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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