notes on A Thousand Paths in a Single Step
I don’t think I could have written this story without the Wheel of Time wiki and Leigh Butler’s recaps on Tor.com. Between those and the occasional bit of searching via Google Books, I was able to verify details of what happened when, that would otherwise have required me to spend four times as long hunting through the books themselves. Also, mad props to for helping me think this one through; she and I had a lengthy phone conversation in which we walked through the timeline from Aviendha’s point of view, and brainstormed points of interesting divergence. (I originally had ambitions to write even more scenes. But given the length of the scenes I did write, I think the story would have massively overstayed its welcome had I tried to expand it further.)
This takes place after Rhuidean but prior to Alcair Dal, when Asmodean has not yet been unmasked. I chose it as my starting place because I wanted something that would initially seem like it could be part of the series, rather than a blatant divergence from canon. Some of you probably pegged the summary (“Step through, the Wise Ones said”) as being Amys’ line outside Rhuidean, but for those who hadn’t, I didn’t want to tip my hand as to what this story was doing.
Fun fact: my original draft had Asmodean killing her at the end of the scene, mostly so I could be excessively clever and say “death took her.” But one of my organizing principles here was that I tried to avoid contradicting prophecy at any point. This isn’t meant to be a total AU; it’s how events could have gone differently, but didn’t. Since Aviendha at this point hasn’t formed any kind of significant relationship with Rand, her dying would contradict Min’s viewings. Ergo, I swapped in Compulsion. The Myrddraal reference is me being paranoid that readers might not understand the 13×13 thing later if I didn’t foreshadow it, which I suspect was an unnecessary fear.
The bridging lines here are just to establish what the story is doing: showing the possible consequences of Aviendha’s decisions. So they’re nothing terribly interesting in their own right: just Aviendha either ignoring the sound, or not being there to hear it at all, and therefore not discovering Asmodean’s secret.
It’s totally my own interpretation that the rings involve taking a single step; it made for a nice image. More likely that the visitor vanishes and reappears later, rather than hanging halfway through the ring as they work through their futures. (In retrospect, it would be massively creepy if those who failed didn’t simply vanish, but had their corpses fall at the base of the ring. Ah well. Too late to surround the ter’angreal with bones now. And that’s not really in the tone of the series anyway. I, um, have a mean imagination?)
These bridges start showing more widely divergent decisions. A lot of Aiel took gai’shain white after Alcair Dal and refused to put it off; I can’t remember if any ran away to the Tinkers (as opposed to just running away, period), but since the Tuatha’an are the only ones still following the Way of the Leaf, it made sense. I don’t remember, and couldn’t find, when the red-band thing got started, but it fit as a third option for how Aviendha might react.
My one attempt at semi-happy fluff. (I meant to have more, but, well. The opportunities for fluff are thin on the ground, unless I made it entirely random.) It takes place after Alcair Dal, but before they fight the Shaido in Cairhien.
Melaine has a line to the effect of “I will make you know your blood for ours if I have to lay the—” She never gets to finish that sentence, but I believe she was talking about laying a bridal wreath at Rand’s feet herself. Since , my recipient, mentioned liking the Rand/Aviendha relationship, I figured it would be entertaining to have an “arranged marriage” scene, that pushes their relationship forward way sooner than it went in canon, in ways neither of them really chose for themselves.
Does Rand accept? Maybe, maybe not! It was funnier to end the scene before he responded. And in all likelihood Aviendha saw both futures, depending on how exactly she presented the wreath.
Yes, that is a passing flicker of Mat/Aviendha in the first bridge. The other is, of course, an actual event from canon: Rand surprising Aviendha when she’s washing, and her Traveling to Seanchan in order to get away from him.
Cowardice: this is the end of the “bleakness” strand in a previous bridge and the previous scene, showing that Aviendha might have done something like that, unlikely as it is. This is also the point at which I realized, looking ahead to the rest of the story, that it was kind of an unremitting calvacade of things going wrong for Aviendha, so I needed to acknowledge that in a way that (hopefully) didn’t make her look like a disaster waiting to happen. You know how they say courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the decision not to give into it? Yeah. Aviendha’s more awesome because she doesn’t end up in canon the way she does in these scenes.
Bridges: Aviendha kills Couladin! (Though I didn’t really want to take it away from Mat; the matter-of-fact way Jordan reports that fight after the fact is one of my favorite small touches in the series.) The second one is again canonical, being the scene near the end of The Fires of Heaven when Rahvin nukes half of Rand’s friends.
Following Aviendha’s path through the story, the next major opportunity for change was to say that she didn’t go to Salidar with Mat. That meant she would have been with Rand still when Min showed up, and since my brain can’t wrap itself around femslashing the two of them, the most entertaining alternative was “Aviendha and Min get off on an extremely bad foot.”
The justification for their fight was Aviendha’s suggestion to Elayne in Salidar that they join forces against Min and “do her in.” Clearly Aviendha isn’t keen on the notion of having a total stranger for a sister-wife, so I just postulated that going really, really badly if it got dropped on her out of nowhere.
It isn’t at all appropriate for a Wise One to shiv someone in a knife fight, but given that Min carries knives, it felt inevitable; the compromise was to have Aviendha realize how out-of-line she is. (She probably should use the One Power on Min, at least as a semi-preferable alternative. But that also isn’t remotely fair to Min.)
I have to admit, though, that I generally dislike the trope of “women fighting over a man” (o hai ther Faile and Berelain), which is why the first bridge after this is Aviendha telling herself such a course of action would be dumb. And the second, then, is her going with Mat, as Rand asked.
Amys’ line about the rings is that it is “the beginning of what it is to be called wise.” I think that as rites of passage go, this is a good one; it makes sense that you should see certain things you want that aren’t desirable in the larger scheme of things, as well as bad things you have to suck up and accept. Of course, Aviendha’s life being what it is, I didn’t have many opportunities in the first place to show things she wanted but couldn’t have. She’s already not a Maiden anymore, and I just couldn’t make “she lives in schmoopy happiness with Rand” work when he’s at the top of the long downhill slide that goes basically from here to the end of The Gathering Storm. One of the few things she ever said about her experience in the rings, though, was that her relationship with Rand was inevitable. Ergo, I chose to highlight that here.
First bridge: Aviendha flips out badly enough that she signs herself over to the White Tower. (Unlikely, but hey.) Second: she kills the collared Moghedien (and that one might have been a good idea for the world as a whole). Third: the gholam kills her in Ebou Dar. At this point she’s slept with Rand, so I consider that to be fulfilling the bare minimum of Min’s viewing and the other things that point at Rand being with three women. Ergo, I am now free to whack her!
This was one of the first scenarios I thought up. It’s the best point in the series for a Nynaeve scene (the alternative being The Gathering Storm, when Rand has gone round the bend and the two women aren’t talking to each other very much), and being captured is a very plausible outcome, if they failed to escape Ebou Dar in time.
Originally I wrote Aviendha in the “meeting” Nynaeve refers to, where the generals are planning the attack. It had a bonus cameo appearance by Anath/Semirhage, which pleased me, but I cut it because that left Nynaeve without much to contribute in the following conversation. (And I like Nynaeve a lot, so I didn’t want to short-change her.)
I know the Aiel are supposed to be the Ultimate Hardasses, but I think being collared is absolutely something that could break them. Pain might not bother them, but the loss of mental privacy and free will would. (Mesaana collars Egwene in Tel’aran’rhiod during Towers of Midnight, but she pretty much just subjects Egwene to pain; there’s none of the other techniques the Seanchan use, nor the paralysis the leash creates under certain circumstances. And let’s face it: Aviendha would try to use everything in sight as a weapon, if she couldn’t channel.) As for Nynaeve . . . I think Aviendha’s being too judgmental when she calls Nynaeve brittle, but I also think she’s not entirely wrong.
Anyway, as cool as it would have been to have the two of them boldly escaping captivity together, it really just wouldn’t seem plausible. And since said she didn’t mind grimdark, a broken neck for Nynaeve it is! (I may have mentioned that I’m a terrible person.) The original thought was that it results in Aviendha getting killed, too, but I couldn’t fit that in here very efficiently, so I ended with Nynaeve.
Bridges: a warning about the invasion, and then four variants on Aviendha unpicking the weave of the Traveling gateway. Since that’s supposed to be an incredibly dangerous thing to do, I thought it would be neat to have a sort of “wrong wire” montage — Aviendha seeing all the ways to make that blow up in her face, which helps her do it right when the time comes (i.e. in canon, and in the last bridging line here).
Now we’re beginning to lead toward the final rings scenelet, Aviendha getting so lost in these visions that she can’t even find her own body anymore. Again, that’s totally me making things up; I don’t think canon says much definitive about why some women don’t return. It’s probably one of those cases where they decide to stay in a vision, but since canon has given that already in the Accepted ter’angreal, I was more interested in imagining something different.
The first bridge is the canonical discovery of Adeleas; the second posits Aviendha accidentally walking in on Careane mid-murder.
13×13! This scenario could have gone many places; it wound up here because the story was getting too damn long to have something related to Elayne’s kidnapping, and therefore I needed something to put in this stretch of the canonical timeline. But my god did it give me hives: I had to hunt through recaps and the wiki and so on to remember when exactly Aviendha left Elayne to go back and study with the Wise Ones. And then, halfway through writing this, I had an “oh shit” moment where I remembered the three of them had bonded Rand around this time, and that could potentially screw over this plot wholesale. In retrospect, it might have been cool to make this a scene where they try to turn Aviendha, but Rand comes busting in to save her. I didn’t think of that until way too late, though, probably because now I was stuck firmly in Grimdark Gear. NO HAPPY ENDINGS FOR YOU.
So Aviendha went hunting the unknown Darkfriend while in Caemlyn, found her, and got captured. Who are all the other Black Ajah here? Hell if I know; the Black Ajah actually annoys the snot out of me (they make so little sense), so I didn’t feel like hunting down who Careane might have had easy access to, out of Liandrin’s set and the various embassies and maybe some Windfinders and so on and so forth. Jordan seems to have felt free to pull Black Ajah and other Darkfriends out of the nearest available orifice whenever his plot required it, so I did the same.
I’m not entirely sure whether the thirteen channelers have to be linked. I thought I’d read something that said they did, but that would imply Taim’s recruited a substantial amount of Black Ajah help for his assembly line at the Tower, so maybe not. Anyway, since we haven’t seen the process in action, I got to make up details, like using the Myrddraal as if they were ter’angreal, and what Aviendha would experience. Shaidar Haran was a last-second addition as I was wrapping up the scene; I needed something to demonstrate what had happened to her, and it made more sense for her to bow to him than a random Myrddraal or Aes Sedai.
My freak-out over whether Aviendha was already bonded to Rand at this point in the timeline gives you the first bridge, where the bonding happens; the second is her departure from Caemlyn, and another nod to that pairing.
All these horrible outcomes were making me feel like Aviendha was going to come off looking really bad. That’s why you get the line about her refusing to be the version of herself who screws up. And, of course, she’s continuing to lose touch with her present self.
Thank god the bridges here are non-canonical. These are scenarios in which Aviendha hasn’t left for Rhuidean, and is with Rand when he goes to Far Madding to meet the Borderland monarchs. The first involves her (inadvertently) goading him into sending an army in after them, and the second is her talking him into meeting them that first time, instead of walking away and coming back after he’s Zen Master Jesus Rand. We are all very glad that didn’t happen.
I thought about writing a full scene for these, too, but see above re: the story getting too long. The individual scenes might be interesting, but I couldn’t stretch the arc of the rings segment that far without it losing all sense of momentum. Plus, to be honest, I really didn’t want to write Darkside!Rand. It’s a good piece of story, but kind of unpleasant to read, let alone add to.
Of all the scenarios, this one is the furthest from the organizing principle of “Aviendha makes a different decision.” Getting here requires a cascading series of changes, starting all the way back in Lord of Chaos. I can make up connections for how it all stems from Aviendha’s actions — not just her burning out in the Seanchan attack, but Aes Sedai being even crappier to Mat than they are in canon, etc — but the truth is, the actual origin of this scene is a line of Mat’s dialogue in The Great Hunt. As Mercurie’s prompt this year reminded me, after the boys went through the Portal Stone (and saw alternate realities along the way), Mat freaked out and started insisting to Rand that “I’d never betray you.”
Which implies he did betray Rand in one of those alternate realities. Having looked back at the actual line, it sounds more like Mat’s talking about spilling Rand’s secret (i.e. he can channel) than anything on this scale — but oh well. What was in my head was “there’s a timeline in which Mat betrays Rand,” and when I thought about how to get a Mat scene in this fic, that was what immediately leapt to mind.
The hard part was figuring out how to make it happen. I didn’t want to go the cheap route of having Mat be Compelled; tragedy is far more interesting when the characters choose it freely. Since I couldn’t see any plausible scenario for him becoming a Darkfriend or joining the Shaido or otherwise selling out to Rand’s enemies (seriously, can you see Mat as a Whitecloak?), the Seanchan and the Domination Band were the clear way to go. Rand starts behaving pretty dreadfully circa Knife of Dreams and early in The Gathering Storm, so with Mat’s general prejudice against channelers, I can see him freaking out and buying into the Seanchan prophecy about Rand kneeling to the Crystal Throne. (Obviously, though, Rand has not yet taken the step of channeling the True Power, or there’s no way he’d still be in that collar. I chalk that up to nobody making him strangle a woman he loves.)
My original plan was to actually show the scene where Mat puts the collar on Rand, but I couldn’t get that one to cohere, so instead we get Aviendha’s rescue attempt. There are a bunch of things in here I’d like to pretend I had in mind all along, but in truth, touches like Aviendha being burned out or her wanting to take Mat’s medallion to protect her against damane are actually things I thought up on the fly, as I worked through the logic of the situation. I’m hand-waving at the line about Nynaeve not (yet) being able to Heal burning out; to the best of my recollection, she hasn’t done that in canon, and there’s reason to think that’s a different injury from severing. (That was another bit thought up on the fly, as I thought, wait a sec, why hasn’t Aviendha been Healed? I could have said Nynaeve was dead, but she’s not the only one can do it — and besides, I killed her once already.)
I like writing fight scenes. But remember when I said I’m trying not to contradict prophecy? Mat doesn’t die here, because he hasn’t rescued Moiraine. He just gets horribly, horribly burned. My brain: not a nice place.
The final bridges are Aviendha’s encounter with Nakomi, and the fallout from that. Totally unrelated to my fic, but I really liked the reflection on what that test meant now, in the aftermath of Alcair Dal, and then the second set of visions Aviendha gets.
I decided pretty early on that I was driving toward this: Aviendha losing all track of where her body is, and how to move it forward, out of the ter’angreal. Physical discipline is something I find interesting, so I liked making this come down to the strengths Aviendha learned as a Maiden of the Spear, rather than any kind of nascent Wise One awareness.
Closing it out: I waffled on whether this last scene should be in past tense or present. I finally decided on past because a) present was meant to indicate the ongoing, timeless moment of her test, which is now over, and b) this is, in effect, one of the futures Aviendha saw. In fact, it’s the beginning of every future. And since those were all in past tense (ironic, that), I went with it here, too.
And that, I think, is MORE than enough babbling from me. (My god, this is longer than half the fics in Yuletide.) Thank you all for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it!