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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY

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  2. A cool breeze tussled her curls as she doubled over with laughter trying to catch her breath. Mathis had just fallen posterior first into a bramble bush and was running around the green, his hands grabbing at his bloodied bum. “Come here you f-f-foool” Thera called out to him, not bothering to disguise her mirth. Her brother had always leapt before he looked and today it came back to bite him. Grinning even harder when she saw her brothers sheepish, and slightly pained smile she lovinginly wiped the sweat from his brow. “Come along kid, Mistress Alla’ne will get you fixed up”. Putting an arm around his waist she started guiding him back towards the house. “You know Thera I.......Thera...........Thera....... Slowly the world faded away, the last thing Thera saw were her brothers bright green eyes staring back into her own. Reality slowly began to sink in, and Thera slowly pushed herself into a sitting position. “I am sorry Liitha...I....I’ She did not even know how to begin to explain what was happening in her mind. For months she had existed as a broken shell of herself, but the triad of ties to her daughter, her family, and her commitment to the job had been keeping her going. Suddenly her tripod had lost a leg and she felt herself teetering on the edge. Mathis had been her best friend growing up; and when he decided to follow her to the Tower should could not have been happier. Looking around the room, the concerned faces finally registered. “I am alright, do you mind helping me up?” Using Liitha to help her regain her feet Thera brushed off her clothes and ran her hand through her curls trying to tame it as best she could. “Do you mind if we go somewhere else? I need some time to process and there are far too many prying eyes here.” Straightening her jacket Thera motioned to the door, but she quickly pulled her arm back to her side when she saw her hands shaking. “I never wander anyplace new anymore, do you know a place where we could talk and perhaps have a drink? You brought me this news, the least I can do is buy you a beverage and give you an explanation”
  3. “Sentient…” Aiden murmured under his breath, barely a whisper, as Nox spoke with Kali. Not good. Not good. Not good! He thought to himself. The blue fairy fire sprung into existence above Aiden’s head as the rush of emotions flooded his system. One-touch from this woman and it could be all over for the both of them. Kali’s presumed fling for the night took off down the alleyway and out onto the street after Nox inquired about his identity. The Sentient didn’t so much as flinch when the man broke away, she only had eyes for Nox. That just wasn’t going to work for Aiden. It was obvious that Nox was about to ready a Weave, so there was only once course of action that Aiden could think of. Aiden began to sing, bellowing out in a rich baritone, “Tell me something girl? Are you happy in this modern world? Or do you need more? Is there somethin’ else you’re searchin’ for?” That strange, ethereal light sprung up behind Aiden’s shoulder as he sang the first few notes to the song; this was his Block, his handicap in Channeling the forces of Magic. People like Nox could command the forces of the Gods with nothing more than a thought, but not Aiden- he needed to sing or dance to call forth such energies. Nox had insisted that one day Aiden would break his ‘block,’ but how he would do that, neither of them knew. They had tried a few months ago, but the efforts had only served to make Aiden blush. Incidentally, Aiden was hoping to recreate those efforts tonight, although his motives were purely carnal. Weaving Fire, Aiden readied a few Fireballs to launch at the Sentient if she took even one step towards them.
  4. Nox rose from the bed to join Merdyn at the door. He could feel Nox doing so without even having to glance back. It was the strangest thing. What were the limits to that particular feature of the Bond? Merdyn found himself absently wondering if there was a limit to the distance at which they could detect each other. This Bond could prove to be most advantageous in combat. They would have to start working on joint tactics to be sure, but Merdyn was confident that they could give the Forsaken a run for their coin if the two of them practiced enough. That was a big ‘if,’ but still… Merdyn filed those thoughts away for a later date. At present, he had a missive from the Alliance to deal with. Nox made an off-handed comment about the young Soldier that just delivered the letter. Merdyn looked over to his Warder, a wry smile plastered on his face. “I guess we can ask him later. He was working the Traveling Grounds when I arrived,” Merdyn said with a laugh as he used a flow of Air to rip open the seal on the letter. He quickly scanned the contents and then started over, rereading the thing a touch slower just to make sure he wasn’t mistaken. “Love? Forget what I said about staying at the Black Tower…” Merdyn said as he handed the letter over to Nox. “I am to report to our Embassy at the Citadel tomorrow by first light. Captain Eb of the Band has need of my services.” Apparently the M’Hael was so pleased with how Merdyn had handled the Red Sisters, that he decided to name Merdyn as a liaison to the Band of the Red Hand. It was not an unwelcome development, on the contrary, this was the sort of thing that Merdyn was raised for. It was enjoyable work. Not to mention his sneaking suspicion, which he had for months now, that this would be the purpose that he would serve at the Black Tower. It was only grating because everything was all happening at once. But that's how it always went with these things. At least Merdyn was starting to feel important again… If only due to these assignments.
  5. .. Dark Proposals and Activities .. ►▼◄ Lord Rehmar was pleased. The meeting at the Royal Palace with the High Lady Dahlia of Kheren had gone exactly as planned. She had shown interest in the King’s plans for an Alliance of Houses and only a small nudge remained to get her on board. With the help of delicate weaves of Compulsion that would be accomplished soon, Sinam knew. His schemes of creating strife between the Houses of Arad Doman were developing well and now he was ready for the next stage of his master plan. He, as Chief Advisor Lord Rhemar, had persuaded the King that his daughter and heir, and only child, Athania ought to be able to ride, since she would soon welcome suitors, and horse riding was a skill expected of most royalty. She was sixteen of age and eager to learn and since Lord Rehmar had skills in this area also the King had agreed that he would be her tutor. For the Lord - or Sinam rather - this was the perfect occasion to get the princess out of the palace and on her own. ● They had begun with the basics, how to groom and care for a horse, and then how to mount and dismount properly. The princess Athania was an eager and enthusiastic learner and now they had come to the riding part itself. They had walked their horses to a woodland area west of the Arad Domani capital and now waited with their horses by some trees beside a field with the sun shining down on them from a blue sky with a few intermittent clouds. "Now then, there are some things that are important when learning to ride." Lord Rhemar began. "I have pointed it out already, but atop the horse the rider must sit in a balanced position." He pointed at the way she sat on the mare’s back. "That way you sit more safely, and it lessens the chance of falling off the horse especially at higher speed. But it is also to help the horse remain balanced underneath and move naturally." He continued. "The rider should sit in the lowest part of the saddle, allowing the hips to open and for the legs to move back and lie gently around the horse so that the heel of the foot is directly in line with the hips". He gestured while he spoke. "The ball of each foot should rest on the stirrup iron with the toes pointing forwards and the heels pointing down." He added. "The upper body should remain straight but not stiff with the head looking forward. If you can imagine it, it should be possible to draw a straight line from the shoulder to the hip to the foot of the rider. The upper arm should rest by the body with the elbows bent, allowing the forearms to become an extension of the reins." "We have also spoken a little of how to hold the reins properly. Let me repeat." He continued. She listened attentively as he went on, her eyes glittering with excitement. ● "To hold the reins correctly, have your hand face down with your fingers pointing towards the horse's neck,”, he informed, “place your little finger under the rein and the other fingers over the rein and the thumb underneath. Curl your fingers around the rein and then turn your hand so your thumb is on top and your knuckles are facing forward." She tried to replicate his instructions and he gestured informatively when she was a little uncertain. "Good," he said in the end. "That looks fine. It may be difficult to maintain this position at first, especially once moving and you may find that your legs creep forward, or you may be tempted to grip with your knees if you feel unbalanced." He nodded. "If you feel unbalanced or feel you are losing the correct position, it is often best to move to a slower pace, reposition yourself correctly and then start again rather than to continue unbalanced, as this only serves to make it harder for both horse and rider to relax and work together." Athania appreciated his attention to detail, impressed with his knowledge. Part of her felt impatient and wanted him to get on with it, but she was enjoying herself in truth and tempered her impatience. She waited for him to continue. ● "Now then. Let’s look at the various forms of riding." He went on after a short break. "There are several disciplines, but the most common are: The Trot, The Canter and The Gallop. Let’s begin with The Trot. To ask a horse to trot you squeeze gently with your lower legs. The pressure applied should be greater than that applied just to keep the horse walking forward and so may require a gentle kick with your heels. The trot is a "two step gait". This means that the horse moves its legs in pairs. It actually moves its legs in diagonal pairs, that is it lifts the left front (near fore) and right back (off hind) legs together and the right front (off fore) and left back (near hind) together." He added. "You can feel the body sway from side to side as each hind leg is lifted and moved forward. The horse does not move its head forwards and backwards in the trot and so your hands can remain in the same position without restricting the horse's movement." "Next is The Canter", he continued. "The canter is a three time gait with the horse placing one leg, then two together (a diagonal pair) and then the remaining leg on the ground." He added. "The horse will ‘lead’ with one front leg, that is one front leg is thrown further forward by the mount than the other. Keep especially in mind, that the back should remain soft and supple to allow your hips to rock with the horse's movement when cantering. A stiff back will make the canter uncomfortable for both horse and rider." "Finally we have The Gallop." Lord Rhemar said. "The gallop is a four beat gait and the fastest speed your horse has. When a horse is galloping, each footfall is heard independently during the stride. A horse galloping on his right lead will first move his left hind leg, followed by the right hind, followed by the left front and the stride ends with the right front." He saw her begin to grin and he added, that it pleased him to see that she appreciated all the little important details given her in this lesson. They laughed at his comment. ● "Equally, a horse on his left lead starts off with his right hind leg, the next beat is his left hind leg, followed by right front and left front." He added with mirth. "You should impart some of this specific knowledge to some of your friends at court, I think. They would without doubt be mightily impressed." She shared his laughter again, imagining doing just that. "Seriously though", he ended, "the gallop is a very fast speed and cannot be maintained for long periods of time due to the amount of effort and energy it takes for a horse to gallop." "In the short timeframe we have to teach you riding, we cannot focus on all these disciplines." He said as he met her eye squarely. "What you need to learn is some basic riding, and then - once you get more experience you can learn the other disciplines." He nodded to himself. "I will teach you the basics of a slow canter since that is a useful way of learning to ride for beginners, and it does not go too fast." She smiled excitedly, eager to learn. ● Back in his private chambers in Illian, Raphael considered his meeting with Deleyhna. It had certainly been.. interesting. His pulse quickened when he thought about it. He just could not get over how desirable she was. He had never been able to. Seated beside his ornate work table this late evening, he turned his thoughts to the matter of the proposal of an alliance supposedly by Serahna. Should he accept the invitation to join, or should he decline? Or should he not respond at all, for the time being, letting Serahna and Deleyhna wonder what his game was? Games within Games, Secrets within Secrets. So it had been with the Chosen since the beginning, even back in the War of Power. Those memories seemed dimmer to him now than they once had been, but he still remembered those days of war and fire. Only the strongest would survive what was to come, the Day of the Great Lord’s Return, and all the Chosen fought to be the ones left standing. Raphael certainly intended to make sure he survived and, if all his plans succeeded, to become Nae’blis. Perhaps joining this alliance with the two women could benefit him in his pursuit of true power. Perhaps it could indeed. ● Chalor din Togara Evening Tide stared outwards at the ocean-waves from her vantage point as the Sea Folk vessel, a lean Raker called ‘Ocean Dancer’, sped toward the mainland. As Windfinder on this ship she was responsible for leading the vessel into -and along- the best ocean currents for best speed, and she performed her duties well. Issandra, in the guise of the Windfinder, grinned inwardly as she channeled her weaves of Saidar into the ocean and the sky, manipulating wind and water. It had been easy to persuade her Sailmistress that the Coramoor was to be found on land, on rock on that vast continent to the east of Aile Dashar. The Mistress of the Ships had agreed and given the go-ahead and the Raker had set off for the north-western coast of the huge landmass, with two official Atha’an Miere negotiators on board. For of course an agreement, an accord had to be made with the Coramoor, and, importantly, an agreement favourable to the Sea Folk. The two negotiators were experienced Wavemistresses, members of the ruling body called the First Twelve. They stood on quarterdeck beside the Sailmistress, arms beneath their breasts, their eyes fastened on the landmass which came ever closer in the horizon. Issandra was perfectly placed to disrupt whatever negotiations these women intended and to destroy any pact or agreement between them and their Coramoor. Her eyes narrowed dangerously as she thought of the boy Dragon building his Armies of Light. Even back then, in that other time, Dar Keran had been arrogant as few besides dangerously powerful. If this boy incarnation had most of Dar Keran’s power, intellect and shrewdness, he would be a lethal enemy. An enemy that need be destroyed, whatever Vanahl argued. ● For now though her mission was to accompany the Sea Folk negotiators to land and find the man who they thought would be their saviour and who would give the Atha’an Miere mastery of the seas. They did not quite know where to look, but rumours overheard when they had docked during their journey indicated he was somewhere in the north. Issandra was tempted to speak to Serahna, who she knew had based her operations in the so-called Borderlands and who might be well informed, but was unsure if that woman would mess up her own plans and so she decided to refrain. She would do this on her own. All the glory would be hers. ● Lord Elahron watched from his position behind, and to the left of, the Altaran Queen’s throne as Dorinha Sedai spoke to the ruler. Mandhra Theliana Selnobar, by the Grace of the Light, Mistress of the Four Winds, Guardian of the Sea of Storms and High Seat of House Selnobar, with her neck-long glossy black hair with grey at the temples framing a rather ordinary face, was not best pleased. Her dark brown, large eyes shot daggers at the Aes Sedai. “Your threats will not gain you my favour”, the Queen replied, fire in her voice. “I said I would consider your proposal, or rather the Amyrlin’s proposal, and I have. But I have decided against it. It is not in the best interest of Altara, as I see it, to go to war with the Asha’man.” Dorinha was struggling to keep her composure, something which shocked her. She was usually able to keep a straight mask in any situation, any negotiation, she had had many years of training after all, but now she was flustered, her emotions getting the better of her. Even worse, she could hardly keep her thoughts off the man standing to the Queen’s left. He made her feel desire.. want.. touch.. she wanted to.. What is happening to me!? She wondered, knowing her Warder, standing further down the reception room, could feel her tangled almost panicked emotions. ● “No threats are intended, Queen Mandhra”, she implored. “But this is a very vital proposal for the Amyrlin and the White Tower. This is something that needs to be done, however dangerous it may seem. The Amyrlin is well aware of the danger involved, but sees no other option. She needs all her allies to join her in this endaveour.” “Please reconsider!” The Queen stared back at the Green Sister, still angry at the woman’s tone. The arrogance of the White Tower had always irked her and now perhaps it was time to stand against it, to show some backbone. Fighting the Asha’man was a foolish, very dangerous notion in any case. She wanted nothing to do with those half-mad lethal men, and certainly not to make them her enemy. “My answer is no”, the Queen repeated. Beside her Lord Elahron grinned inwardly, hearing the Queen speak the words he had whispered in her ear the evening before. Having considered the options, Vinadel had concluded that it was in his own best interest that Altara did not join with the White Tower in this proposed attack on the Black Tower. It suited him better to have Altara outside any alliances, it would thereby be more easily broken. And the so-called Asha’man would be taken care of in due course. From within, if Vanahl’s plans were successful. Oh yes, he knew about those plans which Vanahl had kept to himself. Some secrets were not so secret after all. ● “Please give the Amyrlin my regards”, the Queen added, seeing the Aes Sedai’s face become sterner. It amused her to see this Sister of the White Tower so flustered. It was an unusual sight - they were always so composed - and must mean that her final decision was shocking to the Aes Sedai. “We stand together in the Light, as always, but on this matter we must part ways”, the Queen said with finality. “We wish the White Tower success in its endeavour.” Dorinha’s response was caught in her throat and she gaped like a drenched Novice at the Queen as she was summarily dismissed. Bewildered as to both the Queen’s decision and to her own emotional chaos, she turned on her heel and strode out of the reception room, her face filled with shame and anger, a concerned Warder at her side. As she headed toward her personal quarters in the Tarasin Palace, all she could think about was that she had failed. ● The two Aes Sedai stared at the White Tower Oath Rod as if looking at a viper. Their eyes were fearful and their souls cried out, but they knew they had no other choice. If they declined the ‘offer’ to join the Black Ajah and forswear their Oaths to the Light, they would be killed. There had been no doubt about that. Even so, the choice was impossible and neither managed to meet the eyes of the four Black Sisters present. “It is time”, said the oldest of the four, a stern woman with some grey in her hair, showing her great age for an Aes Sedai, her voice harsh. She wore a red shawl around her shoulders. “Swear your new Oaths”. She handed the Oath Rod to the youngest of the two, an Aes Sedai of only thirty years. The rod was one of two in the White Tower, a Ter’angreal created millennia ago in the Age of Legends, smooth, ivory-white cylinder shaped, a foot long and wrist-thick with odd, cursive script carved on one flat end. It felt almost like glass, cool to the touch. Like its twin it was activated by a thin thread of Spirit added to the numeral that was carved into it. It was used when raising Accepted to Aes Sedai, upon which they were required to swear the Three Oaths, making them binding. The Black Ajah had found a way to break the Three Oaths, to remove them, and to swear new Oaths to the Shadow. This they could do while retaining the ageless faces, a great benefit in their secret work to undermine and overturn the work of the White Tower. “Come on, then”, the Black Sister urged. There was clear impatience in her tone. They were in the hidden cellars far beneath the White Tower, but even so this was dangerous business and they did not want to linger here and risk getting caught. Tears were assembling in the White Sister’s eyes as she stared long at the Oath Rod in her hands. She hated herself, her soul crying out in anguish, but she finally spoke the words that bound her to the Dark One, her new Great Lord of the Dark. ● Her words came out in a whisper, but were binding just as much. With each word she felt her soul shrivel, felt the darkness consuming her until she was empty of emotion, almost a dead shell. “I will not betray the Great Lord and will keep my secrets until the hour of my death.” “I will not betray the identity of any Sister of the Shadow, or else slay me down in death.” “I will not kill or harm any Sister of the Shadow and will obey all commands by the Great Lord.” ● A soft resonance or vibration came from the Oath Rod as her old Oaths were removed from her being and replaced by her new Oaths to the Shadow. She felt the change in her body and soul and knew it was done. Looking down at the stone floor beneath her, she sighed, her eyes closed. “Good, it is done”, said the older Black Sister. “We welcome, you, Sister.” Her eyes glittered dangerously. “Now you”, she indicated the slightly older Blue Sister, handing her the Oath Rod. This woman seemed even more reluctant, but finally she obeyed, stricken to the soul. When it was done, they all left the chamber behind, taking the Oath Rod with them. It was to be placed back in the artefact-chamber several levels up. The Amyrlin must never know that it had been removed, and certainly not that it was being used to swear new Oaths to the Shadow. They were increasing their power, secretly, in the White Tower, the Black Sister in charge here knew, but were not ready yet to implement the planned coup. The Sitter wondered if the time was coming soon. She hoped so, she was tired of waiting. For now though she would continue to do as ordered by the Great Mistress. Patience was called for. There was more work to be done. Faint echoes of Darkness were all that remained when they were gone. ▀▄
  6. The woman draged her on, she could hear her unclearly far away, she was so tired. arya felt like she walked forever, stumbeling here and there, part of her realised she would fallen over long ago if not for the woman, however then she could lay down to sleep. She felt cold and warm from the excersise at the same time, she was still parched though she swallowed some water, but that was moving in her tummy and threathened to come up. The next she knew she felt shockingly cold, she was wet, then warm and she was seeing black spots, her head was starting to roll back though something told her it would be a bad idea. Her checks turned red in her pale face though she couldnt see it, stay awake all her sences told her even as her eyes sliped close. Maybe it would be better to sleep, but part of her tried to open her eyes, though her lids felt like they were made of heavy rocks. It was all she could do to keep her head from falling, though it felt more like it was slightly rocking back and forth as she faught for consiousness. So tired.. Too many myths People just assuming things that aren't true There's too many myths Coming between me and you You might have your name up in lights But you still have to keep your game uptight - Van Morison
  7. 'The best colour in the world is the one that looks good on you.' Coco Chanel
  8. Watching the girl grab at a branch for balance while a shivering fit took her, Ely was quite certain the stable block was not going to be their destination. Clearly something there was calling to her new charge but it would have to wait. Ely unhooked her own water flask from its spot on her belt and uncorked it. "Aydee? No? Wait, I have it. A.D. Good enough. Here," she wrapped one arm around A.D.'s waist to keep her upright and tipped the flask against her mouth so she could drink. "That's right, you drink up. It'll help. The alcohol has dried your mouth out, and being sick won't have helped." A few minutes later, Ely had them underway. Their halting, stumbling walk meant that progress towards the Infantry barracks was slow. She kept up a flow of gentle chatter as they went, trying to put A.D. at ease, since Ely wasn't even sure the kid was properly aware of what was happening. "No, you don't want to sit there," she diverted A.D. away from a raised bank. "It's not too far to go now so just you put one foot in front of the other... you can do it. I've got you." By the time she'd wrestled the girl back into well lit areas, Ely was convinced that herding cats might be more productive. Upon spotting a full horse trough outside one building, tackling the problem head on seemed a far more efficient way to deal with things. Moments later, A.D. was dumped bodily into that horse trough to sober up. Elynde Being practical
  9. .. Sowing the Seeds of Darkness .. ►▼◄ Deleyhna’s emerald green eyes glittered and her smile was alluring as she stared back at Raphael. She had always found him attractive and the fact that he was a very dangerous man added to her excitement. She loved teasing him and he enjoyed teasing her back. “Kill Vanahl, you say?” she finally replied. Her eyes narrowed. “I haven’t considered that to be honest, but now that you mention it..” Her face became more serious. “It is too dangerous to contemplate”, she added, “however much we both would be pleased to see the back of that vile man.” “You have never been one to take unnecessary risks, Raphael. Have you changed?” Raphael gazed at the beautiful red-head woman opposite him and tried to ignore for a moment how much he desired her. “No, you are right”, he responded. “It was only an amusing.. thought.” His grin widened. “Since you had other things in mind, what is this proposal you have for me?” he asked. Deleyhna’s eyes took on a speculative cast. “Actually”, she began, “the proposal is from Serahna.” She saw his eyes narrow, but he remained silent, waiting for more. “She is based in the Borderlands as you know”, she said. He gave a nod. “She contacted me recently and proposed an.. alliance with me.” Raphael grinned. All the Chosen were in alliances with one another, no one trusting anyone, everyone trying to get the upper hand. Some alliances were secret, others far less so. He was sure that some of the Chosen were in several alliances at the same time. Everything was a matter of trust, influence and power. Deleyhna saw his grin and added smoothly, “She also wondered if.. you might like to join this alliance.” “She did, did she?” Raphael replied with some amusement. He was already in alliances of a sort, but it could never hurt to be part of another. In the Game of Power he could see no downside to it and it could benefit him and his various schemes. Serahna had sent him a message a while ago and he had wondered what the reason was since they had had little to do with one another before. He had decided to delay his response and now he understood that this proposal of an alliance probably was what she had had in mind. However, what he said in reply, was “Thank Serahna for the offer and tell her.. I will consider it.” Deleyhna saw his calculating grin and nodded. She had expected nothing less. Alliances were not entered into lightly, especially those concerning their dangerous Chosen brethren. One wrong step could be lethal.. “I will tell her.. when I see her”, she said and her emerald eyes glittered, her hand touching her face softly, teasingly. “Now that we have the formalities out of the way”, she added with her alluring smile, “would you like a drink?” ● Lord Taighan closed the door behind him and turned to face the High Lady of House Sirindred. “My Lady”, he said smoothly as he walked toward her, “you are as beautiful as ever.” She blushed at his compliment and felt her pulse increase as it always did when this man was in her presence. She could not quite explain it, but he always made her feel.. desire. Her skin burned as he embraced her, touched her face and kissed her mouth. Like every time, she wanted the moment to last forever. But like every time the moment passed quickly - far too quickly for her! - and he moved away from her, studying her face with those gorgeous eyes of his. She was middle-aged and handsome rather than beautiful. Her complexion was similar to that of most Cairhienin, her hair light brown and kept in the manner of the nobility. She was dressed in her finery as was expected of a High Lady of a Cairhienin House of Power and looked the part. Lord Taighan undressed her with his eyes. Kieran, in the guise of Lord Taighan, laughed inside at how easy it had been to manipulate this High Lady. He was using a little Compulsion on her, but even so she had been very easily influenced. In all matters but one. So far. Some people needed only a touch of Compulsion to react favourably to suggestions while others needed a heavier dose. The High Lady Anvaere was in the first category. She looked at him adoringly now as he went to fetch a couple of drinks from a small table in the corner. He returned with two glasses in hand, each filled with local red wine, and gave one to the High Lady. She was still flushed and accepted the glass while keeping her eyes set on his. ● “You are too kind, my Lord”, she finally managed to say, taking a quick sip from her drink, all the while pining for his touch. Lord Taighan took a sip from his own glass, the wine pretty tasteless for him. It was certainly nowhere near the quality of the wine from Seihm in what he now thought of as his previous life. Now that had been superb wine! They exchanged some more pleasantries as he walked her to the balcony outside her chamber. It was on the second floor of her Manor House which had a decent view of the city of Cairhien. Darkness filled the sky at this late hour but the capital was filled with Light. Kieran’s plans for Cairhien were bearing fruit, alliances made and broken, the stability of the nation poor with much internal conflict. The Royal House faced close to civil war and struggled to mend the broken country. All in all, Kieran was thrilled with his accomplishment. There was, however, one alliance left to break, that between House Sirindred and the Crown. The Chosen thought only a small push in the right direction remained for this scheme also to succeed. And so he continued his.. association with the High Lady, knowing she would soon see things his way. The stars above Cairhien looked particularly beautiful that evening - and he said as much to the smitten High Lady. She, for her part, saw the stars reflected in his eyes. ● The young Aes Sedai was on her knees as she stared up at the shining figure above her. She could not see the figure’s face, it was lost in intricate shimmers of blue light, but she felt the woman’s awesome strength in the One Power, greater than any she had witnessed, and felt thrills of fear and of obedience. “Yes, Great Mistress!” She almost gasped in awe. “I will do as you command!” “See that you do”, the figure’s voice said sternly. The voice was clouded and unrecognizable. “If you digress in any way, I will make sure you never live to see another day!” The Aes Sedai, afraid in spite of her training, promised she would obey the command to the letter, then bowed in obeisance, resisting the temptation to touch the hem of the other woman’s dress, got to her feet and walked silently away. She headed for her quarters in the Yellow Ajah part of the White Tower, thinking about the orders she had been given. And about the Aes Sedai she was going to kill. ● Lady Ceriahna was Head of House Terenaga, one of the four big Houses of Kandor. Standing at the castle walls, staring in the direction of the Plain of Lances in the far west, her long dark hair flowing in the wind sweeping across the Borderlands that late evening, she thought once again about the war that was coming. It filled her with dread. Kandor was one of the four Borderland nations which lay on the threshold of the Great Blight, sitting between Saldaea to the west and Arafel to the east. The nation was formed early in the War of the Hundred Years, she remembered from her history lessons. The governors of Hawkwing's five northern provinces had met and agreed to form stable nations to preserve the peace and defend against the Blight. Kandor was one of these. And Jarel Soukovni had been its first King. Now Kandor was ruled by a Queen. The question was how long she would sit on her throne. Saldaea in the west was already caught up in strife and conflict, so the rumours said, with hordes of Shadowforces hurtling down from the Blight to kill and destroy. Kandor had sent part of its own forces in aid of their Borderlander brethren as had Arafel and Shienar. It seemed, however, not to be enough. Messengers had been sent to Tar Valon asking for the Aes Sedai to come to their aid but no reply had arrived. So far. Ceriahna was certain that the Sisters of the White Tower would help in this fight against the Shadow, they always had before, so it was only a matter of time. She feared though that it could be too late. The invading armies, filled with Myrddraal and Trollocs and worse, if the rumours were true, would enter Kandor the following day. Her castle would see the enemy before daylight four days hence. And she only had two thousand men to defend it. It would never be enough. ● Turning her face away from the disaster that was looming in her mind, she left the castle roof and walked down the stairs to the level below. There she stumbled across her advisor Tenya, a Borderlander woman of iron and wisdom who had given the Lady much good advice in the past year. “Tenya”, she greeted the slightly younger woman. “Walk with me.” The woman called Tenya walked beside the Lady of the Castle along the corridor and down another level. As they walked, the Lady talked. “Advise me”, she began. “An army will be outside our gates in a few days, an army of Shadowspawn.” She almost spat at mention of that name. “How are we to stand any chance against them?” The other woman thought for a long moment before answering. Her dark eyes had a shrewd look but the Lady did not notice, staring ahead as she did. “The odds are not very good”, she admitted, “but I think you should take the fight to them.” Lady Ceriahna stopped in her tracks and looked at her advisor, her mouth agape. “You mean, we should attack?!” She finally uttered, disbelief in her voice. “They have overwhelming superiority in numbers if what we hear is correct. How can we stand a chance attacking them on open ground? And who will defend the castle?” Tenya remained calm as she answered. “Lady, an attack is exactly what they will not expect!” She smiled cleverly. “You will take them by surprise! I think the numbers we hear are inflated, and even if you don’t succeed in defeating them their forces will be somewhat depleted. They will not be anywhere as strong when they reach the castle here.” ● The Lady still seemed to have disbelief written all over her face, but she trusted her advisor and mulled over what she had heard as they continued along the walkway which led down to her personal quarters. Stopping just outside her door, she turned toward her advisor a final time. “You really think we can take them by surprise?” When Tenya nodded, the Lady added, “And the castle will stand a better chance that way?” “Yes, my Lady, that I believe”, Tenya lied. Her face was smooth. “This way you will save more of your people.” That seemed to make an impression on the Lady of the Castle because she nodded, a small smile appearing on her face. Tenya, the advisor to the Lady, left her standing there by her door and headed up to the level above, passing several Kandori soldiers on the way. Some winked at her but she pretended not to notice. Once she arrived back in her own quarters she quickly moved across to a small cupboard and poured herself a drink, her pulse rising. A seed sown, thought the woman as she drank the wine from her cup. May it swiftly grow to bear fruit. Putting the cup aside she walked up to a mirror on the wall and stared at her reflection. A smile came upon her face, a shrewd smile, as her reflection slowly changed into that of another woman. The Mask of Mirrors was a very useful weave indeed, thought Serahna the Chosen as she stared at her true self in the mirror. The real Tenya lay dead, buried deep in the ground several miles to the north. Serahna’s plans for the Borderlands were coming along very nicely indeed. Her grin broadened as she stared at her own face in the mirror for a long time. The Great Lord would be pleased. ▀▄
  10. .. Death and Ambition .. ►▼◄ He was a man six foot two tall with a light-dark complexion, neck-length dark hair and hard dark eyes. He had a strong build and also some battle-scars, a prominent one across his left cheek. The muscles stood out on his forearm as he lifted his blade high in the air and swung it in a deadly arc toward the head of his opponent. The other man parried, his angry blue eyes shooting daggers at the man in the colour-shifting cloak as he stepped back, his sword ready in case of another attack. The dark-haired man did not press his attack however, with an amused grin he studied his opponent, considering how much effort he wanted to put into this practice session. He was obviously far more skilled than the blond-haired, blue-eyed younger man and they both knew it. Feeling the slight tug of the Bond that meant his Aes Sedai wanted him, he decided to finish this ‘duel’ quickly. Moving faster now, combining forms in innovative ways, the older man swept inside the younger man’s defence. Low Wind Rising, a diagonal slash which began low and rose cleanly, followed by The Boar Rushes Down the Mountain, a vertical slash starting high and which in this case altered course in mid-swing, paired with Tower of Morning, a vertical slash but this time beginning low and ending high. The onslaught continued and the young man’s blade was swept aside and the hilt of the other man’s sword slammed into his chin as he stumbled backwards, losing his balance. He managed to stay on his feet but the session was over. The young Andoran nodded to his opponent, a sign of reluctant respect, though his eyes remained angry. He could not stand the other man’s arrogance and the way he behaved. Weren’t Warders supposed to be strong but humble, ferocious fighters but filled with integrity? This man seemed anything but humble, rather prideful and he gave the younger man a condescending look as he gave a slight nod back and a smirk, as if to say thanks for being a good sport but your skill has been found wanting as you already knew. ● The Gaidin walked away from where they had been sparring behind the stables, sheathing his blade as he headed toward the front of the local inn, the younger man totally forgotten. He felt his Bondholder waiting there and grinned coarsely when he saw her standing by the entrance, her brown eyes fastened on him, her green dress showing off her body in all the right places. He could feel her emotion through the Bond and her feelings mirrored his. Stopping before her, he gave her a Warder’s salute (it was a private thing between them which always amused her) and then a big kiss on the mouth. She put her arms warmly around him and returned the kiss affectionately. A local couple leaving the inn stared strangely - and with wide eyes - at the two as they passed, but the Aes Sedai and Warder did not care. They had long ago stopped caring that they were not behaving ‘properly’, as most expected of a Sedai and her Warder, in public. If people did not like it, tough! “Now then, my delicious Gaidin”, Carzahna Sedai said at last, untangling herself from her Warder and lover, “we have business to attend to.” He looked at her, more soberly this time, and nodded. Her long flowing brown hair framed a pretty face with high cheekbones and a perfectly shaped nose. The face was ageless - and he never tired of looking at it. “Yes, my lovely Aes Sedai”, Tehric Gaidin replied with a knowing grin. “It is time.” ● He followed her inside the inn and up the stairs to her room. Closing the door behind him, he stepped up to the wardrobe and opened it. Inside a young woman in a ripped white dress sat bound on hands and feet. She was gagged as well with a piece of cloth. Her blue eyes widened in fear as she was pulled out and placed on the bed. Carzahna Sedai stared at the woman like a predator watching her prey, as if ready to pounce, while her Warder removed the young woman’s gag. She was only fifteen or thereabouts with long blond hair and what had been a quite beautiful face. It was now bloodied with several cuts on the cheeks and she had a broken nose. Nodding to himself, pleased with his work, the Gaidin’s grin widened. “Now then”, he began as he studied the captured young woman. “Perhaps you have more to tell my Aes Sedai here”, he indicated his Bondholder on the other side of the bed, “now that you have had more time to think about it.” The young woman’s mouth quivered and soft sobs came from her mouth. “Come on, speak!” the Warder insisted in a hard voice. “I have told you all I know”, she whimpered after a long pause. “Please don’t hurt me anymore. I don’t know where the Dragon Reborn”, she shivered at mention of the name, “..where he is. I am telling the truth. I don’t know.” Tears flowed from her panicked eyes. “You must believe me!” She almost shrieked, sobs taking her. “I am telling the truth!” “Oh, I am sure you have more to tell us”, Tehric Gaidin said and his eyes hardened further. “I am quite sure.” Producing a knife from his pocket, he played with it before her tear-stricken face, moving it back and forth and to the sides ominously, touching her cheek with its sharp edge, drawing some more blood. He was looking forward to this further ‘interrogation’. The sight of blood excited him, it always had. His pulse quickened. His Aes Sedai’s eyes watched approvingly as he tortured the young woman near to death. When he finally slit the woman’s throat, the blood streaming down onto her white dress in thick rivulets, the Green Sister felt a thrill as she always did when they killed. The captured woman had revealed her innermost secrets in the end, as they knew she would, as they always did, and they now had good leads to follow. The Great Lord would be pleased. ● Sendhira Sedai returned to the Tarasin Palace passing the guards in silence and headed towards her private chamber. When she arrived there, she locked the door behind her and undressed. She was thinking about the rumours in the Tower and how she would uncover the plot that Dorinha and the Amyrlin were carrying out - she was sure it had to be a plot of sorts - with the help of the Altaran Queen and did not realize there was someone else in her bathroom before she was stepping into her bathtub. As she saw the shadow of a figure to her right, she screamed and embraced the One Power, shielding herself, lifting her leg out of the tub and standing ready to face the intruder. That she was naked was not uppermost in her mind as she faced the man standing there. For it was a man. Her eyes narrowed dangerously. Before she had time to shout at him to get the hell out of there, the stranger lifted an arm and his fingers signaled ‘no’. She did not recognize him, he seemed fairly ordinary looking with dark hair and a light complexion, a handsome face but his eyes were piercing. They were almost violet, something she had seldom seen. He stared lewdly at her curvy naked body now and she snatched a towel from the wall and covered herself . He did not seem aggressive but she watched him carefully, as she considered her options. “Who are you - and what are you doing here in my chambers?” She finally asked, her voice filled with anger. “You have no business here, man!” ● The stranger stared back at her with a lopsided grin, as if he found the whole situation amusing. This made her even more angry but before she could add something vile, he whispered that he was a friend, a friend she did not know she had. She looked back at him doubtfully, still furious but also a little curious if there was any truth in what the man was saying. She did not trust men, never had, never would. But if this was an ally of sorts.. perhaps it was worth letting the man talk. “A friend?” She said inquiringly, as she bade him follow her into her living room. “Why would a.. friend sneak into my bathroom?” Seating herself on the coach, still holding onto Saidar and ready to use it to defend herself if necessary, she waited for his response. “These are dangerous times”, the man said after a while, his face more serious now. “It is difficult to know who to trust. Things must be done in secret.” She nodded, still sceptical but knowing the truth of his words. “I think we can help one another, Sendhira Sedai”, the stranger whispered, his violet eyes glittering now. “It will be in both our interest to stop the Amyrlin and the Queen’s plans.” As he explained it all to her, time passing with neither of them noticing, Sendhira’s eyes glinted as she saw the opportunities in his proposal. With this knowledge she understood that it was not just possible but necessary for her to act. She had to stop the Amyrlin from destroying the White Tower. ● Thana, her long dark hair encompassing much of her pillow, was sleeping in her bed in her home at the outskirts of the city of Tanchico, dreaming sweet dreams of young love, when her eyes suddenly opened - and she screamed. Her thirteen year old sweet face tightened in fear and she felt needles all over her body, something pushing down hard on her. Staring wildly around her she could not see anyone as it became difficult to breathe and tears of pain streamed down her cheeks. This was her room.. but it was somehow not her room.. She could not quite explain it, it was like a mirror image of her room, similar but not the same. The walls shimmered around her, in an unfamiliar fashion, as she tried to escape the death that was consuming her. She knew it, she felt it..! She tried to fight free but was held in a tight grip by invisible bonds. “Oh light!” She screamed as she felt Darkness take her. “Noooooooooo!” With a final jerk her neck snapped and her eyes saw no more. The rigid body shimmered in Tel’aran’rhiod, within a room that shimmered, reflections of reality eternal. Back in the real world, in Tanchico, the body of Thana lay in her bed, her head at an angle, eyes sightless. It would be found by her mother the morning after, tears of grief never-ending. In the World of Dreams, a gateway opened in the mirrored chamber and then swiftly closed behind a cloaked departing figure. ● Gerehl and Banohr stepped out of the gateway onto the Plains of Maredo beneath an early afternoon sun. This was a vast plains area between Illian, Tear and Andor. The only city in the Plains of Maredo was Far Madding but they were several miles west of the city, in an empty landscape. They were searching for the male Sa’angreal Neminahl, a quest which they hoped would eventually be successful. No one in this Age knew where this great artefact was, neither did the two Chosen in truth, but clues found in an ancient book had indicated that the artefact of great power lay hidden somewhere in these plains. The two had searched for months in all archives they had found and finally had come across a short passage in a text mentioning a lost ancient male Sa’angreal. It had to be Neminahl, Gerehl had thought with confidence. It was the only other male Sa’angreal besides Callandor that had survived the Age of Legends as far as anyone knew. But where was it? They could spend an Age searching these plains. An Age and more. Staring pensively into the distance, Gerehl wondered if Raphael had any suspicion what they were doing. And here of all places, so near his ‘territory’ of Illian. Best if he never finds out, thought the Chosen as he faced Banohr. Who knows how he might react, him with that hot temper of his. Same goes for Vanahl for that matter. “Do you have any suggestion how we are to narrow down the search-area?” Gerehl asked his fellow Chosen. Banohr shrugged. “It would have been so much easier if we could feel some resonance from the Sa’angreal.” Gazing at the plains reaching into the distance, he considered their options. “The passage did not mention any specific area along these plains.” He added. “As you say, we could be searching here forever.” He channeled, spreading weaves of Saidin outwards to see if he felt anything, but after a while he shrugged again. “Nothing”, he said. “I feel nothing.” Gerehl nodded in frustration. Far Madding was too obvious a location, he felt sure. It was the first place to look and anyone wanting to hide such a rare object of the One Power would surely avoid that place. No, it had to be out here somehwere. The question was where. On the positive side, he surmised, if they could trust the text they had read, at least they would not have to search around the whole continent. Not that it was much of a consolation at that moment. “Let us consider the problem, Banohr.” Gerehl said finally, his eyes tightening. “I am sure we will come up with something.” ● Raphael waited patiently for Deleyhna to reply. He stared around the room where they sat. They were in her mansion and once again he was reminded of her focus on balance. The place was half resplendent and beautiful, half old and tattered showing only a sliver of former beauty. Just the way she liked it. His blue eyes returned to the figure half-slouching, if such could be said of the sensual way she was seated, on the coach opposite him. Her eyes studied him intently as she often did when they were together and she seemed to enjoy what she saw as much as he did her. When she still did not answer, he added, “Come on, let’s hear it.” His eyes glinted. “I am sure your proposal is advantageous to us both.” His grin widened speculatively as she remained silent. “You want us to kill Vanahl, perhaps?” Raphael joked darkly, leaning forwards. Her ambiguous smile gave him thrills - both of the good and bad kind - and he wondered for a second if she had ever considered such a dangerous idea. Pools of fire echoed in his mind. ▀▄
  11. .. Signs and Portents .. ►▼◄ “Oh shut that gaping mouth of yours, Senna”, said Nerahna with an exasperated sigh. “You look like a gasping fish on land.” Senna slowly closed her mouth but her eyes remained wide and her face haggard as she looked at her old friend. She was unable to utter a word, stunned. It was all so illogical. All so.. impossible. “Oh relax, Senna”, the Blue Sister added smoothly as she removed her Great Serpent Ring and placed it in her other hand. “If I wanted you dead, you would have been dead already.” Senna’s eyes widened even further if possible. Only her long Aes Sedai training and experience of many, many years kept her from screaming aloud. In fear and frustration. How could her friend of ages be…. Impossible! ● “Dead!?” Senna finally stuttered, watching her old friend as if she had never seen her before. “Oh take it easy, Senna”, Nerahna said as her hand closed around her Aes Sedai ring. “We all do as we must.” Her eyes turned to her friend’s still shaken face. “As will you.” Her eyes hardened and her smile became tighter. They both held onto Saidar and Nerahna felt her greater strength in the One Power. Senna felt it also and knew she would not be able to overcome her ‘friend’ if it came down to it. Strength in the One Power was something that was usually not spoken of among Aes Sedai but they all knew how strong or weak they were in relation to other Sisters and it made for a hierarchy of sorts, besides the formal hierarchy in the Tower. Opening her closed hand again the Blue Sister gazed at the Great Serpent Ring for a moment, as if considering all that it stood for, before placing it anew on her finger. “We all do as we must”, she whispered and her eyes hardened as they fastened on the White Sister seated opposite her in the chamber. “It is time to consider your allegiance, Senna”. She nodded to herself seeing the fear in the other woman’s eyes. A strong woman in more ways that one, the White Sister did not scare easily, but now she was scared. “It is time for you to Serve in the.. right way”, Nerahna said, her eyes glinting darkly. “I am sure you have much service to give.” A Shadow passed before Senna’s eyes for a moment, but she could not tell whether or not it was just her imagination. Another scream began deep down in her Soul, the Light trapped inside her. ● Sendhira Aes Sedai, dressed in a light red coat of style, walked the busy streets of Ebou Dar on a late morning, almost gliding along in the way of women of the White Tower, her face smooth but her emotions on fire. People moved out of her way, seeing the hardness in her eyes even if her ageless face showed nothing. They wanted nothing to do with Aes Sedai or their business. This suited Sendhira well, and it cleared her path whenever she had business in the city. She was on her way to see the Eyes and Ears for the Red Ajah in the city because she needed to know what the Amyrlin was up to. That blasted Dorinha had told her nothing and she, the Tower’s representative in the Tarasin Palace, had been shut out of the proceedings! It was intolerable! Now she hoped the Red Ajah network had ‘sussed out’ something of what was going on. Passing a local merchant man who stared at her a little too long for her comfort and who got a very icy look back, she entered a flower shop and shut the door behind her. Stepping up to the empty counter she rang a bell and waited. Flowers of all kinds and all colours were assembled around the room and her eyes fastened on some red tulips in the corner. Then she turned as the shopkeeper arrived. A middle-aged Ebou Dari woman, dark-haired with brown eyes and a somewhat pouty mouth, she bowed respectfully when she saw that her customer was an Aes Sedai. “How may I be of assistance, Aes Sedai?” The Shopkeeper inquired politely. She glanced at the Red shawl around the Sister’s shoulders and then back at her face. “I am looking for a particular flower”, Sendhira said smoothly, her eyes glittering. “It is not easy to get hold of, but I hoped you might be able to help me.” “It is called Amarynth.” ● The shopkeeper immediately recognized the secret code word and nodded silently. She had expected as much when she had seen the Red shawl, being the head of the Eyes and Ears for the Red Ajah in Ebou Dar, but she always waited for the code word before divulging any information. “I do know that particular flower”, she replied knowingly as she bade the Sister join her behind the counter. “I may be able to help you out.” Sendhira Sedai joined the Ebou Dari woman in the back room where she went through the messages in tiny scrolls from her Red Sisters back in the White Tower. When she left a while later, she was not much the wiser. Speculations were abundant in the Tower as to the Amyrlin’s plans, it turned out, and most of what she read seemed implausible to the Red Aes Sedai. The Amyrlin intent on catching the boy Dragon without the assent of the Hall of the Tower!? What nonsense! Rumours and rumours but no facts. Nothing certain, nothing she could count on. One way or another, Sendhira thought determinedly to herself as she walked back toward the Tarasin Palace, she would get to the bottom of what was going on. ● Physically entering Tel'aran'rhiod, closing the gateway behind him, Gerehl moved across the marble floor of the huge chamber and seated himself in one of the several ornate oak chairs with high backs that were facing each other around an ornate table across a space of twelve feet. It is always the same, thought the Chosen as memories of the former meeting in this very place what felt ages ago slipped into his thoughts. Always the same. On the table were elegant crystal glasses and a dozen candle lights burning. They flickered as they always did in this place, almost as if switching in and out of existence. Seated in one of the chairs was Kharin and she threw him an icy look as she folded her arms beneath her breasts. He gave her a curt nod as he sat down opposite, not bothered by her hostile stare. Kharin was always icy toward all men and Gerehl did not think she would ever change her ways. He considered for a moment asking her how that slip of a female thing warming her bed was doing but he refrained, gazing instead at the other side of the room where a gateway was opening. Sinam stepped through, his heavily decorated coat swinging about him as he took a seat, the gateway snapping shut behind him. He nodded to the two Chosen who had already arrived but stayed silent, his hands on the table before him. His thoughts were back on his exploits as Lord Rehmar in Arad Doman, and the different plans he had put into motion. He had been in the middle of something worthwhile.. when Vanahl had suddenly turned up and ordered him to attend this meeting. And so here he was, slightly annoyed and wondering if this would be another meaningless meeting with Vanahl shouting and screaming and accusing to no end. He was interrupted in his thoughts when another two gateways opened, one on each side of the room, silver lines tearing through the air. Serahna, wearing what seemed a kind of battle dress, stepped through one of the gateways and Vanahl through the other. Serahna gave a slight bow to the others as she took her seat, her eyes flashing amusedly, while Vanahl’s eyes, pools of fire, swept hotly over them all as he seated himself at the end of the table, as usual. Staring at each of the assembled Chosen in turn, knowing they found it uncomfortable, he then slammed his fist down hard on the table making Kharin almost jump in spite of herself. ● “Enough, I say!” the leader of Those Chosen To Rule The World Forever shouted. His black coat rippled around him in a strange way, Gerehl thought, but he paid it little mind. Ripples of a kind, slight changes, were common here in the World of Dreams. Perhaps Vanahl was losing his grip on sanity and this was a side effect in this place. Who could tell with him. Who could tell in this strange place. “Enough!” the Nae’blis repeated. His eyes burned with anger. “You have give me nothing but lies when it comes to the matter of the boy Dragon.” Vanahl accused. “No more!” Gerehl looked amused as he calmly confronted the Nae’blis. “Are we not waiting for the others to arrive?” He indicated the eight empty chairs around the table. Vanahl shrugged. “The others have not been.. invited this time.” His angry smile turned shrewd for a moment. “This meeting is for.. us.” Kharin looked about to say something but changed her mind. Her hateful look toward the Nae’blis remained. Serahna seemed surprised but shrugged without comment. Sinam commented, with a lopsided grin, that they would miss Raphael and Deleyhna’s contribution, knowing well that those two were particular annoyances for Vanahl, and he was rewarded with a scowl from their leader. Gerehl grinned under his breath. “We shall manage quite well without.. them”, the Nae’blis added icily. Then he stared hard at each of the assembled men and women. “But back to the matter at hand: this time you will tell me all you know concerning the debacle with the boy Dragon.” His fists clenched before him. “I will then tell you how we are to proceed next.” The fires in Vanahl’s eyes intensified. ● Seida din Parede Four Moons, the Mistress of the Ships and ruler of the Atha’an Miere, stared forcefully at the gathered clans. She had very dark eyes, almost white hair and a face carved of iron. She was tall for her race and thinly built but her arms had the strength of someone half her age. She had six rings in each ear, a sign of her high station, and numerous medallions on the chain connected to her nose. Forceful, was the word most Wavemistresses used to describe her, and she had embraced it. The huge Sea Folk ships bearing the twelve Clan leaders, the Wavemistresses - and also the Sailmistresses, Windfinders and Cargomasters as well as all their crews had arrived at the Aile Dashar in the past days and now the leaders were gathered here. They sat in a huge hall in a stone-based building that had been constructed at the inlet of a tall hill on the island. The clans were seated in rows with the most influential near the front. Gazing down at them all from a small elevation and a stone seat chair, the Mistress of the Ships wished she were back on her ship. She never felt comfortable when on land, and already missed the feeling of a ship’s deck under her feet. This had to be done though, and she could not quite decide whether the prospect of change that was coming excited her or made her weary. She had never liked changes. Raising her hand for silence, the huge hall slowly became quiet. All eyes were on her as she got to her feet. From off to the side Issandra the Chosen, in the guise of Chalor din Togara Evening Tide, Windfinder to Sailmistress Tarah din Coral Rising Wave, watched carefully as the Mistress of the Ships spoke. ● “The world is changing”, the leader of the Sea Folk said. Her voice rang out in the hall. She had long had the ability to make her voice heard in huge gatherings. Now she used it with force. “Our people are caught in the middle of this whirlwind, as we know. And now it is time to play our part.” The Mistress of the Ships looked long and hard at all the gathered leaders of her people. “The one Foretold has arrived.” She continued forcefully. “The one of many names, the one we know. As was promised in the Jendai Prophecies.” The hall was totally silent now. “He who will lead us to greater glory, he who will lead us to total domination of the seas.” Her voice rose as every eye in the hall was fastened on her. She could feel anticipation building among her gathered people and she was carried along its waves. “He who we have waited for, he who we have sought, he who heralds a New Age.” The Mistress of the Ships paused slightly for added effect, her eyes now glittering with excitement, her uncertainty driven away by the moment. Roars of cheers erupted in the hall. Knowing what was coming, the long wait over. “The Coramoor!” ▀▄
  12. .. Masked in Darkness .. ►▼◄ Selecin, the Truthspeaker for the Seanchan Empress Tirana Elem Sani Paendrag, was scolded -in front of the whole royal court, who watched partly embarrassed, partly amused. Tervihn, in the guise of the Truthspeaker, seethed inside but kept his true emotion off his face, seeming abject and ashamed. When the Empress was finished castigating him for his failure in predicting and neutralizing the danger to her daughter, the heir to the Empire, she ordered everyone else out of the throne room and remained alone with her Truthspeaker. “Why should I not have you flogged?” She said in an icy voice when they were alone in the room. “You are here to advice, to tell truths and have knowledge. My daughter almost got killed today. Killed!” Tervihn, still looking abjectly at the Empress, decided that he needed to apply more Compulsion, since the delicate threads he had used on her hitherto seemed somehow to have weakened. He needed her more agreeable and had to avoid a situation where she came in the way of his plans. “Great Empress”, he began in a demure voice, “you are absolutely right. I have failed in my service”. As he spoke he wove new subtle threads of Compulsion which he directed at the woman. “I am ashamed. I should have foreseen such an attack.” The Empress nodded as he spoke but he soon saw her hard face soften, the weaves taking effect. “Yes, you should have.” She said, but her voice was not as emphatic as before. She looked past her Truthspeaker as if hearing a sound from far off, then fastened her gaze on him again. “I shall, however, forgive you this time, Selecin”. Her eyes glittered shrewdly. “You can serve me still, in several ways.” The Truthspeaker’s face turned upwards and his eyes locked on hers. “I am grateful, Great Empress”. Tervihn spoke. “I will not fail you again.” As the Empress dismissed him, her thoughts already on other matters, Tervihn the Chosen departed, his eyes taking on a dangerous, speculative gleam as he left the throne room behind. ● Moored in the northern island group called Aile Dashar, the Sea Folk vessel Wavesweeper lay by the quayside in the afternoon sun as crew members worked on her outer hull. Two dark-skinned women with short black hair and tattoos common in the Atha’an Miere were repairing a dent in the bow of the ship while others were working astern. Tarah din Coral Rising Wave, a tall dark-skinned woman with grey streaked hair, a grave face and with four rings in each ear, one of them being connected to her nose by a chain, a sign of her higher rank, nodded to herself as she watched the others work. She was proud of her ship and proud of her crew. As Sailmistress this was her ship and she would give her life to protect her. A small sound made her turn and she watched coolly as her Windfinder came up to her. Chalor din Togara Evening Tide gazed at the older woman with just the right amount of respect, giving a slight nod in recognition of the woman’s higher rank. They had had words the day before, an open disagreement, and the Sailmistress was displeased. She did not like anyone questioning her authority as she saw it, least of all her Windfinder. She had her orders, from the Mistress of the Ships herself in truth, and she intended to carry them out regardless of what others thought. Issandra, in the guise of the Windfinder, stared at the other woman and wondered if it was time to kill her. The Sailmistress had not followed her suggestion to turn eastwards towards the mainland, had in fact castigated her for her proposition, and Issandra had left in inward fury, heading toward her cabin to calm herself. Stopping here at Aile Dashar was counterproductive to the Chosen’s own plans and they had been here for over a week now and Issandra was becoming restless. “I apologize if I overstepped yesterday, Sailmistress”, the Windfinder said demurely. “I just think it would be wise for us to head towards the mainland, considering all the rumours we have picked up.” The Sailmistress looked long and hard at her Windfinder, a woman she usually admired, and finally nodded. “I understand”, she replied calmly. Her eyes took on a shrewd look. “You are very valuable to our ship, Chalor.” She said. “But don’t question my orders again.” Chalor nodded and looked downwards abjectly, playing her part, as the Sailmistress continued. “My orders come from the leaders of our Clan. And theirs come from the very top.” She did not need to speak the name. Seida din Parede Four Moons, the Mistress of the Ships and ruler of the Atha’an Miere, was a dominant and forceful woman and someone one did not cross. They both turned as the ship’s Cargomaster, and second in command, approached them and spoke a few words with the Sailmistress. He then returned to the ship to oversee repairs and other things that needed doing while they were at the isles. The Sailmistress nodded to herself as she watched him go, pleased to have someone so capable in charge at that moment. Turning back to her Windfinder, she added that she had a meeting to attend later that day and that several other Sea Folk ships were expected soon. Her Windfinder nodded and said she would spend some time onboard the vessel until she was called for. She then walked along the dock and boarded the Raker, never looking back. Gazing in her direction, the Sailmistress wondered why her Windfinder was so insistent on heading towards the mainland. Yes, there were rumours of conflict and war, as well as unrest in the region the mainlanders called the Borderlands, but this was not their - the Sea Folk’s - business, at least not right now. The Clans were gathering and the Atha’an Miere had their own mission to fulfill. Tarah din Coral Rising Wave did not know the details, but the little she had heard made her feel excitement but also dread. The Storm was coming. ● Sendhira Nerron touched the Red shawl around her shoulders as she walked down the corridor of the Tarasin Palace in Ebou Dar. She was furious inside but nothing showed on her smooth ageless Aes Sedai-face. That the Queen had agreed to see the Green Sister without Sendhira present had put her back up. She was the White Tower’s liaison here, she was the one who mediated on matters between the two parties. And now this upstart Green had suddenly appeared and was running things or so it at least seemed. Touching her Red shawl another time, she turned a corner - and came face to face with Dorinha. “Sendhira”, the Green Sister greeted her coolly. “Dorinha”, the Red Sister replied equally coolly. Neither woman looked kindly at the other, their eyes almost at daggers. Sendhira turned her gaze on the man standing beside the Green Aes Sedai for a moment and frowned. A Man. And a Warder. The Red Ajah were not kindly disposed toward men in general if truth be told, and Sendhira, like most in her Ajah, did not believe in having Warders, did not believe them trustworthy, and generally thought they would get in the way. She knew privately that a couple of her Ajah Sisters did in fact play with the thought of having a Warder, but she did not take such foolishness seriously. Switching her gaze back to the Green Sister, her eyes fastening on the woman’s Green shawl, Sendhira considered her next words. “I understand you are here under orders from the Amyrlin.” It was more a statement than a question. “Is there a special reason why I, as the Tower’s representative here, was not invited to your meeting with the Queen?” Dorinha smiled inside though nothing showed on her face. Sendhira had never been one for diplomacy, which was partly why Dorinha had wondered why the other woman had been sent as Tower liaison to the court of the Altaran Queen. The Red Sister had always been very direct and Dorinha had expected the question. She could not lie, the binding Oath prevented that, but she could circumvent the truth as Aes Sedai were experts at. “The White Tower was represented well in the meeting with the Queen”, Dorinha replied coolly. “She received the message from the Amyrlin.” Sendhira stared back at her, pursing her lips. The Green had not answered her question, just stated something obvious. Why did she not wish to tell the truth? Sendhira wondered. The Red considered whether to probe further but just then a man approached them from down the corridor and she turned in his direction. Lord Elahron stopped before the two women and gave a slight bow, nodding to the Warder. Sendhira stared with distaste at this man who had such influence over the Queen. He was Chief Advisor to the Altaran ruler and rumours in the palace were that they were lovers too. Something in the way he carried himself, arrogant and full of himself, put Sendhira’s teeth on edge. In many ways he was the embodiment of the men she had come across in her life, men of power, men she despised. Dorinha, on the other hand, found the man attractive, more so than she first had, and felt his power of personality as he smiled at her. Her eyes glittered in thrilled response and her smooth face almost lost its smoothness for a moment. Her Warder stared at him with a dark look, however, wondering at his Bondholder’s seeming change of heart and feeling danger even if it was not apparent. “Aes Sedai”, Vinadel said kindly as he faced the Green Sister, “the Queen wishes to speak to you again.” Dorinha nodded, a small smile on her lips, and began to move past him. Sendhira began to follow but the Queen’s Advisor shook his head. “Only Dorinha Sedai this time”, he added smoothly, amused at the anger clear in the Red Sister’s eyes. You are a Red Viper for sure, thought the Chosen as the tall, long-haired woman turned on her heels and walked away from where he stood. She was not pleased, not pleased at all. ● Sei’ad, Chief of the Spine Ridge Sept of the Miagoma Clan of the Aiel, widened his eyes as the sharp spear buried itself in his heart and hardly had time to consider what had happened before falling dead to the ground. Venduin, veiled and clad in warrior brown, stared coldly down at the dead Sept Chief. They were inside the Chief’s tent, alone in the night. Turning to face the tent opening for a moment, Venduin listened for sounds of running feet but all was quiet. Turning back toward the corpse on the ground, the man known by all in the sept as Venduin smiled chillingly. Banohr was pleased with the ease with which he had killed this man - and thereby removed an obstacle to his plans. The Chosen had killed the real Venduin a while back and had assumed his identity. He had studied Aiel culture since his return from the Long Sleep in preparation for this. It had given him some small pleasure to kill in the ancient Aiel way as well, instead of terminating the Chief’s life with the use of Saidin. Now he studied the dead man carefully and using the Mask of Mirrors, an intricate weave of Saidin, his appearance slowly changed from that of Venduin to that of Sei’ad. He then incinerated the body using the One Power and placed the ashes in a small box which he had brought with him. The spear he cleaned of blood and then grabbed it. Satisfied at last, ‘Sei’ad’ Sept Chief stepped out of his tent and gazed up at the shining moon high above. From behind his glittering Aiel-blue eyes, Banohr smiled to himself. ● Senna Falhdrid, originally from Cairhien, was a Sitter for the White in the Hall of the Tower. She had been a Sitter for more than twenty years and the hints of grey in her hair spoke of her 105 years on this earth. Most of these she had spent in Tar Valon, as a Novice, Accepted and finally Aes Sedai of the White Ajah. Like most if not all her Sisters she based her life on logic, on logical explanations, reason and sense. So it had always been and so it would always be for her. Rumours floating around the White Tower that the Amyrlin had plans in progress to deal with the boy Dragon, she took as pure speculation. Something would have to be done about the boy in due course, naturally, but there was no sense in the Amyrlin making such a vital - and potentially dangerous - decision without informing the Hall. It simply was not done and so Senna discarded the rumours. Her friend in the Blue Ajah, however, was not so certain. Seated opposite the White Sister, the Blue Aes Sedai repeated what she had heard. Nerahna Terin was a dozen or so years older than Senna, a Sitter for the Blue, and what she in the White Sister’s opinion lacked in logical reasoning she more than made up in enthusiasm. A brown-haired woman with a sharp nose and a friendly smile, she leaned over the table which stood in the middle of her own quarters and her green eyes glinted as she spoke. “They say the Amyrlin is planning to capture the boy Dragon, whether the Hall agrees or not.” Senna shook her head once again, wondering why her old Novice-friend listened to such foolish rumours. “Nerahna”, she said at last, trying not to sigh, “those are just foul rumours put out by the Reds. You know as well as I do that they are still miffed that the Hall chose a Green to lead us all.” A year before, the Hall of the Tower had chosen the Green candidate Visvana Loratehl as Amyrlin after the sudden, unexplained death of her predecessor. The Reds had worked hard, in vain as it turned out, to get their candidate chosen and had been bitter ever since. Nerahna shook her head. “I agree the Reds are capable of such, but this time I think the rumours have some truth in them. What will the Hall do if she is caught?” “The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills..” Senna replied, using the old Aes Sedai saying. “But I think this is just nonsense. It is not logical at all and I for one don’t believe the rumours.” Nerahna leaned back in her chair and studied her old Novice-friend closely. They were so different, personality-wise and philosophically, Senna and she that it was a wonder that they had become close friends when they were Novices. They had kept the friendship in the years they were Accepted in the Tower, and though they were no longer as close as in those days past they still were as friendly as Sisters in different Ajahs could be, keeping in touch when both were in the White Tower. Nerahna had always liked Senna, and remembered with fondness their pillow-fun when they were young, but she had to admit that the White Sister was naïve and there were so many things she did not understand. Her eyes took on a new gleam as she looked at Senna’s grey dress. It was very conservative, high-necked, with a few subtle decorations and some frills down the side. Staring down at her Great Serpent Ring for a moment, Nerahna thought of her many years in the Tower. The golden ring fashioned into the shape of a serpent biting its own tail, was an ancient symbol of eternity and time itself. Time. Time eternal. Turning her gaze to her friend opposite her, she took a sip of tea from the cup before her, then said smoothly, “The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills indeed. By the way, I like your blue dress, Senna.” It took a moment to register, then Senna’s eyes and mouth opened wide.. and a scream began to form in her soul. ▀▄
  13. .. Soul of the Battle Ajah: In Tribute .. ►▼◄ Dorinha Khalarin, Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah, walked the streets of Ebou Dar with purpose. Her green travelling cloak billowed behind her in the strong southern breeze as she strode down the streets, her Warder Cardhan steadfastly at her side. People stepped out of their way, some with animosity in their faces, others with curiosity. Most averted their eyes as they passed, wanting little to do with the White Tower. General feeling in Ebou Dar towards the Aes Sedai was not as negative as in Amadicia but neither was it as supportive as in the Borderlands. Most Altarans just wanted little to do with the White Tower. The Queen in the Tarasin Palace had an Aes Sedai advisor, of course, but that was tradition and so was a different matter as most saw it. Dorinha was on her way to see the Queen now, on important business of the White Tower, and while she looked forward to her visit with the Altaran Head of State she did not look forward to meeting the Aes Sedai stationed there, Sendhira Nerron who was of the Red Ajah. She and Sendhira had never been anything near friends, as far as one could call Sisters in different Ajahs friends, and Dorinha considered her temperamental and foul-mouthed while Sendhira considered Dorinha arrogant and naive. The Green Sister hoped she would be allowed to speak to the Queen on her own, since she had received her orders from the Amyrlin herself, but if the Red Sister was obstinate she could cause trouble. Dorinha’s long brown hair, that had a hint of grey in it, flowed behind her in the wind as they traversed the busy afternoon streets and her face was Aes Sedai-smooth as she focused on the Tarasin Palace in the distance. It stood along one side of the Mol Hara square which had at its centre a statue of a woman with one arm raised as to point toward the sea. Dorinha had often wondered who this woman was, but the histories she had read had not revealed the answer. Some Brown probably knew it by heart, she thought with a shrug, as they walked past and headed toward the gate to the Palace grounds. Soon they were shown inside the Palace and were, subsequently, granted an audience with the Altaran Ruler and Queen. To the Battle Ajah Sister’s surprise, a man she did not know was in attendance standing beside the Throne of the Winds. And Sendhira Sedai was nowhere to be seen. ● The Queen, Mandhra Theliana Selnobar, by the Grace of the Light, Mistress of the Four Winds, Guardian of the Sea of Storms and High Seat of House Selnobar, had neck-long glossy black hair with grey at the temples framing a rather ordinary face. Her eyes were striking though, dark brown and large. Her smile was friendly though guarded as she greeted the Green Sister, bowing from atop her throne, and her Warder. She then presented her first councillor, Lord Elahron who bowed politely to the Aes Sedai. She gave a brief nod back, just enough for politeness, and studied the man for a moment. There was nothing special about him in truth but something in the way he carried himself, confident and self-assured, made her view him with caution. Her dark-haired, tall and imposing Warder seemed to echo her feelings as he stared long and hard at the other man, before shifting his gaze to a neutral point midway between the Queen and the huge historical painting - it was of an ancient sea battle of sorts - on the wall in the background. “Now then”, the Queen said after the presentations were made and some pleasantries had been exchanged, “how may I be of service to the White Tower.” Her voice was steady and polite though tinged with some amusement. Her eyes glittered as she studied the tall Warder at the Aes Sedai’s side, enjoying the sight of him. She liked tall and strong men.. they made good bed partners. “I come on behalf of the Amyrlin Seat, the Watcher of the Seals, the Flame of Tar Valon”, the Green Sister began formally, using all the titles of the leader of the Aes Sedai as she had been told to do. It was important that the Queen understood the importance of this mission. “On behalf of the White Tower, she has a proposal for you that she believes can benefit Altara as well as Tar Valon.” Dorinha studied the Queen’s reaction, as she also had been ordered to do, but the Ruler of Altara showed little initial reaction to her words. One eyebrow then raised a little, she looked at the Aes Sedai and a small smile full of intrigue came upon her lips. Privately she wondered whether it would be wise to make a deal with the White Tower now that the Children of the Light had already approached her with an offer of Alliance, but she wanted to keep her options open and, for the moment at least, not to make an enemy of the Aes Sesai. These were volatile times, whispers of dangerous storms coming heard in many a place in her Capital in the past months, and she ought to step carefully. “Tell me what proposal.. the Amyrlin has for me”, the Queen finally replied, her lips pursed, “and we shall see if it is something we can work on.” Her eyes glittered again, as she listened to the Green Sister’s words ● ‘Lord Elahron’, or rather Vinadel the Chosen, watched the proceedings with interest. The proposal from the White Tower was an interesting one, and far from conventional, and as he listened he considered whether it would be favourable to his own plans to go ahead with it. For of course, the Queen would follow whatever suggestion he made, that much he was certain of. Studying the Green Aes Sedai - neither she nor any others of these so-called Aes Sedai in this Age were worthy of the name, he thought privately - he wondered whether it would be necessary to kill her in the end. If she meddled with his plans, of course. Perhaps also if she did not. He enjoyed killing, one of the reasons why he had forsaken the Light and joined the Shadow to begin with, though these days he seldom found the time for that pleasure. He had been a renowned philosopher back in his former life, in what they now called the Age of Legends, but also, in fact, a killer, an assassin, and the ‘taste’ of blood and the exhilaration of seeing the light of life disappearing from a person had never left him. Shifting his gaze to the hard-eyed imposing man standing beside her, a formidable opponent for most men, he recognized the dangerous nature of a Warder-trained man. He would have to be killed too if Vinadel decided to terminate the woman’s life. He had learned how Warders went mad on a killing-spree to avenge their fallen Sedais and he did not have the time to risk having an enraged predator on his heels. Turning back to the Queen, using subtle weaves of Saidin for Compulsion, he nodded as she spoke the words he wanted her to speak. When the Green Sister and her Gaidin left the grand Reception Room a short while later, ‘Lord Elahron’ remained behind, talking to the Queen for a while before making his way back to his private chambers in the Palace. ● Cardhan clenched his fists and repeated what he had said several times. “I don’t like it.” Dorinha was seated in the guest room in the Palace which had been provided for the Green emissary from the White Tower while her Borderlander Warder remained standing beside her. “I know, Cardhan”, she replied for the third time, a small edge coming to her voice. “I don’t like it either, but these are our orders.” The Green Sedai looked again down at the opened scroll on the table before her. How could she have guessed that she carried such a message? She would never have believed the Amyrlin would go to such lengths. Were matters so serious in the White Tower? She had been travelling for several months on missions and had lost touch with proceedings in the Tower, only to be ordered on this mission of importance. She had been told that all she needed to know would be in this scroll, which she were to open and read upon arrival, and had departed for the South on those terms. Now she knew what this all was about and she did not like it. Not at all. But her place was to obey the Amyrlin, the leader of the Aes Sedai, and that she intended to do however much she personally disliked it. The Storm is Coming. ● She felt it in her one hundred and fifty year old bones. Rumours were afloat in the land, whispers of conflict and strife in several places, and she knew there had to be some truth in it. The boy Dragon was somewhere, loose.. doing who knew what.. the thought made shivers run down her spine even though she privately thought it may have to be so, since the Prophecies of the Dragon explicitly said he was their only chance of victory in the coming Last Battle. She knew that the Red Ajah were adamant that he be captured and held safely, and that some Sisters in other Ajahs agreed, but that no firm decision had been made yet by the Amyrlin and the Hall of the Tower. There was heavy risk with this ‘strategy’, of course, but also hope, Dorinha thought. In some ways, I hope the Last Battle is soon upon us, the Green Sister thought to herself. It is coming, oh yes it is, and we of the Battle Ajah have stood ready for it.. for many generations. Finally our true purpose will be vindicated and we shall stand at the forefront of the Forces of Light battling the evil Shadow. A part of her chided her for such ‘foolish thoughts’, she was not an over-excited Accepted after all, but she knew deep inside that this was how she felt. Oh yes! None of these thoughts were shared with her Warder, however. They were for herself alone. She also made sure the excitement she felt at the thought did not pass through the Bond to her Gaidin, masking the Bond for a moment. He would support and fight for her to death and beyond, she knew with certainty, but she did not want him to misunderstand and become concerned with her lack of focus and her obsession over the Last Battle. For it was an obsession even if she tried to pretend otherwise to herself. Finally, clearing her mind, she looked up at her Warder and loyal friend and protector of many years and said, “We do what we must, Cardhan.” Her eyes were steady, her voice clear. She touched her Great Serpent Ring, thinking of the duty of an Aes Sedai. “We do what we must”. ● Lightning flashed across the heavens.. .. and thunder crashed.. .. shaking the world in its inner folds, as the mounts bearing Oceans of Green Ajah Sisters to War, their green cloaks streaming behind them, and a hundred Warders or more at their side, thundered across the barren lands of the Blight. Before them awaited a Battlefield of Death, but they rode on proudly, strongly, unyieldingly, the vanguard of the main White Tower Forces, their Battle Ajah banners held high, ready to fight for the Light and destroy the Shadow in this long prophesized Last Battle! Tarmon Gai'don! Opposing forces of Dreadlords, Darkfriends, Trollocs and Myhrdraal in uncountable numbers met them head on, like an avalanche of Darkness, and the Power unleashed as swords clashed with swords and fires of the One Power crashed in the skies above made the earth tremble in its heart. This was what they had trained for.. what they had lived for.. what the Green Ajah, of all the various Ajahs of the White Tower, had always stood in readiness for.. and for Dorinha Sedai and Cardhan Gaidin too, amid the Green Aes Sedai horde, this was the culmination of their existence. Cardhan’s blade was raised high as he screamed proud and fierce battle cries of Arafel, his nation of origin, and Dorinha’s eyes sparkled as never before, her whole face elated and so filled with determination and steely purpose that it almost shone. Finally the time had come! Finally!! ● Galloping into the horde of Evil, the Arafel Warder’s sword sliced into a trolloc as he passed and almost removed its arm. His black warhorse, trained for battle, stormed into the melee and trampled a Darkfriend in the passing as Cardhan’s blade struck out at more foes, left and right. Balls of fire streamed across the skies, Dreadlords hurling them at the Aes Sedai who deflected them using various combat weaves, and who retaliated with deadly lightning bolts that struck down amid the Forces of the Shadow. Several trollocs exploded before him, blood and guts and body parts raining down on him as he rushed by, his sword moving in another arc to behead a brute of a Darkfriend who tried to thrust his sword into his horses’ side. The evil minion managed to duck just in time, the Warder’s sword cutting the air above him, but then he was destroyed by a Green Sister’s deadly combat weave of Saidar. A little further ahead a trolloc with its animal snout suddenly stepped into the horses’ path and swung its huge battle-axe in an arc and smashed in the face of an oncoming Warder, but was then engulfed in flames from a furious, screaming Aes Sedai who threw lightning bolts at the trolloc until it was utterly destroyed. The Aes Sedai, a tall, regal woman with flowing hair the colour of flame, threw herself into a cluster of nearby Shadowspawn, leaving Death in her wake. ● Across the Battlefield there was Death and Screams. Flames ablaze. Also Sisters of the White Tower and Warders were slain, mostly by Dreadlord attacks but also by Myhrdraal and trollocs when they were simply overwhelmed by numbers. Blood filled the barren slopes of the Blight. A Sea of Blood. An Ocean of Death. ● Dorinha, in the middle of the Chaos, hurled Flames of Saidar at an oncoming Myhrdraal and it’s black flowing cloak came afire with deadly shrieks. She deflected weaves hurled at her by Dreadlords some way off, shielding herself and her Warder, and used all her learned combat weaves to fight the Shadow. Another Green Sister, a blond-haired aged Andoran woman with a short temper, threw a fireball towards a cluster of trollocs and Myhrdraal and saw to her great satisfaction that they screamed and howled in death. Her three Borderlander Warders raised their fists high in the air, crying out in elation and celebration of their Aes Sedai’s successful strike, then swung their swords at the attacking trollocs. The earth then exploded off to the left, several paces away from Dorinha and Cardhan, and an Aes Sedai, a dark-haired Sister unknown to her, fell screaming to the ground while her Warder threw himself from his galloping horse, rolled and came to a sudden stop beside her. She lay still on the ground, her life force quickly pouring out of the huge hole in the middle of her chest. Her Warder held her close, his eyes wide in shock as she died.. .. tears streamed down his face... .. and then, those strained Warder’s eyes were filled with death.. and wrath..unending wrath.. Death!! I will destroy them all!! His scream of rage tore through the battleground. He slowly closed his Bondholder’s dead eyes, kissed her forehead a final goodbye, brushed his tears away, then turned.. ..and with fury and almost madness in his eyes and a feral scream escaping his lips, he almost decapitated the oncoming Myhrdraal before throwing himself into the nearest cluster of trollocs, uncaring of his own life, his soul crying out for vengeance, for death.. for oblivion.. ..his blade swinging in deadly arcs time and again, becoming the deadliest Shadow among Shadows.. ● Cardhan, his side bloodied but not lethally, fought the Shadowspawn from atop his warhorse, his sword rising and falling with deadly precision, but the path of Death swerved away from his Bondholder and.. suddenly .. out of the corner of his eye, Cardhan saw - almost as if in slow motion, time slowing down - Dorinha scream and fall out of her saddle some way off to his side. It happened so quickly that he barely had time to react - was it a lethal weave aimed at her? - as he shouted in her direction and then turned his warhorse sharply toward her. A few moments later - but it felt like an eternity - he was beside her, dismounting hurriedly and throwing himself to the ground beside her. The battle crashed on around them, the skies filled with fire and lightning, the battlefield filled with screams and horror, but for Cardhan it was as if the whole world was gone. All that was left was Dorinha. She was all that mattered to him right then. ● Shouting worriedly to her if she was all right, looking for any signs of injury though she lay on her side and it was difficult for him to tell, feeling her pain through the Bond, he took her in his arms and cradled her to his chest. She looked paralyzed, her body limp, her pulse slowing.. and she only stared up into his dark eyes, a solitary tear running down her cheek.. ..then another.. her eyes sad.. oh so sad.. Oh Dorinha! Cardhan thought, his soul dying. His heart bled tears. He held her close as the light of life left his Aes Sedai. The Bond snapped. In the Storm of Death around him, her Warder was alone. Oh, dear Dorinha.. Then.. .. the blood rage took him.. and he was Death incarnate as he stormed into the Shadowspawn like a whirlwind, no care left in the world for his own safety, only intending to take as many of them as possible with him into the Beyond.. ● Cardhan crashed out of the dream with sudden abruptness, his eyes wide and hurting, his heart beating hard and his pulse racing, sitting quickly upright in bed, as he tried to get his bearings. Wha..!? It was dark all around.. and through the bedroom window to the side on the wall of his chamber in the Palace he could see that it was still night outside. It had been a dream, he understood, as he tried to gather his thoughts. He was in the Tarasin Palace, there was no battle and no war. And Dorinha was.. safe. Relief flowed through him. No Tarmon Gai'don. Of course not. But it had been so real! So incredibly real! So vivid in every little detail.. in smell, sight, colour, sound and touch.. more so, perhaps, than almost any dream he had had before. His breathing gradually slowed as he gained control of himself, and he lay back with his head on the pillow, closing his eyes for a long moment. ● Breathing more easily, he nevertheless felt cold sweat on his back as he recalled the ‘visions’ of his dream.. ..the Glory of Battle for the Light.. intermingled with Death, Screams and Sadness.. ..and for some time he had trouble gaining the Flame and the Void. As moments stretched into minutes he found, however, that he could not shake the feeling that this might have been a premonition of some kind, a sign of things to come. An Omen perhaps. He had, in truth, long had an obsession about the Last Battle that he had tried to hide from his Bondholder. He did not want for her to become concerned that he was unable to focus on the tasks at hand. Though the Green Ajah ‘stood ready’ for Tarmon Gai’don, it was not something usually spoken of, and he feared if she knew, that she would worry about him and that was something he wanted to avoid. She had more than enough ‘on her plate’ as it was. In the past year, with the world changing and filled with rumours of conflict, he had become certain that the Last Battle was approaching and his thoughts and dreams had been influenced by this fact. Without thinking, he was looking for signs of his ‘premonition’ wherever they travelled and he was certain that this last dream had been a product of his mind’s focus. The thought of the Last Battle both excited him and gave him dread. It was, however, what he and his Battle Ajah Sister lived for. To fight for the Light against the Shadow - and to prevail. ● It took him a long time indeed to fall asleep again, and this time his slumber was restless and uneasy, echoes of Dorinha’s eternal, sad and lost eyes, devoid of life, remaining in his mind. ▀▄
  14. .. Twists and Turns in Twilight .. ►▼◄ Vanahl looked down at the corpse of the Aes Sedai with contempt. She was - or rather had been - Svetna Derachne, officially an Aes Sedai of the Yellow Ajah and a Sitter for the Yellow, but in truth a member of the Black Ajah. Blood flowed from her chest in large streams and her face was almost unrecognizable there it lay on the ground at an odd angle beside her broken body. The Chosen’s anger had gotten the better of him and he had lashed out at the Sister using Saidin as well as physical blows; countless blows. She had failed her mission and he did not tolerate failure. He was a man of many names and many faces, right now he wore that of the Cairhien merchant Tennant Seliborh, visiting Tar Valon on one of his monthly visits. Tennant was a tall middle-aged man with light brown hair and green eyes, thin arms and legs. There was an almost scholarly look about him, but deep inside the fire burned in his soul and the deep red pools of fire that usually shone in his eyes waited under the surface, ready to be unleashed. He kicked the corpse, angry still at her ineptitude. All he had ordered her to do was to try to uncover Divara’s scheme in the White Tower and to keep an eye on Arahna Desonai, the new Black Sister. She had failed on both accounts, making miserable excuses. Vanahl did not permit mistakes and this Sister had paid the price. ● I am surrounded by fools, thought the Nae’blis to himself as his eyes turned from the corpse to the window on the side of the room. Fools, traitors and troublemakers. The room was in a small merchant house on a side street from the main boulevard leading through the City of the Aes Sedai. He could hear activity nearby but this place had been chosen for its location. The house was Warded right now, an added precaution, but even so Vanahl took care when he opened the front door and waved to the pair of huge rugged men waiting outside. They quickly entered from the afternoon sun, placed the dead body in a sack and carried it unceremoniously out without question, having been ordered to dispose of it as instructed. The Chosen shut the door behind them and then, seating himself in one of three chair around a small wooden table in what served as the back room, he gradually got his temper under control. He collected a chess piece from one of his coat pockets and ran it between his fingers, lost in thought. It was the most valuable piece from his ancient chess board and he took it with him at times, for no other reason than it pleased him to do so. His thoughts turned to the matter of the boy Dragon. And to who had gone against his explicit instructions. His eyes became pools of fire as the Nae’blis changed into his real appearance, the weaves of the Mask of Mirrors flowing through him. Whenever he considered the blasted boy Dragon, he felt the ancient hatred swelling inside him. His ancient enemy. His eternal enemy. In this he saw himself and the Great Lord as one. His lips started quivering and he raised a finger to his lips without thinking to make them stop. Fury rose in him and he had to calm himself to regain a portion of equilibrium. His thoughts turned to the slightly less infuriating issue of the disobedience. He still did not know who had disobeyed and betrayed him, as he saw it; betrayed his orders and his plans. And he hated it. Despite his attempt at being calmer his hands clenched in fury. Who could have dared to have disobeyed him? As always, his prime suspect was Raphael, that arrogant fool of a man. A dangerous foe. Or Deleyhna, equally arrogant and ruthless to boot. Or could it have been the devious Gerehl who was almost as dangerous as the previous two? They were all obstacles that would have to be removed at some point, too dangerous to keep around when he conquered this new world for the Great Lord, but for now he had to tolerate them.. to make use of them in this coming conflict against the Lightfools. He cursed again, wanting to find that proof which showed who had been the betrayer. And to eliminate that person. He knew that the Great Lord relished the rivalry and feuds between the Chosen, even encouraged them, to whittle off the weak ‘weeds’ as it were. Vanahl would make sure he were the one left standing in the end. A while later, as the afternoon sun was lower in the sky, he got up from his chair and stepped aside from the wooden table. Walking to a larger open space in the room he opened a Gateway using Saidin, the male half of the One Power, and Traveled, the Gateway falling out of existence behind him. ● The Watcher smiled in the Darkness left behind, as the silver line in the air disappeared from the room. A silent moment passed. Then another. And then the eyes were gone. ● Reeya Eldhem Sare Paendrag, third and favourite daughter to the Empress of the Seanchan Empire, and heir to the throne, was a tall girl of fifteen. She had a dark complexion, short black hair (in defiance of custom: her head was supposed to be shaved!) and brown eyes in a heart-shaped face. She was slim and delicate in her movements though with a vile temper that often got the better of her. She was believed to be a direct descendant of Artur Hawkwing through his son Luthair, who conquered the Seanchan continent according to ancient history and legend. Her personal banner was three golden leopards harnessed to an ancient war-cart. At this moment she was seated in her resplendent divan in her large chamber in the Palace of the Empress with several so'jhin, personal upper caste slaves, attending her. One was polishing the heir’s lacquered nails while the other was fanning her with a large feathery rod of a sort, ensuring the future Empress of Seanchan was comfortable. They were pretty, young women with half-shaven heads, as befitted their station, their remaining hair plaited into a long braid. They looked excited at carrying out their duties. The Daughter of the Nine Moons herself was bored. She yawned as she thought of the endless lessons her mother made her attend, her private teachers trying hard to make her learn history, law, customs, languages and all the many many things a future ruler of the Empire ought to be well versed in. None of the subjects interested her; weaponry was more to her taste, to her mother’s disapproval. A knife lay beside her on the divan and as soon as the subservient woman before her finished doing her nails she picked it up and held it in her hand, feeling the sharp edge with her other fingers. It had become a daily routine for her, to her mother’s disgust, and she found it eased her mind. She was very good with knives, having been taught to fight with them from an early age (her mother sick of her daughter’s constant pestering and finally relenting), and she always wore one on her person. Sororicide was not unheard of in Seanchan noble circles and both of her elder sisters, she felt sure, were going to attempt to kill her at some point since they had been passed over for the honour of becoming heir to the Empire. She would make sure she killed them first. ● When the attack came a few days later, it was the knife she carried that saved her life. She could find no other explanation. ● The special crystal-hilted knife was, in fact, an old Ter'angreal which suppressed weaves of Saidin, deflecting them, a secret she had come upon (and had confirmed) years earlier and which she had ordered her servants to keep on pain of death. Though she shared the disgust most Seanchan held for Damane and scepticism of the One Power and all the havoc it could cause in the world, she understood the value of the chained - and controlled - Damane in warfare and she also saw the value of artefacts of power. She had held onto the Ter'angreal partly out of curiosity (it was an historic object) but also in part in case it would one day be needed to defend against a man, an enemy, Channeling Saidin (it did not protect against Saidar for some reason). It was a horrifying thought of course, but even so a wise precaution, also in view of certain secret Prophecies she had come across, and today it had saved her life. She could not see from where the attack came, but felt the knife at her side go ice-cold and a slight burning sensation came in her side as she sprang up from her divan and threw herself to the side before the table beside the divan exploded in a thousand pieces. She screamed a warning to her so'jhin but was unable to see if they managed to get away in time. Staying put, a mixture of anger and fear flowing through her, she waited while fireballs flew above her head lighting up the decorative curtains behind her. Shouts were coming from outside but still some way off. A vase shattered close to her shoulder and the small table upon which it had stood broke and fell to the floor as she lay low, not daring to raise her head to look for her assailant. Screams came from the other side of the room now and more shouts from outside. A moment later several soldiers rushed into the room followed by two Suldam with their Damane, and finding the Daughter of the Nine Moons safe though shaken they breathed a huge sigh of relief as they hurried her out of there to safety. Reeya cast a quick glance over her head as they ushered her outside and saw one of the women who had attended to her dead, her eyes glazed and blood oozing from her head, and another crying hysterically from pain, one arm gone and part of a shoulder badly damaged, as she was being tended to by one of the Damane. Two thoughts remained in her head that entire day. One, it had to have been a man channeling the One Power - a man not collared! - who had attacked her, however unlikely that seemed. A man who must be found and leashed - or killed - for the safety of everyone. The Ter'angreal was not wrong. Could it have been him? The prophesized one? She shivered at the thought. And two, could her jealous sisters somehow be involved? It seemed unlikely, for how would they get a channeling man to cooperate?, but they hated her and would certainly want her dead. Shock replaced fury as day turned into night and she swore on her mother’s life that she would find whoever had attempted the assassination and would have him or them whipped naked through the streets of Seandar before beheading the person(s) publicly in the central square. The Empress, for her part, had the entire military squad patrolling the palace grounds executed for their ineptitude in keeping her daughter and heir safe. She also had a whole division of the Ever Victorious Army, aided by a dozen Suldam and Damane, out hunting the channeling man. The Commander of the Royal Family’s personal guard was demoted to da'covale, a slave of low rank, whipped and paraded around the grounds on his bloody knees. When the day was over, he wished he were dead. ● Selecin, the Seanchan Truthspeaker, hurried from the Palace toward his private chambers in the building opposite. He was swift as he climbed the steps to his current abode, cursing inside at his failure. He slammed the door shut behind him and dropped into a chair, sweat beading on his forehead. Tervihn the Chosen cursed aloud this time. The blasted child was alive and she had a Ter’angreal, that was the only answer. That was the only way she could have withstood his Saidin-wrought attack. His first deadly weave had hit her straight on and she should have been dead. Somehow she had gotten hold of an artefact that deflected weaves of Saidin and now it had saved her life. Slamming his fist down hard on the table in anger, Tervihn closed his eyes and tried to regain his inner calm. Who could have guessed she would have such an object? The Chosen knew of such objects but they had been rare even in what they now called the Age of Legends, never mind this Age. He could never have suspected it nor prepared for it. The Great Lord had never tolerated failure, he knew, so he simply had to rectify this mistake and blunder before it was too late. He would have to wait with his next assassination attempt though, because now security would be tripled all over the city. Shaking his head in frustration, he gradually calmed his breathing and composed himself. He would need to return to the Palace soon, the Empress would ask him for Omens after this incident - and probably reprimand him for not seeing this coming! - and he would need to be calm and collected and not for one moment must anyone suspect him. That could destroy everything. Soon Selecin, the Truthspeaker to the Empress of the Seanchan Empire, returned to the Royal Palace to perform his duties. New plans were forming in his head as he walked, but nothing showed on his face as he passed many soldiers outside and inside the Palace and finally arrived in the Throne Room and knelt before Tirana Elem Sani Paendrag, blessed of her name. She was not pleased. ● “So you want an alliance?” Issandra queried, surprise evident in her voice. Her long blond hair fell in waves behind her back, down her beautiful green dress, and her blue eyes glinted in a face which most would find pretty. She enjoyed being out of her guise as the Atha’an Miere Windfinder Chalor din Togara Evening Tide if only for a short while, and her hand went to her flowing hair at intervals, loving the feel of it. She now looked across at Vinadel, her eyes narrowing, and wondered if this was a trap of sorts. They were seated in his private chambers in Ebou Dar. As chief advisor to the Queen of Altara, Vinadel was in a position to influence the Throne of the Winds. He was a skilful player of the Game of Power, perhaps not quite at the level of some of the others, Issandra believed, but even so a clever operator and more shrewd, she thought, than some of their other brethren were aware of. She found it strange though that he had suggested this alliance. The two of them had hardly spoken or collaborated in the past and she would have thought he would opt for.. other choices. “I know what you are thinking”, the philosopher of old replied, his voice amused. “Why you?” Issandra took a sip from her cup of wine and studied the other man, the slight tilt of her face indicating that she was thinking just that. He wore a short beard now and his usual dark hair was slightly lighter than normal, his face also somewhat less distinct than she was used to. Perhaps this was the guise in which he appeared before the Queen, or perhaps it simply amused him to appear slightly different now, perhaps to throw her off balance. They all had their quirks, she as much as the others. “Perhaps because none of the others would expect it.” He said, answering his rhetorical question, his eyes narrowing speculatively. “I like to surprise them sometimes.. and I feel this.. association between us could benefit us both.” ● Issandra took another sip from her wine and then put the cup aside, pursing her lips. “Perhaps it could..” she replied after a moment’s silence, thinking inside that she would never be able to trust him. But then again, that was the case with all of them. They worked together when they must but no one ever trusted the others. “But aren’t you in an.. association with Raphael?” Issandra added wryly and watched the other Chosen carefully for his reaction. “That I am”, Vinadel said and a lopsided grin came upon his lips. “But I find it wise to keep my options open.” Issandra nodded, knowing the truth of that. Perhaps an alliance of sorts with Vinadel could benefit her. And if it did not work out, well.. she could always terminate it. Or approach one of the others. As she considered his proposal, she poured some more red wine in her cup and took another long sip. This wine was very good, she had to admit. Almost as good as the red wine she remembered from Seihm back in her old life. “We have an understanding, Vinadel”, she replied finally, making her decision. ● Seeing the answering grin upon his lips, she wondered if he trusted her as little as she trusted him. Of course. All the Chosen, despite their differences, were full of ambition and had, to some extent, cunning and cleverness. They would not have survived this long had they been fools. Vinadel was no fool and she treated him with the respect he was due. “That we have, Issandra”, the other Chosen said after a few moments. “That we have.” He watched her open a Gateway on the other side of the room and disappear, the Gateway snapping shut behind her. She was returning to Aile Dashar in the north from where she had Traveled or so at least she had informed him upon her arrival. He saw no reason to doubt her, knowing from before that she had positioned herself among the Atha’an Miere, the Sea Folk. He wondered what she would say if she knew his real plans. We all use each other, the Chosen mused as he took a sip from his hitherto untouched cup of wine. But only the best of us, the wisest, will survive. The Game of Power was all. ● The Miagoma clan of the Aiel nation was a proud clan. It included several septs and one of these was called Spine Ridge. It was the northernmost of the clan septs and its Chief was Sei’ad. He was a tall red-headed man of above middle-age and of good strength. Though perhaps not the strongest man in the sept, he was certainly the wisest and he possessed much cunning, a combination which made him well suited for the position. Staring into the far north he wondered when the ‘bleakness’, as he called it, would descend on them all. The Storm is Coming. He could feel it in his bones, he often said in private meetings with the Wise Ones. These were women of wisdom in the village who often - but not always - had the ability to channel the One Power. They kept many secrets, but as Clan Chief he had deduced some things which were not common knowledge. Wise Ones had great influence among the clans and also great responsibility. They could be stubborn as the desert, like all women in Sei’ad’s experience, but ought to be listened to (that did not mean that they always got their way, however). It was a prudent fact of life. His wife, Karthana, herself a Wise One of many years, had taught him as much. As Clan Chief he also knew the secrets of Rhuidean. And about the origins of the Aiel. He had been there, he had walked through the Rings of Power, he had learned the Truth. The greatest secret of all. One that could never be revealed to the clans. Rhuidean was an ancient and holy city in the Aiel Waste built some time after the Breaking of the World by the Jenn Aiel, an extinct faction of the Aiel and unique among their people. The Jenn did not abandon the Way of the Leaf, a pacifistic code of honour, something that went against all that future generations of Aiel stood for. That the Aiel originally had been pacifists was something their people would never be able to accept, the Clan Chiefs agreed. The buildings in Rhuidean were all majestic palaces, with many unfinished. There was a great plaza in the centre of the city filled with hundreds of objects of the One Power, presumed brought there, in service of the Aes Sedai, to save the objects from the madness and upheaval of the Breaking. Also there was Avendesora, the legendary ‘Tree of Life’, which grew at the very centre of the Aiel city. ● The Clan Chief shook his head as his thoughts went back to what he had experienced when he had walked through those Rings. He had seen the past. He had seen a possible future. He had seen the Truth. And he had seen more.. things he could never talk about to anyone. Things he could not believe.. Waiting for.. him.. He who would break them but also save them. He did not understand that paradox, but he believed there was Truth there. Turning away from the north, the desert sand whipped up into a storm a way to the west, his eyes shifted to the village before him and a hint of a smile came upon his rugged face. This was home and he would protect it whatever happened. To his dying breath. Veiled as he was, in the fashion of his people, he looked every part the warrior. His spear lay at his feet at the moment but could be picked up and thrown in an instance. As Clan Chief he had little use for it in every day life, not like warriors scouting or defending the village, but he carried it with him out of tradition and pride. The spear was part of their identity just like many of their other special customs, some of which would be hard to understand for outsiders. Ji'e'toh was a prime example. This was the complex system of honour that the Aiel followed. Ji'e'toh determined all interactions in Aiel life; fighting, housing, even intimate relationships and marriage. The term was from the Old Tongue and meant, literally, ‘honour and obligation’. Ji was honour, and toh was obligation. The greatest ji came from touching an armed enemy in battle without harming them. This incurred a great deal of toh upon the enemy, and the person who was touched usually became gai'shain, which in the Old Tongue meant "pledged to peace in battle." A gai'shain served his or her captor for a year and a day, touching no weapon, doing no battle, and wearing only white. ● Outsiders will never understand, thought Sei’ad as he walked into the village, greeting several villagers that he passed. Wetlanders are different and always will be. ● He did not see the watchful eyes of a dark-veiled Aiel warrior clad in brown who stood a little apart from the others, seemingly guarding but in reality keeping a close watch on the Clan Chief and his movements. Through those dark warrior-eyes, Banohr observed everything and went over his plan in his mind once again. The Chosen had been in this sept for a good while, under the guise of one of their warriors, biding his time. Now he was almost ready to act. His eyes tightened darkly in anticipation, his hand clutching the spear he held. Soon the Clan Chief would have no more worries. No more worries at all. ● A cold gust of wind coming in from the north made the Clan Chief think of his premonition again, and as he entered his private abode, placing his spear beside the entrance, the ancient Aiel Oath, known to all their people, popped into his mind. He murmured the words almost without thinking, whispers out of time. "Till shade is gone, till water is gone, into the Shadow with teeth bared, screaming defiance with the last breath, to spit into Sightblinder's eye on the Last Day." -Ancient Aiel Oath ▀▄
  15. .. Keys to an Empire .. ►▼◄ Issandra crashed out of her dream, uncertain for a moment where she was. As her muddled thoughts evaporated and she got control of herself, the Chosen recognized her surroundings and relaxed, laying her head down on the small pillow again. She used flows of Saidar to calm herself and soon was in control again. She was in her small cabin aboard the Raker Wavesweeper and it was night. She could see the moon through the small window on the side, see the darkness of the night surrounding the glowing globe in the sky. Listening now she heard the waves hitting the sides of the ship as the Raker ran through the sea corridors of the Aryth Ocean. As the ship’s Windfinder, Chalor din Togara Evening Tide, she was responsible for its smooth and swift ride but she needed some sleep as well and so the ship ran without ‘aid’ from a Windfinder at the moment. The Sailmistress, Tarah din Coral Rising Wave, would be at the helm and part of the crew would be at the sails. Soon it was time for Issandra to join them on deck, in the guise of the Sea Folk Windfinder, but first she lay back and thought about her recurring dream. She had had it several times in the past week and that was unusual for her. The dream never changed either. It always started at the moment of the betrayal. That was how she thought of it. The betrayal of her, her work and her significant research. In her dream she was re-enacting the murder of her co-worker and assistant at the laboratory, the young man Sarnos, with the bloodied knife sticking out of his throat. Sarnos who had betrayed her, who had in fact stolen her research. Oh they had praised her in the beginning, showing their pride that one of their own - and a woman to boot! - had solved the obstacles they had faced with regards to practical use of accelerated particle division in the production of high-tech wind power. But then Sarnos had begun taking credit for some of the work, gradually whispering in ears and convincing the entire Ner Khalid science facility that she was a fraud and they had all turned on her. In rage and humiliation she had confronted her devious assistant who had only laughed in her face, calling her a liar and saying that no one believed her anymore and that she would be sacked soon for the fraud she was. The way he had laughed spitefully at her had made her mad with rage and in a psychotic moment she had grabbed the knife before knowing what she did and soon it had stood out from his throat, blood flowing onto the floor amid his endless screams. ● She had fled the science facility in panic and had hidden in the home of a friend from her school days until she discovered that she was being hunted by the Aes Sedai authorities for murder. She knew she would never get a fair trial and the penalty would either be death or Severing, cutting her off from the One Power, and either way it would be the death of her, she felt. Her only way of surviving, her only protection as she saw it, was to join those who rebels who had renounced the Aes Sedai and the Light and given new Oaths to the Dark One and the Shadow. The thought made her sick to the bone, but she had no other choice as she saw it, and in desperation for survival and anger at what had been done to her, she escaped and found her way to Shayol Ghul where she knelt before the Great Lord of the Dark pledging her Soul to the Shadow in return for the promise of immortality. In the War of Power, or the War of the Shadow as some also called it, as one of Those Chosen To Rule The World Forever, she did what she could in service of the Great Lord, using her specialist knowledge of wind power machination combined with the One Power to make a fearsome weapon that was used with success in several battles. She was respected now, she was appreciated for her eminent skill, not cheated out of her glory as had been the case at the science facility and any doubts of her purpose in life and her dark allegiance were soon removed. Coldness and hatred found its place in her heart, hatred against all who had wronged her and especially against her former Aes Sedai brethren. Even the word ‘Aes Sedai’ left a foul taste in her mouth as she joined the forces of the Shadow in the war. Forsaken they called her, and she embraced the name in glee and rid herself of her original three names in a dark cleansing of the soul. She would forever more be known as Issandra. The dream always ended just before that devastating and horrifying moment when she along with her Chosen brethren had been caught in the Sealing of the Bore together with the Great Lord by the bloody Dragon and his despicable two hundred mad Companions. She had awakened from the Dreamless Sleep in this new world and new Age.. to a new Life.. bewildered at first but soon joyous at another opportunity to serve the Great Lord - and this time she would survive and they would win the war. ● Closing her eyes, Issandra focused her mind on the task at hand, pushing all thoughts of the dream out of her mind. As the Windfinder of this ship she was to make sure it reached Aile Dashar, the island group north and to the west of Arad Doman, safely and well and as swiftly as possible. A few more days and they would arrive at the islands. She reached out with the One Power, feeling the drift of the sea and the flow of the large narrow vessel and she smiled. They were well on course. It was time to join the Sailmistress up on deck. Chalor din Togara Evening Tide stepped onto deck under the blackness of the night, silver rays from the moon slicing the darkness, and gave a polite nod to the Sailmistress on Quarterdeck before she took up her usual stance at the front, the soft breeze ruffling her short hair. Weaves of Saidar flowed from her into the ocean paths before them, and into the skies ahead, touching the clouds and moving them aside to make for a smoother journey. This was part of the Great Lord’s plan and she would ensure there were no surprises. Issandra grinned wickedly. No one would ever doubt her again. ● The Stone of Tear was an immense fortress, believed to be mankind's oldest surviving stronghold and indeed oldest existing structure, having been erected shortly after, or during, the Breaking of the World. It was built by Aes Sedai using the One Power: Earth, Air, and Fire fusing stones together without joint or mortar. The Stone resembled a great mountain and towered over the city of Tear. Only the White Tower was taller. The Defenders of the Stone were the elite military group used specifically to guard the Stone. Only Tairens were accepted into the Defenders, selected at great care, and officers were usually of Noble birth. The Stone had its own docks, and was an essentially self-sufficient citadel. The inside of the fortress was intentionally complex with multiple hallways joining at odd intersections in order to confuse invaders and provide defenders with even more of a territorial advantage. Arrow slits were the only sizable windows, and any attempt to reach them would only succeed if the person trying was not spotted by the towers (the arrow slits were a later modification, when the kind of warfare was less advanced than the time when the Stone was initially built). The Stone of Tear housed many secrets, for those who had such knowledge, but for most commoners it was simply a grand structure of historical value. The Stone had never fallen and this was something of which its Defenders were very proud. Staring up at the Stone from a level below, Gueyam Sendiana, Captain of the Stone, felt some of that pride as his gaze swept over the magnificent structure. As leader and Commander of the Defenders of the Stone it was his responsibility to keep the Stone safe and secure. He was a handsome Tairen man, a minor Noble, in his early forties and his military uniform with an officer’s insignia fit him well. He was a lifelong soldier, and keenly aware that he had had to struggle to get where he was. He was intense, fastidious and meticulous of nature and he was a respected and competent Commander. He took his duties very seriously and it was his life’s mission to ensure no enemy of any kind ever took the Stone. When he walked up the levels to one of the Stone’s several Gates, he saw several of his guards standing watch beside the Gate. They came at attention when they saw him and he nodded as he passed by on his way into one of the many tunnels leading inwards. The Stone was his. ● Istoril Ghalara, a tall and lean brown haired, dark eyed man of middle age, glanced at the other High Lords and High Ladies present and kept his thoughts to himself. Their Council was the governing body of Tear and all its illustrious eleven members were given the title of high lord and high lady upon admission. Some nobility speculated that these were inherited titles that gave automatic admittance to be a member of this ruling body, but this was not true. Not that it mattered much in practice, High Lord Istoril thought to himself as he found his seat around the large council table. The Council determined the law of the land, by consensus or so they let it be known and any decision they made was presented as unanimous to the world at large. The lesser lords, the Lords of the Land, then had the duty of carrying out the edicts of the High Lords of Tear. Only these eleven individuals truly knew what had lain in the Heart of the Stone for so long, a secret they had to keep on pain of death. And only one of the eleven knew the greatest secret of all: that the object in question had been stolen! Gerehl cursed inside. The Chosen had killed the real High Lord Istoril and in his guise had taken his place in the Council in order to get his hands on the male Sa'angreal called Turavehl that was hidden in the Stone’s depths. There were prophecies connected to this particular object of great power, prophecies for those who knew that had to do with the boy dragon, and so removing the item from the Stone had been very important for the Shadow. A difficult task for sure, since it was presumed that the Stone - and possibly also the Sa'angreal itself - was heavily Warded, it was but doable or so at least Gerehl had been certain. And he had managed to get past the labyrinths, all the guards and, using Saidin, through the Wards, though they had been somewhat.. annoying as he saw it, only to find that the Sa'angreal was gone! The shock had left him numb for a moment, but then he had regained control of himself and had searched neighbouring chambers without success before escaping back through the tunnels. Not for the first time had he cursed the impenetrable Wards set upon the place that made it impossible to Travel into the Stone, to open a Gateway there. ● Could it be that the boy dragon had it in his possession like the prophecies spoke of!? He had asked himself. If so, he presumed he would have heard rumours through his many sources across the continent or from some of his Chosen brethren. But if nothe, who else could have taken it? The Sa'angreal was kept behind Shields of great power in the innermost part, the heart, of the Stone, in a separate chamber where no one was allowed to go. No one would thereby know it was missing. It was a mystery and it frustrated Gerehl in more ways than one. Since that mission had been a failure, he had put all his resources into finding the second Sa'angreal that he knew existed somewhere on this continent. So far his search, aided by Banohr, had come up with nothing but he knew if he persisted he would succeed in the end. He would make sure this second object of great power did not slip out of his hands. ● The leader of the Council, a grey-haired staunch Tairen Noble in his early sixties by the name of Harron Alreima, bade everyone sit down and when all were seated he opened the meeting as he always did with the time-honoured phrase “In honour of Tear, the greatest Nation”. Tear was indeed one of the richest nations in the land. This came in part from controlling the third largest port on the Sea of Storms behind Illian and Ebou Dar, at the mouth of the River Erinin. A great deal of Tear's wealth came from the oil produced on the country's numerous olive farms. Lucrative trade in grain, fish, and spices also brought money into the rich nation. It was a strategic place from which to build power. High Lord Istoril Ghalara watched the proceeding with his usual seeming uninterest, a smart tactic which threw the others off balance believing he was not someone to be wary of. Working behind the scenes, however, he gradually built his influence and despite the setback he would continue his secret work to create instability and division in Tear. In this, he would not fail. ● "Whoever holds the Stone of Tear is Lord of Tear, city and nation." -famous Tairen saying ● The Deathwatch Guard stood at attention in the late morning sun. They were the elite Seanchan personal guards to the Seanchan Empress, Tirana Elem Sani Paendrag blessed of her name. The Deathwatch Guard, an elite division that was particularly honoured and valued, was made up of both men and Ogier Gardeners, but the main force was Warrior Ogier, resplendent in their famous armour which was lacquered red and green, the latter colour so dark that it was commonly thought of as black, the colour of death. The humans were da'covale - slaves - and were the private property of the Empress. The ranks in the Deathwatch Guard stood a half step above those in the Ever Victorious Army, the Seanchan military forces. They were the elite, the best, trusted for protection and missions not given to others. But since they were the elite, more was expected of them - and if they failed they were more heavily punished. It as well known that if a person the Deathwatch Guard was protecting died, the remaining human guards were executed. Sanek Meredhe, the dark-skinned, shrewd-eyed General and Commander of the Deathwatch Guard, watched his troops with pride. Row upon row they stood at attention with weapons at the ready, their armour shining as a strong breeze drifted in from the Aryth Ocean. He started his inspection round, going from soldier to soldier, checking details on uniforms, speaking a few words to a soldier here and then, his manner gruff but professional as he went through the ranks. Finally he stepped to the front of the ranks and shouted the Seanchan battle cry. “For the Empress!” he shouted, raising his right arm - and the battle cry was echoed along the huge plaza before the Crystal Throne, the seat of Empress at the Court of the Nine Moons there in the Capital of Seandar. Then every single member of the Deathwatch Guard bowed to their seasoned Commander, on one knee in the sun. ● Watching from a building and a balcony above the plaza, opposite to the Royal Imperial Palace, Selecin Merje, a man of dark complexion with short black hair and deep brown eyes, nodded to himself. The Deathwatch Guard was indeed impressive. His dark eyes shifted to the blue skies above and he spotted a Raken flying northwards. They were creatures with a body considerably longer than a horse and about equal in girth, with leathery grey skin and large powerful wings much like those of a bat. They were ideal mounts for scouting and/or sending messages, as the Raken could fly at approximately three to four times the speed of a running horse. They were ridden by morat'raken, special Seanchan fliers of which three out of five were women. A shadow atop the Raken indicated the person flying though he could not see from this distance whether it was a woman or a man. Raken were only one of many creatures only found on this continent. He knew of Grolm, a large three eyes bear like creature with grey green coloration and skin texture that was used in battle against lightly armoured opponents to break holes in an enemy line, and Torm, an intelligent creature that was a cross between a horse-sized cat and a lizard with bronze scales, six-clawed feet and three eyes which could also be ridden. There was also Lopar, the main combat animal of the Seanchan. It had an average weight between fifteen hundred and two thousand pounds, leathery hairless hide which was dark brown or a pale reddish hue, and six toes on both front and rear paws, all having large retractable claws. Lopar sometimes reared upon their hind legs when fighting, and could reach as high as ten feet. They were also armoured similar to the style the Seanchan soldiers use. Selecin knew that all these creatures were unique to this continent and also had his suspicions about where they had originated. His eyes turned to the Imperial Palace at the other side of the huge plaza and it made him think of this place, the city and its history. Seandar. The largest of all Seanchan cities, it was located inland at the confluence of three great river networks, roughly halfway between the dividing channel and the Aryth Ocean. The city was located on an immense peninsular that extended for several thousand miles north and east out of the southern landmass of the continent, which mostly lay south of the equator. As such, it was somewhat remote from the other major cities of the continent, which may explain why it was able to grow to a large size and gave its name to the rest of the continent during the centuries following the Breaking of the World. Seandar was located at approximately the same latitude as Tremalking, but more than 6.000 miles to the west. His thoughts turned for a moment to the continent far to the east.. and to Shara which lay at the other side of the Morenal Ocean.. but then he left the balcony and went inside his chamber and refocused. Decorated in the colourful Seanchan fashion, it was comfortable but not opulent. Seating himself in a chair he relaxed as he studied the painting on the wall. He often studied that painting with amusement. It depicted a moment in Seanchan history or myth, depending on one’s view, when Luthair Paendrag Mondwin, the son of the infamous Artur Hawkwing - or Artur Paendrag Tanreall as was his real name, who created an Empire in the East - came ashore in the Seanchan Empire in his resplendent ship at the head of a fleet sent by his father. What was truth and what was not? That was the question. ● He was the man the Empress turned to for Truth in Seandar. For he was a Soe'feia, a Truthspeaker, a so'jhin - an upper and particularly valued servant of the Empress - who served Seanchan royalty by telling them the absolute truth of a situation as they saw it, no matter how painful or humiliating it might be. While many of the Blood called their Voice "Truthspeaker," few did understood how much power they truly held. Since those owned by the Blood were so'jhin they could be punished, but a true Truthspeaker was required to tell the absolute truth and may not be punished for it. There were many truths to tell Tirana Elem Sani Paendrag, the ruler of this nation. Also truths she may not be happy to hear. As he walked across the plaza for his appointment with the Empress, he gazed absentmindedly at the women passing him by. Some Empresses through history had demanded that their Truthspeakers were at their side continually, but Selecin had.. persuaded the current Empress that it was wise for him to live apart, that truths were best discovered that way. The women ahead of him were a Suldam with her Damane. Sul'dam - Leash Holders - were Seanchan women who could control Damane, women who could channel the One Power and who were viewed as far too dangerous to roam free in society. Sul'dam controlled the Damane through the use of an a'dam, a special Ter'angreal that looked like a silver leash and bracelet. Using the a'dam, the Sul'dam could sense the thoughts and feelings of the Damane and also inflict pain or pleasure. If Damane tried to escape their a'dam, they would undergo severe pain and headaches that vanished when they stopped thinking of escaping. Most Damane were terrified of roaming free, having been brought up as leashed women which they found safe, and even the thought of Marath'damane - “those who must be leased” - a term used in Seanchan for any woman who was able to channel the One Power but had not yet been leashed by an a'dam - terrified them. Selecin found the concept of leashed Damane women.. interesting.. some might even say.. intriguing.. but he had more important things on his mind. Heading towards the main entrance to the palace, he stopped as the Suldam and the Damane entered through a different door. Facing the two Deathwatch Ogier Guards he gave a polite nod, as he always did when passing, and as always they gave no indication that they had seen him, and the continued walking into the palace. It was an enormous building built by Ogier Stone Masons on several levels and it took him a long time to get to the Royal Reception Hall. More guards waited outside that huge chamber and he had to wait for permission to enter. Finally he was let through and was soon face to face with the Empress herself. She was seated on the the Crystal Throne which was, in fact, a great Ter'angreal that caused anyone who approached it to feel immense awe and wonder. Very few indeed were aware of this fact but Selecin was one of the few who knew. It amused him though he never let the Empress know that he had the knowledge. ● “Selecin, there you are”, said the Seanchan ruler as he bowed before her. She was a short woman of dark complexion with large brown eyes and almost black hair that was shaved in the middle. She wore three huge earrings in each ear and a necklace with a diamond sapphire. Her eyes were those of a hawk. “Empress”, he responded smoothly as he always did, “I am yours to command.” She gave him a shrewd look as she added, as she always did when they met, “And what truth do you have for me today?” Seating himself in the provided chair on a level below the Empress, the Truthspeaker smiled. “Some truths come when least expected, Empress. Some truths will not find favour.” “I know this, Truthspeaker”, the Seanchan ruler replied, her eyes narrowing. “Speak your mind.” “The truth has come to me.” He said, looking slightly past her as was custom. “It is now time to broaden your Empire, oh Great Empress”. ● Tervihn spoke the words he had been commanded to speak and grinned wickedly inside though nothing showed on his face. “A change is coming. It is time”, the Chosen added smoothly, “to take back what was taken from Your ancestors in the East.” “It is time.. to go to War. The time has Come. This is Your Destiny.” His eyes glinted darkly as he watched her response. Holding onto Saidin, his senses heightened, he could feel some of her emotions. The Empress’ face at first uncertain, slowly turned into a wider grin and her dark eyes glinted with shrewdness and anticipation at her Truthspeaker’s words as he gave her details of what she should do. She thanked him for his Truth and said she would consider what he had said and would talk to her military advisors, but they both knew that she would do as he had suggested. The delicate weave of Compulsion that he used on her whenever they met ensured that she, despite being a very stubborn woman, would be agreeable to most of his suggestions. He had long ago learned the wisdom of not doing it too strongly though, which easily aroused suspicion from others and could sometimes even damage the subject’s mind, and so he wove threads with care upon her mind to get the results he wanted. The first step in the Great Lord’s plan, his command to his faithful Chosen Tervihn, was thereby set in motion. Chaos would increase across the world, the oceans would be filled with blood from battle and strife, and war would bring the returned Dragon to his knees. ● Tervihn, in the guise of Selecin, the Seanchan Truthspeaker, left the Empress a little later, heading straight for his chambers in the building across the plaza. He needed to plan his next move and as he walked beneath the Seanchan sunshine, passing Deathwatch Guards and more Suldam and Damane as well as other servants to the throne, he considered how best to carry it out. His secret plan was delightfully dark and delicious. The Chosen felt excitement and anticipation building inside him at the thought, and every step forward was one filled with inner glee. He was going to kill the Daughter of the Nine Moons. ▀▄
  16. .. The Equinox of Collusion .. ►▼◄ Tervihn walked onto the black slopes of Shayol Ghul, the Gateway closing behind him. Above, dark clouds almost hid the sky, hiding the mountain’s peak. Staring momentarily upwards the Chosen was struck by a feeling of awe. Thunder rolled and flashes of lightning came in several directions in the barren valley, up as well as down, and the slopes were near-cloaked by soft mists. Releasing the One Power immediately, the tall, bearded, green-eyed man wearing a dark green cloak with black fringes and symbols down the side shifted his eyes to the opening in the rocks some way off to his right. As always was the case when he let go of Saidin, he felt.. diminished, hollow.. as if part of him was lost. The sweetness of Saidin made life worth living, all senses heightened, he wanted to be surrounded by its wonderful embrace at all times.. but here it was too dangerous. To even think of embracing the One Power so close to the Great Lord would be to embrace Death itself. Before heading toward the rock opening, Tervihn reminisced for a moment how this place had looked in what was now called the Age of Legends. It had been an idyllic island in a cool sea, far from the bitter cold and desolate place it had become. Casting those idle thoughts away, he focused on the business at hand. He needed his wits about him when summoned to the Great Lord. And summoned he had been. Small shivers ran down his spine, part excitement, part dread. Few things in life frightened him - his heart had become one of stone on the day he betrayed the Light and turned to the Shadow, truly a lifetime ago - but this summoning gave him.. unease. He liked to call it that. Deep inside he knew the truth. ● Stepping toward the opening in the mountain, as he came closer he saw that two Myrddraal stood guard, one on either side of the rock entrance. They did not acknowledge him, nor give any indication of his existence, their Eyeless faces directed impassively outwards, as he stepped between them and went inside. There was space for three people to walk abreast through the opening and once inside the path slanted gradually downwards, the tunnel floor marked by the passage of feet over time. As he walked the Chosen felt the coldness from above slowly diminish and after a while it was replaced by warmth and heat coming from ahead. A dim light shone from crystals and minerals in the walls but Tervihn paid them no mind as he followed the downward-sloping corridor. As he neared his destination, the heat increased and jagged spikes hung down from the ceiling like pillars of warning, giving the impression that one was walking into a dangerous predator’s forbidden lair. The tunnel opened at last onto a wide ledge which stood above a lake of molten stone with dancing flames. Upward there was only a great hole that reached up the mountain into.. elsewhere.. This was the Pit of Doom. The Chosen felt just as much awe as he had on his first visit here 4000 years ago when he had pledged his soul to the Shadow and taken the unbreakable Oath. Here he sensed the Bore, the hole that had been drilled through to the Great Lord’s prison all those many years ago. Here he felt the Great Lord’s closeness to the world and beads of sweat now ran down his forehead and chin, and it was not only from the heat. There was a soft hum in the air but he could not pin point where it came from. It was part of the place, he thought idly. Seconds passed. Minutes. Hours. Time was meaningless here and he could not tell how long he had stood there when suddenly the air around him.. shifted. It was the only way he could describe it. There was no wind here and nothing different in what he could see with his eyes, or hear but his senses felt.. something. His eyes widened, goosebumps running down both his arms, and then.. TERVIHN ● Pain and ecstasy co-mingled in his brain and it was like an explosion of awareness and emotion as the voice crashed through his head like an avalanche. Every single hair on his body now stood on end and he did not know whether to shout endlessly in glee or cry in horror. ARE YOU LOYAL, TERVIHN With the almost cataclysmic emotions crashing through him the Chosen was unable to breathe, never mind answer. He tried to take a breath but was unable to. Fear made his emerald eyes widen and his hands clenched as he fought for life. His lungs cried for sustenance. For air. For survival. An eternity of pain, a moment in time.. ..and then death released its clutches on him and he could breathe again. Falling to his knees, tears streaming down his face and into his beard, his whole body shook as he coughed and slowly pulled air into his lungs. Finally he managed to raise his tear-stricken face, shrugging off the shame he felt at his weakness. “You need never question my loyalty, Great Lord!”, Tervihn replied when he had regained his breath. “My Oath to you is eternal.” YES IT IS The pain continued throughout his body but it was tinged by sweetness.. an impossible combination but true even so. His right arm started shaking again and he struggled to make it stop. He waited for the Great Lord to say something more but for a while there was nothing but quiet. ● Then, the silence in his mind was broken. THE CHOSEN SPREAD CHAOS IN MY SERVICE AS WE SPEAK. THEY SCHEME AGAINST ONE ANOTHER TO GAIN MY FAVOUR. THE STRONG WILL SURVIVE, THE WEAK WILL PERISH. WILL YOU SURVIVE, TERVIHN The question crashed through his mind and was accompanied by flashes of light and darkness in his head, of fires eternally burning.. The Chosen screamed.. whether aloud or just in his mind he could not tell. It did not matter. When his scream ended, his eyes opened - had they been closed!? - and his voice shook. “I..I will survive, Great Lord. I will serve you loyally, do your bidding. You can always count on me!” He did not like to seem weak before the Great Lord but could not help the pain that continued to storm inside him like a wild and ferocious ocean of fire. YOU KNOW MY ANCIENT ENEMY, THE ONE CALLED DRAGON HAS RETURNED. I HAVE PLANS FOR HIM. ARE YOU READY TO CARRY THEM OUT, TERVIHN. “As always, I serve and carry out your command, Great Lord.” Tervihn replied with fervour. His voice was steadier now, he had control of at least some of the pain. “Command me!” SO I SHALL. YES, LISTEN WELL As Tervihn listened to the Great Lord of the Dark’s commands in his head, tears of pain and joy and exhilaration continued to run in rivulets down his face, and agonizing ecstasy crashed through his entire body until he finally blacked out. ● “What exactly do you have in mind, Raphael?” Gerehl stared at the other male Chosen with a mixture of disgust and admiration. He had always had mixed feelings about the other man. Raphael was a grand schemer, and arrogant as few - perhaps not as bad as Vanahl in that regard but not far off - but at the same time he was a man who got things done. If he gave a promise, it was always kept. That was a quality Gerehl missed in several of the other Chosen - and his other associates. Now as he sipped from the cup of wine in his hand he wondered what really was on Raphael’s mind. “Nothing more than I am offering”, Raphael replied, taking a sip from his own drink. “It could be mutually beneficial in these..troubled times.” They were seated opposite one another in high-backed chairs around a small table in the mirror-image of a similar chamber in the real world. The room flickered as it always did in the World of Dreams, paintings and lights on the walls appearing and disappearing, but neither man paid it any notice, studying each other’s faces, looking for clues of intent. Raphael studied the other man closely. Gerehl was a lean-bodied man in his late twenties. He had brown hair, almost black eyes and high cheekbones. Women would call Gerehl handsome, Raphael presumed, but not overly so. Now he wondered if Gerehl would take the bait. In his heart of hearts Raphael also wondered what the other man would do if he discovered that it was Raphael himself who had messed up his plans with the Myrddraal and the fist of Trollocs some time ago. He would probably try and kill me, thought Raphael with dark amusement as he watched the other man carefully. They both held onto Saidin, neither man trusting the other as was the case with all the Chosen. Raphael knew he was slightly stronger than Gerehl in the One Power, but it was not a clear cut thing so he needed to be careful around this man. ● Gerehl stared back at him in silence for a long while. He did not enter into alliances lightly. He was careful and sceptical of being entangled in someone else’s schemes. He saw the necessity sometimes though. He was, after all, a smart man. His successful time as a teacher in what he now thought of as his old life had shown as much. His hard unconventional methods had been criticized, but he had produced top results! Fear of bad grades, public criticism of poor student work before the whole class, and physical punishment were good and needed motivators at times, he had known, but some students had eventually complained and the school authorities had reprimanded him and, finally, sacked him. They had, in fact, destroyed his career. But he had known the truth: they had all been envious of his excellent results! Nothing should ever stand in the way of excellence! And he had had his vengeance! Oh yes!! Through shrewd manipulation and deft use of Compulsion in his two month notice period he had made student turn against student in their ferocious battle for top grades, had made them suspicious of one another and mean to the point of obsession and physical attacks. It had ended with a murder, a male student stabbing to death a huge competitor, to Gerehl’s private glee, but he had been arrested by the authorities as a consequence and convicted by his despicable Aes Sedai brethren. He had escaped with the help of associates before the death-sentence could be carried out, and filled with hate and a lust for revenge he had headed off to Shayol Ghul to pledge his soul to the Great Lord. Together with the other Chosen and other comrades he had fought for the Shadow in the War of Power, relishing the thought of killing the despicable righteous Aes Sedai who had destroyed his reputation, betrayed him as he saw it, and scorned his glorious teaching talent. It had not ended well, the war lost and he and his Chosen brethren caught in the sealing of the Bore together with the Great Lord, but he had never regretted any of his actions - and now he was free again. Free - and in a position of power. His thoughts, momentarily drawn away, returned to the present. “Let me consider it”, he finally said, his eyes shrewd as he took another sip from his wine. “Yes, you do that”, Raphael said, slightly disappointed but nothing showing on his face, nor in his voice. “But don’t wait too long”, he added smoothly, a glint in his eyes. “I am considering options too. One never knows what opportunities may arise..” The Gateway snapped shut behind him, leaving Gerehl alone in the flickering chamber. ● He sat in silence for several minutes, thoughtful. As he waited, he removed a ring from his right ring finger and studied it in the pale light of the chamber. It was a gold ring with a strange symbol on its flat top. There was also an inscription on the inside. It was from the Age of Legends, the only precious artefact he had from that time, and most importantly it was a male Angreal, an artefact which made it possible to draw more from the One Power than could normally be done without harm. He doubted anyone else knew that it was an Angreal and he wanted to keep it that way. This was added power and should be kept secret. Putting it back on his finger he grinned. Using the Angreal he might even be able to overpower Raphael if needed. Perhaps even Vanahl. The thought gave him pleasure. A silver line sliced through the air at the other side of the chamber and a man stepped through the Gateway. He was a short man, blond with blue eyes and sunken cheeks. He was far from handsome, but he had a rugged look which some women found attractive. He wore a lopsided grin as he often did and looked with cool amusement at the seated Chosen. “You are still alive, I see”, the other man said drily. “That is good. Raphael kept his temper then.” Moving across the room he sat down in the chair Raphael had vacated a while before, his posture leisurely. “He was.. disciplined, Banohr”, Gerehl replied smoothly. “As a scientist, you know all about discipline.” Handing him a cup he poured some wine for his new guest. The other Chosen nodded with continued amusement as he took a sip from his drink. “And he knows nothing of our secret plans?” Banohr added after a moment’s silence. “Nothing”, said Gerehl and his eyes glinted darkly. “Nothing at all.” If their secret search for the lost male Sa'angreal called Neminahl was successful, everything would change. This Sa'angreal was an artefact of great power from the Age of Legends which was also capable of amplifying the True Power - a source of energy similar to the One Power but much rarer and which found its source in the Great Lord rather than the Creator. Hardly anyone in this Age knew of its existence. But Gerehl did - and he hungered to have it in his possession. His eyes burned with desire at the thought. It would change everything. ● Seated at his work desk in the palace in Illian, Lord Serafehl finished writing the letter he had been composing and put it aside to be delivered later. Closing his eyes, relaxing in his high-backed chair, Raphael considered his meeting with Gerehl in Tel'aran'rhiod earlier that day. He had been surprised that Gerehl had not taken the bait, but he was always ready for every eventuality and so this temporary setback was of little import. Gerehl would come around or he would not. Raphael had other options if needed. He sat in silence for several minutes going through his current plans in his mind and reflecting on his recent activities here in Illian. He had lost his temper in a meeting of the Council a few days earlier. That had not been wise, but a fellow councilor had gotten on his nerves with constant bickering and obstruction out of pure meanness. Most councilors had taken Lord Serafehl’s side so no great harm was done, but Raphael reminded himself that he needed to be more careful in the future. Other activities had gone according to plan. Splitting Illian’s forces, half up north and half down south, had been a masterstroke to weaken the defense of the realm and had created partial chaos in the military. The few who pointed this out were silenced, however, and Lord Serafehl’s arguments that they need be prepared for enemies on all sides in these ‘volatile times’ had prevailed once again. He had also had several meetings with leaders of Friends of the Dark-circles in Illian, ensuring everything was going smoothly, and enforcing discipline whenever necessary. He had beaten a woman half to death for her stupidity which had almost revealed the Circle’s existence to the local authorities; she would not make the mistake again. And last but not least, using his major influence in the Council he had arranged a meeting with the King of Illian. If the right things were whispered in the monarch’s ear, who knew what benefits could be had.. ● He finally got to his feet, refocusing his thoughts. It was time for his next meeting, one which intrigued him. Putting on his dark cloak, making sure he looked ‘presentable’, he wove Saidin and opened a Gateway right there in his chamber and Traveled, nearly instantaneously stepping into another place. The mansion was half resplendent and beautiful, half old and tattered showing only a sliver of former beauty. Always in a delicate balance. Balance was important for Deleyhna, Raphael thought as he stepped further into the chamber. He was not sure if she had told him so or if it was an impression he had gotten, but he was pretty sure it was true. A chime rang, informing her of his arrival. Soon Deleyhna appeared from another doorway and bade him seat himself. “Good to see you, Deleyhna”, the male Chosen said smoothly, as always finding this seductive woman very attractive and beddable. That she was as dangerous as a viper he thought added to her appeal. “I got your message.” He added with a small grin, his blue eyes glinting. “You had a proposal for me, I understand?” As he waited for her reply, he could not take his eyes off her beautiful figure. His senses were heightened by Saidin.. and he liked what he saw. ● Shara. That was the name outlanders called their nation. Some also called it Shibouya, she had heard. Other names as well, names on maps, names in books. Names in stories. Nezrava, with her very dark skin and short black curly hair and olive-shaped brown eyes, had little time for such lofty concepts. For her and for all others in this greatest nation of the world, their country was Co'dansin, land of the glorious people. Outlanders were forbidden in their country with a very few exceptions. The Sh'boan , their glorious ruler, made sure everyone knew this decree and the legendary Ayyad enforced it throughout the land. Nezrava knew little of such things, she was the property of En’mhala Vi’lar and had been so for all her 14 years of life. She had heard whispers though from fellow slaves - for slaves they were, even if the word was banned in their nation; they were ‘property’ or She’zaan, honoured servants - that some outlanders had been seen in their city of Qrii’dhan of late though she did not know if she would believe it. She had never seen anyone foreign or strange in their city streets. It was dangerous to question things and ask questions that their masters did not want asked, fear of breaking the laws and customs made girls such as Nezrava fall into line, or else they would tempt fate. She knew well the laws that governed masters and their ‘property’, her master had been very adamant that all his ‘property’ understood it well. She and others like her were no more than animals to their masters, if truth be told, and could and would be disciplined, put down and slaughtered, for any discrepancies or none at all. She had no rights and would never have any. She felt guilty even of thinking of this matter as she carried the heavy supplies from the vendor on her back all the way to the home of her master in the baking afternoon sun. The smell of spices and offal permeated the air as it always did in the dusty streets of the city and the buzz of life was all around her as she trudgingly made her sweaty way through the maze of people and wagons. Stop thinking, Nezrava! It was her older brother, Jazrad. It was his fault. He was the one who had planted these questioning, almost rebellious thoughts in her head. He was the one to blame. Him and his angry useless friends who did nothing but complaining. This was the only home she would ever have and it was a waste of time reflecting on her miserable life. Things would never change, that was the only certainty. Things never changed for the poor and the lost. ● Co'dansin - Shara - was bordered to the southwest and south by the Sea of Storms, and to the east by the Morenal Ocean. To the north it was bordered by the Mountains of Dhoom and the Great Blight. To the west was the region called the Aiel Waste by some and even further west the continent that Sharans simply called Mehl’zaan, the Outlands. Several tall mountain ranges separated their glorious land from that of these outlanders and they had also built heavily-fortified towns in the few locations where the cliffs and mountains could be scaled. In each of these towns the residents went veiled at all times, and the walls were so tall that it was impossible to see into the towns from outside. Outlanders were not permitted to travel through these towns' eastern gates into Shara proper. Those who were to try would disappear. Some trade was necessary even with some of these outlanders though this was something the authorities kept from most commoners. It was necessary to reinforce the belief that their glorious unique nation was separate from, necessarily apart from, the Outlands. And we are glorious, thought Zha’malia as she from her lofty position atop the building stared out at the desert beyond the walls of this small village in the central part of the nation. We are the chosen ones. She was a tall and slim woman dressed in brown as was custom, of very dark complexion with short curly hair and fierce brown eyes. Her face was tattooed in the tradition of the Ayyad, the society of all who could channel the One Power in Shara, but her added personal tattoo was unique since the triangle symbol upon her forehead signified that she was the Amo’hra, the revered leader of the Ayyad and, in practice if not formally, the ruler of the Sharan nation. ● Another secret we need to keep, thought the Ayyad-woman as she raised her head to the azure-blue skies and the late afternoon sun. Secrets within secrets. The Ayyad carried many secrets and truths that the rest of their glorious nation was not ready for, truths that if revealed could unravel their society, Zha’malia felt sure. So many secrets, so many hidden truths. One was that their rulers who always died after seven years in power were, in fact, killed by the Ayyad, they did not just ‘empower’ a new monarch out of tradition and pass away. The ‘will of the Pattern’ it was called, a notion nurtured by the Ayyad in established circles, but it was in fact the ‘will of the Ayyad’. Another well kept secret was that all male Ayyad, living in segregated, separate villages from ordinary Sharans, were killed and cremated when they reached the age of 21 or when the spark for channeling was discovered in them. Also hidden from most was the fact that male Ayyad primarily served as breeding stock for female Ayyad. They were used to breed more female Ayyad channelers, and as such their bloodlines were traced like horse breeding stock. They could feed and dress themselves but were not allowed to read or to write. Males were communally raised, called simply "the male," instead of "he." When they became of the age of 16, they were taken from their original village and hooded and cloaked and transported to other villages, where they were matched with female Ayyad who desired children. The Ayyad could never speak of the underlying reason for this practice, of course. That the danger with the taint on Saidin, making all male channelers too dangerous to keep alive, was too great a risk. Some might also wonder if madness was inherent in Saidar as well, just kept a well-guarded secret, and that could be the end of the Ayyad. Silence on this matter was of the utmost importance. And if the males could help breed new female Ayyad channelers before their life was snuffed out, all the better. It is a wise practice - and prudent, thought the Amo’hra as she felt the sweet seductive power of Saidar in her veins. She was the strongest in the One Power among the Ayyad which was part of the reason why she had been chosen their leader. It helped that she came from the right family, of course. Breeding would always tell. ● Hearing some footsteps behind her, Zha’malia had just time to half-turn before a Shield of Saidar was slammed between her and the One Power! Her mouth gaped open in bewilderment and shock as she stared at her female Ayyad lover Che’nol who grinned back at her with wicked delight. The Amo’hra stumbled backwards, her eyes wide with fear but also with anger at the betrayal. She tried in vain to reach the One Power inside her but she was Shielded as effectively as if she never had been able to channel. She could feel Saidar there waiting inside her.. but it was behind a wall and could not be reached. This was impossible, she knew, Che’nol should not be strong enough to do this to her. Impossible! She tried to scream for help but no sound came forth. The other woman’s smile widened and a chuckle very unlike her lover and dear friend of many years was heard. “It is time to die, Amo’hra.” She simply said, her voice cold. “Your service to the Ayyad is at an end.” Zha’malia never had time to get over her momentous shock. Her dark eyes widened and her whole body went rigid as she felt a thin but lethal weave of Saidar slice through her; her heart constricted, internal bleeding began and respiration stopped. A moment later her incredulous eyes rolled up into her head and she fell dead to the ground. The other woman stared for a long moment at the dead leader of the Ayyad, a vicious but satisfied look on her face, then lifted the corpse by threads of Air and carried it to a table at the other side of the roof building. The table usually had other purposes but was convenient now as the woman placed the dead body on it. Closing her eyes, the woman remembered every detail of the dead woman’s appearance, and combining the flows just so.. her face slowly changed into that of the dead woman. When the process was complete, the weaves of the Mask of Mirrors set, face and body was the exact same. Using Saidar to swiftly cremate the body, she placed the remains in a special steel container that she had brought with her. Finally she moved off the rooftop and down some stone steps to the lavish apartment below. It was decorated in the Sharan style which meant primarily use of earthly colours but there were many stylish figurines on shelves and expensive carpets on the floor. Standing in front of a tall mirror which hung on one wall, she appraised herself. ● Long live the Amo’hra, glorious Leader of the Ayyad, thought Kharin wickedly and triumphantly to herself as she studied her delectable Sharan reflection in the mirror. Then the Chosen turned and departed in haste, heading for the building that housed several of the Amo’hra’s most trusted Ayyad advisors. There was work to be done in Shara. ▀▄
  17. .. Players in a Game of Strategy.. ►▼◄ Physically entering Tel'aran'rhiod, closing the gateway behind him, Raphael moved across the marble floor of the small chamber and seated himself in one of the two ornate high-backed chairs facing each other. Between the chairs was a glass table with a chess board on it. The chess pieces depicted famous rulers in the nations from the Age of Legends. It was a favourite game of Vanahl’s. A game of strategy. A game of power. And this chess set was 4000 years old. How Vanahl had gotten his hands on it Raphael had no idea, but it was the Nae’blis’ pride and joy. On the wall hung objects of light. The room flickered in the strange way things often did in the World of Dreams, a reflection of the real world, caught between moments. Raphael waited in silence. Finally a chime sounded and a gateway opened close to the glass table. Vanahl stepped through, his eyes the usual pools of fire, his dark ornate coat swirling around him as the gateway snapped shut. “I see you are here”, the Chosen said smoothly as he sat down in the opposing chair. Raphael remained silent. Vanahl’s mouth twisted with distaste but he said nothing more as his attention was caught by the elaborate figures on the chess board. His right hand touched each figure on his side of the board, correcting their placement almost lovingly so they each stood right in the center of each square. Raphael still said nothing, just watched calmly until the Nae’blis was satisfied. Studying the other man, holding onto Saidin as he knew - and felt - Vanahl was doing too - neither man trusted the other an inch - he thought again that the Great Lord had chosen the wrong man to lead the Chosen. Vanahl was dark-haired with high cheekbones and a semi-dark complexion. Besides his burning eyes, he also had a scar that ran down his left cheek, marring what would otherwise have been a handsome face. Raphael knew that Vanahl had kept that scar as a reminder not to trust anyone. He had never revealed how he had gotten the scar but Raphael had his suspicion. ● Vanahl’s eyes met those of his opponent’s, in chess as in all walks of life, and he smiled darkly. “Good”, he whispered and then made the first move with his white pawn. E2-E4. A standard opening. They played these games at intervals, when Vanahl wanted to speak privately with Raphael. Vanahl was the better chess player but on occasion Raphael beat him which always enraged the Nae’blis. Were he tactical, Raphael would let Vanahl win every time, to keep the slightly older man satisfied. But Raphael hated losing and loved the few occasions when he managed to beat the other man, so he always played his best. E7-E5. The standard retaliatory move. Vanahl looked across at him and grinned. “Not too daring a move, Raphael.” He said. His voice sounded amused. “Are you losing your nerve?” Raphael grinned back. “We shall see”, he replied smoothly but his eyes were hard, accepting the challenge. The Nae’blis looked at the board for a few moments, then moved his knight G1-F3. Another common move. As Raphael considered his next move, his attention was broken when Vanahl asked if he had seen Kharin lately. The question made Raphael pause. “Kharin?” he said in surprise. The other man nodded, a speculative cast to his features. “No, I haven’t”, Raphael replied, studying the man opposite him. “Any reason I should?” he added. Vanahl shrugged. “No particular reason”, the Nae’blis said. “I just haven’t gotten hold of her lately”, he added. “So I wondered if you knew where she was.” The pools of fire deepened if that were possible and Raphael could not help the slight unease he felt inside. “I have no idea”, he replied after a few moments. “You know Kharin, that stubborn woman minds her own business and cares little for anything or anyone else.” The Nae’blis nodded, knowing the truth of that. He was still unsure if Raphael was telling the truth right now but decided not to press him. “If you see her..somewhere, tell her I want to talk to her. About her plans and that other matter we all spoke about at the previous meeting.” Raphael nodded, keeping his own thoughts to himself. He moved his own black knight B8-C6, a move that mirrored the other. It was a cautious stand-off at the moment between the white and black armies. This was often the case when they played. The chess pieces flickered at times, as they always did in this place, but both players were so used to this by now that it hardly registered in their minds. They both studied the board with all the pieces with seeming great interest, but were in truth thinking strategy in the real Game of Power, how to gain the upper hand on the other, how to conquer and destroy. ● Turning his eyes from the board game to Vanahl’s face Raphael spoke. “So, have you discovered who disobeyed you?” He could not remove all smugness from his voice and Vanahl’s features hardened. “Who messed with your plans for the boy dragon?” Fire swirled in the Nae’blis’ eyes as he responded. “So far, no” he almost spat. “But I will.. and when I catch whoever did it..” His voice filled with rage. “That person will be very very sorry.” Raphael did not doubt it. The half-mad Nae’blis’ rage was infamous among the Chosen. “Such betrayal must be punished indeed”, Raphael said, thinking inside, not for the first time, that Vanahl would never discover who it had been. Vanahl turned his attention to the chess board again, biting back a comment at the possible sarcasm in Raphael’s voice, and made another move. It was a more aggressive move and Raphael responded in kind. Back and forth they moved across the battlefield of the chess board. At one point Vanahl asked Raphael if the business with the Aes Sedai Arahna Desonai had gone well and Raphael replied that it had. The Blue - or rather Black - Sister now was in a good position to disrupt the business of the White Tower. Divara - who was in the White Tower under the guise of one of these so-called Aes Sedai - would give her her commands and keep a close eye on her. Raphael had the impression Vanahl knew all this already, but he answered the questions the Nae’blis had. When he had asked Vanahl why he - Raphael - had been the only Chosen present at the Turning, the other had just shrugged and said there had been no need for anyone else. Raphael had not pursued the matter. ● Many moves later, Vanahl removed another of Raphael’s officer-pieces from the board in an aggressive attack. “That is what happens when you are not careful, Raphael”, the Nae’blis said, his voice ensuring the other man understood the double-meaning. “Indeed”, Raphael replied when he a couple of moves later removed one of Vanahl’s officers from the board in a counter-attack. “We all need to take care, don’t we, Vanahl?” His hard eyes met the other man’s burning eyes, the challenge explicit and open. ● The gateway snapped shut behind him as Raphael stepped into another room which flickered. This was another place in the World of Dreams, the mirror-image of a similar palace room in another land. Before him was another table with some chairs, a strangely decorated room it was but Raphael’s attention was all on the woman seated there. “There you are”, the woman said in icy tones as almost always was the case with her. “Why have you come? I have a busy schedule”. The woman was handsome rather than beautiful with brown hair, olive-shaped eyes and high cheekbones. She was dressed alluringly as was often the case. “Good to see you too, Kharin”, Raphael replied smoothly with a lopsided grin as he seated himself in a chair opposite her. “Do you have any wine?” he asked and smiled as she produced a goblet from behind her. Looking closely he saw that there was a small wine table behind her. He poured some wine from the goblet that she handed him into a cup and placed the goblet between them on the table. He watched silently as she poured some wine into her own cup and raised it to her lips. She watched him like one watches a predator ready to pounce but some of her inherent harshness was momentarily gone and in its place was amusement. “Drink, Raphael”, she said invitingly. “If I wanted to kill you, it would not be with poison. It would be a lot more painful and prolonged.” Her eyes glinted. ● Grinning back at her, he took a long swallow and watched as she did the same. “Not bad”, he said as he put his cup down. “Almost as good as that delicious red wine we used to get from the Seihm.” Some of the best wine orchards during the Age of Legends had been in the nation of Seihm. They both recalled it well. “As for you being busy”, he added almost like an afterthought, “I presume you meant having some.. amusement with your..plaything.” His grin widened. “Your Merindhra, the voluptuous maid from Arad Doman?” Her face darkened at his tone but then softened somewhat at the subject of their conversation. “My amusements are my business, Raphael. Never forget.” Her tone became a little less harsh as she added that Merindhra was, in truth, less infuriating than most others around her. It was clear from her voice that this also included the various Chosen. “Now then, why are you here” she asked after a few moments. “I have been to see Vanahl earlier today”, Raphael said and he saw the woman’s eyes tighten. “He is very keen on seeing you, my dear.” He knew the ‘my dear’ would infuriate her - it always did - but he could not stop himself. She controlled her rage but he could see that she struggled. “He can wait until I am ready to see him”, she spat. “That arrogant man will get what is coming to him, one way or another”. The last bit was almost a snarl and reminded Raphael how much this female Chosen hated the Nae’blis. She hated all men, in truth, but Vanahl more than anyone else. It was personal, Raphael understood, and more than the bickering at Chosen-meetings and trying to undermine the Nae’blis, but he kept his thoughts to himself. ● “You have not told him where I reside?” she enquired, a touch of doubt in her eyes for a moment. “Of course not”, Raphael replied and her hard eyes softened momentarily. “He can bloody well find that out himself.” Kharin nodded, a pleased grin on her lips. She knew that Raphael hated the Nae’blis almost as much as she did. She could not stand Raphael either if she were honest, but for the moment it suited her purposes not to be his enemy. Not an ally either, but a neutral party. For now. “And the others?” Kharin said, taking another sip from her drink. “Are they scheeming as usual?” Raphael nodded and his grin broadened. “Nothing new there. Everyone wants the Great Lord’s favour.” Kharin nodded, knowing the truth of that. She did her own share of scheming, but those were secrets she shared with no one. “As it should be”, she added darkly, her eyes glinting. She watched him take another sip of wine, then after a few moments pushed her chair back and stood. Her stylish dress clung to her athletic body and her long legs. Had she not worn that angry face of hers most of the time she would have been a very attractive woman, Raphael thought. Her features hardened, in her usual way, as she looked at him, as if she had read his thoughts. “I have no more time for you”, she said almost imperiously. Her eyes were their usual angry again. “Get out of here, Raphael!” ● He stood up from the table and faced her from six feet or so away. He had never let go of Saidin throughout their meeting, as he was sure she had never let go of Saidar. They did not trust one another one bit. As his eyes met hers he wondered, not for the first time, how strong she was in the One Power. Rumours among the Chosen hinted at her being the second strongest female behind Deleyhna but this had never been confirmed. He was certain that she would not be able to overpower him should she ever get the desire, he was stronger in the One Power than she was, but it could still be somewhat risky.. were he to be taken by surprise. He met her angry stare with an amused one. “I will bother you no more, Kharin.” He said. “And give my love to your lovely.. plaything”, he added mischievously. “If she ever wants the taste of something.. different”, his grin broadened, “a real man.. just send her to me.” It pleased him to see her fury building, her eyes flashing dangerously. Opening a gateway close to where he stood, he stepped through before she had time to curse him - and the silvery line snapped shut behind him. ● Lord Rehmar, a tall and lean man with brown hair, piercing eyes and a moustache, stared out across the city of Bandar Eban from his room high up in the King’s Palace. The afternoon sun shone over the Capital of Arad Doman. It was an important port city located on the coast of the Aryth Ocean, lying on the mouth of the river Dhagon. Massive gates penetrated the city walls and opened up to streets of packed earth, with wooden boardwalks at the sides. Arandi Square, the main city square, was set with copper fountains in the shape of horses leaping from a frothy wave. The buildings were tall and square, shaped like boxes stacked atop one another. Rows of square wooden houses filled the city, rolling down a gentle incline to the massive port, the widest part of the city. Banners flew above, or hung from every building, some used as business signs, family names, or location names. The wealthy part of the city was located on the heights in the east. One of the grandest mansions was the seat of House Vedlar. You also had the Council of Merchants which always competed with the Crown for power. And then there was the Bandar Eban's Terhana Library which was considered to be among the best in the world. It was a grand city, perhaps not on the scale of Caemlyn or Tar Valon, but its citizens were proud of it. Leaving the balcony, Lord Rehmar went inside his opulent living quarters and sat down by his ornate writing desk. As Chief Advisor to the King he had several responsibilities and he carried out his duties with care and attention. He loved all the political intrigue at court and the manoeuvring that was necessary to keep the Council of Merchants off balance whenever possible. He had always had skills in this area and he made good use of them in his present circumstances. Taking out a piece of paper from a drawer, he dipped his pen in ink and began to write. ● Dear High Lady, I wish to invite you to a meeting here at the King’s Palace to discuss the proposal we talked about last month. It concerns the Alliance of Houses that the King wishes to build. This is, of course, confidential for the present, so please keep all details regarding this matter for yourself for the time being. We look forward to your presence on the 17th of this month. Your loyalty to the Crown is valued. Yours Sincerely, on behalf of the King, Lord Rehmar ● Putting the pen aside he studied what he had written, then grinned to himself as he placed the letter in an envelope. On the front of the envelope he wrote, High Lady Dahlia of House Kheren, then he closed the envelope and sealed it. Placing it together with several other similar envelopes on his desk, Sinam smiled. Things were proceeding nicely, the Chosen thought with a dark chuckle. Very nicely indeed. Alliances to make, Alliances to break. ‘Lord Rehmar’ leaned back in his chair, his green eyes glinting. The Great Lord would be pleased. ▀▄
  18. .. As the Shadow Rises .. ►▼◄ The old Illianer woman screamed in pain. Her face felt as if it were on fire. The pain was endless and she knew she was going to die. Just as she was going to black out, the pain stopped suddenly and she gasped, her whole body shaking, her hands trembling uncontrollably. She was hunched over on the sharp rocks near the ocean, waves hitting the slippery rocks close by, the domes of Illian in the far distance. A canopy of darkness from horizon to horizon filled her blurred vision as she raised her head to the night sky. Tears streamed down her once handsome face, her semi-blond hair now matted with blood, her dress torn and dirty. “I ask again”, the cloaked man demanded harshly. “Did you break your promise?” “I do be doing no such a thing”, the old woman stuttered between panicked gasps. “Do be trusting my words. I do be keeping my promise.” Raphael looked down at the woman and cursed inside. Another worthless servant of the Shadow. Another oath-breaker. ● She had broken the trust they had put in her, speaking secrets to family members however much she denied it now, revealing things that were not to be revealed. There was only one punishment for such disobedience. Death. But first he had to know how much she had revealed. Not that she knew that much to begin with, being a minor member of the local Friends of the Dark circle, but any breach was serious and had to be closed before the problem escalated. “Don’t lie to me”, Raphael said icily and applied more pressure on her abdomen using delicate weaves of Saidin. The woman screamed in renewed agony and shook her head. “I do be truthful, Great Master”, she cried. “We know that you broke your oath”. He said it as a statement of fact. Easing up on the pain, he grabbed the woman’s hair and forced her face upwards. “There is no use in lying”, he added. “Who else did you tell, apart from your two cousins?” “I do no break my promise”, she cried. The pain increased. “All right, I do tell Willfred and Keldon about my meeting”, she spluttered, the pain grabbing her, her limbs trembling. “Only that. But they do be family. They do be trusted, they do be telling no one. You do be trusting them, Great Master.” Her bloodshot eyes begged him to believe her, her body quivering, but for him there was no mercy. “I - trust - no one”. His words were final and she saw her death in his eyes, partially revealed in the silver light of the moon. Closing her own ocean-green eyes, her body slowly going limp, readying herself for the inevitable, she waited for death to take her. When it came, a subtle weave of Saidin slicing through her brain like a sliver of ice-water, she hardly felt a thing. ● The city of Cairhien was situated on the east bank of the River Alguenya just south of its junction with the River Gaelin. There was a large dock area on the river with many granaries on the other side. The city walls formed a perfect square. The area outside the city walls, the Foregate, was also heavily populated. A sprawling settlement, the buildings in Foregate were mostly made of wood, and some of them had multiple stories. There were inns, taverns, homes, and shops galore. For the highly status-conscious and reserved Cairhienin nobility, Foregate was beneath their notice. The population was mostly commoners. Staring down at the city from his balcony atop the Manor House, Lord Taighan did not care about any of the commoners in Cairhien. In fact, he did not care much about the Nobles either. All he cared about was putting his plans into action and making sure no one messed them up. He was a dark-haired man of average height and build in his mid-thirties with dark eyes and a handsome face. He wore a dark blue coat and looked every part the Nobleman. The sun was rising in an azure-blue sky, a soft breeze drifting in from the north-west. It was late morning and it looked to be a beautiful day. Turning away from the view, Lord Taighan re-entered his chamber and headed across to his work desk. He picked up an envelope which read ‘To Lord Senidhred’ on the front and carried it down the stairs to the floor below. A young servant met him at the foot of the stairs and gave him a polite bow. Handing him the letter to have it delivered, the Lord walked past him without a word and out the front entrance. A horse and carriage waited outside and he stepped quickly inside the carriage, closing the door behind him. Soon they were headed into the centre of the city, a city soon filled with the sounds of voices and life; shopkeepers selling their wares and customers haggling, dogs barking in the distance, farmers bringing in their produce from the nearby region, horses and carriages bringing Nobles and merchants to and fro. Nothing of this registered in Lord Taighan’s mind as he passed down the city streets toward his destination. He was, in fact, thinking about the confrontation of the evening before. ● “That is a ridiculous proposal, Lord Taighan!” Lord Madhrid had made no secret of his strong disagreement. An older Lord in his early fifties, dressed as always in his finery, he had never been afraid to speak his mind. “Allying ourselves with Houses Sehnin, Khaledred and Lihren will cause major divisions among Cairhien Nobility”, he had shouted. “It is not in our best interest. We need some stability now that the world outside seems to be growing more and more chaotic every day.” “What rubbish!” Lord Taighan had replied emphatically. His voice was condescending as it often was when talking to people he considered his inferiors (which meant almost everyone). “This will bring more stability to Cairhien. Those Houses are often at each other’s throats as you well know; an alliance will benefit everyone, and the few Houses that may disagree will be.. persuaded otherwise.” Lord Madrid had not been convinced, suspecting this was a personal grab for power, and had left the meeting in anger, promising that he would do whatever he could to stop these new plans. Manoeuvring for power was part of every Cairhienin Nobleman’s blood. They had, after all, invented Daes Dae'mar, The Game Of Houses. It was the political and social manoeuvring employed by the Nobility to gain status or wealth, or to cause the downfall of others they dislike. Sometimes also called The Great Game, it was played heavily in Cairhien, where the most seemingly irrelevant act could cause Lords and Ladies to speculate endlessly about one's motives; even servants of the Cairhienin Nobility it was said play their own version of Daes Dae'mar. Lord Taighan was a deft player and used his skills to further his ambitions. And you, Lord Madhrid, thought Lord Taighan with some amusement, just overplayed your hand. ● Stepping out of the carriage before a large mansion at the outskirts of the city Lord Taighan brushed the dust from his dark coat and then walked up to the entrance. The door was opened before he got to knock and a male servant invited him in. The walls along the corridor were heavily decorated in a fashion which did not impress the Lord and he walked swiftly along, his mind on the meeting to come. Finally he entered a long hallway and saw a figure waiting for him at the end. Lady Surhin welcomed her guest enthusiastically, ushering him into a larger chamber which turned out to be the reception room. “Lord Taighan”, she said politely when they had seated themselves around a small table at the northern end of the room. “Lady Surhin”’, he replied with a thin smile. “Thank you for inviting me.” The long-haired, usually stern-faced middle-aged Noblewoman looked shrewdly at this Lord from the outer provinces, or so it was said, who had climbed the ladder of power in Cairhien in a surprisingly short time. Wherever he came from, he was certainly a man suited to The Game. His proposal for an alliance with her House Khaledred had certainly come out of nowhere and had surprised her. His House had often been opposed to her interests.. but his offer intrigued her and she was curious to hear what he had in mind. “Your offer interests me”, Lady Surhin said smoothly after they had exchanged the expected pleasantries. “It did come as a surprise though, seeing as your House has not been the most.. agreeable to House Khaledred’s activities of late.” Lord Taighan nodded with a thin smile. “We have been at odds for some time, that is true”, he replied smoothly. “But that is about to change.” The man once known as Esahm Seldin Terivahr grinned widely, his dark eyes glinting with possibilities. ● “Good times are ahead of us, Lady Surhin”, Kieran said. His deep voice resonated in the large room and the Noble lady’s face lit up, delicate threads of Compulsion aiding her positive reaction. “Together we shall help make Cairhien stronger”, he lied. The Chosen chuckled inside as he saw the Noble lady’s face glow with eagerness as he spoke of his - Lord Taighan’s - plans. Oh, these Nobles were so easy to manipulate, thought the Chosen with disdain as he watched her fall into his trap. Breaking up alliances, forging new ones, breaking up those through betrayals and re-forging them again later made for perfect instability and chaos. Kieran enjoyed the Game of Power though he missed his time as a scientist back in the world before the Breaking, when he had been doing truly important work. Working at the Sihn Theal, in his laboratories, he had created the Trollocs and other Shadowspawn for the Shadow, a feat almost unmatched by time. Banohr had aided too, of course, but it was he, Kieran, who had been the true brains behind the scientific success, the true innovator, the greatest scientist that had ever lived! This new Age knew nothing of such marvels, children they were playing in a world playground which was a poor and faint echo of the splendour of the world and Age he and his brethren had left behind. Scholar as he was, Kieran was a methodical man and he had quickly decided to make the most of it, after awakening from the Dreamless Sleep that he preferred not to dwell upon. For his own gratification. And for the Great Lord. Of course. He used his methodical, experienced skills in persuasion now as he convinced the Lady of House Khaledred to support his plans. Outwardly he was serious and formal, a slight smile on his lips. Inside he was chuckling with glee. Cairhien was there for the taking. ● The Sea Folk ship flew like an arrow across the waves of the Aryth Ocean, borne by strong winds. The Sailmistress, Tarah din Coral Rising Wave, a tall dark-skinned woman with grey streaked hair, a grave face and with four rings in each ear, one of them being connected to her nose by a chain, a sign of her higher rank, smiled contentedly from her position of command on the Quarterdeck. This was her vessel, a Raker called Wavesweeper, and she was mighty proud of it and her crew. The vessel was large with multiple decks, easily a hundred paces long, with three towering masts amidships and one shorter one on the raised stern deck. It had large triangular as well as somewhat smaller white squared sails, and a very narrow body, as was common in such ships, that made for great speed across oceans. Tarah had begun aboard a ship as a deckhand many years before, in the tradition of the Atha’an Miere, and had worked herself up through the ranks. She had finally fulfilled her ambition and gained the rank of Sailmistress with her own vessel - and she felt as protective of her ship as she would of a child. Her eyes swept over her ship with practiced ease, storing every little detail in her mind, and spotting her Windfinder Chalor din Togara Evening Tide near the bow. Windfinders were women who could channel the One Power and they were invaluable in plotting the best course based on the wind and currents. Manipulating the weather with flows of Air and Water, weaves Windfinders were particularly skilled at, they could change the weather to avert storms and speed their ship along to its destination. And Chalor din Togara Evening Tide was the best Windfinder the Sailmistress had ever had on her ship. She gave silent blessings for her fortune in obtaining this highly skilled and proficient Windfinder after the sudden, unexpected death of her previous one, Mebreille din Eiran North Wind. The woman had been found on deck one morning, dark eyes staring emptily into the sky, her heart no longer beating. There had been no sign of injury or any wrongdoing though the Sailmistress found the whole thing puzzling seeing as the woman had been healthy as a dolphin in heat from what the Sailmistress had observed. Soon after Chalor din Togara Evening Tide had appeared at one of their landfalls with good recommendations from other Sailmistresses and Tarah had taken her on, even if this woman was a stranger to her. They needed a Windfinder and this woman seemed capable. It was the best decision of her life. ● Chalor din Togara Evening Tide stared outwards at the ocean-waves from her vantage point. She was dark-skinned like her Sea Folk-sisters, dark-eyed with short hair, a lean body and she wore tattoos on her hands of stars and seabirds surrounded by the curls and whirls of stylized waves. She was ranked only under the Sailmistress and Cargomaster on this ship and the arrogance in her gait as she walked the decks befitted her station. Gazing at the dark and heavy clouds moving in the sky ahead of them, floating in an unnatural manner against the wind, pushed by strong weaves of Saidar, Issandra grinned and there was wickedness in her dark eyes. She was very pleased with herself. Under the guise of Chalor din Togara Evening Tide, who unfortunately lay dead at the bottom of the Aryth Ocean (it was very unwise to eat posioned mussels!), she had easily manipulated this stupid and naive Sailmistress into giving her the position of Windfinder on this ship after poor Mebreille din Eiran North Wind had died suddenly in the night (I guess she had not prepared for my inverted weave after all.. poor soul!). Issandra was now exactly where she needed to be, to influence events. She knew (though it hurt to admit it to herself) she probably was generally the weakest of the Chosen in the One Power, but she had one ability which outranked them all: she was very strong in Air and Water and very proficient in manipulating the weather, or Weaving of the Winds, as the Sea Folk called it. She doubted any of the so-called Aes Sedai of this Age were anywhere near her ability in this regard, Cloud Dancing they apparently called this Talent, though perhaps some of these Windfinders were closer in skill; she had watched several at work on several ships since her awakening from the Dreamless Sleep and she had to admit they were not totally useless. She did not use all her skill as Chalor din Togara Evening Tide, however, not wanting to cast suspicion on her ‘extraordinary skill’, doing just enough to impress the Sailmistress and make their journeys swift and efficient. Having to act the Windfinder at all times vexed her in truth, but she put up with it in public, venting her frustration only when in private. It was all worth it and the Great Lord would be pleased. ● Chalor din Togara Evening Tide changed the flows of Air, altering her weaves ever so delicately, and the Sea Folk vessel jumped forwards, entering an even better sea corridor towards the north. The ‘Windfinder’s’ thoughts were, however, not entirely on the skies and the horizon ahead but partly in another Age and another Time, where Issandra was carrying out important research on wind power and accelerated particle division, to much scientific acclaim, in the science facility of Ner Khalid. ● A goblet of delicious, perfectly chilled blood-red wine stood on the table. Lord Serafehl poured himself some of that red wine and enjoyed the taste of Taraboner grapes on his tongue. He looked with relish at the plate with a large steak, roasted potatoes, vegetables and a spicy sauce in front of him. It looked delicious but just as he raised his fork and knife to cut that steak a servant came into the private dining room with a message. “Can it not wait?” He said briskly. The servant, a young Illianer man in his mid-twenties, bowed and apologized for disturbing him but said this message was urgent. Receiving the piece of paper, the Lord looked at the heading which read “Lord Serafehl”. It was written in a flowing script which to Raphael’s eyes looked female. A woman had written this, of that he felt sure. Gazing at the message, he saw that it was an invitation to a reception at the Manor House of Lady Derinha. She was a fellow councillor here in Illian, someone who had been neutral in most of the discussions in the council in the past year but who had supported Serafehl in the voting. He had not spoken much to her in truth, so he was a little curious why she wanted this meeting. Things were coming along well in Illian as he saw it, but he could always use some added support to his schemes. Maintaining a majority vote in the council was important and any action that aided in this endeavour was worthwhile. Nodding to his young servant, he bade him send a quick reply on his behalf accepting the invitation. When the man had left, Lord Serafehl focused on his meal once again and almost sighed with pleasure as he tasted that delicious red meat. ● A chime rang in his private chamber later that evening and he understood it was time to go. His orders by the Great Lord has been explicit. He intended to follow them to the letter. Putting his dark coat on, Raphael seized Saidin and opened a gateway right there in his chamber. Through the gateway he saw parts of a semi-dark hill cave, hard stone reaching in all directions, candle lights lit at intervals. Stepping through, the gateway snapped shut behind him. He knew he was in the Blight though he could not say specifically where. Not that it mattered for today’s business. It could have been carried out anywhere, in truth, but this place was.. appropriate, he thought. Secret, out of the way. Solitary. They would not be disturbed. Heading further into the hill cave, on a path that angled downwards for a long while, Raphael considered the evening’s business. This would be the first time since awakening from the Dreamless Sleep that he would participate in such an action. It had been done before, of course, during the War of Power but it needed ample ‘resources’ one could say and so was fairly rare and only done when deemed especially necessary for the Shadow. The cave path slowly straightened, then angled upwards and finally opened up, walls of stone rising upwards on all sides, with huge malachite hanging from the ceiling high above. In the middle of the huge stone chamber, criss-crossed by symbols on the ground and partially lit by three dozen candle lights, stood thirteen Myrddraal and twelve Dreadlords. Raphael joined them. Bound by flows of Air to the stone wall behind them, two feet off the ground, was the Aes Sedai. Arahna Desonai, Head of the Blue Ajah of the White Tower. Her blue eyes stared icily and defiantly at everyone gathered, her smooth ageless Aes Sedai-features strained, her long curly blond hair flowing down from her shoulders. She was gagged with Air but had she not been, Raphael felt sure she would have cursed them all as evil traitors to the Light. He liked women with spirit, but her defiance would soon turn to terror when she realized what they were going to do to her. Seven of the gathered Dreadlords were male, the remaining five female. The females were of the so-called Black Ajah, Aes Sedai who had forsaken their oaths to the Light and joined the Shadow. The Myrddraal stood silently waiting, their Eyeless faces turned upwards. Raphael walked up to the bound Aes Sedai and smiled wickedly. Staring up into the Andoran woman’s face he whispered, “This is a day of joy for you. Soon you will join your sisters and brothers in service to the Great Lord. You are forsaking the Light. Aren’t you happy?” Defiance gradually turned to terror as recognition dawned on her and she realized what he had meant, what was about to happen to her. Her eyes widened in horror. Her soul cried out and had she been able to, she would have killed herself rather than go through what she now understood was about to happen: she was going to be Turned to the Shadow against her will. Tears flowed down her chin, her cheeks burning with frustration, as she thought with despair that they would make her betray the Light forever. She had been told of this secret evil practice from Ages past - the last known case was during the Trolloc Wars as far as she knew - when she had been raised Aes Sedai more than one hundred years before. In order to Turn someone unwillingly to the Shadow, it was said, one needed to gather thirteen Myrddraal and thirteen Dreadlords in one place. The victim of Turning must also be able to channel. The combination of Saidin and Saidar channeled through Myrddraal in this way was said to shift the allegiance of any channeler to the Shadow against their will. The process twists the person so that any previous commitment to the Light is redirected towards the Shadow. It was the ultimate horror Arahna could imagine and she screamed silent screams that almost tore her soul. ● Raphael grinned wickedly, seeing the horror painted on her face. It was time to begin. He joined the other twelve Dreadlords, making and completing a circle of thirteen channelers. He was the one leading, controlling the flow. He felt Saidin surge through his body and he increased the flow almost to bursting, feeling ecstasy in his soul. The power coming from the thirteen channelers was so strong that it made the air vibrate. He removed the gag of Air from the Aes Sedai and she screamed loudly, unendingly, a desperate cry that welled up from the bottom of her soul. Channeling through the thirteen Myrddraal, mixing with the power that the Fades derived from the True Power, the thirteen channelers of the Shadow threw their combined might at the Aes Sedai woman and it hit her like a burning storm. Horrendous screams erupted from her mouth as she tried to fight the massive onslaught. Crying out for the Light, tears flooding her face, she fought the mental rape for what seemed an eternity, using every fibre of her being to defend her soul, her heart, everything that was Arahna, resisting for as long as she was able. Hysterical with pain and fear, trying in vain to reach for the blessed One Power, and wanting oblivion, she fought on.. and on.. OH LIGHT NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!.. her will strong and fighting and brave and pure….. but it was not enough. Not enough. Slowly, by increments, she felt her inner defences weakening, her thoughts became muddled and she knew .. OH DEAR CREATOR, I CAN FEEL IT!!! .. that her soul was being darkened. Her strength waned and then at a point, an eternity later, she could not tell, she felt a.. change inside her, as if a hand of darkness had reached into her and extinguished everything she had ever been, everything she had ever thought, every love she had ever nurtured, every dream she had ever had. Her soul was breaking - and the scream in her mind was endless. Her last thought as herself before she passed out, was that she wanted to die and end it all. ● Afterwards Raphael felt spent, and he crossed over to one of the stone walls to recover. He did not want the others to know how much this - leading the circle - had temporarily weakened him, so he brushed the sweat from his brow without anyone seeing and shielded his strength in the One Power in a way he had learned in the Age of Legends. It was a trick that had come in handy on several occasions. Looking at the others he saw that several of the Dreadlords were pretty exhausted too. It had taken longer than expected to break this Aes Sedai woman, she had been strong-willed, but they had succeeded. She had been Turned to the Shadow and was no longer the same woman, the same personality, that she had been. When Arahna Sedai recovered a little later, she had walked up to the Chosen and bowed to him. Her face had been flat but without any defiance as she had sworn new binding Oaths to the Great Lord holding a Binder, or Oath Rod as they called it in this new Age. Her eyes had been deep wells of nothingness.. but this did not surprise Raphael since he knew that Turned channelers were said to have a darkness or soullessness behind their eyes, at least for some period after the event. She had joined her Dreadlord sisters in the huge cave, and would now willingly (even if perhaps slightly diminished) join the Black Ajah’s efforts on behalf of the Great Lord to disrupt matters in the White Tower. Raphael did not know why none of the other Chosen had been asked to be present at this Turning, not either Divara who operated out of the White Tower, nor did he know if she had been informed (though he assumed so), but it did not matter. He had done as he had been ordered. Apparently this Head of the Blue Ajah was a person who it would benefit the Shadow greatly to have on their side. The Great Lord would be pleased. Raphael, feeling his strength slowly returning, exchanged a few words with some of the Dreadlords present, handing out commands and orders, then told them all to leave. All except the Aes Sedai. “Are you ready to carry out your duties for the Great Lord?” He asked carefully, looking deeply into the woman’s eyes. “I am, Great Master.” She replied truthfully. Deferentially. Her eyes were dead but there was no doubt in her voice. She was ready to serve the Shadow. ● Raphael was the last to leave the cave in the Blight. He opened a gateway to Travel to Illian. When his gateway snapped shut behind him as he stepped into his private chamber at the other side of the continent, the darkness of the night surrounding him, he grinned with malice but also contentment. Another day’s work completed. It was time to celebrate with some more delicious blood-red wine. ▀▄
  19. .. The Price of Betrayal .. ►▼◄ Her body plastered to the wall by invisible flows of air, she knew she was dying a slow and painful death. There was no sound coming from her, a weave of air gagging her, but the woman’s pretty features twisted with horrendous pain and her whole body would have jerked with spasms had she not been so pinned to the wall, as extremely delicate weaves of fire ever so slowly sliced through her abdomen and her side. ● Raphael did not share Divara’s great pleasure in inflicting pain on others, but he did what needed doing and it was necessary to make an example of this traitor to their cause. For she had betrayed them, had attempted to reveal a fellow Friend of the Dark and a long-planned scheme to disrupt activities in the region to the local town authorities. Very unwise. Before that she had spread discontent within her Friends of the Dark-circle, accusing her leaders - and even the Chosen! - of withholding the truth and raving about there being no hope now that the Forces of Light were marching. Though many took her for a fool, there were also some - especially those new to their oaths - who listened. Finally she had renounced her Oath to the Great Lord. Very unwise indeed. Personally, Raphael thought the dark-haired, slender built woman had gone completely insane. Whatever the case, she was now paying the price of betrayal. She could see his face and his intense gaze as he came very close to her. His words were spoken softly and in her momentous pain she heard. “Lady, this is the price you pay for disobedience.” Soft words. “You betrayed our cause. You betrayed our Great Lord.” ● He felt her vital organs being crushed by his Saidin-wrought fire and understood that she had only moments left before death. And so he said, “The penalty is death. Pray that the Great Lord will give you eternal sleep, after you betrayed his word and your sacred Oath. Perhaps instead you will have eternal pain.” His grin widened wickedly. In that final moment of torturous pain, Raphael slackened the weaves of air holding her bound a little bit - enough so that he would see her body break. And with a widening of her eyes, she gave a final jerk, a final soundless cry and then her body went limp, all light leaving her eyes forever. The Chosen let go of all the weaves of air and she fell like an empty sack to the ground. He only gave her a quick glance, then turned to the middle-aged man standing off to the side with impassionate eyes. “Take her body to the circle and display it well.” The Friend of the Dark nodded. “Let everyone know what was done to her and that this is the price they will pay if they betray our cause or break their Oath.” “Yes, Great Master.” The man spoke deferentially and did not meet Raphael’s eyes. “It shall be done”, the man said. Raphael nodded satisfied, then watched as the Illianer Friend of the Dark lifted the dead woman up onto his shoulder and carried what was left of her corpse out of the room. On the floor remained small parts of her in a widening pool of blood. ● Seated in his high-backed chair in his chamber in the Great Hall of the Council, Lord Serafehl shuffled through the bunch of papers on his desk, his mind elsewhere. Outside twilight was descending on the Capital City of Illian, day slowly turning to night. Getting up from his chair, the Lord walked across the room and out onto the balcony. He stared out at the Square of Tammaz as he so often did in the evenings, thinking about strategy and what move to make next. Raphael’s thoughts went back to the evening before when he - or rather Lord Serafehl - had been challenged in the Council. Lord Ardhen, together with his two accomplices, had accused Lord Serafehl of threatening councillors and of incompetence with regards to a financial transaction-deal which the council had previously approved but which had gone awry. Raphael - in the guise of Lord Serafehl - had barely been able to contain his anger and had used his strong influence in the council to carry a motion which criticized Lord Ardhen for baseless accusations and made him apologize. Lord Ardhen had stormed out of the council chamber afterwards, staring daggers at Lord Serafehl as he passed. Raphael, for his part, had decided to accelerate his plan for the Illianer Lord’s unfortunate demise. You should be more careful going for a swim with these dangerous ocean currents, my Lord Ardhen. The Chosen thought with wicked amusement. One day it will be the death of you. His evil laughter remained, wisps of shadows in the air, as he walked inside his chamber again, new plans forming in his head. ● Ebou Dar. Raphael stepped out of the gateway and it snapped shut behind him. He was in a small palace in the Altaran Capital, in a private chamber that stood next to the reception hall. The walls were decorated with paintings of all sorts and in all the corners were luxurious vases on ornate pedestals. Lord Elahron, first councillor to the Queen of Altara, enjoyed affluence. Vinadel has not changed since his re-awakening in this time and Age, thought the Chosen with some amusement as he studied the paintings with some interest. He knew that a chime would have alerted the other Chosen to his presence and that Vinadel would join him shortly. Walking across to a window which showed the Royal Palace in the distance, Raphael stared out at the afternoon sun which lit up the Altaran Capital. It was a beautiful city, with its pale white buildings and plenty of canals. Transportation was easy on the passenger canal boats as well as on the broad streets and bridges. Large buildings and palaces were scattered throughout the city, the palaces richly decorated with tall spires or domes in the shapes of turnips or pears, emblazoned with bands of crimson, blue, and gold. The city was surrounded by a very thick white wall, which had three main gates - the Moldaine Gate, the Three Towers Gate, and the Dal Eira Gate - as well as several minor ones. Throughout the city, paved squares were very common, often containing a fountain bubbling water, a large statue, or both. Out of these squares, the Mol Hara square was by far the largest. At its center stood a statue of a woman with one arm raised as to point toward the sea. One entire side of the Mol Hara square was dominated by the gleaming white Tarasin Palace, home of the current ruler of Altara. Ah, but the real power is here. Vinadel was not the most accomplished of the Chosen in Raphael’s view, neither a great general nor a master manipulator, but he did have a way with words and ideas, having been a renowned Philosopher before the Breaking, and had managed to move himself into the position of chief advisor to the Queen, influencing things nicely here in his base of power. He and Raphael saw many things in the same light and had had a loose alliance since escaping the Dreamless Sleep. They did not trust one another, of course, but they had an understanding of sorts which benefited them both. ● The door at the other side of the room opened and Raphael turned around. Lord Elahron entered, closing the door behind him. He wore an ornate grey coat with frills at the neck and cuffs and his boots also had frills. It was almost a mirror image of Raphael’s black attire. A tall, slender, scholarly man in his late thirties, dark haired with a short beard and brown eyes, the Lord nodded to Raphael and a small smile came upon his lips. “Lord Serafehl”, he said in a pleasant voice. “How good of you to visit me.” Raphael returned the small smile. “Lord Elahron, I am pleased to be back.” Raphael was not surprised when Vinadel made a weave which ensured their privacy from prying ears - he always did this for their meetings, something Raphael thought prudent - and then bade him sit in one of the two chairs near the window. Seating himself, Raphael considered how much or how little he could tell Vinadel. With all that was going on he expected Vinadel would be just as careful. “So”, Vinadel began tentatively. “How are things going in Illian?” Raphael smiled thinly. “Oh, very well. A few obstacles, as can be expected, but on the whole things are going smoothly. And here in Altara?” “Very well”, Vinadel replied. “The Queen is.. stubborn, but she listens to good advice. She affords trust to her advisors.” Raphael nodded. “That is good.” His eyes intensified. “And what of Vanahl’s commands?” Vinadel’s brown eyes narrowed slightly. “Ah yes. He was rather.. displeased by the whole boy Dragon affair, wasn’t he?” A small grin came upon his lips. ● Raphael grinned back. “Indeed. Our Nae'blis was not happy at all.” A small pause. “Any idea who was behind that whole thing?” He said it lightly, wondering what Vinadel knew and what he would share. “Oh, it was not me”, Vinadel replied with a small chuckle. “In case you wondered. I have no idea, but it was rather unwise, I think.” “Yes”, Raphael said, his mouth twisting slightly. “Some of our.. associates have been.. premature before.” He chuckled, knowing the double-meaning would not escape the other man. “Indeed”, Vinadel replied with similar amusement. “Have you spoken to Vanahl since the meeting?” “Yes, I have”, Raphael answered. His lips tightened momentarily. It had been an unpleasant meeting where Vanahl had accused him of holding things back - which he had, of course been doing - and Raphael accusing Vanahl of losing control of the group of Chosen. They had parted in anger. “He was not overly pleased by what I had to tell him.” Meeting the other man’s eyes, he added, “And you?” “Yes, he came to see me some days ago.” Vinadel replied, his eyes narrowing once again. “Not a very pleasant man. Never was.” Raphael nodded in agreement. “He feels things are falling apart, but it is more the question of him losing control, I think. Our plans are going ahead, the Shadow is slowly spreading. The Great Lord will be pleased.” “I agree”, Vinadel said. “I don’t know what some of the others are up to, but down here South things are going according to plan.” ● When he returned to his chamber in Illian a little later, the silver line of the gateway disappearing behind him, Raphael went over in his mind what his fellow Chosen had said. He had watched the other man carefully during their conversation, trying to pick up on body language and signals which spoke of intent and emotion, but had perceived little of use. Perhaps Vinadel had spoken truth, perhaps deception. It would have to do for now. The man could at least be relied on, as far as any of the other Chosen could be relied on in the great Game of Power. ● The Council of Twelve were horrified when they were informed the following morning that Lord Ardhen had been found dead in the sea outside the Capital. It was ruled an accidental drowning in strong ocean currents, a probable heart attack when the councillor had gone for his regular evening swim. Lord Serafehl had been most gracious in his kind words of the late Lord, saying that despite their differences Lord Ardhen had been an honourable man who had served Illian with dignity and strength for many years. A motion had subsequently been passed, honouring the dead Lord, and only when the meeting was over and he was alone again in his private chamber, had his somber mask of melancholy broken to be replaced by gleeful jubilation. There was an empty seat on the Council now but with his influence and power Lord Serafehl knew he would be able to get the right man selected. Oh we shall miss your valuable council, my Lord Ardhen. He grinned wickedly. We shall miss it immeasurably. ● The dying rasp of the Myrddraal (they always took a long time to die, damn them!) made the man’s almost black eyes harden even further, if that were possible. Disobedience of the Chosen was almost unheard of but this servant had questioned his orders and he would not stand for it. What business is it of yours, he whispered in his mind to the almost dead creature, how I decide to carry out the Great Lord’s commands ? You are a Servant of the Shadow, of the Great Lord, of me, and you live to obey! Disgust shone in his eyes as he stared at the dying body of the Fade. He tightened his fists and tried to control the anger within. “The penalty for disobedience is death.” His words were hard as stone. “May the Great Lord’s wrath be as harsh.” Turning to face the other Eyeless Ones, three tall figures with cloaks that never moved, he said softly but dangerously, “Anyone else want to question my orders ?” There was no emotion coming from the remaining Myrddraal but from their stance it was almost possible to detect some unease. But also some displeasure. The one standing nearest to the Chosen bowed carefully and rasped “No Great Master. We obey.” “Good!” The Chosen said, anger in his voice. “Any more betrayals and you will all die painfully. More painfully than this one.” He pointed at the dead Fade. “Now take the Trollocs north”, he commanded. “There is a change of plan. Be ready for new orders.” Gerehl looked them each in the eyeless face, his stare boring into them, before he turned and entered the gateway. The lights of Tanchico could be seen in the far distance as his gateway snapped shut. ● Stepping out of the gateway in quite another place, the Chosen walked up to a tall mirror that stood beside a huge painting depicting a battle-scene. Looking at his reflection, he grinned at what he saw. A brown-haired man in his late twenties with almost black eyes and high cheekbones, a lean body and a dark green cloak with frills. Chuckling to himself, the image in the mirror slowly changed as the weave known as the Mask of Mirrors in the Age of Legends gradually changed his features from those of Gerehl back to Raphael’s. These were interesting times indeed, thought Lord Serafehl of Illian with dark elation and great satisfaction as he returned to his work desk to go through some more council papers. The chaos is spreading. The Great Lord will be pleased. His grin widened. Gerehl.. perhaps less so. Raphael laughed inside. Oh, it was good to be alive! ▀▄
  20. .. Pawns in a Game of Power .. ►▼◄ The room flickered in the strange way things often did in the World of Dreams, a reflection of the real world, caught between moments. Raphael was used to this after his long experience with Tel'aran'rhiod and its ‘laws’ but it still caught his eye at times like remnants of a shadow. Raphael stared admiringly at Deleyhna as Vanahl droned on. Her lavender dress was unique, he knew that much, and it set off her hair and eyes beautifully. Casting a glance at Divara he grinned. The woman was giving Deleyhna baleful glances, as usual. That would never change, thought the Chosen as he studied the woman. She had always been fashion-conscious and never liked anyone out-dressing her. She had always been a terrible gossip, so Serahna had told him on one occasion, and apparently that had not changed since awakening in this new Age and time. She had based herself in the pathetically named White Tower and was attempting to influence events among the Aes Sedai. Raphael always thought with scorn when he thought of these women who now called themselves Aes Sedai. So weak in the One Power, and weaker in character, they were not worthy of the name! He had come to hate the Aes Sedai back in what they now called the Age of Legends, due to the betrayal he had felt, but at least they had been men and women of power and ability, worthy adversaries. Something Vanahl just said grabbed his attention. ● "Someone has been interfering with the boy Dragon ahead of schedule”, the Nae'blis said. “Under EXPLICIT orders not to. He has been visited by an unauthorized Myrddraal, two Gray Men, and a Draghkar. Pass orders to your Friends of the Dark near him that any Shadowspawn within one country of his vicinity must be reported to me immediately.” Raphael could hear the anger in Vanahl’s voice and he laughed inside. So someone had acted against the will of the Nae'blis! A daring move indeed, perhaps unwise.. but exciting even so! Raphael enjoyed watching Vanahl’s fury, though nothing showed on his face. He knew how unwise it was to provoke the man unnecessarily and so he watched and listened as the other spoke on, inwardly chuckling with glee. “Each of you will meet with me privately to tell me your plans and your knowledge of every one else's plans. I WILL find who has disobeyed." Vanahl's eyes blazed hotter as he looked at each one of them in turn.” ● Raphael felt a sliver of fear when those blazing eyes met his but he controlled his emotion and afterwards convinced himself it had not been fear, just natural weariness. Inside he felt scorn for this man who thought he was so much better than the rest of them. Yes, he had been given the honour of being chosen Nae'blis, first among them - an honour Raphael felt he should have been given! - but even so Raphael thought Vanahl did not show them - and especially him - the right amount of respect. Your arrogance, Vanahl, will one day be the death of you, he thought maliciously and with glee as their leader’s eyes moved to the next in line. Looking at other faces around the table, he wondered who it was among them that had attempted to influence events with the young poor replacement for Dar Keran. He guessed several had been tempted - except Issandra, who he felt pretty sure would not be brave enough to even consider such disobedience, and a handful of the others who were loyal to the Nae'blis. He, Raphael, had considered it of course, but in the end he had found it too risky. The Dragon Reborn - Raphael felt spite whenever he thought of the name this young so-called reincarnation had been given - would have to be dealt with in due course, in some way or another, but this was not the time. So who had gone against Vanahl’s orders? He did not think Deleyhna had done so. She was more than capable, of course, if she decided the risk was worth it, but he did not think she was the one. Could it be Kharin? She had hated Dar Keran from the first day she had met him and he expected that she hated his young replacement as well. He sometimes wondered if there was anyone she did not hate. It was rumoured that she got on well, shall we say, with a certain Merindhra, a voluptuous maid from Arad Doman, so perhaps she was not filled with hate all the time. She had been close to defy Vanahl on several occasions, speaking up against his plans with a gusto that several of the others gawked at and some secretly admired, making Vanahl’s features contort in rage. Perhaps this time she had acted on the threat to act against him. He would have to find out. Perhaps it was time for his current alliance with Vinadel to be broadened. ● “I am sure it is all a big misunderstanding, Vanahl.” Raphael said when the Nae'blis had finished staring at everyone, echoes of his command reverberating in the chamber. “We all know better than to disobey Your commands.” There was a hint of sarcasm in his words and his blue eyes glinted dangerously but his face was smooth as stared back at the other man. It was not a challenge per se - though sometimes his temper got the better of him, Raphael was far from stupid and would never challenge the Nae'blis unless he felt he had the advantage - but a small reminder that Vanahl should step carefully and not overplay his hand. A couple of the others smiled thinly at Raphael’s words, baiting the Nae’blis. Serahna looked amused. Kharin’s upper lip curled in disdain. Deleyhna just stared at him but he thought he detected a hint of a smile on her red lips. Vanahl, however, gave him a hard stare, knowing exactly what game Raphael was playing. Another sly attempt to undermine my authority. I will destroy you one day, Raphael and wipe that smirk off your face. He kept silent though, biting his tongue. That was for another day. For now it was imperative to find out who had disobeyed his orders and almost messed up his carefully laid plans for the young boy. When he found out who it was, that person would wish he or she had never been born! As for telling Vanahl his plans, Raphael had no intention of doing so. He was no fool, after all. His plans were secret and would remain so. Their success depended on secrecy. Instead he would give the Nae'blis a loose version of the truth, a vague summary of his current activities, to make the man happy. Divulging other Chosen plans was also out of the question. Not that he knew that much about the others’ activities to begin with, though he had heard some rumours and speculated on a few other things, but alliances were built on trust and secrets were not divulged. Some of the others were so loyal to Vanahl that they might speak of secrets, but most of the Chosen had their own agendas and plots to influence the world and focused on those plans and strategies whatever Vanahl demanded. Raphael guessed it would never be discovered who had ‘interfered’ with the boy Dragon. And if by some chance the guilty party was discovered.. then Raphael felt pretty certain that Vanahl would punish him or her very harshly indeed. Oh yes. The gateway snapped closed behind him, leaving the World of Dreams behind, as Raphael stepped into his own private chamber and walked slowly across to his work desk, filled with papers, maps and scrolls, and sat down. It was time to put more of his plans into motion. ● The Banners of Illian, Twelve Golden Bees on a Field of Green, situated atop the Palace called the Great Hall of the Council, rippled on the soft winds that came in off the Sea of Storms. Standing beside a large window in one of the top council rooms, Lord Serafehl, wearing a dark coat with golden fringes, ones that mirrored those in his boots in the Illian style, looked across the Square of Tammaz to the almost identical huge Ogier-built white Palace situated there, the King’s Palace, and grinned darkly. These two famous Palaces in Illian bore witness to the struggles between the two political powers in this nation: the King and the Council of Twelve. Your Palace may indeed be two feet larger in every measurement, as the stories go, Lord Serafehl thought to himself somewhat smugly, but here is where the true power of Illian resides. There had been a power-struggle in Illian for what seemed forever. The system of having the Sovereign being “advised” by a council of lords - The Council of Twelve - was bad enough for the King of Illian. But in addition to that there was still another “advisory” body known as the Assemblage chosen by and from Illian’s merchants and shop owners. Both of these groups contended with the King for power, with the result that the nation lacked apt leadership. Or so many thought. And that, Lord Serafehl mused, is what I am going to give them. Leadership. But from behind the scenes, of course.. That was always the best way, a whisper in the right ear here, a whisper in the right ear there, gaining influence among those with power, but without drawing undue attention, and slowly but surely the master-puppeteer holds the strings of a nation. And then when the time is right.. to strike - and to strike hard! ● It had taken Raphael a while in the guise of Lord Serafehl to manoeuvre into the position he held now, a member of the Council of Twelve of Illian. In the first months after making the city his new home he had set himself up as an advisor to Lord Tiriahm, a rather arrogant but not too shrewd lord from the eastern provinces, helping him solve certain “difficulties” as the Lord had called them. I removed those obstacles for you, Tiriahm. Not in the way you expected, perhaps, but even so. After that, it was easy to prevail upon a somewhat uneasy but at the same time very political-minded Tiriahm to speak his case when the council suddenly were in need of a new member after the untimely loss of Lord Nemihl, who abruptly died in his sleep one night. People whispered about assassination and murder, but no one in government found any proof of that and so it was deemed that his heart had simply lost its will to beat. And so it did, after I crushed his chest with some delicate weaves, Raphael thought with great amusement and relish as he now stared out at the Square of Tammaz. The meeting with the others had taken place the day before and Raphael had since then received messages from two of the other Chosen. Serahna wished to speak on an important matter, she said. Raphael was curious what Serahna had in mind. She was not one with whom he had much contact, but her invitation made him curious. Perhaps she was someone he should consider an alliance with. The other message was from Vinadel. He had put that aside for the moment. Stepping back from the window, he walked across his ornate chamber and seated himself in a high-backed chair. On the walls were paintings that depicted battles in Illian’s history. They pleased him, reminding him of his own battles and triumphs of command. They did also make him think of paintings of a very different kind that had decorated his chamber back before the Breaking.. in his own time. A different world. A different time. ● Brushing thoughts of the past away, though echoes lingered in the back of his mind, he considered instead what he had accomplished since his arrival in Illian. He smiled gleefully as he reminisced. For Lord Serafehl had adapted to a Councillor’s life and political work with incredible ease, something that as time passed by made most of the other Councillors reassured that the right man had been chosen for this highly prestigious position. Even though he had come so recently to the city and they knew so little about him, he radiated confidence and showed great ability with his advice and prudent motions - qualities they knew to appreciate. Though he had somewhat of a brisk manner about him at times, and his temper sometimes got the better of him, they took it as efficiency and the sign of a man born to make decisions, born to rule. With them, of course. And the King. Of course. That was the way of Illian. That was the way it had always been. That was the way it would always be. All is going according to plan Raphael thought with satisfaction. Seeds of Darkness have been sown in Illian, the Shadow spreads ever so slowly across the land, breeding instability and chaos. The Great Lord will be pleased. Much remained of his very elaborate plans, but things were proceeding quite well. ● Leaving the chamber, he walked briskly down a huge marble staircase to the floor below. He met two servants at the bottom of the stairs who bowed deeply to him as he passed but he hardly saw them, new plans forming in his mind. He rounded a corner and suddenly came face to face with Lord Ardhen, one of the few Councillors who did not think as highly of this Lord Serafehl as many of the others seemed to do. “Lord Serafehl”, he said drily. A slight bow of the head as to an equal. “Lord Ardhen”, Raphael replied in the same manner, giving the same slight bow. “Your proposal to move a good part of our armed forces into our border-region in the north was rather .. rash”, Ardhen said carefully. He was going to say foolish, but decided to be a little more tactful. “We ought to have considered the matter further before the motion was passed.” “You think so, Lord Ardhen ?” Raphael replied with a slight edge to his voice, not liking the man. “Is it not prudent to guard our northern borders when we hear tales of troubles and unrest ? The north has been neglected for too long, I believe, and it was time to do something about it.” Raphael said smoothly. “Troubles and unrest .. , my Lord Serafehl.” Lord Ardhen said. “That is just rumours .... just rumours ... and we need to be alert should those fools in Tear suddenly decide to war upon us again. You never know with them.” ● Lord Ardhen held the neighbouring nation of Tear in as low esteem as most Illianers, and should Illian ever be thrown into a war it would be with Tear, he felt certain of that. “My Lord Ardhen”, Raphael said patiently in reply, “Tear is no threat to us.” He could see from the other man’s return-stare that he did not believe him. It did not matter. “And should Tear at some point in the future become a nuisance,” Raphael added for the lord’s benefit, “we have enough of our armed forces down here south so we can deal with it. The majority of the councillors agree with my assessment of the situation”. In a somewhat smug voice he said, “Only you and Lords Kerdan and Tharin were in fact against the motion.” The other man’s lips tightened. He was an older man, well past his prime but he still had some fight left in him. “Yes, this time we lost. This time.” With those final words and casting the other man a challenging stare, he walked straight past Lord Serafehl and did not stop before he was almost at his private council-room, anger clouding his mind. There was something about that Lord Serafehl that put his teeth on edge. He was a sly one, that one, that was for sure, politically very able, but Ardhen - who came from one of the oldest families in Illian and who had been a councillor for many years - felt in his bones that there was more to it than that. He bears watching he thought grimly as he poured himself a glass of red wine from a decanter and took a big swallow. ● Staring silently at the back of the departing Lord Ardhen, thinking about what had been said in their short conversation and what had not, and also the trouble this old lord could make in the future, Raphael wondered if the older Illianer Lord ought to meet with an unfortunate accident. The ocean currents of the Sea of Storms were particularly dangerous this time of year. The Chosen’s grin widened wickedly as he walked up the steps to his chamber. There was work to be done in Illian. ▀▄
  21. .. Tel'aran'rhiod: A Meeting of Chosen .. ►▼◄ ..Tel'aran'rhiod, the World of Dreams, the Unseen World, a place that exists in the spaces between the weave of the Great Pattern of alternate realities. It is a world much like the natural world - a reflected universe that mirrors the physical world: mountains and rivers; cities and palaces; forests and oceans. But it’s an empty place. Living creatures are not reflected; they appear only briefly when they dream themselves into Tel'aran'rhiod, and even more rarely when they enter it physically. To enter the World of Dreams in the flesh can be dangerous for those not capable enough. Very dangerous indeed.. ● Raphael, like all the other Chosen, had extensive knowledge of Tel'aran'rhiod, more than any others in this Age. Even so, the World of Dreams had always seemed somewhat of a mystery to him, a puzzle of infinite possibilities. It is the place where no dreams die. ● Where those words came from, like a whisper in his mind, he could not tell - words of another Age perhaps. Whatever their origin, he thought there was a ring of truth about them. Physically entering Tel'aran'rhiod, closing the gateway behind him, he moved across the marble floor of the huge chamber and seated himself in one of the several ornate oak chairs with high backs that were facing each other around an ornate table across a space of twelve feet. On the table were elegant crystal glasses and a dozen candle lights burning. Not that the candle lights were necessary - there were other lights along the walls lighting up the room - but they gave the meetings a certain style and familiarity, he thought. This was a mirror-image, a reflection, of the same estate chamber in the western part of the country owned by a Nobleman who was also a Friend of the Dark. It was an apt place for a meeting, Raphael had always thought, also one conducted in this Unseen World. Raphael had used it several times for clandestine meetings in the time since he had escaped the Dreamless Sleep of the Bore. Holding onto saidin - though he did not expect treachery at this meeting he did not trust anyone, least of all the other Chosen - he stared around the empty chamber as he waited. His piercing blue eyes had a calculated look. His blond hair and handsome face, coupled with his tall broad-shouldered body, was a strong indication for anyone who knew. Then again, there were very few left who knew. This was a different Age and what had once been, what moved in Raphael’s memories from the Age of Legends, was dead and gone to this world. Even so, he preferred masking his appearance from the unknowing world - in the guise of Lord Serafehl -, prudence was always wise. Brushing his hand through his blond hair for a moment, his thoughts went back to that Age before his Dreamless Sleep and as so often was the case, his mood slowly darkened and his features twisted with anger as his memories were filled with the face of Dar Keran. The blasted man! Even if he was dead and buried now, he still infuriated Raphael whenever he thought of him. Bloody Dragon! Raphael remembered a time when Dar Keran had been impressed by his skill as General and Commander of Legions, a time when they had almost been friends, but everything had changed when Dar Keran had persuaded the Shon Mel to pursue his grandiose ideas. Your pride ruined everything, Dragon. The bitter thought lingered in his mind. His betrayal by Dar Keran, as he saw it, combined with lack of appreciation for his eminent skill as a Battle Commander by his other Aes Sedai peers and comrades had pushed him toward the Shadow and the Great Lord. Being accused of brutality towards his own troops, publicly reprimanded by the White Tower and subsequently having his military command removed, was the final straw. Kneeling in front of the Great Lord of the Dark, swearing a new and unbreakable Oath, offering his life and services, gave him immense gratification and he swore vengeance on all his enemies, on the pityful Aes Sedai and on Dar Keran above all. That he never got to kill the Dragon himself still rankled, like a wound in his soul that never quite healed, but at least that damn man was dead! And I am not. Gradually calming himself, his hands in his lap, reflections thrown by the candle lights, he waited. He wore an ornate black coat to this meeting with frills at the neck and cuffs and his boots also had frills. He looked very much the part of a powerful lord and acted the part. But in his heart he was the General of his past. ● A Master of War and Strategy. One of the best Military Commanders the Great Lord had had in the War of Power. Almost at the level of Vanahl himself. His features twisted anew as he thought of the man who had taken upon himself the role of leader of the Chosen. An arrogant man at the best of times, perhaps even half-mad it was suspected (but never mentioned in his presence), Raphael did not like him at all, but he respected him, sensed the man’s strength in the One Power (which was a little greater than his own and thereby strongest of them all), and followed his lead. At least for now. Political intrigue and manipulation had never been to his liking, unlike Tervihn and Sinam who seemed to thrive with it. Raphael had indeed always preferred open military conquest. But he saw the necessity of politics and subtlety and played along in order to achieve his goals. It was, after all, a delicate situation and he knew when prudence called for less direct confrontations. He was not the most patient among them though, not the most deft at subtlety, and his temper sometimes got the better of him, but he played the Game of Power with experience and ability. Kieran and Banohr were scientists, middle-aged scholars who had created Trollocs and other Shadowspawn in the War of Power. Dedicated men who definitely had their use, but Raphael had always considered them weak and not his equal. Vinadel, the eternal philosopher, was a valuable ally, often sharing Raphael’s views. He was not the most outspoken but could be relied on. Last of the men: Gerehl. He had been a teacher in the Age of Legends, famous for having made school children cruel, vindictive and murderous through long, subtle and clever indoctrination. He had served the Great Lord well, Raphael thought, spawning a new breed of Friends of the Dark, but he had been less efficient after his awakening from the Dreamless Sleep. Also he was the type of person who always voted with what seemed to be the strongest faction among them, he had no principles as Raphael saw it. Then there were the women. Serahna, Kharin and Divara. Three capable women, but more meddlesome than most, Divara especially. Kharin could not stand him and the feeling was mutual. A handsome rather than beautiful brown-haired, long-legged woman with olive-shaped eyes and high cheekbones, she hated all men and it was a trait that had not changed in 4000 years and her attitude toward her fellow male Chosen was no exception. Issandra was the weakest of the women, in character as well as in the One Power. She had been a research-assistant to the Lyr Nahm, a demure figure of no consequence and Raphael sometimes wondered how she had had it in her to go over to the Shadow in the first place. According to Serahna, Issandra had killed her two-timing lover out of spite and had fled the city to avoid imprisonment or, even worse, Severing, finally offering her soul to the Great Lord to gain freedom and immortality. It did not sound too plausible to Raphael he had to admit, something about the scenario sounded a bit.. off, but then again human nature was impossible to understand at times and a woman scorned, as most men knew, was not the best of enemies. ● And then there was Deleyhna. Raphael grinned mischievously as he thought of the very capable and alluring woman. With her dark red, wavy auburn hair, glittering emerald eyes and seductive curves she was a sight to behold. Her flirtatious nature and love of beautiful people, or rather servants, was no secret, and she appreciated his handsome looks, as she had teasingly hinted at on more than one occasion. Powerful in both character and the One Power, she was one of the most formidable Chosen as he saw it. She was an important ally who could be trusted.. at least as far as any of the other Chosen could be trusted, he thought with a wicked lopsided grin. Which meant not at all, if truth be told. But some trust was needed for alliances to be made here - and everywhere - and he gave what he received, some trust and mutual cooperation, building power from behind the scenes. Raphael was brought out of his reverie by the arrival of two of the other Chosen. Kieran with his dark complexion, short brown hair and dark-brown eyes stepped out of what looked like a heavily decorated manor-room and into this meeting place. He gave a noncommittal nod to Raphael and then seated himself in one of the chairs opposite. Raphael was not surprised that the other man too held onto saidin. Few who participated in these meetings ever let their guard down. Almost without thinking he measured or sensed how strong Kieran was in the One Power and it pleased him, as always, to register that the other man was weaker than himself. Another gateway opened on the other side of the room a few moments later, echoes of a stately room, half bathed in the golden light and half draped in darkness, left behind, and Deleyhna stepped through. She gave him a flirtatious look as she closed the gateway behind her, her wavy auburn hair luscious and dress clinging, and walked slowly toward the ornate table where the others were seated. The beautiful dress she wore emphasized her curves and Raphael stared appreciatively at her, his blue eyes glinting, as she sat down in one of the available chairs at the end of the large table. Her eyes met his, her ruby lips pursed, and he almost expected to hear her wicked laughter which she often shared with intimates when delighted or amused. He wondered how things were going with her ‘pretties’. Probably not so well for them, he thought slyly, remembering their glazed and highly unnatural ‘eager to please’-looks when he had visited her on occasion. Deleyhna was hugely accomplished when it came to delicate weaves of the mind, skillful manipulations of the brain, using Compulsion and similar so-called ‘forbidden weaves’ on unsuspecting victims, probably the most accomplished of them all in that respect. She had certainly been a valuable asset during the War of Power. ● “Vanahl is late as usual”, Raphael murmured with a slight frown, changing his train of thought, as he took a sip from the drink in the glass before him. “Perhaps one of these days we will have to teach him punctuality.” It was an idle threat, spoken more as a means of breaking the silence than for any other reason; no one, after all, ‘taught’ Vanahl anything he did not wish to be ‘taught’. The repercussions could be.. unpleasant to say the least. Raphael’s blue eyes narrowed, his mouth slightly twisted, as he gazed at the silent Kieran opposite him. The man seldom spoke at these meetings, preferring to watch and listen. Unlike Sinam who never stopped talking. And Tervihn who never stopped arguing. They were 13 men and women, all different but ambitious and all born with - and strong in - the One Power, stronger than the pityful so-called Aes Sedai of this Age, who had sworn allegiance to the Great Lord in return for the promise of immortality. Forsaken, those lightfools had called them, but they were Those Chosen To Rule The World Forever. And Rule we will, Raphael thought emphatically, excitement building inside him at the thought. We shall Reign! Silence followed his words, and as they waited for the others to arrive, Raphael went over in his mind how he was to gain the confidence of several of the other Chosen for his ambitious plan. It would not be easy, seeing as all the Chosen had their own agendas, plots and plans at all times, but Raphael had always enjoyed a challenge. Strategy, he thought to himself as he sipped more from his drink, his eyes taking on a calculated look. Strategy is always the key. ● Memories took him back to Davelle 4000 years before.. “The General has betrayed us! Run, everyone! Ruuuunnn!” Screams of pain, endless screams of agony, the stench of death all around. Raphael, confident in his own power and ability, throws saidin-wrought lightening at the defending forces, watches with glee as the men die in pools of blood. His forces attacking from both sides at once, as part of his carefully thought-out military strategy, catch the defenders in a squeeze and they have no chance. None at all. The screams keep coming, shrieks of terror, the storms of chaos steadily building, and Raphael’s blue eyes glitter in endless, glorious exultation.. ● Just then, a silver line tore through the air, another gateway opening - dangerously close to the table and chairs this time - and Vanahl, leader of the Chosen, stepped arrogantly through, his eyes pools of fire. ▀▄
  22. OOC: This Solo-RP takes place in a self-contained, parallel Portal Stone World of the Wheel of Time. Mirrors of ‘reality’ as we know it, reflections of what has been, can be and may become, but in no way a factual portrait or representation of the Wheel of Time-books or its famous characters. ----------------------- .. The Breaker of Faith .. ►▼◄ There is no more faith. The echoes of another Age reverberated in Raphael’s mind as he stared emptily into the blazing fire. ● His name was Neram Setin Vadar. Or at least, so it had once been. ● “All faith is lost!” The screams of terror almost drown out the young man’s words of desperation as he runs down the street, blood pouring down his face. “He has betrayed us! The General has betrayed us!” He stumbles and falls face first into the ground, a stab of pain in his side. With some effort he gets to his feet but is almost trampled by the mass of people running in panic from the gates. He stares back for a moment and in the distance sees the guards fighting for their lives atop the gates. “Oh Light, we have no chance now!” His breath catches in his throat as he sees the gates come crashing down. He cannot see the General but he knows he is there. The Traitor. “Run!”, he screams to a couple of tear-stricken children who stand before a half-destroyed shop off to the side, panic in their eyes, shock in their faces, unable to move. “Run, children. Run!” ● Blood fills the street and the stench of death fills the air as the minions of the Shadow crush all opposition on their surge toward the centre of the city of Davelle. The General feels waves of saidin being channeled but quite a way off. Holding onto saidin himself, loving the power flowing through his veins, he walks forwards, his gaze focused. Buildings barely standing on both sides of the street. Destruction everywhere. He halts for a moment, nods contentedly and starts off again, but is soon stopped by a small noise. He turns sideways and suddenly spots a little terrified girl who is holding hard onto her doll. She is crying, tears running down her chin in rivulets, and her big brown eyes stare fearfully at him as he bends down to look her in the eye. She shivers with fear as his hand touches her face. An unreadable look passes across his face, then he says, with passion in his voice, passion mingled with harshness, “Little one, this is a day of death. You should be long gone.” The little girl looks back at his hard face, and starts sobbing even louder. Finally she speaks, but in such a soft tone of voice that the General almost does not hear. He leans down and hears the words. “My brother is dead. They took him. There is no more faith” she says, her eyes watering over, her heart breaking. “No hope at all.” For you that is true, the General thinks. For those fools too. Yes, this is the beginning of the end. Great Lord, it is begun. The man who after this day was to be called Raphael, the Breaker of Faith, stares intensely into the smoke-filled distance as the child crumples to the ground before him. It is begun. ● The spoken words brought him back to the present. “No hope, Great Master. Or atleast so she says. Others are listening to her words and wondering if she is right.” Knee bent before the Chosen, the grey-haired man in his dark travelling-cloak faced the floor as silence followed his words. Finally Raphael spoke. “She will be silenced.” The Friend of the Dark heard the sentence pronounced and sighed. Even so, she had brought it upon herself. “But in one respect she is right” Raphael added, gaze hard. “Sometimes there is no faith.” Fools! He thought. We must rid ourselves of such fools and cowards before they damage our plans. My plans, he amended. “You may stand.” The words were softly spoken, the voice deep, but were perceived as a command. The man got to his feet and stood silently a few feet away from the Chosen. “Look at me.” The man turned his eyes up to stare the other in the face, swallowing hard even so. What he saw was a dark-haired, strong-jawed, hard faced man in his mid-twenties with dark-brown piercing eyes and a hawk-like nose in a partially scarred face. Those piercing eyes met his now in a no-nonsense manner. He swallowed hard again. Had the Chosen not used a spell of Illusion upon his servant, what the other would in fact have seen was a very tall and imposing man, handsome in looks, in his early thirties with broad shoulders, blue eyes that bespoke of power and intelligence and blond hair that reached below his neck. As it was, the Friend of the Dark stared into those dark-brown eyes of his Master only for a second before shifting his gaze slightly as it were. “You will let me know if others spread discontent, won’t you ?” The words were spoken dangerously softly. “Yes, Great Master. At once!” “Good. You may go now.” The friend of the Dark bowed one last time to the Chosen, shuffled away and then locked the door behind him on the way out, glad to have been dismissed. Most of all he was glad to still be alive, having brought bad news to the Master. ● Raphael’s eyes continued staring into the blazing fire, aflame with memories of another time, whispers reaching across the ages to surround him in his timeless place. “Breaker of Faith!” “Traitor!” They named me well, those lightfools, and I embraced the name they gave me. For I did betray the Gates of Karan, I did carry the Shadow into the heart of Davelle. Oh yes. Fire. Did they think I didn’t know what I was doing ? Oh I knew - and I conquered! Storm. If only I had gotten to destroy you, Dar Keran! You proud and self-glorifying man! You destroyed the world sealing the Great Lord and us away, you and your two hundred mad Companions. Chaos. Hope has blossomed in the world as the Wheel has turned, but I will break all faith, my naming will be true. That I promise! The intense and hateful look in his eyes would have given even the staunchest warrior pause. There was intelligence there, and an inner fire of purpose and endless determination. ● And the Fire blazed on, Storms raging in screaming Flames; the Past and Present blending in a moment of Dark Revelation. ▀▄
  23. The words had barely left Arlynn's mouth before she realized that they were the wrong words. The world still did not make any sense. She felt queasy, the room was spinning around her, and her answer had come from a place that was not connected to her training. Sluggishly, she cursed her addled mind, though even that lacked any strength. Great Lord, but the man was strong. Still... It took an effort that would have moved mountains, but Arlynn pulled her mind into the present an gave Deathwatch a dazed smile. "You won't escape, big man," she stuttered, the effort of making words adding to her dizziness. "We will... always be there. Waiting." There was a lead weight settling into her body, a slight coldness creeping through her veins. It was working. "You can't stop... the ine... vitable." There was a moment, an odd moment where the big man's face went empty, as if he was considering something. It passed quickly, and it was replaced with a coldness that seemed to creep from his grasp around her wrist and throat and into her body. Slowly, he lowered her from the ceiling, but still held her above the floor. He held her gaze for a moment, the coldness radiating from him like a bizarre oven. Then the look changed to something worse. Deathwatch smiled, and the grip on her throat released completely. Arlynn dropped from where she was held against the wall, only to bounce against the iron grip held against her wrist. Her broken wrist. Agony coursed its way up her arm and exploded in her head like an Illuminator's display. Deathwatch didn't even react. "You are a Darkfriend," he said in a voice empty of anything human. "You probably have allies watching for your return. By now, they know that you failed. However..." During the pause, the coldness in human form lifted on her broken wrist, dragging even more pain out of the limb. "However, you cannot afford to scream, can you?" Discipline kept Arlynn silent, but a growing terror pressed down the creeping coldness that was the poison coursing through her body. "If you scream," Deathwatch continued, his voice still empty of emotion, "you risk drawing attention to yourself, a woman dressed in grays, blacks, and browns meant to hide you from prying eyes." Her eyes crept up, finding the face of the grave itself staring back at her. "Anybody who found you would know you for what you are, and your friends who are waiting for you cannot call the alarm, either. Finding the body of an assassin would bring... unwelcome questions." As if to prove his point, Deathwatch quickly jerked up on her arm, on the broken wrist. Another wave of pain coursed down her arm, but she kept her jaw clenched around the scream. The barest moan was all that escaped her mouth. Deathwatch smiled icily. "More, your friends can't say anything to the watch, either. Doing so would bring too much attention to themselves." The big man turned suddenly, causing her body to swing back and forth on the broken bones of her wrist. There was no hiding the intense pain that crossed her face, pain stronger than anything that the poison could overpower. Deathwatch's free hand reached to the window, and with a pull that caused Arlynn to swing even more from her broken wrist, he pulled the wires away from the catches. It took him no effort to push the window open. Arlynn had enough time to realize what was about to happen before Deathwatch shoved her out the window, leaving her dangling three stories above the street by her broken wrist. "You can't scream," he- no, not he, it- said. "Your allies can't raise an alarm." Slowly, he began to swing her by the hand. In a moment of numb disbelief, Arlynn looked up at her arm, at the point where she was swinging. A point that was well below her wrist. It didn't take long for the grinding, stabbing pain to burst in her skull, dragging a keening wail from her. A wail that she kept clenched tight behind a locked jaw. The smile that suddenly turned darkly jubilant told Arlynn all that she needed to know. The rocking only grew it speed and strength, and it was all that Arlynn could do to not scream as bone ground against bone, tore apart muscle and tendon and vein. She was certain that she could feel her arm stretching out, straining without the structure that should have held it together. The numbness from the poison was not even noticeable against the grinding, stabbing pain... And then, at the top of a swing, the iron grip around her wrist released, and Arlynn felt herself flying through the air and down the alley. Her body was turning, and the pain eased enough for her to focus on the cobblestone that made up the ground. She had enough time to admire the precision that Deathwatch had used in throwing her before her life ended in a sickening, wet crunch as her skull cracked against the cobbles. *** Mehrin made sure to smile as coldly and madly as he could down both directions in the alley before he pulled himself back into the room and closed the window and curtains behind him. Then he collapsed back into the chair, fighting the overpowering need to vomit. He was not a cruel man. He did not enjoy causing pain and suffering. He did not live to bring misery to the world. But he was a tactician, a strategist, and he knew how to use an advantage that was given to him. He nearly lost the fight again. There were hot tears coursing down his face, his breath was coming in gasping sobs. Even so, the rational part of his mind was telling him that he had done the right thing. Mehrin Deathwatch had a reputation for violence, for bringing pain and suffering. If he could make the Darkfriends behind this attack afraid of bringing the Deathwatch down on them, maybe he could eliminate an opponent from a stones board that was becoming increasingly complicated. The fact that the voice was right did nothing to help. He was a killer. He caused pain and death. But he had never done anything to make it worse. He had never stepped on a dying man's throat to watch him suffocate, even though he knew several who had. He had never stabbed more than he had to stab to kill a man. He had never burned a man to hear him scream, even if he knew others who had. He killed to survive, and he did not make people suffer, even if they deserved to suffer. Belatedly, Mehrin became aware that he had an audience. "I-" he started before another sob stopped him. Calm, deep breaths. It's done now. Nothing to do but move on. The thought did nothing to calm him. Another deep breath. Another. "Ayrik is back," he managed after a time. "At least we know who we're dealing with." His voice was raw, his throat tight. You would make a horrible Questioner, he thought, trying to ease his tension. "Go-" Mehrin cleared his throat. "Go back to sleep. I need to think, and the Darkfriends won't dare make a move against us tonight. "
  24. Nox shrugged when Merdyn asked him about a particular subject. He didn't really care. It wasn't the learning part that he enjoyed it was the immersion, the lack of people bothering him helped a lot too. With his nose in the book no one tried to talk to him too often. "I just like to read." It was something he did now that he could, and could keep doing forever even if the Black Tower kicked him out. It was a skill at least that was better than picking a pocket or fighting forever. Much like Nox had taken up making gateways. The comment about his loves spending habits hadn't gone unnoticed and Nox tried to interrupt that wasn't what he meant. It was not about running out of it, it was merely a comment that Nox had never had that sort of money to just spend. What he had had always gone towards food or clothes, never anything frivolous as books and bedding. Though nice warm blankets had been one of his own first purchases. And Merdyn quickly had found his love of blankets. Though Nox was still attached to his own. But he liked the one Mer slept with too, it smelled like him and that made Nox smile and feel safe. And safe was not something Nox always felt. But dinner sounded wonderful though it might require moving from his current spot huddled in the corner. Maybe Mer would eat with him in the cozy little nook a picnic of sorts. But Mer's preparations hadn't even started when the knock came and he was answering the door. The soldier handed Mer a parchment and quickly left. Like Mer would bite or something. Nox's curiosity got the better of him and he stood up to walk over to his love and look down at the seal. It looked much like the one that had come before when they'd been requested to dig a well for the Citadel - the Band of the Red hand's strong hold. "I wonder what made him so afraid. The letter, or you?" Or it could be Nox, though he wasn't scary by far, his mental stability was something of a problem with some folks, but he didn't voice that part of it opting to give Mer a sly smile.
  25. Nox looked at Aiden sort of confused. Had he been giving the wrong signals? He would have said something but first Aiden's wallet interrupted them, And then after Aiden had put his gadget away there was a crash at the end of the alley He averted his attention down the direction of the noise, and was not surprised to find another couple crashing into garbage that was leaning against the wall. They fell crumpled in a pile tangled in the bits and pieces, but they were in good spirits - laughing as they got up. Nox was about to get back to Aiden when the woman unfurled from the man and he recognized her dark features. They'd once left a club similar to this - fuck they'd left Kallisti together. The memory of it all crashed into Nox and he shivered at the feat of falling only to be caught by the agile grip of the woman who was straightening herself and her partner. She looked over at them and when she recognized Nox her smile beamed and she tugged on her partners hand. "Nox? Is that really you?" Nox had that strange feeling from her again. The same as he'd had the first time he'd seen her. The same that he'd forgotten when he went scaling the tall buildings. Why had he forgotten? She went to touch his cheek and Nox backed up into Aiden not letting the woman touch him. It wasn't an aversion to female touch, just hers. Something told him from past experience not to let her. But he couldn't nail why that was the case. She frowned. Nox wrapped his severed arm around Aiden, thankful it was his left and he could keep his right free for weilding the power within, not that he needed his hands, but sometimes it was easier that way. And in the same movement he reached through the sludge and grabbed hold of his own dangerous power. Kali frowned and tilted her head to the side, "What's wrong sweety. You didn't forget me did you?" Nox chuckled. "No. I couldn't forget you Kali. I'm just here with someone else." It was a lie, but she didn't know that. Nox smiled at her. "Aiden this is Kali. We had quite the adventurous encounter the last time I saw her." Kali's friend seemed upset as he watched the interaction. Nox nodded to him. "Who's your friend?" She looked back at him, squeezed, then dropped his hand. Kali smiled and he was gone, almost like he was afraid of her. He almost sprinted out of the alley falling over the same pile of trash they had only moments ago fallen together into. Another reason not to let her touch him. "I guess he's nothing."
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