The result was a rapid-fire sequence of vignettes detailing my revenge upon the people who were making Hawk -- and, in turn, me -- angry. The stories are steeped in the vernacular of The Wheel of Time and the in-jokes current in the newsgroup back then. I worked in dozens of odd references to my research and my personal interests (+2 pts for identifying the lyrics of any song I didn't specifically name) and also several quotes from the people portrayed in the story.
Some of it was inspired, some of it was tired. At least, that what I think when I reread it today. I still think it's worth a read, though, because while the dull parts were just a bit dull, the inspired parts were moments of sheer brilliance (if I do say so myself).
Imagine yourself in the driver's seat of a 1965 Cadillac Fleetwood, the largest passenger car ever to roll off an assembly line. The paint's so black it gleams. Turn the key and hear the 504cid four-barreled carbeurator engine roar to life. They don't make 'em like that anymore. Drop it into gear and roll out onto the Information Superhighway. It's time to take care of some bid'ness....
His hands clench and relax on the Escher wristpad in front of the keyboard as a muscle in his cheek starts twitching involuntarily. Dark expressions pass across his troubled face like heavy storm clouds driven by high winds. Eyes stare like daggers at the far wall, their color changing from a light blue to gray back to blue and darker. Darker, until they become deep pools of blackness.
Mental machinery whirs, producing ideas that flickered across his mind, each idea darker than the one before it. Darker, darker. One came that he settled upon, a final course of action. "They'll pay!" he shouts with ominous enthusiasm, "they'll all pay for what has happened to me!" But it wasn't just recompense he had in mind; it was revenge.
He slid back his chair and rose from his desk, but turned and sat back down after a momentary pause. "No, I can do it from here," he said to himself. "They all touch the 'Net, though most are unaware of the dangers. I can reach them all!" He cackled with a harsh barking sound that soon turned into a monstrous laugh.
Fingers agile from years of fine exercise flew across the keyboard, caressing it as if it were an old and familiar lover. Eyes glazed over as they stared with rapt attention at the screen. The time of transferrence was almost at hand; he had but to open his mind (and IP connection) to embrace the power.
He could smell, feel it, sense it in every fiber of his being. There was a new ter'angreal floating somewhere in his purview, a tool more powerful than any before, perhaps the strongest of all... when it was completed.
"Don't use that!" cried a bodyless voice from local cyberspace. "We're not done with the rendering control yet. There's no guarantee you'll be able to control it!"
But he was willing to take chances. People who've lost everything always are. Nothing to lose, everything to gain.
Power, more power. Limitless power. The power to create, or destroy. Now it was his; the login was complete. "I'll need some wheels for my trip along the Information Superhighway...."
To be continued...
"Need some traveling music," he hisses to no one in particular. As if of its own volition, the radio flickers to life, its knobs turning to select a station. A rim-tap cadence pounds out through the speakers as a male voice croons:
"Uptown got it's hustlers The bowery got it's bums Forty-second Street got Big Jim Walker He a bull-shooting sun of a gun...""Jim Walker was a wuss," rasps the driver. "He'll never mess with me again. But that song's too upbeat for me." The radio dial flicks again.
"Silver devils in his holsters Stars strapped to his heels Fire in his eyes, you could see He was dressed to kill...""No," rasps the man, "it's not sundown yet. Although there are a few people who, in a short while, will never see the light of day again!" A chuckle rises from deep within his throat.
"Something more dark and powerfully foreboding," he muses in a voice that matched his musical desires.
"Daaa dum da daaaa daaa Dum deee dee de daaaa""Ah, Schubert's Eight, the Unfinished. Too bad the folks reading from home can't appreciate it in this form." He erupts with rumbling laughter as the car speeds onward down the abandoned backroads of the Information Superhighway. He has several visits to make, and he doesn't intend to miss any of them. Not for the world.
To be continued...
A man in a voluminous dark cape appears opposite the fireplace and walks across the room. He glides silently across the floor his cloak billowing out behind him. Ten feet short of the tall man he stops with a scrape of his boot heel against the floor. He moves as quickly and quietly as a hawk swooping down on upon its prey when he wants to, but this time he wants to draw his host's attention to his presence. The man at the fireplace whirls around in surprise.
"Ahh," he says with a pause, "it's you, my old friend." These last two words he speaks with a twist of his lips. "Perhaps you've come to stand at my side again, now that you've... been relieved of your other obligations?"
"Nay, old friend, I have not come to rejoin you. We stood together once, you and I, but that was before you changed to the man you now are. I started to change with you, before I realized what we were becoming. I would have none of it, so I left and sought the Light. You were ever angry at me for leaving, I suppose, so you sabotauged the one thing I cared about. No, old friend, I haven't come to rejoin you; I've come to kill you." This last he spoke with a genuinely morose voice.
"Fool!" Ba'alzamon shouted as the fires in his eyes flared. "You would seek to pit your puny powers against the Great Lord of the Dark!?!" Fire engulfed the man in the dark cloak, spreading quickly around his form, until nothing was left but a pile of ashes.
"Interesting effect," said the cloaked man, reappearing as unblemished as before, as if he hadn't just been burnt to the ground. "That was a pretty convincing fire, but too bad for you it was just the same iterative simulation used to do the computer graphics F/X in that old Star Trek movie about the Genesis Planet. It was good 10 years ago, but I had honestly expected more from you now.
"But I digress." His blue eyes sharpened to pinpoints. "You hurt the one person I care about in this whole world, and that has hurt me. Worse yet, you've caused her to forsake me for fear of you. This I cannot abide." He raised his hands and began a complicated incantation. Ishamael looked on in horror as he saw his own self start to change shape, small creases forming all over his clothes and body. The change continued as the pitch of the incantation climaxed, until his form was all hard planes and angles. Then, at a clap of the newcomer's hands, he fell into a million tiny bits on the floor.
"Tesselated and rasterized!" said the cloaked man with noticeable pleasure. "THAT should teach him not to mess with a computer graphics expert." He snorted. With a swirl of his cloak, he turned to leave the now-empty room.
To be continued...
"We hold your bond now," said the first.
"Hawk Sedai passed it to us," added the second. "You must stop what you are doing."
"We will compel you with your bond if necessary," concluded the first.
"Fools!" hissed the cloaked man. "I am stronger than bonds you think to hold me with. You tie a small leash around a s'redit and expect that to keep it from moving when and where it pleases.
"Crawl back to your dingy lair, Shaido dog; crawl back under your rock of obscurity, Betrayer of the Borderlands. My bond will not be held by the miserables likes of you." With a snap of his fingers he disappeared from their midsts, leaving them to wonder where he had gone and how.
To be continued...
The hurtling cadillac squashed him flat.
To be continued...
"You told her to do it, didn't you?" he accused her.
"Who, me? what?" she said absent-mindedly. "Now where did I put that page?"
"I ought to kill you right now, you foul darkfriend."
"Me, a darkfriend? No, you must be mistaken, sir, I drink my coffee with milk and sugar. It's very brown. See?" She offered him a cup.
"Save you act of innocence for your Great Lord; I'll be sending you home to meet him shortly."
"You'll do no such thing!" challenged a third person.
The cloaked man turned to see an Aielman crossing the courtyard. He was dressed in the typical cadin'sor with a shoufa draped around his neck. Spears and a horned bow poked up over his shoulders from behind his back.
"I'll give my life to take yours before I let you hurt her!"
The cloaked man held out an empty palm. A fiddle suddenly appeared in it. "I'll let you play for your life," he said condescendingly.
"I am Aiel," Viren said firmly. "We only sing battle marches and dirges for those slain in combat."
"Both are appropriate right now," the man said with in his eerily smooth voice. He handed the fiddle to the Aielman, who took it unwittingly, and cradled his arms just as a flamenco guitar appeared in them.
"Do you play?" he asked as he strummed out a perfect five-fingered chord on the instrument.
"This is ridiculuous," stated Viren. "I am Aiel. I shall dance the spears with you; nothing else."
"Very well, then, tonight you dance with Death." His eyes blazed an iridescent blue, hinting of a thousand dangers and a thousand ways to die.
The Aielman drew his shoufa over his face and hoisted a double- bladed spear as the dark man whisked his sword out of his sheath. The white ivory grip was encrusted with brilliant orange jacinth that reflected the light in a thousand tiny points. Atop the hilt was a gently curved blade crafted of a dark slate-grey metal that shone in the light. Fine silver etchings traced their way across the blade, giving it a slightly mottled appearance. For all that it was a work of art, its edge was razor sharp.
A quartet of musicians appeared on the opposite side of the courtyard. "Perhaps we shall dance, after all," mocked the dark man.
The synthesizer sang out a mellow chord while the guitar and bass began carefully exploring a counterpointed rhythym. The two men stared silently at each other and began circling as the music steadied itself into a melody.
The music picked up as the two men began exchanging attacks. Nothing definite; just tentative, testing one another. The guitar and synth exchanged the lead several times.
"You have good taste in music," said the Aielman, swining his spear between his hands.
"Thank you. Al DiMeola always has been my favoite Fusion artist.
"Watch out," he cautioned, "time change in about three bars."
The music shifted suddenly, getting faster, and with all the instruments apparently jockeying for the lead. The men moved quickly: swinging, thrusting, parrying, dodging. No hits connected yet; consummate warriors such as these were more concerned about control of space. Advance, retreat; retreat, advance; circle.
The music continued to increase in tempo, the keyboard and guitar falling into synchronization as they raced toward dizzying heights. Again, the combat mirrored the music. Both men were exerting their full energies now, and each bore marks of where one his opponent's attacks had passed through his defenses.
The musician now played at breakneck speed, the guitar pulling ahead of the synth. In the battle, Viren was beginning to tire.
"You silly Aiel," taunted the dark man. "You can walk a horse into the ground, but when someone asks you to dance you can't go for more than five minutes." Catching his opponent off guard and winded, he ran him through with his sword.
"And the Tarheels are going to stomp the Wrecks in tomorrow's game," he gloated.
To be continued...
His quarry, back still turned, sat bolt upright in his chair.
"Funny, you don't look particularly dark or particularly elvish. I had expected better from you."
The Darkelf That Was Not a Darkelf had turned around to face his unexpected visitor. Shivers of fear ran through his body, but he schooled his terror enough to speak.
"L-Leave m-me alone, F-Fain, or Bill, or whatever you call yourself. I've been around l-longer than you have. Judy's s-survey said so!"
"And you take that as the bible, do you? Fool. I've been around longer than you suspect."
"Oh yeah?" he challenged. "Well, um, uh, I'm a computer scientist you know. And I've, like, heard about what you've been doing tonight, yeah. I know about you and all those stupid computer graphics jokes because, um, because I read about it on the 'Net. Yeah, and I know about graphics, too, so you can't just push me around like you did to all those other people."
"Really? Let me see what you're made of, child."
"Look at this," Darkelf said, producing a blue plastic-looking teapot. "It's Phong shaded and everything."
The dark man laughed. "Phong shaded? Ha, you don't even know what you're talking about, much less what you're doing. You can't even call a primitive algorithm by its correct name. Watch this!"
He held out his hand and a teapot appeared in it. It appeared to be made of hammered copper, covered slightly with corrosion at the base of the spout, lights reflecting off the sides with a warm color-shifted glow.
Darkelf stood in silent amazement.
"It's the same model as the one you used, but with a real shading function applied to it."
"How? what? It looks so real."
"It's in the FAQ. Blinn, SIGGRAPH 1977, improvement upon Torrance/ Sparrow lighting model including geometric attenuation and Fresnel reflection; Cook and Torrance, SIGGRAPH 1981, expanding Blinn's work with Beckmann microfacet distribution; Greg Ward, SIGGRAPH 1992, anisotropic reflection; Kajiya, SIGGRAPH 1985, anisotropic reflection models and frame mapping (that's how I made the hammered metal appearance and the corrosion... nifty, isn't it?).
"Ya got all that?"
"Buffer overload. System halting."
"Glad I could help. I'll bet you didn't even know that this model came from a real person's teapot, except that the real one was 50% taller. Jim Blinn was demo'ing his rendering system to DARPA, and the doddies decided they liked it better squished in the Y dimension. Poor chap who owned the teapot eventually had to get another because everyone wanted to make models with his first one." He dropped the teapot on Darkelf's now-lifeless body and walked away. Perhaps one of Darkelf's classmates would chance upon it and learn something about graphics. Or perhaps not.
To be continued...
Scene: a windy city by the Blight that's always too cold in winter and too hot in summer. A young woman sits in a small room at a small desk piled high with physics books. A lone oil lamp provides the only illumination in her cramped abode. Boxes of Raman Pride noodles and store-brand rice cakes fill a nearby shelf. It's obvious she's saving her money for an important expenditure...
She hears a knock at her door and rises to answer it. Opening the door, she sees a large man of indeterminate age but youthful appearance. A voluminous cloak covers him up to his chin, leaving only his finely- chiseled face framed by a trimmed jawline beard.
"Hellloooo, Nurse! Hey, big boy. Got a nice sword for me?"
The man smirks. "Yes, I do," he answers in a voice whose deep rumbling sounds like two mill wheels grinding against each other. He draws his cloak aside with a flourish, revealing the bejewelled sword sheathed at his side.
"Care to take it out and show it to me?" she asks, trying to catch him with his own desires.
"If you wish. I've come to settle a score with you. You have cost me something -- nay, the one thing -- that I treasured deeply. You, more than anyone else, are responsible.
"Hawk, with tears in her eyes, told me that she had to pass my bond because of harassment from people like you. My bond, that was the one thing that meant anything to me, and now it's gone."
"So what are you going to do?" she asked. "Kill me? I don't think you could. You know that hurting women is against the values you have, buried deeply in your cultural baggage."
She was wrong, but the dark man saw no need to tell her that. "I shall not kill you myself; another will do it for me!" And with that, a snarling Tyrannosaurus Rex ripped its way through the roof of her apartment.
"Cool," Pam said. "This will be an awesome excuse for not taking the Physics GRE tomorrow. 'I'm sorry, but a T-Rex ate my homework.'"
"What, you like this?"
"Oh, sure, can you show me something else?"
The dark man grumbled from deep within his throat. Whether it was lust or anger, Pam could not tell. "Very well then, I'll give you a whole flaming herd of dinosaurs." And a herd appeared running across the lamp-lit park behind him.
"Wow, those dinosaurs look so real, even better than the same scene in Jurassic Park!"
"Of course they did. The Jurassic Park folks messed up here because they didn't match the lighting of the computer-generated dinosaurs to the lighting of the real-world background they were rendering them onto. I don't make such mistakes."
"Hey, is that a triceratops grazing by the park bench? I could get beaucoup points in the next UofC Scavenger Hunt for bringing in a triceratops..."
The T-Rex ate her.
"Never mess with a computer graphics expert," the man chuckled. The dinosaurs disappeared into nothingness as he walked away.
To be continued...
He tensed, hand going automatically for the sword at his left side. He scanned the street up and down, spotting the thing whose evil aura had already announced itself to him: a darkhound. It was galloping down the street in a path directly toward him.
He knew his sword wouldn't do any good against this creature, so he reached for a weapon that would. His right hand dropped to his side and unlimbered the gun that sat there. He raised and levelled the Casull .454 caliber automatic at the approaching monster, bracing it with two hands now, and sighting down its 8-inch nickle plated barrel.
The creature halved the distance as he cocked the hammer back. Closer came the dog as the man's index finger curled in toward his palm, setting small levers in motion. With a violent whipcrack the gun fired, kicking hard enough to raise the man's arms over his head.
"Nice puppy," he sneered at the sack of bloody rags that used to be a fearsome darkhound standing 3 feet high at the shoulder. Of course, he couldn't hear his own words. He noted with pleasure, though, that the retort from the gun had shattered a few windows in a neighboring building. He knew there was a reason why he preferred the unvented barrel.
Without another glance at the dead shadowspawn he turned and approached his final destination. Walls, doors, and locks could not stop him in this world. He climbed the stairs, taking them two and three at a time, arriving quickly at the third floor. Down the hallway he tread upon silent feet, coming at last to a door set opposite the kitchen.
"'Mistress of the Kitchens' they were going to make her," he rumbled angrily. "Ah, but those fools have paid for their folly." Turning away from the kitchen, he passed through the door and into the small room beyond.
On a narrow bed lay the person who meant the most to him in the entire world, a person for whom he had literally fought, and killed, to protect. He looked down at his hands for something to give her. His rough hands, dark and awash in blood this night; those were nothing to give her. He stared again at his hands, furrowing his brow in concentration. A small, black rose appeared in them.
"My love, this is the best I can do in these darkest of times," he whispered as he gently placed the rose atop her slumbering form. A few drops of blood fell from his finger where one of the rose's thorns had poked him.
"Love, the road we must travel is paved with aught but trouble and strife. I know I have strayed from it several times. It is not an easy road to follow, for people seek to mislead and waylay us at every bend. We pay a great price for passage, but there is one price I cannot pay. Do not send me away."
He paused, half expecting a reply, half expecting none. His ears beheld nothing but a moment of silence broken only by the quiet susurrations of his love's breath. He bowed reverently and turned to go, a tear welling in his eye.
"I am not Fain," the cloaked man stated ominously. "Many have called me that, and many have paid a dear price for it."
"Call yourself what you will, you must seek out you new master: Roy! I compel you to do so."
"Murderous Shaido dog, you cannot compel me. You couldn't hope to; I am stronger than you. And you could not pass my bond to Roy even if I consented; Roy is dead."
"Then I shall have to kill you. I am the Car'a'Carn!"
The man confronting him snorted. "You are not the Chief of Chiefs of the Aiel, you are a lowly impostor, a leader wannabe, a weasel who was denied entrance to the rings of Rhuidean."
"I shall fight you and kill you, you impudent wetlander!" Will was starting to froth at the mouth. "And I am the Car'a'Carn," he added, poutting and stamping his foot for emphasis.
"You shall kill me?" the dark man mocked. Steely blue eyes regarded Will coldly. "Earlier this day I danced with Viren. I regret that I had to, for I bore him no ill will, but I did what I had to do. He fought well. He was twice -- nay ten times! -- the man you could ever be. You are a child. I shall not waste my time with you." The dark man turned soundlessly and strode away.
"Come back here!" Will called after him. "I challenge you to dance the spears with me!"
The warder spun around and in one fluid motion launched a heavy dagger at Will. He barely knew what had happened until he felt it plunge into chest. He looked down at the blade buried in his body. Six inches of serpentine blade protruded from his leather jerkin, topped off by a black wooden pommel carved in the likeness of a snarling hound. He gasped in pain.
The cloaked man quickly covered the intervening distance with three long strides. "You are not even a real Aielman," he hissed. "One could never be so foolish as you!" He jerked the dagger upward, eliciting a breathless howl from Will, and pulled it free. Will clutched vainly at his gaping wound and staggered a few steps before falling to his knees.
The warder booted him hard in the face, crushing his nose into his brain. "I don't know why I suffered you to live the last time we met." With a loud HARRUMPH! he turned from the dead man and strode away.
To be continued...
"You lie, Sammael," Hawk responded in a powerful voice. "I can take that aspect of the bond. You will not deny me again!"
"You want Bill back? I can give you Bill back," he offered contemptuously, "if you want him back badly enough. If you're willing to do what I require. All I ask is for you to perform a few simple..." he paused for dramatic effect, "actions to demonstrate how badly how want him back. You can start by swearing a certain oath, one much stronger than those fool Three Oaths. I'm sure you know the words, Hawk.
"Serve me well and faithfully, and he will be yours. Refuse, and live with the knowledge of what you have done," he hissed. "It is your choice." Sammael exploded into sinister laughter.
"I shall never swear your oaths, Sammael! Til shade is gone, til water is gone, into the Shadow with teeth bared, screaming defiance with the last breath, to spit in Sightblinder's eye on the Last Day. By my honor and the Light, my life will be a dagger for Sightblinder's heart. Until the Last Day, to Shayol Ghul itself.
"To Shayol Ghul?? Ah, you are considering my offer, aren't you?" Sammael taunted. "Or have you already dedicated your soul completely to the Dark?"
Hawk had been cowering slightly under the awesome presence of this powerful Forsaken, but she began now to stand a bit straighter. There was something she could feel, something only she could feel, that told her she would soon have the edge over this light-forsaken villain.
"Considering my offer, are you?" Sammael was smug. "Or maybe not? Maybe I just ought to kill you now, little child..."
"You'll have to kill the four of us first," came a gruff voice from the shadowy mists surrounding the Forsaken and the Aes Sedai. The speaker became visible, as did his three companions, as the four men stepped out of the ethereal fog. Each looked at first like a disembodied head floating in the mist, their color-shifting cloaks giving their bodies almost perfect camoflauge in this unnatural setting.
Sammael sneered at them with thinly veiled contempt. He reached for the One Power, the True Source, with which he could blow these men away like so many useless rags. He reached out for the Source-- and could not reach it. He had been blocked! Suddenly, he looked very uncomfortable.
To be continued...
"Not as confident now, are you, Sammael-- or should I say, Joewin Fairheart?" He chuckled as Sammael shrunk back. "You were ever envious of Lews Therin for his skill with the sword. Let's see what a man needed to do to be called a blademaster in the Age of Legends!"
Sammael looked hesitantly from man to man and licked his lips nervously.
"Oh, but let it not be said that we would fight you unfairly," continued the warder. "No, I think the least of us could best you in a fair match." He noticed Sammael's face perk up. "And you get to choose which of us to face!"
Sammael did not need much time to decide. "I wish to fight Hawk!"
The other three warders looked at him in horror, but the first merely laughed and shook his head. "As you choose," he said slowly, "but I warn you that she is a better bladesman than I!" He held his sword upright and tossed it to Hawk, who caught it readily.
Hawk rolled the jacinth grip around her hand a few times, demonstrating just a bit of her skill and loosening her wrist. "This will certainly be my pleasure," she said, looking first at her warders and then at Sammael. The spinning sword caught the light with its deep grey metal and reflected it in a thousand different directions from its silver filigree. Its ornamentation had never worn or faded in the years her warder had carried it. Efforts to sharpen it would only have worn down the grinding stone.
One of her warders tossed his sword to Sammael. Hawk laughed as he shrank back from the sailing weapon, leaving it to clatter noisily to the stone floor. She laughed again as another carefully handed his sword to Sammael, quietly instructing him, "Hold it from this end."
Hawk held her weapon straight up in front of her, admiring the slightly curved blade and simple cross-shaped guard. Legends held that this blade came from the Age of Myths, where it was carried by elite warriors as a sign of rank and membership in their force. The curved blade made the sword slightly better suited for fighting from horseback, but it would serve her well enough here.
"I'm not quite as familiar with this weapon as I am with the Rapier, but this will do." She noticed that Sammael was still trying to figure out how to hold the sword that had been given to him.
"The last dance shall be mine." She saluted him with her blade. "Guarde!" She advanced lightly, parrying his feeble attacks. Sammael fell back step by quick step.
"I am Hawk Sedai. You have aggravated me long enough. Prepare to die."
Sammmael fought back now with a surprising ferocity. His earlier display of incompetence had all been an act; he had tried to fool her into thinking him a buffoon. The blade whistled in his hands as he flowed from form to form. Striking the Spork. The Beer Rushes down the Hill.
Hawk gave ground at first but responded to the new threat. Parting the Sick. The Heron Spreads his Thing.
A look of worry crossed Sammael's face. He had hoped that she would know nothing of the martial arts. Failing that, he had hoped that his act would mislead her. He already felt a warm fan of blood dripping down from a slash across his chest. Sensing a need of grave urgency, he fought with redoubled vigor. The Robber Undercuts the Bank. Fly in the Sugarbowl (Shoo Fly Shoo).
Hawk responded to his renewed threat. Bungle in the Jungle met Farmer Takes a Wife. Sammael began to drop back, and Hawk pressed him harder. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof meets Hound Dog (,You Ain't Nothing but a...).
Sammael held his sword high in one hand, remaining arm and legs outstretched. "It's called 'Heroin Rush,'" he said in response to puzzled looks from Hawk and her warders.
Hawk closed quickly with Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Sammael swung his sword down in a wide arc to parry Hawk's attack, but his defense only succeeded in guiding the tip of her blade to his groin. Steel forged by a power older than time itself penetrated his body easily.
"Damn," muttered Hawk, "that's a fool move my old fencing instructor always succeeded in making.
Sammael doubled over in pain. Her four warders did the same, in obvious sympathy for the agony the Forsaken must be suffering.
"Men," she said with a disdainful sniff.
"At least put him out of his misery!" groaned one of her warders, still holding his nether regions. The other three nodded their heads in anxious agreement.
In a move known as Slicing the Head off a Cupped Man, Hawk severed Sammael's head from his neck. Her warders staggered back to their feet and let go of themselves. They all breathed a sigh of relief.
To be continued...
"Yeah," chimed a second, "now he's TWO heads shorter!" The two started laughing hysterically as a third joined them. But the fourth was not laughing; he was not even paying attention to the joke.
"Hawk Sedai," the other warder called in a stiffly formal voice. He was down on one knee, head bent forward in a display of deep respect. "You severed the bond that tied me to you. I ask you now to renew that bond."
She turned with his sword still in her hand. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but the cloaked man continued before she could. "I know why you broke the bond; I have had a decidedly checkered past, one that haunts me to this day. Excuses have I none. Requests have I but one.
"Hawk Sedai, there is a dark corner in every man's soul. It is a place he must go to do some of the things that are asked of him. Killing another man is not easy; it is one of the things that requires a man to seek that darkness. But there is also a light that shines in every man's soul, a light that represents the things that mean something to him.
"In my soul there is such a darkness, as there is in all men's souls, but mine has at times been more than a mere corner. There was a time when I thought my soul was entirely covered by darkness, and I thought that no light shone upon it. That was before you took my bond.
"You made me see that there _is_ a light in my soul. A powerful light. But I cannot find it without you. These past few days I have been without light, and without shadow; only an uneasy emptiness. I sought to follow the Light though I could not see it. And so I felt no reward for following, no warning for straying. In the end, I sought oblivion, gambling with Death for the chance at a peaceful eternal rest in an unmarked grave.
"Hawk Sedai, you bring the light to my life. Please take me back as your warder." His words trailed off into a reverent nothingness.
Hawk paused for a moment, while she used Sammael's cloak to clean the sword. "Rise off of your knees, Bill Gaidin, there is no need for such formality with the holder of your bond." He began to stand, as joy ran across his face.
"I have renewed our bond, since it seems that there are no objections from you." She handed the sword back to him, hilt first. Bill took the sword and sheathed it. She looked away. "I am ashamed at how easily I was deceived by those pawns of the Dark One. I should have known that you would not desert me for the shadow."
"I will never desert you," he said, as he took her hands.
"And I shall not doubt you again," she said, as she looked him in the eyes.