First of all, though this story will be rated as (T), there is every possibility the rating will be upped to (M) at a certain point. I want to point out for all of you Wheel of Time fans out there, that this story is a major Alternative Universe setting, and I do not intend on making it a simple "what if" setting. Therefore, a fair warning: if this story lives, it will be extremely different from what you might be accustomed to. I also need to say that some of the main characters will feel somewhat off. The main character (Rand al'Thor) much more than others, but I hope that this prologue would shed some light into why is he (and all other characters as a result of it) so different than the Rand al'Thor we all know.I have this story pretty well envisioned in my mind, and I can tell for certain I have envisioned certain aspects of the plotline to go as far as the original books four or five. However, considering this is my first attempt at writing fan fiction, as well as the fact my daily obligations take a lot of me, I may not be able to update the story regularly. I also apologize if there are spelling and grammar mistakes, since I'm not a native English speaker, and I do not have a beta. So, take this as it is, and I hope you will enjoy.
I do not own Wheel of Time, nor any of its characters. All rights go to the respectful copyright holders.
Prologue - A Dream
It was a beautiful day of a late spring. The scents of an impending hot summer were just beginning to churn in the air, and Rand, Mat and Perrin were trekking their way along a seldom used pathway that led off toward the Mountains of Mist. It was one of their rare days off of work. The farms, the sheep, the barn… everything seem to need constant vigil and work, so this was a rarity – a blessing, even – and the three were not going to put it to waste. So, what would three thirteen-year-old boys do when they got a rare opportunity to be away from their jobs, from their parents and meddlesome sisters? Grab a few stakes, some bacon and sausages, garlic, salt, then trek their way somewhere far-off where no one can disturb them and make a barbeque in peace, of course. Now, if someone – say, Mat – had managed to 'find' his father's wine cellar unlocked and raid it… well, that's just another fortunate circumstance, now isn't it?
"There it is," Rand said as he pointed to an old, tall oak tree on top of a small hill. "There's plenty of dry wood in the surrounding groves, and a small pond down there."
"It's perfect!" Mat smiled, then turned to Rand. "How did you know of this place?"
"Well, my father brought me here last year," he said matter-of-factly.
"Why were you all the way up here?" the question came from the third member of their party, Perrin. Rand turned, and could see confusion on his friend's face.
"I mean," Perrin continued, "you don't have any fields anywhere near here; nobody does. And nobody lives here, either."
Rand made a big grin and spoke with a victorious tone. "He took me to see the ruins!"
As if attracted by some magnet, both Mat and Perrin turned and tuned in to what Rand had to say.
"There are no ruins here." They both said in unison, but their faces betrayed all the interest a thirteen-year-old boys would show in their situation.
"Why would there be ruins in Two Rivers?" Perrin said dismissively, "Two Rivers has been like it is now since… since ever!"
"There are ruins," Rand said sternly, "you can see them from the top of the hill. Just you wait and see!"
"Well, I for one want to see them. Last one to the top is a rotten egg!" Mat said, and ran toward the hill where the promise of adventure waited him. Rand and Perrin gave chase, and after a few minutes the three were sprawled across the top of the hill, struggling to catch their breath.
"Pe… Perrin," Mat gasped, as he rose to his feet, "is… a… rotten egg!" and he laughed hoarsely as he avoided a fist directed at his flank.
"So, where is this supposed ruin?" Mat asked eagerly as he caught his breath.
Rand scanned the surrounding area in the direction of the Mountains. And far off where the mists spilled like white foam from between two peeks, a glow reflecting from the white surface was greeting him back.
"There," he said.
"What?" Mat whined in disappointment, "but I thought it was near! We would have to walk for the better part of the day to get all the way there."
"Well, I never said me and my dad went on foot! We were on horseback, and this was just a stop-by."
"Those don't look like ruins to me," Perrin said after a moment. "For all I know, those could be just white rock outcroppings."
"Yes, they are ruins," Rand mutinied, "I was there and I saw them!"
"So you say!" Perrin smirked.
"No, no, I believe him," Mat broke in. "Look how some of the stones seem to be arrayed. It is too regular, and some do look like squares!"
That seemed enough to make Perrin wonder. Of the three, he was the most reserved one. Where Mat was wild one, Perrin was the quiet one. Where Mat was the person to touch the hot coals just to see what would happen, Perrin was the one to think on the outcome first. And Rand? He was lucky if he managed to strike a balance between the two. In the end, it usually came down to him to decide the course of action – for him to be some sort of unintended leader – and it was a thing he was never eager to do. Thank the Light Perrin was convinced quickly enough this time around; Light knew his stubbornness was legendary.
"I suppose those could be ruins of some sort," he said at last.
"Atta boy," Mat nudged him on the shoulder. "We'll make an adventurer out of you, yet!"
He flopped down on the floor and both Rand and Perrin followed suit.
"Ah, imagine what it would be like to really go there and find something," Mat said with awe, then a glint appeared in his eye. "Imagine if there was ancient gold."
"Aww, come on, Mat," Rand whined, "Is that all you ever think about?"
"What else is there to think, other than gold?" he said, then corrected himself. "Well, I suppose there might be some amazing ancient weapons over there."
Rand laughed out loud. "What kind of weapons might you be referring to? Gigantic crossbows maybe? Like the ones in the stories, whose bolts could destroy an entire house? Come on, Mat. Those are just stories."
"No," Mat spoke with a hint of annoyance directed at his friend, "I was referring to the weapons of the Age of Legends. Such weapons must have been much more powerful than simple sword and bow we use today, and that over there could very well be a city from back then."
Rand sighed. "The best weapon of the Age of Legends was the sword," he said with exasperation, "A blademaster's sword, to be exact! It is known that those swords are the only thing that survived from the Age of Legends, because they were wrought with the One Power… and not even that is possible anymore since there are no more male One Power channelers. And if that is the best weapon, then it is reasonable to assume they used swords in the Age of Legends, as well. It is just common sense!"
He was interrupted by Mat's yell. "Shut uuuup! One Nynaeve in the village is enough. All I need is for you to start acting up like her. I thought we came here to run away from her and all those other people that would tell us that we 'have no sense'. Light! I don't care if it makes sense or not; I want to think of senseless things, because they are much more interesting than the boring everyday."
Rand was a bit taken aback. Of course, that was why they came here. Why was he acting like that, anyway?
"You're right, Mat," he said at last, "I'm sorry. Let's get the fire started and make some barbeque, shall we? And then, we will imagine of all the senseless things the Age of Legends could have held."
"Now you're talking!" Mat nodded and stood up.
"Very well, then," Rand started, "I'll go down to the pond to get water. Perrin, you grab the axe and bring us some firewood…"
"I don't think so," Perrin interrupted him.
"What? Why?" Rand frowned.
Rand looked in the direction where Perrin had pointed. The foamy fog that had been rolling down between the many mountain peaks had transformed into something more – a massive cloud formation. It was rising high – twice as high as the mountains were – forming a like of a gigantic white wall. But the lower recesses of the cloud were not white; and if the grim, lightning-streaked darkness was any sign, that was to become one heck of a storm.
"Aw, blood and bloody ashes!" Mat shouted. "This was to be my free day. Free day! Now I'll have to spend it indoors and probably be soaked to my skin!"
Perrin cleared his throat. "I think we better hurry back home!" he said, and Rand had to agree. His farm was the closest to their current location, and as things were, there just might be enough time for them to reach it before the storm caught them. Maybe.
'Just might' turned out not to be true. They were almost a mile away from Rand's house when the storm hit them with everything it had. It was no hail-storm, thank the Light, but the spray of wind and rain was so powerful that they were soaking wet and shivering within mere seconds. Had it been a milder storm, they would have probably resigned to walk it off despite being wet – no sense in running if you're already soaked – but the fervor with which lightnings were streaking through the sky and pounding the earth and trees all around them was enough to instill utter terror into any grown man, let alone boys. So they ran as if their life depended on it.
But where Mat and Perrin had only fear to rely on, Rand had something else. It was a simple mind trick, really; something his father had taught him only recently, and it was his father's voice that boomed in his mind then: Imagine a single flame in the center of your being. A candle flame. Feed your emotions into it, your fears, your anger, until the flame grows and expands unto everything. And when the flame has devoured all of it, it in itself will disappear, leaving the Void with it. Hold onto that Void, and the pain, fear, anger will remain outside, thus making you capable of handling any situation that comes your way.
Yeah, right. Reaching into the Void was easy – it took him but a fraction of a second, actually – but it was holding onto the Void that was hard, and almost impossible for a thirteen year-old boy. The Void quivered and vibrated severely, but nonetheless, it was enough for him to regain some semblance of composure.
"We're almost there!" Rand yelled over the sound of the storm. "Look, there's the Quarry Road up ahead!"
As they ran, they saw a figure running toward them, and Rand felt relief wash over the outer boundaries of the Void, but never touching him inside. There were few people this far along the Quarry Road that made their home here. Fewer still that knew there would be someone coming from this direction.
"Look, that must be my father!" Rand yelled, his voice driven by the unyielding, emotionless purpose the Void gave him.
But then, a bright flash out of nowhere blinded his sight. For a fleeting moment, there was nothing. For all the rage of the storm, suddenly there was a dead silence. The breath he was about to take was forcefully expelled out of his lungs; yet there was no pain. The ground was not under his feet, but it was also nowhere else to be found. And something was coursing through his body, forming a powerful tingling sensation throughout his muscles, his face, his mind. And then his heart started beating anew, forcing the bile, the pressure, the pain and pulsing shock all throughout his body. He could have sworn he felt vomit bursting out of his mouth.
What in Light's name is happening to me? - was his last thought as the numb blackness took over his body.
Serenity. That was the only way Rand al'Thor could describe his current state of mind. Or was he simply dreaming? He couldn't say. He knew was standing on top of a great hill overlooking humongous city on the shore of a great blue sea, which was just starting to gain its burning sunset-orange hue. He had no idea how he knew that he was looking at the sea – he had never seen one in his entire life – but he knew it was the sea none the less, as if it was some old and nearly forgotten memory. And the city! Dear Creator, it was the biggest thing he had ever seen, and the towering buildings were of such height that he could not imagine how it could possibly be built. Yes, stories spoke of the famous Topless towers of city Cairhien, and of an even greater height Tar Valon's White Tower possessed, but something – some sort if dismissive feeling – deep inside was telling him that neither were nowhere near the height of the ones he was looking at right now. And what's more, though he knew what he was seeing as true, he was not dazed by the sight in the least bit. How could it not be a dream, then?
His revelry was interrupted by deep voice, coming from behind him: "Magnificent, isn't it?"
Startled, Rand jerked and for a moment there, he could have sworn his clothes had disappeared, then reappeared. He turned, and saw a person that called out to him sitting on the stone outcropping. It was a man; not old, but not young, either. And he was looking back at Rand with a piercing gaze that held that glint of absolute knowledge in it. It made the old village Wisdom pale in comparison. From where he was sitting, the man had his right leg propped on an adjacent stone, and he rested his right hand on his knee. He held something between the forefinger and middle finger of that hand; a smoldering twig. No, it was not a twig, Rand could smell tabac. It was a… cigarette. How did I know that?
The man put a cigarette between his lips and inhaled with seeming pleasure. A sudden craving surged through Rand's being, as if an expectation of something unknown – a desire for something long lost and forgotten – came over him all at once. As if guided by an invisible force, his hand mimicked the motion of lifting the cigarette to his mouth; he could almost feel the phantom sensation of a cigarette between his lips, its end on the tip of his tongue. The man never turned his gaze, as if studying him and scanning his very soul.
Anxiety washed over him, and the Void – which had held until that very moment – trembled violently, then caved in, disappearing completely. And without that inner protective barrier, Rand felt the full blow of the anxiety pumping through his heart. He licked his lips nervously, his breathing heating up.
"Where am I?" he demanded, "What have you done to me? And who are you for that matter?"
The man exhaled the smoke like he had all the time in the world. "You are in the World of Dreams called Tel'aran'rhiod, I have brought you here, and I am you. Does that answer your questions?" the man spoke slowly. His voice had an unusual calming quality about it. It was deep, powerful and reverberating, but that very depth was striking into Rand's chest.
The boy swallowed hard. "You're me? That's impossible!" he said incredulously. As if it always happens when someone is distressed, Rand tried dismissing the idea with a snorting laugh. For one the man looked nothing like him; Rand was just a thirteen year-old boy while this man was more like thirty. Rand's hair was short and red, while this man had long, dark hair tied at the back of his head, with some loose strands of hair hanging down his forehead. Rand had grey-blue eyes, while this man had brown eyes; a very knowing eyes. And besides, his face was completely different.
"Oh, really?" The man seemed quite amused. "How can you be sure it's impossible? This is a dream, isn't it? Many things are strange in dreams."
"Well… it…" Rand fumbled uncertainly, shifting his feat and looking around as if trying to find support, "Well, it's just foolish! Anybody with some sense would think it's ludicrous."
A genuine, heartfelt laughter exploded from the man's chest. His face reminded Rand of how his father looked when he was pleasantly surprised – a genuine smile that made anyone abandon any kind of malicious thoughts – and strangely enough, the man did not seem threatening at all.
"Don't dare reciting the words you heard from that old village Wisdom, or Nynaeve, kid," the man said after he managed to take hold of his laughter, "I want you to use your own brain and your own words. Not something they put in you."
Rand licked his lips again. He felt very thirsty.
"Feeling thirsty?" the man asked as if he was reading his thoughts. When Rand gave him a reluctant nod, the man took another smoke of the cigarette, and looked at the boy as if considering something. "No, you're not," he said at last, "Just convince yourself that you're not."
Rand looked at him as if the man was nuts. "Trust me," the man said while motioning with his hand, "Just imagine: you've drank water all day long. Bucket, after bucket, after bucket…"
And just like that, Rand suddenly felt his thirst was quenched. What's more, he felt as if he had drunk buckets of water the entire day. He smacked his lips with an astounded look.
"How did you do that?" He asked incredulously.
The man inhaled the smoke of his cigarette again, still not loosing eye contact that had Rand pinned like a piece of wall tapestry; but the feeling was not threatening in the least. More like… he felt drawn in.
"Well, this is a dream," the man said, "And it was you who did it. You can do whatever you want in a dream, as long as you think on it hard."
Rand quirked his lips in a smile. This man gave the impression of knowing many things. And he did seem pleasant enough. His anxiety washed away, Rand suddenly found himself being inquisitive. "What is your name?" he asked. The man stood up, throwing his cigarette on the ground and putting it out with the sole of his boot. He stretched out a bit, and said:
"My name is Lews Therin Telamon."
At the mention of those words, Rand felt as if his very soul drained away, only to be refilled with utter terror that struck against his chest unbound. And what followed was raising panic. Needless to say, the sleeping mind has quirky ways of projecting one's feelings inside dreams, and after Lews spoke his words, Rand found himself pounding against a seemingly locked door that appeared out of nowhere, and yanking the doorknob in a vain attempt to escape. The Dragon. His face was twisted in utter fear. No, the Dragon is a male channeler, he broke the world. Everybody knew that only female channelers could touch the True Source of the One Power; any man that dared touch the Source would eventually turn mad, and kill and destroy everything in his path with the One Power; unless Aes Sedai were to find and gentle him first. But that didn't matter. Rand had to get away, immediately! But where to hide? The Dragon was the most powerful male channeler that ever lived. He could destroy everything with a thought. The very thought of protective, calming Void was far from his mind.
Lews, in turn, was completely dumbfounded. He blinked as he watched Rand try to open a door that actually was just that – a single door in the middle of the field! No walls, no room, just door. Was it even possible for the boy to be so freaked out, that not only his own frightened mind projected a door in front of him, but he had tunnel vision and saw nothing as well? Then an old thought came to him: Fear rules men. And he cursed. This might prove difficult.
"Just what do you think you are doing?" Lews asked, partly because he was quite confused, and in part of being actually concerned.
Rand turned and glued his back against the door. When the boy did not answer, Lews spoke again. "Are you aware you have projected a door? It's just a door, for Creator's sake."
Only after Rand turned did he realize what he had actually done. The door disappeared a moment later, making Rand turn toward Lews and whimper.
"Please don't kill me," he said, "Don't break the world with me in it."
The man no longer gave him that amused look. He towered over him with an impatient frown. A powerful, commanding voice ripped out of his throat.
"Settle down, you! And sit down."
Rand immediately dropped his ass on the ground. Somehow he settled instantly, and all sense of fear left him. The man was looking at him from up above. He bent down and held Rand's chin with his hand, turning the boy's head sideways. "Aw, crap," he muttered, "I'm an Aiel."
Lews then straightened and released a deep breath. "This must be some kind of cosmic joke." He took a few steps around, then turned to Rand, letting out a weary sigh.
"Don't worry, kid," he said, this time his voice bearing concern, "I'm not going to do anything to you. Remember what I said? I am you. It would be foolish to hurt or kill myself… again. Trust me, I've been there. Besides, this is a dream, remember that! I'm surprised, though, that you can't hold your concentration at all. That will have to be improved."
It was perhaps because of those words that Rand managed to calm down a bit. "But," he swallowed, "How can you be me? I'm me. It doesn't make any sense."
"Sure it does. Isn't faith in the rebirth of one's soul the paramount of all beliefs?" Lews asked. "Don't you believe in your rebirth?"
"Well… yeah, but…" Rand fumbled for words.
"Don't tell me you believe one is reborn with the same face?" Lews chuckled, "Or the same gender for that matter?"
Rand's face couldn't have been more surprised. Lews gave out another heartfelt laughter. Rand seemed to consider something.
"But… if you're Lews Therin, the Dragon," he frowned, "And you are me at the same time – that is, your soul is reborn into me – then that means…"
"Yup," Lews gave him a solemn nod, "You are the Dragon as well. Or should I say Dragon Reborn?"
Rand scrambled on all fours away from Lews, pushing away with his legs and clawing at the dewy grass with his fingers. He finally managed to get on his feet and then he ran downhill as fast as his legs could carry him. And it was fast indeed.
Lews found himself standing on top of the hill, looking after the boy that ran from him as if from the Shay'tan himself. Alone. With wind baring silent testament to the situation. He took a deep, slow breath and let it out in a string of small puffs. He seemed to contemplate something for a moment.
"I suppose it could have been worse," he said at last, as he watched Rand pass midpoint of the slope, "I could have manifested after he started channeling… then we would both be nuts. This way, he's just plain stupid, and I'm nuts for trying."
Rand ran as if the earth was churning beneath his feet. It seemed as if everything flew past him much faster than it normally should, and somehow it seemed that he was doing it. But it did not matter. He had to get away at any cost. He didn't want to be the man that could channel. If he did, that would mean he would go mad because of it, and break the world as the result; unless female channelers, Aes Sedai, would find him and gentle him so he would not break anything, that is. But all stories told by traveling gleemen were the same in that one aspect: gentled men were but a husk, and did not live long. Whichever the faith awaited him was not good if he were to truly become the Dragon Reborn. So he had to get away as fast and as far as possible.
He reached the bottom quickly, jumping over some shrubs and scrambling up the second hill without a stop. No stopping. He had to get away from the Dragon. He reached the top. And then, a vicious slap landed across the side of his face, which sent him tumbling across the ground.
Rand looked up and to his horror found Lews standing in front of him with a frown and lips slightly twisted with distaste. How could he reach me so fast? Rand could sense burning fury beaming from those eyes, even though the man's face was almost completely calm.
"Idiot!" Lews spat, "Are you so stupid to think you can run away from yourself? It's as if you're trying to jump out of your own skin. Impossible! For all your talk of sense, you sure as hell lack some.
Rand's eyes were cast down, while his body trembled. Lews saw that the boy was obviously terrified, but there was something more; Rand seemed to be angry with himself, as well. Could it be that he was experiencing a bleed effect from Lews' personality already? Well, we are one and the same. Lews let out a long huff while he considered things.
"Do you even understand what it means to be Dragon Reborn?" he asked with a bit more calm, but the punishing edge remained.
Rand felt tears running down his cheeks. "I do. That means I will begin to channel and break the world." his voice then became heated as he looked pleadingly to Lews, "But I don't want to start channeling. I don't want to go mad and break the world. I don't want to!"
"And you don't have to!" Lews cut in calmly, but firmly, and Rand went silent. "You don't have to do any of those things," Lews' deep voice regained that calming quality as he slowly circled Rand, again looking straight into his eyes with that piercing gaze. And just like before, Rand could not separate from it; it just dragged him in.
"Understand a few things first, kid," Lews said, "You don't have to channel at all; Dragon is not reborn because he can channel – although it is often given as a perk – and as a result he does not have to go mad at all. But whether he will "break" the world or not is entirely up to him."
Rand was still breathing hard as the anxiety was washing over him, but bit-by-bit he begun to calm down. Lews stopped circling, and sat on the stone next to him. Rand wondered where that stone came from, since it was not there a minute ago. Oh, right, this is a dream. Still, what Lews was telling him was not the way of things according to what he knew.
"But, all stories say that –"
"The stories," Lews cut in, "Are always embellished, and have traveled across so many tongues that along the way they lose their true meaning. Same with prophecies; they are so vague that no one can safely say what they mean, and as a result people invent things to suit them."
"But…" Rand trailed off as he was searching for words, "How am I supposed to defeat the… the Dark One if I don't channel?"
Lews took a deep breath as he looked over toward the majestic metropolis – a city this medieval-like world Rand lived in could never dream of building – and the golden sun-bathed bay seemed just a bit more sparkly and colorful. Things were turning for the better. It appeared the boy was beginning to deal with some facts.
"Have you ever heard of the term 'Ta'veren'?" he said out loud.
Rand frowned. "It sounds familiar."
"How about 'The Lace of Ages', or 'The Pattern'?" Lews insisted.
"Yes," Rand nodded, "I know those. The Creator made the Wheel of Time. The Wheel turns and weaves a Pattern of an Age – which defines everything that happens in this world – and then it turns into the lace of Ages."
Lews nodded, and motioned Rand to another stone outcropping that appeared next to him. Rand stood up and slowly stepped toward it as he kept a watchful eye on Lews. As he sat down, and made himself comfortable – as much as one could be next to the Dragon, anyway – Lews leaned forward and stared motionless at him.
"What if I tell you that there is no Wheel of Time?" He said, "Not the way you think of it, anyway."
Rand suddenly found himself listening intently. "But there must be," he said, "What would weave the Pattern if there was no Wheel?"
"The Creator himself." Lews spread his arms in a very matter-of-factly way. When Rand gave him a flabbergasted look, Lews laughed. "I see this is a bit too much for you. My mistake. I must make you understand some things first."
He stood up, looked around, then to Rand. "Kid, what happens when rain falls?" he asked. "Just answer it, it's not a trick, I assure you."
"Well," Rand was a bit confused with all this, "Plants grow."
"Yes, but it's because of the soaked soil, right?"
"Right." Rand shrugged wondering what is this all about.
"Well, where does that water go to?" Lews smiled.
Rand opened his mouth, but could not answer. "I… don't know," he said, then looked expectantly to Lews, as if he knew he would get an answer anyway.
"It evaporates back into the air, then turns to clouds, and then it falls as rain again." Lews finished with a smile.
Rand blinked. Yes, it all made sense to him, now. He looked down to his hand that moved on its own, pointing with the forefinger and making a circular motion.
"So it's like a circle?" Lews asked. When Rand gave him a nod, he said, "Well, there's your wheel."
Rand frowned in contemplation. Sure, it was simple enough: a wheel is circular, so it could be said that if something goes around it's like a wheel.
"Are you saying that the Wheel of Time was once called the Circle of Time?" he asked.
Lews shook his head. "The Circle of Life, kid. Picture this: a stag eats grass. Then a wolf eats the stag. When the wolf dies, he rots and turns into ground. Then new plants grow from that ground so they could be eaten by new stag; the Circle. Same with rain, just as it is with everything else, even rebirth of one's soul. Everything is one great Circle of Life, not time. Time does not matter, Life matters. And that Circle is not the one that makes the pattern, but the other way around."
Rand was looking at Lews as if he was telling him some new revelation. And he wanted more. "So you're saying everybody is wrong? How can that be?"
"It is because people forget, kid."
Rand leaned closer. He was no longer afraid. Curiosity now bored into his skull like a maggot, always wanting more. Lews smiled. The whole point was for him to pass the knowledge to the boy, but he had little time. The very fact that he was manifesting like this in the boy's mind meant the time had come, and that the forces of Shadow were moving again. The process had to be accelerated, so he decided on a bit of a gamble. He focused his being onto Rand, as if feeling his wave length, and trying to synchronize his being with him. And the boy's eyes changed. His pupils had dilated, like one was in a trance, but it was more; his eyes were new, as if a new depth to them was revealed. Yes, he was ready. Thus, Lews began a narrative.
"It is said the Wheel of Time turns – a symbol of the passing of time.
"Turns – as if it will never stop.
"Turns – as if what once was will come again.
"Symbols, really; all of them. Time indeed passes, but the things that once were will never come again. It is folly to believe in such things. What can happen, though, is a repeated mistake. And a mistake will always be repeated if the memory of it previously happening fades away – if the knowledge fades away. That is the thing that can be called the Wheel of Time. The symbols then tend to take on a literal form with the fading of the knowledge. That is how simple people – much like the ones of Two Rivers – in times of distress try to remember the important things. And so, the important things such as the Great Circle of Life became the Wheel of Time, and things like Quantum Weave of Spatial and Temporal Dimensional Propagation became known as the Pattern or the Lace of Ages. I know you don't understand many of these words, kid, but don't worry; I'll explain everything over time. But back to the point, as the time passed, as memories faded to legend, legend to myth and so on, the two became closely related in the minds of men, until finally, The Wheel of Time became the one to weave the Lace of Ages, and thus create the Pattern of an age.
"Numerous myths followed in the footsteps of forgetfulness – stories that depicted the end of the world that happened, that will happen or that will never happen again. It is because people have always lived in hopes that the Age will come in which the word "war" will not have meaning. But that age will never come. The Creator has made sure of that. You see, what is the point of life if everything is provided? That is not life at all. The struggle and the desire to live is what defines humans, and life burns the strongest if there is a threat of death to smother it. You know such moments, kid, like when you faced a rabid badger and killed it. You stood and fought, while others might flee, and get themselves hurt as the result. The victorious sensation your ordeal left was beyond rewarding.
"But the majority of mankind just wants to live their lives without troubles, in piece and quiet. They do not seek higher knowledge, and by doing so they discard what truly makes them human. People such as these quickly yield. They tend to run away quickly instead of fighting, justifying their choice by saying they would prefer to live than to die. But even if they were to keep living for another hundred years even, their lives would still remain short as if they have never lived at all.
"There is another type of men and women, though; those that know life is not measured by the breaths they take, but by the moments that take their breath away. People like these have never been selfish; they always had companions and wanted to prove to the simple people that life is more than just counting years. The strongest of these were called many names throughout the history: heroes, messiah, even the unholy ones. All of them had the power within to move people, rally them and lead them to everlasting glory, but only few had the gift of utmost power.
"Of all the names only one remained, and even that name had its meaning forgotten as memories faded – Ta'veren. The meaning was "hub of the web"; hub of the web of Ages. It was later believed that when the Wheel of Time went astray while spinning of the Age Lace, it would spin out and use individuals called Ta'veren for correcting itself. It was believed that, since the Wheel used these individuals, they would be strictly controlled by it, have little decision of their own and that they have no more control over their fate than a candle wick has over the flame.
"How arrogant of them to think the Creator ever had any intention of forcing such limitation on any mortal. Besides, Ta'veren was previously known under a different name – Ta'veren yahat, "the controller of the web's hub"; Ta'veren had always existed, but it would take the yahat to take the reins of its threads."
As Lews drew to a close, he turned to look at Rand. The boy was so wide-eyed that it seemed he was gulping the world with them. In a sense, he was; the synchronization was more than successful, and left good groundwork for future lessons. Careful, though. It was not Rand who needed to synchronize with Lews, but the other way around, or everything would be lost. The boy then tried to speak, but the exchange must have left him with a dry throat. He tried licking his lips, but Lews lift a finger.
"A-a! Think of the buckets of water." He said.
Rand blinked, and a moment later he not only felt his thirst was quenched, but he gurgled out a mouthful of water. Lews laughed his ass off. After a moment of spitting and coughing, Rand had managed to compose himself.
"Why did you tell me all this?" he asked after he wiped the last drops of water from his lips.
Lews sat back down on the stone, and took out a small silver box engraved with gold from the inner pocket of his jacket. "A number of reasons," he said as he opened the box – a cigarette case, as it turned out – and took one of the dark brown cigarettes out. A cigarette lighter appeared in his hands and he deftly lighted the cigarette, savoring the sweet cherry aroma. Rand couldn't explain how he knew every item, or what Lews felt, but he felt clearly when the pleasant tabac smoke filled Lews' lungs, as if they were his own.
"The first reason I brought up Ta'veren is because you're a Ta'veren yahat, kid; a controller of the hub of the Pattern. That will be your main weapon against the Dark One. You need to learn to control it. I could not achieve the full use of it because I was too old when I realized what I was, but you are a different story; you are still young, and we can shape it much better. It requires extreme willpower, though, and you will never develop any without backbone." He then inhaled another smoke, looking far into the distance. "And you will develop no backbone in that backward village of yours."
"Hey!" Rand frowned angrily, "Don't talk of Emond's Field like that."
"Nice attitude, but spunk alone will get you killed sooner than not," Lews kept on while motioning with his cigarette, "Your backbone at the moment is nothing but rigid stubbornness brought on by the environment, and backbone must not be rigid, but flexible and supported with powerful muscles to boot. It's the truth what I say about Emond's Field holding you down, kid, and you know it. You can't continue as you have before, and that's also the reason I told you all that. You must learn how to rise above petty stuff. Sure, no one is stopping you from loving and aiding your village, and you should – love is all you need, as they say – but you must not let the environment control you."
Rand seemed to be both shocked and scared, but there was a sense of understanding coming from him, as the words settled in with hard truth. Lews let him be for a few moments, carefully studying him.
"I don't want to go against my mother and father," he said.
"And you shouldn't," the man said, "But you don't have to, either. Not letting the environment control you is not to stubbornly defy them, but to discern when they are right, and when they are wrong. If you were to keep the kind of attitude you have now, you would be nothing but a mule on a leash. Do you have any idea how skillfully an Aes Sedai could wrap you up with her little finger?" He took another smoke off the cigarette. "I purely doubt that Aes Sedai of today are nearly as powerful, smart or enlightened as the ancient Aes Sedai of my time were – which were both men and women back then – but I'm pretty sure they would be able to lead you by the nose as easily as a baby boy. To them you are one, trust me on that. Aes Sedai can live for hundreds of years. And who do you think is smarter: a two-hundred year old woman that has seen her share of tribulations, or a young country oaf? You're going to bec… no, you are the Dragon Reborn. You can not allow that to happen."
"But… then…" Rand was stuttering, and was giving off a slight moan. "How am I supposed to fight them?" he asked almost pleadingly.
"I lived for four hundred years, kid," Lews said with a hint of annoyance, "I pack a trick or two up my sleeve. Not only that, but I have extensive knowledge of the basic "how to"; including the memories of what you people call the Age of Legends. That's yet another reason why I'm here. Having the drive, the resolution and backbone for overpowering the cruel games of this world is not enough. It would be very, very bad to have the Dark One win because you did not know how to do some things; you can not change the world with loud words. You need to strike so hard that the back of your enemies gets utterly crushed."
"But that's just –" Rand began, but was quickly cut off by Lews.
"Evil?" he asked with a raised eyebrow, making Rand flinch, "Sure it is. But this world can not function on innocent goodness. Not yet, that is. Sure, you must give an open hand – you must strive to lure them in with good stuff – but your other hand must be hidden behind your back so you can smack them with a fist if they decide to betray your trust. That is the other thing you must know, kid: how to subdue the world without doing it in a completely evil way. Because, let's face it, 'subduing' is just another form of evil."
Lews took in another breath of cigarette smoke, making an effective momentary pause. "The third reason I told you all of this is because you can't do it alone. It must be passed on to two other individuals, who also happen to be Ta'veren yahat."
Rand's eyes shot up. "Mat and Perrin?" he breathed. Lews gave a quirk of a smile in response.
"Not yet, though," the man said, "Mat is a freaking champion blabber-mouth of the Age, while Perrin seems so much cautious to speak out of turn that he fails to speak when he needs to. We need to remedy that. I have an idea, though. Next time you and I meet, we will drag Mat and Perrin with us. It is possible; I'll do all the work, so relax."
"I thought this is my dream." Rand stated.
"Yours," Lews nodded in affirmation, "But this particular place is not any ordinary dream, but the Dream World. It is called Tel'aran'rhiod. Think of it as another world which is a copy of the real world. It is somewhere beyond it, untouchable save but through a dream, but it is there. Anyone can enter it – in fact, many people do so during their dream time – but few can do it on purpose. I'll tell you all about it in due time; I'll actually teach you everything I know over time. That's the whole point." His eyes started glinting as he gave Rand a mysterious smile. "Just think about it: wonders of the Age of Legends."
Suddenly, Rand heard a thundering sound as if a thundering gale arose. A humongous, arrow-shaped thing with wings flew over their heads and toward the city. It seemed to be made of metal, and Rand could see fire streaming from its rear. He remembered the thing like a dream of a dream, and looked at Lews in wonder.
"A sho-wing." Lews announced, "It was used during the Age of Legends as a means of transportation. To put it simply, it was a flying machine that carried people in it."
"A sho-wing." Rand repeated breathlessly.
Lews inhaled the final smoke from the cigarette, then put it on with his boot. "I'm afraid you won't be remembering many of those," he said, "Not yet, anyway; there are other things I must teach you. Much more important things."
Rand was silent for a while after that. Lews snapped his fingers in front of his face. "Hey, kid, is everything alright?"
Rand looked up at him, and made a startling question. "Lews, what happened in the end of Age of Legends? How was the Dark One released? And why did the men go crazy?"
Lews made a grim face as he looked into the distance. Rand quickly started apologizing.
"I… I mean, if you don't want to tell me, then you don't have to –"
"No, I want to," Lews said as he turned to him, "The sooner you know, the better you'll handle it if those particular memories suddenly begin surfacing. And lose that stuttering attitude when you're with me; it makes you look like an oaf. We must work on that, as well."
Lews took a deep breath before he spoke again. "During the Age of Legends, Aes Sedai were beginning to reach limits in some areas of the One Power channeling. Those were not really limits to be exact; more like laws of nature. Yes, even One Power channeling follows certain laws, as it is meant to do so. But blinded by our greed, we searched for ways of obtaining more power, because we though the One Power was not enough. We released the Dark One into this world because we thought we were tapping into some kind of new source of power that was trapped on the other side of the Quantum Weave reality – the Pattern, if you will – and we thought it is something we could use unto infinity if we were but to make a tear in the fabric of the Pattern. We had no idea that we were actually liberating the most sinister intelligence in existence, and we were unaware of the horrors that would be unleashed. Soon after the Dark One was released, the world went into the Collapse. Evil deeds began to spread more and more. Murders, hate crimes, fanatical sects… the society was falling apart. It lasted for about a hundred years before the War began for real. At first it was a stalemate, but later on, the Dark One's armies started winning. It was because they used inhuman means, plain and simple, and not long after, our own generals started changing sides. It was as if with every step forward by the Shadow, disorder and chaos grew, and feeding on that, the Shadow gained strength, so that its next stride was longer, and the next after would be longer still. Until it could be taken no more.
"I knew that if we don't manage some fell-swoop victory within half a year, we would be defeated. I proposed the Dark One be resealed in his prison by twisting the very Pattern around the tear, forge the new threads, then release it all to settle the way it should be. True, it was a risky move – a road of no return at best or a complete breaking of the Pattern itself at worst – but it was the best thing we had. Female half of the Aes Sedai was skeptical, however. They had their own plan of building huge devices to trap the Dark One in a stasis field – sort of a second prison around Shayol Ghul – but the dark forces took over the city where the the keys to these devices were kept, so their plan failed."
Lews smiled mirthlessly as he shook his head. "Now here comes the best part. Instead of helping me with my plan, women channelers refused, yet again. I still can't believe it. They argued that it's better to leave the Pattern alone, to not damage it any more… as if the Pattern would somehow repair on its own and reseal the Dark One. Yeah, right. I don't know what kind of twisted logic was guiding them. Maybe it was the influence of Darkfriends among their ranks? I don't know. But I like to think it's plain and simple cowardice that drove them away. It makes my resolve all the more powerful, anyway."
"So I gathered ten thousand troopers, and one hundred and thirteen male channelers, and went north to execute my plan. And we managed… barely. Without women there to temper our work – to caress the Pattern the way they knew – the male channelers had to twist the Pattern, weld it down, and leave it twisted like that. Not only that, but the Dark One's last defiant backlash was to completely screw up male's ability to channel. He sent out a wave that struck all that had a similar mind structure at the time of the sealing; all of the males. He shifted a single pathway in our brain that was used as a part of channeling process and diverted it directly into the path of other channeling pathways. It was like diverting a river back on itself. That resulted in a conflict in our minds that would slowly deteriorate our nervous system. As our brain would turn ever more into a state of chaos, we would start to go crazy. And as our mind deteriorated, so would all the bodily functions that it controlled. And finally, our bodies had begun to rot. It was horrible. None of it would have happened if women were there to protect us."
With that, Lews went silent. Rand felt strange. Thrilled, angry, terrified… all at once. He packed and stored every word Lews said in his mind. It was his memory. Renewed memory.
"How did you die?" Rand asked silently. Lews turned and realized he was not speaking to a scared boy anymore.
"I died like any other male channeler that went mad," he said, "by overdrawing on the One Power. But that's not quite accurate. I killed myself." Lews opened his cigarette case to take out another cigarette, then stopped. His look was distant, longing. "My wife, Ilyena, never liked my smoking habits, even though she said it made me look… dashing. This cigarette case was a gift from her, in fact; a symbol of loving tolerance, a sign that said she accepted all of me for who I was with all my faults and flaws." He smiled, then looked to the ground, his face contorting in pain. "I killed her when madness took me."
Rand twitched, but Lews kept speaking as if he did not notice. "I had killed my entire family and friends that happened to be in my villa on that day. I remember it still. Bars of sunlight cast through rents in the walls made motes of dust glitter where they yet hung in the air. Scorch-marks marred the walls, the floors, the ceilings. Broad black smears crossed the blistered paints and gilt of once-bright murals, soot overlaying crumbling friezes of men and animals, which seemed to have attempted to walk before the madness grew quiet. The dead lay everywhere, men and women and children, struck down in attempted flight by the lightings that had flashed down every corridor, or seized by the fires that had stalked them, or sunken into stone of the palace, the stones that had flowed and sought, almost alive, before stillness came again. In odd counterpoint, colorful tapestries and paintings, masterworks all, hung undisturbed except where bulging walls had pushed them awry. Finely carved furnishings, inlaid with ivory and gold, stood untouched except where rippling floors had toppled them. The mind twisting brought on by the Dark One's taint had struck me at the core, ignoring peripheral things.
"I wandered the palace, deftly keeping my balance when the earth heaved. The edge of my pale gray cloak trailed through blood as I stepped across the body of a woman, her golden-haired beauty marred by the horror of her last moments, her still-open eyes frozen in disbelief. My wife, Ilyena. I killed her. Yet I still called for her as if she was somewhere else. I couldn't understand why everybody was hiding from me. I saw myself in the mirror, and I couldn't understand that it was me that I was seeing. For all I knew it was some other man that looked like a clown. I was older then than I appear before you now; my hair was almost all grey. Still, pretty sleek for a four hundred year old man, if I may say so. Then, behind me the air rippled, shimmered, solidified into a man who looked around, his mouth twisting briefly with distaste. He stepped carefully, handling his cloak fastidiously to avoid brushing the dead."
Lews' face hardened into a grimace of hatred and anger.
"His name was Elan Morin Tedronai. Better known as Ishamael, the Betrayer of Hope; one of the Forsaken. I couldn't recognize him. He was just a visitor, a house guest. He had in fact come to gloat over me, but ironically, he didn't like the fact that the taint of the saidin has made me drop into such madness. He wanted me to be conscious, you see, so that he could enjoy while I wept, even more so because I would realize that it was I who had killed my entire family. So he healed me – if it could be called healing at all – and I became conscious. I realized what I had done. I wept like a child as I held the rigid body of my wife to my chest; I tried to claw the vision off my eyes."
Lews cleared his throat. Rand could see his eyes glistening and feel constriction of the man's throat like it was his own. Lews continued.
"Anyway, the Betrayer started gloating, but not for long. You see, I was not called Dragon just for the sake of the name. Dragon in ancient myths is often an immortal creature of wisdom, but also the one of flaring emotions and immense power. Something had snapped in me, then, and it was not because of the Dark One's madness. For a moment I stopped crying, stopped breathing, stopped feeling. Everything in me stopped. I was empty like a shell. It was a ko'di, the oneness that fell over me on its own – the same thing your father teaches you, he calls it the Void – but it was more powerful than any other time. I remember beginning to chuckle, and I remember the Betrayer of Hope had stopped laughing when my chuckle became a furious laughter. He though my madness had resurfaced. Any other man would have committed suicide right then and there, but not me. I craved for blood. So I came at him with everything I had.
"The storming rage that filled me was beyond maddening. I felt nothing at all. The only thing I remember was drawing on saidin way beyond what human body could endure. The rage enabled that. The Betrayer reached out. I suppose he wanted to blast me with Balefire and finish me for good. I was nowhere near so clear-minded to remember Balefire, but I was the first to unleash the power. Everything roared. The palace was obliterated completely. Betrayer fled and I chased. All over the World. He used every mean he had at his disposal to evade me – gating, skimming, flying; you name it – but he could barely manage. I still drew on the One Power and well over what anyone could channel unaided so I could track him through the pattern. I weaved every single destructive power I could think of and launched it at him. Explosions rocked all around me and I realized it was Betrayer's own counterattack. Futile. I had drawn so much of the One Power that my insides begun literary burning. Fire was bursting through my mouth and eyes – a consequence of the One Power overdraw – and my skin quickly followed. I was like a ball of fire storming through the air shooting energy woven destra beams at Ishamael. At one moment, as we fought in the air, I came not ten feet from him. His face was distorted in pain and his mouth and eyes were aflame. He too was drawing too much of the One Power, but he didn't have the Dragon within. His blasts toward me were like a candle flame against firestorm.
"My ability to hold the coherence of my body was nearing its limits; I was falling apart. At one point I charged all I could into a single destra beam and launched it toward him. He barely evaded by launching himself through the gateway. The beam struck the land underneath –we were fighting in the air, you see – and carved a humongous canyon that must have been two miles deep and a thousand miles long. I gathered whatever power was left and followed Ishamael though his gateway. I found him on a flat and empty land. A river flowed nearby, straight and broad, but I could sense there were no people within a hundred leagues. The Betrayer stood not far from me, exhausted. He was fighting to protect his body from overdraw. I remember smiling and trying to raise my hand to launch a Balefire at him. Nothing came up. I looked down and saw my charred hand burning on the ground next to me. It had fallen off. I had finally reached the limit of holding my body together. I had no strength left. My mind was unraveling and I could not remember the weaves anymore. Now the Betrayer could run away again. He was already weaving the gate.
"As he did so, I yelled after him – my voice roaring with One Power as my vocal cords were incinerated – and swore an oath to chase him, find him, and exact my revenge, even if it takes me a thousand rebirths. That's the last thing I remember. I must've died moments after. As to what exactly happened in the wake of me releasing all of that raw One Power…"
Lews trailed off, and left it at that. Rand was silent and contemplating; but he had more questions.
"Why did the madness force the men to break the world?"
Lews composed himself and returned to speaking in his self-assured manner as he tapped his unlit cigarette on the cigarette case. "Because the madness was of such nature that it forced them into overdrawing on the One Power. They could not stop it. Once their bodies failed, the power would be unleashed without proper weaves, and it would try to weave itself. In most cases it would affect land and sea – raising mountains or shifting landmasses – but it could also affect other people, shifting their minds into maddened behavior, changing their bodies into monstrosities. I remember that in one of my lucid moments I saw a report that, across what was once Arythic – the World Sea – the weaves made temporary rifts in reality that numerous creatures from other worlds used to pass through."
After a moment of silence, Rand spoke, trying to lighten up the mood, while Lews lit another cigarette. "So… what will be of you now? You will stay here and bother me forever?"
"Well, I am you, after all," Lews chuckled as he exhaled smoke, "But no, I won't bother you forever. You see, a mind is supposed to be reborn without memories of past lives, but we are a special case. I have manifested inside of you as a separate mind since this day, but it is only the 'awakening' of the Dragon, so our two minds will be… out of sync, sort to speak, for quite a while. Perhaps years, or longer. Don't worry about the madness that claimed me; the mind is reborn clear of taint. So, if we work together, we will synchronize our minds over time, and become one. It will be as if you start having urges, or sudden change of behavior; perhaps it might feel as though you're out of your body, and someone else is controlling it, but know it's only a side effect and a trick of the mind. In the meantime, my memories will seep into you and you will find certain things out as if they were your own forgotten memories, but remember that you are Ta'veren yahat – just as are your friends Mat and Perrin – and that will be your main power, so don't try drawing on the One Power for the time being. At best, it could slow the process of melding, and at the worst it could mess up your mind in an instant. Trust me."
"Fine," Rand breathed, "But this 'awakening'… how did it happen? I mean, why now?"
Lews gave him a look of surprise. "You don't remember?" he asked. "What is the last thing you do remember?"
Rand frowned before speaking. "I remember me and my friends were returning to my farm. We were near my house when we were caught in a rain storm. I remember some kind of flash and nothing after that."
"That was a lighting strike," Lews said seriously. "You were its unintended mark, and it was a bull's eye hit. That lightning had served as a jump starter, awakening those dormant sections of your mind."
"But –" Rand started, but was cut off by Lews.
"No, you're not dead! The lightning may or may not kill a man, and you were in the latter case." Lews wiped his eyes, and took a deep breath of relaxation. "Listen, don't worry, kid. I'll explain many other things over time. In truth, there is much to learn, but… bit-by-bit, we'll manage it. I'll tell you more of it the next time your sub-consciousness encroaches into Tel'aran'rhiod, and fortunately, now that I have awakened there won't be need for something so traumatizing as a lightning strike. I will be able to pull you in quite gently. Overtime I will teach you how to use your Ta'veren yahat ability, but first I must teach you how to be a man in his element, and to act a king on his throne; a strong and flexible backbone supported with powerful muscles, remember? Now, it's time we draw this up to a close. Here."
Lews took out a switch blade and grabbed Rand's hand, turning it palm-up. "This will hurt a bit. Bear with me," he said. Rand groaned as Lews carved a symbol on his palm; a circle with a sinuous line through it. "This will be a reminder."
"Wait, there's something else," Rand croaked with a sense of urgency as he squeezed the pain out of his hand. Lews nodded him to go on. "Even if I have Mat and Perrin with me, it makes only three of us; Dark One has thirteen Forsaken and armies upon armies of Trollocs. Where will we get an army? Andor? Tear? And will there even be enough time to convince them without troubles?"
Lews contemplated a bit without taking his eyes off the boy. It appeared the bleed effect was progressing if the boy started thinking in those lines. "I see your point, kid," he said, "we can't rely on their armies; I don't know much of these countries, other than what your own memories tell me, but I'm willing to bet my ass they would rather squabble amongst each other for power, than fight against the Shadow. Their armies would be useless."
"How then?" Rand pleaded as Lews lighted yet another cigarette.
"We have Emond's Field, don't we?" Lews smiled at last.
"But we are just common farmers. Country folk." Rand said.
Lews winked at him, "Don't you worry, kid. My guess is we have some years before all Hell breaks loose. You'll see what three Ta'veren yahat can do to people when their mind is set. Now, you must return to the Waking World."
Rand raised his head to look up at Lews, but there was nobody there anymore. He felt himself drifting, and unable to hold on to the picture of the majestic city at the shore of the great sea. A voice came somewhere from the back of his mind. It was Lews, but he could barely be heard.
"You must wake up, now. Please, wake up!"
"What was that?" Rand yelled as bright whiteness washed over him, his mouth turning dry. He tried imagining that he was not thirsty, tried hard, but his mouth remained dry and sticky. There were no more dreams. Dreams? Yes, those were just dreams.
"Please, Rand, wake up!" a woman's voice beckoned and it was riddled with sobs. Lews? No, that couldn't be Lews' voice. But he could not remember whose voice it was.
Rand opened his eyes, and swallowed hard; his mouth were as dry as sand. His mother was leaning over his bed as the sun beat at his eyes through the open window. Rand looked at his mother's bright grey-blue eyes that beamed down on him, and he frowned in confusion.
"Oh Rand!" she cried out and hugged him tightly to her chest. "Oh, thank the Light! I feared for the worst. Your father said he found the three of you boys not a mile away when a lighting struck you. How do you feel?"
"Alright, I guess," Rand croaked and pulled himself upright. "What of Mat and Perrin?"
"They were alright," she said, "Their parents came for them after the storm. I'll go get your father. He's been worried sick."
A short kiss on the cheek, then she pulled away. Rand contemplated the strange memories as the sound of her soft footsteps diminished. It all seemed to have been just a strange dream, though a really exciting one. It was not Lews Therin Telamon who was calling him, but his mother. A strange dream brought on by a lightning strike, and he guessed that the brilliant whiteness he saw at the end was because of the sun beaming through the open window. His constantly dry throat was obviously because he didn't drink a drop of water since yesterday. Just a dream, and nothing more, he thought. He stood up and found his legs to be firm beneath him as he went to the pitcher to wash the grime out of his face and eyes. And as he dunk his hands into the water, his gaze froze on the palm of his left hand; for there, clearly as day, stood a fresh scar in the shape of a circle with a sinuous line down the middle.