Author's Note: A three-way dedicaton is in order - Princess Eilonwy (thanks - I love onions!), Spencer4Ever, and TheZorpisuttle (btw Cal is who you think he is - well spotted!) - in the words of Rand129; muchos gracias. This chapter was sitting on disk for a long time so it's getting a little rabid - thanks for giving me the impetus to release it into the WoT wilds.

Disclaimer: The following chapter contains a product that is entirely fictional and in no way related to Duct-Tape™. No sir-ee.

Chapter Five – The Great Shunt

Are plot-holes getting you down?

Look no further than the cure-all to end all your fictional faux-pas – FUCT TAPE™!

Sturdy and durable, FUCT™, or Fictional Utility Corrective Tape, is resistant to gerund, dieresis, and Jabberwock attack – it's the answer to all your textual troubles. So, remember:

Got a problem…..GET FUCT™!

FUCT™ Tape is a product of Goliath Corporation. FUCT™ Tape is not compatible with paradoxes, Prose Portals or any works authored by Dean R. Koontz. May contain nuts. Not to be taken orally.

Advertisement feature from The Daily Pickwick, April 25th 1988

Some time later, as twilight grazed the diaphanous drapes, Agent Liberty Belle stirred in her blankets and sighed. At her side, replete and resplendent, lay the errant Questioner named Cal; bold and handsome, thoughtful and kind, the paramount lover -

'Wait.' I bolted upright. 'What just happened?'

Cal stirred and fluttered open his baby blues. My belly did its best impression of a jumping bean on a trampette. 'We had SECS.'

'Come again?' Which was an ironic thing to say, given the circumstance.

'S-E-C-S. Standard Enforced Censored Shennigans.' Cal propped himself up on an elbow, smiling at my doubtless aghast expression. 'Jordan gets nervous about his characters being caught en flagrante – the Wheel of Time series stretches to implied sexual acts only.'

'So we haven't done it?'

'Done what?'


'Technically, no.'

'So one minute we're snogging in the bar—'

'And the next we're puffing on a post-copulatory pipe.'

Bowlderised in the bedroom - the ultimate coitus interruptus.

'Bugger that,' I growled, lunging for my wide-eyed, would-be ravisher….

Some considerable time later, as moonlight lit on tangled sheets, Liberty Belle stretched her lithe, naked body….and swore.

'Bloody hell - this is really getting on my wick.' Which was also an ironic thing to say, if your entendre switch was set on 'tenuous'. I sighed, pouted a bit, then nestled into a manly shoulder. 'So, I suppose a bonk is out of the question?'

'Go to sleep. Tomorrow, we'll find you a nice red-rod ter'angreal.'

'What does that do?'

Cal whispered in my ear. In no time, I was grinning as widely as he.

'Dough Dan-ee Booooy, the pies the pies are crawling!

From wren to wren and floss the doubting bride...'

With a cry, I charged through the spray of musical mondegreens and flung glad arms about the singer.

'My slumbering serendipity,' exclaimed Jherek, holding me at arms length and smiling his lovely smile. 'It's so joyous to see you - I was worried pink.'

I swiped at the snotty snail-trail where my nose had bashed his shoulder, not wanting to ruin his fabulous single-breasted, chocolate with yellow pinstripe suit set off with black winkle-pickers and - rather incongruously - a ten-gallon hat. Purple, of course.

'Jherek?' I asked, my voice wibbling only slightly. 'Where are we?'

'Why, the late twentieth century I had hoped.' My mentor cast a worried glance at our surroundings. 'Oh dear - have I got it so dreadfully wrong?'

'No, no,' I assured hurriedly. 'Just a few teeny errors.' I gestured at a wilting – melting - flower. 'Buttercups aren't usually made of butter. And cars run on wheels, not feet. Oh, and you know the sky – it has a strange tendency to be filled with clouds.'

'Not clowns?'

'Er, no,' I said, peering at a distant Pierrot masquerading as cumulus stratus with the aid of mime.

Clearly crestfallen, Jherek waved a hand and the sky was full of plump fluffy clouds in place of plump, un-funny clowns.


'Much. I'm none the wiser, though.'

'This,' he spread his be-ringed hands and beamed. 'Is tel'aran'rhiod.'

'Come again?'

'The domain of dreams, sphere of somnabulance, idyll of the imagination.' Jherek patted my arm. 'Don't worry. It's quite safe.'

'Then I'm not dead?'

'Simply sleeping, sweetest of peas. I was much distraught to discover the malfunction of the communicator so I seized the opportunity to speak with you.'

We paused to appreciate a herd of cows in aerial formation. 'Thank you.'

'You're very welcome.'

'So I'm still in bed?'

'Cozened up with that blonde fellow. Good work, my peppered pigeon-pie. He's seems a thoroughly decent sort.'

We skittered our gazes from each other before I piped, a little too heartily; 'Jherek – what now?'

'I held discourse with that terribly clever Victorian fellow; queer name, funny hat—'

Talk about pot calling kettle.

'—Gosh, you know, the one with the pipe and jocular physician friend.'

'Sherlock Holmes?'

'The very same! Frightfully quick chap – he sleuthed that the sarcasm quotient has risen 74 per cent in Chapter Forty-Seven of The Great Hunt.'

'Agent Iron,' I breathed.

'Lemon-entry, my dear girl.'

'Can you pop up a portal?'

Jherek shook his head sadly. 'According to Master Schitt, all standard communications are F-O-O-B-A-R. But have heart,' he implored at my glum mien. 'The first edition of The Eye of the World contained an anomaly in Chapter Thirty-Four – Kari al'Thor's eyes are described as 'dark.'


'Rand's facial orbs are described as identical to his mother's yet….'

'His eyes are grey,' I marvelled.

'Precisely, my chucklesome chickadee. The error was patched in later editions but your companion Cal should have the means to locate the plot-hole and breach the adjoining book.'

'Jherek, you're an utter bloody genius.'

'Also, I have held discourse with Agent Iron in the World of Dreams – he is eager to greet you at Falme.'

Greet? Throttle, more like.

I smiled nonetheless – Jherek sort of had that effect on people – but my usually merry mentor sniffled at my parting kiss. 'Take care, Liberty.'

Now that sounded ominous. 'Jherek, is there anything you're not telling me?'

His lower lip quivered. 'Absolutely not.'

'Are you sure?'

'Sure as legs.'

'You mean eggs?'

'Indeed,' exclaimed an obviously troubled Jherek. 'Now cheerios, my student. Be well.'

And, with that I woke up.

'Gosh – a secret mission. How splendid,' I exclaimed, bouncing from my blankets and coming over all Enid Blyton in my girlish glee. 'I hope there's lashings of tea for afters.'

Cal blinked as he struggled from the quilt. 'Are you all right?'

'Fine, but we need to get our rumps in gear.' I planted a kiss on his lovely brow.

Sometime later, confused and angry in mien, Liberty Belle clasped the bed-sheets and raised her voice in a heavenward cry….

'Oh for Fain's sake,' I bellowed. 'It was only a bloody kiss.'

Cal paused in the act of pulling on his breeches. 'I think someone's having a game with you, Outlander.'

'Well she can piss off.'

'What makes you think the Creator is a she?'

I waggled a lascivious brow. 'Who else would grace us with One-Powered vibrators?'

'Good point.'

'In more ways than one.'

'Liberty Belle, behave yourself.'

According to Cal – who was getting steadily handsomer by the heartbeat – our first task was to pluck a suitable Rand from the crop of FanFictional gingers in the bar below.

We ummed and ahhed a while – it was worse than a trip to the pound with all those big eyes pleading up at us - but only one cut the Dijon mustard. Rand129; ginger, eager, with just a pinch of stupidity.

'Sure he's the right one?' I asked Cal as we slurped celebratory cocktails in the neon splashed Feathered Egg. The unsuccessful Rands had already sloped to the bar, a red-tufted tide of dejection.

'I've eliminated the possible defects,' confirmed Cal, ticking one off each finger. 'Complete Psychosis, OOC-ness, weakness for Mary-Sues – he's pretty much flawless.'

FanFictional Specimen Rand129 (author unknown – account deleted) curled a prim smile over his pink cocktail complete with umbrella, twisty straw, and other assorted faff. 'Can't thank you enough,' he said, and that sense of creeping unease crept a little higher. It was nothing I could pin down, except maybe his hair….too artfully mussed. 'I won't let you down.' And there it was again, that wisp of a lisp, hardly there at all.

Cal's face was very solemn. 'And you are aware of the dangers?'

'Oh absolutely.'

'Tattoos? Alienation? Madness? Bigamy?'

Rand129 baulked at that last one before hitching his grin high. 'I'm the Rand for you'.

'Sorted?' I whispered.

'I'd say so,' Cal agreed.

'Gorgeous.' Rand129 winked at us. 'Don't suppose there's time to finish this Screaming Queen?'

I know, I know - in retrospect the signs were all there.
'What tape?'

'FUCT™ tape,' Cal replied, peering around the gloomy corner. 'They sold reams of it until 1986.'

I exchanged a bemused glance with Rand129. 'What happened then?'

'Non-renewable resource. It turned out it was almost impossible to get FUCT™.' For some reason Cal was whispering. He was also the colour of warm blancmange. 'The lengths Goliath went to get FUCT™ is the stuff of legend.'

'Strange. I'd have thought Goliath would be told how to get FUCT™ all the time.'

Cal un-poked his head from 'round a corner. His smile was – if you'll excuse the pun - a trifle queasy. 'All clear.'

'Wait!' wailed Rand129. 'What are my lines again?'

'Just improv.' I patted his hand reassuringly. He looked singularly unreassured. 'You're the best Rand we've got. Hand-picked. Bursting with gingery goodness. You'll be fine.'

'Yes, yes – but what's my motivation?'

'Jesus in a jo-car - have you kept the receipt?' I hissed at Cal who ignored me, albeit apologetically.

Backs pressed to the walls, we edged into our destination. The room was cavernous, droopy with gloom but warm enough to singe the whiskers off a Darkhound.

'What's up with the thermostat?'


'Shh yourself - where's the plot-hole?'

'I don't know,' Cal admitted, now very white around the eyes.

I swore and scoured the room; it was bare save for the inferno in the hearth, a single wooden chair, and an oppressive shroud of evil. No sign of any plot-holes. Not for the first time, I began to doubt Jherek's advice.

It was at that moment the sound came; a sonorous knell, like the last toll of doom, a dread tocsin that ached to my bones. It swelled, louder and louder until it seemed it would crash upon me like a black tide. I turned, eyes wide, sweat an chill veil on my flesh - and beheld a sight that turned my blood to ice.

There, in all his unholy maleficence, loomed a creature of flame and shadow - The Father of Lies.

'OOOH, WHAT LUCK,' said the Betrayer of Hope. 'I'VE JUST POPPED THE KETTLE ON.'

While Cal and I gaped like a pair of slapped cod, Rand129 stepped forward, shoulders squared to geometric perfection. He took a deep breath and launched his acting debut with a single word; 'Aaaaaaagggggh.'

Cal flung himself twixt the mortal foes but it was too late.

'WHO IS HE?' boomed the Dark One.

I pasted on my best artless smile. 'He?'

'THAT BOY,' said the nexus of all evil, though some of the conviction had left his OVERWHELMINGLY EVIL voice. 'THE ONE WITH RED HAIR.'

'Oh that's just my cousin….erm….Juan.' A bead of sweat twinkled on the tip of my nose then plopped to the floor.

Rand129, who seemed to have recovered remarkable composure, wiggled his fingers coyly. 'Buenos Diaz.'

Oh, he was good.

Cal rubbed his hands in the manner of one eager to be somewhere else, perhaps a kitten abattoir or neck-deep in landfill. 'We really should be leaving mister….'

'CALL ME SHAI'TAN,' the Dark One insisted, cousin Juan forgotten. In fact Ba'alzy had perked right up – he was all a-glow. Literally.

'Righto, Shai'…mmphle.'

Cal fixed a grin as he un-clamped my mouth. 'Thank you, Ba'alzamon, but we have to be on our way.'


He was fruity all right – fruity in the head.

'Maybe next time.' Cal groped a little further along the wall, Rand129 and I following his lead. 'We're on our way somewhere, you see.'

Red eyes narrowed to slits. 'WHERE?'

'Funeral,' leapt from my tongue the very instant Cal blurted; 'Shearing.'

'A FUNERAL AT A SHEARING?' Old Grim asked doubtfully.

'Si,' said Rand129.

'We wouldn't bother going but you know how it is – keeping in with the relatives and all that. Dead-Sluffing is all the rage on the Isle of Madmen - they're a bit queer down there….isn't that right?'

'Loco,' agreed Rand129.

'Ha ha! Yes, mad as a box of frogs, the lot of them.' I twirled a finger in the vague direction of my ear. 'Crazy. Crackers. Bonker-bloody-riffic.'

'FANCY THAT,' said Old Grim, his flames brightening again. 'BALTHAMEL SAID I NEED TO WORK ON MY TAN. DO YOU MIND IF I TAG ALONG?'

'Noooo,' we chorused, unified in mortification.


We stopped our scurry to the door. 'Just getting warmed up for the fun-run,' I assured, jogging on the spot.

'FUN-RUN!' Shai'tan sent sparks flying as he clapped. 'DAPS IT IS, THEN!'

As soon as his shadowed back was turned, Cal muttered a low; 'Fucked.'

'We are not - I've squirmed out of worse than this.'

'No, FUCT™. I can see the tape. Distract him.'

Trying to look casual, I strolled to stroke a chair made of what looked suspiciously like MDF. 'Nice décor. Very minimalist.'


'Psst. Hurry up.'

'Nearly there,' Cal hissed back. Rand129 was dancing on his toes as Cal unpicked a strip of gluey-looking tape. I could make out a twitter of blue and red light, as though a Jean Michel Jar extravaganza was taking place just beyond.


The light was getting brighter now. With a triumphant flourish, Cal tore the brown tape from its latching, punted the faux-Rand through, and then lunged for my arm. I was getting a bit sick of being hauled through strange orifices.


His Dark Whininess's plea chased us, stretching as it plunged into a pinhole of infinity. I had that queasy feeling, the kind you get hitting water from at great height, and then I was tumbling across good old terra firma.

'Argh,' I yelled, skidding to a grass-stained halt. 'If I get dragged through one more hole—'

'You'll do what, exactly?'

That voice sounded familiar. In a nice way. Sort of.

'Eeew. She's all icky,' squealed a voice that was decidedly un-familiar and not nice at all.

I blinked up at the figures silhouetted against what looked like a roaring firework display.

'You're late,' drawled the familiar voice. A hand reached to haul me afoot. 'Can't you do anything by the book?'

'You mean God-Emperor Iron Dick's Big Book of Bollocking Arse-ery?'

Amazingly, Agent Iron cracked a smile. 'Be nice.'

'Richie, put her down. You don't know where she's been.'

Iron blinked and released me and I turned a glare on the mewling harridan at his side. With that frou-frou hair and googly eyes, she was unmistakably the rogue 'Sue-2. I frowned at her then frowned at my acknowledgement of her her-ness – it had somehow become a she.

'Buenos Diaz,' piped Rand129 cheerily.

Agent Iron ignored the clone's proffered hand. 'What is this creature doing here?'

'This creature is called Rand129. And he's our new GG1.'

I could see Iron's stiff lip fighting a sneer. 'That thing is not a classified Generic.'

'No. He's better then a Generic.'

Agent Dick simmered. I simmered back.

'Perhaps it's best we keep our voices down,' Cal said diplomatically. 'We seem to have landed in a sortie.'

I flung Iron Dick a final disgusted look then noticed the strangeness of my environment. Really noticed. There was a lot of yelling going on amid the sound of steel locked on steel. And those weren't fireworks in the night sky.

'Welcome to Falme, Agent Belle.' Iron spared only a glance for Cal. 'And about time - we have a situation.'


'A PageRunner.'

'What a scoop!'

'A second PageRunner, since you wish to be pedantic, Agent Belle.'

That cracked the smile from my teeth. 'Who?'

'Matrim Cauthon – a liability from the outset. I'd been keeping him on a tight leash but he's wily.'

I swore. Agent Iron nodded. 'I've persuaded the Aybara boy to summon the heroes but he's not happy. Your,' again that barely repressed sneer, 'FanFictional creation will have to do. We can make it look like the horn summoned Rand along with the heroes, work it into the scene.'

'So what now?'

Iron hunkered into the grass, neatly timed to duck a whizzing fireball. 'Now, we wait.'

We crouched in a rough circle, eyeing each other with barely veiled interest and/or contempt.

A glance at the 'Sue set her 'icky' comment pinballing through my skull. She could wait – after all, I was a professional bider of time.

'So, who's the bitch?'

All right, maybe I was more of an amateur.

'As you well know—' Iron paused to appreciate a particularly colourful explosion. 'She is the litera-form known as 'Sue-2.'

'That is not my name, Richie,' snapped 'Sue-2. 'I am called Seiera.'

I snorted. 'What?'

'On account of my beauteous blue eyes,' simpered 'Sue.

'Shut it, bubbles.'

But Iron was smiling at the creature. 'She's become self-aware. It seemed these creatures develop if suspended in a literary format for sustained periods. We had only been here an hour when she proclaimed herself Seiera.'

'On account of my beauteous blue eyes.'

'Want to know what fist tastes like?'

'Sue sniffed and glanced appealingly at Cal who took not notice of her whatsoever. She then tried her luck with Rand129 but he was staring at the blonde Questioner with a strangely glazed expression.

'So why is she such a prick?'

'On the available evidence, I would say that her current status is equative with that of a C-Class Generic – her personality is mono-faceted, her speech trite and loaded with hyperbole. She is self-centred and entirely oblivious to the needs and emotions of others – she is, in fact, a truthful reflection of any non-literary member of her sex.'

'She must have really roughed you over, Dick.'


'Whoever dumped on your heart. I commend her style.'

'Always below the belt, Agent Belle. Speaking of which—' He cast a significant look at Cal.

'So what?' I yelled hotly. 'It's none of your business, numb-nuts.'

'Oh, I wasn't condemning it, Agent. Many things can be learnt through less conventional means.'

'You haven't!'

I glanced at 'Sue-2 who was suddenly the colour of a boiled ham. Oh, he had.

'A necessary step in her evolution.' Dick twanged in his Bristol brogue. 'Her subsequent progress has been unprecedented.'

Smug, carrot-crunching bastard.

'I myself benefited from the encounter, gaining numerous notes documenting the event, and will present, if permitted, a dissertation to the Goliath echelons upon my return. I truly believe I have the key in dealing with her kind. I may allow you sight of my resear—'

But I had already tuned out. 'Sue-2 gazed at Iron with drippy adoration. I willed a fireball to speed into her stupid head.

A blue flash panged the sky, followed by a terrific bang. Fearing a karmic cranial assault I hunched closer to Cal but he seemed oblivious, eyes fixed blankly ahead.

'What's wrong?'

'Nothing.' He shook himself but the gaze he turned me was wide and worried. 'Thought I felt something for a moment.'

'It's her, isn't it?'

He hesitated. 'Yes.'

I waited for jealousy to sting. It didn't. 'Hey, it's a small world, right? We'll find her. Look how easy it was finding old Iron Dick.'

A smile tugged at his pretty mouth. 'He is a dick, isn't he?'

'The most righteous of them all.'

Ignoring Iron's dry 'I heard that', Cal bent to plant a kiss on my lips. It was warm and soft and altogether chaste. I wasn't used to that brand of lip-lock. Maybe it was the novelty factor but it was one of the sweetest I'd ever had.

'Thank you, Libby.'

'Eeew, the man kissed the icky girl.'

Cal rolled his eyes. 'Want me to run her through a few times?'

'Nah – if push comes to shove she'll be handy as a sub-human shield.'


'Excuse you,' I smirked at Dick.

'Quiet!' he hissed back.


'God, that's awful,' I cried, smothering my ears against something best described as an elephant parping George Formby on the kazoo.'

Blat! Blaaaaaat!

'Wait - sounds like they're getting the hang of it.'

'The grave is no bar to my call,' said Iron Dick, his voice low and awed.

I wasn't so impressed, not when what sounded like the world's jolliest hunt was coming our way. I fell back, yanking Cal with me in time to miss the churning hooves of a hundred horses trailing tatters of mist.

'What's that all about?' I yelled over the din.

'The Horn of Valere.'

'Is it big and red and rod-shaped?'

'No, Agent Belle, it's a horn.' Iron punctuated his disgusted look with a snapped; 'You! FanFic! Get in there!'

Rand129 - who was still staring at Cal in that fixed, glassy way – went the colour of curdled Bailey's. 'My cue! I missed my cue!'

Then he was haring for the mess of men and horse.

'Is he going to be all right?'

Cal nodded at my side. 'He'll be fine.'

And he was. As titanic sky-fights to the death go, Rand129 was putting on one hell of a show.

I sighed as Cal rested his head on mine. 'Our little baby's all grown up.'

'Oh for God's sake,' I heard Iron snap before he stomped in the direction of the curly-haired youth clutching the wailing horn.

That's when I spotted something – or someone - hunched in the bushes. He looked vaguely familiar and kept reaching beneath his coat in a covetous, Gollum-ish way. A moment later he spotted me, squeaked, and ducked from sight.

'Him,' I breathed.

'Hmm?' Cal replied.

'The boy in the pub, the one in Emond's Field. It's him. And he looks awful.'

I felt Cal stiffen. 'I should have known why she would be here.'

She? I looked around in time to see a black-cloaked figure slink towards the clump of bushes.

With no time to think myself out of it, I launched for the ominous shape.

The cloak loosed a feminine 'Ooof,' as I wrestled it to the turf. A cheeky ground and pound and the bitch was mine.

'How's it going?'

Cold blue eyes glared into mine. 'Get off.'

'Or what?'

Well, it seemed a reasonable question at the time.

The next thing I knew someone was fanning me with a tuft of cape and my head felt like a gong-sounders reunion.

'Are you all right? Bloody channelers, eh?'

A frail hand took my own and yanked me afoot.

'I know you,' I slurred.

The boy's dark, bloodshot eyes slitted. 'You're not the poisoned knife lady, are you?'


'Darkfriend, then?'





'No,' I snapped, starting to get a bit put-out now. 'And who the hell are you?'

'Thom Grinwell,' he ventured.


'All right, you got me; I'm Rand al'Thor.'

'What is wrong with you?'

'Mat Cauthon,' he muttered sullenly.

'That's bette….wait a minute….'

'Good work, Agent Belle.' Out of the fog came the striding form of Goliath's pet Dick. 'I believe our taveren friend here was planning a little jaunt.'

'You were deserting,' I accused, rounding on the boy who had the grace to look not the slightest bit abashed.

'Well, no one could find Rand,' he began, fumbling beneath his coat. 'And who else can beat….you know who?'

'What, Voldemort.'

'No, Ba'alzamon.' The boy shuddered as the name left his pale lips.

'Hush now, Mat,' came a faintly lisping voice from the rear. 'I could never leave you.'

The darker boy almost fell as he spun to face the advancing Generic. He almost fell again, on his rump this time, as Rand129 surged to clutch him in an embrace.

All very touching, if not for the faint tingle in my head; alarm bells or residual concussion? I shot a glance at Iron - a frown was worrying his brow. Something was very wrong here.

'Rand, what are you flaming doing?' Mat's smile was strained as he fended off his 'friend'. There was a curious, almost fevered gleam in Rand129's eyes, the very same as when he looked at Cal.

From his groan, Iron had evidently realised the same thing as I.

We had slash in our midst.

And so the calm after the Seanchan storm.

Cal and I sat in companionable silence. Companionable on my part, at least. My pretty pal looked like he wanted to boot something. Luckily, Mat Cauthon was several yards away.

Cal was staring at the scorch-mark blasted into the grass. I touched my head and flinched in memory of that assault, the wreathing cold and dread shudder before I blacked out. Next time I saw that caped cow her arse was mince.

I left Cal alone when he ran a reverential palm over the black mark, smarting slightly at his broodiness. Alright, smarting a lot. Why else would I seek the 'company' of his royal Dick-ness?

Iron was glowering out to sea, jaw set, hands clasped at the base of his rigid spine.

'Agent Iron,' I said briskly, obviously inspired by his martial pose. 'What's the brief?'

'Await Book-End. Proceed to the third instalment of estimated thirteen-part fantasy saga.'

'And the plan of action on Rand129?'

'Keep him the hell away from Cauthon,' Iron intoned. 'Both will have to come with us. We can't allow a potential PageRunner or rabid FanFilth to go AWOL.' He was clearly cross. Nothing new about that. He was also clearly cross at me. Nothing new there either.

I sighed. 'Don't be too hard on them - Mat's none the worse for wear. And Rand129 has been very….'

As one we glanced at the redhead weeping over the restraints crissing his midsection; some distance away, Mat was presenting Seiera with a sprig of flowers.

'You know my opinion on this matter, Agent Belle. FanFiction creatures are useless at best. Downright deadly at worst.'

'They're not so dangerous—'

'You were nearly killed,' Iron roared. For a stunned heartbeat his eyes, dark and dangerous, pinned mine before jerking back to the horizon.

'I'm sorry,' I muttered.

And even sorrier to realise I meant it as I sloped away.

What had started out as a blinder of a day had turned into a steaming turd. And most of it was my fault.

'Agent Belle?' I turned to find 'Sue-2 gazing at me. There was a spray of eyebright blossom tucked behind one perfectly pink ear. 'I think there's something you should see.'

I followed her artfully tipped finger to a white light on the horizon.

'It's just the end of the book, Seiera. It will scoop us up soon enough.'

'You called me Seiera.' For some fool reason the girl's eyes were wet.

The light was surging faster, swallowing the midnight sky and tarry sea, making a halo around Cal's bowed head as he restrained a struggling Cauthon by the collar.

'Nooo!' Mat was wailing. 'Not that bloody light again! Look, a Trollo-ow, my arm! Let me go – I don't want to leeeeave.'

Rand129 predictably brought up the rear, hopping in his knots and looking miserable.

Yes, one steaming, trodden-in turd of a day.

A familiar scent – oiled blades and leather - told me Iron was at my side.

'Ready Agent Belle?'

'Right when you are, Dick.'

Then the light consumed me whole, tears and all.