The Shadow Knows – Part 7

 
The Shadow Knows is an ongoing series about things Dark as seen by a mysterious, Friend of the Night. As such, they are written from a certain point of view and cannot be taken as the absolute truth. These articles are intended to be entertaining, and at times might contradict accepted canon. Viewer discretion is advised.
 
Part 7: Chasing the Dragon
 
Lews Therin Telamon, also called The Dragon. He was First among the Servants and the Commander in Chief of the Armies of the Light during the War of Power. He also masterminded the spear tip assault that sealed the Bore. He was a lightning rod; he was loved and respected worldwide but also reviled for hubris. Then again, is it really hubris if you can back it up? He was without a doubt a brilliant general, and perhaps the most powerful channeler of his time. He was by any measure a titan and dominated any field or room he deigned to grace with his presence. Yet, some of his closest friends found him so toxic that they turned their coats rather than continue to have to deal with him.
 
Many people like to compare themselves with Lews Therin. This is especially true amongst the Chosen, with Demandred perhaps making the best claim to that dubious honor. Demandred was born the day after Lews Therin, he was almost as strong in the power, and almost as capable of a commander as the Dragon. It is an interesting argument. The idea that someone could be that good at so many divergent things. The problem here is, absolutely no one was anywhere close to Lews Therin. I mean that, absolutely no one. Not Demandred. Not Ishamael. No one.
 
How can I be so absolutely certain about this? Well, that is a simple matter to deduce. People who are close to one another in skill level or power naturally compete very closely with one another. This simply isn’t the case. If for example Demandred was only a sliver less than the Dragon, he should have beaten him more often. The best example of this occurs when Blademasters duel one another. There is certainly a range of talent, practice, and age that goes into determining which duelist is the most successful. That being said, I would expect those win rates somewhere around 60/40.
 
There isn’t anyone amongst the Sworn who could claim anywhere near that success rate when facing Lews Therin on a one-to-one basis. Ishamael did “humble him in the Hall of Servants” but he got away with it only because the Dragon let him leave. Demandred did see a certain amount of military success but only because he had Sammael, and Be’lal to guard his flanks. Think about that for a moment. It took the three greatest generals amongst the Chosen, and a minimum of a four to one advantage in numbers to push his army to anywhere near the breaking point.
 
It is important to note that to even manage that, they had some very specific advantages. All three of them were once close friends and confidants of the Dragon. He and Be’lal took swords from a sport to the battlefield. Demandred was his strong right hand, and all four of them had to reinvent the very concept of war out of whole cloth. Collectively they literally wrote the book and it was very much a collaborative effort. They knew how one another thought and each other’s war-fighting abilities intimately. The three Chosen had all of those advantages and they still could not bring the War of Power to a decisive conclusion before the Dragon put an end to it his way at Shayol Ghul.
 
There are those who like to point out that prior to Lews Therin’s great gamble, the Light had not retaken any territory in the last year of the War at all. Therefore, the Light was destined to lose had things been allowed to run their course. True enough, they were definitely on the back foot. But that argument only works at face value. The enemy was capable of coming to the aid of neighboring provinces had they wanted to do so. The fact of the matter is that there wasn’t anything within their reach that they actually wanted.
 
Despite the Dragon’s public image, he could be utterly ruthless when it suited him. For example, midway through the war, the Light’s strategic vision changed radically. In the beginning their goal was the protection of civilians and their liberation should they be captured by our armies. That changed to focusing on our outright destruction and civilians became a secondary concern at best. You see, liberation came at a terrible price. Even if the area did not merit specific attention by one of the Chosen, they all quickly became living nightmares.
 
As I mentioned in an earlier episode, the Age of Legends enjoyed a vastly inflated population due to their mastery of the weather and food production / distribution. As a result, cities were large, sprawling affairs. This proved to be a great boon where logistics were concerned. All those people made it easy for Trollocs to fill their cookpots. It also meant that there were a higher number of people with skills useful to the war effort. These were immediately relocated behind the lines. The rest were left to starve. In time the most vicious would become Friends of the Night and bolster our conventional armies. I won’t even get into what the Myrddraal were want to do when they were not on duty.
 
Captured cities were nothing short of hellscapes. Ultimately The Lord of the Morning left tens of millions of innocent people to death and worse because it wasn’t worth the resources it would take to save them. To his way of thinking they could always deal with the collateral damage after the primary threat had been removed. Until then, civilians were a distraction.
 
The closest thing he had to an actual rival was Ishamael. The Betrayer of Hope is a complicated individual, one that I will cover more completely in the future. He clings to the belief that he and Lews Therin have always opposed one another through the Ages. This is not true. Shadow Souled do not get reincarnated in the same way that the champions of the Light do. Ishamael, regardless of the name he uses or the body he takes, has always only had this one life. He is also not Ta’veren. Lews Therin on the hand is the most powerful Ta’veren the world has ever seen.
 
Ishamael was only able to compete at all because he had nearly unlimited access to the True Power, and at times the direct intervention of the Great Lord. Even with all of that, he still lost far more than he ever won. Ishamael is a capable if uninspired commander. But he had none of the flair and genius that the Dragon enjoyed. As a result, he never beat Lews Therin in the field. On those occasions where the two of them dueled with the Power, Ishamael also failed to defeat his nemesis. More recently, he faced the Dragon Reborn at Falme and outright died as a result.
 
Not bad for an unschooled farm boy. The Betrayer of Hope had every possible advantage and he still wasn’t able to put Rand al’ Thor down. This is not to say that there are not any ways to deal with the Dragon Reborn. They are mostly asymmetrical in nature because direct assaults are almost certainly bound to fail. But that is a discussion for another time. In the end, obsessing about the Dragon or his most recent incarnation is a waste of time and energy. If most of the Chosen focused more on the mission and less on Lews Therin, we would have already won.
 
Next, Part 8: Hungry like the Wolf.

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The Shadow Knows – Part 6

 
Eventually we regained control of the valley, one dead Dreadlord at a time. I made my way back safely underground. One of Ishamael’s staff walked over, a specter in black and red. “He will see you now, Castellan,” she said in a quiet voice. With the Great Lord suddenly absent, there was only one “He” left.
 

“Ishamael then?” I asked quietly. She answered with a whisper, “No, Baalzamon.” Well, that part had happened as planned, perhaps there was some hope left. Nonetheless, if it seemed that the Heart of the Dark and the Castellan of Shayol Ghul would have to decide together how to best lose the war.

 

From The Shadow Knows, Part 5

 

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Part 6: The Day the Music Died
 
She led me to the Court of Air and Darkness, which is our version of the Hall of the Servants. It was only created in mockery of the real Hall. Since we are not remotely a democracy, it was never used for its intended purpose. Trysts happened here, so did melodramatically “secret” meetings, and the occasional murder. Naturally, Kyranna decided to join us. I was reasonably sure that she wasn’t invited, but it isn’t like anyone could stop her. It would be suicide to even try.
 
He was waiting for me alone. His normally unrelieved black was heavily powdered with what looked to be stone. That would also account for the shrapnel-like wounds all over his body. As was his right, he had the place of prominence. He had not stopped even for healing and respected me enough not to bother with a mask of mirrors. The saa was gone from his eyes. I wasn’t sure if he was blocked from using it now that the bore was sealed, or he was too exhausted to keep holding it.
 
I too had not bothered with healing. As a result, my mangled left arm was in a sling. For that matter, what remained of my finery was nothing but rags. So much for dignity befitting the office. He told me what happened. How he went after Lews Therin alone and found him in the ruins of his former home surrounded by the dead. Apparently, the conversation was not to the Dragon’s liking because at the end of it, he took his own life. Only Lews Therin would go so far and crush himself under an actual mountain.
 
We had so many questions, many of them only answered recently. How had Lews Therin patched the Bore? How long would it last? Could we drill another hole? We nominally needed Lanfear for that, but we might have to try. The male Aes Sedai that attacked had gone mad. Would the others? How long would it take? Neither of us foresaw the Breaking of the World and the end of an Age.
 
Ba’alzamon said that the other Chosen present were locked away in the Pit of Doom. He said that he hadn’t gotten fully away either but could not explain what that meant to me in any meaningful way. When we were done speculating, it was time for the hard choices to really begin. There is no point going into details, we are well past the longest reaching of those decisions.
 
When we were done, Ba’alzamon had instructed me to talk to the servants of the other twelve. The plan was to promote one member of each party as a sort of regent. That way they could continue to see after their mistress’ or master’s interest for however long the Chosen were locked away.
 
Aginor’s party were unilaterally slain. Graendal’s carnival was decimated but some of them had survived. They were so confused without someone to direct them that they just sort of wandered around the battlefield. I was going to have to take them in hand myself.
 
Lanfear had no one to carry on for her. Asmodean’s people were whittled down to four. I asked Kyranna to quietly kill the rest. Asmodean was so worthless it would be better to appoint new people to his staff than trust his very flawed judgement.
 
Demandred, Sammael, and Be’lal all had competent and dedicated officer corps. Once they had been made aware of the plan, they needed little prompting. Good soldiers, one and all. They were spread a little thin however, because they also had to cover Mesaana, and Moghedien.
 
Balthamel and Rhavin had come with playthings. I couldn’t really tell who among them was competent so I went with whoever looked to be most attractive and put them in charge. If the two of them valued beauty above all else that seemed the most appropriate trait to use when choosing stewards. I doubted it would work out well in either case.
 
I was going to have to do something about the former Aes Sedai who had escorted Semirhage. I walked over to the most prominent among them. “I know you.” Which, I absolutely did. Everyone knew all twenty of her trophies. That was the point. “You are Reneth Lanalda. You are the Dreadlord of the Last Wall. I saw you kill three of the Hundred Companions in single combat. In recognition of your valor, I name you seneschal for the Lady of Pain until she returns.”
 
You could have heard a pin drop. I had just promoted a slave to the rank of Dreadlord. If there were any doubts about the limits of my authority, they were at an end. I watched her expression change as the praise took hold. She suddenly stood up straight and just for a second, I saw the ghost of a smile. She helped her fellows up from their knees, but was wise enough to wait to be dismissed.
 
That left only the good Captain, and the tattered remains of his command. We do not have medals. The most recognition anyone could ever get, sans a formal promotion, was to be mentioned in a dispatch. Even that honor had never been accorded to a Myrddraal. I on the other hand believed even then that they all deserved better. I proclaimed that Captain Bacahr was now Bacahr the Hero, and his fellows I named Champions of Thakandar. I added that they bow first to no one, save the Chosen.
 
Now that might be going too far for some of the attendees. Shadowspawn were, and are still, not considered to be people. The idea of equality with a Fade, much less exalting them was anathema. I could feel the change in the mood and intended to step on it before it got out of hand. I casually rested my right hand on the hilt of my broadsword. Kyranna, stepped beside me, pausing only to roll her shoulders and pop the bones in her neck. A neat trick, she doesn’t even have bones.
 
But the best part was feeling Renth Lanalda of all people embrace the source. I almost laughed. Well, that was a quick turnaround. I knew the type. She had been hurt, and longed to revisit those agonies on others. She might just get her chance. I didn’t let anyone else so much as touch the Power. Instead of warmth and light they found only an impossibly high glass wall.
 
We were in the holdfast proper at that point. I had no power above, but here was another matter. We did not plan to repulse open assault but there were contingency plans for treachery, insurrection, and rebellion. While few people know it, no one can channel within these walls without permission when the fortress is in lock down. I looked around the room and offered a slow smile. A mirthless twist of the lips that didn’t even come close to my eyes.
 
It had the intended effect. People who can kill with the Power do not think much of swords, but if you cannot access the Power then suddenly swords are a major concern. Be’lal’s people were a potential problem but they just stood there impassively waiting for the scene to play out. When things failed to escalate, they stood down. So, it seemed those titles would be respected after all.
 
As for myself, I’ve never held a field command, or played much of a role to the South. I was remade to stand vigil here and I hold to that duty very carefully. The Great Lord was absent for so very long, but orders authenticating from the holdfast are treated as coming from the highest possibility authority. That is unless Ba’alzamon is out and about. Then those orders come from him.
 
My days are filled with all of the things that cannot be trusted to others. I serve as the clearing house for our shared eyes and ears. I am still effectively Chief of Staff. I raise armies, and insure they have all that they need to function. I also make sure that the smiths have the materials they need to make our signature blades. All of that is every bit as tedious as it sounds but essential nonetheless. The Trolloc Wars didn’t run themselves.
 
While we are down to making war on only one continent, command and control is still centered here in Shayol Ghul. But today my staff is made up of more Myrddraal than Darkfriends. You see, public Darkfriends are not a thing anymore. The useful ones are all infiltrators. The ones who end up here have either been found out or are too unstable to be of any practical use. They make for very poor company. The populace of the town isn’t much better.
 
Sometimes I sneak into Shienar just to get my ration of common humanity. Kyranna still spends most of her time here, but she goes out every other decade or so. She misses her siblings. Maybe with recent events she will finally find them. That more or less covers the normal run of things. My next entry will go back to a discussion of topics relevant to the Third Age as a whole.
 
Next, Part 7: Chasing the Dragon.
 

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The Shadow Knows is an ongoing series about things Dark as seen by a mysterious, Friend of the Night. As such, they are written from a certain point of view and cannot be taken as the absolute truth. These articles are intended to be entertaining, and at times might contradict accepted canon. Viewer discretion is advised.

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The Shadow Knows – Part 5

 
The Shadow Knows is an ongoing series about things Dark as seen by a mysterious, Friend of the Night. As such, they are written from a certain point of view and cannot be taken as the absolute truth. These articles are intended to be entertaining, and at times might contradict accepted canon. Viewer discretion is advised.
 

Part 5: The End of the Beginning
 
It was a day of singular importance. It marked the high watermark for the Shadow during the Age of Legends. Lews Therin’s spear tip had inverted their weaves and were not detected by our wards until they tried placing the seals. It was not so easy as they thought it would be. After the first attempt, the mountain itself began to shake itself apart. When it was obvious that he had failed, Lews Therin ordered the full attack.
 
Gateways began to form up and down the valley of Thakandar, and all manner of infantry poured out. These were not simple line soldiers. They were elite veterans, armed and armored for extreme violence. The Dragon must have taken every unit of elite infantry he had to fill these ranks, and with them was what could only be the entirety of the Hundred Companions.
 
We were in a horrible position. It might seem odd, but Thakandar was only lightly garrisoned. We needed the maximum amount of troops at the front. Besides, the Great Lord’s hand lies heavily here and he is capable of rewriting reality this close to the Bore. I knew a good deal about that, having been re-forged myself. Coming here would be madness. It was so absolutely mad, we never considered it a serious possibility.
 
This was a nightmare scenario, a failure of imagination on a massive scale. A full ten thousand of the best the Light had, backed up by Darkness knows how many power wielding killers. I knew that with the possible exception of Ishamael we were going to be on our own. Very few people know it, but it is impossible to channel the One Power in the Pit of Doom. I have been told that as a sign of his ascensions only the Betrayer of Hope had access to the Great Lord’s bounty.
 
So, he might make it out but the other Chosen would have to climb down the old fashion way. In which case they would walk right into the teeth of Lews Therin’s spear tip. That’s if the cavern hadn’t been sealed, which it almost certainly had. No, we could not count on any of them.
 
We might not have considered an attack here to be likely, but we were not without some preparations. There is a fortress buried deep in the rock of Thakan’dar. It takes the form of an inverted pyramid and it was carved out of the rock one level at a time for nearly a hundred years. Every brick, pillar, and arch were reinforced by the One Power. When Sammael joined us, he further enhanced our defenses.
 
It was probably the most unassailable location in the entire world. You would have to know it was here. You would have to cram your army into a very, very, unpleasant valley and then somehow dig your way level by level until you hit something important. Good luck with that. All of that being said, given the needs of the War we were only lightly garrisoned. It was however designed with a very generous armory.
 
We even had the people to use those weapons. At the time, Shayol Ghul was the nerve center of a global conflict. All in all, there were over 60,000 people there actually running the war. They all nominally answered to me, but getting them into the fight would be nearly impossible. They came and went through gateways rather any sort of physical outlet to the surface. After all we were more concerned with keeping people out than potentially mounting a possible counterattack this far behind our own lines.
 
What did we have? Many people forget that Trollocs and Myrddraal are born. They have to be raised and trained. We have facilities here for that purpose, and very prestigious ones at that. I generally refer to them as the Academy. The fiercest and cunning of Trollocs were being groomed to squad-level command. Very much in the manner of noncommissioned officers in other armies. The Myrddraal, on the other hand were being trained as infiltrators and for special operations.
 
The most senior among them is Bacahr. I knew him well. He is one of the few Fades who actually cares about swordsmanship. Normally, Myrddraal are lackadaisical fighters at best. They rely on their unnatural talents and unnatural swords to do the work for them. The good captain however, takes his craft seriously. As a result, we sparred regularly, and were scrupulously polite to one another. I made certain to always use his rank, as a sign of respect. So, we got on well enough.
 
I was going to need him now. I was going to need the lot of them. Many things happened at once. I sent one of Sammael’s grotesques to tell Bacahr what was happening. Jamal, Ishamael’s captain, told the couriers to get reinforcements. Everyone else with a martial bent went and armed themselves. Once they had weapons, I made the rest of them take a shock lance too. But not all of them wanted to engage the enemy.
 
The twenty broken Aes Sedai that came with Semirhage were weeping together in one of the corners. I approached the nearest rag clad wretch. I explained to her, that her mistress was trapped and would be very unhappy if her servants did not even make the attempt to rescue her. That put some steel in their spines and they left right alongside everyone else.
 
From the surface we could clearly see that the opposition were installing prefabricated fortifications up and down the path to the Bore. Which is bad, the fact that they were made of heart stone made it much worse. We had very little time before those barricades would be operational.
 
We had no choice but to attack. The only people I could be sure of was the two hundred and eighty souls I had immediately at hand, and most of them were noncombatants. Those odds were on the wrong side of hilarious.
 
As far as reinforcements, there were the students at the Academy. They were close but not close enough to make an immediately difference and we could not wait. I stopped for a minute and grinned at Kyranna. Unfailing gallant, she grinned right back. Regrettably, her mouth was a bit too wide, and her teeth longer than they should be. They looked a bit like fangs. I made a mental note to work with her on that later.
 
So, let me give you some really good advice. Don’t bring a sword to a fire fight. Channelers can get away with it to a certain degree, but honest people have to rely on teamwork and luck. Not that I had a choice. Even worse, I was without proper armor, or shield. But I wasn’t alone. In addition to Kyranna, I also had my bodyguard close to hand. While it was far from optimal, we had practiced for this.
 
None the less, I let the visitors lead off. We stayed in the second rank to take advantage of any breach if we were fortunate enough to make one. It would be hard going. We were charging up a narrow defile. It was a literal shooting gallery but we had to buy time for help to arrive.
 
Kyranna ran just ahead of me so that the enemy would focus on her. She wore a brace of dueling daggers at the small of her back but made no attempt to reach for them. She didn’t need a weapon because she was a weapon. Kyranna was only matched by her five siblings. Nothing stopped her. Weaves just slid right off and no bolt or blade could find purchase. Meanwhile she literally tore her opponent’s limb from limb. Bonds of affection aside, I never got used to seeing that.
 
About those reinforcements – getting them here was proving to be a problem. The female Aes Sedai might be in nearly open revolt but the military still answered the Tamarlyn’s call. At the same time the spear tip hit Shayol Ghul, the armies belonging to Demandred, Sammael, and Bel’al came under attack. It wasn’t a serious offensive. They didn’t have the numbers for that but it did pin our forces down and cause all kinds of confusion. We would have no help from them.
 
The matter was further complicated by the fact that Shadowspawn cannot travel. The Light knew this limitation all too well. They even used it as a weapon in the form of “Death Gates.” That is why formations of Dark Friends were so valuable. They were mobile in ways no Trolloc army could ever manage. The couriers who were able to find aid largely came back with Dreadlords. It would take hours for us to get enough boots on the ground to force the matter and drive them away.
 
My impromptu company was taking terrible losses. Half of us died taking the first barricade. We lost a third more defending it. It would have been a last stand had the students not arrived. There were just too many, and since they were relying on channelers to do most of the work, they were fresh. I was wounded three times before help could arrive.
 
Help took the form of a thousand Trollocs charging up the pass. Kyranna and I began to force our way back through their ranks to safety. The way up was one long choke point and a thousand Trollocs, while impressive, were no match for fixed formations and concentrated fire power. Then again, they didn’t have to be. They were a distraction, or to be more eloquent about it they were the anvil. All they had to do is hold the enemy’s attention just long enough for the second part of the trap to land.
 
The hammer took the form of what we had come to call a Myrddraal shock attack. Shayol Ghul is a labyrinth of shadows. It was the perfect battlefield for Fades. Prior to this moment, the enemy had only fought a few Myrddraal at a time. Even then, killing one took a great deal of effort. Killing even one made the slayer a hero.
 
Now, fifty teams of ten Myrddraal exploded from the shadows up and down the pass in a coordinated attack. Each group only stayed engaged until their opponents began to find their equilibrium. Then the lot would stride back into the shadows and attack somewhere else. This made their assault nearly impossible to counter by conventional means. The only way to truly answer them was with channelers.
 
Surprise had inflicted massive casualties, but perfect terrain for Fades or not, this was not the optimal situation to make use of a shock attack. (The tactic works better indoors or at least in heavy cover.) Save for the barricades there was nothing to hide behind. Even worse, the Light had the best possible counter in the Hundred Companions. We took significant losses employing that tactic under these conditions.
 
I found out later that we left nearly two hundred Myrddraal and almost all the Trollocs on the field during the initial attack. We would lose all but three Myrddraal by the end of it. Captain Bacahr ground his forces down upon the invaders until he had nothing left to give. Brave lads, every one. Their deaths did send a message. Even if Lews Therin achieved his goal, this raid was going to bleed him white; and like as not be seen as a disaster in the Hall.
 
It is difficult in the Third Age to really explain what it was like to fight a battle without at least parity in combat-focused channelers. In this day and age, short of aggravating the entire White Tower there are just not enough to make a real difference. You would have to have been at the Battle of the Shining Walls to even believe the carnage the One Power could inflict upon an enemy.
 
That being said, damage alone does not carry the day. You cannot hold territory with channelers. You need armies for that. At this point in the War, even when faced with fire and lightning, armies were disciplined enough that they just closed ranks and carried on. Bloodied or not, the Light still held most of the narrow pass.
 
On a long enough timeline, we were going to win by attrition alone, even if the cost was going to be staggering. Two things happened next. The first was that Lews Therin finally managed to get all seven seals in place. The second that just as the bore was sealed, the Great Lord’s wrath tainted Saidin.
 
He poisoned it to such a degree that it was effectively unusable for anyone not already in his service. A good number of the Companions immediately went mad. While this blunted the Light’s momentum, sixty-eight of the most powerful male channelers the Light ever had were now destroying everything in sight, including each other. It was all we could do just to stay alive.
 
Everyone and everything that was not protected by Sammael’s artiface was utterly destroyed. The Hundred Companions killed all of us they could find. They even killed one another. The soldiers were largely left marooned without channelers to make gateways home. There were a few of those that had been tied off but not nearly enough for their conventional forces to make an escape. They were cut down where they stood by people who just moments before had been heroes to them.
 
It went on like that for an eternity. Eventually we regained control of the valley, one dead Dreadlord at a time. I made my way back safely underground. One of Ishamael’s staff walked over, a specter in black and red. “He will see you now, Castellan,” she said in a quiet voice. With the Great Lord suddenly absent, there was only one “He” left.
 
“Ishamael then?” I asked quietly. She answered with a whisper, “No, Baalzamon.” Well, that part had happened as planned, perhaps there was some hope left. None the less it seemed that the Heart of the Dark and the Castellan of Shayol Ghul would have to decide together how to best lose the war.
 
Next, Part 6: The Day the Music Died

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The Shadow Knows – Part 4

 

The Shadow Knows is an ongoing series about things Dark as seen by a mysterious, Friend of the Night. As such, they are written from a certain point of view and cannot be taken as the absolute truth. These articles are intended to be entertaining, and at times might contradict accepted canon. Viewer discretion is advised.

 

Part 4: Rocks and Shoals
 

This episode is a bit different from the others. Normally, I share the stories of others. This time, however, the story is mine. I rarely leave Shayol Ghul. So, naturally I was here the day that Lews Therin assaulted the Bore. I had been getting reports from our eyes and ears in the Hall of the Servants that a council had been called of the Light’s most prominent commanders. Despite our best efforts we were unable to determine their intentions.
 

It had been a long time since the enemy had won anything larger than a skirmish and we had three armies knocking at their very gates. They needed something that would change the nature of the contest completely. To do that, they needed to cooperate and that proved to be something of a problem. As with all things in the Age of Legends, the most powerful works and by extension attacks always required men and women to work together.
 

Even just a few years ago the ability to casually form circles was a major advantage for the Light. We rarely, if ever even tried to do it. We simply did not trust one another enough for that to be common practice. So, forcing a wedge between the male and female Aes Sedai was a major strategic consideration since the beginning of the war. Fortunately for us, it ended up being an all too easy argument to make.
 

The truth of the matter is that when faced with uncertain and often horrific situations, people tend to trust the people they already know. So, when the Collapse began, Lews Therin turned to his closest friends to investigate the matter. As it so happened, they were all men. When those investigations turn violent, he enlisted even more of his friends, who happened to also be men.
 

Much later in the War of Power, men were also tapped to play a larger role on the battlefield then their female counterparts. The thought process was that since men were stronger in the Power that they made for more better commanders and deadlier combat channelers. That’s nonsense of course.
 

Which isn’t to say that women did not play a major role. In other spheres of battle throughout the world, there were female generals and combat channelers. Many of them quite brilliant and equally deadly but they did not see much in the way of public acclaim. There is only so much time in the news cycle. As a result, the generals in the primary sphere of conflict – mostly men – received more fame than all of the rest of their peers combined.
 

It wasn’t anyone’s design. It just happened to work out that way. Even so, it was not without consequences. After a certain point, this became a real concern and slowly as the war progressed the women started to close ranks. They were done. No more so than their leader, Latra Posae Decume. From that point on if you wanted a Sister’s help you had to go through her. Their movement came to be known as the “Fateful Accord.”
 

I cannot say Latra Posae Decume was the Dragon’s equal. But she did share exceptional aptitude in the same areas Lews Therin also favored. She was also a creature of sublime spite. I admired her greatly. She would have done quite well here.
 

I was not alone in that belief, only some thought that possibility was a threat that could not go unanswered. It is said that the Lady of Pain wanted desperately to capture her. Which is funny because I desperately wanted her to try. The Slicer of Shadows would have sent Semirhage back to us as a pile of ash and charred black cloth.
 

There is tendency among the unwise to characterize the Light as being weak because they are altruistic and value compassion above strength. That is a huge mistake. Have you seen a murder fight? How about a soldier? Can you imagine what would happen when the two faced one another? I promise you this would not go well for the murder, and we had far more of the former than the later. As vicious as casual killers can be, they do not stand up in the face of professionally trained infantry.
 

Which brings me to the second major faction in the Hall of the Servants. Let me tell you about the Hundred Companions. The stories say that Lews Therin formed the group in opposition to the Fateful Accord. This is incorrect. While they were not initially called by that name, the group was formed in the early days of the Collapse. Their mission was to investigate and quietly eliminate divergent elements of society. They were ruthlessly loyal, lavishly equipped, and carried the personal seal of the Tamyrlin himself.
 

As such they were given almost unlimited power in their investigations. For example, despite strenuous public protests, they are the only known formation of the Light to make open use of compulsion. White Cloak Questioners are at best apprentices in their craft. Even as bad as Ahridol would turn out to be they still only knew the most basic of techniques employed by Lews Therin’s finest.
 

Naturally, their numbers increased the longer the Collapse went on, and by the raid on Shayol Ghul there were considerably more than we could readily track. Our best guess had them at over one hundred and sixty at that point. The eldest of them had been fighting the Shadow for over a hundred years and the only emotions left to them were hatred and pride.
 

All in all, the Hundred Companions were the most experienced killers on either side, and they had zero hesitation in finding victory regardless of the cost. As a result, we spent a lot of time keeping them committed to disparate war zones. Why? Well, regardless of what we might say in public we were afraid of them of course. Engaging the lot all at one time would prove costly in the extreme.
 

Even before the attack, it was to be a day of singular importance. You already know part of the story. Thirteen of the most prominent Chosen were here for a high-level meeting in the Pit of Doom itself. Which is a bit of a tell because we don’t have meetings, high level or otherwise there. It is a sacred place. You only go there to make your obeisance or to answer for some great failing. You do not go there to simply talk. So, if it wasn’t some sort of conference what was happening that day?
 

The first item to be address was the elevation of Ishamael to Nae’blis. This was really just a formality. He had been the Shadow’s primary champion since the very beginning. The position was only kept open as a goad, for the people hoped to take that honor for themselves. I seriously doubt any of them would be so happy with the title if they really understood how things would play out for the Nae’blis in the end.
 

The second item was that all of the others were to be called to task for placing their personal interests ahead of the greater war effort. For example, someone decided it was a good idea to torture a whole city to death. Do you know how long it takes to do that? How about stopping to hunt down every great artist in your path? Or reeducate every child so that they turn upon their parents? Never mind, it doesn’t matter if it took a week or an hour, it was time we did not have if we wanted to win the War.
 

The Light might be on the back foot here but they were far from broken. If we gave them a chance to stabilize other fronts, they could shift their vastly superior resources against us here. Remember the Light had significant advantages. Their armies were larger, and far more mobile. They had a wealth of angreal and saangrel. They had more Channelers, not to mention superior command and control. We were winning but giving them any chance of a recovery was an awfully bad idea.
 

In any event, I would have given anything to see that “discussion.” Instead, I was left entertaining the honor guards, courtiers, and staff that always travel with the Chosen. Each of them was accompanied by no more than twenty individuals. Naturally, it turned out to be a motley collection of Shadowspawn, and Darkfriends.
 

For example, aside from his immediate staff Sammael had absconded with twelve hulking Trollocs from the Academy. He had them clad in thick plate and wielding great hammers. They formed a sort of flying wedge that split the crowd as their temporary master stomped around. That’s nothing short of pure theater. Graendal’s entourage wore outfits more akin to costumes than uniforms. I doubt any of them have had an original thought since they entered her service.
 

Ishamael’s people where seemingly everywhere, all of them in his livery of red and black. They looked as hard as nails. They were a grim, judgmental lot. Semirhage’s embassy was made up entirely of formerly prominent Aes Sedai. They were all beyond broken, not a one any better than a trophy. I can’t say I agree with her methods.
 

Lanfear didn’t bring anyone at all, which tells you all you need to know about Lanfear. Aginor, had brought a menagerie of prototype Shadowspawn. None of them looked terribly viable. I got the impression he just grabbed the most recent examples of his craft on the way out the door. No one likes him much. Even worse, it was obvious to those of us with eyes that his best work was behind him. More on that in a future episode.
 

Both Rhavin and Balthamel favored playthings over people who might actually be useful. It quickly became impossible to determine who was with whom. After a while I stopped trying. Asmodean only really had a reputation as a governor to fall back upon. So, he brought an odd combination of civil servants and fawning artists. He didn’t think to arm any of them. I had to wonder if all of them would make it home. I rather thought that was extremely unlikely.
 

As was their custom, Demandred, Mesaana, and Moghedien’s people all arrived at the same time. They seemed to share roles, which is the most elegant evidence of their alliance I have yet seen. That leaves Be’lal’s retinue – as a noted Blademaster it was not surprising that many of his servants also wore swords. Then as now, they carried slightly curved blades designed to be used with two hands. A classic weapon favored by Blademasters to this very day. They were very keen to talk shop and remarked upon the peculiarities of my own blade. I rather enjoyed that conversation. There was a purity to it that is sadly lacking in the matters we normally discussed.
 

My aide de camp, and unintentional insurance policy, Kyranna al Jakar was making the rounds. She was an unassuming woman and easy to miss, especially when she was dressing down. Her clothes, while expensive, were cut more for freedom of movement rather than to draw the eye. She was so very earnest in her attempts at conversation, but she missed all of the queues. That is hardly surprising, since she isn’t human. I met her shortly after she came into the world and we are rarely apart. If asked she says that I earned her friendship with the gift of a name and a smile.
 

Sammael aside, I think this is one of the few times I have seen so many of us genuinely happy. It seemed that our victory was only a matter of a few weeks. Once we broke their backs here the other fronts would also fall in short order. Truly it was a day of days, right up to the point that Lews Therin decided in abject desperation to take the fight right to our door.
 

Next, Part 5: The End of the Beginning

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The Shadow Knows – Part 3

 

The Shadow Knows is an ongoing series about things Dark as seen by a mysterious Friend of the Night. As such, they are written from a certain point of view and cannot be taken as the absolute truth. These articles are intended to be entertaining, and at times might contradict accepted canon. Viewer discretion is advised.
 

Part 3: Everything you ever wanted
 

Somehow Beidomon and Mierin Eronaile managed to make it clear of the Collam before it all came crashing down. I’m afraid the rest of their research team did not. At the time no one was sure what had happened. For the first time, the Great Lord could touch the world, and the world was not in any way prepared for his coming. As I mentioned in my previous missive, the Age of Legends was a paradise and had little experience with well… evil. For the next hundred or so years, society would strain to sort that out in a period that came to be called “The Collapse.” I will eventually cover that period in detail.
 

For today, it is only important to know that it took a few years before the clever and the wise realized what the Bore was, and who was waiting for them there. The early Friends of the Night kneeled before the Great Lord and made their obeisance. When they rose again, it was as someone greater. The most valued of his servants who could channel gained access to that third type of energy, The True Power.
 

I’ve spoken with most of the Chosen on this matter, except for Ishamael. Our conversations involve more important matters. Not that there would have been much of a point in talking with him about it anyway. That man walks around holding enough True Power to make your teeth hurt. Even I can feel it. He has used so much of it that where there should be saa there are only open flames. I understand that for most people just being in his presence is terrifying. Which I found surprising since I always found his company to be just the opposite.
 

Now Moghedien has convinced almost everyone that only 39 people were ever given access to the True Power. If I was feeling charitable, I might say that only 39 people were ever so brazen as to claim access or were unable to hide its regular use. When I am feeling less than charitable, I like to point out that saying only 39 people ever had access to it is a shameless form of self-promotion. The Age of Legends had well over 300 million channelers. I promise you that more than 39 people had access to the True Power. As for an exact number, only the Great Lord really knows and to pretend otherwise is hubris.
 

I honestly was so annoyed the first time some idiot told me this fabrication as an absolute truth, I had him sent off to whelp Trollocs. It might be Moghedien’s job to rule the world. It is my job to remember it. Oddly enough, the same thing happened to the next fool who mouthed the party line where I could hear them. By the time I got around to asking the third man, he was suddenly enlightened. Eventually, in one of our many sessions Graendal convinced me that doing this sort of thing wasn’t likely to lead to long term happiness or stability. She is probably right. It was very satisfying though.
 

All of the Chosen agree on several points. The first is that the amount of True Power someone has access to is directly proportional to how well they are regarded by the Great Lord. They all have access to at least a small portion of it, but they only use it as a matter of last resort. As addicting as it can be to use the One Power, the True Power is infinitely worse when it comes to building dependency. They also all agree that using it slowly drives you insane. Both of those are certainly good reasons not to make use of it.
 

However, none of them really wanted to give voice to the most important reason they actively avoid it. The type of people who make it that far up the ladder do not like things they cannot personally control. The Great Lord can give you unfettered access one day, and then take it from you the next. Its sudden absence makes you vulnerable, and vulnerability is something they cannot tolerate. Deep down, they all envision a day when their ambition pushes them too far and they will have to answer for it. They all have plans in place should they have to stand alone against the other Chosen, or even defy the Great Lord himself.
 

Most of us changed our coats because of ambition, and as a virtue it is well represented. What we are lacking is faith. We have few true believers. So as one of those few, let me offer an alternate interpretation. The True Power is a portion of the Great Lord himself. As such it is capable of doing things that would otherwise be considered impossible. If it is more destructive than Saidar or Saidin, that is only because it reflects his rage and being sealed away from most of creation.
 

Merely possessing it at all, proves that the god-like entity you serve not only knows your name but approves of your deeds as well. With that in mind, how could it not be addicting? Insanity though is even easier to explain. Its users share some measure of the Great Lord’s perception as well. What other word could you use to describe someone whose senses have seen past the veil of flesh to the sea of souls beyond? How could anyone who has seen that ever relate completely to the physical world again?
 

For the sake of full disclosure, I should probably tell you that I cannot channel. It is my considered opinion that channeling is both a trap and a crutch. Channelers come to depend on it for nearly everything and if they lose the ability, they almost always become suicidal. It isn’t even that hard to take it away. Even worse it is a backdoor into your very soul. With the right tools, someone can kick in that door and redecorate. Let me give you some really good advice, if you ever run into your friendly neighborhood Aes Sedai and the light behind her eyes has died, run.
 

I know what you are thinking. If all that is true, then why do some of the most powerful channelers in the world answer some very personal questions? There are three reasons for that. The first is that while I may be personally dangerous, I am not in any way a danger to their ambitions. My own role is unique and does not involve ruling very much of anything, and certainly not the world. That makes me safe. The second reason is perhaps more shocking.
 

Despite what I may think of them in private, I enjoy a great deal of good will where the Chosen are concerned. What is really sad is that they don’t have anyone else who they can talk to. Not really. They are all deadly rivals. If you also take into consideration that there are only twenty of us who remember the old days at all, that leaves an exceedingly small pool of potential confidants.
 

So, I always make it a point to play host when they find time to come home. I take pride in saying that only Graendal can set a finer table. While I think her methods are something akin to cheating, she certainly has the market cornered on talent. But even coming in second, no one has ever refused one of my invitations. The trick is that as good as dinner might be, the real draw is the libations.
 

It is amazing what you can find in a stasis box if you look through enough of them. I have access to a truly ludicrous amount of impossibly old amasec and that delightful pale wine only ever made by the vineyards in Jalanda. After dinner we drink and reminisce long into the night. You can learn a great deal like that. As for that third reason, that would be telling and you are not ready to hear it.
 

I expect this isn’t the sort of treatment you expect Dark Friends to receive. Well, all sorts of people become Sworn. There are those of us who believe in the mission and are sane enough to help bring it about. There are extremely ambitious people, who believe they were not properly appreciated. There are deviants, who couldn’t otherwise pursue their favorite “pass times.” We have murders and thugs who came to us rather than face justice. We even have naive dilettantes who think they are dabbling in wickedness. We have all those and more.
 

As they differ in motivation, so do they differ in the manner in which they are treated. Not everyone is greeted with tabac, amasec and a place by the fire. A useful but unstable psychopath might have to sleep in cook pots every night to keep him in line. The Sworn who hold ambition above all else, might find that desire checked by Fades. Those who thought to dabble but took the Oath, might have to be encouraged in other ways, some of them most unpleasant. We waste very little here, and the smiths always need fodder for those dead black blades. It can be a steep price to pay for your chance at immortality, but isn’t a reward like that worth the risk?
 

Next, Part 4: Rocks and Shoals

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