Saturday, 20 October 2018

A History of the Wheel of Time Part 3: The Collapse

As mentioned before, the Aes Sedai had thoroughly researched most possible uses of the Power by a couple of millennia into the Age of Legends and new uses were extremely rare in being developed. Scientists and Aes Sedai researchers began to bristle at the natural laws imposed on the One Power and looked for ways to circumvent them. Towards the end of the Age they concentrated their efforts on the True Source itself. 

Artwork by Paul Bielaczyc, from The Wheel of Time Companion.

The True Source – the vast and inexhaustible store of energy that turns the Wheel of Time and also supplies the One Power – is divided into two halves, saidar and saidin. Only women can use saidar and only men can use saidin (or so the catechism says). Yet, united together men and women could achieve far more than either working alone. A team of researchers based at the Collam Daan in V’saine focused their research on finding a way of combining the two halves or finding an undivided source of the Power and thus increase their achievements a thousand-fold.

There were various reasons for this. Boredom, possibly, played a part (paradise is only fun for so long), as did a genuine thirst for discovering new scientific frontiers and boundaries. Many of the scientists also craved recognition, since their field had not thrown up anything interesting or revolutionary in centuries, if not millennia. Certainly, the team leaders, Mierin Eronaile and Beidomon, wanted to add third names to their signatures. Exactly how many years was devoted to the project is unclear, though such a huge undertaking would surely entail tens of thousands of man-hours. The Sharom – the giant floating laboratory which dominated the skies above V’saine – and its abilities to delve deep into the Power were employed to help.

Mierin Eronaile was known as a beautiful, brilliant woman with a formidable intellect. However, she also desired recognition and prestige. During this period, she had a relationship with the First Among Equals of the Aes Sedai, a man named Lews Therin Telamon. When he left her, unsettled by her arrogance, jealousy and tantrums, she vowed to get even. A few years or decades later, when he married Ilyena Moerelle Dalisar instead, this resolve hardened into a cold obsession.

Eventually, after many false leads and frustrating dead ends, the researchers succeeded. Approximately one hundred and ten years before the end of the Age of Legends, they detected an abnormality in the Source. Further investigation revealed an apparently undivided source of the One Power, yet it was somehow sealed away by a vast flow of the normal Power. After some discussion the team decided to bore a hole through the barrier and thus be able to access the new source. They employed the full capabilities of the Sharom and used their most powerful channellers, augmented by angreal (devices that increased the amount of the Power one person could use) and sa’angreal (which increased the amount yet again, to truly staggering levels). Then, on one fateful morning, the experiment began.

Enough of the Power to shatter a small continent was channelled through the Sharom and into the obstruction. The invading blast of the Power reacted with the already-present wall of energy and a backblast erupted into the Sharom, blowing it apart upon the instant and killing almost everyone inside. Mierin Eronaile and Beidomon were among those who survived (presumably using Travelling to escape as soon as it became clear that something had gone wrong). The incident horrified the world, but was eventually written off as a particularly tragic accident and a costly lesson in pride. Mierin in particular was deeply affected, having lost some of her colleagues and the premiere seat of learning in the world just to test one of her theories.

Then odd things started to happen. The sport of “Swords,” which involved two athletes engaging in duels, had become exceptionally popular during the previous decades and suddenly those involved began refusing to take Aes Sedai Restoring when it was offered for the minor nicks and bruises that invariably resulted. Sometimes the two contestants would suddenly take it into their heads to fight to the death and refuse any Restoring at all, even at the cost of their own lives. Brutal crimes were committed and the perpetrators caught, but the Compulsion to not commit crimes again seemed to not take, with the perpetrators re-offending quickly. What would have seemed sick and perverted only a few years earlier had suddenly become fascinating and exciting. Incidents of violence – fights, riots and even murders – began taking place, at first sporadically and then more often. Some cities eventually became enclaves of terror, with murder and combat to the death being displayed in arenas and in people’s homes as sick forms of novelty.

The World Parliament was stunned and completely unprepared to act. It had no armies, no police forces and its normal methods of dealing with problems were totally ineffective, since they relied on the desire of the people to serve. Even the Aes Sedai seemed powerless.

Chaos began to spread to many parts of the world and no cause could be found. The greatest minds of the Age investigated. Elan Morin Tedronai was inarguably the world’s foremost philosopher and bent his mind to the problem at hand. His first conclusion was that after millennia of being dominated by all their positive instincts, people had spontaneously rebelled and begun investigating their dark sides. Logically, there had to be some kind of triggering mechanism for the outbreak of “evil” and he began looking for the root cause. He noted the destruction of the Collam Daan had taken place only a few months before the first reported outbreak of chaos, but upon visiting the site of the accident found no clue as to what had happened. He theorised that perhaps the experiment had destabilised the True Source itself, since Aes Sedai seemed to be falling to evil just as quickly as normal people, if not quicker, but that did not explain why non-channellers were also affected.

After further research Elan discovered something odd had happened mere hours after the accident at V’saine, namely that a previously quiet volcano on a cool, rustic island in the northern ocean had spontaneously erupted without warning. The island was mostly uninhabited and no-one died, but the eruption changed the landscape of the island. Some unknown malaise began killing off the plant life and, in some cases, perverting it, making previously edible fruits poisonous. The few thousand settlers abandoned the island as the rotting increased.

Elan Morin Tedronai headed for this island around twenty years after the destruction of the Collam Daan. He found the sea itself receding from the island, a horrible corruption extending outwards for many miles around it. He made his way into the volcano and found a huge pit of lava and flame. The sky above his head was not the sky above the island, but was instead chaotic and swirling with angry colours. Then a voice spoke to him in his mind, a voice so powerful it threatened to shatter his very skull. The voice identified itself as Shai’tan, a being of near infinite power. It claimed that it had been imprisoned since the Moment of Creation. The supposedly undivided source of the One Power that Mierin had discovered was in fact this entity’s own dark energies. Though it now had a foothold in our world through the Bore that had been drilled into its prison, it was still unable to break free. The being demanded that Elan make public the news of its existence so that it might gain servants to free it. Once free, it would then remake all of time and space in its own image and reward those who had served it.

Elan not only agreed, but swore himself to its service upon realising how much about the nature of reality he could learn from it. Elan journeyed to Paaran Disen, where a conference was being held about the growing crisis, and there announced his discovery. The Aes Sedai and most of the delegates were shocked and horrified, but some were intrigued and journeyed to the volcano to learn more. Others journeyed there to see if they could negotiate with the entity or find a way of closing the Bore. Such infiltrators never returned. Within a few months of Elan’s announcement, the evil entity had become known as “The Dark One”, for saying its true name seemed to attract its attention (causing bouts of nausea and sickness).

The century that passed between the drilling of the Bore and the beginning of the War of the Shadow was known as the Collapse, for the glory of the Age of Legends was marred and ruined during this time. The Dark One’s wish was granted and servants flocked to do its bidding. Most were just normal people and became known as Friends of the Dark. Those who could channel the One Power became known as Dreadlords and were taught how to use the Power as a weapon. The Dark One’s most favoured servant was the one who found it first, Elan Morin Tedronai. As Elan grew in strength and evil, he was given a new name: Betrayer of Hope, Ishamael in the Old Tongue. Ishamael embraced his new name, casting aside his old in contempt. The Dark One taught Ishamael in the use of the True Power, a massively corrupted form of the One Power, generated by itself. The True Power could be used for dark and horrific ends, but it invariably overwhelmed and destroyed its wielders, making flame gush from their eyes and mouth. It also removed all fear and sense of perspective from them, rendering them mad or near enough to make no odds. Ishamael used the True Power sparingly at first, but by the War of the Shadow was using it more than the One Power. Only Ishamael was entrusted with the use of the True Power initially, and the Dark One seemed loath to let others wield it (according to some barely-legible documents, only twenty-nine people were ever trusted with its use).

Lews Therin Telamon, the First Among Equals of the Aes Sedai, decided firm action was needed. He rallied the Aes Sedai to him, from the lowliest provincial Healer to the members of the high council. He persuaded them, after many months, to take firm action against the Shadow (as the Dark One’s minions became known). Originally, he did not countenance fighting them, instead overwhelming them and taking them away for Compelling as with all criminals. However, this didn’t really work. The Friends of the Dark and most especially the Dreadlords fought to the death rather than surrender. The few who were Compelled were then “uncompelled,” either by other Dreadlords or (possibly) by the Dark One itself. Eventually Lews Therin was forced to order those serving the Shadow to be killed. Many Aes Sedai balked at this; most simply refused to accept the need until it was far too late. Whilst the Aes Sedai and the World Parliament argued and prevaricated, the Shadow grew in strength and might. Around this time the Dark One chose to raise many of the most powerful and evil Dreadlords to the rank of “Chosen”. Until recently it was thought that there were just thirteen Chosen, or “Forsaken” as the forces of the Light called them, but recent revelations have confirmed that there were many more, possibly more than thirty. The thirteen famous Forsaken were merely the most powerful of this group and became its leaders. The nine most powerful Forsaken up to the start of the War of the Shadow, who in time became the most famous, were also given cursed names and Ishamael was set to lead them. The others at this time were Aginor, Balthamel, Rahvin, Asmodean, Be’lal, Semirhage, Mesaana, Moghedien and Graendal.

A few years after this Mierin Eronaile, bitter over Lews Therin’s spurning of her attentions, petitioned to join the ranks of the Forsaken and was granted a place. She was called "Daughter of Night", Lanfear in the Old Tongue, and with Ishamael plotted to turn Lews Therin Telamon himself to the Shadow, since he was the greatest threat to the Dark One’s plans. Beidomon, her former colleague at the Collam Daan, had committed suicide in horror as it became clear what he had inadvertently released into the world.

Little is known now about Lews Therin Telamon’s early years. It was clear that he was the strongest channeller of his time, though Ishamael and a few others were not far behind him. He was apparently raised to the rank of First Among Equals at a relatively young age. He was a charismatic figure, inspiring loyalty in his friends and followers. He dearly loved his wife, Ilyena, and doted on their children. He was an accomplished swordsman and writer, an idealist but also a pragmatist. It seems that his major weakness was that he held a guilt complex, blaming himself for not investigating the destruction of the Collam Daan more thoroughly and also for Mierin Eronaile’s turning to the Shadow. His second weakness, one fully exploited by the Shadow, was that he was almost physically incapable of harming a woman, even if she was a Friend of the Dark or a Dreadlord. As the darkness grew and as the cost in life increased, Lews Therin hardened and only Ilyena and his children could bring him out of his black moods. He had two close friends, Barid Bel Medar, who was a day younger and only marginally weaker than Lews Therin his strength in the Power and also in his accomplishments of writing and sword-fighting. His other friend was Tel Janin Aellinsar, the world-renowned athlete. Weaker than Lews Therin and Barid Bel in the Power (though not by much) and with no rhetorical ability at all, he exceeded both in swordplay.

As the Collapse continued the World Parliament eventually conceded that the chaos could only be stopped by direct military action. For the first time in millennia armies were formed and trained, minor skirmishes fought against the Shadow and things such as strategy and tactics relearned. Lews Therin, Barid Bel and Tel Janin all proved accomplished tacticians and generals. When the time came for the World Parliament to appoint a single overall commander for the war effort, these three men were the prime candidates. Eventually they chose Lews Therin, citing Barid Bel’s rashness and Tel Janin’s disregard for minor elements (like properly organising supply lines) for their exclusion. Both men were stunned, and angered. Both broke off their friendships with Lews Therin, finding little solace in the lesser field commands they were given.

Lews Therin began building his armies. Most human troops wielded swords and bows in combat (due to the lack of knowledge about weapons technology), but it seems that some energy weapons were developed. Jo-cars, hoverflies, jumpers and even sho-wings were fitted with weaponry and heavily armoured, able to support foot-troops and act as scouts. The most common high-tech weapon was the shocklance, a huge blade which discharged a massive blast of electricity into anyone in a certain arc of fire, killing them instantly. The One Power was used as a weapon by the Aes Sedai, many of whom voluntarily joined Lews Therin’s armies. Their job was to face the Dark One’s Dreadlords and even the Forsaken in combat. Even Ogier joined the war effort. The Nym were peaceful but not incapable of violence, but were kept out of the war simply because there wasn’t very many of them. The Way of the Leaf forbade the Da’shain Aiel from fighting or encouraging violence, but Lews Therin employed them as scribes, messengers and, with great reluctance on occasion, as scouts. He employed so many Da’shain - they were more reliable than other people and less prone to turning to the Shadow - that they became known as “Lews Therin’s People.” Later, after the war itself began, they were called “The People of the Dragon.” Lews Therin, it seems, deliberately used so many Aiel in his staff to raise their profile and remind people of the peace and contentment they represented, and what had been lost to most of the world.

After ninety-five years or so the world had degenerated dangerously close to the point of total economic and social collapse. The World Parliament finally declared martial law and surrendered control to Lews Therin Telamon for the duration of the crisis. But the Shadow was now almost ready to act. One of the Forsaken, Aginor, had been a skilled geneticist before he turned to the Dark One and now put that knowledge to good use. In great vats he fused animal and human DNA together to create a race of fierce, bestial creatures called Trollocs. Hulking humanoids, as large as Ogier if not bigger, the Trollocs had a variety of features. They usually walked upright, though some walked on goat’s legs or hooves, and had two arms, though a few ended in claws instead of hands (whatever they used, they could always wield weapons such as swords and battle-axes). But always was the head the head of the animal they had been bred from, including boars, bears, wolves, goats, wildcats, rams and eagles. Thousands, if not millions, of Trollocs were bred in great chambers underneath the volcano the Dark One used as its base of operations in this world, the volcano called the Pit of Doom, or Shayol Ghul in the Old Tongue. Once a few thousand had been created, they could breed amongst themselves.

The problem was that the Trollocs seemed to inherit the baser instincts of their origin animal as well as their facial features. They were undisciplined, almost as likely to turn on one another as on the enemy. Whilst most enjoyed using primitive weapons like axes and swords, or sometimes a bow, most found complex projectile weapons too difficult to use. The only way to get them to obey orders was frequently to kill a few as an example to the others. Aginor’s scientists almost gave up, until they suddenly discovered that every fiftieth Trolloc or so born was a mutant. Unlike the widely varying Trollocs, these mutants were all a uniform size and shape. All were six-foot-tall humanoids with black hair and lacked any sign of their animal stock. They also lacked eyes, but could see by some means unknown. These creatures were called Myrddraal, but were more frequently called Halfmen, Eyeless or Fades. Unlike the Trollocs, they were unswervingly loyal to the Dark One, skilled in the art of combat and highly disciplined. They also instilled a terrifying fear in Trollocs, forcing them to do their bidding. The Shadow had found its field commanders for the Trolloc armies.

Additional Shadowspawn were created, such as the Darkhounds (which never gave up a hunt once it was assigned to them), Grey Men (individuals who had sold their soul to the Dark One and could “fade” into their surroundings somewhat, making them ideal assassins) and Draghkar (winged humanoids with huge, black eyes capable of sucking a soul right out of its host body), but Myrddraal and Trollocs were by far the most common. By around a century after the drilling of the Bore, many hundreds of thousands of Shadowspawn were ready for battle.

In this year the Dark One’s minions moved en masse towards Shayol Ghul, planning to combine their strength and power to widen the Bore and allow the Dark One to enter this world in person. Lews Therin and his forces of Light had been anticipating such a move for several years and intercepted them, fighting a huge battle. The Friends of the Dark fled the battlefield. Lews Therin even briefly hoped that he had discouraged them for good, but within days reports arrived of monstrous creatures striking into the northern lands, overrunning towns and even eating the populace. This army seized the large town of Devaille and fed every living inhabitant to the Trollocs.

The forces of the Light attempted to contain the forces of the Shadow, but could not. Soon Friends of the Dark arose again in the cities, conquering them from within. Aes Sedai were attacked without warning by groups of Dreadlords Travelling into their homes, and the Forsaken demanded the surrender of the world to the Dark One.

The War of the Shadow had begun.

Please note that Parts 4-6 of this series are also available to read now on my Patreon page and my other blog, Atlas of Ice and Fire, is currently running a Wheel of Time Atlas series.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs. The History of The Wheel of Time, SF&F Questions and The Cities of Fantasy series are debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read them there one month before being published on the Wertzone.


Barry said...

Do you mind me asking where you are getting all this information from? It's only hinted in the books and from what I remember it's not detailed this much in the The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time. This is brilliant by the way.

Adam Whitehead said...

The world book, the RPG, the encyclopedia, tidbits from the novels, particularly the ones after the world book came out, stuff from RJ's Q&As, some stuff from his notes and so on. A couple of bits of logical extrapolation as well.

Sergio said...

Impressive work, this series were great, as well as this atlas, congratulations and thank you for your blog.

Unknown said...

Could you please credit my artwork in this entry. "The Last Battle." by Paul Bielaczyc.