Added August 01, 1999 - January 03, 2000
Category: WoT Third Age
Author: Sundara

The Paths Of If

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

This story is a sequel to The Dragon Banner, which itself is a sequel to The Red Flame. You will remember that in The Dragon Banner two possibleendings were given; one in the reality of the books, where Davian did not draw Callandor, and one, in an alternate reality, in which he did. The Paths of If follows on from both those endings. The first three scenes of each part are set in the World that Might Have Been; the last in the World that Is.


Part One

In the World that Might Have Been

Arata stood atop the hill at the highest point of the camp, looking off into the night. The moon was down, and the faint light from the stars illuminated nothing but hills and grass. Still, she gazed eastwards as if by sheer force of will she could see through the hills to the city beneath them.

The sound of the grass rustling behind her heralded the arrival of another person. “Go to bed, girl,” Lyrene said brusquely. “Standing out in the cold isn’t going to do anyone any good.”

“Then why are you out here, Sitter?”

The gray-haired woman scowled, then laughed suddenly. “Well, you have me there, I’ll admit. Anxiety’s only natural at a time like this.” Her own eyes went eastward. “If her idea doesn’t work out, whatever it is, we’re in trouble.”

Arata nodded. She had seen Davian’s army for herself. “What can she do?” Arata had heard all the stories that circulated in the Tower about the Red Flame; even as new novices she and her friends had dreamed of being Sharia. If there was any one person who could deal with the situation, it was surely she. Still…

“If I knew that, I’d be Highest myself.” Lyrene shook her head. “I can’t pretend to understand how Sharia’s mind works. Sometimes she takes suicidal chances, but she’s never once failed. Luck or judgement? Who knows? But I wouldn’t want the job.”

Arata continued to look eastward for a long moment. “But how can we know when the Dragon really is reborn?” she said softly. She had spoken to herself, but Lyrene answered.

“Girl, every Red in the Tower asks that. Every time you hear a report, even a rumour of a man channeling, you wonder to yourself ‘is this the one?’ and you don’t fully stop wondering until he’s back in the Tower and safely gentled. And is this Davian the one? We don’t know. Only time will tell.”

They waited and watched in silence for the better part of the night, as the wind rustled the grass and one by one the stars winked out above them. Finally, as the sky in the east brightened from gray to misty gold, they turned to go back down.

“Where is she?” Lyrene breathed, her face pale. “Where is she?”

As they started downhill, a tall man in the uniform of the Tower Guards met them. “Aes Sedai.” He bowed formally to both, then addressed Lyrene. “This letter was brought just now by a courier from the Stone, with instructions to have it delivered to either you or Amarin Sedai.” He proffered a folded paper.

Lyrene almost snatched it. “Thank you, soldier. You may go.”

He bowed again and moved off. “What is it?” Arata asked breathlessly as soon as he was out of earshot. Lyrene was no slower in opening it. “Sharia’s writing,” she murmured, relieved, then scanned the message. Her eyes widened, and she read it again. After another moment, she looked up. Her face was calm, but her voice shook slightly. “We don’t have to wonder any more, girl.”

“What?”

The older woman handed her the letter, and Arata stared down at it. It was a short message.

Davian holds Callandor. Await further instructions. Sharia.

***

Sharia wrote quickly, jet-black ink on smooth paper that rustled beneath her pen. She had asked for writing materials, and been brought the best quality; well, they would hardly have dared do anything else, considering whose company she was in. She smiled wryly at that; justifying her prestige in terms of her company rather than herself was a new experience. But it could hardly be denied that the Dragon Reborn had a more impressive title than any Aes Sedai.

She folded the paper and let a drop of molten wax fall on it, sealing it with the imprint of her Great Serpent ring. “Give this to one of the sentries,” she told the young courier who stood waiting, “and tell them to give it to either Amarin Sedai or Lyrene Sedai. Understand?”

“Yes, Aes Sedai.” The boy bowed hastily and took off at an almost-run. Sharia returned to her thoughts. Her sisters certainly had a shock coming; a lifetime of waiting for the Dragon Reborn to come did not make it one bit less unsettling when it finally happened. As she knew very well. As the inhabitants of the Stone of Tear were just finding out…

She would have laughed, had she been alone; as it was, her face remained smooth but the laughter bubbled up inside. However the nobles in the Stone had learned of the presence of intruders – ta’veren luck, she suspected – they had reacted in the normal way; by sending the Defenders to take care of any danger.

And when they saw the Dragon Reborn with Callandor in his hands, one and all they fell to their knees. The Stone has been taken; the Sword has been drawn. Prophecy is being fulfilled, and no army, nor any amount of politicking by lords and ladies, will prevent it!

She glanced over to the other end of the richly furnished room, to where Davian stood coolly talking to the governor and three other nobles of the Stone. She knew them all, if only distantly; she made a policy of keeping up with those who played at the Great Game in various nations. None, she knew, had much chance of trapping Davian in any of their plots. The most cunning schemer in the world, who sees hidden meanings in every word, will fail to comprehend the motivations of an honest man. With a smile, Sharia rose gracefully from her seat and crossed the room to join them.

They made room for her, with many a wary glance. Of course; they had no idea who she was or why she was here, only that she had been in the Heart with Davian. And between the pair of us, who rules? Am I captive or controller? Do I speak for the Tower or only for myself? Let them wonder for a while. “Well,” she said in a slightly mocking tone, “have you solved all the problems of the world yet?”

The four looked at her sharply, to which she returned a perfectly bland expression. Davian’s lips quirked. “Not yet,” was all he said, but she saw, and knew that he saw, their minds churning out possible interpretations of the exchange.

“All of Tear rejoices in the fulfilment of the Prophecies,” the governor said stiffly.

“As it should,” she agreed.

As it should.

***

The camp outside the city was busy, bustling with activity, as cookfires were lit for breakfast, horses fed and watered, as new sentries replaced those who had stood duty that night. Despite the work that had to be done, somehow rumours still found time to spread. Cooks chatted over their pots, and stablemen over their charges, of the Aes Sedai who had walked fearlessly into the camp and challenged Davian to prove that he was the Dragon Reborn.

“Oh, she was beautiful!” a young girl sighed. The sweetheart of a guardsman, she had slipped into the inner camp the night before to meet her man, and was now basking in the unexpected attention due an eyewitness of the momentous event. “And cool as anything. She even smiled at him. She wasn’t afraid in the least!”

“Not in the least,” a grizzled old soldier confirmed. “Of course, who knows what Aes Sedai can do? I’m told she came right into the camp without one person seeing her. And if she could do something like that -”

His listeners nodded. Aes Sedai could do wondrous things. Everybody knew that.

One man, somewhat apart from the rest, listened with a sardonic twist to his lips. These people had indeed lost much knowledge, if such simple tricks impressed them. And yet, this story was certainly interesting.

His eyes went to the banner that flew above the camp, golden silk blending with the pale gold of the dawn sky, so that only the symbol emblazoned on it stood out in stark black and white. An ancient symbol, but one that he remembered well.

As I remember he who flew it last. Is it you who raises this banner again, Lews Therin? You always did have the gift of drawing followers.

His thoughts were abruptly interrupted. The tall, elaborate gates in the wall that surrounded the city of Tear were swinging open. And, as everyone turned to stare, two people walked through them.

A woman, lovely even to his jaded eye, who bore herself with the grace and confidence of any Aes Sedai of old. And a man, tall and broad-shouldered, who strode as if he owned the earth. His garb was that of a plain soldier, but cradled in the crook of his arm…

The watching man’s hands clenched into fists, and for a moment a blizzard of black specks blurred his vision. They dissolved slowly as he calmed down, but the picture he saw was no different. It was no ordinary sword the man held, but one seemingly carved from pure crystal.

So it is you, Lews Therin. At last.

“People of the Dragon,” the woman called, her clear voice echoing. “Behold the Dragon Reborn!”

The crowd went mad with joy, shouts and cheers erupting as people swarmed toward the pair, reaching out to touch either or both. Flowers, found the Light only knew where, were caught up and flung. A song, apparently improvised on the spot, was started up by some of the guardsmen. And above it all, the Dragon Banner continued to blow in the morning wind.

The watcher ground his teeth. These fools behaved as if the battle was already over, or their victory certain. And this man who was Lews Therin reborn, with all Lews Therin’s arrogance – It would be so easy to destroy them all now. He reached for a Power that only he could wield, readied weaves of black flame that would incinerate all around him in an instant…

But no. With regret, he let go. It is not time. Not yet time. But the battle is not yet over, Lews Therin.

It is only just beginning.

***

In the World that Is

Arata stood atop the hill at the highest point of the camp, looking off into the night. The moon was down, and the faint light from the stars illuminated nothing but hills and grass. Still, she gazed eastwards as if by sheer force of will she could see through the hills to the city beneath them.

The sound of the grass rustling behind her heralded the arrival of another person. “Go to bed, girl,” Lyrene said brusquely. “Standing out in the cold isn’t going to do anyone any good.”

“Then why are you out here, Sitter?”

The gray-haired woman scowled, then laughed suddenly. “Well, you have me there, I’ll admit. Anxiety’s only natural at a time like this.” Her own eyes went eastward. “If her idea doesn’t work out, whatever it is, we’re in trouble.”

Arata nodded. She had seen Davian’s army for herself. “What can she do?” Arata had heard all the stories that circulated in the Tower about the Red Flame; even as new novices she and her friends had dreamed of being Sharia. If there was any one person who could deal with the situation, it was surely she. Still…

“I remember when she was first raised Highest,” Lyrene said softly. “They said she had a silver tongue and a charmed life. And I remember that even before then, when she was no older than you are now, she persuaded a man who had destroyed his whole village to give up and go with her to the Tower. After that we all started to look to her. But I don’t think even Sharia can bring Davian back without bloodshed.”

“No chance at all?”

Lyrene sighed. “There’s always a chance. But not much of one.”

They waited and watched in silence for the better part of the night, as the wind rustled the grass and one by one the stars winked out above them. Finally, as the sky in the east brightened from gray to misty gold, Arata saw a shadow moving at the foot of the hill.

Relief washed over her. “Here she comes.”

“Yes,” Lyrene agreed, still watching. “But with who?”

Arata blinked, clearing her eyes. There were, she now realized, two figures climbing the hill toward them. Sharia, slender and graceful, was immediately recognisable; although, as she came closer, Arata wondered at the strange expression in her eyes. The other was a man she had never seen before, with fierce gray eyes and a face that seemed carved of stone…

Lyrene gasped. “She did,” the Sitter breathed in a voice that was barely audible. “She did it. Now I’ll believe in miracles.”

Davian! Arata stared in disbelief. Surely Sharia was not strong enough to shield the man on her own. Had she really persuaded the False Dragon to surrender to her? No sister in the history of the Tower had ever done that.

“Go, girl,” Lyrene ordered. She had regained her composure and started smoothly forward to meet the pair. “Wake the others – if they managed to sleep – and tell them to make ready for a return to the Tower.” Almost under her breath, Arata heard her murmur “Silver tongue and charmed life, indeed.”

And more nerve than a hundred others, Arata added to herself as she hurried back to the camp. Most of her sisters were up already, moving about among the tents.

“What news, Arata?” Darelle called, and several of the others turned to look at her, waiting for her answer.

“Davian has surrendered,” she said, and felt stunned silence fall all around her like snow.

End of Part One

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Part Two
In The World that Might Have Been

She realised she was tapping her fingers in irritation, and forced them still. It hardly befitted her position to show temper visibly, and yet there were times when it was almost impossible not to. It was certainly not acceptable to be fretting, but Danera Alaine, the Watcher of the Seals, the Flame of Tar Valon, the Amyrlin Seat, was doing it just the same.

“No word at all?” she said for perhaps the tenth time. Asking pointless questions was another of the things the Amyrlin was not supposed to do, but her Keeper had the grace to refrain from pointing that out.

“No, Mother. I left instructions for any message to be brought up directly.” Sarise’s voice was as smooth and calm as ever, even soothing, but she absent-mindedly adjusted the brown stole lying over her shoulders. “Nothing has come.”

Danera went back to tapping her fingers. Six reports she had received regularly, on the road to Moreina, but not a word since their arrival there. Only a host of rumours spreading like wildfire among the populace. Davian was the Dragon Reborn, or Davian was not the Dragon Reborn, or the Forsaken were loose in Moreina; more stories, it sometimes seemed, than there were people to tell them. More, all her more reliable informants reported an Aes Sedai mixed up in whatever was happening. What was Sharia doing?

There was a light tap on the door, and Danera started up from her seat. Light, she was jumpy today! She settled back down as Sarise went to answer the door.

“Message for the Amyrlin, Aes Sedai,” a young novice stammered, holding out a message tube as she curtsied. Sarise took it and dismissed her; Danera reached out her hand for it almost before the door closed.

She opened it, shoulders tense, then sighed. “Rumours! Nothing but rumours.” She tossed the tube aside. “I think that -”

Another tap broke into her sentence, and another novice with a message tube curtsied at the door. “More rumours?” She opened the second tube and started to skim the message, when her eyes abruptly caught on the seal. A Great Serpent. “Finally!” She started to read.

Danera was tempted, while reading, to jump up and shout, or knock a chair over, or do anything to break the stunned silence as piece after piece of news hit her. She did not do any of those things, though, and continued to the end of the letter.

“Well,” she said eventually, “I can certainly see why Sharia never found time to write earlier!” She pushed her chair back and stood up. “The Dragon has been Reborn, Sarise. He holds Callandor and is comfortably ensconced in the Stone of Tear with nobles swearing fealty to him, and Sharia apparently in his inner circle and enjoying his confidences. Oh, and the other fourteen sisters are on their way back to Tar Valon with Lyrene in charge. Sharia assures me that she has things under control and will stay in Tear as the Tower’s liason with Davian.” She passed the letter over to a bemused Sarise. “Well, the Reds all claim Sharia can work miracles. I suppose she decided to prove it. Call the Hall to sit, Sarise: I want to see the look on their faces when they hear this.”

The looks on the Sitters’ faces, it may be noted in passing, were all that she could have desired.

***

In the World that Might Have Been

The doors, massively carved, gilded and over-ornamented, swung shut, and Davian pushed himself to his feet with a sigh. Sharia, from her seat near his, looked up at him and laughed.

“You,” she said, “are truly an excellent liar!”

They had been sitting there most of the afternoon, listening to the fulsome speeches and carefully veiled hints of a crowd of bejewelled, bedizened and bright-silked nobles all anxious to secure the favour of the new lord of Tear. Almost as anxious were the delicately-put queries as to what he planned to do next.

I have no real plans as yet,” Davian had told them all politely. “I see no reason why matters here should not continue as they always have. I am a plain soldier, with little knowledge of government.”

And the particularly persistent he had assured, “There is no cause for alarm. Since the Shadow has made no moves in over three hundred years, I think I have time to plan my strategy at leisure.”

His mouth curled into a wry grin. “It’s a gift.”

“That story won’t work on everyone,” she warned him. “This far south no one really knows much about the Shadow. Northerners will think you either lying or a fool. You have to move fast.”

“Oh, I intend to.” He sat down again, facing her. “Before everyone gets over the shock and starts plotting for their own advantage. And that brings me to another point.” He studied her for a moment. “I take it you hold a high rank in the Tower.”

“Yes,” she agreed with a slight smile, “I do.”

“Then you would know – or be able to find out – information perhaps kept under seal even within the Tower.”

“Anything sealed below the level of the Flame. Only the Amyrlin could access that.” Sharia had a suspicion as to where this was going. “What is it you want to find out?”

“The Horn of Valere.”

That was what she had guessed. Regretfully she said “The Tower knows nothing of the Horn’s location – or rather, nothing of use. There was a Foretelling spoken recently – in the spring of last year – but no one has been able to decipher it.”

“What was it?”

Sharia closed her eyes, reciting from memory. “ ‘The sword was made for one hand but not so the summoner. Seek it then within the garden where Someshta stands guard, and be wary of others who seek it too!’” She opened her eyes again. “The sword is Callandor, and the ‘summoner’ must be the Horn. But as for a garden, and ‘Someshta’…”

“I remember the seed singing.” Davian murmured, as if to himself. “Flowers bloomed where the Nym trod. But Someshta was the only one, they said, to survive the War of Power.”

She stared at him, then remembered what he had said when they first met. He had the memories of Lews Therin Telamon. It was an unsettling experience to have that abruptly proved. “The Nym?” she said, focusing on what he had said and not how he knew it. “That was an old name for the Green Man. So the garden must be -”

“The Eye of the World.” He stood up again, this time in one smooth, swift movement. “Then I shall seek the Horn within the Eye. Guard the Stone well for me while I am gone.”

“Wait,” she protested, also standing. “It will take you weeks to reach the Borderlands; you cannot afford to be gone so long, yet. And the Eye is deep in the Blight. Even the Dragon Reborn needs someone to watch his back there. Take some of your followers; better still, take me.” She hesitated a little over the offer; she had never been in the Blight, and had verylittle desire to. But if he was set on this course, at least he should not go unguarded.

His lips quirked. “It won’t take nearly so long. There is something I worked out, back before I proclaimed myself. Or better perhaps to say I remembered it.” He buckled on his sword belt, then reached beneath the ornate chair to draw out a long, slim bundle. Callandor, she knew. “And I think I shall be safe enough.” Then he, too, hesitated. “Besides – I need someone I trust to keep Tear in line. And for some odd reason -” the crooked grin again – “you are the only person I trust that much. Strange, isn’t it?”

Before she could answer – and she was not sure what she would have said anyway – he turned away and seemed to concentrate for a moment. Abruptly, a silver line of light appeared in the air and quickly widened into – a door, a hole in the air – through which could be seen a lush vista of greenery and flowers.

“Wish me luck, Sharia,” Davian said softly, and stepped through the hole.

***

In the World that Might Have Been

The gateway closed behind Davian, and he stood, looking around. The air was sweet with the fragrance of hundreds of blossoms, and for a moment he thought himself back in Tear, in the gardens surrounding the Stone. But this, he knew, was many miles into the Blight: closer to Shayol Ghul than it was to Tear.

And as he thought that, a voice whispered inside his mind. I killed the world, at Shayol Ghul. I killed my love. The Light forgive me! The voice rose to a moan. Ilyena!

He tuned the voice out, until it was little more than a whisper. He had thought, when it had first started, that the taint was starting to drive him toward madness. But it had been more than the voice. He remembered things that had never happened – never to him. Things as small as stealing plums from an orchard, as strange as commanding huge circles of men andwomen linked.

And as momentous as placing the seven seals on the Dark One’s prison. That was what had finally convinced him that he was the Dragon Reborn.

Ilyena, Lews Therin whispered.

Grimly, Davian pushed the voice of the mad Dragon from his mind. And will I, someday, be no more than a voice whispering death…? He pushed that thought away too. He needed to stay alert here; that prophecy had held a warning of danger. It might have been as well to bring Sharia with him after all, but someone had to hold Tear and keep the nobles in line. And there was another reason, one he had not spoken of. If there was indeed danger, he could not afford to have anyone who he cared about nearby. Worry for her would distract him from what had to be done.

And admit it, Davian, you care about her a lot…

There was no need, anyway. Callandor, still in its wrappings, pulsed beneath his hand; with it he ought to be able to deal with anyone else who came looking for the Horn. Or him. He raised his voice.

“I seek the Green Man. I seek the Eye of the World.”

Only a faint sound of movement among the young trees warned him, and he turned to meet the gaze of a pair of hazelnut eyes that looked down from twice his height. The Nym’s body seemed to merge in with the vines and leaves. Only that black fissure stood out, as if a swathe of a forest had been charred by fire.

Memories rushed in on Davian. The seed singing, the planting of the trees, the women tossing garlands of flowers. “Someshta,” he greeted the Nym. “It’s been a long time.”

The strange eyes studied him. “It has been long, indeed,” the deep voice murmured. “Very long since I have heard that name. I should know you, I think, but…” Someshta’s massive head shook slowly. “After so long – memories blend. You seek the Eye?”

Davian was unsure whether he was glad or not at Someshta’s failure to remember him. He was not sure that he wanted to be recognised as Lews Therin Telamon – and yet he felt some sadness that the last of the great Nym should be now so confused and wandering. “I do.”

“Then follow me.” Someshta turned to lead the way down a narrow path, one Davian had not noticed until then. No, he realised after a moment, it was not that he had not noticed it but that it had not been there. The Nym’s power had not faded. Following, he paused for a moment, breathing in the fragrance of a rose. It was a deep, almost glowing red, and the sweet scent made him smile despite himself. I should pick a few, he thought idly. Sharia would like these…

Ilyena liked roses, Lews Therin said in a strangely wistful tone.

The near-echo of his thoughts startled Davian out of his reverie. Fool, thinking of roses when the Eye of the World is near! He followed the Nym on down the path, which seemed to vanish behind him, the vines and branches knitting themselves together again to close the gap.

It led to a hill, in the side of which was a stone arch opening onto a shadowy corridor. The arch itself was simply carved, but in the keystone was worked the same symbol as was emblazoned on his banner. A circle divided into black and white teardrops, the ancient symbol of the Hall of Servants and the Aes Sedai.

“It is here,” Someshta said. His great eyes regarded the arch with some unreadable emotion. “I will go no further. The time has come, then, when the Eye must be used?”

“I think it has,” Davian said softly. So very quickly, the world is changing.

“Then I do know who you are.” The Nym inclined his huge head in farewell. “The Light be with you – Dragon.”

“The Light be with you, Someshta.”

There was no more sound than a rustling of leaves, yet the Nym was gone when he turned again to look. Goodbye, old friend, Davian thought, and turned back to the arch. He walked through it.

The corridor wound down and down, lit softly by a glow from within the walls themselves. It opened out, finally, onto a great domed space, crystals glittering in the ceiling far above and surrounding the pool, perfectly clear and still, that took up most of the chamber.

The Eye of the World, Davian thought, and Lews Therin’s voice echoed it.

Somewhere here is the Horn. And the Eye itself is a treasure at least as great. But how…?

It was only a small noise, the faint scraping of a boot against a stone floor, but Davian was immediately alert, all his reflexes screaming danger at him. Slowly, careful to make no sudden movements, he closed his hand over the wrapped sword he still carried. Still slowly, with seeming casualness, he removed the outer covering.

“We have found you at last.”

He turned, ancient memories supplying names to match the voice and the faces of the two men who confronted him. Ishar Morrad Chuain. Eval Ramman.

Aginor. Balthamel.

“Oh no, old friends,” Davian said softly, and smiled as the remaining wrappings fell away from the crystal sword. Callandor’s power streamed through him, the glow of saidin so strong that he barely noticed the taint. “I have found you.”

***

In the World that Was

The White Tower was empty; the rooms, the halls, the gardens, the great library. All its inhabitants, from the Amyrlin herself to the lowliest servant, were gathered by Tower law and ceremony in the great open space of the Traitor’s Court.

The Traitor’s Court, which was used for only three purposes. Executions; the stilling of an Aes Sedai; and the gentling of a man who could channel.

“This man, abandoned of the Light, has touched saidin…”

Danera, the Amyrlin Seat, stood on a raised platform on one side of the Court, with her Keeper at her side and the Hall (less the three Sitters for the Red Ajah) gathered behind them. A space was cleared in the middle of the court, and in the very centre of that space stood a man with eyes gray and hard as granite.

Even in chains, even shielded, even about to be gentled… Danera could see how this man had gained so many followers. He carried himself like a king. But a king overthrown.

Twelve sisters, the red fringe of their shawls vivid against the stones of the court, surrounded him, glowing with saidar. And facing him, directly below the platform the Amyrlin and the Hall watched from, stood Sharia.

“Thus do we hold him. This man has most abominably channeled the One Power, knowing that saidin is tainted by the Dark One…” Sharia spoke the ritual words of sentencing, her voice clear and completely steady. But there was a strange note in it that Danera did not understand.

And I saw her eyes when she returned to the Tower. There had been a look in those dark eyes, of mingled pain and sorrow, that she could barely begin to guess the reasons for. She had been told that Sharia had gone into the False Dragon’s camp and herself convinced him to surrender, and for that she surely deserved – and would be given – great honour. Butwhat else had passed between them in that conversation?

“Thus do we chain him.”

The audience was utterly silent. It was not tradition, Danera thought, or even fear of Aes Sedai that kept them so. It was knowledge of the finality of what was being done. Gentling was effectively a death sentence – and it was irreversible. But what else can we do? At least this way they have a chance at life.

“Thus do we bind him, by the power of saidar and the name of the Light.” The ceremony was coming to its climax. Now Sharia spoke directly to the gray-eyed man. “Davian, who has falsely claimed the title of Dragon, since the Breaking there has been only one fate for men who seek to wield the One Power. Gentling is that fate.”

His face remained stone. But in his eyes Danera could see – not hatred, as she had expected. Understanding? Surely not.

The combined glow of the thirteen was focused on Sharia, and she drew the power, wove the flows. It was a shield, but a shield with a razor edge.

Danera was watching Davian as it struck. Only a brief flash of pain in those gray eyes betrayed what had happened – only that, and Sharia’s voice, harsh with grief, cutting through the silence.

“It is done.”


So did you enjoy Part Two? You may have noticed that I took a few liberties to keep the story going: in particular the Foretelling which told Davian where the Horn could be found. Of course, in THIS world, that Foretelling was never spoken, or if it was, forgotten. Furthermore, Aginor and Balthamel were released a good deal earlier (andas a corollary had not aged so drastically, so their faces were recognisable). The main difference between this Dragon and the World-That-Was one, of course, is that Davian has at this point much, much more experience than Rand. He's been channeling a couple of years and has Lews Therin's voice and memories, while Rand at the beginning of the series was a completeinnocent. It may be that this is in fact not possible, as (as happened with Rand) the Shadow would find the Dragon as soon as the spark began to manifest. But a Dragon who is a beginner at channeling a) would make the story a great deal longer, and b) has already been done.

The details of the ceremony of gentling, including most of the words, come from Egwene's third ter'angreal vision in The Dragon Reborn.

You may also have noticed that I didn't bother to describe the battle between Davian and Aginor/Balthamel. There wasn't really much point. The Dragon with Callandor versus two Forsaken - and we all know who's going to win. But my brother suggested this scenario:

***

"I have found you."

Aginor blinked, then paged frantically through his copy of the script. "Hey, this isn't right! You're supposed to be an untutored farmboy!"

"Oops, my mistake," Davian said, and balefired the pair of them.

That might be what happened...

***

End of Part Two

[top]

Part Three
In The World that Might Have Been

Ilyena, Lews Therin chanted softly. Ilyena, Ilyena.

The voice was persistent, but Davian did his best to ignore it. The dead Dragon seemed almost sane at times, as far as that could be said of a voice in another man’s head. This was not one of those times.

Ilyena. Ilyena.

Deliberately, he turned his thoughts to something else. A new litany began to run through his mind. Aginor is dead, and Balthamel. Asmodean. Semirhage. Demandred.

Demandred, Lews Therin laughed. Ah yes, we killed him, did we not, my other self? Demandred and Sammael, once they were my friends but they betrayed me… They will never betray again.

Lews Therin was coherent again. Davian was not sure that that was not worse. There was such hatred in the man’s voice, rage at his former comrades mixed in with a deep self-loathing… He started the list of names again, and the voice in his head echoed his.

Mesaana. Be’lal. Moghedien. Graendal.

But there were two names missing.

Ishamael, Lews Therin hissed. He was the first to betray. To betray all our hopes! Where is he hiding?

And yet another, a name tied up in their shared minds with the deepest and most painful memories. Enchantment, and lust, and hatred, a woman with crescent moons in her hair...

Lanfear.

Ilyena, Lews Therin whispered, retreating into madness.

“Davian.”

The new voice cut through the memories. The present returned, and Davian turned to face the woman who stood in the doorway.

“Sharia.” He smiled. “I’ve not seen you for days.”

She was beautiful, dark and dusky, with black hair and eyes that might drink a man’s soul. A red gem hung, glinting, in the centre of her forehead, and a serpent curled around her finger to bite its tail in the oldest symbol of all. Sharia was a sister of the Red Ajah, whose mission was to hunt down and gentle all men who sought to channel – and in an ironic twist of fate, she was also the only person now that he dared call friend.

“Days?” She entered the room with her normal grace, pushing the door shut behind her. “Longer than that, Dragon Reborn. You have been alone in here for three weeks now.”

“Three weeks?” he said wonderingly. It had seemed no more than a day or two.

That is the madness, Lews Therin said, sounding surprisingly sane.

“Three weeks! And the world hanging on every breath you take. The Dark One will not wait three weeks for you, Dragon Reborn, when Tarmon Gai’don is come!” She sat down opposite him. “But I came to tell you something.”

What matter three weeks? the Dragon whispered. What matter, when the Shadow will swallow us all? What matter when the world is doomed?

“Tell that lunatic in your mind to be quiet,” Sharia snapped. “I can see by your face when he’s talking to you, and his comments aren’t doing you any good. I have to leave for the Tower, Davian.”

“Leave?” he repeated, startled. Ah, Lews Therin laughed, I like her. She has a tongue like my Ilyena. There was a pause. Ilyena? Now the voice too sounded startled, and a little wondering. “But why?”

“The Amyrlin has died.” She sighed. “She was a strong woman and well-loved – but she was old. Now the Hall has summoned me, and I suspect they mean me to be her successor.”

“Successor?” He sounded like an echo himself. Lews Therin chuckled. “Sorry. I’m confused today. But is that what you want to do?” Somehow he had never thought of her leaving.

“Not really,” she admitted candidly. “When I was a novice all my classmates wanted to be Amyrlin someday. I saw pretty soon that it was more work than power. It never really appealed to me.” Sharia shrugged. “But I am summoned. And to be truthful, I do not know who else I would leave governing the Tower to.”

“The curse of the competent,” he said dryly. “But you need make no long journey. I can take you there by gateway tomorrow, if you wish.”

“You can?” It was Sharia’s turn now to be startled.

“Certainly. Two can pass through a gateway as easily as one. If you trust me, that is.”

She smiled, almost shyly. “I trust you, Davian. Strange as it may seem, perhaps more than anyone else.” She rose and walked to the door, then paused. “You know, it feels as if we’ve known each other all our lives. Isn’t that odd?”

Then she left, the door closing behind her.

***

In the World that Might Have Been

Two people walked, side by side, in a wood.

From a distance they seemed a couple, close but not touching, their heads bent toward each other in low-voiced conversation as they walked. Sunlight falling through the leaves dappled them and their surroundings in light and shadow.

Black specks floated across the scene. The watcher watched – and listened.

“Why come so far?” the dark-haired woman asked. “You could have made a gate from your rooms as you did before, couldn’t you?”

The man shrugged, looking faintly uncomfortable. “I could, but I wanted to talk to you away from the Stone. Somewhere where everything I see doesn’t shout at me that who I am is the Dragon Reborn.”

The watcher’s mouth curled in a sneer. You were always a fool, Lews Therin. Always great – and always wishing to be ordinary. The black specks turned momentarily to flames. How does such a fool do so well?

“So talk.” She stopped, turning to face him. “For now, you are only Davian and I am only Sharia, and there is no one else to hear.” The watcher’s laugh, if audible, would have been filled with scorn. “Speak as you will.”

“You said yesterday,” he said quietly, “that you felt as if we had always known each other. I feel the same, and more. You give me my strength.”

“Strength? You are more than strong in your own right, Davian.” She touched his arm lightly, almost a caress. “What need has the man who slew eleven Forsaken for added strength?”

Eleven! The flames flared up again. Yes, eleven. Eleven of us lost to this fool! What luck does he have? Sammael, the great general. Moghedien, the unseen lurker. Graendal, that most cunning of all cunning schemers! Could not even one have fought successfully? In his rage, the watcher almost failed to hear the reply.

“Even the man who slew eleven Forsaken is human. Even I can laugh, and weep, and love. And mad as it may be – mad, absurd, laughable, all those things – I love you, Sharia.”

Her voice was equally soft. “Then I must be as mad, for I love you.”

The watcher’s good humour was abruptly restored, and though heard by no one else, his laughter echoed in his own ears. Ah yes, Lews Therin, this is something about you I had forgotten until now! Always you caught yourself in tangles with women. Mierin, and golden Ilyena, and now this girl who thinks herself an Aes Sedai.

Their lips touched lightly, and the laughter echoed louder. Now I have you, Lews Therin. And with one stroke, your support from the Tower – and your heart – shall be entirely broken.

***

In the World that Might Have Been

The floor was carpeted in silk, the walls panelled in pale wood carved with fantastic birds and beasts. Candles flickered in silver sconces on the inlaid desk and on the fireplace, golden marble from Kandor. This room had housed a succession of Amyrlins dating back to not long after the Breaking.

The latest of those to hold the title sat leaning back in her new chair, the Flame of Tar Valon in moonstones gleaming whitely above her head. She laughed softly. They will have to call me the White Flame now, instead of the Red Flame.

But that was no more than a brief whimsy. The night following the selection of an Amyrlin was traditionally supposed to be spent in prayer and contemplation, yet Sharia’s thoughts kept drifting away from her new position. Back to the Stone of Tear, and a man with eyes like silver…

Sweet irony, that every man I fall in love with should be able to channel.

She shivered, remembering that vision through the ter’angreal. An arch of white light, and a man she loved crying out for help – if not for that vision, she would never have chosen the Red Ajah. If I had chosen Green as I thought I would, I wonder, would I be Amyrlin now?

She laughed again, and rose to face the gilded mirror hanging on one wall. That is the face of the Amyrlin Seat, Sharia! she told herself. That is what is. No time for wondering what might have been – and none for dreaming of kissing the Dragon, either.

But then, still looking into the mirror, she froze. There was another figure there – moon-pale, night-haired, beautiful beyond dreams…

Saidar flooded into her, and she spun to confront the intruder. But in the same instant, a shield slid between her and the Power, and a blow of Air knocked her back, staggering, against the wall.

The stranger’s lips curved into an icy smile. She glowed with a light far brighter than even the strongest sister in the Tower. “So,” she purred in a melodious voice rich with scorn, “you are the one who would steal Lews Therin from me?”

No prizes for guessing who this is, a detached part of her mind thought wryly. If appearance had been insufficient, the words were more than enough to identify the Daughter of the Night. The rest of her was seeking desperately for a way out of the situation.

Sharia managed to regain her feet. Playing for time, she retorted in the coolest tone she could summon. “I hardly think he plans to romance one of the Forsaken.”

Chosen,” Lanfear snapped. Idly, she toyed with a silver-and-ivory bracelet on her wrist. “You were foolish, child. I might have let you live, if you had not set your sights on my love. Lews Therin is mine.”

That bracelet. The way she toyed with it – Could it be an angreal? They were often made in the form of jewellery. It has to be. It’s the only chance. Hopefully some of that ta’veren luck rubbed off on me…

She looked straight at the Forsaken, and smiled.

Then, as the woman’s eyes widened in shock, she spoke again, her voice even silkier than Lanfear’s had been earlier. “Yours? Then he seems very eager to slip the leash. It was not I who first admitted to loving. It was not I who suggested we walk alone in the woods. And it was not your lips he kissed yesterday, Forsaken.”

That beautiful face contorted into a snarl, and forgetting the Power in her fury, Lanfear lunged at her with hands clawed. Sharia fought back, struggling desperately to reach the bracelet. Lanfear was both taller and stronger than her, and if she remembered to channel…

Her hands closed on the bracelet. It was an angreal – and summoning a final burst of strength, she tore it away from the other woman. As the Power flooded back into her, she formed the strongest, tightest shield that she could, and slammed it between Lanfear and saidar.

Without pausing, she pulled herself away from the stunned Forsaken and to her feet. Snatching hold of the bellpull behind the desk, she pulled it with all her might, again and again. It would take no more than a few minutes for half a dozen sisters to get there, even this late at night. Of course, that detached part of her mind observed, I’ll never be able to get away from the legend now…

“You little -” Lanfear hissed. Her face was twisted with rage and hatred beyond any trace of its former loveliness. “Lews Therin is mine! You’ll not get your thieving hands on him!”

Sharia looked down at her with mingled contempt and pity. “Lews Therin is long dead, Forsaken,” she said calmly, as running footsteps sounded outside the door. “Davian is the Dragon Reborn. And Davian was never yours.”

In the World that Was

He walked in the gardens. There was little else to do.

Those he passed darted glances at him, then looked away quickly, unwilling to meet his eyes. Pity, there was in some of those looks; in others, fear. It had galled him, once, but now he no longer cared.

Ilyena, Lews Therin mourned, sweet Ilyena.

It was a crisp autumn morning, and leaves rustled under his feet as he walked. Without conscious thought, he found himself heading west, for a part of the Tower’s grounds he had not seen before.

The oak trees, golden-leaved, arched high overhead. Smaller trees shaded a wide, grassy valley where, row on row, carved gravestones lay.

And she was there.

Her back was to him; she knelt on the ground in a shadowed corner of the valley, where no stone stood. As he moved closer, some sixth sense woke her to his presence; her head turned, dark eyes wide with surprise and shock and some emotion he could not fathom.

“Davian…?”

“Sharia.”

They looked at each other for a long moment.

Ilyena, Lews Therin whispered, breaking the spell.

“I’ve been avoiding you.” Sharia stood, brushing down her skirt. “I suppose you knew.”

“Shouldn’t I?” He heard the anger in his voice. “When the head of the Red Ajah brings a False Dragon back to the Tower and then disappears, shall we assume it to be coincidence? Oh yes, I knew that. Why be surprised? No one cares what they say around a gentled man!”

He had brought it up. There was another long silence, broken only by the murmuring of the wind in the grass.

“I’m sorry,” Sharia said finally, her voice very soft. “But what else could I have done?”

The anger faded, to be replaced by weariness. “Nothing. Only the Pattern was to blame.” It was like the phantom pain people who had lost an arm or leg spoke of. Still there, until you tried to use it. “Sometimes I dream… that it had happened otherwise.”

“I, too. I dreamed that you drew Callandor and slew the Forsaken.” Her laugh was tinged with bitterness. “Dreams are treacherous things.”

I dream, too. Lews Therin no longer sounded mad – or perhaps it was that he, too, was now mad. I dream of a world of peace, and Ilyena by my side.

“I dream of you,” Davian said.

She seemed unsurprised. “Here where I stand,” she said, still softly, “a man is buried… He, too, could channel. And I thought that I loved him.”

He felt a sudden pang. “ ‘Thought’?”

“Now I no longer know.” Leaves rustled as she moved away from the grave. “It was like a dream – something that might have happened. And perhaps I have forgotten until now that it did not happen as I dreamed it.”

But when I dream of her, the Dragon whispered in his mind, her hair is not golden but dark and her face is not the face of my Ilyena. But I know her.

What? Davian thought, stunned. The wind blew dark hair across Sharia’s face.

“I dream of you, too,” she said, “and not only as the Dragon Reborn. But dreams are dangerous when they lead us to confuse them with reality. I will not see you again, Davian, and you should not see me.”

He watched her go, disappearing into the trees. Lews Therin mourned. Ilyena, sweet Ilyena, forgive me once again.

And is this the end? Bitterness filled Davian’s thoughts. Will I someday be no more than a voice, over and over whispering the name of Sharia…

Ilyena…

Sharia…


Well, then. It's been a while since I posted Part Two, so what do you think of this one? And in particular, of the possibility brought up in the last section?

Some of you will probably be very disappointed that I skipped over the deaths of most of the Forsaken. My excuse is that if I tried to describe all the events that have to happen before the Last Battle, this would be book-length at least, and that's more writing than I'm prepared to do on someone else's copyright. I actually wanted to use Graendal in here, as she's undoubtedly my favourite of the Forsaken, but she simply didn't fit into the story I had planned. So I contented myself with one mention of her as 'that most cunning of all cunning schemers,' a description which fits her to perfection. I don't quite know how she died, but you can be sure it was a dramatic exit.

But Lanfear's death (well, capture) is described, and you have my guarantee that in Part Four Ishamael's will be as well. While on the subject of Part Four, I'm not sure when it'll be done, but I know what's going to happen in it. So stick around, it will be done.

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Part Four

In The World that Might Have Been

The Blight was guarded now more heavily than any time since the Trolloc Wars had ended; the watchtowers along the border manned not only by soldiers but by Aes Sedai. And by - others.

Much could be done with either Power, but some things only by women and men working together. And while no one liked it - no one! - that was why men wearing the badge of the Dragon now guarded those towers alongside the sisters, and why the banner that flew above them flaunted the symbol of both Powers combined. Madness had to be risked; worse than the spectre of another Breaking was that of the Shadow’s victory.

And after all, if an Amyrlin raised from the Red Ajah agreed with the necessity, who else would be so bold as to argue ...

Sharia turned from the window of the keep with a shiver. She agreed with it, because it had to be done. She agreed with it, but she liked it no more than any other. Better than any she knew the havoc a channeler could wreak in a fit of madness. It was a wasteground, where once flowers had bloomed, and she cradled a man in her arms as the flames died down...

And the Light let it not happen again!

The White Tower was virtually empty, now; almost every sister was here in the Borderlands. Basharande, Elsalam; the room where she sat was on the northern edge of Rhamdashar, in the foothills of the Mountains of Dhoom. The novices, and the younger Accepted, had been sent south along with all the other non-fighters.

The armies of all the lands waited here, along the border. They all waited, but for what no one quite knew. Only one man knew that, and whatever he might think, he told no one.

"I’ll know," he had said. "When the time comes to strike, I’ll know it. And when I give the command, no one but me will be expecting it. Even Ishamael. Even Shai -"

She had hit him then, almost without thought, before he could complete the name. But he only laughed, her handprint red on his face. "Don’tworry. I’ll get his attention soon enough."

"Burn you, Davian," she whispered now, "are you still sane?"

Movement outside the window caught her attention, and she turned in time to see a familiar figure. Then the figure disappeared, and in the same moment a gateway spun open at the other end of the room.

"You could knock," she said dryly.

Davian stepped through, his eyes flicking warily from one corner to another. The gateway closed as quickly as it had opened. "You are alone? Where is everyone?"

"At their posts, where they should be. What -"

He broke in. "It’s time."

"Time?" she repeated blankly, then felt her eyes widen as she realised his meaning. "Now? Are you -"

"I’m sure! Now listen. When I leave here I go to fight the Dark One." There was not a hint in his voice of any emotion at the prospect. "The generals know their orders, but you must tell them to be ready. The Shadow’s attack will come as soon as they know I am gone." His face hardened. "And that will not be long."

"I understand," she said simply. What else was there to say? But he would not meet her eyes. "Davian -"

"There is one more thing," he broke in again. "When I have left, go to my rooms. The ward will let you pass. There is a statue - as high as my hand - of a woman holding a sphere of crystal. Take it, but let no one know you have it. It may be of use."

"An angreal?" she guessed. He shook his head.

"No. A ter’angreal. One that links to a sa’angreal - the greatest sa’angreal ever made." His sudden laughter was fierce and bitter. "One for women, one for men. Made in the War of Power to bind away the Dark One. But they failed - as I failed!"

It was more than the words. His eyes met hers at last, and the knowledge came as if he had hit her. This was Davian who stood before her. But it was not Davian who spoke.

"Sharia," he said softly, but she thought another name had been on his tongue.

"Lews Therin," she answered just as quietly.

"It was I who began this. Fitting for me to end it." He sighed. "Or perhaps I am not he. Perhaps I am after all Davian. It grows hard to tell." His eyes, once so familiar, were now strange to her. "But you I know. You I will always know - Ilyena."

She stared at him in shock. Has he truly gone mad? "I am not her!"

"Three thousand years. Fifty lives, seventy, a hundred. How could you remember one?" He shook his head. "I remember. Sunhair no longer, Ilyena no longer, but always my beloved. And while you live there is hope." Another gateway opened, and she averted her eyes from what she knew must be the dark slopes of Shayol Ghul. His hand touched her cheek, gently. "Remember hope, Ilyena, Sharia - cuebiyar an cuebiyar mia."

Heart of my heart. And then he was gone, the gateway closing behind him.

She stood there a moment, the touch of his hand lingering on her skin. Then she left the room. There were orders to be given, an army to be readied. Channelers must gather to defend the border, to fight the Dreadlords that must come. But she would not be among them.

The statue linked to the greatest of female sa’angreal, he had said. And no doubt he had the male one now. But two were better than one.

And she, too, knew how to make a gateway.

***

In the World that Might Have Been

A storm raged in his eyes. Black they were, no longer specks but a solid darkness hiding iris and white alike.

The watcher. That was how he had thought of himself for a long time now; for the years that he had spent, watching, waiting. But now, as he still watched, the name he had once held rose to his thoughts.

Elan Morin Tedronai.

But no, that was not it either. That name he had left behind long ago. It was another that he held now, one that they had called him in anger but he had accepted in pride.

Betrayer of Hope.

Hope was the last refuge of fools. He had something far better; the certainty of victory.

And as he continued to watch, he laughed, for from his place on the dark slopes he saw a gateway open and a man, tiny from this distance, step through it. Distance or no, he recognised the figure - and even had he not, here, now, there was only one man it might be.

Though you wear a different face, Lews Therin, still you are no less foolhardy than you were when last you walked the world. So this is the moment you have chosen for your battle. Alas, you will never reach it.

The One Power was misnamed, for there was another, one that only he of all alive today could wield. Now he reached for it, readied weaves of black flame. Once before you were careless, and I let you live to hope. It was not yet time. Now it is time, Lews Therin, and that pretty statue you hold will not save you when the Shadow strikes from behind!

The weaves were ready, but sudden shock made him let go of them. His skin began tingling.

What? Who is it who dares? The blackness in his eyes kindled into flame. No other should be here. Only he, and I, and the Great Lord of the Dark. That is how it must go!

Even as he whirled around, the gateway that had opened narrowed again into a slit and vanished, leaving behind a lone figure only a few paces from him.

"You!"

She glared at him, face pale yet determined. Her dark eyes held fear, but they also held fierceness. And she had the second ter’angreal in her hands.

"You, foolish girl. What do you think you can do here?" He was enraged, not afraid. She had no right to be here, in this place, in this time! His eyes blazed. "Do you imagine it was any more than a fluke you captured Lanfear? Do you think the Dragon’s love makes you immortal? His family found out otherwise, in that last life! He glared at her contemptuously. "Are you truly foolish enough to think you can win this battle on his behalf?"

A shudder ran through her body. She took a step back. Another. The ter’angreal seemed almost forgotten, buried by the fear she must feel standing at Shayol Ghul. He reached for the black flames again, this time to burn her.

But all of a sudden her head came up, eyes flashing. Her voice, when she spoke, was astonishingly calm.

"No, Betrayer of Hope. But I can win this one!"

Her hands rose. The crystal sphere began to glow. Molten light shot from them as the tingling returned, stronger than ever. But only for a moment.

Balefire swallowed him.

***

In the World that Might Have Been

A man walked over the black rocks of Shayol Ghul.

Was he Davian, or was he Lews Therin? Perhaps both. Perhaps neither. There were other memories there, other voices, other identities. It was not important at this moment.

He was the Dragon. That was all that mattered.

Every step fell with the sound of doom. But light blazed to the side of his vision, and he turned. High above him, a slender woman staggered back, the glow in her hands dimming. A shadowy figure seemed to hang in the air for less than a heartbeat before the light vanished, and he with it.

"Sharia!" For a moment the other identities dropped away, and he was Davian only. "Sharia, go back! You should not be here!"

She swayed, catching her balance. He could not tell whether she heard him or not.

"Sharia! Go back!" But he was the Dragon again, and there was no time to make sure she obeyed. He moved on, toward the great gap that opened into the mountain. She had eliminated Ishamael, at least; that was one less danger he had to face.

The rock arched high over him as he entered, his enemy welcoming him in. It was a short walk. I remember this place, and it was Lews Therin now who thought these words as the unearthly skies blazed above him. Once before I came here, and I and the world paid a great price. What price now must be paid?

DRAGON.

The voice echoed like thunder, around him and in his mind.

SO YOU COME AT LAST. WELCOME, DRAGON.

"I come to defeat you."

The thunder became laughter. A THOUSAND TIMES WE HAVE PLAYED THIS OUT, DRAGON. I KNOW YOU HAVE THE SEALS. BREAK THEM. THEN WE SHALL SEE HOW THE STORY GOES THIS TIME.

"So we shall," he said softly, and reached into his belt pouch. Seven discs marked with a sinuous line, half black, half white. They were solid cuendillar; unbreakable, so all the stories said.

He flung the first one to the rocks beneath, and watched it shatter.The Dark One’s laughter echoed around him.

Am I mad, to do this? But he knew he was not. Before a new wall could be built, the rubble of the old must be cleared.

He threw them one by one, leaving the shards to lie on the ground. There was only one left, now; he held it in his hand for a moment, then hurled it down.

And at the same time, he reached for the True Source. Saidinraced through him, fierce, exhilarating, pure.

"Now we shall see."

SO WE SHALL, DRAGON. He almost thought he heard a note of approval in the thunder. YOU KNOW THE MOVE ON WHICH THIS TURNS. JOIN ME.

"I will never join you."

NO? THINK AGAIN.

A woman appeared before him, standing it seemed in mid-air above thebroken seals. Hair golden as the dawn framed a face sweet as spring; hereyes were warm and blue as a summer sky. Laughter curved her mouth as she held one hand out to him.

Ilyena! Lews Therin whispered.

WOULD YOU HAVE YOUR LOVE RETURNED TO YOU, DRAGON? THE DEAD ARE MINE,TO DO WITH AS I PLEASE.

"But she is not dead." It was an effort, but he spoke evenly. "She is reborn into the world, and you have no control over her. It is not her semblance I love, but her."

YOU KNOW MUCH, BUT NOT ENOUGH. ONCE MORE - THINK AGAIN.

The woman’s hair darkened, her eyes became pools of shadow. Her featuresshifted, changed. Sharia! Davian cried out.

SHE STANDS ON SHAYOL GHUL, DRAGON. SHE IS MINE!

Sharia, why did you stay? Had she lingered thinking to help him, or had she meant to leave but been trapped? It did not matter. She was here; that had been no lie. Whatever her motives, she was now a pawn inthe Dark One’s game.

I CAN STRIKE HER DEAD WHERE SHE STANDS, DRAGON. Triumph sounded in thevoice, modulating into persuasion. OR I CAN BRING HER SAFELY TO YOUR SIDE. KNEEL TO ME ONCE, AND THE WORLD IS AT YOUR FEET. RULE IT AS YOU WILL, FOR ALL I WISH IS FREEDOM.

Could that be true? It was a dazzling vision that opened up before him;with unlimited power he could end war, end poverty, make of the world anew Age of Legends. Gardens would bloom where prisons now stood; the meanest city could boast streets of marble and silver. And Sharia would rule openly by his side, love and lover through all the Ages...

It will never be so, Lews Therin said sadly.

The vision shattered.

There will always be suffering. It is the price we pay for being free. But under the Shadow’s yoke, the suffering will be infinitely greater.

I do not so soon forget the Collapse.

Now his vision reformed itself, clearer and truer beneath the bright dreams. The shadows in every human mind would grow, nourished by the Dark One’s touch. In a world outwardly beautiful, inward ugliness would fester.Far from a paradise, it would be a golden cage in which the last remnantsof goodness would stifle.

And Sharia would come to hate him for what he had made of the world,and he would curse her for being the cause of his betrayal...

Far better death than that.

"I will never join you."

BUT YOU SHALL, DRAGON. All hint of persuasion had gone from the voice. OF YOUR OWN WILL OR OTHERWISE!

He staggered as the Shadow slammed at his mind. Pain lashed at him from every side.

YIELD, DRAGON! The thunder almost overwhelmed him with its sheer force; his will shivered, seemed to crack. KNEEL AND YIELD TO ME!

So easy, it would be to give up... From somewhere, he knew not where, he managed to find strength to force the words from his mouth.

"I will not."

It was barely a whisper, so hoarse and croaking that he barely recognisedhis own voice. But the pressure ceased on the instant. From all around him came a long, wordless howl of rage and despair.

It is not done yet... some voice deep in his mind warned. He knew what must now be done. Reaching through the statue he still held - and through it the great sa’angreal that lay buried in the earth - he drew deeply on pure, untainted saidin.

To weave a ward that none may break... He chose flows by instinct, brought them together. Not truly knowing what he did, he wove threads of the Power into forms finer and yet stronger than ever before. He seemed to float above the mountain, looking down into its heart. A prison that none may escape...

But there were holes in the pattern. Despite his efforts, it was incomplete.

Half of the whole - Even as he thought it, flows began to fillthe gaps left by his weaving; another mind hovered near his, one that he recognised. Sharia? a part of his thought wondered, stunned. Another part laughed, joyous. Well, who better?

Two minds as one, they wove. Neither truly understood what it was they did or how they did it, but something deep inside them did, and the light blazed gloriously around them, and they were content.

It seemed an eternity. It seemed an instant. But at some point in time, there was nothing left to weave.

It is done! Lews Therin exulted. Unconsciousness swallowed them both.

It was the touch of the sun that woke him.

How can it be...? But a soft golden light shimmered beyond hisclosed eyelids, and a ray of warmth lay on his face. Davian opened hiseyes, and looked around him with wonder.

The sky was blue. The air was sweet. And what had been barren rock had blossomed. All around for as far as he could see, wildflowers grew. He breathed in their scents.

Lews Therin, how is this possible? But there was no answer. Only,now that he thought about it, a faint memory of his other self’s voice in the moments before losing consciousness.

It is done at last, and I can rest.

He rose to his feet, and walked through the flowers to what had beena tunnel of black rock and was now a tangle of roses. Pushing them aside, he stepped through into a flower-filled vale.

Was this once Thakan’dar? It was beyond belief. If I do not dream - if all this is true - then the Dark One must truly be banished.And what now is the state of the world?

He saw her before she saw him, standing with her arms full of flowers, gazing around her with as much wonder and bemusement as he had surely shown before. His heart, all of a sudden, felt light as a feather.

"Sharia!"

She turned, blossoms showering from her arms, the wind lifting her hair."Davian," she called, laughing. "Davian!"

Spring had come to Shayol Ghul. And all the world was new.

***

In the World that Was

She walked in the gardens.

Snow lay thick on the ground, yet a few flowers still bloomed in sheltered corners; gardeners still tended the dormant plants. Even in this, the heart of winter, the gardens of Tar Valon were famed for their beauty. But her destination today was a wilder, more solitary part of the grounds.

The oaks were bare, now, and no leaves rustled beneath her feet. The gravestones stood, rising from the snow, in their stately ranks. One, off to the side of the valley, drew her gaze, and for a moment pale sunlight seemed to illuminate the single engraved word.

Davian.

"What need for more?" she said softly. "The world will speak your name for centuries." She had thought once, if only for moments, that they would speak it in a different context. False Dragon was enough for renown, but renown, she knew, was never what he had wanted. And she had dreamed...

"Were your dreams the same as mine?" she said aloud. She crossed the valley to stand, looking down at the stone. "I dreamed that you stood steadfast at Shayol Ghul, and you and I wove a barrier to imprison the Dark One for Ages to come. And among the black rocks flowers bloomed."

Snow began to fall, drifting down like feathers. She lifted her head,gazing across to a corner shadowed by trees. "Once I thought I loved; but that love seems now a dream, and it is the dreams that seem real. A second time I loved..." Her eyes fell again to the stone at her feet, and her voice became softer still, so that even a nearby listener would have strainedto hear. "If I know nothing else, that I know was no dream."

No dream. Her words seemed to echo in the lonely valley. Nodream?

Sharia turned from the graves. Slowly she walked away, walked back tothe Tower.

The snow continued to fall.


And that brings us to the end of The PathsOf If. There will be no more sequels. In this world or another, the Sharia and Davian story has reached its natural end, and I have no intention of ruining it by dragging it out further.

This story presents one possible way for the Last Battle to go. Let me hasten to say it is not the way I think Jordan will write it. For one, I'm sure Rand will have a whole lot more suffering to go through, including possible temporary death, than Davian did; Jordan's a better writer than me and he can afford to do that. Plus, he has a lot more space to write in. But I wanted a happy ending - in that world at least - and remembering when spring came to Tarwin's Gap after Rand fought Ishamael there, I thought there couldn't be a better symbol of new life than flowers blooming at Shayol Ghul.

And for those of you who wanted a happy ending in this world - sorry. That was never my intention. Even if I could twist the plot into one, it would spoil the whole story.

You may be wondering about several questions the story leaves hanging. Like, what happened to the Shadow's armies when the Dark One was imprisoned? Is the world set for a new Age of Legends? Even now, can Davian and Sharia get away with making their relationship public? Is Sharia really Ilyena reborn or was Lews Therin deluding himself?

Only the Creator knows. And she's not telling!

[top]

Sundara


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