[Note: Don't feel you have to follow up to this, I'm just letting you know a little of what the Dark is up to. Keep on with the meeting.]
The room was large, carpeted in red and gold, the furniture finely carved and touched here and there with gilt. Flames danced in a fireplace of fine marble. All this was as the man entering it expected.
What he did not expect was the girl, lounging in front of the fire as if she owned the place. As he stopped, stunned, she grinned up at him, dark eyes flashing.
"Hello, Moridin. It's been a long time."
"A long time indeed," he acknowledged when he had recovered his voice, and went to sit down. "Would you care for some wine - no, I see you've helped yourself already. Well, what brings you here, Sundara?"
"Chaos." She sat up, leaning against a pile of cushions appropriated from the chairs. "Confusion for the Light." A dark wave of hair fell over her face, and she brushed it away. The Great Serpent ring, he noted, still gleamed on her finger. "And the strong suggestion of the Great Lord of the Dark. He suggests that you, in your capacity as Nae'blis - for which I must congratulate you, by the way - rein in your fellow Chosen. They're beginning to get ideas which - although clever - are inconvenient to his plans."
"So I have already begun. Moghedien and Cyndane have been sent with a message to Graendal." And Shaidar Haran to pull them out of trouble, he added to himself.
"Graendal," Sundara said thoughtfully. "I like the way she thinks. Perhaps I shall invite her to become a Dark Sister." Moridin kept his face immobile, but she laughed aloud. "You don't like that idea one bit, do you?"
"Her loyalties are questionable," he replied coolly.
"No such thing. Her loyalties are to herself. There's no question whatsoever." She smiled. "But enough of that, it is Chosen we must be concerned with now… You have visited Shayol Ghul recently?"
"I returned from there only moments ago. It was snowing. Blue snow, I believe. Your work?"
"It was meant to be lavender." Sundara shrugged. "Ah, well. You know, then, what my brother's intentions are - and why we must have as many of the Chosen as possible either with us or under our command. Thirteen would be preferable, if for aesthetic reasons only."
"But even with Balthamel from the other reality -"
"He prefers his former name."
"Whatever. Even with Eval, we do not have thirteen."
"Then we must find more, no? Leave that up to me. There is a pool of immense potential in Caemlyn at this moment. Some of them are mine already. As for the others - I have more than enough Black sisters I would not weep to lose, so if you will send me thirteen Myrddraal at the appropriate time, that is that." She tossed her hair back and continued. "Now, since you know the plan, and you have begun gathering the Chosen, that is all the business there is to discuss. As for pleasure, you are of course invited to the Palace any time you care to come."
"I thank you for the invitation." He would take it up, one of these days. Perhaps sooner rather than later. "Have you heard from Ari?"
"Not recently. She is in one of the other worlds."
He sighed. "And everyone else?"
"Gone, mostly. This world, that world…" She shrugged again. "Carramaena and I are jointly in charge at the moment. You met her at my Naming day, if you remember? She became a Dark Sister not long after."
"Your seventeenth Naming day," he agreed, then frowned. "Is it as long as that? You must be - nineteen, now?"
"In four months. You must come. I shall throw a great party." She laughed. "And invite the other Chosen, too. But leave Moghedien and Cyndane at home, they spoil all the fun."
"You are crazy for parties, you Sisters." He shrugged. "But I suppose it is better than being crazy for Lews Therin, or revenge - or plain crazy. I shall certainly come."
"I shall see you later then, Moridin." She rose as he did, scarcely coming as high as his chest. Her gown, unsurprisingly, shimmered translucent in the firelight. She stretched up to kiss him lightly on the cheek. "Don't forget! I shall be expecting you."
She stepped back. He had barely time to note the black flecks that flickered through her eyes and wonder how much she had been using the True Power, before a hole in the Pattern opened and closed around her. Again he sighed, and went off to see what Cyndane and Moghedien had managed to accomplish.
Sundara stepped into her own rooms and smiled. The foundations were laid. Now was where it got interesting.
Shaidar Haran watched the newcomer approach the slopes of Shayol Ghul with caution. This one had not taken an oath to the Great Lord, nor was he a prisoner. In fact, to look at his arrogant swagger, one would think he owned the place.
The man was slightly taller than average, and there was certainly nothing exceptional about his build. He had a light olive complexion, and his hair and eyes were the same shade of dark brown. His clothing was sensible, if rather unimaginative: gray tunic, gray trousers, gray boots, a gray cloak, and a plain borderland sword in a gray scabbard. There was certainly nothing striking about his appearance at first glance, but something in the man's eyes - a glint of amusement, as if he were holding back laughter at some inside joke - seemed to be mocking the Blight, the Dark Mountain, even the Hand of the Dark itself.
It must be a facade, Shaidar Haran decided. Only the crassest idiot, or a complete madman would take a journey to Shayol Ghul that lightly.
"You have been summonned," the Fade Rasped.
The man in gray looked up at him, the same expression on his face. "Is Shai'tan prototyping a new model of myrdraal? I don't believe that I've seen your kind before."
"You have been summoned, human."
"I have a name, eyeless," the other snapped, then looked confused. "But that was another age, and another me. I suppose I shall have to choose an identity in the modern tongue."
Shaidar Haran said nothing.
"From now on," the man in gray continued, "my name shall be Menace. It's an approximate translation of one of my former titles."
Shaidar Haran was persistent in his silence.
"Look, just take me to the Bore."
The Bore, of course, was playing its usual mind tricks, with stalagtites forcing Menace to duck at the same time as giving the taller Shaidar Haran plenty of room.
"This is getting old," Menace sighed.
DO YOU SERVE THE DARK, MENACE?
This called for an evasive answer.
"I have served the Dark, Great Lord. I may have the good fortune of serving it again soon."
DO NOT DARE MOCK ME, OR MY HAND WILL HAVE YOU BEGGING FOR DEATH.
The stalagtites were lower now, forcing Menace to his knees.
The full implications of this threat were very apparant to Menace. Not the part about the Myrdraal- since their tricks were useless against him, no single Myrdraal could threaten Menace, even one with an extra foot of height and a cool title. The Dark One was a different story; Menace had no intention of living out his life in a Mindtrap.
v"I appologize for any offense, Great Lord. And having already been killed on more than one occasion, death is the last thing I'd beg for." Menace shuddered at some highly unpleasant memories.
YOU MUST SERVE.
"Do you have a task for me, Great Lord?" Anything to keep the conversation away from the one thing Menace would not do. He would swear no oaths to the Dark, the Light, or anyone else.
I HAVE A USE FOR YOUR TALENTS, BUT THAT CAN WAIT. RIGHT NOW I NEED EYES. TRAPPED HERE, I CANNOT SEE ALL. MY MINIONS DARE NOT DEFY ME, BUT THERE IS MUCH THEY WILL TRY TO KEEP HIDDEN. MY SISTERS ACT AS IF THEY CAN SERVE THE DARK WITHOUT SERVING SHAI'TAN.
"You have sisters?"
YOU WILL MEET THEM. YOU WILL MEET MY MINIONS, MY CHOSEN, MY ... OTHER GUESTS. AND YOU WILL REPORT ALL THAT YOU SEE TO MY HAND OR MYSELF.
"As you wish."
Leaving the chamber, Menace was more relieved than anything. He could be Shai'tan's eyes for a while, at least until something more amusing came along. There were always opportunities to look out for.
Now if only someone would show him around. Or at least lead him to a good grog.
Sundara looked speculatively at the newcomer. She had not been aware of anyone authorized to enter Shayol Ghul at this time. If her brother was playing a game of his own, things could get interesting. The sensible course would be to stay clear until she had a better idea of what was going on.
Sensible was not a word very often used to describe her. She sauntered forward.
"What brings you here, mysterious stranger?" she inquired the man, who looked startled - but no more than that - at her sudden appearance. She smiled up at him, warmly but not too seductively. No point in hitting him with too much force, after all - to begin with, anyway.
"I'm Sundara. Do you have a name?"
"Name? I've had many, but in this age, in this tongue, I go by Menace."
He looked to see what this Sundara's reaction would be, but her expression gave nothing away. It was obvious, though, that she must be somebody formidible to walk so easily in this place. A channeler, perhaps? She did not remind him of the descriptions of any of the female Forsaken, but that proved nothing.
"Worry not, Mistress Sundara." Not a chance of that. "I don't bite. (But if that disapoints you, I can make an exception.)"
He gave her a measuring gaze, the usual subtle hint of mocking in his eyes. There was something else, too. Approval, maybe.
Menace spoke again. "Actually, you have the advantage of me. You see, I'm new here."
"I gathered that. I've never seen you before, and I know pretty much everyone who's likely to be in these parts." She raised an eyebrow. "Menace, hmm? Well, most of the people with foreboding names have them in the Old Tongue, but since we all know it anyway, that's trivial. You'll fit right in."
She tilted her head back to study him. Not a Forsaken, nor probably a candidate. Not a Gray Man, ordinary-looking as he was, unless they were turning them out with conversational skills now. Certainly not a gholam. Who else might be at Shayol Ghul? This Menace presented a puzzle. Sundara had always liked puzzles.
"Well, Master Menace, if you've nowhere pressing to go, walk along with me a while, and you'll see sights I'll wager you never thought existed at Shayol Ghul.
"It's getting late, so you're welcome to dine with us. But the price of dinner is a story. Specifically, a story about yourself." She smiled again. "Strangers at Shayol Ghul are always the subject of curiosity. Make something up if you like, so long as it's interesting! Are you coming, then?"
A thought occurred to Menace that it wouldn't be prudent to reveal everything about himself to a potentially dangerous woman he had just met. Another, less cautious thought told that thought to get stuffed, and made the decision.
"Alright," Menace smiled crookedly. "How could I refuse such a generous offer?"
The Tale of Menace
as told by Menace
and some other nameless people
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that becomes legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, several ages back from the famous Age of Legends, an Age yet to come, and Age long past, a wind rose across a battlefield. The wind was not the beginning. There were neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of time. But it was a beginning.
I was there. So were a great many fools, in an endless struggle between the Champions of the Creator and the Chosen of the Great Lord of the Dark.
I was a footman in the Good Army. Things looked promising for us at that point; Shai'tan had not yet obtained his hordes of Shadowspawn, nor was the One Power strong in many during that age.
Only a third-rate twit could possibly have lost Tarmon Gaidon to the Dark back then. As fortune would have it, though, we were led by one.
The Chosen One, you might call him the Dragon Preborn, was no Lews Therin. He camped us with our back to a flooded river and neglected to send out scouts or pickets. When the Dark launched their attack, we were trapped and badly mauled.
Many drowned trying to escape over the river, and one group of elites actually cut their way out of the trap, led by the Chosen One. The Dark forces gave pursuit, and on many occasions they nearly struck down the Chosen One. On one of these occasions, he was almost skewered on the lance of one of the Dark cavalrymen. That would have been it for him had I not slipped and fallen out of the nearby tree I was hiding in, and tripped his attacker's horse.
That was the first time I died. Strangely, saving the life of the Chosen One qualified me as a hero. I was bound to the Wheel, waiting in tel'aran'rhiod to be spun out again. Ironically, my first opportunity happened when the general of the Dark Army blew the Horn of the Valere. We finished off the Armies of the Light, and the Age ended with the Dark triumphant.
I lived several lives over the next few ages. The story was always the same. I would become reknown as one of the premier channelers of my time, which was quite a feat since I couldn't channel a lick.
My talent was corrupting and controlling the flows of others. Saidin, Saidar, the "True" Power, it didn't matter. With practice I could intercept anyone's channeling, and recombine the flows for my own use. I could even intercept the powers of Ogier Treesingers. Nothing in this world matches the expression of an Ogier elder, frustrated in his failure to grow a sapling into an oak, watching the local undergrowth form into lewd tropiary.
I would grow old and rich, and eventually be assassinated by one of my jealous rivals. This cycle continued into the Age of Legends, during the early battles when balefire was still used.
It amused me to take neither side in that war. I travelled from place to place, using my talent to play pranks, making Aes Sedai and Dreadlord alike look foolish.
One day, as luck would have it, I interrupted a dual between a Light and a Dark Channeler, both of whom had been my previous victims. They called a truce in their own dispute, and both summoned up balefire, which I calmly retargeted at each of them. Of course, this caused a paradox where each channeler was burned back before throwing the balefire, after which the pattern has them balefiring each other, which prevents the balefiring, et cetera. A great, nasty rift was opened in the pattern, destroying everything within miles.
Something happened to my connection to the Horn, as instead of waiting in the World of Dreams to be born again, I was cast out as an adult, and dropped on some random location in the real world from fifty yards in the sky, accompanied by a loud SPLAT.
This got rather monotonous: falling, dying, falling, dying, falling, landing in the ocean and drowning, falling, and so on.
Occasionally, as is the case this time, I would survive a fall and have the opportunity to live for a while. I would use my talent, sometimes to serve the Light, but usually working for the Dark, which is closer to my nature.
My impulsive nature brought me here to Shayol Ghul, hopefully to add new, more entertaining chapters to my tale.
"Well, Kir?" Carramaena asked again. Really, everyone seemed strangely quiet today! Then she realized he was looking out the window, and followed his glance.
A petite, dusky woman and a lean, plainly dressed man were on their way along the path. "Ah, Dara's back, and she's brought a guest. How nice." She snapped her fingers to summon a servant.
"Tell the cooks we'll have dinner in the great hall tonight."
Carra looked back out and laughed, tossing her copper hair. "He's got a surprise coming when he gets close enough to see through the Illusion. A palace isn't what most people expect to find here! Come on, everyone. Dinner won't be long now."
"I take your meaning. It would be a bad idea to channel at you." Sundara considered that as they walked along. Inconvenient, certainly. But there were other ways than channeling to deal with menaces - including the human kind.
They were well along the path, into a part of the mountain very few visitors saw. "Stop here a moment. What do you see? Only rock and sky?" She grinned. "Now take three more steps."
Looking puzzled, he took three more steps. And stopped. The great, star-shaped Palace of the Dark Sisters rose before them.
"Startling, isn't it? Come on in."
"Startling? Fascinating, I’d say."
Still, this was a bit disturbing. Who was this Sundara? What kind of person would live in a hidden palace atop this dark mountain?
The Dark One Mentioned Sisters...
That had to be it. Nothing else fit the facts. Sundara was one of the Sisters of the Dark One. And there were others, apparently.
Menace looked at her. There was nothing to indicate a family resemblance to the ultimate evil. Sundara looked to be very young, somewhat younger than the twenty-something that Menace himself appeared. Her voice was nothing like the capitalized mindspeak that trademarked Shai’Tan. Her mannerisms... if anything they reminded him of a Domani woman he met once.
"Is something wrong?" she asked, noticing Menace staring.
"Uh.. nothing. It’s just that you’re not what I expected." Menace hoped that sounded enigmatic enough.
"You want enigmatic?" asked Kiriath, with only his eyes hovering before the troupe in sheer reminiscence of Harkle Harpell buggering Bruenor in Mithril Hall. Ah, first introductions. One of the bodiless, psychedelic eyes winked.
"Greetings, Menace," said the voice, also quite bodiless, unless you would consider a body not anywhere near it to count. At the ..well.. menace's tilted head, the eyes did the best imitation of a shrug that they could. "Oh.. that's who you are? Just an Eccentric thought, mind you." Eccentric taverenness? Not good. Draws too much attention. Must bring out Notumar very soon...
Kiriath shrugged at Carramaena, the majority of his body still above the aforementioned pair. "I suppose you can probably do this by now, also? If not, get the party started." Not able to wink, his body simply joined his eyes with just a touch of soft grey wisps for dramatic purposes. "Greetings, Menace," bowed the Intrigleeman, patchcloth cloak making him look like a bodiless body. "Glad to make your acquaintance."
Kiriath, Eccentric Intrigleeman
I wonder if you might say the same ;)
After that little shock wore off, Menace burst out laughing.
"You must be that new breed of Shadowspawn. Exact opposite of a Myrdraal, right?"
Still, there was something new to be learned here. Menace could see the traces of a new power being channeled, something that he was completely unfamiliar with.
Unfamiliar powers were a bad thing. Trying to subvert an unknown flow was potentially embarassing at best. At worst, it could cause a cataclysm for miles in every direction.
Just a minute, "Harkle Harpell buggering Bruenor" ?!!!!!!!!
Sundara started to laugh. "Kiriath, you're crazy. Come to think of it, I'm sure I've mentioned that before." Still laughing, she introduced the pair. "Menace, this is my old friend Kiriath. Kiriath, this is my new friend Menace. In neither case is 'friend' precisely the correct word, but it'll do for now."
She looked toward the gates, and saw Carra coming over to meet them. She glided quickly across to intercept her sister.
"Carra, I found this man coming from the Pit. He tells a very strange story." In a low voice she filled Carra in on their mystery guest. "I don't know how well - or if - he can handle the EP, but be careful trying it out." She turned back to Menace, returning to a normal speaking voice. "And this is my sister Carramaena. Carra, meet our latest guest Menace."
"Nice to meet you, Menace," Carra said pleasantly, then without any warning kicked Kiriath in the just-appeared shin. He yelped. "Stop that, gleemaniac, and stop showing off how crazy you are. And let's all of us stop standing around and go inside, because dinner's ready."
Letting the two men go ahead, she dropped back to talk to Sundara. Before long they had worked out how to fit this new element into their plans. Carra grinned and ran lightly up the stairs to catch up with them.
"Come right this way. Everyone's waiting."
Things are getting interesting...
The doors swung open, and bowing servants ushered them through. Not into the great hall, which, although beautiful, was sized for the typical Dark Sister party - for a hundred guests at the very least. Instead, a marble staircase led up to a smaller room on the first floor, where the rest of their guests were waiting.
"Do be seated, everyone. Dinner is on its way, and the cooks assure me it will be delicious. But first a few introductions." Sundara took Menace's hand and pulled him forward to meet the other three. "Menace, this is the mysterious Allanon, of whom we know little as yet. This is Melissande Amaline Isten, Aes Sedai of the Blue Ajah, who walks in the Light and is our guest somewhat unwillingly. And this is Eval Ramman, Chosen of the Great Lord in an alternate reality, who strayed here via a Portal Stone. Allanon, Melissande, Eval, this is Menace, who I just met on his way back from the Pit of Doom."
Just then the door opened again, letting in a number of servants carrying trays. "And here we are. Be seated where you will, friends; and what would you all care to drink?"
Sundara, Sister of the Dark and ever-gracious hostess
"As to that," Eval interjected, "I took the liberty of ordering a cask up from the cellars. A particularly fine vintage." It was indeed fine, and also strong. If it loosened a few of their guests' tongues, so much the better. If not - well, at least they would drink in style. At his order, a pair of the servants set out jewelled goblets. As the company took their seats, another man opened the cask and poured each brimful of wine.
"And I would offer a toast, if I may. To the ever-fair Sundara -" Eval half-smiled and raised his cup - "my heart is yours, but of course, you already knew that... Drink deep, ladies and lords, and now to dine."
Eval Ramman, Lord of Darkness
Menace sipped carefully. It was good stuff: high quality, but in strength it was closer to cognac than wine. There were no drugs or poisons to be tasted- which proved nothing, but it was highly doubtful that anybody present would stoop to something so mundane as to slip an herb in a guest's drink.
In any event, hiking across the blight was thirsty work, so Menace gave up caution and drained his goblet, and his next three, so that the room started spinning. Ah, much better.
"Eval Ramman, chosen of the Dark One," Menace mused, almost too silently to be heard. "That name sounds almost familiar. Maybe from another age- an earlier life, it might have been the name of someone prominent. Should I recognise him?
"Allanon is another that I've heard before, even further back. A legend, if I recall, something to do with a sword..."
Menace shook his head as if to clear it, and finished a fifth glass of wine. He looked over toward Carramaena and Kiriath and was amused to note that his blurred vision gave the illusion that the dark sister and the madman were sitting in their own laps.
Then the thought occurred to Menace that Kiriath might actually be sitting in his own lap, and Menace chased that one down with a sixth drink.
If the food doesn't get here soon... I don't think I can take much more of this.
Allanon looked out across the table. Quite an impressive, if strange group of people. And quite an impressive spread also. The sisters sure do know how to through a party.
He let his senses flow outward and across the glass of wine. Sensing nothing, he took a sip and a sip only before setting the glass back down. He hadn't thought they would bother with poison or drugs of some sort, but it wouldn't do for his tongue to become loose. You can never tell what you will say when you've knocked back a few drinks.
Just as this thought came across his mind he took a look over at Menace, the man swaying in his seat and just had to smile. There's the look of a man who's had just a bit too much.
Still smiling to himself, he took one more look around. Perhaps the dark does have its advantages after all, but then again perhaps not. I suppose I'll have to make up my mind at some point, but for now its just best to sit back and let others do the talking. Sometimes mystery can be a good thing.
"Kiriath," Carra said, "are you sitting in your lap?"
The Intrigleeman looked down. "Yes."
Carra shrugged, drank a toast to insanity, and poured herself another drink.
Better ease up on that wine, Menace, you never know what you might see...
"That brings up an interesting point, dear Dark Sister." Carra looked at him, both from his words and also from the oddly Bondish tone he was picking up.
"No, not that I want you to sit in my lap." Carra blinked.. being Eccentric herself, the thought had popped into her mind! There are limits to insanity :>
"The term 'lap dance' comes to mind." His eyes swirled, one blinking away as he winked. "It brings a new meaning to the term, to say the least."
Kiriath, Eccentric Intrigleeman
Since when was I serious? :>
Carra pulled a pad and pencil from nowhere and began to sketch. "You look very strange, Kiriath." She paused and rephrased. "Stranger than you usually do, that is. I think I shall call this picture "Lap Dancing"
She continued drawing. Really, Kiriath was starting to look rather like one of those impossible drawings - Escher or some such thing, were they? Then she looked up again and blinked. That is, her eyes switched colours for a moment then switched back again.
"That isn't a Klein Stein you're drinking from, is it?"
Serious, should I know that word?
Melissande looked at Kiriath and Carramaena.
Her brain started to burn out trying to reconcile what her eyes saw with the laws of phyics, so she quickly looked away again. As it happened, 'away' was in the direction of the dark man calling himself Allanon.
"I don't think we've met, have we? I'm Melissande."
Melissande Amaline Isten, Aes Sedai of the Blue Ajah, way out of her depth
"Quite pleasent to meet you Lady Melissande. I am Allanon, somewhat of a newcomer here. Forgive me for asking, but I was a little curious as to what a lady of your, shall we say standing, is doing in a place such as this?
"Oh, I don't mind you asking. I was wondering much the same thing." Melissande smiled wryly. "I was experimenting with what some people call the World of Dreams, and somehow ended up caught in one of our hostess's dreams." She nodded toward Sundara. "Along with a number of other people. I was there long enough before anyone realized it to hear some things they didn't want heard, so..." She shrugged. "Here I am until they decide what to do with me, although they favour persuading me to join."