The Game Experience
This is a sample narrative of one player’s possible gaming experience. Since the experience is dynamic and created by four living, breathing people, no two games will ever be the same, especially if the roles are played by different people. Note that this player’s expressed biases are not necessarily truths, but opinions born from past games.
Joe, Karen, Chris, and I linked up for a game over a local network. After the four computers synchronized and we had donned our VR headsets and microphones, we were ready. The program randomly determined the order in which we would select our characters. I awaited my turn.
My screen lit up. I was lucky enough to have been given second choice to select my character. The only person who had gone before me was Joe, and I already knew what he would select: the Hound. Joe loved to play evil characters, and I have to admit he played them well. A game with Joe as the Hound or the Forsaken was usually a story to remember. I certainly didn’t mind his selection; I didn’t like the Hound very much anyway.
Naturally, I grabbed the Amyrlin Seat. The character has some distinct disadvantages: her Citadel’s location and entrances are fairly well-known—it’s been a public institution for centuries—the common people have a tendency not to trust Aes Sedai, and a few others. But she has some clear advantages over the other characters, specifically the Eyes and Ears information network. The White Tower has an agent in almost every corner of the world. They tend to be reliable, knowledgeable, and trustworthy, having been selected long ago for those attributes. Information is a strong part of this game, and it pays to have spies.
Chris was next, and he chose the Whitecloak leader, Pedron Niall. Again, this wasn’t a surprise; he usually likes to play the good guys. But that left the Forsaken for Karen, which was worrisome. Ishamael, the Forsaken, has a larger (if less reliable) information network than the Amyrlin Seat, and Karen was a devious player. I’d have to watch out for her. If she’d chosen first, she’d probably have taken the Forsaken anyway.
Of course, we sometimes decide ahead of time who will play which character, but many times we’ll let the selection process be part of the game. A good player will know how to use every character to its full potential. It’s also a good exercise in role-playing to choose a character whose personality is somewhat of a personal stretch.
Now we each had to choose our Citadel floor plans. I had ten maps to select from. I decided on a particularly nasty plan with lots of nooks and crannies that could hide my troops. It was also honeycombed with secret passages, observation areas, and nice open rooms in which I could set up traps.
Unfortunately, it also had some secret entrances that would be difficult to guard. I had to expect that one of the other characters would discover and use them. I could have selected one of the simpler maps that had no such secret entrances, but—once inside—it would be a much simpler matter to locate and steal my seals. I preferred to expect that the other characters would break into my Citadel sooner or later, and I should make it as hard as possible for them to get anywhere once they’d done this.
Now I had to place my traps, and I had some difficult decisions to make. Everyone has to leave a path in and out of their Citadel—torturous perhaps, but it must exist. Without it, no one would ever be able to leave their own house. I usually like to keep at least two exits open so that if I ever get stuck inside my Citadel against another, stronger character, I can escape if necessary. It’s difficult to run from someone throwing fireballs at your back while you carefully pick your way through a maze of traps, especially if he’s blocking your way to the exit!
With these things in mind, I laid down some pit traps, a couple of falling ceilings, some nasty spikes and caltrops, and a few water spouts (which hopefully, would push an unsuspecting character into one of my pits). I realized that I might be able to add a few traps inside of the game, if I found the right Artifacts, but I never count on that. You never know exactly what Artifacts may turn up in a game. There’s about forty to fifty different types in any game out of over a hundred. You can’t depend on any one type showing up.
Next, I placed my troops. As the Amyrlin Seat, I commanded the Aes Sedai sisters and their Warders. The Warders are excellent fighters, experienced with both bow and sword. Like most grunts, their behavior is very limited. They will wait where they are stationed until they either see an intruder or are alerted to his presence. Then they’ll converge on the intruder and, if possible, eliminate him. I put quite a few of the Warders around the areas where I planned to place my seals. I hoped that they would be enough to finish off a character already wounded by the traps. I also put them around the major entrances and in the observations areas. Such areas allow the troops to pepper the intruder with arrows before he can close on them, both in or outside of the Citadel.
The Aes Sedai sisters are more powerful, but I controlled fewer of them. They are also more versatile, and can be programmed with different behaviors, such as run for reinforcements or sound the alarm. They generally act more intelligently than the Warders. They’ll hang back behind a wall of troops, firing their long-range spells against the intruder. Placed in strategic locations and given the right orders, they can be invaluable in marshaling the forces under my command.
Last, I placed my seals. I had two of them, as did the others. I tried to put them in places that were not obvious, yet were well-guarded. Unfortunately, they also had to be accessible. In order to finish the game, I would have to use my own seals, and would have to get at them sooner or later. Placing the seals is never an easy task.
While I was doing this, the others were setting up Citadels of their own. Each was not only unique because of the players’ decisions, but they were unique to the characters as well. While all ten of my floor plans each represented one possible White Tower, all ten of the Hound’s floor plans represented the lost ruins of Shadar Logroth, an evil place filled with haunts and other terrible hell-spawned creatures. Most of his layouts were outdoors.
We all finished about the same time, except for Chris, who decided to use a layout that he had previously set up, then saved. He just loaded up his layout, then waited for the rest of us.
Inside of the Citadel
The game began. No longer was I a person sitting in front of a computer terminal. I was the Amyrlin Seat, leader of the White Tower. The world was depending on me to keep the Dark One sealed away, and powerful forces were set against me.
I began in the “throne” room. Each character has a central chamber from where he makes decisions. Mine was a simple office. Beside me stood my trusted advisor. She would answer most of the questions I would have, were I a beginner. She could tell me snippets about all of the other characters: what they were like, what forces they commanded, etc. She could also describe my position in the world: what people thought of me, who I might trust, etc. If I didn’t know it already, I could ask her about the Eyes and Ears.
Instead of spending valuable time chatting about things I knew, I checked the papers on my desk to learn things I didn’t. One of them gave me the “sign” for my Eyes and Ears: a green scarf hanging in a window. No matter where I went in the world, my contact would have this “sign” in his establishment. The sign changes each session, as do the particular contacts, so no one knows who works for whom from game to game. It also had the code phrase: “Do Unto Others”. This would identify me as an important representative of the White Tower, someone to be trusted.
I quickly walked into the nearby storeroom. In it, I found a pile of money and, more importantly, the Tower’s collection of Artifacts. I took a couple of minutes to gather them up, identify them, and create my “hands.” Some of the Artifacts lent themselves to combat: quite a few common fireballs and a rare earth tremor. These I put into a combat “hand” that I could bring up with a keystroke whenever I found myself in a combat situation. Some were trap-creation Artifacts: an uncommon explosive geis, and a rare anti-magic ward. Others dealt with the location and circumvention of traps: three common detections, one uncommon invisibility, and an uncommon levitation. A few fell into the “other” category: teleportation, distant eye (a security camera-like spell), and soul-barb. Any that I was unfamiliar with, I researched by summoning their descriptions.
I decided to set up the few trap Artifacts that I had, my distant eye, and the home for my teleport.
The explosive geis was fairly straightforward. I placed it on an area of the floor where it would eventually act like a land mine if anyone ran through it. I prayed that my own forces wouldn’t set it off. I decided that it should be fairly close to one of the seals; by the time an opponent reached the seal, a spell like this might be able to finish him off.
The anti-magic Artifact was a true find, and more difficult to place. When triggered, it creates an area in which magic cannot function. For a period of time, all Artifacts currently in use cease to operate, and no other Artifacts can be triggered. I decided to place it in a room whose center was surrounded by observation areas. When the intruder enters, the observation areas open and the Warders, seeing him, immediately attack. The anti-magic aura will keep him from defending himself, and—if he has an image cloaking Artifact in use, like invisibility—he’ll immediately become visible and vulnerable. His only option will be retreat. I felt pretty comfortable about the security of that passage. I just had to be careful not to set it off myself.
The distant eye had five charges. When it is triggered, it places a visible floating eye right where the owner is standing. This eye remains there for the rest of the game. After all five are set, further triggering of the Artifact lets the owner “see” though the eyes, no matter where he is. He can cycle through all five of his eyes. When he is looking through one, the eye will open. This lets anyone on the other end know that the owner is viewing them.
I decided to place only three of the eyes inside of the Citadel, two near to the seals, and one in the throne room. Since I couldn’t take the information about the Eyes and Ears with me, I wanted to know when an intruder had become privy to it and compromised my network. Most likely, the intruder would search out my agents, pump them for whatever information he could, and then kill them. I wanted to know when to look out for that.
I also decided to put the teleportation “home” in my throne room. It was centrally located to the entire Citadel and, once I knew that my Citadel was under attack (perhaps by using the distant eye), I could teleport back and defend it. The first activation of the teleport Artifact created its home. I then had three other charges, each of which would bring me immediately back here.
Into the World
Now it was time to range out into the world, to gather treasure, Artifacts, and information. If I was to win, I needed two more seals from my opponents’ Citadels, but I was too uninformed and weak to attempt to storm any of the strongholds yet.
The city around my Citadel was friendly towards the Aes Sedai, and I was well-known there. I knew I’d be able to find healing, hirelings, and some limited information. Unfortunately, it was also the most fertile area for others to gain information about the White Tower. This introduced a dilemma. I could have searched my city for possible leaks and eliminated them, but the residents don’t look kindly upon the local authorities randomly committing murder. Overall, it’s better to let the leaks survive and keep the goodwill of the people, although other players have made different decisions.
The Quests available in the city were few, and they usually only yield up information—particularly about me and my Citadel. I didn’t need any of that right now. I needed Artifacts. So I left town.
The expanse between the Citadels is neutral. No character has a specific advantage over any other. My status as an Aes Sedai was no longer necessarily a good thing; in fact, I would probably try to keep my identity to myself in most cases.
There are many different areas to explore: villages, cities, ruins, forests, mountains, etc. There’s no correct order to visit them, but I have a few favorites—places I’m reasonably sure will have a few rare Artifacts, or at least some uncommon ones. Of course I couldn’t predict what those Artifacts would be—the game randomly assigns them—but any Artifacts would be good at this point.
Since I was given a few combat-oriented Artifacts at the beginning of the game, I decided to take a straightforward approach. I entered the mountain lair of a tribe of rock trolls. They aren’t the smartest monsters in the world, and they can’t use the Artifacts they’ve collected, so as long as I kept myself out of their range, it was fairly simple to kill them and take their valuables.
Most of their belongings fell into the treasure category. I was disappointed, but gold has its uses too. It gets expensive buying information and hiring assassins. They did have a few Artifacts, though: a few more fireballs, an uncommon lightning strike, a couple of common shields, and a communication Artifact. There were also a few unrelated items including a silver mirror. I wasn’t flush with Artifacts, but I did have more money than usual this early in the game, so I decided to use my wealth.
I wandered into a nearby town. The people there were normally cautious with strangers. Everyone reacted in some way to my rich (comparatively) clothes; some were openly curious, others resentful. I decided the chances of another player observing me were fairly slim, so I immediately went looking for my local contact.
I found a green scarf hanging in the window of an inn, the “Crooked Picket.” Any other day, I probably would have avoided the place—this area of town had seen better decades—but one can’t be choosy with one’s sources of information. I entered the inn to find it empty aside from the overweight innkeeper. He fell all over himself trying to please the noble “lady” I appeared to be.
“My lady! I’m overjoyed that you’ve decided to stay at my modest establishment. I shall have the finest room in the house readied for you. Have you any companions that shall require rooms for themselves?”
“Thank you, no,” I answered. “I don’t intend to stay the night. I’m merely passing through town and thought to rest my legs before moving on. As for companions, I have none.”
“No traveling companions? I do not mean to question my lady, however these are hard times. The roads can be dangerous for a woman traveling alone, especially one as beautiful and prosperous as yourself.” The innkeeper, obviously forgetting himself for a moment, eyed me and my jewelry.
“Have no worries, good innkeeper. I can take care of myself. Besides, I choose to trust in human nature. I ‘do unto others’, as I would have others do unto me, and all seems to work out.” I narrowed my gaze at him.
His eyes widened, quickly showed understanding, then nervousness. He continued in a harsh whisper. “My lady. I am Jax, a poor innkeeper. I am fiercely loyal to the White Tower, however I cannot say the same for my neighbors. The Aes Sedai are not very popular here, and if my connection were known, they’d string me up. That would be a pleasure compared to what they would do to you, though. Mayhap you should just leave, and swiftly!”
“I shall leave after I have learned what I need, and no sooner. That should give you enough incentive to make this quick and answer my questions without any bickering or haggling.” He looked terrified, so I added, “Perhaps this will make you feel a little more at ease,” and I emptied a handful of gold coins onto the counter.
The innkeeper sighed, gathered up the gold, and said, “What is it you wish to know?”
We spoke quickly, as promised, and I learned all I could from this now-not-so-poor innkeeper. None of the others had visited this town. No surprise there; I was sure they hadn’t had the time yet to get this far, but it’s always better to ask anyway.
He pointed out who could sell me healing and supplies, albeit at a bloated price compared to anywhere around the Tower. He also told me about some gossip; a local nobleman was a collector of ancient artifacts, some dating even from the Age of Legends. His daughter had “borrowed” a particularly valuable piece of his collection: a silver mirror. Evidently, she thought it pretty.
She took the mirror into the woods, just a tad too close to the lair of the rock trolls. Somehow she managed to escape, but the mirror was lost. The nobleman was offering an unspecified reward for its return (Jax suspected that it was unspecified because the noble was notoriously cheap, and he would chisel the reward down as far as possible).
This is where the Eyes and Ears network comes in handy. The information that Jax was offering was complete and trustworthy. Another man might omit some piece of it, or haggle for more money for each snippet. Jax, once he had been paid, was completely open and honest, and I knew this information would be valuable. He gave me directions to the nobleman’s manor and I left.
Soon I came upon the house. I explained to the guard that I had brought the mirror with me, and that I wished to return it to the lord. The guard was gracious, in an unsophisticated fashion, and he led me into the manor’s sitting room. Shortly thereafter, the nobleman appeared.
“My lady. I have been informed that you have come across the silver mirror I seek. Do you have it?”
“It may be, my lord. I have heard tell of a reward for its return?”
The man cleared his throat. “Yes, well, times have been hard. Most of my money has been used to support the peasants and farmers under my care. My wealth is only in titles and land, at present.”
I smiled. “I’m not interested in gold or silver, my lord. I have heard that you collect ancient pieces of history. I am also a collector. Perhaps we can come to some sort of trade?”
The graciousness drained from his face. “Trade part of my collection for the mirror? It’s a child’s toy! I only want it because my daughter is enamored with it. Perhaps I can scrape up a few gold coins for your trouble, but nothing more!”
“You forget, my lord, I told you I also collect bits of history, and this mirror—discounting the obvious value of the silver and its workmanship—is ancient. I would have kept it myself had I not heard of your plight. Don’t insult me, and don’t lie to me. I am doing you a favor, my lord.”
The noble’s face screwed up as he bit back an obviously ungentlemanly response. Then he smiled, resigned. “It would be a fellow collector that found my mirror. Such is my luck. Well, at least I can take the opportunity to show off my collection. I am rather proud of it.”
We walked into another room which displayed, behind walls of glass, a huge collection containing everything from junk to rare Artifacts; as long as it was old, it belonged here. The merchant beamed as he showed each piece off to me. Through his lecture, I discovered that he wasn’t ignorant about the power of Artifacts. He was just interested in more than those. He was also a crafty fellow, not above taking advantage of the ignorance of others. He pointed out a few pieces of ancient trash, describing them as the prizes of his collection and suggesting that I consider taking one of them in trade.
I asked after some of the real Artifacts on the wall. He blanched, reconsidered his position, and began to haggle. I ended up trading the mirror for an uncommon Artifact: stasis.
“I appreciate your eye for history, my lord, and have enjoyed doing business with you. And perhaps, in the future, we can do business again. From time to time, I come across items that you might find interesting.”
“You also have a keen eye, my lady, and a merchant’s mind. I have the feeling that, after doing business with you, I’ll have to count my fingers and toes to make certain I haven’t lost more than I bargained for. But I delight in your company, and you are welcome here whenever you have a proposal for me. Right now, I must retire to ask myself how I ever talked myself into such a trade.” He smiled and showed me out of the manor.
Although I would never trust the man, he would remain a good source of Artifacts. I could trade off other old pieces (non-magical), Artifacts I had no use for, or even obscene amounts of money for potentially valuable Artifacts. I prayed that the others wouldn’t discover him. I would hate for him to turn out to be a Darkfriend or for another to take some of his best stock.
I entered another town, somewhat closer to the Forsaken’s Citadel. This is where I would start to proceed with caution. Although I was still out of the Forsaken’s sphere of influence, there was more of a chance that he had visited a town this close.
I looked around for my contact, but couldn’t find him. Either I was missing something, or the Eyes and Ears simply didn’t have an agent in this town. It happened occasionally.
I wandered into a tavern called “The Four Princes”. Although taverns—almost as a rule, especially in cities as seedy as this one—aren’t great places for an unescorted lady to frequent, they also turn out to be the best places to get information. I walked up to the bar in an uncomfortably silent common room and asked for a drink. A man in the back saw me and left. This didn’t bode well, but I decided not to be rash. Perhaps he just had to go relieve himself.
“A drink, eh? What does the ‘lady’ drink? I don’t have any spiced wine or chilled fruit juice. It’s just old, warm ale here. Think you can stomach it?” His sarcasm couldn’t get any more blatant, or ignorant.
“Ale will be fine for the ‘lady’, although I was hoping for something a bit stronger. If that’s what you drink here, though, don’t let me go against any local customs.”
He grimaced a bit, but was silent as he produced a wooden cup of ale. I asked about the passage of the others, and he replied that I was the only stranger he’d seen for some time. This was curious, but possible. I had figured that someone would have entered this ‘quaint’ little town before me. Perhaps they just hadn’t come to this tavern.
The barkeep was rather tight-lipped, even after a generous tip for the ale. He gave me a few, small pieces of information, but not much for what I paid, so I decided to move on.
As soon as I exited the tavern, I found myself surrounded by a band of cut-throats. The man who bolted from the tavern stepped forward and said, “Greetings from your friend Ishamael, my lady. He sends his respects via me. And my dagger.” He smiled, showing gnarled yellow teeth, as he stroked a wickedly curved blade. Someone had been here first: the Forsaken. Not only had he manipulated the information available here (I no longer could trust anything that the barkeep told me), but he had hired a cut-throat to do me in.
The danger here wasn’t in this band of uglies surrounding me; it was the possibility of becoming distracted by them so that Ishamael could attack me while I was occupied. I would have to take care of this quickly, before Ishamael could become alerted. That meant magic.
“I hope Ishamael paid you enough to die, cur. It’s not healthy to threaten an Aes Sedai!”
His eyes widened, but he didn’t retreat. Instead the group surged forward, waving their daggers at me. A keystroke brought up my combat hand. I selected the standard fireball Artifact and proceeded to mow down my attackers in a fury of explosions.
Cries rose throughout the town. The problem with using magic inside of a city’s limits is that the residents become enraged. They’ll destroy you if they can, but even if they are unsuccessful, the town effectively dries up for you. You’ll never get information, healing, or anything else there. Ishamael had laid a clever trap for me. It might even be that there was a valuable quest somewhere inside—like the Artifact collector. Now I’d never see it.
I ran for my life.
“Greetings, Aes Sedai.”
The words entered my head from no particular direction. I spun around, but saw no one. Quickly, I calmed down and realized that someone was using a Temple or a communications Artifact; they allow the user speak to any of the other three characters no matter where they are in the world.
“Hello, Whitecloak. What do you want?”
“Now, now, mistress. Don’t take that tone with me. I speak to you as a… friend. I didn’t address you as an ‘Aes Sedai witch’, did I?”
“You’re nobody’s friend. Right now, Whitecloak is the best term I can apply to you. Have you decided to give your seals back to their rightful keepers? If that’s the case, I might be friendlier.”
“No, of course not. But I might have some information for you. I understand you’ve had a run-in with Ishamael, indirect though it may have been.”
“Maybe. Again, if you don’t intend on handing over your seals, I must ask you why you are wasting my time.”
“Well, I hate to admit it, but I’ve had a more direct conflict with Ishamael. He’s managed to storm my Citadel and make off with one of my seals. This isn’t good for either of us. I want that seal back, and I’m willing to deal with you to make it happen.”
“Why should I deal with you, Whitecloak? Maybe I should just kill him and take his seal for myself.”
“Are you in a position to do that? I don’t think so. I’m surprised that Ishamael was strong enough to storm a Citadel this early. If he’s that strong, it’ll require both of us to take him down. Besides, I know where he is; where he’s going. If we let him go, he’ll get so far ahead of the rest of us that he’ll win. Do you want that? Are you in league with him already?”
“You question the White Tower? In league with the Forsaken? I should hunt you down and destroy you for that insult.”
“My apologies, Aes Sedai. I really do have both of our futures in mind. Here is my deal: If you help me destroy the Forsaken, you can have his Artifacts. All I want is the seal. My seal.”
I considered. If what he said was true, the deal was sound, maybe even lopsided on my end. The questions were: Is Ishamael as powerful as Pedron claimed? Did he really steal the seal from the Whitecloak’s citadel? If not, would this give Niall three or four seals? However, if Niall already had three seals, he probably wouldn’t need my help against Ishamael, so he probably wouldn’t win as a result of this arrangement. I decided that the possibility of gaining Ishamael’s store of Artifacts was worth it. Killing him wouldn’t throw him out of the game, but he’d be back at square one—no longer a threat to us.
“Very well, Pedron. I agree. What’s the plan?”
“Ishamael just left my Citadel. I’m certain that he’s heading back to his Citadel, and he’s doing it on foot. Where are you?”
“I’m in the Eastlands. I can intercept him at Fornorn’s Gorge. It’s directly in his path. I assume that this is what you had in mind?”
“That sounds good. I’ll follow him from here. I have a communication Artifact. If he changes course, I’ll let you know. Otherwise, as soon as you see him, blast him. I’ll attack from his rear, and we’ll just ruin his day.”
“Remember. Don’t touch his Artifacts! I’ll leave the seal, but stay away from his body until I’ve taken everything else.”
“Trust me.” With that, he broke the contact.
I’ve made deals like this before, and it sounded straightforward, so I headed for Fornorn’s Gorge while keeping my eyes open for Ishamael. Just because this was the most direct route didn’t mean that he’d take it.
It took a while, but I finally got there. I situated myself on a cliff on one side of the gorge that had a good view of the entire area. It was then that I saw him. He was almost directly below me, standing relatively still. I figured he must be using an Artifact to speak with someone—which worried me—but I decided that a better time would never come to launch an attack.
I moved a bit to the side, summoned up my combat hand, and cast the earth tremor. A sphere of flaming stone whooshed towards the still figure and struck the ground. The explosion rocked the surrounding area. That spell should have killed a character who had just stormed a Citadel and hadn’t waited around to get healing, though when the dust settled, I saw him standing there as if nothing had happened. He didn’t run. He didn’t counterattack. He just stood there.
I realized that I’d been duped. It was a trap.
The figure was an illusion. Niall knew exactly where I’d be looking for Ishamael. Heck, I’d told him! Ishamael must have had a personal illusion Artifact, set up the figure, and waited for me. I whirled around and looked for the attackers I knew must be there. I found them.
A bolt of lightning streaked toward me from the cliff on the other side of the gorge. At the same time, I saw a blue haze inch closer from this side. I swore at the top of my lungs, summoned up my adventuring hand, and activated my teleport Artifact.
The bolt struck before I could get away, but didn’t kill me. I thank the light that I didn’t have to try to survive the blue haze. I didn’t recognize it, and that alone scared me. I’m certain that if I hadn’t been able to teleport, I would have died.
Most likely the Whitecloak and the Forsaken had decided to join forces long enough to kill me, then perhaps even storm my Citadel together while I was powerless. Perhaps they’d learned about my Artifact-collector connection and my resulting spoils. In any case, I kicked myself. Not only did I feel like an idiot falling for the trap, but I had given away the fact that I owned the rare and valuable earth tremor Artifact, and wasted one of its extremely limited charges, as well a charge of my teleport Artifact, all with nothing to show for it except my wounds. I’d remember this.
I was enraged. My first inclination was to ally with the Hound against this new force, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I also couldn’t understand how Pedron or Ishamael had lowered themselves to ally with each other. Perhaps Niall’s hatred for the Aes Sedai got the better of him. Or perhaps they had justified it to themselves by planning to turn against one another at the earliest possibility. If that was the case, I’d have nothing to worry about. As soon as I disappeared, they would have gone for each others’ throats.
Before doing anything else, I had to care for my wounds. I was in the perfect place to do it; the city just outside the White Tower’s walls offered healing that was cheap and plentiful, at least for Aes Sedai. A few coins later, I was feeling much better, and ready to exact my revenge.
If the Whitecloak’s alliance with the Forsaken was as tenuous as I suspected, Niall probably wouldn’t be long for this world. I trusted Ishamael to make short work of him, especially with command of that evil blue haze he launched at me. That meant Niall would be vulnerable, and his Citadel ripe for plunder. I thought it fitting.
Pedron’s Citadel was located in Amadicia. I immediately set out for it, bypassing most of the settlements along the way; I didn’t want to be distracted by any side-quests. I would have enough to do researching Niall’s Citadel in the city surrounding it, and I certainly didn’t want to give him time enough to build up his defenses.
Shortly, I reached the Whitecloaks’ city. As life was easy around my own Citadel, things were surely going to be very difficult here. I wanted as much information as I could find (and there’s always a lot to be had), but I didn’t want to spend much time getting it.
I approached the town barracks. The barracks aren’t usually a good place to be if the alarm goes up, but the guards stationed there tend to be acquainted with the layout of the nearby Citadel. As I passed by a window, I heard a familiar voice.
“Give me thirty men. I need them yesterday.” It was Pedron, my once-ally.
“We don’t have them to spare. Do you suggest that we conscript men from the town watch?”
“Do what you have to. My Citadel is deserted. I need those men. Now.”
“It will cost you.”
“Of course it will. How much?”
They proceeded to haggle over the price. It appeared that Niall wasn’t lying when he told me that someone had raided his Citadel. This information was worth quite a bit, but locating Pedron unaware was worth even more. I mulled over my options.
I could simply destroy him, here and now. That would be satisfying, but wouldn’t advance my position any, especially if he’d just been defeated by Ishamael as I suspected. The alternative, although risky, could be much more valuable. I would follow him into his Citadel.
Naturally, Pedron would have to re-enter his Citadel to place his newly-hired soldiers. This would be worth hundreds in gold to me. Not only would he show me a way into his stronghold, he’d show me the safe way in! Too many times can you pay a seemingly reliable informant for the location of a secret entrance that ends in a pit. Without levitation, it’s a dead end. Pedron Niall was about to throw open the gates for me.
He left the barracks and went straight to the local herbalist. It burned me to let him heal his wounds—it would be that much harder to kill him later—but it was still too soon to attack. While he was inside, I activated my invisibility Artifact. I still left a slight shimmer in the air, but it would be more difficult to mark me as I followed Pedron inside.
He exited the healer’s shop and made a bee-line for the Citadel. I said a silent thanks and followed. Sure enough, he completely avoided the main entrance and made his way around back to a cave opening hidden by foliage. I waited a minute then entered myself. It was dark and Padron was nowhere in sight.
It’s a rare Citadel that has any entrance completely free of traps or guards, and if Niall managed to get to his throne room, his newly-hired soldiers would start appearing all over the place. I had to move quickly, but cautiously. I knew that I was following what should be a clear path into the Citadel, but it didn’t have to be completely safe.
Just to be sure, I activated a detection Artifact. It would warn me if I was about to step into a trap, although it wouldn’t be able to tell me what kind of trap it was. I hoped that it would suffice.
The tunnel was surprisingly clear. No traps. No guards. Either Ishamael (or, possibly, the Hound) had sufficiently cleared out this Citadel or Pedron had been surprisingly lax in setting it up.
The tunnel opened up into a small room and, with my first step into it, the detection Artifact went crazy. It whooped and hollered like the room was full of traps. I hoped that I had given Pedron enough time to get out of hearing range, otherwise he’d know immediately that someone was here.
It didn’t make sense. A few experimental probes into the room revealed that there was no safe path through it. How had Pedron managed to walk through? Was there a secret door that I missed? A quick check in the tunnel behind me revealed nothing.
I decided to chance it. I was losing time already and, if I was missing something, it would probably take too long to figure it out. I inched along the edge of the room toward the far exit.
Nothing happened. My detection Artifact wailed like there was no tomorrow, but there were no traps to justify it. As I reached the exit, I realized what had occurred, and smiled. Pedron had left this path clear but used a decoy Artifact to make the route appear to be just another dead end. This Artifact left a permanent aura which fooled the few ‘detection’-type Artifacts available.
Reassured that I was on the right track, I pressed forward and almost ran into a group of guards stationed along the sides of the corridor. I moved slowly, trusting in my invisibility to get me by the guards unnoticed.
When I was half-way through, the invisibility wore off. The guards yelled in surprise and rushed to attack. My first instinct was to scan the group for captains—guards who could sound the alarm or run for reinforcements. They would be my first targets. Finding none, I brought up my combat hand and filled the room with fireballs. I didn’t leave the conflict unscathed, but I was better off than the dead bodies left in my wake.
I hoped that Pedron or his minions hadn’t heard the commotion, but I couldn’t worry anymore about avoiding detection. I’d already spent too much time trying to be sneaky—time that Pedron had probably used to begin setting up his new troops. I decided instead to be fast and loud, although the latter was something I’d been doing anyway without trying.
I ran through the Citadel, blowing away the few luckless guards who happened into my path and letting my detection Artifact warn me away from the more obvious traps, until I came into an Pedron’s ornate throne room, with a real throne! On it, Pedron sat, staring at a seal on the floor before him. He must have brought his remaining seal here with the idea that he could protect it better than his guards.
The time he wasted collecting the seal and returning to the throne room kept him from placing his new troops within his Citadel (which can only be done by summoning up the alternate interface from the throne). I had caught him with his pants down, and the seal within easy reach. I don’t think he could have made it easier for me.
“So, Aes Sedai. Welcome to my humble abode. What can I do for you?”
“I would offer to make this easy—let you walk away while I take your seal—but you betrayed me, to the Forsaken! You’ve sold your soul to the Dark One. All you can do for me is die.”
“Maybe there’s some way to work this out. I can tell you things. I can tell you what Ishamael plans to do. I never intended to keep an alliance with him. Together, we can bring him down. I know things about the Hound, as well. You won’t believe…”
He rambled on. I couldn’t understand why he was saying any of this. He knew I wasn’t stupid enough to trust him. And much of his ranting just didn’t make sense anyway. Then it occurred to me that he was trying to buy time, enough time to place his troops. If I killed him before he finished, he would lose all the troops he had just purchased. Not only would he be dead, but he’d have no guards and, most likely, no gold left to hire more.
I stopped listening and activated my lightning strike. He either didn’t see it coming, or he was—as I suspected—desperately using the alternate interface to place his soldiers while he spoke. In any case, the strike hit him square-on and blew him out of the chair. He wasn’t dead, but he was surely within spitting distance.
I activated the earth tremor, hoping he was now far enough away so that its area of effect wouldn’t damage me. Pedron was more aware now, though. He saw the ball of rock streak toward him and activated a shield. This didn’t stop the spell, but it blunted the result. I saw him stagger. He couldn’t take much more of this punishment.
He launched a few fireballs at me. The first one struck before I had erected a similar shield, but the damage was minimal. He must have been in dire straits if his most powerful attack was a fireball.
I smiled and activated my soul-barb. Now, every artifact Pedron used would do damage to him, no matter what the artifact was—the rarer the artifact, the more damage he would receive. The individual injuries weren’t great, but in his current condition, they could kill him. He didn’t notice the effect for a few seconds as he launched fireball after fireball at me, which continued to be blunted by my shield. He gasped as the damage mounted, and he finally stopped.
Pedron had no recourse but to run. Of course it was too late. I fired my last lightning strike at his back and heard a satisfying scream as his lifeless body dropped to the floor, along with the few Artifacts he had collected. He would shortly reappear somewhere in his Citadel, completely powerless, but I preferred to be gone by then. Killing him again wouldn’t gain me anything, and I would just be wasting the charges of my precious Artifacts.
I snatched up his Artifacts and the seal and headed out the way I had come. As I suspected, there were no new guards and the path was clear. Pedron had a difficult row to hoe if he expected to come back in this game, and he had certainly blown any chance of an alliance with either Ishamael or I. Perhaps the Hound would accept him, but it was doubtful. Anyone as weak as Pedron (no Artifacts, no money, and no seals) could only be viewed as a victim or an annoyance. I wouldn’t be worried about Pedron for some time.
As for myself, as long as my Citadel and seals remained intact, I counted myself as well-off. I needed only one more seal to win the game and I had a fair store of Artifacts and money with which to get it. Ishamael and the Hound remained great unknowns, but research and money would cure that. I sped back to my Citadel and planned my next move.