Sunday, 4 November 2018

A History of the Wheel of Time Part 5: The Breaking of the World

Initially, at least, the Aes Sedai weren’t certain what had happened. Lews Therin and the Hundred Companions had set out on their mission and apparently succeeded. Certainly, there were no more sightings of the Forsaken and within days of the strike on Shayol Ghul the Shadow armies started collapsing, fighting each other even as they continued to battle the forces of Light

But something unforeseen had happened. A who managed to flee the Dragon Palace reported seeing him appear and start unleashing the Power chaotically, slaying those around him. The palace itself was partially destroyed and gutted. The Aes Sedai explored the palace and found the physical forms of the Seven Seals, apparently tossed aside like toys after Lews returned. The Aes Sedai took them to the Hall of the Servants for safekeeping. Then the first reports came in, of the Hundred Companions appearing and unleashing destructive waves of power, causing earthquakes and storms. Then male Aes Sedai reported that something was fundamentally wrong with saidin itself. It had become difficult and even dangerous to use. It seemed to be covered with something else, something slippery like rancid oil.

With Lews Therin dead Latra Posae Decume was elected First Among Equals. She was a formidable adversary of the Shadow, leading countless battles against the now-scattered armies. She became known as the Cutter of Shadow for her skill and hatred of Shadowspawn. Soon the aftermath of the War of the Shadow was over, the Shadowspawn scattered to the four winds. But by now other male Aes Sedai had begun to fall foul of the taint on saidin, and it became clear what had happened.

The male Aes Sedai who remained sane were fearful, but some took precautions. Many fled to Ogier stedding and hid there, sealed off from the One Power and insanity. Others worked alongside the females, trying to find a way of cleansing the taint. But it was useless; in the end, all men fell to the madness. And in that madness, they killed, and destroyed, and unleashed devastation and chaos.

How long it took for the chaos to spread across the entire planet is unclear, with some histories indicating that years may have passed between the actual strike on Shayol Ghul and the Breaking of the World getting fully underway. Certainly, time enough for those merely children at the time of the War of the Shadow to grow to adulthood and some semblance of maturity before the Breaking became unstoppable. Even by this period the Aes Sedai had not lost all hope for the men. A group of young male Aes Sedai, newly promoted, worked alongside the Aes Sedai in creating a tangible form of saidin and then successfully cleansing it, somehow, with saidar. This “reservoir” of the Power, as it became known, provided a finite but completely safe way of using saidin and saidar alongside one another. This source was used sparingly and had to be preserved no matter the cost. There may also have been an attempt to use the Choedan Kal to cleanse saidin, but there wasn’t a surviving sane male channeller powerful enough to use the male statue effectively.

Around this time one of the Aes Sedai, Deindre, had a Foretelling, a vision of the future. This vision showed that one day the Dark One would reach forth from its prison and plunge the world again into chaos and despair. The only hope for salvation was the continued survival of the Da’shain Aiel. This Foretelling also spoke that the Dragon would be Reborn to fight the Dark One at Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle. The surviving Aes Sedai ordered the Da’shain to depart from Paaran Disen forthwith. Knowing the Aiel would not go if they thought it was to protect them, the Aes Sedai gave into their possession most of their ter’angreal (including two access keys needed to control the Choedan Kal statues built by the Fateful Concord) and the remaining chora tree seeds and told them to take them to safety in lands far removed from the capital. The Aiel were reluctant, but eventually agreed. After their departure, the Aes Sedai gave the new reservoir of the One Power into the care of Someshta, the last surviving member of the Nym. They also gave into his care one of the Banners of the Light and one of the Seven Seals on the Dark One’s prison. Someshta departed the capital, taking his precious cargo with him.

The Aes Sedai now had one last matter to attend to: Callandor, the Sword That is Not a Sword. Callandor was a great sa’angreal, the most powerful ever made that could be used by itself. Apparently, it was made by Lews Therin Telamon (or maybe for him) as the ultimate weapon, but it had not been completed before the time came to strike at Shayol Ghul. Thankfully, he had been working on it in the Hall of the Servants and it had not been close to hand when he returned to the Dragon Palace to destroy his loved ones. The Aes Sedai now finished the sword and worked with the surviving male Aes Sedai in creating wards over it that could not be undone by any other hand than that of Lews Therin himself. A group of Aes Sedai carried the sword southwards, and out of history for a time.

Then the remaining Aes Sedai fled the city. Some caught up with the Aiel and joined their caravan as it made its way eastwards. Six others took the remaining Seals and scattered them to the corners of the world, though keeping a secret record of their location. The rest fled for their lives, for not long after a group of maddened male channellers came to Paaran Disen and destroyed it in a cacophony of fire and death.

According to sources of varying reliability, the Breaking of the World lasted no less than 239 and no more than 344 years. The chaos of this time is unimaginable to us today. In the course of these three centuries the entire world was devastated, shattered, broken and remade again. Most of the human and Ogier races were wiped out, along with most of the Shadowspawn. The continents were wracked by earthquakes and tidal waves. Old landmasses cracked and fell beneath the waves, whilst new lands arose. Mountains collapsed into plains overnight, whilst great steppes erupted into jagged mountain peaks. Wherever they went, the maddened male Aes Sedai tore apart what had been in order to make something new and chaotic.

As mentioned before, many male Aes Sedai sought refuge in the Ogier stedding and, for a time, were safe. But two threats arose to confront them. The most immediate was that, whilst immune to the One Power, stedding were vulnerable to shifts in the landscape around them. Many were torn apart by earthquakes or swallowed by the sea, whilst more still were suddenly lifted into the mountains or thrust into the middle of dark forests. Most of the Ogier grew fearful and fled for their lives. A few remained to watch over their Aes Sedai guests. But even seeing the chaos around them, the men grew restless and dissatisfied with their exile. For an Aes Sedai, channelling was as natural as breathing and almost as difficult to survive without. One by one, they departed, hoping against hope that the curse had worn off, or had been destroyed by others. But it was not so, and they also succumbed to the taint. Before they left, the Aes Sedai left a gift for their Ogier hosts. They created dimensional passages linking all the stedding together. Called the Ways, these passages allowed Ogier to travel the hundreds or even thousands of miles between stedding in a matter of hours or days. Though the physical positions of the stedding in the world shifted during the Breaking, the Ways remained stable and safe. The male Aes Sedai created the Talisman of Growing (presumably a ter’angreal) and left it with the Ogier Elders, allowing them to create new Ways as needed. Then they left, and soon went mad or were killed (or both).

As the Breaking continued the female Aes Sedai took to killing or gentling men whenever they found them, for as each male channeller died so the destruction lessened somewhat. Without Paaran Disen or the Hall of the Servants the organisation of the Aes Sedai had collapsed. Individual sisters could no longer communicate with one another. Curiously, most of the Aes Sedai alive during or before the War of the Shadow died during the Breaking, even those young enough to survive after it by four centuries or more. Latra Posae Decume, the last First Among Equals, died during this time. It seems that only the few Aes Sedai who joined the Aiel in their eastwards trek survived beyond the end of the Breaking.

The female Aes Sedai found young girls able to channel during their wanderings and taught them in the ways of using the One Power. Sometimes large groups would form, but often these would be broken up by natural disaster or attacks by roving bandits or Shadowspawn. During the Breaking all high technology was lost and people reverted to a semi-barbaric state, using first clubs and later swords and bows to defend themselves. Only the Aes Sedai preserved a true history from before the Breaking, but most people knew the name of the Shadow and the Dragon, and cursed them both, believing them in collusion for unleashing this destruction.

Eventually, however, the male Aes Sedai began to die off from the taint in vast numbers, alongside those killed or gentled by the female Aes Sedai. The storms began to die out, the earthquakes stopped, the tidal waves fell back into the sea and, generally, the chaos subsided.

During this period, the last few decades of the Breaking, the Aes Sedai who had been given possession of Callandor came to the south coast of their new continent. Here, at the head of a vast delta, they forged a huge fortress, towering up into the sky and looking like an artificial mountain. They called it the Stone of Tears, for the tears the world would shed when its purpose was fulfilled, and placed Callandor within, at the Heart of the Stone. These Aes Sedai then died, one by one, their purpose in life apparently fulfilled. The Stone was impregnable to assault and many people came to live here, eventually spilling over to form a city around it, a city they called Tear (the Stone would later become known as the Stone of Tear, of the city rather than referring to its destiny).

And then, one day, the last male Aes Sedai lay dead and the world heaved its last convulsion and settled. The Breaking was over, and the Age of Legends ended. A new age, the Third Age, had begun. It would be an Age of hope, for perhaps the glory of the Age of Legends could be regained. It was an Age of despair, for it had been Foretold that the Dark One and the Dragon would return to finish their war once and for all. Above all it was the Age of Prophecy, for what was to come had already been foretold and it cast a shadow of foreboding over all that was to follow.

Please note that Parts 6-8 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.

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Anonymous said...

Cool article.

I noticed a few issues that made it past spell check.

Second paragraph, "A who managed to flee the Dragon Palace reported seeing him appear and start unleashing the Power chaotically, slaying those around him," and then "...fundamentally wrong with saidinitself."

Fifth paragraph, "...completely safe way of using saidin and saidaralongside one another."

Adam Whitehead said...

Yes, that a nice result of Blogger and Patreon's formatting not working well together. Particularly enjoyable is when you go through and fix all the errors and then repost and the errors have all reverted. It requires a fair amount of fiddling around to get it all right.