Here it is. Another chapter. I know it's been a while, but I can't apologize. The truth is, I never really felt like writing, and I didn't want to make any... forced chapters. My mindset was focused on something else, preoccupied with many practical things over the past year, and I simply never felt the pull of literature. Better that way, I guess... better than trying to write and realizing you have a writer's block, anyway; saves a lot of grey cells.
But now, when I wanted to continue this story, I felt like writing a bit of the Three – the protagonists of the series. That's what this chapter is about. You won't see me trying to mimic the original personalities here; I never even considered doing that. What you'll see is my interpretation of their friendship... you'll see how I like to see them. And here you'll see a few important things for the story – reasons and explanations as to what should come next.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own Wheel of Time or any of its characters.
Chapter 4 – Plans
Tel'aran'rhiod was a strange place. One could argue that everything in it was both real and nonexistent at the same time. An echo of everything that ever existed in every parallel universe reflected itself in one part of the Dream World or another. One just had to know how to go about finding it. And there were many ways how it could be done. Memory was the easiest. Both the memory and the mind that held it had to have almost tangible strength for it to work, but if the two were ever to find one another, there would be few things that couldn't be done...
The towering glass skyscrapers of Paaran Disen reflected the soft light of Tel'aran'rhiod. There were dozens upon dozens of them, each different and unique, yet beautiful in its slick form like a living monument of creation. None of them bared the crude construction every other building of the Third Age had; and that even included the majestic White Tower built after the Breaking. The shadows they cast were almost nonexistent, but the gentle breeze could be felt, the translucent, blurry echoes of the flying vehicles could be seen, and their gently-whizzing engines heard like a distant hum. There were echoes of people there, too. Many, many of them. They walked across the high walkways, hanging gardens and parks. One could hear them like millions of whispers that carried an occasional laughter, clear as a pearl in the ever-present hum. Yes, millions upon millions of people. An inconceivable number for a kingdom of today, let alone a city. Yet, it had existed once.
Mat moved his eyes from the panorama that lay beneath him and focused it on a tiny glass of clear liquor he held in his hand. He sat on a small round lounge table, his legs resting on the table top. Glass table top. Another thing of disbelief for anyone who never saw one before. Not to mention they were sitting on what was called a cafe-terrace high on one of the skyscrapers. More than a thousand feet above the ground; and that was not even near the top of the building.
He lifted the glass of clear liquor to his lips, letting the unique aroma waft up to his nose before downing it in one go. The fiery warmth spread through his throat, and the flavor of lemon filled his nostrils. He sighed with pleasure.
"Ah... lemon-flavored vodka. Absolutely beautiful. Unlike anything there is in the Waking world. Too bad this one here won't give any nutrition. I sure would like to gauge its potential for intoxication... not to mention hangover."
A laughter came from where Perrin sat across from him.
"Sometimes I get amazed at the level of nut statements that come out of your mouth," Perrin said. "Don't get me wrong; I like the drinking part. But a hangover?!"
"Every drink is different, and it should be cherished as such. And that includes hangover," Mat stated, and then his voice turned almost pained. "I just wish that the secret of distilling this damn fine piece of art was not lost in time." He then turned his head, nodding toward Rand. "Are you absolutely sure that that freaky head of yours does not hold it hidden somewhere in there?"
"I wish," Rand said as he sipped his own drink while he leaned against the terrace's fence. "I liked vodka when I was Lews. I gave effort to memorizing every single brand and flavor, and I even did it while holding the Source. But the exact process of making it?" he shook his head. "It had never crossed my mind."
"Yeah, thanks a lot." Mat said sarcastically.
There was a long moment of peaceful silence, broken only by the ambient sounds.
"Are we going to talk of what happened today?" Mat ventured.
"Is there something special you want to talk about?" Rand said.
Mat rolled his eyes and shifted, looking quite irritated. He dropped his legs from the tabletop with a loud thud, leaned forward on his elbows, and pointed a warning finger at Rand.
"Now, don't you give me that crap, you hear? Why are you doing it? There is no Moiraine here. There is no Thom, no Egwene – heck, there are no wolfs for that matter. There is only the three of us. We've been through some nasty crap together, and here you're acting up like you have a broomstick up your ass."
"More like a construction beam," Perrin muttered.
"Precisely. So cut the psychiatric crap, mind-games, whatever you call it, and sit down. And drink."
Rand was silent and unmoving for a moment. His face was somber, eyes riveted on his friends. Then, he bottom-upped his glass, and just like that, the refined, educated overlord al'Thor of the Two Rivers puffed out of existence.
Rand stretched the bones in his neck and shoulders and opened his eyes. A different, more loose and unbound man looked at his friends.
"You know what? You've got a point, there, brother," Rand said with a gleam in his eyes.
"Damn right I have a point!" Mat said.
Rand dropped down on his seat and flicked his glass, sending it spinning across the table top. Mat caught it and refilled it from the present bottle along with his and Perrin's glass. In truth, he could have used his thoughts to wish the glass to be filled, or simply never for it to be emptied – one could do that in the World of Dreams – but that was just not it. There was something real in the ritual of filling the glasses and serving them to friends. When he finished, he raised his glass for a toast, and was promptly followed by the other two.
He looked at Rand and said:
"Here's to the meanest son of a bitch around, Rand al'Thor. The way you handled Moiraine today was a bloody work of art. May that skill never leave your side!"
The bottomed their glasses and slammed them furiously against the desk.
"Now, that's what I'm talking about!" Mat said with intensity.
"I hate to be the party breaker," Perrin said as he leaned forward, "but what are we going to do with Moiraine?"
Matrim suddenly seemed alert. "Yeah, that. Good thing you reminded me, I almost forgot!"
He focused, his eyes dancing almost imperceptibly as if he was sifting through a rapid stream of images. He was navigating through the pathways of the Pattern, the other two knew, seeking specific links between the Dream World and reality. But suddenly, his eyes flew open.
"Sonuvabitch!" he said with a surprise. "Moiraine has her dreams protected with some kind of back-flip bouncing loop. She's rooted in the spot like a damn oak tree! There's no bloody way for me to draw her in here."
"And why, in the name of all that's holy, did you want to do that?" Rand asked slowly, emphasizing words.
"Oh, you know – the usual."
"No, we don't," Perrin said deliberately.
Mat crossed his eyes. "I wanted to make her appear here in some form of nice, revealing Age-of-Legends-style lingerie, personally bestowed upon by yours truly, and then watch her reaction."
"And again, I ask you – why?" Rand pressed on.
"Well, Randy, my man, you're not the only one that wants to take the haughty Aes Sedai down a notch or two, rattle their cages, and make them look as cute and confused as they can get! Just the right time to take advantage of them."
"Now, hold on, just one damn moment..." Rand said, lifting a finger.
"Oh, come on!" Mat interrupted him. "Did you see the look on her face back then when she first came to us? You could practically see her fighting between holding her composure and throwing a tantrum like a little girl. Priceless! I'm telling you, that kind of reaction comes only from the kind of women that boast that they can shrug off lecherous looks, but that holds true only when they are prepared for it; and who knows what kind of dream and what kind of state of mind would have I pulled her away from had I succeeded now. You all know that dreams tend to be pretty irrational. And what's the harm? You know as well as I that she would attribute it to a weird dream when she wakes up."
Rand shook his head with a smile. "I swear, one of these days, you'll be the death of me."
"Said Reason to lady Luck, yet here we are," he smiled in return.
Rand leaned back and crossed his arms at his chest. He looked in turn from Mat to Perrin as if contemplating something, taking that contemplation to himself as he looked at his own reflection in the window.
"Remember when I once said that we are now men?" he said at last.
"I take it back."
"Why, Randy, you make it sound like it's a bad thing," Mat said as he refilled their glasses.
"No," he grinned lecherously in turn. "Men will always be boys, and women will always be our precious toys. Light knows what they think of us in return, anyway," he added.
"That we're a bunch of lummoxes that need to be housebroken, yoked, and so on," Perrin commented offhandedly. "And if we're especially unruly – that we are a bunch of wild animals."
"A compliment!" Mat cheered and emptied his glass.
"You know," he started after he slammed his glass down, "I think that this here is the real us. Not that mask we wear in the Waking World."
"You have a mask in the Waking World?" Perrin said, seeming genuinely shocked.
Mat spread his arms. "I rest my case," he said, to what they all laughed again, the sound echoing against the stone walls, remaining clear and strong despite Dream World's habit of dulling the sounds down. As the laughter subsided, they were left in a moment of silence.
"But you know what?" Perrin said, as he looked around the city, shaking his head gently. "He has a point. This world... it's our refuge. Here, we are alone, and nobody can spy on us. Not really. Here, we can be ourselves. Here, we can go all out without anyone else witnessing and telling of things that would be interpreted as 'unbefitting' for a lord."
"It cannot be helped," Rand said, withholding a sneer. "People of this day and Age are... simple. They are easily manipulated and tricked. They lack spirit and their minds and hearts are full of fear. If there is any chance of us winning the Last Battle, they must have something to hold onto; something indomitable. Amazing, isn't it, how a person publically calls for freedom, yet is willing to completely give it up in exchange for safety? That's why we do this charade of presenting the image of unerring lord."
"What a load of crap," Perrin growled, though he understood completely. "A lord is a person of flesh and blood that pisses and shits just like anybody else, and here I have to pretend I'm something almost above human."
"That, Perry, my friend," Mat jumped in, "Is the exact reason why I am a general."
And again, they laughed.
"But you know," Perrin continued, as the laughter died down, "we really need to discuss things."
"Yeah," Rand conceded, and they all gained somber expressions. "Anyone want to go first?"
Mat lifted his arms up in resignation. "What the heck. If you won't dedicate this moment to relaxation, what's the point of me doing it alone? So, I'll go first; this thing has been nagging on me this entire day, anyway. Remember day before yesterday, when I said that I started feeling something recently?"
Rand nodded, to what Matrim continued. "Well, five or six days ago, I sensed the first tangible vibrations. At first, I thought it was the regular thing in town, like someone was about to knock someone down or knock someone up – which would result in your regular pitchfork chase down the streets – so I disregarded it altogether. But then it remained throughout the days and intensified. That made me think. You know, it's rare that the dice start rolling, but this was..." he looked up at Rand significantly before continuing.
"Today it was not just vibrating anymore – it was quaking! And you know how this thing of mine works; it's like a feeling of something big rolling toward you, like a crushing tidal wave – it seems small at first, but you can't actually gauge its distance from you. So it keeps getting bigger and bigger as it approaches, without any way of assuming exactly how big before it is right on top of you and slamming into you. Well, on the scale of powerful events, this thing seems slightly above average so far. But it's growing, and it's growing fast.
"Do you sense a direction from where it is coming?"
He leaned back, lifting his arm toward some perceived distant point. "All I can say is that it's coming from the direction of the Mountains."
Rand frowned. "It might be another wave of refugees from Tarabon or Arad Doman, but that does not hold water. There were no new wars there, or we would have known about it."
Perrin seemed to be in deep thought.
"Mountains, you say..." he mused out loud. "Now that you mention it, there's something else that bothers me, and it concerns the wolves. For one, they're gone."
"Gone. As in: not here." He took a deep breath. "Now, wolves don't normally leave their territory behind. They only go as far as not being seen unless threatened, but this is something different. We can sense each other, even when in danger, and there was a distinct feeling of great alert a couple of days ago that came from the Cheerful."
"Wait, is that the name of the pack that has those white wolfs?" Mat asked.
"No, that's Shadows," Perrin said. "Cheerful are... were the smallest. Only six of them."
"Were," Perrin confirmed grimly. "They're all dead now. Killed.
"By who?" Rand demanded.
"Not human, and not animal. If it were humans, we would have known about it. If it was an animal – a bear, for instance – they would have retreated. But they didn't. They went for it, whatever 'it' was, and were killed." Perrin shook his head. "Damn Bushwack was always acting in the spur of the moment, and his pack members were never far behind him."
They were silent for a moment.
"Did the other wolves say anything?" Rand inquired.
Perrin shook his head. "They have retreated. Four packs, Rand. Forty-three wolfs, and they all just went into hiding. I don't blame them – the females are close to rearing the new generation now – but it bothers me that they retreated deeper into the mountains, some thirty, forty leagues into the mountain ranges... It's too far for me to reach out to them with a clear thought. It's just not right! They have left their territories behind! It's not something they do lightly."
"Do you have an idea as to what it might have been that has spooked them so much?"
Perrin shrugged. "The only thing that comes to mind are... Shadowspawn."
There was a silence.
"A Trolloc this far South?"
"Not a Trolloc," Perrin said. "Trollocs. Plural. And not just a few of them. Otherwise, the packs would have come down upon them like a scourge."
Mat frowned. He turned and pointed toward an empty patch of air, where a moment later a large vivid map of the Continent sprang to life by his bidding.
"It could be theoretically possible for a small Trolloc company to go southward," he said as he pointed out the approximate route. "They could cross Saldaea via World's End – those rocky cliffs are sparsely populated – and then it would be only a few hundred leagues through the sparsely populated area unclaimed by any nation, until they reach the far northern foothills of the Mountains of Mist. From there, they could theoretically reach as far south as Amador. But there are a lot of things in that whole equation that don't fit. For one, assuming that that Trolloc band managed to slip past Saldaean light cavalry, it would mean that they would have to be small in number in order to remain unseen. No more than twenty – maybe thirty, but that's pushing it. That number would have been bled away by mountain wolf packs long before they passed out of Arad Doman's borders." He turned to Perrin. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but wolves don't retreat unless they're heavily outgunned, right?"
"Right," he said.
Mat exhaled loudly. "Then, my friends, that means we have ourselves at least one fist of Trollocs in the Mountains. One hundred or more strong. Which pretty much beats any standing theory on how they could possibly get so far south unnoticed." He turned to Rand with a raised eyebrow. "You're sure that Shadowspawn cannot pass through channeled gateways, right?"
"Absolutely," Rand said. "Neither Shadowspawn, nor any kind of artificially created organic or semi-organic construct."
Mat passed his fingers through his hair. "Well unless they poofed out of the thin air or popped out of the ground, I've got noth-" He stopped mid-word, his eyes wide and intent in the distance.
"You've got something." Perrin stated.
"Maybe," Mat said. "Perrin, that wolf pack that got themselves killed – Cheerful, was it? Tell me where their territory was."
Perrin puffed a breath of air as he formulated the answer. "Toward south-east part of the Two Rivers, but deeper in the Mountains. It went from the Oakwood grove, up the foothills all the way to the foothills of Maneth peak. A radius of some thirty miles."
"Does it include the site of old Manetheren?" Mat asked.
Perrin nodded. "Yeah, it does, but there's nothing there anymore."
"Except the Waygate," Mat said.
They were silent for a short moment, letting the thing sink in.
"Could it be possible?" Perrin asked. He then looked at Rand. "You're supposed to be the closest thing we have to an expert on the matter here. What do you think?"
Rand shifted in his seat, placing the ankle of one leg across the knee of the other – as was his way when he was in deep thought – and started tapping the desk with his thumb. He seemed grim, focused, and intent in his internal calculations.
"It is possible," Rand said at last. "The Ways were made after Lews' time, so I don't hold any practical knowledge on them, but that's not the issue here. The basic scientific principles responsible for their functioning are known to me. The problem is that neither Waygate barrier, nor the Ways themselves seem to have the nature of a channeled Gateway. It was an acquaintance of Lews, named Theron Dechlaan Venor, and his team of scientists that made them, that much I can be certain of; they went almost all the way in their research of ancient Portal Stones, and the Waygates resemble them in nature and working principles. And that means that the Shadowspawn might very well be capable of passing through.
"From what I have seen, though, the Ways are corrupted, big time. I can't be fully certain yet, but I do have a pretty good theory on why. What I do know is that they are not safe for the living person to be inside, and that includes Shadowspawn as well. Despite their lack of soul."
"Not being safe does not mean they are completely non-traversable." Mat pointed out.
"Well," Rand said, "there's one way to find out. Come on."
They all rose from their seats and went toward the terrace fence. One by one, without any pause or hesitation, they jumped on it, and then leaped forward in an eagle dive. The air around them rushed as they accelerated down until the accelerating buildings and the quickly approaching concrete dissipated like an air barrier. Suddenly, the gravity shifted, as they had passed through different areas of the Dream World. They were no longer falling down, but gliding forward through the air. They willed themselves to decelerate, and stood in thin air high above the Dream World's echo of the Mountains of Mist. The presence of the mountains as an unmovable object, at least, was strong.
"There," Mat pointed at the area of woods.
If they had been on the ground floor, none of them would be able to see anything. The stone blocks that once made up Manetheren had been destroyed in the One Power's searing, and whatever remained had deteriorated into sunken, earth-covered and unrecognizable rocky outcroppings. But here in the air, one could clearly see the difference. There, where the stone foundations of buildings and massive ancient walls once were, the trees grew thinner, forming distinctive lines in the green.
The three of them descended into the thickest patch of trees. Those trees had grown from the seeds of Ogier-sung trees that had survived the searing buried underground. There, they formed a thicket around a stone Waygate.
But the scene was not right.
There were many broken bushes, broken branches and signs of massive disturbance to what should otherwise be a forgotten, deserted place. The ground showed signs of large activity. There were many tracks that shifted and changed due to the Dream World's nature, but one could see clearly that they weren't human tracks. Hooves and large boots, as well as huge bird foot tracks dotted the ground. And the Waygate was shifting between being open and closed. The knowledge of what might be happening here did not sit well with them.
"Bushwack?" Perrin suddenly said.
The others turned and saw a large, shaggy grey wolf standing not far from them; or his spirit, to be exact. This was, after all, a sort of an afterlife for the wolves.
"I didn't expect to see you again, Bushwack," Perrin said again. "Not this soon after your death, anyway. What has happened here?"
The wolf's intent golden eyes passed from him to the Waygate, then around the area, and finally back at him again. He communicated, but only Perrin could hear and understand. After the wolf's tale was done, Perrin exhaled slowly, anger evident in him.
"I'm sorry, Bushwack," he growled. The wolf shifted and communicated again. For all that has happened, he seemed cheerful. Perrin sniffed. "Only three? You're getting sloppy. Courser and his pack would have gotten at least five Trollocs before succumbing."
Bushwack seemed to actually snort derisively, to what Perrin laughed. "Allright then, I'll be seeing you. Say 'hi' to others for me."
Bushwack turned and trotted away cheerfully before disappearing. Perrin returned to the other two, and he was fuming.
"It's as we've feared. It's Trollocs. Bushwack and his pack had happened upon a group of about twenty of them that came through the Waygate."
There was a grim silence.
"So, now we know," Rand said grimly.
"That's not all," Perrin said. "There was a Myrddraal leading them."
Mat and Rand were suddenly alert. "Only twenty on one Myrddraal?" Mat said. "Excuse me, but unless the Shadow is conducting funding cuts, that number is too small! I mean, look at this place. If the tracks are to be judged, there must be ten times that number in here!"
"I think I know what happened," Rand said. "As much as I've seen of the Ways, the directions are written in Ogier script. Trollocs can't read that. It is quite conceivable that the ones that killed Bushwack were one of the scouting parties sent out to find the way through the Ways. That kind of thing would demand a lot of resources; a lot of Trolloc power split into smaller groups and led by Myrddraal. And when they found what they were looking for, then they would send for the main force."
"Whoa, now hold on," Mat said in anger that was born of caution. "It seems like you're saying it was Manetheren gate they were seeking specifically."
"Mat," Rand said. "There is not a doubt in my mind that they came here because of me."
Matrim clenched his teeth. "Damn it," he said. "And here I hoped they were responding to a love letter. "Single ugly Trolloc seeks another for mindless destruction in Andor" – there, how does that sound?"
"But what is their intention?" Perrin said, ignoring Mat's rant. "Are they here to assault us? They will need a lot more than two fists to strike against any of our towns, let alone Emond's Field."
There was a grim silence. Rand seemed different. He had grim determination in his eyes.
"They will most certainly attempt to seize Emond's Field sooner or later. Likely, once they establish a siege noose, they will start with propaganda, most likely a show-off of power, with some brutality, and a promise of not hurting anyone if we comply with their demands. That, of course, would be a lie."
"The one which we would not fall for," Perrin almost shouted. "We are Manetheren! We know better!"
"It might not be that easy at all," Mat said. "If I wanted to wage a Total War, I would not choose means to win; I would use every mean available, no matter the brutality. That includes raids, pillaging, bleeding the opponent down. A war of attrition – the one we would be hard-pressed to win – that would put us behind a hammer which is them, and an anvil which is the general population whose estates are being burned and are seeking help. And, of course, there are always acts of terror, torture, hostages... Shadow does not shirk from anything."
Perrin hissed through his teeth before almost roaring. "And once the ground is ripe, they would perform an all-out attack."
Mat nodded grimly. "That's how we lost the Trolloc Wars," he said silently. "That is why we couldn't rise again afterward. Because too much has been destroyed already."
They were both furious. They both had awakened genetic memories in their minds, where the memory of the past burned like a still-fresh wound. And they wanted to scream in blind, impotent rage. Suddenly, they felt arm on each of their shoulders. They looked up to see Rand's firm expression. His jaw was clenched, and his eyes conveyed leadership he always seemed to have in important situations.
Suddenly, the scenery around them shifted as Rand raised them high above the Waygate, and above the forest. They floated so high above ground that they could see the curvature of the planet, and the Two Rivers beneath them as if on a platter.
"It is different this time, my brothers," Rand said. "Look around you. Look where we are. We are different. This time, you have me. This time, we have girls that were trained to be combat-worthy channelers. And this time, we have cannons, and repeating crossbows and a hail of bolts. And we know that they're coming. But most importantly, most, most importantly, we have access to tactics that these nations of the world are too blind or stubborn to see, let alone employ. So let the Trollocs come! We will destroy them."
The rage Mat and Perrin felt lost the impotency, and gained focus. They placed their hands over Rand's and nodded.
"So... What does the great general of the Age of Legends suggest?" Mat asked with a smirk.
Rand took a deep, contemplating breath.
"Well, what do you think of a sensor grid?" he said at last. He pointed down at the Two Rivers beneath them, and willed a series of glowing dots, tactical lines and points of interest to form. "If the Shadow wants to assault the outlying fields, then that's where we'll foil them. The girls would use the One Power to deploy a kind of sensor webbing on strategic spots across the Two Rivers, and couple it with traps."
"You want to wither their numbers once they attack the farmlands?" Perrin asked.
Mat looked to the map, then to Rand with a smirk and a raised eyebrow. "No, that would be the stupidest tactic ever," he said. "It's something your average field commander would do – which would work against human or Trolloc-only army – but not when there's a Myrddraal that can sense weaves of Power. No, Perrin; our wise friend here is making a deterrent. He wants to force their hand by making them unable to harass the countryside, and have their focus shifted from pillage to siege of Emond's Field early on."
"Where we can control the situation and obliterate them," Perrin realized.
"The weaves of the traps must be relatively inconspicuous, though," Rand said. "Myrddraal are unable to see what the weaves are exactly, but we need them to think it's a sloppy work of one or two untrained channelers at most, placed around farms as a deterrent from bandits or wolf packs. We don't want them thinking it's an aimed act, and thus discourage them from assaulting the town."
"And the woven sensor grid would make the additional patrols be completely unnecessary, not to mention ineffective," Mat said. "It will serve us to trick them into thinking we're not aware of their presence. In the end, we drive them to our own battlefield and wipe them out."
There was a short silence.
"You said it as if it's not a victory, Mat," Perrin said.
Mat nodded. "You're right. It's not." He spread his arms out and looked pointedly at his friend. "What after? Will Shadow leave us be? I don't think so. There will be battle after battle – just like it was two thousand years ago. Do you have any memories that spark to life? Manetheren won the first battles again and again. But Trollocs kept coming again and again. This here," he pointed to the lands far beneath them, "this is exactly the same. And this winter? It will only make matters worse."
"You're right," Rand said. "But I think that the fortune may yet be on our side; and that there is a very neat solution to all of our problems."
"Really?" Mat said, as he folded his arms across his chest. "Well, if you have something, I'm all ears, brother."
"First, it's the matter of this winter. I'm positive, now, that the Shadow has influenced the weather patterns by twisting a few important constraints in a wrong way. While it could be corrected with a Weather Lens –"
"All our attempts of finding one have yielded bupkis." Mat finished with a nod.
"And there won't be enough time to find one," Rand continued, and shook his head "To think that here were about three hundred Weather Lens ter'angreal throughout the World, all used to control weather, and now, we can't find a single one." He took a deep breath before continuing. "However, there's another option: use huge amounts of the One Power to sledge-hammer the Shadow's influence, sending it reeling."
"Explain," Perrin said.
"I think that the Shadow has used a butterfly effect."
"You mean affecting one small point in time-space and let the chain of events do something big?" Mat said, and smiled. "Yeah, I love doing that; a perfect thing for making pranks. But what I do is small. If what you say is true, then it means that the Shadow tampered with the probability of events on a big scale; numerous tiny events, going back years."
"Which would mean it is growing stronger," Perrin said. "The prison is weakening."
"Yes," Rand said. "In theory, I could use a very small amount of Power to set things right. The pattern is perpetually interconnected; everything you do, no matter how small or insignificant, can leads to something huge, and a small amount of Power at a proper moment of time and space could do the trick of reversing the Shadow's influence. But it would take time for it to take root – a time we do not have."
"Thus, the use of huge amounts of the One Power," Mat nodded.
"The question is," Perrin asked, "can you could make that kind of Power?"
"No," Rand said after a moment. "Even if I had a proper circle of channelers, I would be hard-pressed not to burn-out. But recently, I've begun sensing that there's an external source that would be more than enough."
Under Rand's will, the image of the curved horizon shifted suddenly as he focused it like he was using a huge magnifying glass, and a glowing pillar of light formed near the foothills of the Mountains of Dhoom.
"There," he pointed.
"That's... inside the Blight." Perrin said.
"Wait a minute," Mat interrupted. "You said you sensed it. Does it mean it's saidin?"
"It must've been there since the cataclysm itself," he said. "The only reason I can sense it at all is because I've spent an idle afternoon in meditation. It just came to me, like it was meant for me to find it. I think that I must go there and use it, as soon as possible. The way things are going, this weather is already threatening to become permanent. Besides, that much Power might draw unwanted elements as well. Light help us if it falls into the wrong hands."
"Alright," Perrin said. "That is one of the reasons why we have to leave the Two Rivers. But what about the people? They would be left without our protection."
"No," Rand shook his head. "The Shadow is here because it can sense us, smell us out. If we were to leave, we would draw it toward us. Make no mistake about that."
"That's the second reason. Anything else?"
"The final reason is Moiraine." Rand turned toward them. "The fact that an Aes Sedai had finally found her way here means that there will be others in the future, sooner or later. It is the signal that we need to begin our work on the world scene, to begin diplomacy and ensure the foothold for our nation; the time for that is long overdue. Also, setting the World on the right path is a paramount. My paramount. 'The Wheel of Time turns around Tar Valon, and Tar Valon turns around White Tower', and as far as this primitive world is concerned, that might as well be the truth. That means that it is Aes Sedai who we must attempt to drive on the right path."
"And Moiraine?" Mat said, then grinned. "I mean, don't get me wrong – I'm all for keeping her around, if you know what I mean – but, uh... it might get messy on the long run, especially if she decides to go about her way once we clash with the Shadowspawn here in Emond's Field. For all we know, she might even go out on some one-woman crusade, or something."
"I'll deal with Moiraine," Rand said, then turned to Mat. "You deal with Lan."
"Hey, how come you get to deal with all the pretty ones?" Mat poked him.
Rand raised an eyebrow. "You want to deal with an Aes Sedai whose head is full of the White Tower and just causes, not to mention a significant dose of nobility about her?"
There was a short silence as it sunk in.
"Point taken," Mat said.
"Atta boy, Mat," Perrin tapped him on the shoulder. "Keep that up, and Thom will keep his worthless copper coin in the bottom of his forgotten pocket."
"Hey, hey! I have a plan, I'll have you know!" Mat defended firmly with both his forefingers raised in warning to them both.
"Fine, fine," Perrin interrupted him impatiently. "We'll leave you to your plan. Meanwhile, Rand, tell us what was your idea with Moiraine? She had had an eventful day. We took her to see the big steam engines, as well as Iron Works, Lumber Mill and city's water supply. She must have had her fill of smelting heat, steam and saw dust for a while."
Rand smirked. "Right. I was actually planning on showing her the South Wing."
"That early, huh?" Perrin said.
"And depending on how she behaves there, perhaps I'll show her the Basement as well."
"Now, wait a minute," Mat said seriously. "Are you absolutely sure that's wise so early on?"
"Moiraine is a good person, Mat. She can be trusted, and I just feel it. There is something about her that I like. I will not use the word 'guidance'; it is blind and handicapped that are guided. True, what I do with her will be on my terms, but I want to point things out for her, and let her choose on her own; just like I did this afternoon."
"Gee, I don't know, Rand," Mat smirked. "Lews I met all those years ago did have a 'mean sergeant' streak."
"Yeah," Rand reminisced. "Lews was hard on me, too. But then I realized it actually worked wonders on many of my issues. It's only right to be a bit harsh on yourself. Anyone who says otherwise is a lazy slob. Besides, you turned out okay, right? Although, I don't know if it was Lews' influence or your innate Cauthon blood that's responsible for the womanizer you've become. I mean, who knows... perhaps, by the time I'm done with Moiraine, there'll be a new sexual predator in town to which all women will fall for."
"Yeah, like I'll ever let him... wait, what?!"
His only answered was Perrin's hearty laughter.
"Ohhhhhh, I knew it!" Mat called him out with a broad grin. "You are a randy son of a bitch, Randy! I always knew it. Who knows what a various array of pervy – hey hold it right there! Where do you think you're going? This ain't over!"
"I'm going to sleep, Mat," Rand answered as he moved away. "And I suggest you do too. If we go now, we'll get some five hours of real sleep, which should be enough, but I wouldn't advise any more dallying here." He stopped and turned toward the other two. "We will talk in the morning on the specifics of employing our strategy against Trollocs. Meanwhile, I suggest you get some sleep."
"Easy for you to say," Mat said. "It's not your thoughts that are occupied with a pair of naked and sweaty female bodies, damn it!"
"Oh, don't worry, Mat," Perrin shook him on the shoulder. "I'm sure that there will be a girl tomorrow morning that won't be able to walk properly until noon."
Mat looked at him incredulously. "You're not helping!"
And with that they all faded away from the Dream World into their sleeping consciousness.