Now that Logain mentions it, there was a woman with Gothic clothes and face paint, who looked sort of birdlike. Verin, I think her name was. Chucky said she was a good guy. We went through the Ways with them, looking for that Horn of yours. And before that, we spent a little while in an alternate Dimension with some chick called Selene.”

“Lanfear!” Janica hissed.

“And then he said he was a Blademaster, and that he wondered if I would be tough enough to take him on, after killing Ba’alzamon or whoever it was,” Vamps was continuing, but only Nynaeve was paying any attention. “But I was all sore and tired-”

“Yeah, Chucky did say something about Lanfear,” Mister C said slyly. “In between ogling her titties.”

“He what?” Janica demanded.

“Oh yeah, he was ogling,” Mister C confirmed merrily. “Ogle, ogle, ogle. At her titties.”

“You’re just trying to get him into trouble, aren’t you?”

“Me?” the myrddraal said innocently.

“I tried to tell him I wasn’t in the mood to fight, but he started to tease me, so I set fire to him,” Vamps went on. “He started to scream, and I rushed forward to try and pull him out of the flames, and I managed to grab hold of his sword, but it was all hot and that’s where I got my other owwie…”

“Puddin,” Janica said, “is anybody listening to you?”

“Of course,” Vamps said, wiping his eyes hurriedly and trying to make it look as if he wasn’t crying. “They may not want to, but they can’t help themselves. I know it’s controversial, and I know you all love to hate it, but the thing is, you like it really. I’m on the edge. I’m mixing things up, causing trouble, making you all mad.”

Debs turned from Logain and cast a disdainful glance at Vamps. “Ye’re nae mexen’ things up,” she said. “Ye’re jes’ a beg jessie, an’ ye’re gettin’ on me nerves. Ye knoo we canna Heal ye, that wound canna be Healed. Alreet? Noo quiet doon.”

There was a gentle crashing, and the honest, concerned face of Frendli appeared above them.

“We’ve come to a river,” he said. “But we’ve wandered off-course a bit. Wyse says we’ve reached the Manetherendrelle, which means we’re already almost halfway there.”

“Well, we’re travelling light,” Janica said. “No reason we should be goin’ slow. Are there any toons along the river?”

“None that we can see,” Frendli reported, “but we’re sure to come to one if we go along southwards. There’s signs of boats at least, and we’ll come to a ferry or a ford sooner or later. We need to go south anyway, right?”

“Something like that,” Janica replied. Her mind was working furiously. For some reason, the Manetherendrelle river sounded familiar to her, and she was trying to piece it together from what she remembered of the books.

“Fords,” Mister C said, his sunglassed face speculative. “This isn’t Rivendell, is it?”

“No,” Janica said firmly.

“Good,” the halfman said. “The last thing we need is a pushy chick with doofy eyes cramping our style and bringing unnecessary love interest into the story along with painfully shoe-horned feminine agency.”

“Oh feck,” Janica said. “Oh feck, it’s Faile.”

 


 

Forsaken_1 groaned and ascended slowly into consciousness. Wagons filled his vision. Falling wagons.

Andra, thank the Light you’re alright,” Moiraine said. “When I saw that wagon fall on top of you, Andra, I feared the worse. Andra.”

“I think I’ve suffered brain damage,” Forsaken_1 mumbled. “I can’t remember my name being Andra.”

“That’s your name, Andra,” Moiraine said gently, her voice soothing and warming him even as her eyes promised a thousand million Hells if he made a wrong move but offering sadly little clue as to what the right move might be. “My name is Alys, do you remember me now?”

“I’m … Andra?” he struggled, and was rewarded with a relieved expression and a nod. “Right. Sure I am. Andra. Andra, Hand of the Light. Andra the Handra.”

“No, Andra the Warder,” Moiraine grated. “Can you sit up? We’re not alone.”

That’s true, Forsaken_1 thought muzzily as he struggled into a sitting position. For a start, there’s people called Andra and Alys hanging around, and I’ve apparently astral travelled into one of them. “Okay,” he said. “What’s going on? What happened? A wagon fell on me. And Andra.”

“That’s right, Andra,” Moiraine – or maybe Alys – said. “A group of strangers apparently arrived via Portal Stone. I thought the art lost to the Ages, but it seems they have uncovered the secret, and have managed to travel here from halfway across the continent without even using the One Power.”

“Without using the One Power?” Forsaken_1 rubbed his head. “Is that possible?”

“I’d have said no, but I have examined them thoroughly, and as far as I can tell without them noticing my intrusion, none of them have the ability to channel. Quite the opposite, in fact,” she frowned thoughtfully. “One of them is powerfully ta’veren, and they all seem to be … immune to the One Power in some way. All but one of them, that is. The woman and the Aiel in white are carrying ter’angreal of some sort that I have never seen before, that absorb saidar. The skinny man with the teeth must have something of the sort, because he too absorbs weaves. The other Aielman seems to be more or less normal. Even so, I don’t trust them,” she lowered her voice. “I’ve given them our false names, just to be sure. Of course, there wasn’t much we could do to hide the Green Man from them.”

“I haven’t seen any of these guys you’re talking about,” Forsaken_1 complained. “Can I maybe get up and go see what’s happening for myself?” he looked around. “Are we still inside that damn wagon?”

“Someshta said it might be dangerous to move you,” Moiraine said. “My channeling power is on the cunt as usual, and the Healing wasn’t as comprehensive as it could have been. I had to weave the flows four times, and the Green Man said that you should rest. He’s coming in later with a special potato suppository he’s grown, that will-”

“I feel fine,” Forsaken_1 said, hurrying out of the makeshift tent. It looked like they’d just thrown a canvas over the top of the wrecked wagon, and left him there. “I feel great, I’m going for a stroll, yes indeed, no potato suppositories for me, no sir. Why does everybody in this damn story want to stick things in my ass?”

He swayed in the cool evening air for a moment, and then focussed on three female forms sitting by a fire. His smile was a little strained, but nevertheless sincere. They were female – never mind that one was a chubby middle-aged woman, one was Min and the other was the only slightly hairier Cybes. He went over to them and sat down. It hadn’t been a long stroll, but hopefully it had been enough.

“Hi Lan,” the strange woman said. “I’m Nancy, I guess.”

“How did you – I mean, I’m not – I’m Andra I think … even if I was Lan, how would you know?” Forsaken_1 demanded.

“It’s pretty durn simple, once you know what’s a-goin’ on,” Nancy explained, scratching an armpit with a complete lack of feminine grace. “Once I done seen that Elmindreda here was a breeches-wearin’ image-seein’ type, and Moiraine introduced herself as Alys, I guessed the Warder plum gots to be Lan. It all stood to reason. I just ain’t sure what you’re doin’ with a Tinker an’ a wolf an’ what I’m gonna guess is the Green Man,” she shrugged. “I’m sure it’ll all just plain make sense ‘ventually.”

Forsaken_1 cast around for a few moments, and finally located a shrouded white blob on the edge of the firelight, sharing a bottle of something with Cow. “That’s Lan over there,” he said, pointing. “There was a bit of a mix-up, and Moiraine bonded me by accident,” he couldn’t have told anybody why he was blowing Moiraine’s cover, but the false names seemed pointless and complicated, and besides, this Nancy broad seemed to know all about it anyway. “I’m just a Questioner. We swapped clothes.”

“So that’s who he is,” Nancy nodded. “His face did seem sort of … stony.”

“You should see it when he’s sober.”

“So what’s a Questioner doin’ with an Aes Sedai?” Nancy asked. Min leaned forward.

“I’ve been wondering the same thing for weeks,” she said.

“I don’t know,” Forsaken_1 admitted mournfully. “It just happened. I got caught up with Contro and-”

“Contro?” Nancy exclaimed. “Which one o’ y’all’s Contro?”

“The Tinker.”

Nancy roared with laughter and slapped her abundant thigh. “O’course! What a lil weenie. I sure do hope Gaul stabs him a few times. Gentle like.”

“Gaul? Who’s Gaul?” Forsaken_1 felt his grip on matters beginning to slide. For a moment he wondered if he was Lan or Andra, and then remembered he was neither. “Where did you guys come from?”

Nancy shrugged. “Might as well tell ye, but it’s gon’ sound crazy,” he threw a stick into the fire and it lay in the flames, refusing to burn. A leaf grew out of it. They stared at it for a while, and then the woman went on with her story. “We wandered into the Aiel Waste, me an’ a buddy. We met up with Gaul, and sorta let slip that might be we knew where the Dragon Reborn done lived. Don’t burn me at the stake or nothin’, it was just something to say. Elsewise he woulda killed us,” she went on hurriedly, then paused. “So if you’re pretendin’ to be a Warder, does that mean you can still be a Questioner? Aren’t Warders, like, burned as Darkfriends?”

“I don’t know,” Forsaken_1 whimpered. “It’s too confusing.”

“Well anyhoo, ye can’t burn us, elsewise we’ll turn ye in for dressin’ as a Warder,” Nancy said shrewdly, then continued. “Gaul took this buddy of mine as gai’shain, and then told us he was looking for the Car’a’carn. That’s the same person as the Dragon Reborn, you know, it’s just what the Aiel done called ‘im.”

“Alright, if you say so.”

“Anyways, we been tryin’ to find the Dragon ever since. We met Cooper Two along the way. He’s, um, well sir, he’s a contortionist. And a historian. Yup. He’s sort of insane. Half the time he thinks he’s livin’ in the Age o’ Legends, and seems all shocked an’ such to find that things have done changed.”

“Oh yeah,” Forsaken_1 said with feeling, throwing another stick into the fire. This one didn’t burn either, but instead of leaves it sprouted a flower. “We’ve got a guy like that too. Someshta.”

“The Green Man,” Nancy nodded. “I kinda had the notion he’d be dead already. I thought he done gone died in the Blight, killin’ one o’ the Forsaken.”

“Huh? What? Who? Forsaken? What?” Forsaken_1 reached into the fire and pulled out the stick. It was prefectly cool. The flower unfolded and began to shed its petals, which landed in a circle. “This is pretty weird,” he said, holding up the stick. Suddenly, it burst into flame and vanished in a puff of ash. Forsaken_1 screamed and sucked on his fingers, before finding that they weren’t even singed.

“Oh yeah, that there’s another thing,” Nancy grunted. “Gaul’s a ta’veren. A really gnarly one.”

“Where is he now?”

“The Green Man took him and Nick – that’s my buddy – over to the wagon,” Nancy pointed to the brightly-coloured Tinker wagon, and the shadowy mass of vegetation crouched behind it. “He’s apparently explainin’ things to them, and the Tinker. Contro,” she laughed again, a big rib-tickling belly laugh. Forsaken_1 stared at her breasts unashamed. “Apparently he’s explainin’ the real history of the Aiel, in some sort of harebrained attempt to reunite the clans. I didn’t hardly follow none of it myownself.”

“Here he comes,” Min said, pointing.

The bright blue canvas of the wagon-wall lifted and Gaul jumped out into the fresh air. He stood quite still, staring into space, with a horrified expression in his eyes. He stood that way for a long, long time.

Then, seeming to come to a decision, he hurled his spears to the ground and walked away into the darkness.

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Bonus Post: Chucky’s Check-In

(was going to call it Hatboy’s Heck-In, but couldn’t make it fly)

Howdy y’all. It occurs to me that most of you aren’t reading The Steal of Time, so it’s been pretty boring sailing on the Hatstand lately for you. I may put up another chapter or two of the ongoing anthology work-in-progress, but those weren’t really getting comments either so *shrug*.

I’ve got the Worldcon pictures up and loaded and ready to go, just need to sit down with my little notebook diary and write out what happened each day for my full Chucky Report.

Working my un-butt off on Panda Egg, and hoping to have it ready in October. This will be delayed by a two-week suspension as my parents will be living in my goddamn office and requiring my full attention so I won’t get any writing done at all. Still, the concluding chapters to the Black Lotus / Devils And Such story are coming along well and the anthology is going to be a big one. I hope people enjoy it, especially since it’s a far more in-depth look at the blurred space between the flat-Earth pre-Flutter science-fantasy urverse and the post-Earth veiled-Playground science-fiction galaxy than people will have seen before. I’ve had a lot of fun writing all of them, but then I usually do have fun writing about Çrom. Sometimes it’s difficult to stop.

So yeah, things are fine in general. One and a half weeks of work left, then my ‘vacation’ starts, followed by the next chapter in my technical writing epic.

In other news, Martin is just deadass stealing from me now.

How are you all doing? Don’t be strangers!

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The Dragon Reforged, Part 7

Logain staggered out of the ruins of his huge pavilion, carrying the hysterically-weeping Puddin Taim in his arms. He looked around at the destruction that remained of the Dragon’s camp, and gave a shudder before averting his eyes.

“It’s like that Mayene tomato-flatbread festival I went to when I was sixteen,” he muttered.

“Tomato-flatbread?” Vamps hiccuped, hating himself for being a little sissy but unable to control himself. When the bodies had begun to fall, he’d wet himself again and climbed under the bed. “They’re exploded squashed dead bodies.”

“They look like flatbreads from Mayene,” Logain said, bullying his way through the conversation so he didn’t break down himself. The sight was wholly terrible, and Puddin Taim was heavier than any man Logain had ever carried into or out of a tent. “They put tomato paste and cheese on a piece of bread, and bake it in a clay oven. Quite delicious. Except of course the flatbreads don’t have boots. Or heads. Or. Other things. In them.”

Vamps’ entire body constricted, and Logain flung him away just as the first cascade of vomit emerged.

“There doesn’t seem to be anybody else around,” Logain went on, looking anywhere else but at Vamps or the remains of the Shienaran soldiers. “I’m sure Verin Sedai and Liandrin Sedai survived, and she would have seen to it that the other girls made it out. She wouldn’t dare to lose Egwene or the Daughter Heir. Or even Else Grinwell, though she could barely channel a spark,” his mouth twisted in distaste at the memories, but Vamps didn’t notice – he was too busy depositing the contents of his stomach on the remains of what had once been the mess tent and was now just a mess. The Heroes of the Horn had vanished as they died, but the damage they had left behind, as in Falme, was entirely real. “What about that young lady of yours? Nynaeve?”

“She’s not ‘mine’,” Puddin managed to wheeze. “Women are not the property of men, and she is an independent and self-sufficient person in her own right. I’m sure she made it out fine.”

“Most of the Borderlanders ran for that ridge,” Logain pointed, and Vamps looked up and gave a miserable nod, as if he had seen anything except the palms of his own hands during the protracted, destructive sneak attack. “But I don’t think she would have gone with them.”

“No,” Puddin agreed weakly. “Didn’t care much for Borderlanders, Nynaeve.”

“Well, we’ll check your tent,” Logain said, and looked around the very flat, very red camp of the Dragon Reborn. “Which one was your tent?”

Vamps wiped his eyes and his chin, and looked around. “I don’t … that one,” he pointed. “It was that one, the one that’s still more or less standing.”

“It looks like the, um, fighting was concentrated around the Shienarans,” Logain mused as they hurried over to the lopsided tent. “Debs and Janica obviously still have control of the Horn, which means those Ogier are still around. And they knew we were in trouble with those Black Ajah. Nynaeve was probably okay in this tent, there were no guards or anything. Maybe we should…” Logain closed his eyes and let the stomach-churning foulness of saidin roar through him. “Just in case.”

With a flick of Air, he lifted the tent canvas and sent it sailing across the pockmarked battleground. There was an indignant squawk, and Logain and Vamps suddenly shivered with goosebumps. The canvas fell to the ground and burst asunder with a savage flash of fire, and Nynaeve climbed to her feet, spitting curses and a mouthful of something that probably wasn’t Mayener flatbread. She’d landed directly in the porridgey remains of the horse corral.

“You’re alive!” Puddin would have wept in relief if he wasn’t already weeping with pain. The wound in his side and the multitude of lesser owwies were draining his will to live. “You’re – hey!”

Bands of Air snapped around the two men, and a shield slid between them and the One Power. When she was angry, Nynaeve tended to just make things up as she went along. Vamps, with a passing knowledge of the Wheel of Time series, was surprised in spite of himself at the ease with which she had bound and shielded two fairly powerful male channelers. Of course, Nynaeve was as powerful as a man herself, in a lot of ways. And Vamps for one had not practiced with the One Power as much as he should.

Nynaeve squelched across to the two helpless men, and glared at them.

“What the Ghul was all that?” she demanded. “You could have killed me! Some rescue – look at my dress! You’ll be cleaning this, Puddin Taim!” she advanced, and Logain and Vamps tried to cower in their iron-strong bonds. “I should box your ears as well, Logain bloody Dragon Reborn! You’re a bad influence on my-”

“Wait,” Logain said urgently. “Listen!”

“No tricks!” Nynaeve snapped. “You’re going to be…” then she too fell silent, hearing the sound in the near distance.

It was the unmistakable, silvery tone of the Horn of Valere.

 


 

“And on a personal note, I just wanted to say you did a great job against those Borderlanders. We really appreciate the trouble you went to, and the inconvenience of it all. Great work under very difficult circumstances, that’s what we admire.”

Wyse grinned and nodded in agreement with his friend’s words. The Heroes of the Horn stood in a wide semi-circle, scowling at Hoarni from under a variety of hats and helmets. Then Artur Hawkwing gave a curt nod, and turned on his heel. The Heroes strode away into the curling mists.

“Did you ask them if they’ll continue to help us even though the Dragon has vanished?” Janica asked.

“Oh darn,” Hoarni said. “I knew I’d forgotten something.”

He raised the Horn again, and put it to his lips. Once again, the mist thickened and the Heroes strode out, teeth clenched and faces stormy.

“Hi,” Hoarni said, trying to smile and desperately not watching Birgitte as her breasts quivered with fury. “Um, we were just wondering, ha ha, if you, um, if you’ll all keep on coming out and helping us when we blow the Horn, even though the Dragon is, hah, missing for the moment…”

Hawkwing snorted. “Dragon schmagon,” he said, fingering his great sword Justice. “You got us on a technicality there. We’ll be looking at the fine-print ourselves, don’t you worry.”

Rogosh will be looking,” Gaidal Cain said grimly.

“We’ll be around until further notice,” Artur said, looking disgruntled. “The Heroes always return when the Horn is blown. Alright?”

“Great,” Hoarni smiled. “Thanks again.”

The Heroes stamped off.

“You didn’t say sorry for all the disruptions,” Wyse nudged his friend gently. “You were meant to apologise.”

“Oh!” Hoarni smacked his fuzzy forehead. “I’m hopeless,” he lifted the Horn again.

Debs and Mister C of 9 exchanged a glance. Janica had decided to stop paying attention to the whole situation, realising any suggestion she made just made matters worse. The shimmering note rang out again, and the mist congealed with increasingly characteristic impatience.

“What?” Hawkwing snapped.

“Sorry about all the interruptions,” Hoarni said meekly. “We didn’t mean to be a bother.”

“Is that all?”

“He was’nae supposed tae bloo the Horn in the first place,” Debs tried to soothe the furious Hero. “It was an accident. We’d give it tae someone else if we could. Someone who’d bloo it properly.”

“The Horn could be passed on to somebody else if the current Hornsounder were to die,” Hawkwing said in a silky voice.

“Believe me, we’ve considered it,” Janica replied. “But we’ll have to keep looking for a third option.”

“As will we,” the High King growled, and departed once more.

“Now-” Janica started, and was interrupted by a crackling in the nearby bushes. Hoarni lowered the Horn with a wheeze as Debs elbowed him in the kidneys. There was another crackle, and Logain staggered into the clearing, accompanied by Nynaeve. They bore the flaccid form of Puddin Taim, breathing raggedly, between them.

“Logain! Ye’re alive!” Debs roared in delight, and crashed forward, dragging Janica along by the neck. Vamps fell to the ground with a weak moan as Logain was bundled into an enthusiastic Debs-hug. The surrogate Dragon returned the embrace as platonically as he could. “We thought the Black Ajah had ye.”

“They did,” Logain said, and a shadow crossed his face. He paled slightly. “They caught me and bent me to their will,” the shadow again flickered across his countenance, and he squeezed his eyes closed. “Puddin managed to save me at great risk to himself-”

“Damn straight,” Vamps managed to whimper from the ground. “I could do it again in a second.”

“But until he arrived, it was…” Logain’s face spasmed, and the shadow flicked from side to side rapidly. Debs drew back from him and turned around. Mister C of 9 was standing in a little ray of sunlight, waving his arms back and forth, playing his shade across the Dragon’s face. When he realised everybody was staring at him, he lowered his hands and tried to look innocent in his hanging-still cloak and gaudy Mambo shirt.

“Just wondering if you’d forgotten me,” he said.

“Don’t do that,” Debs hissed. “Ye knoo wha’ ye’re shadda does tae a fella.”

“Beg pardon?”

“Did you have something to add to the discussion, Mister See?” Janica asked firmly.

“Just wondering where we’re going next.”

“We have to follow the story,” Janica said, frowning. “Let me think. In the story, uh, the Prophesy,” she amended, not seeing Logain’s face but assuming bafflement, “the Dragon escapes from his camp of followers and heads for Tear, where he can fulfill his destiny. That means we head east.”

“I’m scared of Tear,” Coarshus said.

“I don’t like big buildings,” Frendli added in a wavery voice. “They freak me out.”

“Ach, pick up yer bags, ye big jessies,” Debs growled. She turned to Nynaeve, who was scowling at the strange collection of people. She had Vamps firmly by the hand, and her other fist was clenched around the neck of a bulging canvas bag. She looked as though she’d much rather have her hand wrapped around her braid. “Ah, it’s ye again,” Debs said as merrily as she could.

“You’re the women from my Accepted test,” Nynaeve said. “You’re Seanchan. I know that now. Liandrin tried to sell us to your kind, before that gleeman with the horrible pipes started up and we managed to escape.”

Janica leaned forward. “What-?”

“I’ll come along and help you,” Nynaeve went on haughtily, “but only because my Puddin wouldn’t stand a chance without me, and I’ll not leave him behind the way I did with Rand, and Egwene, and the boys,” she tossed her head angrily, and fixed Janica with a stare the damane couldn’t see. “You won’t push us through your hoops any longer. Oh,” she added, and thrust the bag at Debs. “These are yours.”

Debs peered into the sack and saw the glint of gold, and a hint of jewels. “Ach, the crap from Domon’s shep,” she said. “Much obleeged.”

“Let’s move,” Janica said. “We need to get as much of a lead as we can on those Borderlanders, and the Black Ajah.”

 


 

The Tinker wagon and its strange assortment of companions crawled southwards. Moiraine’s short temper was defused by the calming presence of the Green Man, and she spent most of her time riding ahead, scouting the land for their innumerable enemies. Lan sat at the reins with a bitterly sober look on his face, and Cow walked underneath the reins with the same expression. Min, Contro and Cybes were sitting in the back of the wagon engaged in some sort of cheerful tickle-tum challenge, and Forsaken_1 was keeping out of arm’s reach. On Moiraine’s insistence, he had swapped clothes with Lan again, and now the colour-shifting Warder cloak smelled of cheap brandy.

Forsaken_1 sighed and jumped down out of the wagon. He could walk at least as fast as the unenthusiastic Cow, and in this case his dislike of physical exercise was overweighed by the desire to get away from the merry, hateful voice of Contro being oblivious in the back of the wagon. He looked out at the landscape around the wide, quiet road. Dragonmount loomed over on his left, Someshta on his right.

“So, how are we going to get hold of Callandor, and what are we going to do with it when we do?” Forsaken_1 asked casually. “It’s a magic sword of some kind, right?”

“That’s right,” the Green Man said. “A sa’angreal. It has been said that it can only be lifted down from its resting-place by the Dragon.”

“So what good is it going to do us?”

“The forces of the Dark One will be after Callandor,” Someshta said, “and we must be there to stop them from attaining it.”

“But if only the Dragon can touch it-”

Someshta smiled with a soft rustling of leaves. “They say that in the Age of Legends, the greatest works were performed by Aes Sedai, men and women, working together and blending their powers. This may be the case, but the greatest works, the very greatest, they were achieved by humans being devious.”

“Huh?” Forsaken_1 inquired as coherently as he could.

“There’s a trick to it. There always is, with the more famous of the Aes Sedai devices. Portal Stones, for instance,” the Green Man pointed across the road. In a field next to the highway, a scattering of flattened rocks showed through the thin undergrowth, outlining a circle. In the centre of the circle a weathered column of rock stood, a pillar with nothing to support. “All those Aes Sedai tricks that made life easier, do you really think the Aes Sedai stood around helping people to use those things all the time? ‘Servants to all’ they may have been, but they did have better things to do. Most of their creations had … user-friendly interfaces. People without the One Power could use them, if they knew how.”

“And Callandor was the same?” Forsaken_1 deduced. “Isn’t that a bit … dumb?”

“These days, there are not many people who would remember the ways of working the old amenities, even with the One Power,” Someshta explained, “let alone without it. I might be the only person left alive who knows the secret triggers and codes for the Callandor vault, but we can’t run the risk that the Forsaken also know. So we have to take it to a safe place. Now that the Dragon is dead, we must break the rules to keep the Shadow from falling on us.”

At that very moment, with an irony that nobody really appreciated at the time, the air around the Portal Stone wibbled, and four men and half a wagon fell out of the sky, right onto the middle of the road.

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