The Pegasus Cycle.
Book 1 : - Breath of the World.
Ranma 1/2 and all it's characters are property of Rumiko Takahashi.
The Concept for this story is my own, with some influences by other authors.
The Wheel of Time and all it's characters are property of Robert Jordan and Orbit Publications.
C&C Welcome, but please try and be constructive. firstname.lastname@example.org
Steepened in the darkness,
Lives a being of the Light.
And when the Dragon rears his head,
The Winged Horse shall Fight
Upon the rocky mountain-tops,
To Gaze across the sea.
Awaiting for the Dragon,
The Winged Horse runs Free.
Wild and Free he lives to fight,
With Chaos in his mane.
In the Dragon's darkest hour,
The Stone-Heart shall he tame.
- Prophecy of the Pegasus,
Lost page of the Karaetheon Cycle
Chapter 4 – Old Friends.
Moiraine Damodred raised her serene eyes up to Rand before they flickered briefly to the pig-tailed youth. A faint widening of the eyes was the only clue Ranma had that something was wrong, thanks to his conditioning my Nabiki – of which this woman reminded him of far too much for his liking.
"It is good to see you again Rand, but tell me, why is your young friend wearing enough armour crafted by the One Power to be rendered nigh invincible?"
All eyes swivelled to Ranma, who smiled nervously.
"Uhm…" He muttered. Rand rolled his eyes.
"Typical Ranma…" he muttered. Moiraine waited patiently for Ranma to explain, keeping her gaze focused solely on the pig-tailed boy and in the meantime making him quite unnerved. The rest of the kitchen fell into an eerie silence as every person waited for him to elaborate.
"It…ah…was given to me by a friend! Yeah!" Ranma stuttered. Nearby, Rand resisted the temptation to put his head in his hands and groan. Moiraine raised a sculptured eyebrow inquisitively.
"Are you sure? What was his name? And where did he get such…interesting…items? I have never seen such things crafted with the One Power that bear the symbol that you wear," she questioned coolly. Ranma began to sweat. Words were never his forte, and he’d been told numerous times that he was a terrible liar. This did not look good.
"Yeah, I’m pretty sure. His name don’t really matter. He’s dead now." Ranma paused as suspicious looks began to bloom around the room and reflected that perhaps that wasn’t the best thing to say. "Err…I mean…he was killed by the Trollocs up North. In Shol Guinnar in Arafel. It’s not there anymore though. And…ah…this stuff belonged to his family. Yeah. Before he died he said I could have it." Ranma chuckled uneasily at the hostile looks now directed his way. Before he could say anything else though, relief came in the form of a most unwanted visitor.
"C-C-C-C-CAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT!!!!!!!!!!!!" he screeched as two of the felines bolted about the kitchen. Everyone blinked at the unexpected reaction, and looked to Rand for an explanation, but found him rooted to the spot with a horrified look on his face.
"Oh Light no," he muttered. Swiftly everyone’s eyes swivelled around to fixate on the pig-tailed boy as he trembled in terror of the cats, before one finally was chased out of the room by the other. Master Gill chose that time to enter into the kitchen and spotted the shuddering Martial Artist. Heaving a sigh, he chased the other cat from the room and returned.
"It’s all right now, Lad. They’re gone." Slowly Ranma seemed to relax before walking over to the table and collapsing in a nearby chair. Nyneave blinked and turned to Rand.
"What was that all about?" she queried, looking to the recovering boy. Rand shifted uneasily and glanced over to Ranma, who shot him an uncomfortable look. Moraine frowned minutely and crossed over to Rand to stand before him before speaking in a calm and even tone.
"I think it would be a good idea if we knew what this was about so that it does not happen again." There was no hint of request in her voice, and Rand shifted again, reminded of just why he didn’t like Aes Sedai that much. Ranma sighed as Rand send yet another questioning glance his way and ran a hand through his unruly black hair.
"I don’t wanna talk about it," he muttered softly. Moiraine moved closer to him and gazed dispassionately down on the young boy.
"It was not a request. I do not think you want a repeat of that situation again, so I insist that you tell us." Ranma growled softly and stood up to his full height, managing to look Moiraine dead in the eyes as he answered.
"You can ‘insist’ all you want lady. If I don’t wanna talk about it, I don’t hafta. Got it?" he answered flatly before turning away towards the door, only to find a large body in his way. Rand groaned as Lan blocked the pig-tailed boy’s exit.
"I know exactly where this is going," he muttered to himself as he motioned for Perrin to come over.
"What is it?" the larger boy inquired softly, his eyes refusing to meet his own. Rand gave a momentary confused look at his friend’s behaviour, but soon redirected his attention back to the brewing conflict.
"Want to see something spectacular?" he asked. Perrin gave him a confused look before dropping his eyes again and nodded. "Then just watch. If I know Ranma, then he’s not going to let Moiraine and Lan push him around." Perrin blinked.
"What can he do? He’s just a kid! And Lan’s one of the best Warders there is! I mean, he’s a Warder!" Rand smiled faintly as a memory of one of Ranma’s practice sessions sprang to mind and thanked the Light that he had the pig-tailed boy around to cheer him up. He would bet that with Mat being so moody lately, possibly even sick, he would have been more depressed than anyone he could ever think of. He blinked out of his introspection as Ranma finally ceased glaring at the large stone-faced man.
"Move outta my way, I gotta check on Mat," the pig-tailed boy stated flatly. Lan glared silently at him and folded his arms.
"Listen you young pup, you should show respect to Moiraine Sedai," he growled. Ranma narrowed his eyes at the intimidation tactic.
"Or what? You gonna make me? Don’t make me laugh ya jerk. Move," he repeated, placing his arms across his chest in imitation of the Warder. Everyone’s eyes widened to the size of dinner plates at the audacity of the boy apart from Rand, Moiraine (whose eyes merely widened a tiny margin) and Lan, who merely narrowed his eyes in irritation.
"Don’t push me boy. It wouldn’t take much for me to give a pup like you a good spanking!" he growled. To everyone’s surprise, Ranma laughed.
"You? You gotta be kiddin’ me! Get lost buddy; you ain’t in my league. Now move or I’ll move yer rock-faced butt for ya." There was a hiss of inhaled breath from most around the room as everyone waited with bated breath for the large Warder’s response.
"I’m warning you, boy. I’ll-" he was interrupted by Ranma, who glared angrily at the older man.
"Don’t call me ‘boy’ pal. My name’s Ranma Saotome. And you’ll what? Beat me up? I’m so sure. Don’t push me around pal. I don’t like being pushed around. I had enough of that to last more lifetimes than you can imagine." During the course of his irritated tirade, Rand noticed that his friend’s speech had moved away from the immature and crude speech patterns he normally employed to the very same tone he had used during their meeting with Morgase. Rand decided it was eerie and shivered silently.
Lan glared at the impudent little brat that stood in front of him and placed his hand on his sword threateningly. Ranma reacted instantly.
"Fine. Outside. We’ll see how good you are to threaten the likes of me." As the two moved outside, Nyneave and Egwene shifted closer to Rand and Perrin, who had also moved to the window to watch the fight.
"What is he doing? Doesn’t he know a Warder when he sees one? He’ll be slaughtered!" Egwene muttered worriedly.
"I agree. He’s a foolish boy to think he can do such things and not be punished! He’s as wool-headed as the rest of you young men! He deserves what he gets!" Rand carefully suppressed a smile, but realised he wasn’t entirely successful when Perrin looked at him strangely.
"You know something don’t you Rand?" he whispered. Rand grinned and gave a slight nod before putting a finger to his lips. Behind them, Moiraine frowned and returned her eyes to the approaching fight.
"This is madness," she whispered to herself. Off to the side, Master Gill looked horrified as he wrung his apron to death between his two podgy hands.
Out in the courtyard of the stables, Ranma cracked a few joints and stretched his muscles and took his favourite ‘non-stance.’ Across from him, Lan stood ready with his sword impatiently and after a few moments, he gestured with the blade to the hilt that protruded over the pig-tailed boy’s shoulder.
"Well? Aren’t you going to draw your sword boy?" Ranma gave a cool smirk, and the air temperature seemed to lower several degrees as he regarded the Warder. After a moment he shook his head.
"No. I do not need it do defeat the likes of you," he answered simply. Lan growled softly and nodded.
"As you wish. Do not blame me when you are in pain!" he snapped and shot forward. Hefting his blade, he tried to slap the boy around the face with the flat of his blade, but found only empty air where there once had been his opponent. Whirling around, he came face-to-face with the pig-tailed boy, who smirked imperiously from an inch away and danced away from the rising blade of the Warder.
"Can’t you do better than that? I would have thought a Warder would have been much more skilled," he ridiculed. Anger flared up in the older man and he seemed to forget that this was merely a fight, and not life-threatening. To those watching in morbid fascination, the Warder flowed like water, his movements perfectly smooth and full of power and skill. But if Lan was water, then Ranma embodied air as he danced winsomely around the strikes, seeming to do so without even trying and even twisting impossibly in mid-air as a thrust came dangerously close.
Watching the fight, Moiraine narrowed her eyes.
"What is he? He cannot be human!" her eyes widened fractionally as she drew a conclusion. "He may be a chaneller!" with that she concentrated and wove a shield on the pig-tailed boy. She saw him pause momentarily as if distracted by something before back flipping away and landing in a simple combat stance.
"It’s over," he stated. Almost in slow motion, everyone saw his legs tense before sending him bounding forward in a single leap to cover nearly 15 feet and perform a crescent moon kick straight to the Warder’s chin, staggering him slightly. Without pausing for a second the pig-tailed boy re-launched himself in a vicious roundhouse kick that caught Lan on the shoulder as he attempted to twist away to gain some breathing room. However, even with his Warder training, he was still not fast enough to evade Ranma as he cannoned into him with fists and feet flying like a human hurricane. Within moments he impacted heavily against one of the supporting beams of the stable, his sword clattering to the ground from fingers rendered nerveless by a nerve-strike by Ranma.
There was complete silence over the courtyard as Ranma landed easily on his feet and bowed quickly to the Warder.
"Not bad. Better than almost anyone I’d bet. But not however," he added with a smirk, "me." From his position against the beam, Lan grunted an oath softly as he regained his feet. Massaging his wrists after picking up his sword, he eyed the pig-tailed boy quietly for a moment.
"Are you Aiel? You do not have the look, yet you fight as if you are from the Aiel Waste." he asked. Ranma paused before gaining a slightly self-mocking look.
"No. I am…Ronin," he finished, his usual smirk blossoming on his lips. Lan’s perpetual scowl deepened at the answer, but he seemed to be vaguely mollified and sheathed his blade with a rasping hiss of metal on leather. From the doorway, Rand emerged wearing a wide grin. As soon as Ranma spotted the older youth, his regal bearing seemed to melt away as he slumped into his relaxed slouch and grinned cockily at his friend.
"You won!" Rand exclaimed as he clapped the pig-tailed boy on the back. Ranma’s grin widened.
"Was there ever any doubt?" he asked rhetorically as the pair moved to re-enter the inn. Passing by Master Gill, Ranma frowned faintly and paused.
"Yo, Master Gill? You okay man? You’d better get some rest, you look like you’re about to have a heart attack." Rand stifled his mirth and decided not to tell Ranma that the podgy innkeeper was horrified that Ranma would have the audacity to challenge a Warder and actually win. It was far more amusing to watch as Ranma broke every social rule in the book, and the only time that the younger man’s utter lack of social skills had disappeared was when he had been facing Queen Morgase. Rand frowned slightly. Actually that was not true, Ranma had just shown a flair for words that was normally totally beyond the pig-tailed martial artist.
"Ranma, are you okay? I mean, just now…" he trailed off as he noticed his friend’s face darken whilst his back still faced the others. Ranma glanced at his friend.
"You noticed too huh?" Rand nodded and the younger boy grimaced slightly. "I dunno what it is, man, but I really wanna find out. It’s too weird." The pair then sat at the kitchen table and turned to the flabbergasted faces of Nyneave, Egwene and Perrin.
"H-how?" Egwene stuttered. Ranma grinned broadly at their stunned amazement and puffed out his chest as his ego was once again stroked. Sitting next to him, Rand rolled his eyes. He could see this coming a mile away.
"Training. Lots and lotsa training," Ranma answered simply as he idly buffed his chest armour in a totally fake show of casualness.
"Careful, your head might explode," Rand joked softly, earning him a glare of indignation from the younger boy. He sniggered as the three moved forward and began to question Ranma on just what he considered ‘training.’ The answers he gave were not the ones they were expecting.
Outside, Moiraine approached Lan quickly and rapidly wove a small healing spell before beginning to speak.
"What is your opinion of the young companion of Rand al'Thor?" she inquired softly as he surreptitiously continued to massage his wrist. The tall Warder glanced at her before swinging his eyes back into the kitchen through the open door, to where Ranma sat with Rand and answered the other three’s questions. Judging my their shocked reactions, the answers were not what they expected.
"My opinion?" the Aes Sedai nodded. Lan leaned against the beam he had landed on beforehand and snorted. "My opinion is that I’ve suddenly become blind. Light woman, I should have spotted how he moved straight away, but I missed the most obvious signs of a seasoned veteran. No doubt about it, he’s fought. A lot. Everything he does is conservation of movement. Nothing wasted. He’s ready to move at the merest whistle of the wind in the trees and I blithely ignored it because I thought he was too young. I won’t make the same mistake again." Moiraine studied the pig-tailed boy for a moment in silence, the wind softly stirring her hair and the small gem that lay against her forehead.
"Are his skills…natural?" Lan favoured her with a slightly suspicious look, but answered regardless of his thoughts.
"Undoubtedly. There’s nothing in his movements that are artificial in any way. It’s all training. And to be that good at such a young age…I shudder to think just what that could entail. You know that I myself have been trained since I could walk…but that boy…" he shook his head slightly. "I’ve never seen anyone that good in hand to hand. Not even the Aiel." Moiraine blinked and looked up at her Warder, making him smirk faintly. "Yes, and I’d wager that with that sword… Look at him. Just like Rand, it belongs on him. And yet, he doesn’t even need it. Against trollocs he might even be able to win. With that sword…the term ‘Blademaster’ wouldn’t be good enough." Moiraine settled into brooding silence, at this and stared into the sky as she thought these details through.
Lan is never this free with praise. I do not understand…something about that boy…it lingers on the verge of my consciousness and teases me…it’s almost as if he has the spark, but he does not! She glanced at Rand and saw the strong glow that signified Ta'veren before glancing back at Ranma. She gasped softly.
"Ta’veren!" she whispered softly. Lan stirred.
"What?" he murmured. Moiraine tilted her head towards the Warder without taking her eyes off of the pig-tailed boy and spoke.
"That boy, Ranma. He is Ta'veren! Just like Rand! Not as strong, but almost! It is unbelievable!" Lan fixed the young martial artist with a calculating look before the boy stiffened slightly and cranked his head around to stare right back. Beside him, Moiraine gathered herself and strode forward confidently.
"Come, we must keep an eye on him. And we must find out more about him! He is too dangerous to let loose. You saw it with your own eyes." Lan nodded behind her.
Felt it too; he thought wryly as he once more looked at the boy.
Ranma stiffened slightly as he finished giving an answer to Nyneave’s question and turned his head to look out the window. Locking eyes with Lan, he shivered faintly at the cold, calculating gleam that seemed to shine in the Warder’s grey eyes before turning back to the conversation.
"What?" he asked as he vaguely heard someone ask another question. Nyneave growled softly.
"You should listen more boy! No doubt you’ll turn out just like this fool next to you because you don’t listen! The last thing we need is another woolhead around!" Ranma glared at her in response to the jibe and pulled down his eyelid and stuck out his tongue.
"Biiiiiiiii!" It was childish and immature, but he got the feeling that no one had ever done it to her before, so took it as his responsibility to do so. The older woman blinked, surprised, before scowling dangerously.
"Well I never! Someone should teach you respect!" Ranma shrugged and leaned back in the chair with a smirk.
"An’ who’s gonna do that? You?" he snorted, "People have ta earn my respect. They don’t get it otherwise. Either that or they don’t treat me like I’m some ‘delinquent’ that needs a taste o’ discipline. I don’t like people like that." He fixed her with a level gaze as memories of Miss Hinako welled up in his mind. Nyneave blinked at the faintly bitter undertone and sat back, thoughtfully gazing at the pig-tailed boy. Egwene and Perrin exchanged looks of mild surprise at her aquescience. Abruptly Ranma stood up and walked over to the door.
"I’m gonna check on Mat. Talk to ya in a minute." With that he left the room in a brooding silence. There was a collective blink among the occupants of the room.
"What was that all about?" Egwene asked Rand quietly. The tall youth shrugged and remained watching the door through which the younger boy had exited.
"Not sure. Probably something to do with his past," he replied. Perrin gave him a puzzled look before Moiraine and Lan re-entered the kitchen and greeted Master Gill. The pudgy man looked over at Rand as if seeking confirmation that it was all right.
"You are welcome to the Queen’s Blessing, Aes Sedai, as my guest. Thought I suppose you will be staying at the palace with Elaida Sedai, and the Aes Sedai who came with the false Dragon." Moiraine gave a pleasant smile and glanced over at Rand for a moment.
"I believe I will stay here," Moiraine said, "for the short time I remain in Caemlyn. And you must allow me to pay." At that point one of the cats re-entered the kitchen from outside and began to rub itself around the innkeeper’s ankles. The innkeeper apologised for the earlier scene and made a point to say that he tried to keep the cats out of sight as much as possible before rambling on about how he would be honoured to have her as his guest if she would not prefer to be housed up at the palace. Moiraine seemed to ignore his jumbled speech as she scratched the cat behind the ears, making it leave the innkeeper’s ankles for her own.
"I have seen four cats here, so far," she said. "You have a problem with mice? Rats?"
"Rats Moiraine Sedai," the innkeeper sighed. "A terrible problem. Not that I don’t keep a clean place you understand, but eh whole city is full of people and rats. But my cats take care of it. If they don’t frighten the living daylights out of young Ranma that is!" he chuckled softly. "You’ll not be troubled, I promise." Rand exchanged a fleeting look with Perrin, who put his eyes down again right away. There was something odd about Perrin’s eyes. And he was so silent; Perrin was almost always slow to speak, but now he was saying nothing at all.
"With your permission, Master Gill," Moiraine said, as if she took it for granted. "It is a simple matter to keep rats away from this street. With luck, the rats will not even realise they are being kept away." Master Gill frowned at the last, but he bowed, accepting her offer.
"If you are sure you don’t want to stay at the palace Aes Sedai."
"Rand, is there something wrong with Mat?" Nyneave asked suddenly. "Ranma said he was going to ‘check up’ on him. Is he sick?"
"Sort of," he replied evasively. "He’s upstairs." Nyneave’s head came up.
"Sort of? Well, I’ll leave the rats to her, and I’ll attend to him. Take me to him now Rand." The tall youth frowned slightly at the tone in her voice that expected immediate obedience. One thing he had learned from Ranma was that you did not need to obey every man and his dog just because they were older than you were. He folded his arms across his chest stubbornly and scowled.
"Pardon?" he asked. Nyneave blinked at him in confusion. "You didn’t say please," he clarified. She frowned in irritation.
"Don’t be stupid Rand. We don’t need you to be mule-headed right now." Rand’s scowl deepened.
"Oh? I seem to remember you telling me in Emond’s Field to show respect to everyone. Where’s that now? The least you could do is show me some common courtesy." Egwene and Perrin stared at him in open-mouthed shock. No one had ever spoken to the Wisdom like that before. Not even old Cenn Buie! Nyneave sat stunned for a moment before glaring at Rand angrily.
"Now see here-!" before she could finish Rand interrupted her.
"No! Just like Ranma said, if you want my respect, this time you’ll have to earn it! You can be rude to me all you want, but I’ll be rude right back!" he snapped. The Wisdom opened and closed her mouth incredulously for a few moments before gritting her teeth.
"Rand, please take me upstairs to Mat so that I may tend him," she ground out. She didn’t stop glaring furiously at him though. Rand immediately stopped scowling and broke into a pleasant smile.
"Of course, Wisdom, this way." He moved over to the door and stepped through, pausing to cast a glance backward. He stifled a chuckle at Egwene and Perrin’s stunned expressions.
Wow, Ranma was right! I could get used to this! He thought gleefully.
"All of you go up," Moiraine said after a moment’s pause. "I will join you in a few minutes. We are crowding Master Gill’s kitchen, and it would be best if we could all be somewhere quiet for a time." Rand heard the undercurrent of warning in her voice though, that hinted at more dangers to come. Stay out of sight. The hiding is not done yet, it said.
"Come on," Rand said. "We can go up the back way. It’s the one Ranma would have taken at least." As the climbed, Rand could not help the silly grin on his face. His friend’s were here! It was almost like home! The same relief, if slightly muted by irritation in Nyneave’s case, thrummed through the veins of the others, making them chuckle to themselves and reach out to touch his arm every now and then. Perrin, although subdued, began to speak as they ascended.
"Moiraine said she could find you and Mat, and she did. When we rode into the city, the rest of us couldn’t stop staring – well, all except Lan, of course – all the people, the buildings, everything." His thick curls swung as he shook his head in disbelief. "It’s all so big. And so many people. Some of them kept staring at us, too, shouting out ‘Red of White?’ like it made some kind of sense." Rand grunted softly at that and fingered the red covering on his hilt. He felt feminine fingers caress the sword lightly and glanced over to see Egwene fingering the wrappings.
"What does it mean?" He pondered the question for a moment.
"Nothing," he said. "Nothing important. We’re leaving for Tar Valon, remember?" Egwene gave him a look, but she removed her hand from the sword and took up where Perrin had left off.
"Moiraine didn’t look at anything more than Lan did. She led us back and forth through all those streets so many times, like a dog hunting a scent, that I thought you couldn’t be here. Then, all of a sudden, she took off down a street, and the next thing I knew we were handing the horses to the stablemen and marching into the kitchen. She never even asked if you were here. Just told a woman who was mixing batter to go tell Rand al'Thor and Mat Cauthon that someone wanted to see them. And there you were" – she grinned – "like a ball popping into the gleeman’s hand out of nowhere."
"Where is the gleeman?" Perrin asked. "Is he with you?" Rand slowed as his stomach lurched sickeningly at the reminder of the older man.
"Thom's dead. I think he’s dead. There was a Fade…" He could not say anymore. Nynaeve shook her head, muttering under her breath. The silence thickened around them until they reached the head of the stairs.
"Mat’s not sick exactly," he said then. "It’s… You’ll see." He flung open the door then, and walked in. inside, Ranma gave him a warning look and shook his head after a glance to the bed.
"Be careful, man. He’s gettin’ worse. He nearly tried to take my head off. And watch out for the knife. That thing’s bad news." Rand nodded sombrely before turning back to the bed.
"Look who’s here, Mat." Mat was curled up in a ball on the bed, just as Rand had left him earlier. He raised his head to stare at them.
"How do you know they’re really who they look like?" he asked hoarsely. His face was flushed, the skin tight and slick with sweat. "How do I know you’re who you look like?" Ranma rolled his eyes at the blatant paranoia.
"Shut up Mat," he muttered.
"Not sick?" Nynaeve gave Rand a disdainful look as she pushed past him, already unslinging her bag from her shoulder. Before she could take more than a few steps though, Ranma stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.
"Careful, Lady. He’s more dangerous than he looks. That sickness ain’t natural." The Wisdom shook his hand from her shoulder and shot him a dark look.
"My name is Nynaeve, boy. However, you can call me Wisdom." Ranma snorted in derision.
"I’ll call you whatever I want, Lady. An’ you can’t do nuthin’ about it." The Wisdom scowled angrily and stepped over to Mat. Rand sidled over to his younger friend and leaned close.
"Are you trying to get on her bad side?" he whispered. Ranma grinned and shook his head.
"Nah. I’m jus’ gonna take her down a peg or two. She gotta loose that high ‘n’ mighty attitude. Gonna get her killed sometime." Rand nodded in understanding.
"Everybody changes," Mat rasped. "How can I be sure? Perrin? Is that you? You’ve changed haven’t you?" His laugh sounded more like a cough. "Oh yes, you’ve changed." To Rand’s surprise Perrin dropped onto the edge of the other bed with his head in his hands, staring at the floor. Mat’s hacking laughter seemed to pierce him.
Nynaeve knelt beside Mats bed and put a hand to his face, pushing up his headcloth. He jerked back from her with a scornful look. His eyes were bright and glazed.
"This is trouble," Ranma muttered, his body tense. Rand nodded worriedly.
"If something happens, don’t hurt him too much?" Ranma glanced at his friend.
"I’ll see what I can do. He’s gonna snap soon though." Rand grimaced and raked a hand through his hair.
"You’re burning up," Nynaeve said, "but you should not be sweating with this much fever." Worry laced her voice at his condition. "Rand, you and Perrin fetch some clean cloths and as much cool water as you can carry. I’ll bring your temperature down first, Mat, and –"
"Pretty Nynaeve," Mat spat. "A Wisdom isn’t supposed to think of herself as a woman, is she? Not a pretty woman. But you do, don’t you? Now. You can’t make yourself forget that you’re a pretty woman, now, and it frightens you. Everybody changes." Nynaeve’s face paled as he spoke – whether with anger or something else, Rand could not tell.
"THAT’S ENOUGH!" Ranma roared as he shot forward. The room was filled with the sound of flesh striking flesh, and Mat flew backward against the wall. With a hiss he leapt forward, a flash of silver streaking forward at Ranma’s head to be stopped solid three inches away, revealing an ornate dagger with a large ruby in the hilt. Ranma smirked slightly as Mat strained to reach him, his teeth bared in a bestial snarl of rage and hate.
"Well…ain’t that nice. But you really shouldn’t be such an ass, especially to your friends. Ladies ‘specially." Nynaeve blinked. "Now, you gonna sit tight or do I have ta chew ya out and eat ya fer breakfast?" Mat’s only reply was to snarl and attempt to reach Ranma’s neck with his other hand. It was easily intercepted. The entire room winced as the sound of popping cartilage bounced off the walls as Ranma squeezed Mat’s hand slowly. He gave no indication he felt the pain.
"We are safe from the Dark One’s eyes for the time being," Moiraine announced as she walked through the doorway with Lan on her heels. Ranma turned his head and smiled cheerfully at them whilst he kept a firm grip on the struggling boy.
"Heya! Mind givin’ me a hand here? I think we gotta problem." He stated wryly with a flicker of his eyes at Mat.
"Get away from him!" Moiraine hissed. Ranma gave a lopsided grin.
"Riiight. And what about her?" he indicated Nynaeve with a dip of his head where she knelt behind him. She was still staring blankly at his back. In two quick steps the Aes Sedai had crossed the room and clamped her hands down on the Wisdom’s shoulders and dragged her across the floor like a sack of grain. Nynaeve struggled and protested, but Moiraine didn’t release her until she was well away from the bed. The Wisdom continued her protests as she got to her feet, angrily straightening her clothes, but Moiraine ignored her completely. The Aes Sedai watched Mat to the exclusion of all else, eyeing him the way she would a viper. He continued to struggle in Ranma’s grip, futilely lashing out with a foot every now and then to bounce ineffectively off of the pig-tailed boy’s dark blue armour.
"Happy fellow isn’t he?" Ranma commented lazily with a grin. Rand sighed. It seemed that Ranma never took anything seriously. He couldn’t help but chuckle though.
"All of you stay away from him," she said, eyeing Ranma for a moment. "And be quiet." Rand glanced at Lan, and saw a brief spark of interest at the pig-tailed boy’s seeming lack of effort to hold his friend in place. Moiraine stepped closer, and placed a hand on the outstretched arm that was held in Ranma’s hand. A shudder of revulsion shook him at her touch, and his eyes snapped to hers as he strained to reach her with the dagger.
"Geez…doesn’t like you much does he?" Ranma muttered as he held the older boy in place. Moiraine shot him an irritated glance, to which he just grinned silently, and then eyed the dagger.
"How did he come by this?" she asked in a steel voice. "I asked if Mordeth had given you anything. I asked, and I warned you, and you said he had not."
"He didn’t," Rand said. "He…Mat took it from the treasure room." Moiraine looked at him, her eyes seeming to burn as much as Mat’s. He flinched slightly and looked sheepish. "I didn’t know until after we were separated. I didn’t know."
"You did not know." Moiraine studied Mat as he strained against the pig-tailed boy’s grip to reach her. Surprisingly, Lan seemed content to allow the young martial artist to handle the situation. "It is a wonder you got this far, carrying this. I felt the evil of it when I laid eyes on him, the touch of Madashar, but a fade could sense it for miles. Even though he would not know exactly where, he would know it was near, and Madashar would draw his spirit while his bones remembered that this same evil swallowed an army – Dreadlords, Fades, Trollocs, and all. Some darkfriends could probably feel it, too. Those that have truly given away their souls. There could not help but be those who would wonder at suddenly feeling this, as if the very air around them itched. They would be compelled to seek it. It should have drawn them to it as a magnet draws iron filings."
"You know, that’s very interesting," Ranma drawled. "But are you actually gonna help him or just stare at him and natter on and on?" Moiraine’s left cheek twitched slightly as she turned to glare icily at the pig-tailed boy, who in return grinned amiably at her.
"There were rumours of strange things in the night outside the city. It could be Trollocs." Rand said in an attempt to break the tension.
"Oh it’s Trollocs, sheepherder," Lan said wryly. "And where there are Trollocs, there are Fades. They’ve tried to hide their passage, but I have seen sign for two days. And heard farmers and villagers mutter about things in the night. The Myrddraal managed to strike into the Two Rivers unseen, somehow, but every day they come closer to those can send soldiers to hunt them down. Even so, the won’t stop now, sheepherder."
"Wonderful," Ranma muttered under his breath.
"But we’re in Caemlyn," Egwene said. "They can’t get to us as long as –"
"Wrong," Ranma interrupted. "If they’ve got enough, they can watch all the different ways out of the city. After that, they can just walk in if they want." He grimaced. "It’d be a slaughter." Lan nodded.
"The boy is right. That act may send half the armies of the south marching to the Borderlands, but the evidence is that they’re willing to take that risk." He glanced at Ranma. "You three have escaped them too long. It looks as if you’ve brought a new Trolloc War to Caemlyn, sheepherder."
Egwene gave a gasping sob, and Perrin shook his head as though to deny it. Rand felt a sickness in his stomach at the thought of Trollocs in the streets of Caemlyn. All those people at one another’s throats, never realising the real threat waiting to come over the walls. He could see flames roaring through the streets, the towers falling, flames breaking through the domes, Trollocs pillaging through the curving streets and vistas of the inner city. The palace itself in flames. Elayne, and Gawyn, and Morgase…dead.
"No way. Not yet. There’s gotta be loads of ways outta this city, ones they ain’t thought of yet." Moiraine looked annoyed, but nodded in agreement.
"Yes, if we can find a way out of Caemlyn, the Halfmen will have no more interest here. If. So many if’s." She murmured absently.
"Better we were all dead," Perrin said suddenly. He sat staring at the floor – glaring at it now – and his voice was bitter. "Everywhere we go, we bring pain and suffering on our backs. It would be better for everyone if we were dead." There was a sudden flicker of movement and a large chunk of candle wax bounced off of the curly-haired boy’s head.
"Geez…what is it with you lot? First Rand, now you! If I can get Rand outta his funk, I can get it outta you too! Even if I hafta beat it outta ya!" Ranma growled, a large piece of candle protruding from his pocket marking him as the culprit. Perrin stared at him for a moment, absently rubbing the red mark from the impact. Rand felt the heavy atmosphere evaporate like a burst water pouch and stifled a snigger. Another flash of movement and another piece of wax bounced off his own head.
"Hey!" he complained. Ranma gave him an innocent look, both hands firmly holding Mat’s dagger and free hand. The stick of wax was noticeably shorter. Egwene giggled faintly, raising a hand to cover her mouth and even Lan’s lips twitched faintly. His forehead was still wrinkled into a frown at Ranma’s callous actions toward Moiraine’s safety though. The Aes Sedai in question rounded on Ranma quickly and glared angrily at him.
"Are you finished?" she snapped. "This is serious!" Ranma gave another garishly fake innocent look and batted his eyes coquettishly.
"Don’t be so sour! You’re like an old maid!" Moiraine’s eyes widened furiously, but before she could speak Ranma had turned to Lan. "How old is she anyway? She needs to lighten up sometime." Lan’s jaw clenched in an effort to stop his lips twitching. He found the situation ironically funny. A boy, who would be considered a babe in most places, was dressing down an Aes Sedai like she was a stripling girl. If he did not know just how dangerous the situation was becoming, he would have laughed. He wisely decided to keep silent, especially as he had never in his many years seen Moiraine get so frustrated. If she could, he would have bet she would have fried the boy with the One Power.
"My age is none of your business boy! Can you not take something as dangerous as this seriously? Hundreds could die if we do not make the correct choices!" Ranma lost his smile and regarded the flustered woman coolly. One thing he had learned from Nabiki, keep your opponent on their toes.
"We should make sure me make all the right ones, ne?" he stated simply. Once more the Aes Sedai’s cheek twitched in irritation before turning back to the dagger.
"What’s wrong with him?" Egwene asked, and Nynaeve added, "Is it catching? I can still treat him. I don’t seem to catch sick, no matter what it is."
"Oh, it is catching –" Moiraine started before Ranma rolled his eyes.
"Do you ever stop? Are ya gonna heal him or not? Or maybe you’d forgotten this?" he waved the arm that held the dagger around like a simple stick, shaking Mat around as if he weighed nothing more than a feather. Moiraine grit her teeth and glared at him silently, to which he blinked.
"What? It was just a question! Geez! Anyway, can ya do anythin’ for the guy? He may be annoying as hell, but I bet it’s this darn dagger." Moiraine huffed slightly in exasperation and nodded.
"I hope so. For the sake of the world, I hope I am not too late." Her hand delved into the pouch at her belt and came out with a silk-shrouded angreal. She looked specifically at Ranma. "Leave me. Stay together, and find somewhere you will not be seen, but leave me. I will do what I can for him." As everyone shuffled out of the room in morbid silence, Ranma did not move an inch. Moiraine glared at him pointedly and he gave a thin smile before releasing his grip on Mat. Immediately the dagger shot forward, Lan abruptly leaping to his feet in shock, before being caught an inch from the Aes Sedai’s nose.
"Still think I should leave, Aes Sedai?" Ranma murmured softly. The muscles in her jaw flexing angrily, Moiraine shook her head. the pig-tailed boy smiled faintly. "I thank you Aes Sedai for allowing me to remain for the comrade of my friend." He said simply. The calm bearing in his fram was abruptly shattered by his roguish grin. Moiraine took a breath and settled at the foot of the bed.
"Can you get him to sit or kneel?" Ranma nodded and lashed out with a kick that buckled the other boy’s knees and forced him to kneel. Mat’s snarling expression did not waver an inch, neither did his murderous gaze at the Aes Sedai. Once that was done, Ranma shot an apologetic look to the large Warder for his previous endangerment of his bonded. Lan simply nodded shortly and took up a position not far away, ready to move at a moments notice.
Ranma stood silently, his muscles slowly tensing and relaxing to stave off cramp as he held the boy motionless, and watched the older woman as she began to weave using the One Power. With his formidable learning ability, he concentrated solely on the weaves and their effects, memorising every nuance and twist to be practised later.
Across the room, Lan noted the pig-tailed boy’s concentration and pondered the meaning silently. If anything, he would bet that the younger boy had fallen into a medative trance for his own reasons. His experienced eyes took in the unconscious tensing and relaxing of the muscles, minute in their movements, but extremely effective.
After a few minutes, Mat seemed to relax in his attempt to stab the Aes Sedai, but Ranma’s firm grim stayed put, even as the older boy slumped into unconsciousness. A few moments later, Moiraine and Ranma seemed to regain their senses at precisely the same moment. Lan filed this information away for later thought. Slowly Ranma eased Mat onto the bed and tucked the dagger into his belt before turning to Moiraine. The Aes Sedai stood up from the bed and stumbled slightly but, much to both hers and Lan’s surprise, Ranma held her steady until she regained her balance. She eyed the young martial artist with faint confusion.
"Why?" she asked simply. Ranma smiled.
"’Cause you did a good thing, that’s why. Don’t need no other reason." Lan’s estimation of the boy’s character went up another few points at this declaration, whereas Moiraine seemed to dismiss it out of hand.
"He should wake up in a moment. Be ready," she murmured. Ranma nodded and leaned against the wall leisurely. Moiraine frowned faintly at the boy’s relaxed attitude, but Lan saw the faint tensing in the pig-tailed boy’s muscles and knew he was ready. Still, there was no need to inform Moiraine of that.
Unlike her, he had a high estimation of the boy, despite his arrogance and automatic rejection of authority, simply because the boy did not give trust or respect until it was given to him. Lan suspected he also held himself to a strict moral code, and determined himself to find out just what that code entailed. It never hurt to be informed, especially if it could endanger their mission.
Just then, Mat stirred on the bed and groaned loudly.
"Ooh…" slowly the dark-haired boy sat up and looked around blearily. His skin had lost its sickly pallor and all traces of sickness seemed to have disappeared, making him look as if he had never had a sick day. After a moment his eyes rested on Moiraine.
"Moiraine Sedai? What are you doing here?" he asked as he held a hand to his head. Moiraine smiled soothingly and began to explain the situation. After a moment, Mat looked thoroughly embarrassed.
"Light!" he breathed softly. "I must have looked like a total fool!" he started as a rough snort sounded from just behind him and whirled around. Ranma stood leaning against the wall with his trademark smirk.
"Ya, you acted like a total jerk, but I can’t blame ya for it really. It’s all that dagger’s fault. I’m sure everyone else’ll agree with me. Right?" he directed his question to Lan, seeming to completely ignore Moiraine’s presence. Lan merely nodded silently. Moiraine’s voice was slightly tight as she spoke.
"Yes, I’m sure that they will not fault you for your actions and just be glad that you are no longer in such extreme danger. However, it is imperative that we get you to Tar Valon so that you can be separated from the dagger. It is not safe to remove it from your person as yet. You would die." Mat looked stricken at this proclamation until Ranma snorted again.
"Man, you really know how to make a guy feel better doncha? Yer bedside manner stinks ya know." The pig-tailed boy turned to Mat and smirked. "Don’t worry, with me around you’re guaranteed to get there." Mat blinked.
"Who are you?" he asked simply. Ranma blinked for a moment before grinning slightly.
"Name’s Ranma Saotome. Pleased to meecha!" the pig-tailed boy held out his hand. He’d learned that not many people bowed first. That was usually done later. Hesitantly, Mat gripped the younger boy’s callused hand and shook it, casting a slightly bewildered look in Moiraine’s direction. She looked none too pleased, and the Warder simply retained his usual stoic expression.
"Yeah…same here, I guess." Without letting go of the older boy’s hand, Ranma hauled him to his feet and began making their way to the door. Hey, what are you doing?" Ranma looked at him for a moment.
"What you don’t wanna go meet yer friends? ‘S fine if you don’t wanna, but I just thought…" Mat nodded.
"Yeah…that sounds like a good idea. Hope they aren’t mad." Ranma merely rolled his eyes and neglected to answer. Lan and Moiraine remained in the room for a few moments before following.
As they walked down the stairs, Lan detected a large amount of cold fury shooting through the bond he shared with Moiraine and glanced at her quizzically. She looked over at him and frowned faintly, before looking forward again.
"That…boy… he is…" she searched for the right words for a moment.
"Arrogant?" Lan suggested softly. Moiraine nodded slightly.
"More than arrogant! He could ruin everything! Now more than ever we must keep an eye on him!" she hissed softly. Lan nodded, but for different reasons.
Yes, Ranma Saotome, you are an interesting puzzle indeed. He thought to himself. Moments later and the four of them were in the Library, Moiraine and Lan standing behind the two younger men. Ranma leaned against the wall just beside the doorway and simply grinned quietly. Lan deduced that it was because of Mat’s open-mouthed reaction to Loial. With a shrug and a shake, Mat turned his attention back to his friends.
"I…ah…that is…" He took a deep breath and started again. "It…ah…it seems I’ve been acting…ah…sort of oddly. I don’t remember much of it, really." He gave Moiraine an uneasy look, to which she smiled encouragingly at him, and he went on. "Everything is hazy after Whitebridge. Thom, and the…" He shivered and hurried on. "The further from Whitebridge, the hazier it gets. I don’t really remember arriving in Caemlyn at all." He eyed Loial askance. "Not really. Moiraine Sedai says I…upstairs I…ah…" He grinned, and suddenly he was the old Mat. "You can’t hold a man to blame for what he does when he’s crazy, can you?"
"You always were crazy," Perrin said, and for a moment he, too, sounded as of old.
"No," Nynaeve said. Tears made her eyes bright, but she was smiling. "None of us blames you." Ranma chuckled then.
"Told ya!" he said cheerfully. Rand grinned in response and began talking at once with Egwene, telling Mat how happy he was to see him well and how well he looked, with a few laughing comments thrown in about hoping he was done with tricks now that one so ugly had been played on him. Mat met banter with banter and soon found a seat with all of his old swagger. As he sat down, still grinning, he absently touched his coat as if to make sure that something tucked behind his belt was still there and Rand’s breath caught.
"Yes," Moiraine said quietly, "he still has the dagger." The laughter and talk was still going on among the rest of the Emond's Field folk, but she had noticed his sudden intake of breath and had seen what had caused it. From the wall, Ranma scowled as she moved closer to his chair, where she did not have to raise her voice for him to hear clearly. "I cannot take it away from him without killing him. The binding has lasted too long, and has grown too strong. That must be unknotted at Tar Valon; it is beyond me, or any lone Aes Sedai, even with an angreal."
After a moment, Ranma noticed a presence next to him, and found Lan leaning against the doorjamb, silently contemplating the flames.
"You do not like Moiraine." He murmured. It was not a question. Ranma studied the Aes Sedai for a moment before shrugging.
"I dunno. Not really. She could be all right I suppose."
"Why?" Ranma paused to consider, then also began to watch the flickering tongues of flame.
"She…she reminds me of someone I used to know. Well…a lot of people really. It…it reminds me of a place I’d rather not remember. A lotta things happened. Not a lotta’m pleasant." Lan glanced at the young martial artist for a moment, and noted his saddened look. He pondered his next question.
"How does she remind you?" he asked. Ranma grimaced and raked a hand through his hair.
"Lotsa the people I used to know were really manipulative, and they always tried to get people to do what they wanted. If they’d’ve asked, nothin’ bad woulda happened, and I’d have all got sorted out. But they never wanted to. They thought ‘they knew best’ and that kinda thing. Your Aes Sedai are like that, an’ I can tell Moiraine’s really like that. If she don’t ask, she’s gonna screw up. I’d betcha anything ya wanted." Lan pondered this silently, and carefully studied the occupants of the room. Whoever he was, this Ranma wasn’t lying. His face could be read like an enormous banner, let alone a book.
He obviously believes what he is saying, but…for such a young boy…how can he have such wisdom? It should not be possible. Lan studied the boy as he looked into the fire, the golden flames reflecting in ocean blue eyes, and settled in to think long and hard. There is an innocence about him that should not remain. He has killed, I can see it in his eyes, and yet…he still retains his innocence. How? He is jaded too, this he has shown me from his words. I must confess I do not understand. The Warder breathed deeply for a moment as he let his mind drift and meld with his instincts. He knew, without a doubt, that his instincts had saved his life and the life of his Aes Sedai more times than he cared to count. It was time to look to them for guidance.
"Can you tell me why you believe this?" he asked. Ranma looked up from his contemplation of the fire and smiled slightly.
"Because Rand’s like me." He answered. Lan frowned.
"How so?" The pig-tailed boy sighed and once more looked to the fire.
"I don’t like analysin’ stuff ya know? I guess the easiest way ta put it is ta say he’s stubborn. Jus’ like me." He was silent for a moment before speaking again. "The more she tries ta get him ta do stuff, the more he’s gonna bitch an’ whine and dig his heels in. I did that, and they jus’ tried harder. It don’t work, believe me." Lan thought about this revelation for a minute and didn’t like the conclusion that he drew. Ranma smirked at him.
"You know I’m right doncha." Lan drew his lips into a thin line, making Ranma snort softly. "Yeah, ya do. Listen buddy, I know you’re close to her. Can’t ya try talkin’ some sense into her? I dunno what she wants with Rand and his buddies, but if I’m right, it’s pretty major, given what she said upstairs. What was it? ‘For the sake of the world, I hope I am not too late.’" The pig-tailed boy popped his neck easily and scratched his chin. "I been though a lot. A lotta people think I’m just some dumb jock, but I do learn sometimes. If the world’s really restin’ on these guys, then I gotta help where I can, y’know? And I don’t think she," he indicated Moiraine, "can afford ta screw up." Lan grimaced. The boy showed remarkable insight that it was almost uncanny. At that moment, Moiraine addressed Lan.
"Lan, see that we are not taken unaware." The Warder began to move, then glanced at Ranma for a moment, and with a barely perceptible tilt of the head, invited him outside. Ranma returned the tiny gesture and left the room, not forgetting to poke his tongue out at Moiraine as he closed the door. He laughed at her indignant face before the door shut.
"Boy, why do you tease her so? She is very angry." Lan murmured as he gazed steadfastly down the hall. Ranma smirked.
"’Cause it’s fun! Why else?" he explained. "Seriously though? I dunno. She needs ta lighten up, an’ not bowing to everything she wants might be the way ta go." He shrugged for a moment. "Like I said, I dunno." He looked at the tall Warder for a moment. "What’re they talkin’ about anyway? I wasn’t listenin’." Lan stroked his beard silently for a moment.
"They are planning the journey." He answered simply. Ranma nodded.
"Maybe I shoulda been in there then." Lan looked at him curiously. Or as curiously as an expressionless look could be. Ranma seemed to be good at reading his meaning. The pig-tailed boy grinned. "Hey, I gotta come along now ya know. After all, if it’s gonna save the world, who better to help that Ranma Saotome!" Lan regarded the young martial artist silently for a moment before shaking his head.
"Boy, I’ve never met anyone like you. Your skills are…" he hesitated for a moment, "better than mine, and for one so young that is inconceivable. Yet here you are. I cannot understand it." Ranma grinned and scratched the base of his pigtail. "Also, you are…" Lan pursed his lips thoughtfully, looking for the right word to describe the pig-tailed boy. "You are vibrant. I imagine that Rand would be as depressed as Perrin seems to have become were you not here with him. Not only that, but you are Ta'veren." Ranma nodded.
"Ya, I know. Elaida said the same thing." Lan looked at the pig-tailed boy sharply.
"What do you mean?" Ranma looked at him curiously for a moment, shrugged, and began to relate the events prior to their meeting. Lan’s face, if it were possible, grew grimmer with every word.
"An’ she said…err…what was it again?" He trailed off as he tried to think of what Elaida had spoken to both himself and Rand, but was interrupted before he could speak any further.
"It does not matter. You must come with us now. To leave you in this city with Elaida searching for you is suicide." Ranma grimaced and nodded as he saw the logic. Silence descended on the pair then, allowing thoughts to be explored.
I must be going mad, Lan thought dryly. I swear, this boy affects others like no one else can. Not a single person has been able to rile Moiraine up so much for years. And this boy fascinates me, yet I have no idea why…
The silence stretched to hours, neither willing to speak again until dark fell, whereupon the pair re-entered the room and caught up on the conversation. Ranma could tell that Moiraine was not pleased at his inclusion, yet she seemed torn at the same time, as if she had wanted to bring him but also didn’t. he decided that she probably wanted to keep an eye on him, and that she was also a sour old bat who needed to lighten up. When he told her so, after a particularly withering comment she made, Ranma found himself looking down the metaphorical sharp end of a sword. She had not been pleased.
He could also see that during his absence, Rand had been informed of certain things that had frightened him more than a little. Ranma could sympathise. He already knew what it was like to find yourself out of your depth. It was most certainly not a pleasant feeling.
It was pitch-black when anyone managed to get to bed, having finally settled on supplies, horses and a multitude of other things that needed to be done, and Ranma was utterly exhausted. He ignored Kara’s sleepy inquiries as to what was going on and collapsed into his own room, barely making it to the bed before he was fast asleep.
His last thought, before the sweet oblivion of sleep claimed him, was that life was going to be a lot more complicated than he wanted it to be. But then again, when had his life ever been simple?
End Chapter 4.
Author’s notes: Yes, yes I know. This was supposed to be out on the 14th. I am well aware of that, but you can blame my computer, not me. The program I was using to write with decided it would like to crash, just as I was saving it, so I had to re-write the entire thing.
I decided that there wasn’t enough time to send it to my pre-readers this time (sorry guys!) so that I could get this up. Try not to be too harsh on the criticism. And yes, I know Lan and Moiraine are utterly OOC, but this is Ranma we’re talking about here. He could exasperate a rock just by walking on the earth a hundred miles away.
<Preview of Next chapter>
Rand and Co. enter the ways! Fal Dara!
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