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Some time after the threat to her daughter, which as it turned out could compel her obedience but couldn’t force her past her instinctive fear of being touched, she decided to learn the Flame and the Void.


Emotion only shamed any right-thinking person. An Aes Sedai who could not stuff her own fear down enough to do whatever she had to might as well not wear the shawl. Everybody knew that the Tower Guard had this trick which killed stupid sentimentality; therefore she needed to corner some luckless victim and force him to teach it to her. That person’s identity she did not yet know, she trusted no Tower Guard as far as she could throw them after the past three had turned out to be homicidal Darkfriends, but she intended to find a suitably impersonal teacher anyway.


Until then she had plenty of challenges to surmount, such as quite how much the Darkfriend’s little exercises terrified her, and the mysteries of this whole inexplicable arrangement. No sane person would believe his lies about this being for her benefit; one did not blackmail and threaten people unless one had a seriously unpleasant plan for them. She found it offensive that anyone even fed her that line as if she were a one-year novice, possibly the only type young and gullible enough to believe it, but she did not know the mind of Darkfriends. All she knew was that he wanted to hurt her daughter and that whatever twisted satisfaction he got out of making her fail his stupid tests -- making her panic, freeze, slip up -- it was good enough to do it again … and again … and again.


So being instructed to fetch him the beloved’s bond frankly terrified her. She had far too much knowledge of unwanted bonds, of the particular crawling horror of having someone prying into her head against her will and knowing she couldn’t get rid of them, not to fear. Of course she could do nothing unless she wanted her daughter killed, the Order exposed and a full-scale war with the Black Ajah on her hands, but she hadn’t been able to force down her panic even for that, it was something quite automatic, and the old private fears had existed longer still. Maybe he didn’t even mean it anyway, she told herself, rather than spend all the time fretting herself speechless. Maybe it was just to watch her fear him.


She fetched the ter’angreal like a good puppy -- call me master, she remembered that, like she remembered how Kitten had closed that collar round her throat -- lying spectacularly about their purpose as much as the First Oath would permit, and brought them back to her self-professed master. She had once sworn that she would have no master but the Tower. In fact she got some homicidal blackmailing Darkfriend who seemed to like her scared, one perversion she did not share. But she handed them over, silently, and did not even step away from him, despite her instincts; what if it wasn’t just an empty threat, what if he really meant to put one on her, what if he ended up seeing everything … she took a slow breath, trying to calm the abject dread of having her most intimate thoughts and feelings exposed to a bloody Darkfriend, and said nothing at all.


Sirayn Damodred

Head of the Green Ajah


Progress was not a forthcoming result of the training that was held every day with Sirayn, or so Aran was willing to admit to himself. It was becoming clear that even after he'd given a solid kick to her stubborness when it came to attempting what he had set for her, there were still problems that were ensuring that success would elude them. She was simply paralysed by fear, automated for that matter. She could not stand a charge, she tried again and again but she could not do it. She would step up every time and it was becoming painful, she wasn't acclimatising and if anything, the repeated failure on her part to meet his charge was making it more difficult.


So, something different had to be attempted.


The encounter Aran had with Jaydena and the ter'angreal rings had given him the inkling to a possible solution. He'd had experience with the bond through them, he knew how potent they could be in affecting someone. The mingling of emotions and the open nature in which they were shared, they could also be used to strengthen one another. For him, the rings presented a two fold advantage when it came to dealing with Sirayn and her training. Firstly, she would be able to sense through the temporary bond that he did not intend to hurt her. Something that would hopefully go a long way to helping calm her.


The other thing was that he would be able to use his emotions to help stabilise hers. If he could pull it off, he could perhaps breach the wall and create a basic level of trust. Well, not trust, but give her the capacity to act and fulfill the task that he had set for her. If he could calm that storm that he suspected raged inside her mind for even only a few minutes, that would be an achievement in itself.


Securing the rings of course was a problem, but he'd been able to use Sirayn to do that for him. Of course it meant tipping his hand a little, but her reading of his intentions wouldn't be on the mark due to her suspicion. He just hoped that the depth of her paranoia didn't completely block his attempt to get through. If there was something that Sirayn had demonstrated, it was her ability to distort new information and revelation to confirm her pre-existing ideas. The root of Sirayn's true problem, it was also the reason his entrapment worked. Because she had initially presumed him capable of fulfilling his threats, any threats he had made following them were instantly credible.


But, even as he met with Sirayn and relieved her of the rings, he had hope that things could be circumvented and subverted, shattered and restored with the right pressure. Lifting the rings up before him, he tossed one back to Sirayn before slipping the one he retained onto his right ring finger. As he spoke, he was already beginning to prepare himself for the flood that would hit him, knowing that it would be of little use. All he could do was hold onto his emotions, keep them steady. "Slip the ring on."



Tower Guard


An icy finger inched down her spine; for a moment she simply stared at the ring, small and gold and ordinary, a cold circle on her palm. He had put one on. He wanted her to put this one on. Then they would be bonded until someone took it off. She touched the ring with her fingertip and imagined having a deranged Darkfriend in her head -- pictured him cracking open her good Aes Sedai armour, exposing her most private feelings to the light, raking through her fears and insecurities like a thief in a jewellery box -- he’d find out she was a coward, no doubt he’d get a good laugh out of that, and as for other, even more secret thoughts … anger and disgust and dismay, impatience and exasperation, shame and the stupid wretched attachment she still had to various people who hadn’t loved her …


Seiaman had got into her head and refused to leave. She remembered having a Warder who hated her, having her every feeling read like a book and used against her. It had been endless and infuriating and sort of heartbreaking in a way, when she would have done nearly anything to persuade Seiaman to love her, when she had never even been able to hide how much she hated it when Seiaman left her. Somehow the advantage had only worked one way. She had never been able to figure out the knot of foreign feelings in her head, or understand quite why Seiaman kept turning on her, or why she couldn’t just pick a position and stick to it. It didn’t make any sense. People didn’t make sense, bonding didn’t make sense.


Since the death of her last Warder, whom she had loved perhaps longest and best of all, she had never even considered letting anybody else into her head. She had enough difficulty with people standing near her, let alone rifling through her feelings to see what they could use against her. Her mind might be inadequate but it was a private space where she could harbour strange stupid feelings like her jealousy and possessiveness over Aramina, wanting to own her, wanting to keep her safely to herself. She had never wanted to bond again -- and she still didn’t.


It angered her in a sudden, stupid way. She wanted to break the ring, wanted to crush it, stamping out that Age of Legends trickery forever. Of course she didn’t want this; why would anyone tolerate some murderous Darkfriend mauling their innermost thoughts? That was exactly why he demanded of her -- to disgrace and frighten her, to make her still less an Aes Sedai, to teach her who her master was. Call me master indeed; it still made her seethe. She didn’t even have a choice. Cowards and cripples and failures didn’t get a choice about something as fundamental, as intimate as who they bonded.


If she got herself infuriated enough she might not be scared any more, and Light she was scared. She prized her privacy like nothing else; she had never wanted anyone to see what was beneath the semblance of Aes Sedai calm any more than she wanted anyone to see what was under her clothes. It was equally invasive, equally repulsive to her.


Since she didn’t have a choice she might as well get this sordid situation over and done with as soon as possible. Bracing herself, and clinging to her old and somewhat desperate hope that nobody would ever find out that she was afraid, she picked up the ring in unsteady fingers and forced it over her finger before she lost her nerve.


Sirayn Damodred

Head of the Green Ajah


The moment the ring slipped on Sirayn's finger, Aran's worst fear was confirmed, he was in no way prepared for what hit him. Anger was definitely at the forefront of those feelings. Searing anger that cut through him with a hatred that he wasn't sure he'd ever felt in such a way pervaded his mind and his very being. There was little mistaking how Sirayn felt about him at this point, not that he hadn't known before but that had been understood more on the intellectual level and empathised, this feeling was raw and it twisted inside of him this way and that with an uncontrollable fury that reminded him of the way saidin had been described to him. A fitting comparison considering the tinge of madness that drove the rage.


Yet this was only the shield for a much deeper emotion, stark raving fear. Even as she despised him with feelings so strong they tore at him, the fear behind it threatened to paralyse him. Waves upon waves of her abject horror of him and whatever she felt he represented sank into his very bones, leaving him with a chill that made every movement difficult, like the involuntary step he took back as if her emotions had struck him physically. The pincer attack of her emotions threatened to overwhelm him entirely but he had weathered emotions before, if not quite like this. Jaydena might have had her problems, and she had, but there had been a sense and an order to them that he had been able to easily identify that he couldn't find here. Then again, Jaydena hadn't possessed emotions nearly as strong in regards to him either.


"I need to sit down." A little pale, Aran lowered himself to the ground as he yielded. Resistance and rejection were not the way to deal with this, instead he let Sirayn's emotions wash over him and rather than clash with her, he accepted. Everything she threw at him, willingly or unwillingly, he received and in turn radiated his own feelings that he intermingled with hers. Calm, security, safety, an inner serenity that he had taken years to cultivate, stable emotions that would hopefully bring some sort of order and structure to the space within their minds that they shared. One couldn't attack, one couldn't defend, both things created barriers and instead he sought to discard them as he attempted to stabilise the bond as best he could.



Tower Guard


For a last precious moment she kept her private feelings to herself; the next a knot of emotions winked into being in the back of her head, a shocking, near tangible intrusion, as if someone had seized hold of her. She startled away despite her best attempts as though that might break the unseen grip -- but of course it didn’t work: no matter how much she made a coward of herself his alien, disturbing emotions would follow her everywhere. Light only knew she wanted to run. Having him in the back of her head felt far too close and she didn’t think anywhere this side of the Aryth Ocean would be far enough to make her safe again. She hated this and she hated him and nowhere was safe.


She had been braced for all kinds of responses, contempt most of all, but she had not expected him to step back as if she had struck him. The filthy blackmailing Darkfriends hadn’t thought twice about forcing an Aes Sedai into a bond against her will so why would he give a damn what she thought of him? He must have known that she hated and feared him anyway; she hadn’t exactly guarded her words. He was probably just winding her up so he could laugh at the stupid Aes Sedai. Narowing her eyes, she watched coldly as he sat down, hoping whatever troubled him would continue to do so.


He felt weak. Maybe that wasn’t the right word. Faint? Colourless? She was accustomed to extremes of fear and fury, forcing her weaknesses to serve her, so her shame drove her forward however craven she was. Next to the intensity of her own emotions he felt foreign but not striking -- his feelings were a pale shadow of hers. It didn’t impress her much. “How sweet,” said Sirayn coldly, bonded against her will for the first time in fifteen years. “You threaten little children with impunity but fall over because I don’t like you.”


Looking up at Sirayn, Aran simply raised an eyebrow as he continued to mingle his feelings amongst hers.  His were passive while hers were aggressive, hers would wear themselves out, they were more subject to change.  His, on the otherhand, were more static and constant, their strength was in their simplicity and her underestimation of them.  Had it been that long since she had been bonded that she'd forgotten how subtle the bond could be?  “Your feelings run far deeper than just me, I knew that before, its another thing to experience them.  Is this where you always reside, in this maelstrom that I'm swimming in?  You do yourself more harm than anyone else possibly could.”


The false bond transmitted a steady, soothing pulse. Seiaman had never done that; she didn’t understand it, didn’t want that or any part of him. It was all manipulation anyway. As Kitten had used pleasure and pain to control her, to wear down her resistance -- a vivid memory of shame and fear and defeat -- so did he. She hated Darkfriends and Dreadlords both, despised their filthy habits and their trickery and she wanted to get rid of this evil ring as soon as possible. “Do you often dispense advice to victims of your blackmail?” Her voice had gone low and harsh. She missed Seiaman, a stupid thought, but if she had to be stuck bonded to somebody who hated her it might as well be the one she’d come to love. “I’m amazed you find time between threatening their families.” Child killer. Darkfriend. In her head.


Frowning, Aran's emotions remained constant as she attempted to disturb the peace he gave through the bond.  That and it was an attempt to try and feed her own emotions, he recognised the way her unstable emotions throbbed much in the way Jaydena's had when she had attempted a similar thing after she'd discovered who he actually was.  "Has it ever occured to you that while others may have mistreated you, you might be the source of your own pain?  I can feel the way you're using your thoughts to feed your anger, your hatred and the accompanying fear.  Are those emotions truly so difficult to hold onto yet so necessary that you must actively stoke those coals to ensure the flames keep burning?"


Kitten had stroked her hair and spoken to her gently and forced sensations on her that she didn’t want, touched her bare skin, whispered to her. The slow realisation that this babbling Darkfriend was doing exactly the same left her cold. He had touched her as much as he liked, fed her lies a three-year-old would frown at and now he was trying Kitten’s gambit -- only lacking a collar he had to use a bond instead and his filthy Darkfriend feelings intruded where once she had kept her Gaidin. She wanted to throw his bloody ring away and hide; instead she had to stand here while he interfered with her, trying to override her emotions with his foreign ones, or he killed her daughter. The bitter irony of getting a lecture as well struck her. “Has it ever occurred to you that no sane person would listen to a person who’s threatened to kill their family?”


"Actually, if you think about it, its a sane person who does listen to someone who has made such a threat."  Sirayn's emotions were roiling about with an unpredictable predictability, fed on what she focused on, propping up her self destructive rage to ensure she would never have to deal with the alternative, a peace that Aran wondered whether Sirayn had ever even known.  Feelings like that eventually wore out, or they wore the person out instead.  "You still haven't answered the question either, are those emotions truly so necessary that you must hold onto them?  Other people manage just fine without such loathing, what makes yours so necessary?  Not of me, but I think yourself.  You would have to hate yourself to inflict all of that on yourself continually.  Is it really worth it?  Are you so truly deserving of such hate that you cut yourself with blades of your own imagining?"


Kitten had not beaten her. The nameless Dreadlord had had her fun, she kept her memories of being helpless and terrified to herself, but the fact was she had given the Dreadlord a false oath and the fool didn’t even know it. By no means did she have an uncontrollable desire to go around impersonating Forsaken -- convenient though the gambit had been -- but when a Dreadlord arrived to stop her doing something, who but a dupe or a coward would let her? She had absolutely no idea what this madman wanted, but if some filthy Darkfriend planned to pry into her most private secrets,  she intended to force him to give her no other choice. She didn’t ever want to look back  and think that she could have fought harder. “Do you kill my family if I tell you to practise your apparently burgeoning career in quack psychology elsewhere?”


"Do you take unnecessary risks with the lives of your family and followers?  Pride is a fools game."  Regarding Sirayn without a single trouble crossing his mind or heart, Aran continued.  "It surprises me, after all this time, you still refuse to answer the questions you are posed.  You do not have to even speak the answers, simply give those questions a chance.  You need never fear I gain an advantage over you from them, therefore the alternative is that instead of fearing me you fear yourself.  To live paralysed by that isn't living, its simply going through the motions.  If you do not live, then whats the point of all of it?"


Her so-called followers had betrayed her and her family abandoned her. Her daughter and her someday successor both slept with Darkfriends and thought nothing of it. They should count themselves lucky all she did was risk them; if she had turned on them as they had on her each of them would now be reassembling their lives from pieces. This lying Darkfriend brought only ruin to her and everything she prized -- the trust she had been building with Aramina, such a fragile thing, the chance that her daughter might ever return her love. “The sole purpose of asking these questions is to gain an advantage over me. I have yet to figure out what precise advantage you gain from asking me what the point of life is, but I doubt a blackmailing would-be child-killer thinks I’ll answer his questions, so I’ll figure it out in the end.”


There it was, the flaw that crippled Sirayn so thoroughly that Aran wondered whether she could ever truly function as a human being.  An intellectual acknowledgement of a previous frustration that he had somewhat resigned himself to, it disturbed him not as he simply flowed onto the next query that was obvious.  "Answer this question for yourself then.  How do you reason my effort to be an attempt to gain advantage over you if you cannot discern an advantage?  That would be...  well, like presuming the existance of Violetta's without having encountered them simply because it is possible that one may find kaleidescopic bunnies."


He was either mocking her or completely and irretrievably insane. She ranked patronising young men of approximately one tenth of her age slightly beneath blackmailers and child killers on her personal hierarchy of people who needed killing, but a combination of all three took a pretty high spot; she began to wonder if she could act fast enough to rescue Lyssa and, well, possibly overthrow the Black Ajah by force if she killed him. She did her best to ignore temptation. “You are my enemy. Everything you do is a hostile action.”


Raising an eyebrow, Aran was unruffled by the short response.  It was a quick assertion on her part, one to justify her belief.  As far as her reactions went, that one had been entirely predictable and fallen into the cycle of her limited reasoning that she had exhibited at various points during their association.  "Interesting.  By what reasoning do you determine me to be an enemy and my every action to be a hostile one?"


Her patience was now running very short indeed. “You blackmailed me and you threatened to kill my family. What more do you think I need, a letter of confession?”


Aran could sense her impatience, but he continued nevertheless.  “Oh come now, you brought forkroot into the Tower and that herb does possess a rather limited range of uses.  You'd be drawn and quartered for bringing such a thing into the Tower, yet my magical intuition tells me that you do not see your act as hostile to the Tower.  Do you now apply a double standard simply because you cannot perceive another possibility, the same way that your sisters would not perceive another possibility if they were told of what you smuggled?"


She had brought forkroot into the Tower, at great cost and inconvenience, for the sole purpose of overthrowing the Black Ajah and if necessary seizing the Tower by force. On consideration, she didn’t think the majority of Aes Sedai would approve -- but then again she neither wanted nor needed their approval. She had enough Aes Sedai agents to get her work done. He could stand there and spill platitudes all he liked, and try to poison her good honest wrath with his alien feelings, but that didn’t make him any less a Darkfriend and a blackmailer who wanted to kill her little girl. “Think what you like.”


"Such is the curse of the looking glass."  Aran didn't mean to let his pity filter through his feelings, but it did along with a touch of frustration.  Crippled.  Getting to his feet, Aran began to step away as he spoke.  "Well, at anyrate its time for the exercise once more.  Same challenge as it has been for the past couple of weeks.  I charge, you sidestep and throw, we continue until you succeed."  Aran could already feel the changes going on through the bond but he kept himself centred, absorbed her fear and returned his own feelings back through the bond to counterweight them.  If there was a chance for success, now would be a good time for it to manifest itself.  "Three, two, one."


Pity? It puzzled and infuriated her. She did not want pity or anything else; in fact, she had had enough condescension, transparent lies and nonsense to keep her seething for a month, so why he felt the need to mess around with her further she didn’t know. The only task she had set herself was to protect her people and the Tower -- Light only knew they needed a defender -- and instead she found herself trapped at the mercy of a homicidal madman who was stalking her daughter.


She hated the way he kept stuffing his bizarre emotions into her head. Her Aes Sedai education had taught her that to bond someone against their will was the worst violation one could commit against them, in effect rape, and to deliberately pollute her own feelings with his … she didn’t even have a word for it. It felt wrong. It felt filthy. It felt like an invasion. She didn’t doubt that was exactly why he did it -- to shame her, to make her powerless, to undermine her so she couldn’t even trust her own anger any more. No true Aes Sedai would tolerate this no matter the cost.


In case having her private feelings ripped open, tainted and put together differently for a Darkfriend’s amusement didn’t scare her enough, now he wanted her to fail this stupid exercise again. She really didn’t understand this. How much fear did he want from her? Did he get such satisfaction out of her that he wanted to keep doing this? She didn’t feel any enjoyment from him but that didn’t matter, she didn’t need to be led by the bloody hand to draw the obvious conclusion. She knew it was there. He was lying in wait for her just as Solin had done … silent, unseen and inexorable. She hadn’t been able to do a damn thing about Solin; a left hand, a surviving Warder and all her cunning hadn’t saved her. It was going to be the same all over again -- the One Power would fail her and she would be right back in that cave, in the shadows, cold and fire and iron.


Her pulse raced. She flinched back before he ever touched her. He had so much more strength than her it was ridiculous, she remembered how effortlessly Solin had handled her -- she pushed him away, stupid and clumsy and wrong, he was still too close and she just wanted to escape. She hadn’t even thought it was real at first. She’d snapped something sarcastic and Amiarin had hit her, she remembered the impact and the pain and being shocked speechless … she crushed down the memory, took a deep shaky breath and moved away before she hit something back.


Even as he received her clumsy push, Aran knew that his plan had failed.  The frightening tempest that flailed him through the false bond was enough to confirm for him that it wasn't going to work, he had no chance of stabilising her emotions this way.  A failed last gambit, Aran had made his decision before he even came to a stop.  Turning about to Sirayn who was still recovering from the inner turmoil, Aran couldn't help it.  He genuinely felt sorry for her and there was no way that he could hide that.  As much as she had irritated him, as stupid as she had been and regardless of her selfishness and her distorted view of the world around her, that irritation had no chance of coalescing when he knew the depth of her.


He wasn't sure he could help her now, her trauma seemed so ingrained, had no one helped her?  Then again, she pushed away all those who even suggested such a thing, and now Aran suspected that she was beyond his ability.  What had worked for him would not work for her, the near certainty of failure contributed to the sadness he felt as he watched her quietly.  Condemned to live like that, that wasn't life at all, while he had no special fondness for her, knowing that some like Aramina and Lyssa did and knowing that Sirayn was so crippled emotionally that she would never understand it...  That was real tragedy, for all of them, and not being able to fix it was worse.


"It seems that not even trying to dilute your fear so you could garner enough confidence in yourself worked."  That got a flash of emotion from Sirayn but Aran continued on regardless. "Perhaps one day you will overcome it, but that day isn't today.  In the meantime, there is no more point to this." Holding up his hand, Aran plucked the ring off, doing so he could have sworn he felt a surge of relief and maybe a touch of sanity through the bond before it winked out.  Tossing the ring to her, Aran added.  "Today is over, tomorrow we revert to training with the dagger only.  Grappling is beyond you, at least until something changes, so we shall do it no more."


Aran didn't need the bond to feel Sirayn's relief as he turned and left.


Sirayn & Aran

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