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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY

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Previous scene: Gone Too Long

 

~~~

 

                Merdyn stepped through the Gateway that his Warder had created. His feet landed firmly on the packed earth of the Embassy's Traveling Grounds. Nox was right behind Merdyn. The Gateway disappeared without ceremony. He glanced over to Nox and smiled warmly, still feeling relaxed from their night together.

 

                The pair had awoken well before the dawn. Merdyn had thrown together a large meal and Nox had made a Gateway to a hot spring located somewhere in the north. They had broken their fast together and bathed each other there before returning to their hut to dress for the meeting with Calder. It had taken a little over an hour and Merdyn had found himself wondering why they had not done something like that sooner. He was positively beaming.

 

                Dawn had just started to break over the horizon, casting a hazy glow to the violet sky overhead. The air was crisp and smelled of nature and the green things that surrounded the Citadel complex. Merdyn looked around, impressed with the structure that had been erected for the Asha’men. He had only ever been to the Citadel once and he had still been a Soldier at that point. It felt like that had been a lifetime ago to Merdyn, so much had happened since then. He had never actually even been inside the Embassy, so he was not sure what to expect.

 

                Merdyn took Nox’s hand and gripped it firmly. He spoke warmly to his Warder, “Do you know anyone in the Band, love? The last time we were here, I don’t think I spoke to anyone but you or Ful… What sort of people are our comrades?”

Edited by Oddpositions

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Nox had been to the Citadel before.  He'd made gateways to and from the Black Tower.  Though he preferred Tear to any other place, but he'd taken shifts both here and the White Tower.  The stedding where the wolfkin were was not Nox's favorite place to be so he tried very hard to stay out of those missions.  Things had been interesting the last time he was there.

 

There was a certain spring in Merdyn's step and Nox could feel the happiness beaming through their bond.  He was loved, and loved the man he was forever connected to.  And that alone made everything worth it.  Nox didn't exactly remember names well so he shrugged.  "I've met a few.  But I don't remember their names."  He was pretty much just along for the ride anyway.  

 

It was still early yet, and they or rather Merdyn would meet whoever it was and he'd go off and do whatever it was Mer would do. Nox was proud of the young man who'd come to him as a soldier and had progressed to Asha'man and into his heart.  But Nox made no presumptions about his own worth.  He was just here as Merdyn's transportation.  He had no tact, no diplomacy.  He was just a thief and a whore to most people who knew him.  And in the Black Tower little changed, but instead of stealing and selling his body, he ferried people around saving them precious time.  And he was happy with that. It was better to know your place than to try to over extend.  Nox was just grateful Merdyn saw more than what others did.

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No!

 

"Comm-" Eb snapped her mouth shut and jammed her hands into her pockets in an attempt to prevent them from furling into fists or throwing knives. With a short, bitter laugh she realised the paradox inherent in smothering aggression to avoid a diplomatic assignment. Perhaps things might turn out easier if she did let the knives fly? Surely then he'd realise that she was the last person in the Band, ever, that should be entrusted with this? Nothing else had worked.

 

Calder fixed her with a level stare. "Captain."

 

She looked back at him, teeth grinding together. This was it - the point of no return, either way. Swallowing the flood of curses swirling in her mind, she nodded her head to him.  

 

"Consider it done, then."

 

-------------------

 

 

Outside the bounds of the Red Keep, Eb paced.

 

First, decide if they're trustworthy!? 

 

She spat, putting an end to sudden echoes of manic laughter and her memories of helplessness, of Mehrin's body at the mercy of the One Power. Of his death. She balled her hands into fists to stop them shaking, shook her head to stave off the tears that threatened to spill.

 

For Bloody Light's Blasted Sake!

 

 

-----------

-------------------------

-----------

 

 

The tiniest sliver of pre-dawn light crept into her room and she scowled at it, scruffing a hand through her wild jet-black hair and over her face. No bloody rest for the blasted... she pushed aside the comforter that hadn't, yet again, and stood.

 

Her mouth still tasted of the Bandy she'd bolted down the evening before. Food hadn't seemed like an option then, nor did it now - despite the audible protestations of her stomach. She strapped on her swords and took a swig from her waterskin, swilling and spitting as she reached the door outside. 

 

Ignoring the headquarters looming before her in the hazy violet light of dawn as pointedly as she ignored the grumble in her gut, she turned a hard left and made for the stone wall. Left again there, she jogged alongside the grey granite, feeling justified in her own rough blankness of heavy mood. The watchtower grew in front of her as she approached. The scowl on her face deepened. About here, on the other side of the wall, would be the Embassy of the Black Tower. The scowl deepened further, the scar on her cheek twisting sourly with it.

 

Right there.

 

Too close

 

And soon - too soon - her newest 'charges' and she would be there, too. Together. She shivered and picked up the pace, veering left again at the end of the Range and keeping her head well down until she reached the Yards. She reached them quickly enough, and discovered without any great surprise that no-one else was about yet. Shrugging, she ditched the idea of a spar and settled into the open space of the smaller yard to work through general sequences. 

 

The swords slid from their sheathes and came to settle in front of her, twin blades perfectly still, pointed forward and up at forty-five degrees. She closed her eyes. SPIN-STAB!  She stepped back and dropped a knee, flicking the hilts down and around until she could catch them again and drive the blades backwards, behind her, hard, either side of her leg.  SWISh -

 

She worked through several routines, dancing against her memories and a sense of futility - dipping, stabbing, thrusting, stepping, slicing, whirling. In her mind's eye, as well as in practice, she replayed move after move after move as she made it, adjusting angles and limbs and weapons a hair here, an inch there. Usually the drills were a ritual that calmed and focused her, as much as anything ever had. These days though, the ache of frustration and loss in her chest remained unaffected by even them, no matter how much her muscles stretched and strained. This was, afterall, where he'd first trained her. Where she'd learned two swords were better than one, that best practice often occurred before the sun truly graced the sky. 

 

For all the good it can ever do. 

 

She stared at the first true rays of sunlight, peeking now over the eastern wall, and shoved the swords angrily back into their sheathes. There was nothing for it. They had to prepare and use every chance, every skill and muscle and weapon that they had. 

 

Even those that were capable of so much more than just stabbing them in the back.

 

She marched out of the yard, out of the Citadel proper, and towards the Embassy.

 

 

 

-------------------

 

 

The air inside the cordoned-off travelling Grounds split, and twisted, whirling wide. Although she was still a distance off, Eb stopped short, hissing out the breath that threatened to get stuck in her throat. Her heart hammered, visions of the last time she'd seen such a gateway flooded her mind, threatening to drown her in the memories and terror once again. There were reasons she'd been avoiding this place as much as possible since her return. She sucked in a breath, forced it down to the bottom of her lungs. Let it out.  Repeated the same again.

 

What in the ruddy Light is WRONG with you!?  She yelled silently at herself, forcing a few more breaths until she was calm enough to move on.

 

The hole in the air had disappeared. In its place were two men, each of them with their hair cropped close to their scalps. Eb watched as they exited the Traveling Yards. Tall. Thin. - she shut down the mental evaluation of their stances and physical forms even as it began.

 

Channelers, both of them.

 

Nothing else mattered. How could it?

 

They were holding hands, talking as they stepped out of the yard with a nod from the guard at the gate. Eb looked from one to the other. 

 

"Your stuff goes there," she jerked a thumb towards the on-site barracks.

"For now. Whenever it arrives."

 

And so it begins.

 

"I've been told that the first stop is the city, for breakfast," she turned to leave, assuming they would follow.

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Nox blinked at the abrupt nature of their greeting. He was used to hostility in the Black Tower, but most people saw the black coat and were scared.  This wasn't scared, this was something else.  Though fear makes you do stupid thing.  Nox grinned at Mer and squeezed his hand.  This was his show, but Nox couldn't let it be.  This woman didn't know him.  Knew nothing of his past or how he had gotten here, and there was no reason to be angry at them  They were just following orders just like she was.

 

Nox tugged at Mer and they followed, catching up to their guide. "Breakfast sounds wonderful.  Right Mer?"  He grinned as his love still holding his hand.  "Though we already ate.  I don't think I could eat another bite." Nox pulled a bag out of a pocket in his coat, he'd been saving the crusty bread with left overs in it for later.  Mostly for Mer cause he'd get lost in whatever work he was doing.  And Nox didn't want to stray too far from him to take care of him if he didn't have to.  "I brought some of Mer's leftovers.  Maybe instead you can show us around and you can have this instead.  It really is wonderful.  Mer's an excellent cook.  He runs the soup kitchen at the Tower.  All the villagers love when he cooks."

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                Merdyn’s eyebrows climbed up towards his hairline at the ‘greeting’ offered to them on behalf of the Band. Was this the Eb mentioned in the missive? He opened his mouth, ready with a snide comment to lob at the woman, but Nox pulled him forward and jumped in before Merdyn was able to utter a word. He closed his mouth and resigned to being towed along by his Warder. The woman jabbed a finger towards the barracks, informing them that they could stow their belongings there. Merdyn did not bother to inform her that they would be returning to the Black Tower at day’s end.

 

                Nox pulled out the cloth bag that contained the leavings of their food wrapped in oiled paper and cord. He didn’t exactly offer it to the rude woman, but he may as well have. Merdyn wasn’t sure why this all bothered him so, but it did.

 

                Growing up as a noble had hardened him in regard to social situations. Light, even his time spent at the Black Tower had only served to strengthen his backbone. Why should this woman get under his skin so? Perhaps it was due to the prestige he had felt at being called to both the White Tower and The Citadel to serve as an ambassador of sorts. Or perhaps it was the disregard she had shown to both Nox and himself. Or maybe she just had one of those personalities that gave a chafe to one’s good mood.

 

                Whatever the reasons, none of them mattered.

 

                This Eb, whoever she was, would have to be dealt with as if she were the Queen of Andor herself. Merdyn and Nox were here to represent the Tower and its interests. Nothing more. If Eb didn’t like them, or if she refused to treat them with respect- well, that was of little consequence to the powers that be. They would just have to bear it.

 

                Merdyn clenched his jaw and forced a smile onto his face. Nox would no doubt feel the irritation through the Bond, but he would just have to endure it as Merdyn tried to squash the emotions.

 

                You are essentially a male Aes Sedai, man, Merdyn thought to himself, Buck up and act like one. Those women of the Tower wouldn’t be cowed by some brutish captain. No. They would be doing the cowing, they would-

 

                Merdyn shook his head and banished the thoughts. He was not Aes Sedai. He was Ashaman. What those women could get away with was more than any man of the Black Tower could dare dream of. No. It would be better to woo this woman into compliance. Get on her good side. Charm the living Light out of her.

 

                The smile was coming a little easier the more he thought on that.

 

                “Oh, yes, we are quite stuffed,” Merdyn called out in a cheerful tone to the back of Eb’s head, “You are more than welcome to the food we brought. Although we would be just as fine sitting with you while you break your fast in the city, perhaps we could have some tea instead while you do so?"

 

                This was going to be a long day.

Edited by Oddpositions

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First, decide if they're trustworthy. 

 

The command rolled through Eb's mind with the weight of a boulder, painfully suppressing inklings of blunt refusal and the urge to keep walking as if she hadn't heard. She ground to a halt. Every fibre of her being was on high alert. Image after image of Ayrik and Mehrin flashed through her mind's eye. Helplessness washed over her. 

 

The weight settled in her chest. Dread swelled swiftly upwards, trapping her on the spot, squeezing her throat so tightly that words wouldn't have passed her lips in that instant, even if she'd known what to say. Scowling sharply at her ineptitude, she turned to look each of the men in the eye before forcing out the simple truth.

 

"I couldn't," she nodded at the proffered breakfast. "But if tea is your thing, there is a place up ahead. We can start there."

 

She did her best to ignore the prickles on her skin from the proximity of the two men as they walked through the teahouse door and took seats together in a booth.

 

'They're different,' she reminded herself sternly. 'Asha'man. Allies, not bloody dreadlords.'

 

Yet when it was her turn to order, she waved the serving girl away, afraid that even a pot of tea would worsen her stomach's churning. Sitting back in her chair, she studied the men across from her as they waited. As she'd noted before, they were both tall and slim. One had broad shoulders; the other looked almost underweight. If they hadn't been wearing the coats and pins of the Asha'man, she wouldn't have known they could channel, wouldn't have counted them dangerous. Ironic, since those coats and pins were also what, theoretically, marked them 'safe'. 

 

'What's safe?'  she wondered bitterly, her eyes following the intricate flow of the red and gold dragon on one of the men's collars. She'd thought she was as safe as anyone could be, before Ayrik. Before the close encounters with channeling had taught her otherwise. Advanced weapons skills, training - they all amounted to nothing in the end, against that. She'd been so ignorant. She still was, really, when it came to channeling, Asha'man, the Alliance. The thoughts made her scowl.  'Fear undermines confidence. Use the chance to learn.'  She could almost hear Mehrin's voice growling at her. 

 

"We're supposed to see to the walls this morning," she began gruffly, her coal-black eyes locking first with those of light blue, next with those of dark brown. "Shadow be damned, I don't know enough about your bloody ... powers ... to know just how you'll do it, but the Commander says you'll be able to find and fix any weak spots in the Citadel's defence."

 

She watched the men process the news, leaving her actual questions unspoken, for now. 

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She didn't trust them.  Nox was used to that.  Not many people trusted them.  And very few actually trusted him any - except maybe Mer.  And others at the black tower.

 

Nox smiled at her.  "We can use the One Power to search for cracks, and mend the walls with earth." That was the theory of it anyway. "We can build new walls and buildings with the One Power too. It's how we train the Soldiers to use earth.  One of our first assignments is to build our own home." Mer hadn't, mostly because Nox hadn't taught him how.  But he had done other earth creations.  Most notably moving stones but there was the trolloc incident.

 

"Though that's not my specialtiy. I am good at gateways and not much else, Mer?" He had a talent for things  - things that made Nox blush if he thought too hard along that lines, but he was good at cooking too. And other things.

 

 

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                “Earth is no problem for me, although I am a touch better with Fire,” Merdyn said jovially. Eb was clearly on edge. It was a wonder she was not loudly grinding her jaw or some other unattractive nervous habit. She didn’t even order any tea. Honestly, they did not have to come here if she was just going to watch them. He thought they had said as much when discussing the possibility of breakfast… But they were here already and there was little left for it.

 

                Merdyn had ordered a pot of Tremalking Black with a dish of honey. The serving girl didn’t take long. She was back within minutes and he spared no time waiting to pour out three cups for the table. This Eb might not have wanted tea, but the least she could do was pretend to enjoy it. There were so many tricks to convey the proper decorum when attending a meeting between allies. Wet the lips with the tea and pretend to drink. Hold the cup to enjoy the warmth and scent, set it down for a time, repeat. It was not secret knowledge. Perhaps she just needed a nudge in the right direction.

 

                “Walls should be no problem to repair or create,” Merdyn said before picking up his cup. The heat permeated the cup, spreading through his fingers and down the arms. A surprise tray of wheat cakes was placed at the table by the serving girl on a return trip. Merdyn spread some honey atop one and took a small bite. Perhaps he was a tad hungry.

 

                “I can also make Gateways if the need arises for two, although we should have all the materials for walls waiting just beneath our feet, deep in the ground,” Merdyn went on, smiling at Eb. His left hand fell from the table and down onto the seat of the booth, seeking our Nox’s free hand. He clasped it and gave it a gentle squeeze, signaling his unspoken frustration with this woman… But then again, those feelings were already being fed through the Warder Bond that he shared with Nox.

Edited by Oddpositions

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"-better with Fire-"

 

Visuals of flaming, flying walls and spiraling balls of molten rock assaulted her mind. Eb blanched, trying to forget the possibilities, the realities.

 

"-if the need arises for two, although we-"

 

She jerked, startled at the sudden transition back to reality.  The movement would've been almost imperceptible to outsiders, but on the inside she felt as if one of the illuminator's experiments had exploded in her brain.

 

"-just beneath our feet, deep in the ground-"

 

Quickly, she took stock. The second asha'man was smiling at her, his right hand holding a honey-smeared cake. His left arm dropped below the table. She stiffened. Turned a reaching for knives into a folding of arms at the last second. 

 

'WHAT IN THE BLAZING LIGHT, WOMAN!'

 

Three. There were three cups of tea on the table and both of the asha'man had been smiling at her, in fact. A completely normal situation. Except it wasn't, in the slightest. She clenched and unclenched her fists, unfolded her arms. Stood.

 

Thoughts and images and words were crashing, colliding, imploding through her mind. "Good," she let that one word past her lips and wanted to laugh. Here she was, fixed on the madnesses of male channelers, and it was her that was going insane. But sure. Good. Good that asha'man could move rocks, fix walls. Good that they existed, allied with the Light. Good that one way or another, sooner rather than later, all of this would come to an end

 

She couldn't breathe.

 

She looked from one asha'man to the next. 

 

She managed a rudimentary nod, a jumbled excusal. Then she made straight for the washroom.

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That didn't go well.  Nox watched as she started having an attack.  The signs were easy to recognize specially since he'd see the look in his own eyes many many times.   She left and Nox was immediately on his feet.  He wasn't sure whether or not he should follow.  What would someone else do if he was having an attack? How would he feel if a stranger followed him?

 

He knew the answer and sat back down with a sigh.  "Is that what it looks like for me?" Nox was his own head case, he knew it.  And the taint, now gone but still it had affected him, only made it worse.  His anxiety and paranoia were worse.  This whole place could set him on an attack if he hadn't already been here many times.  Gateways were his thing.  And he tried to learn to stay in the places he'd ripped holes to.  What if he'd ever gotten stuck there? 

 

His own panic started to set in but he reached across the space between them and grabbed Mer's hand.  He was his anchor, he felt him in his head, and he loved Mer in his heart.  He could do this.  He could not panic.

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                Eb shot up from the table and scurried off through the tea house towards the back. It had been clear to Merdyn that she was not listening to a damn word that he had said. Really, who was in charge of selecting these people? There had to have been someone better, more qualified to deal with matters concerning the Alliance. Why did the leader of the Band find this woman acceptable to discuss-

 

                Then it hit Merdyn. She was having a mental attack of sorts. As if on queue, Nox asked if he looked the same way when he suffered his own spells. Merdyn felt horrendous over the thoughts that he was having of this woman. He was judging her left, right, and center; ever since she showed the first hint of rudeness. How very childish he felt.

 

                Merdyn turned his head, looking at Nox with a mixture of grief and guilt. He planted a kiss on his Warders lips and said, “Sometimes… Sometimes, yes, you do.”

 

                What should they have done? It was easy for Merdyn to handle Nox when he fell into one of his spells, but he could not handle Eb the same way- that would be weird and incredibly improper. Besides. Did she want to be handled? Nox and he were strangers, they might only make it worse. Then again, maybe the Band did not know about Eb’s… peculiarity… If Merdyn went to fetch someone, things could get even messier.

 

                “I…” Merdyn sighed and shook his head. Worry flooded through his brain as he registered Nox’s own feelings, “What do we do? Should we follow? Are you ok? She didn’t upset you, did she? I felt a quickening through the bond.”

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Nox focused on his breathing.  And on the words his love spoke. They were not calming, but Mer was concerned none-the-less and not just for him.  The woman was on his mind as well.  Nox gave Mer a soft smile. "We should stay here.  If I was midst panic attack I wouldn't appreciate any number of strangers to follow.  It would only make things worse. As for me..." Nox looked up and smiled, "I will be okay as long as I have you to keep me anchored."  Nox grinned and tapped his temple. "This is a constant reminder I'm not alone."

 

That was part of it, the other part was Nox didn't want Mer to see all the bad in his head. There came a time when he would see it all and be repulsed, no one could be near enough madness for too long and not feel it. Mer was likely to feel it more than others and Nox didn't want to share that with Mer - not the madness.

 

He smiled brighter. "We should stay here and drink our tea and wait. If she doesn't come back we can tell the server and she can find someone to look in on her.  She's bothering you isn't she?" Nox could feel his bond holders annoyance. It made staying focused easier.  Staying in the present with Mer and not going off in his own head.

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                Merdyn nodded at Nox’s words. Of course, he was right about the matter. It was a bit of a relief. Merdyn had no interest in helping Eb work through her issues – had she been more polite he would have felt the opposite. As it stood, the day couldn’t end soon enough. One would think that he’d have been softened to such things because of Nox. To a point, perhaps, but he didn’t love Eb; he loved Nox.

 

                “The Dark One himself could not tear me away from you, love,” Merdyn said to his Warder in the warmest tone he could muster, “Don’t you forget that.”

 

                Nox went on, smiling brighter than he normally did. Merdyn didn’t have to probe the Bond to know that Nox was fighting off a spell of his own. Was it due to Eb’s own outburst or another wave of madness? Merdyn assumed the former. He started to focus on his breathing, seeking the void in an effort to pass along a sense of calm through the Bond. He would not let his own annoyances affect Nox; as much as he could help it.

 

                “Yes. You’re not bothered?” Merdyn answered in reply to his Warder’s question, “I am trying to calm myself. She has been nothing but short and rude to us. I can deal with that normally, but she is acting as our liaison. Do you think the M’Hael would be pleased if one of us acted as she did towards a member of the Alliance – or Light forbid, an Aes Sedai? No. He would box our ears from here to Shara. I’ve heard the members of the Band are rather lackadaisical, but this is unacceptable. I expect our allies to take their duties seriously.”

 

                Merdyn exhaled loudly, knuckling his forehead before going on, “What should we do if she has disappeared? We can’t go back to the Farm so soon.”

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Posted (edited)

It was a fight to stay away from the spiraling, but Mer was there.  It was good to have him in the back of his head, always there.  He gave Mer a shy smile. "I'm alright."  Mer knew fully well he wasn't.  But he could pretend for a while longer.  They were virtually alone in the big room.  Not psychically of course, there were people near by.  People talking, clanking of utensils against plates, scuffing of benches against the floor, the odd creak of a table.  They weren't alone, but no one was bothering them.  Their table was just the two of them, and if you could get past all staring it was pleasant enough.

 

"We can finish our tea and maybe order something more while we wait. I'm sure the M'hael wouldn't have sent us here without reason." by us he meant Mer.  Nox was just the ride.  Normally Nox wouldn't have gone with his chargings he'd stay at the Embassy and wait with the other Asha'man there, but this was Mer.  He was his Warder and now Nox could go where ever he went - as long as the M'hael didn't need him.  Which there were a dozen other people strong enough to make gateways large enough for an army to pass through.  He wasn't unique in this feat.  

 

"But if she doesn't come back soon we should send one of her own to check on her."  Nox nodded towards the gathering of women nearby who couldn't stop looking their direction.  it could be fear, but there were looks in their eyes that said they could want more.  Mer was a rich man, even in Asha'man black he exuded nobility.  Nox always felt like he exuded whore, but that was not a thing he was.  He wasn't just that - even then, but the stench of his former life never really left him.  Moments like those always reminded him of it.

Edited by Matalina

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                Merdyn felt the curious stares from the rest of the patrons, no doubt wondering what two black coated gentlemen did to cause Eb to run off to the bathroom like that. Were this a few months ago, he probably would have been less than alright with the presumptions. He might have even tried to stifle it by getting the rest of the patrons drunk. That wasn’t Merdyn anymore, not since he and Nox had gotten more serious with their affections. It was better this way. Lucky for them it was easy to tune out such things when the Void came easily.

 

                “I am getting hungry again,” Merdyn nodded despite telling Eb the opposite not a few moments prior. He wasted no time in signaling the server to attend them. The menu for the day sounded good enough, but Merdyn did not want to force themselves to wait around for the honeyed duck to finish roasting on the spit. No. A bowl or two of the mutton stew would suffice, so long as there were more bits of lamb than vegetable; Merdyn doubted that would be the case.

 

                Pulling his hand free from Nox’s, Merdyn slid his arm around the other man’s shoulders and brought him close – as much as was socially acceptable without bordering on impropriety. A handful of soft gasps could be heard from some of the women, no doubt Cairhienen born. Such prudes those people were.

 

                “If she’s not back by the time we’re done with the stew, we will brave asking those women,” Merdyn agreed. The server was back almost immediately, two steaming bowls in hand. She set them on the table and walked off to check on the women. Merdyn ignored them and sampled the stew. He had been wrong; there was plenty of lamb floating along the glistening surface of the liquid. He began to eat slowly, if only to give Eb time to compose herself.

 

                “I don’t think we are here just to fix their walls,” Merdyn said quietly between bites, “The M’Hael would have sent Soldiers and Dedicated if that were the case. We’re Asha’man and there’s only two of us besides… What could it be that they want?”

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Squatting up against the wall of the chimney on the roof of the teahouse, Eb shifted her knees to her chest, her head to her knees. Then she stood, abruptly, again, shrugging her shoulders and swinging her arms in circles as if she'd been working in the sparring yard for hours. It didn't help; the tension remained in every strand of every muscle on her frame. 

 

What am I even doing here? 

 

She knew where she was, how she'd got there - that wasn't really the question. The washroom had been too small, too cramped, too closed in. Her panic had been too great. The images too strong. She'd wanted the old, old, familiar comfort of high roofs and open sky. But nothing was helping. She didn't know what she wanted, what she needed right now.

 

Ridiculous!

 

Shadow be damned, she'd seen this before - in others though. The thought struck her with cold terror. How long would it take for her to calm down? To be able to breathe?

 

She turned and leant her head against the solidness of the chimney wall. The fieldrock pressed awkwardly into her forehead. She bumped against it in irritation; once, twice, three times, fourth time with a scowl. Pull. Yourself. Together. Woman!  She was breathing through gritted teeth. Her stomach churned. Her jaw ached. Her head was swimming. Her heart was still hammering with heavy, thudding blows. She was breathing fast now - too fast, she knew - but it was like there was no air! Her hands began to tingle, and then they began to cramp. She moved them to the wall and tried to stretch out her fingers, pushing them and her forehead hard into the rough surface of the chimney, as if doing so could squeeze out all the tension, the memories, the possibilities, the walls of flames. 

 

For Light''s sake!

 

She scowled as a wave of mottled darkness crept across her nightmare visions, and then everything went black.

 

* * *

 

"Mehrin!" She awoke with her cheek pressed hard into a corner of rock and roofing. There was a dull throb emanating from the side of her head, a sting above her left eyebrow, a heavy vacuum in her chest. She pushed herself away from the chimney and into an upright position, staring at the sprawl of the Citadel grounds before her. 

 

"What in the ruddy-" her eyes widened with sudden recognition of her location and a recollection of decamping in near-panic from a table with the two asha'man Calder had ordered her to meet and observe.

 

"Just bloody perfect!" she growled, making for the roof edge. "Blood and bloody, ruddy ashes!" She spat, dropped to the ground and yanked open the external washroom door. "Blood and bloody blasted ashes!"

 

A quick wash of her face indicated the sting above her eyebrow was nothing serious. The throb in her head was certainly not the worst she'd ever had and the ache in her chest, well, that seemed a constant companion these days. There was nothing for it. Light, she was tired. She needed this day to end. For all of this to end and go back to the way it had been before, at the very least. She sighed, straightened her shoulders with a deepening scowl and turned back towards the interior of the teahouse. 

 

The asha'man were receiving bowls of something steaming, she noted, changing direction and making her way to the counter to settle the bill. The sooner we get this over and done with she figured, the sooner I can try again to get some sleep. 

 

Her stomach growled loudly as the house manager approached the counter. The woman gave her a look up and down, a single eyebrow raised.

 

"Lamb stew for you too, Captain?" 

 

"No," Eb began, but her stomach rumbled again in protest and the woman narrowed her eyes.

 

"Fine, stew then. Please." 

 

She sighed again, pushing the sound out softly through pursed lips. Light, it was off-putting, how much this woman reminded her of Mistress Amara, how easily a flash of those eyes forced agreement and manners from her mouth. It wasn't the first time, either. Eb smothered her scowl and handed over the coin, with a little extra thrown in, before looking quickly in the opposite direction. She wasn't a spender, ever, but this woman was too like Amara, and Amara was too much of an exception in Eb's childhood history for that to be ignored. Times were different now, anyway. She could afford to pay. Eb started back towards the table, a serving girl somehow almost directly behind her with a steaming bowl of the promised stew.

 

* * *

 

"- What could it be that they want?"  

 

The tail-end of the second asha'man's question hung in the air as Eb approached the booth, serving girl hovering quietly behind.

 

At least they're still here. Eb nodded dutifully to the men and slipped back into her seat, half watching the asha'man watching her, half watching the bowl of stew slide across the table in front of her. She couldn't read the men's expressions, but there was no mistaking the way the steam danced across the surface of the bowl that had just been delivered, the way the aromas of lamb and herbs drifted with it, the chunks of meat in the broth. There were definitely some perks, being employed by the Band. She pulled her gaze from the bowl with the thought of work, wondering how long she'd been up on the roof, whether a good escort would apologise again for the rush and absence, what she would even say - whether she had any desire or strength left to say it, even if she'd known. Her brow furrowed. This was all so bloody abnormal !

 

Her stomach spoke for her first. Loud and demanding, it bubbled through the reserved silence in the booth. 

 

"Apologies," Eb grimaced and decided that would have to be enough to cover it all. She looked from one asha'man to the other and tentatively reached for the spoon on the table next to her stew. How long had it been since she'd actually eaten? What was wrong with her? Light, she was tired. Too tired for mincing words and attempting political games. That wasn't her real job, anyway, and the Commander bloody knew it.

 

To dust and ashes with it, then. She decided to speak her mind. Calder knew her well enough to not have expected otherwise, and for all anything mattered, nothing good ever came of false conversation. Either these two were trustworthy, or they weren't. Everyone lived, or died. She sighed.

 

"I have to agree with you - about the walls not being all there is to this," she sat back in her seat and absently spun the spoon through her fingers, indicating the three of them at the table.

 

"This bloody Alliance is about all we've bloody got going for us in this part of the world right now, and it's no secret I'm about the last bloody person who should've been picked for liaison of any sort - let alone one like this - Shadow-be-damned - and the Commander bloody knows it. I'll marry a sewer-rat if I can figure out what he's really bloody after - from any of us," she mumbled the last bit, staring into her stew. The meat looked tender, maybe a few bites would do her some good. 

 

"But I do know he's serious about the blasted walls, and having the two of you, specifically, check them," she shrugged, looking at each of the men before dipping her spoon slowly into the stew. Their expressions were still unreadable. She lifted the spoon, laden, from the bowl. Despite the blanching in her stomach, she pushed the first mouthful of steaming lamb and vegetables past her lips. The taste on her tongue was almost good enough to make her smile. Almost, but not quite. She forced a few more mouthfuls before downing the spoon and pushing the bowl away. It had been worth a try, perhaps. 

 

"I'll hear your theories if you have any, now and when we check them, though?"

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She showed back up just after their stew arrived.  Nox wasn't really hungry but he felt Mer's and ate anyway.  Though she wanted to know their theories?  Nox chuckled. "I don't know why you think I am here.  I don't specialize in earth, I make holes in the pattern and that's it.  I can I mean, but my talents are spent more on the ripping holes in the pattern than making things stronger."

 

Nox sipped at his spoon full of broth.  Sometimes he wondered if he should give up meat in general.  The idea of sheep being slaughtered, cows, and the like was bothering him.  Maybe because of what he could do with the power, he'd seen a man look much like a cow might.  It was scary.  He shuddered visibly and reached across the table for Mer's hand.  He didn't hide it.  He needed his touch.  

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Posted (edited)

                Merdyn carried on eating his mutton stew as Eb reappeared, unceremoniously. She nodded to them and set her own bowl down in front of her. Merdyn felt a pang of guilt, realizing that he didn’t ask the serving girl to bring one for Eb. Then again, she was very adamant about her lack of hunger. He let the guilt pass and continued working his way through the bowl, now eating at a much more normal pace. The woman’s stomach made a loud, unflattering noise.

 

                “Apologies,” Eb said with a grimace.

 

                Merdyn’s spoon was halfway to his mouth, but at those words it dropped from his fingers and clattered to the table, spilling a small amount of broth and a particularly fat piece of lamb. His mouth hung agape.

 

                Eb sat back in her seat and continued speaking. Merdyn’s mouth did not close until she finished. Nox jumped in with a self-deprecating comment. Well, it was not truly self-deprecating, but the man really needed to learn to give himself more credit. Gateways and Traveling was only one of his many talents, oh he was incredible at it, but there was so much more to him than that. Flashes of memory streaked through Merdyn’s mind. He could still remember every second of that day in the Training Yard, the day that he had earned the second pin. Nox could fight with the best of them, sword or Saidin, it didn’t matter. He was a spectacle to behold. The Creator help any Trolloc or Dread Lord that came to blows with Merdyn’s Warder.

 

                Nox shuddered after he spoke and grabbed Merdyn’s hand. The emotions coming through the Bond weren’t strong or dissonant, but there was definitely a slight pang of fear coloring Nox’s emotional state. What could he be thinking of? Surely he wasn’t feeling fright over the use of Earth?

 

                “You have many more talents than the making of Gateways and you know it,” Merdyn said to Nox, smiling brightly at him. Love and compassion welled up inside of Merdyn, intentionally, and he made sure that it was powerful enough for Nox to feel it through the Bond. He was not trying to call the man out or give him a hard time, Merdyn just hated to see Nox sell himself short on his own abilities. Most of what Merdyn had learned of the Power he had gotten from Nox. He had so much more to offer the world than he realized. If only he could see himself the way that Merdyn did.

 

                Nox was humble if nothing else. Still. As his Bond-holder and lover, it was Merdyn’s duty in life to lift Nox up and ensure that he lived the best life that he could.

 

                Embracing the One Power, Merdyn used a few threads of Water and Air to scoop up the spilled stew and depoisited it upon the cloth napkins provided by the serving girl. The table looked as clean as it had before they sat down. He placed his spoon back in the bowl and pushed it all away, his hunger satisfied.

 

                “Captain,” Merdyn spoke to Eb directly, “I am going to venture a guess that you know nothing about myself or Nox? We two come from very different upbringings and have different talents and interests. My theories on the matter are varied and colorful. My presence was requested, so I can only assume the true nature of this assignment lies somewhere with what I can do for you lot. I am of noble birth, Andoran if you could not tell by my accent. I have plenty of gold in my personal coffers. Artifacts of the One Power tantalize me and they have become something of a pet project. The Black Tower has named me a liaison to the White Tower, so I have personal dealings with the Red Ajah. I am the only man that has Bonded another man. I am well read and I have many talents and hobbies that one would not expect of a noble. The common folk love me and I can make a roast duck better than the Creator himself.”

 

                Despite what he said, Merdyn realized he didn’t have any theories on the true nature of their assignment. He had hoped to discover something, some hint, as he listed out an abriged version of his personal life. Nothing came to mind. The biggest contribution he had made to the Black Tower was an overhaul of the Soup Kitchen and the meager beginnings of a library. Surely, the Band did not need help with either of those things? So what was it? Perhaps they really were there to fix some fortifications.

 

                “If I had to bet on it, I would think that the Commander is having difficulties with some noble or ruler. Your Citadel lies within Andoran borders, perhaps you have caught the ire of Adine Sedai? Or perhaps there is a plot to remove her from the Throne? I am sure the Daughter heir still hungers for the crown, although it has been years since I have last spoken with her; I cannot know her mind… I do know the other High Seats were split between the two… Most have come to accept Adine Sedai's rule, but still,” Merdyn said thoughtfully. It had been so long since he was embroiled with Andoran politics, but he still tried to remain informed on the situation.  He pursed his lips and tapped a finger against his chin, “The only use I seem to have had for anyone is my skill at navigating the currents of courtly intrigue and political relations. So, if it is not that, I am at a loss. Do you have any theories, Eb? Nox?”

Edited by Oddpositions

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"None," Eb lifted her hands into an empty shrug, rolling her eyes to the ceiling. She needed to stop staring at that bloody stew-stained napkin.

 

Her gaze returned to the other asha'man - Nox. She studied the scar on his cheek - stretched now where it had puckered with his chuckling. With a scowl, she blocked the recollection of the blade that had torn through her own skin in a similar place, the way the blood had run and the room had spun. 'Ripping holes' in the ruddy Pattern. Blood and bloody, blasted ashes - what does that even bloody mean? 

 

"The Commander doesn't like Lords much," she focused on... Mer?  "So maybe. You done?" She indicated the discarded bowls, the idle spoons, and stood. Whatever the reason was for these two men being here, the walls were apparently the start of it all - and where they needed to be.

 

Light, her head was aching. She pinched her forehead, accidentally cracking the new cut above her eyebrow. Blood trickled down her temple and she wiped at it absently as the others stood. "Walls are this way," she shrugged anew, swiping up a napkin and leading them away from the booth.

 

***

 

Eb stared at the grey granite as the walls loomed into view. "See if they can find and fix any weak spots," the Commander had said; "We can use the One Power to search for cracks, and mend ...with Earth."  That had been Nox.

 

The words were playing over and over in Eb's mind, but she still had next to no idea what any of them could really mean, how any of this was supposed to work. There were no cracks as far as she could see; the walls looked as solid and as formidable as she'd ever seen. 

 

"As far's I know," she looked at the men, "these were built with you lot, to be as strong a defence here as possible, and nothing's changed," she shrugged. "Like I said, I don't know enough about your ruddy powers to figure what you're meant to be doing, just that the Commander said you would." Or should. She took a few steps backwards so that she was further behind Nox and Mer, and hopefully out of the way.

 

"Have at it," she murmured, the knots in her gut cinching as tight as they could go.

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She was at least talking to them again.  And Nox wondered why she got stuck with this job, she obviously didn't like men who could channel.  "I have an observation I'd like to share.  Don't take no offense please, but I don't think you like us much.  Is it us in particular?  Or just Asha'man?"  His curiousity getting the best of him before he could stop his words.

 

But he didn't wait for an answer they were at the wall and they had a job to do, so Nox walked up to the stone wall and sent earth with a touch of spirit and delved at the wall for cracks.  Nox found several fishers that were obvious, this was a spot that had been engineered with internal flaws.  Nox looked around and took note of the land marks - easy enough to find if you knew what to look for.  "Mer, you see what I see?"

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Eb grimaced, dabbing at her eyebrow and shrugging as Nox turned away towards the wall. Clearly she was still bloody hopeless at this liaison thing. She cursed the Commander under her breath.

 

What does liking anyone have to do with it?  She watched the man until he was almost within touching distance of the stone. Not my duty to bloody like people. Her stomach twisted tighter somehow. Liking people. That never ended well, in any case. And channelers and asha'man; how could one expect to understand them, or tell them apart? She crossed her arms over her chest, as if she could block the deep wave of pain coursing through her heart.

 

"Mer, you see what I see?

 

Eb's eyes flicked back to Nox. From him to Mer, waiting for his reaction.

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