Eval looked at Menace and smiled a slow, satisfied smile. That wine had certainly done its work on one guest tonight.
"Drink deep, friend," he urged the man. "This is the wine of kings. More, for even a king might beggar himself and his kingdom for a cask of this. Here we live as kings only dream."
Menace smiled happily and downed another goblet's worth. Eval refilled it for him.
"They call this Dragonwine, I'm told. Fit for only - and affordable by only - the man who rules the world. Is it not a fine jest that we, his enemies, sit here tonight to drink his wine?"
He helpfully refilled Menace's cup again. There were other connotations to the name, of course. The Dragon was the strongest channeler in existence. Certain parallels could be drawn.
Eval studied the stranger. Wine and talk were making him very sleepy. Enough for him to talk freely? Perhaps. If he had come from Shayol Ghul, in all probability he served the Great Lord of the Dark. Which, theoretically, put them on the same side. But Eval's loyalties had drifted somewhat off course lately - and there was such a thing as sibling rivalry.
Eval knew perfectly well whose side he would be on if it came to conflict - as it had once before - between brother and sister. He wondered if the Great Lord did.
Refilling Menace's cup a third time, he decided to gamble. "But then, the Dragon knows nothing of us. Me he imagines dead, of my Lady and fair Carramaena he has never heard, and you - you too have some mission for the Great Lord, I see. Where do you aim?"
Eval Ramman, lord of darkness, provider of fine wines
Ending his conversation with Melissande, he stood up slowly, yawning.
"I would like to thank you all for an entertaining evening, but I'm afraid I must depart. I have other matters to which I must attend."
With that said, he wrapped his cloak around himself and strode quickly towards the door and the impeding night of the Blight.
"Must you leave so soon? Stay a little longer, the night's yet young." Sundara smiled up at Allanon. "No? Then you must at least come again before long. Good company is always welcome."
She called to a man in dark livery. "Show the lord Allanon his way out."
After Allanon had gone, she glanced over to where Eval was busy charming Menace. Who was - what was that old saying again? Ah, yes. Menace was drunk as a skunk. Laughter bubbled up inside her.
"Won't you have a little more wine?" she suggested sweetly, refilling her own cup. She could match him drink for drink if necessary. The wine was delicious. And Dark Sisters could hold their liquor.
Unlike certain other people...
"Rambling is an art," said Kiriath for no reason. The past few ..well.. time is indeterminate in this universe; suffice it to say that in the past few alternate universe weeks, he had been feeling gloomy. A bath relieved that this night so the Intrigleeman was now sufficiently hyper. Although his Gargle Blaster was beginning to wear off, however bottomless its bottom was, he was still going steadily.
"Using the word ramble in a sentence as long as possible rejuvenates the mind," he said quietly, chugging down the already refilling glass. "If I had the patience, I would have already filled more than a gigabyte -where did that term come from?- full of the word. As it is, I will shut up, lest I reveal my power."
He blinked and chugged again. "As in Dragonball Z, a rambler's power is never gone, it only needs refreshment. And this," he said, eyes whirling wildly, "is almost as effective as the elegant Carramaena herself." He winked at the figure, wherever she was -his mind was too ..well.. enrambled to discern anything.
"A rambler can hold his liquor much better," he said finally, just coming to the original point. Which he, of course, was doing, having it held in his hand currently.
Kiriath, Eccentric Intrigleeman
There's an art of the rejuvenation of rambling.
Carramaena was arguing with her conscience.
"It really isn't right to get Menace drunk to get information out of him, you know."
"So what does that have to do with me? Go pester Eval or Sundara."
"You have a responsibility to demonstrate proper conduct."
"I throw parties every now and again. That's proper conduct for a Dark Sister."
"You're a Dark Sister? I knew I was in the wrong place."
"And take that responsibility with you when you leave, will you? It clashes with my hair."
Carra, getting more and more eccentric
Menace was forced to close his eyes, as the spinning room was making it very difficult to concentrate. When he dared look again, he looked to Eval and Sundara, and noticed their smiles (all eight of them).
They think I'm playing into their hands, he thought. They're right. But if I can remember any of this in the morning, it may be worth it.
"Friend Eval," he began, "yours is a question of sides, I think. Ages past, people always wanted to know. Final battles come, everyone's politicking - they always want to know: am I light or dark. If I say dark, they want to know which ashp... excuse me, aspiring Naeblis I'm for. All the sides, they're all the same anyway - just some throw better parties. So I tell them what that Nym in the old legend says: I'm not altogether on anybody's side, since nobody's altogether on my side.
"People just look at me funny when I say that. But in most ages, I have no argument with the light or the dark. Being bound to the horn as I was, I had worked to see both victorious. The wheel of time always overturns the last victory anyway, what is the point? Why not just go mad? That man..."
Menace tried to point at Kiriath, but following his finger was enough to make a person seasick, "... anyway, he has the right idea. Sanity's overrated- it's a one trick horse. You've got one thing going for you, rational thinking. If that fails, where are you then?
"The wine... I think it helps me forget. Sometimes. Try sleeping nights when you're me. Always nightmares about falling, sending you screaming awake. Because I know what I can look forward to: death and more falling. Bloody pattern! Bloody lace of ages!"
Menace drank to this as if it were a toast.
"But then, the Great Lord, he plans to end all that, right? Break the wheel, destroy the pattern, it's brilliant! I travel here to offer my unique talents, and for what? To keep tabs on the Great Lord's lieutenants, that's what. To watch more bloody faction politics! Shai'tan... he... disappoints me."
Menace slipped out of his chair and passed out on the floor.
Sundara rang the bell for more servants.
"Take our guest to a suite, please, and put him to bed. He's had a little too much to drink." She exchanged a three-way glance with Eval and Carra. They'd discuss Menace later, when Melissande and Kiriath weren't around.
One guest left, and she turned her smile on Melissande. Who, unfortunately, seemed to be perfectly sober. Oh well, one out of three wasn't bad.
"So tell me, 'Lissa - have you thought any more about our suggestion?"
Thought? Plenty, though not with any conclusion.
She glanced warily at Carramaena. It wasn't that odd for someone to argue with their conscience, but most people didn't do it out loud. She wasn't sure whether the woman really was mad or was trying to put her off balance. She wasn't sure which one she preferred, either. And it hadn't escaped her that with one guest left and one comatose, all three Shadowsworn were watching her.
She very firmly didn't drink the wine.
"It's a very tempting offer. How long do I have to think about it?"
Melissande Amaline Isten
Aes Sedai of the Blue Ajah
"You don't." Sundara smiled. "We all know you're playing for time, but time isn't going to get you out of here. So make up your mind. Either you swear to the Shadow now and become the third active Dark Sister, or you wake up in the Tower tomorrow morning with a severe, and I do mean severe, case of amnesia."
She spun her empty goblet in her fingers, the candlelight glinting off it in flashes. Light... dark... light... dark...
The symbolism was obvious.
Sundara, Sister of the Dark
"Of course she's stalling," complained Kiriath, Menace's earlier comments simply adding to his already sloshed attitude. "I imagine after drinking at this party, she has to be!"
Sundara cocked an eyebrow, a tiny trace of annoyance coming into her features. "Give her a break," grinned the Intrigleeman. "A bathroom break."
He flicked his features toward Melissande, eyes whirling. "Perhaps when you've returned -if you choose to go- you'll have realised which faction is for you."
The gleeman crossed one pair of arms and laid back, his eyes suddenly dropping into his Blaster bottle. They flailed about -no problem, as another set had appeared on his features- as Kiriath grinned. "It makes no difference to me. The only downside to it is that I won't be able to plague so many factions."
"But if you do become Dark," winked the gleeman, "who's to saying they won't send you back anyw--"
At that moment, something changed in Kiriath. His entire body vanished as though by patchcloth for a sheer second; in the next, he reappeared.
His original eyes had... disappeared... into his wine bottle.
Kiriath, Eccentric Intrigleeman
And so another chapter begins...
Melissande watched Kiriath in fascination. All sorts of strange things were happening to his body. Her mind couldn't decide whether the ultimatum or the intrigleeman was more worthy of thinking about.
"Ouch!" he exclaimed suddenly. Someone had just kicked him under the table. Probably Carra.
"Ignore the gleeman," Sundara said. "Make your decision."
Her mind snapped back to the original question, and started working hard. She looked around. One pair of eyes were still doing strange things, but the other three were watching her intently.
"Being a Dark Sister means I get the same power, information and etc as you do?" If she was going to join the Shadow, the deal was going to have to be a good one. She kept thinking.
"All right." she said. "On one condition."
"And that would be...?" Sundara raised an eyebrow. Her cup continued to spin.
"Two conditions, come to think of it."
The cup kept spinning.
"Number one is, I get Elaida." She smiled, not nicely. "We loathed each other the day we met. If you're planning to let her live, the deal's off."
"And number two?"
"You have to throw a party, of course. You've all been telling me it's tradition. And this time, I *don't* get stuck in your dream."
Melissande Amaline Isten
Shadowsworn to be?
"Deal, and deal!" Sundara grinned, dark eyes flashing. "I've been wondering what to do with Elaida. She's all yours. This calls for a toast!"
The wine lifted from the table on flows of Air, poured into five cups and set itself neatly down again. Sundara rose to her feet.
"Melissande Amaline Isten, Aes Sedai of the Blue Ajah, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the Shadow. Tomorrow you can meet the Great Lord of the Dark, or Big Brother as two people, and now three, are allowed to call him to his face. And tomorrow night -"
She raised her cup.
"Tomorrow night we party like we haven't partied in ages. In reality, not in a dream. So here's to our new Sister, and to imminent victory!"
Sundara, ready to party
Allanon shook his head sadly, recalling his etheral form back into his body. Another one lost to the shadow.
How can these fools truly believe that Shai'tan will let them live once he is released? Something must be done soon before all hope is lost. The light must prevail at all costs. But I'll need help, all the help I can get.
The banqueting hall just wouldn't do it, for an occasion like this. The entire palace, gardens too, was ablaze with light. Music echoed not just from the stage but from the roof, the treetops, the Pit of Doom and just about everywhere else where people might take it into their heads to dance.
Three of these people were Dark Sisters, after all.
Sundara was enjoying herself, directing the preparations for festivities. It was a long time - too long - since there had been three Dark Sisters at Shayol Ghul. They would get down to work soon enough, but there were certain formalities to be observed first. Namely, the party to end all parties.
Weaving flows of the True Power, she caused a message to be sent out to everyone interested.
Dear enemies and dearer friends, we of the Shadow gather tonight to celebrate the adoption of a third sister into the Dark Family. You of the Light will no doubt be not entirely pleased at this development; however, in accordance with tradition, I declare a truce and call on Light and Shadow alike to come and party.
She paused, then added a postscript.
Allanon, didn't anyone ever tell you that eavesdropping isn't polite? Don't worry, you're still invited. But you should know that we are constantly aware of any presence at Shayol Ghul.
It was only fair to warn him. She smiled, sent the message, and channeled again.
Bells rang out all over the Palace. Above the ringing, voice amplified by the Power, the youngest but first of the Dark Sisters called out "Do you all know what time it is?"
She smiled again, and waited for the answer.
Sundara, and are you all ready to party?
"Of course we do," Carra yelled at the top of her voice, not bothering with amplification. "It's time to PARTY!"
She vaulted over the bannister and landed neatly in the middle of the banqueting hall. Strolling outside, she met up with Sundara. "Hey, Dara. Everything ready?"
"Naturally." Sundara looked at her and grinned. "Nice outfit."
Carra spun, showing off. She was wearing black leather pants, skintight, with a matching vest and high-heeled boots. A tight silver belt cinched her waist in, and the silver bangles glittering up and down her arms completed the ensemble. Her copper hair tumbled loose and wild. "I figured, with Ari and Egwene2 gone, someone had to do the leather and stilettos thing. You don't look so bad yourself."
(Dara? You miss something? Isn't a description of Dark Sister outfits compulsory for ANY party thread?)
Carramaena, and you can bet your life I'm ready
Sundara pirouetted in turn. Her own outfit was copied from an ancient First Age culture, loose, gauzy trousers and a tiny beaded top. In white and silver that contrasted with her dark colouring, she was almost a negative image of Carra. She was barefoot, but both fingernails and toenails glittered silver.
"Thank you." Her sudden grin was a little guilty. "You know, we shouldn't be showing off too much. It is Melissande's party."
"Where is she, anyway?"
"Still getting ready. I wonder who else is coming?"
(Carra, you're absolutely right! Thank you for the reminder.)
(Outfit descriptions? Is this a new rule no one told me about?)
Having sorted out her affairs in the Tower, Melissande stepped through a gateway back to the Dark Palace, where rooms had been set up for her. Preparations for a party were going on outside. Good.
There was a knock on her door, and a young servant girl came through. "Melissande Sedai? I'm to help you get ready for the party, if you please?"
"Well, thank you, child." Melissande hadn't thought about clothes. Maybe she could Travel back to the Tower for one of her gowns?
"The other Sisters will be dressed spectacularly. It's very important that you match them, or people won't take you seriously as a Dark Sister." The girl was unwrapping a parcel of cloth. "The seamstresses made this up, I thought you might like it."
She glided down the stairs half an hour later, resplendent. The gown was velvet, soft as a kitten and a deep, deep red that was striking against her fair hair and skin. It fitted like a glove, perfectly comfortable yet tight enough to be just on the brink of indecency. In other words, it should suit her new role to perfection. The matching shoes, and the dazzling ruby earrings, weren't bad either.
"Well," she said, walking outside to see her new sisters. "Where's the party?"
How's that for a Dark Sister outfit?