"Okay," said Shai. "So last session, Be'lal got balefired by the Aes Sedai quester, and Ishamael was killed by the Dragon."
"And I sent him a love letter!" Mierin trilled.
Shai rolled her eyes. "And Lanfear sent the Dragon a love letter, yeah."
"I got it," said Joar. Shai's games were always fun, but she had a tendency to get overambitious with her worldbuilding. If the huge binder she had open in front of her was any indication, they were in for more of the same. Joar had insisted that they split up the sessions so not all of the players were in the same place at the same time; it got way too boring when Ishar tried to min-max all the monsters' stats, and Eval kept creeping on the NPCs instead of fighting them or even talking. At least Mierin was creative, and she put some thought into her character's plans beyond "seduce the bad guy." Sometimes.
"Okay," said Mierin. "I sneak into the Dragon's chamber."
Shai nodded. "Sure."
"I remind him of the love we once shared in a previous incarnation."
"He doesn't seem to remember his life as Lews Therin."
"I offer to have Asmodean teach him how to control saidin."
"Whoa!" Joar interrupted. "We didn't agree to that."
"I'm just tempting him. Besides, you said you wanted to do something besides just blowing things up, yeah?"
"On my terms."
"The Dragon rebuffs you," said Shai.
Mierin rolled her eyes. "I make sure to mention the Choedan Kal."
"Okay," said Shai. "Make a perception check."
"Perception? I'm in the Dragon's bedchamber."
"Just do it."
Mierin glared at Joar, who only shrugged. He wanted to explore the deserts and abandoned cities, not waste time at the Stone of Tear. Mierin rolled her dice, while Shai rolled a couple behind the screen. "A Gray Man sneaks in, but the Dragon destroys him with a sword of saidin."
"Did you send assassins?" Mierin asked.
"Wouldn't tell you if I had," said Joar.
"Maybe it's a crossover from the other section. Uh, I tell the Dragon to use Callandor."
Shai scribbled a couple notes down. "He summons it and attempts to resurrect a dead child."
"Nice!" said Joar. "What's his madness at now?"
"We don't know that," Mierin pointed out.
"Okay," said Shai. "I'll have Tel and Nemene roleplay the monsters next time they get together, but for now, there was a lot of damage, and the Dragon seems a little more unstable. Joar, is there anything Asmodean is doing right now?"
"Nope," said Joar. "Just hanging out with the NPCs in the Waste."
"Cool. So you two are in disguise, going along with a couple of peddlers."
"Allied peddlers," Joar reminded her. Maybe Mierin thought it was fun to flirt with or manipulate mooks, but they had to have some allies somewhere.
"Darkfriend peddlers, sure. On their way back from Rhuidean, the Dragon and Cauthon join your party."
"Cauthon?" Joar blurted. He was supposed to be some kind of agent of chaos, basically a reason for Shai to show off her weighted dice. "What was he doing in Rhuidean?"
Shai grinned. "Good question."
"I flirt with him and remind him he can sample my wares anytime," Mierin said.
"Cauthon seems to find your current disguise somewhat chubby," said Shai, "but he's intrigued."
"It's your disguise," Joar reminded her. "Um, I ask him what Rhuidean was like. For the purposes of honoring him in a song."
"Cauthon shrugs it off," said Shai. "He doesn't seem interested in being an epic hero."
"Do you just make these guys up to thwart me?"
"It's not Shai's fault you insisted on playing a bard," said Mierin. "Everyone knows bards are useless."
"Relax," said Shai. "Worst case scenario, you die and roll a new character. I didn't say this was going to be an easy campaign."
"Worst case scenario, you get balefired," Mierin said.
"Duram was busy with his job and wanted to be written out," said Shai.
"Whatever," said Joar. "Um, I enter into the dream world."
"I examine the outskirts of Rhuidean."
"Roll for perception."
That was never a good sign. Joar nervously complied, his outcome disappointing.
"Okay," said Shai. "Nothing happens."
"Nothing? No Trollocs? No Grey Man?"
"I...step out of Tel'aran'rhiod," said Joar. If she was just doing this to mess with him…
"Um, I go talk to Couladin."
"Couladin is embittered about his brother's disappearance."
"I ask him about potentially being a hero."
"Couladin aspires to be a clan chief."
"I wait until he's asleep, then weave the sign of the two dragons into his arms."
"Whoa," gaped Mierin. "You haven't even confirmed his allegiance?"
"Why should I look around for someone sworn to death and darkness? Subverting the Aiel prophecy is going to be much more fun."
"You actually read all of Shai's backstory stuff?"
"The interesting parts, yeah. Some of it is pretty cliche—no offense, Shai—but the Aiel stuff is cool."
Mierin sighed. "I sneak into the Dragon's dream."
"The Dragon..." Shai rolled a die in secret. "Still doesn't know how to guard his dreams. He seems to be dreaming of an Aiel woman swimming in a river."
"I bite him on the neck."
"This isn't a vampire game!" Joar protested. "Stop trying to seduce him and help me plot."
"Lanfear ignores Asmodean," Mierin continued, "and strokes the Dragon's neck."
"That wasn't in-character!" Joar yelled. "What, do you think my character is just going to crash the Dragon's dreams?"
"Sure! Why not?"
"Asmodean returns to the real world and summons a Draghkar." Draghkar had a song that could lure their victims into submission. And Mierin thought Shae didn't respect bards' talents!
Shai rolled a couple more dice. "The Dragon channels a sword of fire and kills it."
"Take your screen down," Joar said.
"It doesn't matter," said Mierin. "I trust Shai. And besides, the way to defeat the Dragon isn't by fighting, but by stealth."
"That's one word for it," Joar muttered.
"Okay," said Shai. "Um, after several days of travel, the clans journey to the Golden Bowl."
"Great," said Joar. "I Skim to Rhuidean and begin searching for the access key."
"Sounds good. Couladin proclaims himself He Who Comes With The Dawn. The Dragon counters by revealing his own markings—"
"What do I see?"
"Nothing, you're still in the Skim void. Uh, Couladin tries to solidify his claim by—"
"I'm going to Rhuidean," Joar reminded her, "not the clan meeting."
"Yeah, but this is important."
"Weren't you the one who cared about all the prophecy stuff?" Lanfear reminded him.
"Fine, whatever," said Joar.
"Couladin bluffs about what he saw in the glass columns, assuming it was some glorious warrior past. The Dragon blurts out that the Aiel actually used to be sworn pacifists. Everyone gets really angry, and he..." More dice behind the screen. "Finds a little angreal and starts channeling to bring the rain."
"I reveal myself by his side!" Mierin crowed.
"The Dragon is confused to see you."
"Lews, my dear, my beloved! I'm so sorry for the whole mess. Asmodean over here has been trying to distract you with Couladin and the Draghkar, and now he's in Rhuidean for some reason."
"Is this in-character?" Joar asked. "Lanfear shouldn't know where Asmodean is."
"Sure she can, she...saw the residue of his weave."
"Women can't do that."
"Okay, well, maybe she doesn't know and she's just bluffing. Anyway, Lanfear tells the Dragon, let's not worry about that right now. Run away with me and we can rule the world together!"
Shai's dice clattered again. "The Dragon opens a gateway."
"Oh, come on! He doesn't even know how to Travel," Joar protested.
Shai gave a smug smile. "He levelled up during the Draghkar fight."
"I accelerate and try to get to Rhuidean."
"The Dragon appears behind you."
"I cast fire at him," said Joar. That involved several roll-offs; the Dragon wasn't able to fight back, but deflected everything Asmodean threw at him. Typical. "I've got to be close enough by now. I step out!"
"The Dragon...uh...forces the gateway open and jumps through behind you."
"There's no way he can do that," Joar said. "I don't care what level he's at."
"He must remember being Lews!" Mierin said. "Very deep down."
More frenetic dice battles as they raced through the abandoned streets of Rhuidean. Shai pursed her lips a little as the collateral damage from the fight destroyed ancient relics and even set Avendesora on fire. The fog that had blocked Asmodean's view in Tel'aran'rhiod dissipated, and long-empty buildings collapsed to dust.
"You reach for the access key," Shai narrated, "but al'Thor grabs it too. Through it, you feel the might of the great sa'angreal half-buried beneath Cairhien, once the ally of the Aiel people but now a hated nation."
"Get on with it," said Mierin.
"Oh, shut up," said Joar, "she lets you get away with your weird fetishes for the NPCs."
More rolls, withering the Dragon's energy. He had to be fading. Didn't he? Mierin had gotten bored and was pacing behind the screen, she could tell if Shai was cheating.
"The Dragon..." Shai flipped through her binder. "Manages a little strength through the extra angreal he had at the Golden Bowl. Then he strikes."
Joar sighed. Would al'Thor kill Asmodean? Destroy the glass columns that hid the Aiel's history, now that their shameful secret had been blown open? Somehow remember how to Travel directly?
"...Ooh!" said Shai, checking a chart. "He destroys the cords that are binding you to the primordial darkness, making you a regular saidin channeler with all the vulnerabilities that implies. Go ahead and make a madness check."
"Asmodean is already mad," Joar pointed out. "Furious, in fact." But he rolled anyway. Still sane. As sane as anyone who had been imprisoned for three thousand years on a quest for immortality could be.
"I drool over Lews' beautiful manly form," Mierin said.
"Lanfear," she said, "drools over the beautiful manly form of Lews' access key. Better?"
Joar sighed. "Sort of."
"The Dragon thanks Mierin for giving him the idea to capture Asmodean. He warns Asmodean that his only chance at survival will be teaching him and helping him learn," said Shai.
"Nice," said Mierin. "Um, I put a shield on Asmodean, to reduce his strength so he can't overpower Lews."
"Why would you do that?" Joar protested. "We're part of the same party."
"Of course we are. It's Lews' party, now."
"Make a perception check," said Shai, and Joar instinctively reached for the dice. "No, not you."
Mierin's roll seemed low—maybe the Dragon was still strong enough to blast Lanfear and shut her up? But Shai just gave an ominous "Nothing happens."
Mierin pursed her lips. "I Skim back to my lair."
Shai nodded, scribbling some more. "The Dragon searches the wreckage and emerges with the female equivalent of the access key. He asks Asmodean to continue his diguise as a gleeman rather than reveal himself."
"At least someone appreciates bards," said Joar. "Fine."
"And asks to learn how to guard his dreams."
"Ha! No more creeping for you!"
"That's what you think," said Mierin.
Before Joar could think of a good comeback, Shai said, "I think that's a good stopping point. Let me know when you want to schedule the next session."
"We can be part of different subparties," Joar suggested. "I mean, Asmodean and Lanfear aren't working together anymore, are they? When is Barid going to introduce his character?"
"Don't look at me," said Shai. "I've been texting him all week trying to find a time."
"I," said Ared, "flirt with the queen."
"Queen Morgase is charmed," said Shai.
"I brainwash the queen."
"Queen Morgase responds readily to your Compulsion."
"I take the queen to bed."
"We get it," said Joar. He hadn't thought it would be possible for any character to be more boring than Lanfear pining over an NPC, but at least the Dragon was interesting. Shai had put a lot more thought into him than just "Elan's character's nemesis." Which was good, because Elan hadn't been back for a few weeks since his first character had died.
"I told him to roll a new one, but he just doodled something creepy about death," said Shai. "I'm a little worried about him."
Ared's character, though, was just fixated on Morgase, who barely had any magical ability. Sure, her nation was populous and strong, but it was such a generic fantasy cliché land! Nowhere near as cool as the Aiel. "I brainwash the que—" he began.
"Shut up," Joar said.
"—en's highborn guest to find out why she's really here."
"You probe Lady Alteima's mind. She is running away from a failed poisoning attempt on her husband."
"Nice," said Ared. "I can use that, probably."
"Asmodean!" said Shai. "The Dragon keeps you in his company. His Aes Sedai mentor informs him that another seal of the Devourer's prison has been discovered, and the cuendillar is fraying. When you are alone, he asks if you have ever considered betraying him."
Joar laughed. "Do I look like I could betray him? I'm at a fraction of my former strength, and Mierin is the only one who wouldn't kill me on sight. They all think I've defected."
"It's Lanfear," Mierin pointed out, "when you're in-character." Shai had insisted on inviting her back, too. Great.
"Lanfear is the only one who wouldn't kill me on sight."
"The Dragon asks Asmodean what he knows of the other Forsaken," said Shai.
"Again, it's not like they invite me to tea. Um...Ared, what's your character called?"
"Rahvin," said Ared.
"Rahvin is off flirting with a queen somewhere. I assure the Dragon that I don't have any other choice so I might as well throw in my lot with him."
"You really have to go full-alignment swap," Mierin said. "It's fun!"
"Make a madness check," Shai said.
Madness. Great. As if he was just another male NPC. Joar passed with flying colors. "Can we say that was a miss? I mean, maybe I want to wipe my brain of Ared's roleplay."
"You secure your chambers before retiring to bed and sleep soundly and untroubled," said Shai. "Lanfear?"
"I open a Gateway to Lews' side!" Mierin declared.
"You shouldn't have let us level up so fast," Joar argued. "Gateways are OP."
"The bad guys have them too, now," Ared pointed out.
"Make a perception check," said Shai. That time Mierin rolled well. "You notice that the Dragon is carrying a male and a female access key."
"Lews! Lews, I love you!" Mierin continued. "We could challenge the Creator himself with those!
"The Dragon insists that his name is Rand al'Thor, at least in this incarnation."
"You shouldn't trust Asmodean, he'd do anything to save his own neck. And Rahvin just tried to attack you."
Attack? Joar glanced over at Ared, who shrugged cryptically. If he and Shai had planned something else out…
"Have I been able to sneak into his dreams recently?" Mierin asked.
"No," said Shai, "Asmodean's lessons worked."
Joar grinned. Mierin pouted. "I miss our nights together, Lews!"
"The Dragon says if you're going to help him, you could be a little more straightforward about it."
"Oh, but that wouldn't be any fun," said Mierin. "We still have so many sessions to go!"
"The Dragon is confused by your breaking of the fourth wall."
"I flirt with the queen," said Ared.
"Your amorous interest in Morgase has been noted."
"I...uh...start hiring a new legion of royal guards to replace her loyalists."
"Cool. Do you have a name for this squadron?"
"Um...what's the flag of Andor, again?"
"A white lion on a red flag," Shai said.
"We're the, uh...White Lions. Yeah."
Shai sighed. "Great. Um, Asmodean?"
Joar scrambled to think of a witty, or at least original, segue, but was saved by the arrival of Lilen, panting and toying with her necklace. "Sorry I'm late," she said. "Babysitting."
"No problem," said Shai, giving her a summary of what she'd missed. Mierin and Ared interrupted with more boasts of their characters' prowess; Joar was content to sit back and listen to what Shai thought was important to stress. That Aes Sedai mentor came up a lot. And the Dragon was travelling with a bunch of the ter'angreal from Rhuidean—at least, those that hadn't been destroyed in his fight with Asmodean.
"Right," said Lilen. "I walk in on the Black Ajah group plotting in Amador."
"Liandrin is dismissive of your authority."
"I tell her where she can stick it," said Lilen. Joar giggled. Quiet Lilen playing a character who could boss around everyone else? Well, they were pretty unimportant NPCs. "Let's see...Direct a couple to Ebou Dar, there's probably something there. Have the bulk of them focus on capturing al'Meara. I want her alive."
"The Black Ajah heeds your orders," said Shai. "Rahvin?"
"I flirt with the queen," Ared echoed.
"The queen is gripped by Compulsion."
"Uh, I flirt with Alteima and all the other noble ladies around court."
Shai nodded. "Make a perception check."
Ared rolled a three, and scowled. "Alteima better not be trying to poison me."
"You detect no poison or anything else of note. Asmodean, you too."
There wasn't much to perceive in the Waste, Joar thought, but then, there were always plenty of monsters that could be sent to kill the Dragon and hit him instead. Or maybe this was something about the access keys? Fourteen, not bad!
"As you journey through Jangai Pass, you see the ruins of an ancient city in the mountains above. The architecture reminds you of Shorelle."
"What's Shorelle?" Ared asked.
"Asmodean's hometown," Joar said. "Don't you read any of the backstory stuff?"
Ared shrugged. "Not really. Unless it's about hot ladies."
"Shai put a lot of work into this! You should at least make an effort."
Shai blushed. "Thanks, Joar. It's fine. When the Dragon's party make camp that night, you sense a Draghkar attack."
"I let it be," said Joar, "unless it approaches me."
"The Dragon seems to handle it himself, with some difficulty. He walks in on you."
"I tell him I don't like Draghkar. They're annoying and stupid."
"I thought you did like Draghkar?'" Mierin asked. "They're like the bards of the animal world."
"I'm lying to him, Mierin, come on. You can't just expect me to walk into an enemy camp and be completely honest and helpful!"
"I think it'd be cute if you swapped alignments," she said. "Forget the quest for power or love, you're the silly bard that just joins the antagonists to stay alive."
"The quest for love is stupid," said Joar, "I'll give you that."
"The Dragon informs you that there were also Trollocs in the camp."
"Probably a diversion to let the Draghkar sneak in."
"They appear to have been sent by Sammael."
"Can't really do anything about that until Tel shows up." Last Joar had checked, Tel was still fiddling with his character sheet so his hero could max out in strength and be bigger than everyone else.
"The Dragon mentions that Sammael's tactics are familiar from the battle of Serendahar."
"What's Serendahar?" asked Ared.
"It's a place where Lews fought a wonderful battle, in the backstory!" This time it was Mierin's turn to show off. "He must be remembering!"
"I go back to bed," said Joar, "and set up wards to alert me if any creatures sneak in."
"Sounds good," said Shai. "Moghedien?"
"I spy on al'Meara in the dream world," said Lilen. Hmm. Maybe Joar wasn't the only one with a nemesis.
"You don't detect any signs of al'Meara," said Shai. "You do, however, see a younger woman who has experience and power in Tel'aran'rhiod. She flits to a small rural village where two large flags are flying, a red eagle and a red wolf."
A red eagle? Joar tried to remember what Shai had told them about that. There was a kingdom called Manetheren that was now in Andor…
"Do I see anyone else I recognize?" Lilen asked.
"Hmm," said Shai. "Make a perception check." Lilen only rolled a twelve, but she had several bonuses for sneaking around in Tel'aran'rhiod. "That's good enough. As you're following the young woman, you catch a glimpse of Teadra the archer conferring with Princess Trakand."
"Teadra the archer? Shouldn't she be long-dead?"
"You're in the dream world, remember?" Joar said. "The great heroes of the past sometimes reincarnate there."
"Why haven't we seen Ishar or Eval's characters there?" Ared asked.
"Eval's dude never did anything heroic," Joar pointed out, "unless you count groping NPCs."
"Was it al'Meara?" Lilen asked. "I think harassing her should qualify."
"Asmodean," said Shai. "Isendre visits you to ask for advice."
"I tell her to stay the course and don't blow her cover."
"I play an ancient composition for her. Something from Shorelle that the plebians won't appreciate."
"Isendre is charmed."
"Get her in your pants, Asmodean!" Ared cheered.
"Unlike you guys," said Joar, "I'm playing this game for the plot and worldbuilding, not to get some minor NPC in my pants."
"You sense someone channeling a vast quantity of saidin."
Joar sighed. "I go check on the Dragon. No, um, actually...I seize saidin, in case there's another freaking Draghkar around. Then I go look for the Dragon."
"Are you sure you're not crushing on him too?" asked Lilen. "You can fight Lanfear for him."
"No one is in the Dragon's tent," said Shai. "You see a gateway to a snowy part of the world."
"A gateway?" said Joar. "Who made it?"
"You're not sure. It was cast with saidar."
"And it's just sitting there? Propped open?"
"I don't know what level he's at, but he shouldn't be able to do that," said Joar. "Uh...I turn it invisible so no one else can see. Then I practice some tricky discordant chord progressions that help with an ambiance of darkness and despair."
"You can't level up by practicing chord progressions," said Mierin.
"Maybe you can't."
"A gai'shain servant calls from outside, looking for the Car'a'carn."
"I tell them to go away."
"She says she brought dinner and it's important that the Car'a'carn eat."
Even Joar found it hard to remember everything Shai had written about the Aiel and their inscrutable honor codes. "I tell her that the Dragon and his...companion...are occupied and would not want to be disturbed."
"She giggles and runs away."
"I play some more music."
"A crowd of Maidens of the Spear congregate outside, shouting out suggestions of sexual activities Aviendha should try."
"You're as bad as Ared!" Joar yelled.
Shai shrugged. "The Aiel have some intriguing relationship norms."
"Yeah, I'm sure. I play really loudly and channel saidin to tune them out."
"You amuse yourself with your music. Shortly before sunrise, Aviendha and the Dragon return through the gateway. He is carrying a new weapon."
"I ask him if he got coronated emperor on some other continent." Shai's worldbuilding hadn't gone that far. Joar hoped.
"He asks if anyone saw the gateway."
"I explain what happened."
"Aviendha blushes. The Dragon asks why you never taught him the invisibility weave."
"He didn't ask!"
"He demands that you show some initiative come up with more interesting lessons."
"Kind of hard to do that when I don't know what he remembers from his previous lifetime."
"I can find out for you!" said Mierin.
"Never mind," said Joar. "I'll think of something."
"Okay," said Shai. "Moghedien?"
"I infiltrate the dream world," said Lilen, "and spy on whatever Lanfear is doing."
"I'm meeting with Rahvin," said Mierin.
"Yeah!" Ared said. "We scheme to make sure the Dragon falls into Sammael's trap."
"And when he's distracted," Mierin said, "we link together and strike."
"We should rope in Kamarile's character, too. She's fun."
"Kamarile hasn't responded to my last few texts," said Mierin. "I don't know if she still wants to play."
"She will," said Shai. "Just give her time."
"Okay, sure," said Ared. "If Tel doesn't show up, we make his guy be the bait. Then we strike."
"Can we see Moghedien?" Mierin asked.
"Good question," said Shai. "Um, okay, perception checks, all three of you."
Mierin and Ared's failed, but Lilen got an unmodified eighteen. "Figures I'd waste it on this," she said. "I don't need a check, I'm the one who's spying."
"You don't notice anything different about the meeting," said Shai. "But you do see al'Meara and Taedra, watching you."
"I follow them and try to throw Teadra against a wall," said Lilen. Another strong roll.
"They seem to be part of a travelling menagerie," said Shai. "You don't know what part of the world they're in."
"I shield al'Meara and taunt her." Al'Meara was not that powerful, Joar figured, if even Lilen's character was able to beat up on her.
"She taunts you back, although she is not able to channel."
"I mention my pony play kink and see if she's into it."
"Lilen!" Joar blurted. "You can't just make an NPC do animal kink with you even if you've captured her."
"Speak for yourself," said Mierin. "I think it's hot."
"You would," muttered Joar.
"Al'Meara does not seem to share these fantasies," said Shai matter-of-factly. "She continues to insult you."
"She's trying to bait me into killing her," said Lilen. "I'm not that dumb. Okay, let's try Compulsion. I want her to believe that, uh, she needs to capture Princess Trakand. Not just capture, but, um..."
Before Lilen could brainstorm any more ideas about what al'Meara should believe about Princess Trakand, Joar mercifully interrupted with another perception check. This one failed. "Teadra regains consciousness," said Shai, "and shoots you in the chest."
"Ugh," said Lilen. "Uh, I return to the real world, to Liandrin and her co-conspirators. Then I command one of them to Heal me."
"Chesmal Heals your wound, though it drains a lot of strength from you both."
Lilen nodded. "I...make an extra perception check. Can I do that?"
"You want more perception checks?" said Ared. "This game is slow enough already."
"You only say that because you don't pay attention to the worldbuilding," said Joar. "Some of these storylines are interesting."
Shai blushed. "Thanks, Joar. Sure, Moghedien can make an extra roll, but she's rolling at disadvantage because the Healing drained her."
Lilen rolled twice. 16 and 14. Even at disadvantage, that was pretty good.
"Liandrin is holding saidar," said Shai. "A modified form of Compulsion and shielding."
"I shield her before she can throw anything at me."
"Very nice. She seems to have been planning to strike at you while you were weakened."
"I tie off the shield such that only one of the Chosen can undo it. And I Compel her to live, even if the idea to kill herself occurs to her."
"Where are they hiding? Amador?" Joar asked. An NPC with reason to hate Moghedien, who needed aid only a select few could give, would be something to keep an eye on.
"Yeah," said Lilen. "But you're in Cairhien, right? What's it to you?"
"Everyone's going to rediscover Travelling at some point. And Tel'aran'rhiod isn't limited by geography." Joar shrugged. "Just thinking ahead."
"Liandrin begs for her life and suggests puppy play instead," said Shai.
"Ew," said Lilen. "Uh, I tell the others to leave her alive so the false hope can make her suffer. And to be on the lookout for a travelling circus."
"Sounds good," said Shai. Then she took out her phone and started texting.
"Is it my turn?" Ared asked. "I flirt with the queen."
"Do you even pay attention to anything else going on?" Joar asked. "For all you know, the queen could have gotten wise to you and fled by now."
"Not really," said Ared. "And no she couldn't. I Compelled her, remember?"
"Morgase has a little bit of channelling power," Mierin pointed out. "Maybe that helps her break through."
"Not everything is about channelling," Joar said. "Otherwise we'd all be mage class."
"We are all mage class," Ared said.
"You know what I mean."
"Sorry, guys," said Shai. "I was just checking in with Tel, but I guess he's not coming today, so I'll control Sammael if we need to. Asmodean! The Shaido forces, led by Couladin, are preparing to attack the Aiel loyal to the Dragon."
Joar sighed. So the Couladin plan hadn't gone as well as he'd hoped. How was he supposed to know that imagining a glorious history for the Aiel wasn't the best strategy? "I keep my head down and stay out of the way."
"Moiraine demands that you carry water for the wounded."
"Who's Moiraine?" Mierin asked.
"The Aes Sedai mentor person," said Joar. "Um, sure. I should probably stay on her good side."
"You sense distant weaves of saidin."
"I keep my head down and stay out of the way!" Joar repeated. "While I'm carrying water. And stuff. But nothing with the power."
"There are many casualties among the Dragon's troops, but as the battle rages on, you suspect that Couladin's army is faring even worse."
"Good riddance," said Joar. Couladin had been a good NPC to plot with, but the Dragon would be the real boss fight. Or maybe he would have a redemption arc, if all went well. Either way, Asmodean needed to stay close to him.
"The Dragon staggers into camp, looking exhausted. He suspects Sammael of striking at him while he was tired from the fight."
So that would be where Tel's character came into play. "I...try not to bring up the backstory."
"The Aiel report that other clans are joining the Dragon's forces, and that the Shaido are retreating. Then the Dragon faints."
Joar rolled his eyes. "I try to Heal him." That would require another roll, and he could feel the others smirking at him. Shai had made a lot of specialized skill trees, but Healing was not something Asmodean was good at. Still, a roll of 18 would balance out even his negative modifiers. He hoped.
"The Dragon remains unconscious," said Shai, "but his Wise One and Aes Sedai advisors attempt to care for him."
"I try too," said Joar. "Inconspicuously."
"He passes the night fitfully. Early morning, several Cairhienin nobles come to pay him a visit, but he remains unconscious."
"Hmm," said Joar. Cairhienin were afraid of Aiel, or at least the current generation were. "I find some Maidens of the Spear to escort me, and then tell them that he's regretfully indisposed at the present time." Almost as fun as when the Dragon and Aviendha had been "busy" elsewhere.
"The nobility seem suspicious, and ask if you perhaps hail from Tear."
What did Cairhienins and Tairens think of each other? He didn't remember. "I tell them that I am not, but that I have performed there several times and found their audiences receptive."
"Most of them laugh nervously and make a hasty exit. A couple, Lord Dobraine and Lady Colavaere, stick around to make conversation. Make a Charisma roll."
Asmodean was a bard. Charisma, he could handle. Joar rolled a six.
"They make a bunch of convoluted allusions and asides, but it goes over your head."
"Asmodean is three thousand years old," said Joar, "you can't expect him to keep up with current slang. Uh, I go check on the Dragon."
"He's sleeping a bit more peacefully."
"I try to act helpful around the other wounded."
"There are High Lords of Tear coming to visit."
"I tell them that the Dragon is regretfully indisposed at the present time."
"They announce that they wish to gift him the city of Cairhien, as a token of their esteem."
"I..." Maybe Lilen's strategy was a good one. "Make an extra perception check to see if they're up to something."
"Go for it." Four. "They seem unpleasant and manipulative."
"So basically, nobility." If he had to roll a four, better to get it out of the way on something useless.
"By mid-morning, the Dragon is haggard, but awake."
"Is there anyone around?"
"Aviendha, and several other Aiel."
"I tell him he has me to thank for his life, but not in so many words."
"The Aiel catch him up on the battle and the visiting aristocrats. Aviendha mentions that Cauthon killed Couladin."
"Cauthon?" Joar repeated. Was he still part of their party? Shouldn't Shai have found someone else for his random numbers to bother? "Um, I mean, I express my admiration and look forward to meeting their third friend if he's anything like those two."
"Okay," said Shai. "Lilen?"
"I..." Lilen drummed her fingers against the table. "I adopt a pair of scruffy-looking orphan kids in Ghealdan."
Joar couldn't help laughing. And they thought Asmodean's cover story was intricate!
"It's for my disguise," she said, annoyed. "I'm pretending to be a simple widow who has fallen on hard times."
So Lilen was roleplaying Moghedien roleplaying a doting mother. Great.
"You sense saidar near the river," said Shai.
"Good," said Lilen. "I make my way towards the docks with my sons in tow."
"You blend into a haggard crowd of refugees. Shortly thereafter, al'Meara and Trakand emerge from a mob, escorted by a small squadron of Children of the Light."
"Who?" Ared asked.
"Whitecloaks," said Mierin.
"Are they on our side?"
Mierin sighed. "You're hopeless."
"Al'Meara is moved with compassion for the refugees, and orders the captain of a riverboat to bring you all aboard."
"What a sucker," said Lilen. "We gladly accept."
"The boat travels slowly downriver. Al'Meara and Trakand are accompanied by an elderly performer named Thom Merrilin, and a thief-catcher named Juilin Sandar."
"Thom Merrilin?" Ared blurted out. "I've heard of him!"
Joar blinked. Of all the players who were likely to remember a backstory note Shai had pointed out, Ared was not the highest on the list. "A bard, huh? Sounds cool."
"He used to be having an affair with my Morgase," said Ared. "You should punish him for considering it."
Lilen rolled her eyes. "I have my kids hang out with him and get on his good side."
"Thom is charmed by your alleged children and shows them gleeman's tricks. You also notice Teadra the archer is part of their party, going by the name 'Birgitte.'"
"Teadra? Shouldn't she be dead?"
"Or even if she was just reincarnated, wouldn't she be a tiny baby?"
"She would," said Shai. "The dream world is weird."
Lilen sighed. "I try to restrain the urge to tear her limb from limb."
"You manage to stay on their good side," said Shai. "Most of the refugees disembark in Boannda."
"Where are al'Meara and the others?"
"They've negotiated with the captain to stay aboard ship for a while."
"I meekly ask if I might stay in the company of such generous patrons."
"Al'Meara happily agrees, and the boat continues to Salidar."
"I express my hope that I can resume my trade in herbs and the healing arts in peace."
"Al'Meara seems curious about your knowledge of herbs. You find Salidar to be populated by dozens of Aes Sedai and initiates in exile, who split from the White Tower after the coup."
"I introduce my children to the distinguished ladies."
"The boys seem interested in juggling and playing games with Teadra."
"Great," said Lilen. "I remind them to get to bed at a reasonable hour."
"Okay," said Shai. "Rahvin."
"I flirt with the queen," said Ared.
"Make a perception check."
"She better not be sleeping with someone else," said Ared, vigorously warming the die between his hands. Three.
"You go looking for Morgase," said Shai, "but you realize that she is not in the palace and hasn't been for some time."
"Some time? Like how long?"
Shai shrugged. "Probably less than a month."
"A month?" blurted Ared. "Morgase has been avoiding me for weeks?"
"It's not our fault you don't pay attention to anything else," said Joar. "You should keep up with the plot."
Ared hissed. "I make it known via my..."
"White Lions?" Mierin volunteered.
"Via them, yeah. That I am now King of Andor. Cairhien too, probably. See, I heard about the power vacuum there."
"Proclamations are sent forth proclaiming King Gaebril of Andor and Cairhien. There seems to be some pushback to your rule, however."
Andor was traditionally a matriarchy, Joar remembered, although Cairhien was such a mess that even Rahvin could probably take it with some effort.
"Asmodean. You're accompanying the Dragon in Cairhien, when Cauthon announces that 'Gaebril' has been proclaimed King of Andor. The Dragon wants to attack him, but his advisor convinces him to wait for the morning."
"I perform The Fool Who Thought He Was King." It was a jab at both of them, but Ared didn't seem to get the joke. Probably for the best.
"In the evening, you hear screaming from the Lady Colavaere's apartments. She seems to have tried paying a visit to the Dragon, and been thoroughly rebuffed."
So al'Thor was either double-booking himself and forgetting his appointments, or going mad from saidin. Possibly both. That didn't narrow things down. "I drop in on the Dragon first thing in the morning and tell him that I'd like to accompany him. Better to...know where he is and what he's up to." He couldn't imagine Asmodean willingly allying with Rahvin, but if the Dragon was losing sanity, anything was possible.
"I drop in on the peddler," said Mierin, "who I was travelling with before."
"You're not even gonna say hi to me?" Joar asked.
"I can't just drop in on the Dragon's bard, that'd be weird. I ask him for juicy gossip."
"Uh," says Shai. "He reports that Aiel are moving south, and that the Dragon is founding a school in the hopes of preserving knowledge and technology in case the world is almost destroyed again."
"Aww, that's so sweet!" said Joar. "Does he need a music historian?"
"I said juicy gossip."
"He claims that al'Thor and his Aiel friend Aviendha have been spending a lot of time together in private."
"That's not really—" Joar began, then broke off. The other NPCs probably did see it that way.
"I tear the skin from his bones," said Mierin confidently, "and then I go attack Lews Therin."
"The Dragon and his party are inspecting a caravan of wagons."
"I attack everyone and their stupid wagons."
"Hey!" said Joar. "I'm in there. Uh, I get out of the way."
"You and Cauthon duck behind a far wagon. The Dragon weaves a protective dome that shuts out most of the world, but Lanfear has created plenty of carnage. Besides al'Thor, there are three women within the dome, plus a half-dozen wagons containing ter'angreal and miscellaneous relics from Rhuidean and the Aiel traders." Joar was pleasantly surprised that there were enough relics from Rhuidean to fill one wagon, yet alone six; his duel with the Dragon hadn't destroyed everything after all.
"Are they hot?" Mierin asked.
"The women in the dome. Are they hot?"
"Not currently," said Shai, "but your Fire weaves could change that."
Mierin rolled her eyes. "Are any of them attractive?"
"That's a subjective matter. The two standing upright appear to be slightly younger than al'Thor. The one injured, under the wagons, has the appearance of this Age's Aes Sedai; they use the Binding Rod traditionally. All three are channelers, and at least the younger two are currently holding saidar."
"I weave Spirit with Fire and Earth to torture them into unconsciousness, and demand that Lews Therin tell me which one is Aviendha."
"Al'Thor tries to weave Air to strike at you, and says that he only loved Ilyena."
"So he remembers! A little, anyway," said Mierin. "Um, I weave Spirit with Fire and Earth to torture him into unconsciousness."
"Al'Thor is in obvious pain, but manages to stay on his feet. His weaves of Air attempt to deflect yours."
The Dragon's constitution score was probably way too high for Lanfear to wear him down directly. "I debate whether I should make him watch his friends die or them watch him die."
"They can't watch anything right now, they're unconscious," Shai reminded him.
"I try to torture him some more."
"While clearly in agony, al'Thor continues to resist you."
"I remind him I can make all this stop, if he takes his rightful place at my side."
Shai pursed her lips. "Roll for initiative."
"Initiative?" Mierin echoed. "We should be just about tied, no?"
"You should be. But this is costing him a lot of strength."
Mierin rolled, then beamed. "Eighteen."
"Al'Thor's initiative is..." Shai rolled behind the screen. "Nineteen."
"What? You cheat."
"Minus his inbuilt chivalry and reluctance to harm women...make that fourteen. You continue to torment him." Shai rolled again.
"The girls are unconscious," Mierin said. "They can't have recovered that quickly?"
"They haven't," said Shai. "But Moiraine has. Her initiative is..." The clatter of an invisible die. "Plus the bonus for having seen prophecies...ooh."
"There's no bonus for having seen prophecies," Lilen pointed out. "You're just railroading."
"Moiraine climbs up on the wagon behind you and knocks you into the portal to the worlds of the Finn, plummeting in after you," said Shai.
"The Finn?" said Mierin. "No fair. I get a saving throw or something."
Joar laughed. "Looks like you've got yourself a nemesis, too."
"I'm here for attractive lovers," said Mierin, "not old mentors who think they're a big deal because they read some prophecy."
"You can reroll eventually," said Shai. "Rahvin?"
"I flood the palaces of Caemlyn with Myrddraal and Trollocs," said Ared.
"You don't know his plan," Lilen pointed out. "Not in-character, anyway."
Ared shrugged. "Word carries. Ravens carry secrets, I spied in Tel'aran'rhiod overnight, yada yada."
"I'll allow it," said Shai. "The Dragon makes a gateway almost as large as the courtyard in Cairhien, and his Aiel troops file in."
"As big as the courtyard?" Joar said. "Dang. Uh, I mean, I come in and bring my harp."
"The gateway opens in Caemlyn, and the Aiel pour out."
"I unleash my creatures," said Ared, "and the minute I sense the gateway closing, send bolts of Fire and Air at everything in the courtyard."
"Everything?" Shai repeated.
"Yep. The Trollocs are expendable."
Shai nodded. "Asmodean, roll for initiative."
"I'm just standing here with my sword," said Joar, "which I don't know how to use."
"Just do it."
Nine. Decent. Ish. With the Dragon on his side…
"Rahvin, you wipe out a couple Myrddraal and the Trollocs they're linked to, a dozen more freestanding Trollocs, several dozen Maidens of the Spear, and a couple of the Dragon's companions. Asmodean, you got electrocuted, sorry."
"Just like that?" said Joar. "I didn't even get to fight back? What about saidin?"
Mierin laughed. "Join the club."
"Al'Thor weaves his own Fire and Air strikes and opens a gateway toward the throne room," Shai continued.
"Can he do that?" asked Ared. "He hasn't even been to the throne room."
"Keep up," said Mierin. "He was there like four sessions ago."
"Moghedien?" Shai asked.
"I creep on al'Meara in the dream world," said Lilen.
"Al'Meara is apparently catfighting with Siuan Sanche."
"Catfights? Nice. I teleport away before they can see me."
"Roll for initiative." Thirteen. High, but al'Meara seemed powerful too. "A few moments pass, but you sense her on a riverbank in Cairhien."
"I follow her, ready to shoo away whatever weave she tries to cast."
"She attempts a meager shield, but it is easily broken."
"Whew!" said Lilen. "Uh, I tell her her catfight was hot, and I'd be interested in kitty roleplay if—"
Even Shai had had enough. "Teadra appears with her bow."
"Teadra? She shouldn't be able to—oh, whatever. I de-age her into a cute toddler."
"Okay," said Mierin, "even I have to admit that's a little gross."
"Al'Meara whimpers and crawls toward you in pitiful terror."
"I haven't even shielded her yet! This is too easy."
"Make a perception check," Ared called. "See if it's a trap."
"Good idea," said Lilen. She rolled a six.
"Al'Meara has a block that she has yet to overcome; she is angry enough to channel, but her weaves are uncontrolled and flimsy. Teadra is under your power. Tel'aran'rhiod is as strange and powerful as ever," said Shai.
"Sounds good," said Lilen. "I savor her pain and fear."
"Al'Meara bends Tel'aran'rhiod to her will, placing you in an a'dam, the ter'angreal that makes a compulsory link."
"She can't do that!" Lilen snapped. "I channel Fire at her."
"Make a Wisdom check."
"I'm weaving from Intelligence. As always."
"I know how you can weave. But strength in Tel'aran'rhiod relies on Wisdom as well as Intelligence."
Lilen glowered. "Six again. No, that's a nine!"
"Not good enough," said Shai. "When you try to channel, al'Meara refuses to allow it, and you are trapped in the a'dam. Then she...manipulates Tel'aran'rhiod to swat your bottom."
"I tell her to show some respect," said Lilen. "I'm like three thousand years old."
"She demands that you undo the curse on Birgitte, or else."
"Fine," said Lilen.
"The women confer briefly."
"I tell them I can be useful! Uh, the other Chosen are trying to lure the Dragon to attack Sammael."
"She threatens you for more specifics."
"I think al'Thor is going to go after Rahvin first, though. He's in Caemlyn."
"Hey!" said Ared. "Whose side are you even on?"
"Right now? The person with the a'dam around my neck," said Lilen. "Help me out, and there might be a reward in it for you."
"Al'Meara and Teadra whisper where you can't see or here; then Teadra wakes from the dream world. Al'Meara orders you to aid her in Caemlyn."
"She knows we're still in Tel'aran'rhiod, yeah?" Lilen said. "I mean, we can try, but I don't know if that's going to help."
"Fine. I follow her to Caemlyn."
"Rahvin," said Shai.
"I, uh, follow the Dragon," said Ared. "And when he shows up, I just incinerate the whole room and jump away."
"Some of the rooms contain your White Lions. Or Trollocs."
"We have replacements."
"Al'Thor evades your strikes, and you seem to be taking out nearly as many of your own allies as his."
"I weave balefire at him."
"No balefire," said Shai.
"What? That's no fun."
"I should never have built in a time-travel mechanic, that just breaks the game. There's enough worldbuilding without temporal paradoxes."
"You're railroading again."
"If you have a fun or innovative use of time-bending, let me know. But I'm not just going to throw it in as a weapon for power creep."
"The NPCs can make gateways and read prophecies and manipulate Tel'aran'rhiod," said Ared. "You have to at least let us use balefire."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure! Just get on with it!"
"You balefire a corridor where you sense al'Thor has been recently."
"Then I open a gateway to Tel'aran'rhiod from my body."
"You can't do that either," said Lilen. "Shai said it was OP. Or might cost sanity."
Shai rolled her eyes. "It's no more OP than balefire. You sense al'Thor emerge a few minutes behind you."
"He knows how to do this too?" said Ared. "Fine. I try to dematerialize him. Imagine a world where he doesn't exist."
"He wavers and flickers, but retains a sense of self enough to hurl lightning at you. Moghedien, you see enormous weaves of fire from multiple sources."
"They can't do that! Um, I take off my a'dam and try to run away."
"You feel overwhelming nausea and dizziness. Al'Meara is not channelling, but you feel her distaste."
"I tell her that the stupid men are godmodding and we should get back to the real world."
"She gags you with a weave of Air and swats your bottom some more."
"Hot," said Mierin.
"Shut up," said Lilen, "you're dead. I gesture for her to knock it off, I'll follow her."
"She seems distracted, but eventually comes around. Rahvin?"
"I turn the benches in the courtyard into monsters," said Ared. "Then I make the fishpond engulf the whole area."
"Al'Thor struggles to evade what are now oversized and monstrous fish, but recovers enough to weave fire back at you."
"I open a...No. I make the weave for a gateway, but I don't send it anywhere, just the opening. Then I bend Tel'aran'rhiod so that anyone that gets close gets turned into a mindless beast, and hide upstairs."
"Dang," said Joar. For Ared, that qualified as an impressive scheme.
"The Dragon is drawn towards your trap," said Shai, "and..." More invisible dice. "Quickly backs away. Moghedien, you see al'Meara following Rahvin's silhouette."
"I hiss that she shouldn't go anywhere near him if he wants to live," said Lilen. "Men are stronger than we are!"
"She says your opinion is sexist."
"It's not an opinion! Look, it's like a bell curve, the middles overlap quite a bit, but here at the extremes—"
"Al'Meara hurls an attack of Fire at Rahvin."
"I concentrate on defending myself and forget al'Thor for the moment, willing the fire not to hurt me," said Ared. "And I glare at Moghedien for leading her here!"
"I had no choice!" Lilen said.
"Perception checks," said Shai. "Both of you."
Lilen rolled a fourteen. Ared rolled a five.
"Okay, Ared, Wisdom check for Tel'aran'rhiod."
"I'm plenty strong here," said Ared. "I made a trap, didn't I?"
Five again. "Are you sure this isn't fixed?"
"Moghedien and al'Meara duck into a side corridor as a massive burst of balefire annihilates Rahvin."
"Hey!" said Rahvin. "No fair."
"I told you you shouldn't have tried it. You don't want to get into an arms race with time travel, and you especially don't want to get into an arms race in Tel'aran'rhiod if you're not strong there."
"I am strong," said Lilen. "I'm a stealth expert, not a fighter."
"Still. You need to practice in the dream world to be able to resist anything and everything it might throw at you."
"I tell al'Meara that we should really get going now, Rahvin's dead and all. We don't need to stick around."
"Al'Thor staggers in a few minutes later. Al'Meara confirms that Rahvin is definitely dead, and warns him that entering from the flesh is dangerous."
"Oh, now she listens to me."
"He gives a deep and manly speech about how he has to go face his destiny and so does her crush, and she should just get over them and not let her girly feelings get in the way."
"Dang," said Lilen. "Sounds like a big deal."
"Al'Meara orders you to drink an herbal beverage."
"Great! I love tea."
"This is called forkroot, and will dull your ability to touch the Source. She also mentions that you shouldn't have known who Siuan was, or that Teadra had survived, unless you were part of her party in Salidar."
Ared laughed. "Get wrecked."
"Look who's talking," said Lilen, but she was sulking.
"All right," said Shai. "Asmodean?"
Joar blinked. "What?"
"Asmodean? You're being attacked by a Myrddraal. What do you do?"
"No I'm not, I'm dead."
"The Dragon balefired Rahvin retroactive to an hour before. So you never died."
"You get wrecked!" Joar exulted. "I blast that dude to shreds. With saidin, not the sword I wear for decorative purposes."
"With Aviendha, Cauthon, and the others restored to life, the Aiel turn the tide of battle. The Dragon reappears from Tel'aran'rhiod, and while weakened and tired, still adds a few more balefire blows to the fray. The Trollocs and Myrddraals are routed, and the Dragon's forces secure Caemlyn."
"Awesome," said Joar. It was good to back the winning side. For the moment, anyway. There were still plots within plots, and parties within parties. But one thing at a time. "I play a celebratory song on my harp."
"Cauthon and Aviendha fail to appreciate your musical genius."
"I get a drink."
"Make a perception check."
"For a drink?" Joar protested, but only briefly. Shai had godmodded balefire to save him! Really, every extra roll was an advantage. He gave the die a good shake.
"Demandred steps out of the wine pantry," says Shai, "and balefires you into oblivion."
"What the fuck," said Joar. "Who's Demandred?"
"Barid's character. He's, uh, going to be channelling openly, who formerly claimed to be the Dragon Reborn before accepting al'Thor's identity."
"Barid hasn't made up a character yet."
"Sure he has, he just texted me about it last night."
"I don't believe you," said Joar, reaching for his phone. Do you have a character for Shai's RPG thing yet? he texted.
Barid wrote back quickly. Yeah, I think I like the name "Demandred." Pretty cool huh?
"Fuck," said Joar. You have a backstory and everything?
No I'm still working on that.
Shai says you were thinking about being a False Dragon who changed his mind…?
Yeah I was but that's cliche. I'm gonna do something else. Maybe the prophesied hero of Shara.
It's like the Aiel Waste but farther away and cooler. Tattoos and stuff.
"See?" said Joar, showing Shai the exchange. "You know Barid's never gonna commit."
"Okay, fine," said Shai. "Kamarile's character, Graendal, shows up in the wine pantry and balefires you to oblivion."
Joar rolled his eyes. "I hate this game."
Mierin laughed. "Join the party."