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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY

Brother Sun & Sister Moon


James
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The day was beginning to turn and Aramina was still trying to catch her prey.  Oh, she'd plenty of reasons why this one had evaded her so far, but it didn't make an difference as she continued tracking.  Dead bodies, charred and blacked as they lay, had been most of her trail so far.  A mad male chaneller she had been told was haunting the area.  She should stay at the Inn and wait until she could hire a good guard to take her back home.  All the sort of things that she had been told because her face still lacked the agelessness of an Aes Sedai.  Of course in these back hills areas, even the agelessness might not have been recognized and she had hid away her serpent ring as she travelled, trying to learn more of the world and begin what she one day hoped would be the largest personal network of Eyes and Ears in the Tower. 

 

And here she was instead.  Tracking a chaneller alone through the deserted back roads bordering on the Mountains of Mist.  She had to do something though.  A male chaneller on the loose was nothing to pass over, no matter how it messed with her personal plans.  She stopped her horse and climbed down, pulling her cloak closed against the autumn winds.  Another body, and still warm.  She had been open before, but she embraced the source then, looking around her to see what she could find of her prey's movements.

 

Watching as the woman rode, Merrick smiled to himself.  Not who he had expected, but a welcome distraction nevertheless.  Maybe more if she was who he thought she was, there were only two kinds of women who would be following the trail.  The first sort was the kind that thought their husband or lover might be amongst the dead, the other was the sort that wanted to see him personally.  Maybe this would be a bit more fun than he had first anticipated, he hadn't had a challenge for sometime now and now he was finally going to have an opportunity.  Maybe afterward, when he took her prisoner if the whim struck him, he could learn a bit more.  Or maybe he could just ask her now.

 

There she was, dismounting now and checking the body.  Chills and goosebumps crossed his flesh and he knew that she was trying to find him now, it would have been easy from his vantage point to remain hidden as long as he remained still, but it was time to put an end to this.  Grasping saidin, Merrick bent it to his will even as he dropped out of the tree he had been hiding up and landed easily on his feet.  She saw him now, in simple brown leathers that were stained green much like the cloak that he wore.  Grinning at her even as he wove wards around himself, he waved to her as he began to approach.

 

"I was wondering when someone would come looking, though I did not expect the Scourge to send others to do his own dirty work.  Or are you something else entirely?  Aes Sedai perhaps?  Something else?  Who are you and why do you follow the trail I've left?  Tell me and I might deign not to burn that pretty face of yours."  Tying off wards one after the other, Merrick's smile didn't falter even as he concentrated on building his defence, layering wards around his person one after the other.  He might not be a full Dreadlord, but he was close enough, more than a match for this woman he was certain.

 

She had spent a long time studying men like him, but she had yet to come face to face with a male chaneller.  She had to stop the shiver that threatened to crawl up her spine at the thought of what he could do.. at what he had already been doing.  He had to be mad already.  She pulled a shield around herself even as she kept herself still, not wanting to make any move that would tip him off to what she was.  "The Scourge?  I'm afraid you have the wrong person." She said, smiling at him.  "I.."  She looked back at the body and licked her lips, feigning nervousness.  "I was trying to find out...  they said there is a reward for the man... I was just... we could work together you know.. to catch him." She said with big eyes that said nothing of intelligence.

 

"Really?"  Merrick laughed at the attempt at falsehood that was made, it would be a pleasure to work the lies out of her with his bare hands.  He had always disliked the nature that was required of him, to conceal his power and not to use it when the power allowed him to impose his will.  The Great Lord was chaos, therefore it was his duty to create chaos, why the Scourge insisted they wait when they could change the face of the world was beyond him.  He could and therefore do as he wished, as chaos was not to be controlled, passions and desires were not to be controlled, only sated as they manifested themselves.  That was what it was to embody chaos and the Great Lord.

 

"Well, that is a shame, I had thought you were someone else.  Or perhaps you lie?  Could it be that you are trying to deceive me?  You know, the power never lies."  Lifting his right hand towards the woman, fire wreathed his fingers and coalesced into a burning orb with a deliberate slowness.  She would know he was calling her bluff, he wanted her to.  "Let us see you for what you truly are."  Flinging the orb at the woman, Merrick watched and waited for the inevitable to occur.

 

Her shield held against the flames as she knew it would.  She had been trained by the best after all and the Green Ajah didn't let fresh recruits out until they had proven their ablilty already.  She didn't hesitate as she sent a blade of air streaming towards his head.  It didn't reach it's victim any more than she thought it might, but it was always good to try before assuming anything.  She smiled politely at the man.  "Now then... this could be a little more interesting..."

 

"It could, but I doubt it."  Chuckling, Merrick drew his blade, common steel but more than effective for the purposes of gutting the woman should she choose not to surrender.  "Know that when you face me, you face Merrick Amaran, Lord of Dread and Chaos."  Laughing at that thought, Merrick shrugged.  "Its a little overdone I suppose, but given time I'm sure I'll round it out into something a little more modest.  Any last words before we begin and I make you kneel?"  Holding out his free hand, another ball of flame began to form as he smiled at the woman, this would not last long.

 

Aramina cocked her head as he spoke.  "I'm afraid oh Great Lord of.. i'm sorry.. what was it?  Oh yes... Lord of Dread and Chaos..."  She smiled at the title, not thinking much of the man for the sheer stpidity of the name.  "I'm afraid that I have no intention of kneeling.  It tends to ruin my dress you see and it has come all the way from the Borderlands with me.  I would be quite upset at ruining it."  She dropped the shield for only a moment to make an ice blade and send it against his shields.  Her came up instantly in case of counter attack.  "And you can address me as Aes Sedai."

 

"Aes Sedai?"  Laughing, Merrick shrugged off the ice blades against his wards as if they were nothing.  He had plenty of wards left, he would outlast her.  "Then let us see how you fare, servant."  Hurling the fireball at the woman, he began to conjure more attacks as he began his advance.  He would have her, that was all there was to it.  Either on his blade or on her knees, dead at his hand or at his mercy, that was what he had decided and that was the fate that the universe had decreed.  Not even the blows that landed on his wards could change that, would change it.

 

He began moving forward, but Aramina kept her position.  She would not retreat unless she had to.  Her shields were holding and she began throwing different weaves at him to test his defenses.  She was strongest in water and spirit so she kept to those elements, not wanting to waste her energy.  There was no need to show anyone what she could do.  She just needed to win. 

 

He continued to move forward but his attacks weren’t coming as close together as they had been.  His persistence made her take a few steps back.  She didn’t know if he knew how to use the weapon in his hand or not, but Aramina didn’t want to wait and test it.  She decided it was time to move and put more distance between them.  As she did so he threw another fireball. She dove out of the way, her shield still down from the last weave she had thrown at him.  The hem of her cloak caught and Aramina used a quick weave to put it out before her shield came back up. 

 

She took a deep breath and cursed herself for not getting the shield up quicker.  She ignored the feeling in her arm that meant perhaps she might have gotten more than her clothes singed.  She started with other things then.  Water pulled around his feet to create mud to slide on and slow his movements towards her, walls of air to push him backwards.  In the end, she felt her blows getting closer and closer so she came back with the air blades.         

 

His face contorted from the strain, Merrick snarled as he felt shoved back at the force that used his wards to force him back.  The ground before him was quickly turning to sludge as he tried to walk through it, she was trying to buy time!  He'd trained against female channelers before, but he didn't remember this many weaves slamming into his wards at once.  There would be no more play, he would close in and cleave her in twain.  If he could get close enough, it was too difficult to throw much into his attack as he bolstered his dwindling wards.  Using his free hand to loose his cloak from his shoulders so it wouldn't drag him back, he held his blade clear of the sludge so it wouldn't slow him down.

 

Clawing his way clear of it, Merrick would have laughed if it weren't so desperate.  His wards were failing but he could make it now, he was certain of it.  Charging forward at the woman, his sword raised high now so he could cleave through her, he spent the last of his energy abandoing his own wards as he lashed with pure spirit at her defences, to rip them down and clear the way for his blade so he co-

 

Screaming even as his blade fell to the ground, Merrick clutched at the stump where his swordhand had once been even as a solid mass of air struck him in the chest and knocked him onto his back.  A shield cutting him off from the one power, the pain of his amputation was all his own now even as he huddled on the ground, trying to stem the bleeding vainly with his free hand.  Sobbing from the pain, his next scream was a mixture of pain and anger, how did she manage to oppose his will?  He was chaos!  Looking up at her even as his face formed the visage of hate, he threw everything he had into trying to break the shield, clawing at the invisible barrier for saidin that lay beyond.  He would kill her for this.

 

He was battering away at the shield and Aramina took a deep breath as she steadied herself.  Her weaves of air wrapped around him, holding his arms fast to his side.  Her oaths didn’t allow her to take the next step but she would do it anyway.  If she were in the Tower and a male chaneller had been brought before them they would Gentle him.  Of course, in the Hall they wouldn’t have been attacked in the wild.  If she let the man go he would just go after her, she was certain of that.  He was insane enough with the One Power.  If she took it away, what would happen to him? 

 

“You should perhaps be grateful I am not a Red Sister.” She said as she moved closer, pulled her katana out.  “They would Gentle you then let you try to live with your madness.  I am not so cruel.” She said even as her blade struck the death blow.  “May the creator shelter you in his palm.” Her voice was calm and steady as she said it, then turned to wipe her blade clean. 

 

Observing, Rasputin Felar was cautious as he observed the power battle taking place between the female channeler and Adept Merrick.  The woman was holding her own, so he simply waited and watched to see if there was anyone else nearby.  He could always tip the scales in the woman's favour if he wanted to, but it was proven unecessary as she took his sword hand and sent him sprawling on the ground.  Watching as he rolled about on the ground, he knew that Merrick would be straining against the shield.  The man was nothing if not strong willed, it was just a shame that he had failed to temper that will with discipline, choosing instead to embrace his own desires and selfishness so completely that he ceased to be tolerable.

 

It was what happened next that surprised Rasputin to a degree, that the woman simply killed him without question.  Whose agent was she?  He had only arrived as the battle of the power had begun, he had missed any prelude to the combat if there indeed had been.  Was she a hunter?  Someone from one of the other Orders who had decided to end the man and his embarrassment?  Aes Sedai?  Kin?  There were others that would have their own interest in finishing a male channeler that was causing havoc and drawing too much attention.  But then, Merrick had been doing it for a reason other than his own pleasure, it just happened to be a bonus for the man no doubt.  But then, Rasputin had never entirely become comfortable with those who actually enjoyed what they did, they were...  unstable.

 

But necessary evils nevertheless, in a war against the Light, they had to take whatever advantage they could, even of those who had nothing but their own selfishness at heart.  But, it did present a problem, and one that he was going to solve right now.  Depending on who she was, Rasputin realised he might have to take care of her himself.  Unfolding the light so he became visible once more, Rasputin folded his hands in the arms of his robe even as he approached the woman, calling out to her.  "Impressive, Merrick was not one to fall easily."  That caught her attention.  "What is your name and what are you doing here?"

 

Aramina spun around as a new person came into the picture.  She still held the blade in hand but kept herself from holding in a defensive position.  He obviously knew the other man, but he could have been another hunter, like herself.  That he was impressed gave her nothing.  She did her job but that was all that could be said.  She was not proud of it.  In fact, she was rather annoyed that she’d had to take time out of her personal agenda to deal with this, but no matter what she had wanted her duty was clear.  And no one could say that Aramina sur Dulciena ever skirted her duty. 

 

It was disconcerting to find herself face to face with the strange man though.  She had not heard him even with her Power-enhanced hearing.  She saw no horse and his attire was strange, a black robe with gold symbols worked from shoulder to hem on both sides.  His face was hidden by the cowl which left her little to base any guess work.  She held onto the source just in case.  “I would ask the same of you stranger.  You can call me Mina, if you would be so kind as to return the favor?”  She didn’t know anything about the man, but civility won more allies than a harsh tongue.  She counted him as enemy for the time being though. 

 

Quirking his lips at her response, Rasputin should have guessed that whoever she was would wish to be cautious, but that wasn't really going to be acceptable.  All things considered, he hadn't completely dismissed the notion that this display could have been for his benefit to bring him out.  But Rasputin had his doubts about that, for all Merrick's faults and wrongheadedness, he would not have been expendable.  Not unless he had aggravated things to such a point where his faults had outweighed his benefits.  "You didn't answer my question, but I shall answer yours in a way."

 

Walking around the woman so he stood above Merrick, Rasputin looked up at her.  "Would you please step clear?"  Watching as she obliged him, Rasputin looked down at the man as he seized saidin to bend it to his will.  Levitating the man four feet in the air, Rasputin left him parallel to the ground so he would be easy to search.  Stepping close to the body, Rasputin proceeded to go through the man's pockets as he spoke, fully aware of the goosebumps that travelled across his skin.  "I have been hunting this man for sometime, him and his compatriots that are holed up somewhere in the area.  I'd advise you release the power as well, you might have had a ghost of a chance against me before, but after fighting Merrick you won't have the strength necessary."

 

"Now, I would advise you to tell me who you are and what you are doing here in full.  It isn't to your advantage to be withdrawn on the subject."

 

Aramina watched the man and though he made no move against her she was preparing what she would do next.  Her strength was close to gone but she couldn’t help but hold onto the Source when he was channeling so obviously in front of her.  His words made her pause though.  Could he tell that she was embracing it, or was he guessing? 

 

“I think you for the advice but I have no intention of releasing anything while you could be holding the Power within yourself.  I suppose we will just have to trust one another that we aren’t going to try to cut each other down, won’t we?”  An unpleasant prospect, but she didn’t have much choice. 

 

“As for my purpose, I was simply passing through the area and heard word of a male channeler in the area.  He was violent and insane.  I took it upon myself to locate him and make sure he stopped bothering the locals.  Perhaps you would now be so kind as to tell me your name?”  She asked in a pleasant voice, not showing signs that she was concerned about the male channeler, or the ‘compatriots’ he spoke of.

 

Sighing as the woman finished, Rasputin looked up even as he prepared the necessary weaves.  Blades of spirit flung at her to strip her of any wards she might have had left in place, he didn't hold back on the shield that he slid into place, cutting her off from the one power.  A simple weave of air was all it took to clip her behind her knees and put her on them, he had patience but not for childishness.  "I'm sorry, but considering the situation, that is far from acceptable.  Now, you have a very simple choice to make.  You can co-operate and we can proceed, or you can choose not to and I will be forced to be unpleasant.  Hmm."  The last directed as he found something in the man's breeches, Rasputin withdrew it to find a small leatherbound book.  Flicking it open, Rasputin began to study it as he waited for the woman to answer.

 

She disliked being manhandled, even more so when it was with the One Power.  She focused on that instead of the loss she felt as the shield had slipped in.  The fear that he would still her and she would never touch it again, that she might not live through the day.  Focus.  Focus on the matter at hand and the man who holds everything right now.  Not the welling panic. 

 

“I was trying to cooperate without any unpleasantness, but it seems we have different opinions of what is unpleasant.  I would call shielding someone when they have offered you no harm would be unpleasant, however I suppose I could overlook it since you seem to want something of me.  At least, I assume you do since you have me shielded and have not yet tried to kill me.”

 

"You assumed you were on equal footing with me when you were not, and now you are at my mercy.  Yet I do not kill without reason, which is the reason you are still alive.  But if you wish to remain an unknown, you will die as an unknown because I will not tolerate unknown interference in this matter.  So, you may either tell me who you are, or I shall remove a possible threat now."  Looking up at her, Rasputin closed the book and folded it within the arms of his habit before he continued searching the corpse.  Hopefully there would be more clues to be found upon Merrick's body.  "Last chance, this isn't a matter for negotiation so for the sake of your own life, I hope you do not persist in your stalling."

 

Aramina looked at the man for a moment before deciding what it was that he was asking about.  She didn’t know what to think of the man as he stood before her, finishing his search on the other man.    Something the dead man said came back to her then.  “Alright then.  Since you can’t seem to discern it for yourself, I am an Aes Sedai.  You would be the Scourge?” 

 

Smiling slightly, Rasputin was surprised that Merrick had used that name.  Still, it was better that he used one of his more ancient titles, and it might even be useful with this woman.  It would impress the seriousness of what was going on if nothing else.  "Yes I would."  Finishing his search of the man, Rasputin stepped clear and quickly set the man alight.  The fire burning quickly, the corpse was rendered to ash within the space of twenty seconds, the ashes as well as the smell of burnt flesh swept away by a breeze that Rasputin summoned even as he walked over to the woman.  "If you are Aes Sedai yet do not have an ageless face, then you would at least possess a serpent ring would you not?  Some form of proof for your claim?"

 

She took a deep breath but decided that with the claim out there the ring meant very little.  She fumbled lightly for the belt pouch that held her ring.  Pulling it out she put it back on her finger, making a show of it for him.  “Does that settle you to my claim?” She asked.

 

"My apologies, here."  Offering his hand, Rasputin helped the woman to her feet as she took his hand.  Reaching down and picking up her blade for her, he offered it to her hilt first as he spoke.  "Of course, now that I know that...  Well, we have a common concern, Merrick here isn't the only one that needs to be dealt with."  As the blade was taken from his hands, Rasputin folded his arms within his habit as he spoke.  "But, that really depends on you.  I could use your assistance, but I don't want to have to watch my back the entire time because you get it into your head that you can take the odds on alone.  Merrick was a fool and a heretic, the others are not nearly so foolish."

 

Offering his hand, Rasputin added.  "My name is Todaran, you may simply call me Tod.  A truce until we part ways?"

 

Aramina listened to his words with a sinking feeling in her stomach.  More like Merrick?  It was a sickening thought.  She thought about her chances of getting away and trying to let the White Tower know where these men were, but it wasn’t likely.  So her choice was to try to escape or to help this man and possibly die fighting against other mad men who could channel.  “Tod, is it?  A truce?”  She looked at him for a minute.  “I would agree to a truce, however I would like to know more about this assistance you need before I would agree to anything else.” 

 

Releasing her hand, Rasputin was blunt as he spoke.  "They were a circle of five, each of them particularly strong in one element, Merrick's element was fire.  There are three women and one man left.  Together they were planning to rebirth something that has long since been dead.  I caught up with them before, slew some of their followers before the circle fled.  Merrick clearly decided to go his own way, perhaps even did so in order to lure me here, he would have been crazy enough to think he could have taken me before I realized he was there.  They can't be allowed to continue, all four of them must die before they find another way to achieve their plans."

 

"So, I would ask you come with me, help me fight them and if necessary, link with me.  With your assistance, I reduce the risk to myself.  With my assistance, you will have a better idea of what you're up against and a chance to finish it now.  Now that Merrick is dead, it would be no longer than a week before they relocated and you would not find a trace of them.  You can leave if you want, there's no sense in killing you, but if I fail and am killed, I can guarantee you that you will not find them again."

 

Aramina watched him carefully as he spoke.  A circle of 4 others?  Against the two of them?  Perhaps with the element of surprise they could do it, but it would be a battle.  Unless Tod had more strength than the others.  She didn’t know but she didn’t see how she could say no.  She knew the truth of what he said though.  If she tried to come back with more Sisters, the others would be gone and it would be a bitter search. 

 

“I have only your word to trust in this matter so I must ask it.  Do you promise that you will not harm me, that our truce will last through this?  If you give that word, then I agree to help you against them.”

 

Smiling, Rasputin turned around and released the shield as he began walking over to her horse.  He doubted that she would be silly enough to reach for the power again after he'd cut her off but a few minutes earlier.  "I gave you my word the moment I shook your hand, Mina.  In the meantime, we have a bit of distance to cover."  Taking the reins of Aramina's horse that had wandered back, Rasputin turned to her and began to walk the horse over to her.  "I have a camp, there we'll have to sit down for awhile while I make my way through Merrick's journal.  From there we can plan our next move once I manage to figure it out."

 

She took the reins of her horse without hesitating, which was a rather amazing feat she thought.  She was walking alongside a male channeler, planning to go into a fight against four other channelers.  Three women who were not of the Tower, and one man.  She knew that it happened, that there were women in the world who learned to channel on their own, but usually any girl with any strength was taken to the Tower.  Were they too weak to make it to the shawl and had turned their disappointment into something darker?  Or had they always been darker?  A word formed in her head, one that she didn’t want to acknowledge but that she did all the same.  Dreadlords.  She wouldn’t know until she saw them though, until she could meet them face to face.

 

Steeling herself to her decision, she followed Tod silently, trying to get the measure of the man and to assess what she could.

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It hadn’t taken long to get to the cave, but Aramina was still uncertain about her host and the truce that they had called.  She had no reason to think he wouldn’t’ honor his word, but no real reason to trust him either.  He was a man that channeled, which meant he was mad or would soon be, but he had released the shield on her when he didn’t have to.  Which meant that he was either being honest, or he had other plans for her.  She couldn’t tell which, but she normally had a good feeling for people and nothing in his demeanor made her believe his words were untrue.

 

They made their way to a cave and Aramina noted the smoothness of the walls.  Power made.  Tod took both horses and led them away, leaving Aramina with a moment to look around the cave without being watched.  She didn’t know if he did it on purpose, or if he had simply been moving about with business but she appreciated the gesture none the less.  It was always better to assume the other’s action as intended.  It made things easier.  Plans could be adjusted if she overestimated him, but the same could not be said if she assumed the other way.

 

The cave wasn’t big but it was enough space for them.  She sat down near the back, something nagging at her.  It had been in the back of her mind but she hadn’t had the time to work it out.  Something about Tod… the Scourge.  His robes.  She looked around again, hoping something would ring a bell.  A war hammer sat propped up against the wall of the cave.  Not something she saw everyday.  Swords were common place in the Tower and especially in the Green Ajah where even their doors were decorated with weapons. 

 

The Scourge, with a War Hammer.  The Scourge of the Light.  But that wasn’t possible.  That man had died in the Trolloc Wars, if her memory served her right.  And yet she didn’t doubt his word.  When he was finished Aramina watched him walk back into the cave.  “So… you have the note book.  Do you know where we go next?” She didn’t ask when but she would need more time to recover from the first fight if she was expected to go into battle again.

 

"Not yet."  Setting Aramina's saddle down, Rasputin laid the saddlebags atop of them.  Looking about, he frowned as he realized that he had missed something when he had first made the cave early this morning before he went wandering, seats.  Gesturing to a section of the floor, a mass much like a gel arose from the earth and reformed to form a hard yet solid seat for him to sit down upon.  Taking his ease upon it, he caught the look that the Aes Sedai was giving him and he smiled.  He wasn't sure whether it was because of what he did, or the fact that he didn't provide a seat, but he decided to assume that it was the latter.  "My apologies, I wasn't thinking."

 

Gesturing to the space next to him, a similar seat arose that faced towards his own slightly.  With a twist of his lips he decided to create a globe of light, a hue of soft blue in order to spare his eyes.  There was natural light filtering into the cave, but he didn't want to hurt his eyes while he was reading.  Withdrawing the journal from the arms of his robe, Rasputin gestured to the seat next to him with a free hand as he tied off the globe and released saidin"Have a seat, depending on the cipher that Merrick decided to use, this might take awhile.  And do not fear, we will not be leaving today, regardless of where they are.  You'd endanger yourself needlessly without rest, and its not wise to simply blunder in and hope for the best when this might prove rather useful."

"So, how are you coping so far?" That question was met with silence, but Rasputin merely smiled as he continued.  "Its not everyday that an Aes Sedai finds herself in the presence of a Dreadlord who is by his very nature her enemy, yet doing so in order to hunt down others of his kind that are at the same time not his kind.  Also, if you're hungry the rations are just over there." Rasputin gestured without looking up to his left where his own saddlebags were.  "There are a few apples in there along with the dried meat and the like.  And I don't suppose you have a real name and title?  Something more substantial than Mina?  I realize that it must be awkward enough, but if you're a Red Sister I appreciate that it would be doubly so."

 

The comment brought a small smile to Aramina’s lips regardless of the situation.  He knew enough of the Ajah’s to understand the differences of color then.  “No, I am no Red Sister.” She said, barely managing to keep the humor from her voice.  “I am Aramina Sedai, of the Green Ajah.  And I suppose I am handling this well enough, though I find  it is not so much the presence of a Dreadlord that is shocking, but that I find myself trusting to your word.”  She gave a slight shrug as she got up from the floor.  She grabbed some of the food and took it to the seat he had provided, making sure she grabbed enough for him as well if he needed some.  He had been kind enough to offer after all.

 

Truth be told, that he would say Dreadlord so casually made her impression of who he was all the more certain.  And if she was right, then she might make it out of this alright.  The Scourge had been a great General for the Dark, but it was written that he had been an honorable enemy, one who kept his agreements and never stabbed people in the back.  She wasn’t ready to test that theory yet though.  “And I think you for the reassurance.  I had no intention of getting into another fight today.  I might be willing to assist you, but I am not willing to commit suicide.”

Chuckling, Rasputin nodded.  "Good, I prefer working with someone who uses their head, I didn't come here just to get myself buried six feet under.  First rule of any soldier, you're no use to anyone dead." Frowning as he paused, Rasputin muttered under his breath.  "Merrick was an idiot, I can't believe he used such a simple cipher.  Such careless pride, but then, that was why he turned out as he did I suppose.  So you know, I arrived not long after you began fighting him, it was the channeling that drew me actually.  You're going to need a few pointers for when you fight a male channeler, though with any luck that won't be necessary for you.  Merrick was their weakest, he didn't even merit the title of Dreadlord.  The others on the other hand have earned that title, they will all be more experienced at fighting female channelers than you.  But that is something we can address later today if you are interested.”

She decided then that Tod had a strange sense of humor.  He was a Dreadlord and yet he was offering to teach her how to fight against male channelers.  She thought this would be the oddest meeting of what she hoped would be a long career in the Green Ajah, but it was one that she would take advantage of if she could.  If a Dreadlord couldn’t teach her about the sort of tactics they would use against her, who would? 

 

She gave him a smile.  “By all means, teach away.  I’m afraid they don’t have many live Dreadlords lying about the White Tower to teach us with.  It’s mostly reading when it comes to them so the hands on experience is really quite valuable.”  And she decided then that the truth should come out now rather than later.  “But you’ve been around some time, haven’t you?” She asked.  “The Scourge? As in the Scourge of the Light, from the Trolloc Wars?”

"Correct." Rasputin didn't look up as he continued reading the book before him, but he did continue talking even as he studied Merrick's notes.  "I wasn't sure whether you would make the connection, it has been quite some time after all and I think you're the first Aes Sedai I've spoken to in, well, its been awhile.  You're certainly nicer than the last Green Sister I spoke to. But, the teaching.  Basically what I will teach you will not be that unlike the instruction that Red Sisters receive.  They learn how to anticipate where flows will come from because they cannot see the male weaves anymore than I could see yours.  So anticipation is key, both in laying your defences and intercepting the flows that cannot be seen.  More often than not, it degenerates into a struggle to see who can create more weaves, which was what happened with Merrick.  Fool thought he knew better, and not just with his training with the power."

He didn’t bat an eye at her recognition, but then again, would she in his place?  He was simply answering a question.  It meant that the Tower was wrong though, believing him to be dead for all these years.  She wanted to ask about it, but decided the manner at hand needed to be taken are of first.

“Merrick.  Was he insane, or just a fool?”

 

Rasputin shook his head, insane was not what Merrick had been.  The fact that he had been dangerously sane about what he was doing was what made him all the more a disgrace in his eyes.  Merrick had been possessed of the same disease that he had first uprooted with his return, a dangerous heresy that had needed to be expunged.  It had been a shame to see him take it up, but then, his character had been flawed to begin with so he should have perhaps anticipated it.  "He was not insane, and as much of a fool as he was, that was not nearly as dangerous as his true sin that had led to everything else.  "He was a heretic."

 

“A heretic?”  That was an odd thing to say and it made her realize how little she knew about what she was getting herself into.  “How so?”

"He perverted the teachings of Ayende dyu'shadar to justify his own excesses.  To serve chaos is not to be without restraint.  To champion chaos is to attempt to address the disjunction, the imbalance that has resulted in this stagnant existence.  Instead, he and his fellows feel that they know better and feel they can act without permission and against instruction.  Destruction and creation are both within the realm of chaos for they are change, to be done when necessary in order to upset ordered existence.  But they seek to simply destroy without reason, to embrace their own powers as a mandate to do what they feel is right without any discipline."  Frowning as if he had eaten something sour, Rasputin added with a dry tone.  "If it wasn't already apparent, I have a particular dislike for them."

 

“I had noticed it.  I think I rather agree with you.”  The idea of destruction and chaos as a part of the whole was not a new thought, not ever to her.  Life and death were the same cycle and there could be nothing without both.  She didn’t know there was a part of the Shadow that believed in that sort of thing though.  Nor did she know that there were various factions within the Shadow that fought over beliefs.  It was good to know.  Often times it was the withering away from the inside, rather than the outside, that did the most good. 

 

“And what do you stand for?” she asked.  And her interest was not feigned in the least.  Who knew how old the man really was, but it was a chance to learn more about an enemy she had been fighting all her life, even before she had known what an enemy was.

"Me?  Careful, at this rate I'm not going to be some faceless Dreadlord in need of smiting."  Smiling whimsically, Rasputin decided he might as well tell her.  After all, it wasn't as if Ayende dyu'shadar wasn't recorded within the Tower.  Probably more as a curiosity than anything else, it hadn't held a large following for well over a thousand years, not since his days in fact.  Days that marked the beginning of the corruption of the path.  "Order and Chaos are the 'Creator' and the Great Lord of the Dark respectively.  We live in a fractured reality, existance needs both order and chaos in equal measure to be whole as much as both saidin and saidar drive the pattern.  I believe that Chaos must be freed from the Bore, and instead of remaking the world in his own dark image, reality shall be restored to what it was.  Well, thats it in its most simplistic form at least."

Philosophy from a Dreadlord.  “I do appreciate the simplistic form, what with me being Aes Sedai and all and my lack of proper education.”  Why was she finding it almost impossible not to smile at the man? 

 

Laughing, Rasputin had to admit, she was adjusting quickly.  "You're ignorant to a belief that is well over two thousand years old, I thought I would start with a summary.  But I can always talk more about it, it wouldn't be the first time I've proselytised.  Ever thought about converting?  But, to expand upon the summary.  Ever wondered why there are only ever seven ages?  Why we repeat the same wars and crimes over and over again?  Why is it whenever a ta'veren appears, they cause such chaos whenever they appear yet they are agents of the pattern and the light?  Every major ta'veren in known history has brought with them a good deal of destruction, look at Artur Hawkwing for example.  Events conspired around his ability unconsciously working the pattern so he ended up becoming the High King of the Westlands.  You can't say you've ever pondered why these things occur?"

“No, I can’t say I’ve been too worried about such things.  Ta’veren are not my line of study, though I would say that the world only receives ta’veren when there is a great deal of change needed quickly.  Human nature as a whole revolts against change.”  She said.  “But that is a very simple view on the whole as well.  I’m sure we could debate the details until the cows come home, but I don’t think we’re likely to reach an agreement.  If we were, you’d be on my side of things, wouldn't’ you?” 

 

Chuckling, Rasputin shook his head.  "Human beings are the exact opposite.  Human beings are progression, they are change.  We aren't like animals that slowly evolve and change like horses or deer.  We actively change everything around us.  Where there is wilderness, we create cities and farms, we discover more and more ways to manipulate what surrounds us in both science and the one power.  When you've lived long enough, you can appreciate that while people may not change, they do have the capacity to do so with the right motivation and some people tap that potential.  They are the ones that lead everyone else forward.  The reason it is important is because human beings require reason, hopefully reasonable reason, to act as they do."

 

"For example, I fight because I think that we are locked into repeating our mistakes endlessly.  That while we naturally have a capacity to change, the Wheel and the Pattern use Ta'veren as a tool to address to much change, to force conformity.  Hence, when we repeat every age, we naturally do things differently.  But when it has gone on for long enough, the wheel will spit out a Ta'veren to correct the differences to bring it more into line with what was when the age first occurred.  In my eyes, you fight to maintain the status quo, to perpetuate a fractured existence.  I, on the other hand, seek to heal the rift by seeking the victory of the Great Lord and his release."  Rasputin was fairly sure that was not what Aramina had expected to hear.  "Not what you expected?"

 

It wasn’t the first time she had given vent to her beliefs in the faults of the human nature, however it was the first time she had been found to be the pessimistic one in a conversation with a Dreadlord.    “A person can and will change and does so often.  But people build cities because they themselves don’t want to change.  The difference being the mass mentality as opposed to an individual’s free will.  But no, it was not what I expected to hear.  I would not look to the Dark One for healing, no matter what the matter.  Death and life might go hand in hand, but they are not one and the same.”

 

Nodding, Rasputin agreed with the last thing that Aramina had said.  "Death and life are certainly not the same, but as you pointed out they do go hand in hand.  The problem is that Order and Chaos are both sides of the same coin, except that chaos has been shaved off the coin so there is only Order.  Well, there is limited chaos, 'tamed' or 'ordered' is how it would be described.  But, I doubt we're going to convince each other today, that and I do believe I think I have a bit of a handle on this journal."

 

Closing it, Rasputin dropped it on his lap as he sighed, he couldn't believe they were so stupid but it was clear that he was wrong.  They had abandoned their plan for one a good deal more reckless, and one that was going to earn them their doom thrice over.  How they had even learned of it was beyond him, but if they were going to pursue their plan then they would have at least several days.  Unless the journal revealed where they were holed up, and he was beginning to doubt it would, then at least he knew where they were going.  "If I have read this right, and I believe I have...  They are going to try and awaken Her."

 

“Her?”  Aramina wasn’t sure who this ‘Her’ was but there was something about the way he said it that made her understand this wasn’t going to be pretty if it happened.  Which may or may not make things pretty for her if she was caught in the middle of it, depending on who ‘her’ was.  “Who is ‘Her’, what do you mean by awaken, and what happens if they succeed?”   

 

"If they succeed, everything is lost."  Troubled, Rasputin wasn't sure how much he could say.  There were some things that would most certainly have to be told, but other things could not.  Secrets that could not be given, always hidden, things that were not for most be they servants of the Light or Dark, to know.  "Let us say that there was once a woman of great power.  Let us also say that, despite everything, the Shadow has its own prophecies, are own markers that guide our actions.  They tell us when it is time to make war, when to remain at peace.  Let us then say that she wanted to disregard the prophecies, she wanted to make war when war was not necessary."

 

"She tried to perform a coup, she challenged the powers of her time and she was barely subdued.  For her crime and her betrayal, she was bound within a Tower.  She is condemned to live within it eternally, unable to die and unable to escape." Hesitating, Rasputin added.  "If she is released, there is a good chance she could take power.  If she does, then I can guarantee you that there will be war.  Your nations will be ravaged, your people put to the sword and many will die needlessly."

 

It wasn’t hard to believe a coup could happen in the ranks of the Shadow, nor that it was kept hidden from the rest of the world.  She wondered what sort of person she was though, to want to wage war for no reason though.  Aramina had been training for war since she had stepped foot in the White Tower, but it had never been for her own purposes.  She fought for something bigger than herself, something noble. 

 

It crossed her mind that Tod could be lying about it all, that the journal could be saying something else entirely, but after the way the other man had acted, she could believe it of him.  Madness and ambition we’re the best of mates though they did seem to go together far too often in her opinion.

 

“Another good reason for us to hurry this along then and find your friends, before they find what it is they are looking for.  Where are we heading?”

"The Tower." Sagging in his chair, Rasputin knew it was going to be problematic.  But he had been charged with resolving this, his master was otherwise occupied and would not be able to deal with this.  He wasn't even contactable now, it would be in his hands ot take care of it.  The Aes Sedai would be a good way to tilt the odds in his favour, something that would be necessary since it seemed the other four were together.  "We have a week to find it.  I know where it is, but we are within six days travel, we should be fine.  There is little point in setting out for a couple of days anyway."

 

“The Tower?” That was helpful.  She was hoping he’d at least give her a general idea.  If she was supposed to be helping him he could at least trust her enough to give her that much.  If something happened to him, it would be up to her to find the others and deal with them alone.  She eyed him for a moment and decided it wouldn’t be best to press that matter now. She’d have time if they were headed for a journey. 

“Why can’t we set out for a few days though?  If we need to be there in a weeks time, shouldn’t we be preparing to leave?” She asked.

 

"Its not just a simple case of traveling to it."  This was something that could have been kept hidden, but it was unlikely that she would be able to learn much from it except that some of the Shadow's channelers had exceptional abilities.  She would discover that when they caught up with the rogue Dreadlord circle as it was.  "The Tower has certain weaves surrounding it that make it very very difficult to find.  The most important one of these is the fact that it cannot be seen.  The sole exception to this is when the full moon is out, under its light the Tower is revealed.  So, we have ten days."

“How-“ she stopped before the other words could form on her lips.  The man wouldn’t tell a secret like that even if he knew it.  She would have to view it herself to see what he was talking about, if this was in fact true and not just some bit of legend that she was finding herself mixed into. 

 

She took a deep breath to think about it before speaking again.  “Right.  So, we’ve got an invisible Tower to get to, only we won’t be able to see it for another 10 days when the full moon is upon us.  Which means we are stuck here, holed up until it’s time to move out?  I think I would prefer to track the others and follow them until we can catch up.”

Rasputin shook his head, the Aes Sedai might have had a preference for that option, but that was exactly what they weren't going to do.  "Track them?  Merrick was a fool, his fellows on the otherhand are not.  All of them are well experienced, and if we were to find a hint of them it would be because they were wanting to be found, and their trap would be a good deal more subtle than Merrick's.  It would be better for us to pick our own battlefield, we get to the Tower before they do and we wait there.  If they want to try and unlock the Tower, they will then have to go through us at a place we dictate."

 

His version seemed safer, especially against the numbers but she didn’t entire trust that what he wanted would work out best for her.  Light, how did she end up in this mess?  She was supposed to be out and about at her own business, not hoping for tidbits from a DarkFriend that may or may not be forthcoming.  He could be planning on getting ahead of them and trapping them, but he could also be trying to slow her down to keep her from getting to the others. 

 

She threw aside the second thought, knowing that he’d had his chance to take her out of these events for good and had passed on it.  Still, knowing they were well trained was something she hadn’t known before.  Trained for what, she didn’t want to know.  "So what would you suggest our next course of action be?”   

"Rest."  Looking over at her, his face was hidden by the shadow of his cowl save for a simple smile.  Rasputin was fairly sure that they would have a couple of days, then they would set out and take some paths that he was fairly certain the others wouldn't know.  Then again, they should never have known of the Tower in the first place, maybe he would have the chance to extract the truth out of them later.  "You've had a tough power melee, you need your strength back."

 

Stretching his arms out before him, he rested them on the arms of the seat as and laid his head back as he spoke.  "In the meantime, I might take a moment as well.  Later on, we'll see how sharp your skills are with the power.  If you need anything, like a bed or a table, you may as well ask now because I can make those easily enough."

 

A smile crept up on her lips at his words.  It was rather incredible to be having this conversation and she wondered at times if she was still asleep, dreaming the whole thing.  “Yes, I suppose I do need to recover.  However,  I am interested in your desire to test me.” She said.  “I find it hard to think in this situation without thinking double.  Truth or lie.  Honest, or false.  Like I could think you wish to learn my skill before going into battle together, or perhaps you wish to wear me down again to keep my strength from returning.”  It was all said with the same smile on her face.  “And yes, I would appreciate a bed if you don’t mind.”  The thought of him channeling something like that made her shiver slightly but she paid it no  mind.

 

Focusing as he grasped saidin, the earth flowed until it formed a cot.  A simple enough task for him, Rasputin decided to wrap air on the top, hardening threads of air yet making them limber.  It would make it a touch more comfortable than if it were simply the stone slab in itself.  Something for her to discover when she tested it.  "That should do it.  As for learning your skill, I observed your combat with Merrick.  No doubt it is not the full extent of your ability, but you are not the first Aes Sedai I have encountered.  But, such things are irrelevant, a truce is a truce is it not?"

 

Aramina nodded.  “Old habits die hard.” She said as she crossed to the bed.  She sat on the edge and found that it was softer that she would have thought.  Looking at it, she realized her hand didn’t quite sit on the rock as it should have.  An air weave on top?  It was a thoughtful gesture and one she wouldn’t have thought of herself.  She’d have to remember to try it for herself on future nights. 

 

“Thank you.” She said with a smile.  “Perhaps it is the curse of the Oaths, to assume that everyone that hasn’t spoken them is bound to lie to you.  Or perhaps it is the habit of one whos life revolves around others who speak the truth and still lie.”  She was growing rather accomplished at it herself actually, but she didn’t think he needed to hear her admit it just then.

 

"Perhaps."  Rasputin was of the opinion that the oath rod had been a waste of time.  But then, if his opposition chose to cripple themselves with useless oaths that accomplished nothing except inherently weakening them, then that was their own fault.  The very idea of binding themselves to always telling the truth, yet still using deception and trickery in their dealings, it only served to make them greater liars to begin with.  But then, that was the way of the Light, a deception that all people needed to wake from.  Nothing was ever as simple as good and evil, only the simple were silly enough to believe that.

 

She didn’t comment again, sensing a bit of reluctance on her partner’s behalf to take that line of conversation any further than it had gone.  It would have been interesting to hear his thoughts on her Sisters, but perhaps before the journey was over they’d have the discussion.  For now, it was enough to know that she’d be with him a few more days to learn of him and his kind.  And as exhausting as her fight had been, she wasn’t going to fight it any longer.  Settling herself down on her bed made of saidin she smiled at the other man and said a quiet “Good night.” Before allowing herself to fall asleep. 

 

 

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"Wait."

 

Holding up his hand before him, Rasputin looked at the narrow path before him carefully before taking three steps forward.  Holding his hands before him, he seemed to be feeling for something within the narrow corridor of earth and stone.  A path only six feet wide, the walls rose up either side of them at a slight angle, seemingly natural in their shape but in reality, simply worn with time.  It had been approachinga millenia since the path had first been hewn by the power through the rock, they were also the first to walk it as the ward before him was clearly undisturbed.  Letting his hands fall to his sides, Rasputin gestured for Aramina to follow.

 

"Come, just stand over there would you?"  Taking a few steps forward even as Aramina obliged him, Rasputin restored the ward before taking the lead once more.  They had passed through several checkpoints, not the only way to approach the Tower but it was the easier way, the path he had been taught.  At least they had passed by the last checkpoint, now it was only a good mile or more, and with the sun setting they were well on schedule.  With any luck, the others would not have arrived before them.

 

The Great Lord's luck was theirs as they exited the narrow pathway into a small area no more than a couple of hundred feet in diameter, carved into the side of the mountain.  Yet it was not simply a barren place.  Indeed, the only way the place could be described was green.  All manner of trees, bushes, shrubs and flora could be found.  Rich in life, bees that Rasputin knew to be without sting floated about the area without a care or concern for the new arrivals, much like the birds that littered the place.  But then, there were few limits to the one who had wrought the work before them.  Rasputin knew that this place remained the same the year round, irregardless of the rest of the world, this place remained an untouched eden, something that would change tonight.

 

Rasputin looked over at Aramina who seemed somewhat surprised by what surrounded her, she clearly hadn't expected this if her face was anything to go by.  Choosing not to comment, he instead began walking to the cliff face to the right of him, working his way around the garden so he could get to the other end where the natural opening to the area was to be found, the place where the circle would approach from.  He could sense nothing, no trace of them, but he wanted to be sure nevertheless, and set up a few surprises for them when they arrived to nullify any preparations they may have made themselves.

 

The other’s hadn’t made it before them and Aramina was relieved even as she turned her eyes to the scenery.  It was a beautiful place, a garden unlike any other she’d seen before.  She would have preferred to lay back and enjoy it for a few minutes, but they had come here for a reason. Besides, in the fading light she wouldn’t be able to enjoy it for long anyway. 

 

She followed Tod as he worked, not sure what to do just yet.  She hated waiting.  Too much of her life had been waiting and this had been right up that alley.  Part of her had wanted to rebel a bit against her Dreadlord  but the other part knew that what he had been doing was important.  Still, it had been tough at times to not want to pull the rug out from under him.  He was a Dreadlord and she Aes Sedai after all.

 

Still a truce was a truce and she had no honest desire to fight with Tod.  He’d been a gentleman and a considerate one at that.  She smiled as she watched him moving.  “Have you seen any sign of them?” She asked in case saidin had been used close by.

 

"No."  The wards were unbroken, that much was good to know.  In addition that, he could sense no one holding the one power, which meant they weren't nearby.  They'd still have some challenges to overcome before they arrived and for that they would need the power to do it.  Holding his arms before him, he used them as foci for his weaves as he began to spin a number of traps and weaves that would go off the moment someone holding the power crossed them.  Their holding of the power would ignite the weaves that would probably not kill them, but it would weaken their defences considerably and put them on the back foot.

 

"I'll also ask you not to take hold of the one power here, you will give away our position.  Also, don't walk infront of me.  I'm placing a few presents for the circle when they arrive."  He would have to give them a chance to surrender, if for no other reason than the fact that he wanted to know who had tipped them off to the Tower.  There were only a very few that could have done it, or perhaps it was some lost piece of material.  Either way, it had to be eliminated.  "They aren't close yet, we have time."

 

Aramina nodded as she watched him.  It had been so long since she’d been unable to see someone working a weave that it made her intrigued by what he was doing.  She could tell he was working, but she could see none of the handiwork as he moved along. 

 

She hadn’t planned on alerting anyone to her presence there and if they others came to the circle thinking they were alone, or that Tod was alone, the better for them.  “Good.  Anything I can do to help?” She asked quietly, not wanting to disturb the peacefulness of the area until they had to.

 

"Not really, no."  Well, there was, but Rasputin didn't want to link with her.  She would then be able to see how her flows were directed, and even though he'd given her a few tips about fighting male channelers that any Red Sister could have, he wasn't about to broach some of the more intimate secrets that Dreadlords had kept for centuries.  "I don't mean to offend, but your weaves would stick out like a sore thumb because you haven't had to do this before.  Well, unless you've had some previous adventure with this sort of thing."  The voice wasn't condescending, simply calm.

 

His calm was irritating.  As much as she had somehow grown to like the man, Dreadlord or no, she wanted something to do and being told that she was a novice in this area was irksome.  Even coming from a man that was older than dirt. 

 

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath to calm herself.  Her nerves were just on edge from the long travel and waiting.  It was the calm before the storm and she was feeling it today.  She had knowingly walked into a battle with a Dreadlord against 4 other channelers.  She didn’t truly think Tod would turn on her in this fight, but she couldn’t rule it out completely either.  Wanting him to be a good person didn’t make him so, Dreadlord part aside.

 

“Maybe I should just take a nap.” Was her snide comment as she continued to focus on her breathing to steady herself.

 

"That doesn't befit you."  It wasn't the nap that Rasputin was refering to.  Even though he knew the little snippy comment was because of her nerves, he decided not to let it get out of hand.  Simple point of command, never let those working under your direction lose their calm, and Aramina's was beginning to slip.  "Wishing they were here isn't going to make them appear any faster, and you should never be too eager to fight.  Thats been the ruin of enough of my opponents for me to know the truth of it.  Relax, what happens happens after all."

 

She ignored his comment about what fit her or not.  She wasn’t a child and he certainly wasn’t her teacher.  Light knew she’d had some odd teachers in her time, but who would ever believe her if she added a Dreadlord to the bunch?  And who would ever trust her again? 

 

She took another breath to calm herself.  He was right about the eagerness.  Not that she was looking forward to the fight exactly.  It was more to the point that she was eager to have it done, but after a week of travel he still didn’t know who she was, nor how she would deal with this. 

 

Instead of answering his comments she opened her eyes and looked around.  “What is this place?” She asked, hoping to distract herself.  “I don’t think I’ve ever been in a garden like this one before.”

 

Noticing the deliberate change in topic, Rasputin took a moment to consider his words.  After all, he had to be sure not to betray certain aspects to the situation, at the same time he needed to tell her other parts to it.  Things that would perhaps help her understand without understanding, perhaps lead her to be more inclined to remain silent about this once it was done.  "The Tower is here.  Its been centuries since this place was carved from the rock to accomodate both the Tower and the Garden.  It is here she remains, and shall remain.  Such is the danger of her ever being loosed."

 

Aramina looked around, trying to see where the Tower would be, but there was nothing to indicate it.  No obvious clearing where a Tower would be, no shadows thrown.  She didn’t doubt his word, but it was hard to believe a Tower stood close by but nothing gave it away.  It truly was invisible.  “Why is she such a danger?  Where did she get all this power that you keep talking about?”

 

Finishing with his work, Rasputin released the one power as he turned to Aramina.  She still seemed a bit awed by the place, and he didn't blame her.  The place possessed an architect's touch, and on the odd occasion when he thought of this place, he wondered whether it had been like this in an Age past.  But then, he'd learned not to speak about such matters often as well, particularly a matter such as this.  "She was an exceptionally strong wilder, stronger than me and with a skill that would put your Tower to shame.  She was one of the most powerful M`aeshadar we have known, and she had a will to match it.  Added to some of the items she had collected, she was a formidable force.  Add to that her followers and how easily she could gather more, she was a danger."

 

“And you think if she is awakened that she will be able to make the same sort of pull for her followers?  That they will still flock to her as before?”  She asked.  “What of your friends?  Will they suspect you are coming to stop them, or will you surprise them tonight?”

 

"She will be worse."  That much was true, Rasputin knew that her only mistake beforehand had been underestimating the one who had overcome her.  Thought to surprise him, overwhelm him, but she hadn't anticipated his resistance.  "Before, when she tried to take power she tried to do so with only her closest confederate."  Her son.  "He was killed and she in turn was subdued.  It was mercy that led to her being sealed away her, rather than vengeful anger."

 

Aramina looked around, trying to picture it.  Her closest confederate?  A lover perhaps?  Or a warrior?  Someone she admired and looked up to?  Or someone she was willing to throw to the wolves?  He could call it what he wanted, but Aramina knew what it was like to be alive after the most precious thing in her world had died.  Keeping her alive here wasn’t mercy, it was cruelty.  She thought of Nat, and refused to think of the other name, the one that screamed in her heart to be heard.  Her heart began sinking slightly.  She didn’t like this at all.  “What is this place?” she asked.

 

"A prison."  Pausing a moment, Rasputin added.  "A shrine."  That got a look from her.  Gesturing for her to follow him, he began to walk as he sketched the story as generally for her as he could.  There wouldn't be names, but there would be understanding that he would give in a strangely subdued voice.  "The mercy wasn't for any reason.  She attacked ambushed a very specific man, her husband.  If she killed him, or at least subdued him, she could have taken the reins of power.  When he defended himself, killing her assistant and subduing her, despite her betrayal he couldn't kill her.  So he trapped her here instead, forever bound.  Perhaps after the Last Battle he will free her, but I am not sure if he will ever forgive her for her treachery because of who fought alongside her."

 

The inevitable question came next, of who her confederate had been.  Silent for a moment, Rasputin answered her.  "Their son."

 

His voice changed and she wondered how this had affected him, how the lives he spoke of interconnected with his.  Her voice was quiet when she asked a single question.  “Who was her husband?”

 

“My Master.”

 

There was something in his voice that made any more questions unspeakable.  She didn’t know who his master was, nor how this had all come to pass, but she knew it would stay with her for a very long time.  She tried to imagine life in a Tower like that, alive but isolated for everything because of someone you loved.  She wasn’t sure she could, but it had an insane sort of appeal, to leave the world and all it’s pain behind.  She took a deep breath as she looked around at the garden around her.  “I’m sorry.” 

 

He didn’t comment, but nodded his head.  Aramina looked up in the sky, wondering where the woman was and if her Tower was a comfort to her after all these years, or if her life had become nothing more than the Garden around her, a shrine to the dead.

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It was a quiet dinner, some conversation but none of it particularly meaningful, and topics shied away from what was going to happen.  Rations were all well and good, but when there was fruit to be picked it, it was an easy choice on their part.  Apples, oranges, pears, grapes, simple things to settle the stomach and stave off hunger while they waited.  Rasputin couldn't have said how the Aes Sedai was dealing with it, but as for himself he was simply sitting and meditating.  There were easy ways to clear the mind, of both anxiety and doubt.  Such things were easy for him to contain after centuries, a proof that man could change and adapt, he'd come a long way since the very first man he had killed.

 

As time had passed and the sun had set, the time when the Tower would reveal itself drew nearer.  It would be sometime yet though, while the open face of the garden didn't face into the west, it would still be a couple of hours until the full moon found the verdant garden and revealed its secret.  As time passed, Rasputin contemplated asking a question that he had thought to leave until after everything was said and done, but he knew that there was always the chance that things could turn against him.  If they did and she survived, then perhaps it would be wise to discuss the matter on his mind now.  It was something that weighed on him as the moon's ascension drew closer and there was still no sign of the circle.

 

Perhaps now was the time.

"I have a question."  Breaking the silence, Rasputin paused for a moment before speaking, choosing his words carefully.  "You now know of the Tower, and why it was wrought even if you do not know the specifics or the names.  I wonder, should we both survive, or if you do and I do not, what do you plan to do with this knowledge?  And why?"

The day was slowly drifting by, too slowly for an Aes Sedai waiting for a fight, but Aramina passed the time as best she could.  As always, she tried to think of her training in the Tower, of her time with Jaydena learning the weaves that only a Green Sister was ever taught, of the sword and everything Orion, Alric, and a dead friend had ever taught her.  It was easier to pass the time, her mind in the forms even if her body wasn’t, than to sit and think about what was to come.

 

Her contemplation was brought to an end as the other man spoke to her.  She wiped her hands of cheese crumbs, made much more delicious by the addition of fresh fruit, then looked up at him.  What would she do?  It was something she hadn’t been able to answer yet.  She knew what she should do, but at the same time, what should and what would be done were often different things.

 

“I’m not sure.” She said honestly.  “I should report back to the White Tower with what I’ve learned so that the Amyrlin may decide the fate of such a place.  But my heart says that to destroy such a place is a desecration.” She smiled then, sadly.  “The woman inside must not awaken and thus logic says she must be destroyed.  Even you believe she must not awaken.” 

"I do believe she should not awaken."  Rasputin agreed, that much was true.  But there was more to it than that.  "The problem is that the Tower cannot be destroyed.  Even with a circle I could not destroy it, only crack it open, which is the aim of this circle that we have come to stop.  The moment she was released...  You could have a hundred sisters here and she would escape you all, and that is what I fear if the Tower learns of this place."

Musing on his words, Rasputin continued.  "The problem is that if you tell anyone of this, you must trust them not to make the wrong choice.  What if they think they can handle this and act rashly?  I can tell you now, you will never be allowed near this Tower again, nor will any of your sisters.  This place should have remained lost, and it is beyond me how this circle discovered it to begin with.  I suppose, more than anything, I am asking you to remain silent about this place.  Not only to keep everyone safe from misguided greed or hubris, thinking that they can handle what lies within, but also because this place was meant to remain untouched for a reason.  I have no desire to fight you, but after this matter is done and they are dealt with, I will escort you from this place and afterwards expect you not to return.  To return would force a confrontation that needn't happen."

 

Aramina nodded as he spoke.  It was why she was of two minds about it.  She was a young sister and she knew that there were plenty that would see what she was thinking as treason.  But they weren’t here and this was her choice.  Would the White Tower let this place remain?  No, it couldn’t.  The threat that it possessed was far too great, but she believed Tod as well.  If she and her Sisters came back it would be handled badly.  She had been around enough to see that.  She thought of the Green Ajah coming to a place like this and trying to destroy it.  She hated it.  She hated this situation entirely and was wishing for the hundredth time that she hadn’t taken the time out of her schedule to follow after some mad channeler.  She should have just sent a message to the Red Sisters to deal with it. 

 

She sighed then.  “True words, which make my choice all the harder.” She admitted.  “I do not wish to see this place destroyed.  And I doubt the Tower’s ability to see the need to leave it in peace.  Would you send me word if you learned of her escape?” She asked, uncertain of how this would be taken.  “I am not asking you to betray your ideas, just to tell me so that I can prepare my Sisters.  If she is what you say she is, you would need help subduing her before she could tip the balance in the opposite direction.  You are asking me to keep my peace about this place.  I am asking you to tell me should my faith in your protections go astray.”

 

"I would give you my word, but there is a problem." Rasputin chuckled, there always was, but this one was a genuine one.  "If she escapes, I'll be one of the first people she comes after, and I will either have to serve her or die.  Since faith is not something that can be abandoned, I suspect I would be dead before I could find you.  Besides, once this business is done, I am fairly certain that the few wards that are here shall not only be renewed, but many more shall be seeded throughout the area to make sure none can even come close without being revealed.  Only a few were made so that someone wouldn't randomly stray across it.  That mistake won't be made twice, a-  Look up."

Smiling slightly, Rasputin pointed to the area behind Aramina as a large area began to shimmer.  Like water on the lake, a half vision of reflection and what lay beneath overlapped, growing stronger as the illusion that had existed weakened and the tower made itself visible.  Whiter than the purest snow, it loomed for over sixty feet in the air, a minaret of simple beauty loomed well over two hundred feet in the air.  Seemingly a single block of stone, there were no cracks or marks of normal construction.  A tower made of the one power, the shimmering gradually desisted until the mirage that hid it evaporated altogether.

 

Aramina looked up at his instruction, turning so that she could see better.  The illusion that held the Tower slowly began to unravel, and it was beyond a doubt the most beautiful thing she had ever experienced.  She took a deep breath and reached out unconsciously to touch Tod’s arm.  The beauty of it was the serenity of the gardens, the white tower that stood out sadly against the moon’s caress.  It made her ache to see such a thing, to know the death and grief that touched this place.  It touched her as well and images of her dead flashed before her eyes.  A shrine to all those lost in battle of one kind or another. 

“I…  it’s beautiful.” Her voice was soft as she spoke.  She was already thinking about what would happen next, that the others would come soon and the fight would begin, but for now, she allowed herself a moment to admire the serene beauty.   

 

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Jacob!"

 

Emerging from behind a particularly large tree while he called out to the party that approached, Rasputin unfolded his arms from the sleeves of his robe and let them hang loosely at his sides.  His appearance was enough to make the party that had nearly strayed into his wards pause, unaware of what waited no more than two feet before them.  But for now he wanted to see if he could talk them down, salvage them, perhaps offer amnesty in exchange for the source of their information.  Well, maybe not an amnesty, but a quick death would be a kindness considering the crimes they had already committed and what would be done to them for breaking one of the oldest laws.

 

The four were already holding the one power, but Rasputin didn't let that trouble him as he kept walking until he stopped at a distance of thirty feet away.  He was already holding the power himself and weaving wards around himself as he spoke.  "You will not proceed further, any of you.  Submit and tell me how you came to know of this place, and I will give you a quick release.  If you resist, then you can only hope to escape the punishment that awaits you by dying at my hand."

 

"You don't really offer much of a choice.  What do you think girls?"  Rasputin frowned at Jacob who was grinning at him as he threw his hands wide.  "Death or death?  I think I'd rather take my chances with Her, at least she isn't content with cowering in the shadows.  You and your Master, all of you, you think you know so much better.  If you do, then why are we still no further towards victory than when the Breaking first occured?  Well?  Go on, why don't you give us your speech about the importance of prophecy and the right timing."

 

"You have no patience, and it is the fool that rushes their opponent."  Rasputin knew he had to moderate his words, considering his compatriot was hidden amongst the trees to the right and listening, but there were some things that could be said easily enough without betraying anything.  "Change can only be brought when the pattern is under stress, and we have a map of when those times are.  We use these and stick to the plan, but you know better don't you?  Know better than any of us like she thought she did, well, go on then.  Why make our move now?  Teach me."

 

"Instruct the mighty Scourge?  How could I hope to do such a thing?"  The mocking tone had no effect on Rasputin, but Jacob continued without a need to be prompted.  "You're the one that says that man is the agent of change, yet you allow yourself to be bound by system that is no less different than that of the Light.  We should be without constraint, possessed only of restraint when necessary.  We can be better than any of these things, Light and Dark, we can make our own way, and you will not deny us our right to do so."

 

"You place yourself above our duty to heal the disjunction?  You disappoint me."

 

"Save your sanctimonious self justifications and enough with this.  For the sake of the past, I will give you this one chance to step aside.  You are outnumbered four to one, there is no chance that you can deflect all of our weaves and kill us before we rip down your wards and finish you.  Walk away, or better yet, serve.  She will bring change, she will destroy both prophecies, we will free ourselves.  It isn't too late."

 

Silent for a moment, Rasputin lifted his palms up in supplication as he spoke, hidden threads strung within them as he said his final words to them.  "It is too late for you are too early.  I'm sorry that you weren't able to appreciate that, but now that you have made your choice, I have made mine.  To the end!"

 

Lightning dancing between his hands as it began to coalesce into an evershifting ball of energy, a series of thunderous detonations sounded as the dreadlords attempted to approach, triggering one of the wards that in turn triggered the others.  Their wards being ripped apart by the traps, their tattered defences were further put to the test as Rasputin hurled the ball at them, arcs of lightning testing their wards as it passed through them.  Keeping them on the defensive was what was important, never giving them a chance to recover, and as Rasputin began to approach them with more destructive weaves coming to hand, he saw his ally step from her cover.

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Aramina had been watching with a growing sense of unease.  Unsurprising considering what she was doing and in the end she feared her new 'friend' would decide it was best to kill her as well, but that test would be upon them soon enough.  For now, she just had to worry about the four making their way to them. 

 

She kept her place and remained still, while trying to watch the proceedings without giving away her location.  She was already reviewing what she should do when the moment came, planning what she could do to her best advantage.  She knew her strengths though and knew how to make them work for her.  She would do what she had to and deal with the consequences later.  Light, how did she find herself in these situations?

 

The others showed and she could barely hear Tod's words.  It was safer to keep the distance so the two women wouldn't know she was there.  The time to stay hidden came and went quickly though as talk turned into motion.  As the world turned into commotion Aramina stepped out of her hiding place, the One Power pulled to her and working her weaves.  Her weaves began to form and blades of air began to hit the wards that existed around the three women.  She felt a weakness in one of the wards and diverted most of her strength to it until it shattered.  The same air blade she was using against the wards worked as well against the body and before she could realize what had happened, Aramina had cut the woman's throat cleanly.

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Elisa's lifeblood pouring at her feet as she fell to the Aes Sedai's onslaught, Rasputin didn't hesitate as he unleashed a barrage at Selina to get her attention.  The spirit of the group, she was the most dangerous of them in a duel of power and he didn't want her quickly overwhelming the Aes Sedai with Aurora who dueled with the ageless woman now.  Taking both the spirit and the earth of the circle at once wasn't an easy task, but he hadn't risen to become the Scourge for no reason, nor had he committed himself to a battle were chance would decide everything.

 

Wards falling and rising in equal measure, the elements ravaged the grounds around them.  Lightning, wind, ice, fire and earth were used liberally as they tried to kill one another, the ground for ten feet around Rasputin was nothing but blackened dust.  A problem as the winds kicked it up around them, obscuring their vision more and more so that Rasputin could only tell where Selina was from the direction of her weaves and Jacob from where he was holding saidin.  Lashing out carefully, Rasputin picked his targets to make sure he didn't overshoot and possibly harm Mina instead.

 

Then he was gone.

 

Jacob was using the dust as cover, releasing saidin and moving to another position while Rasputin couldn't follow him.  Lifting his hands as he still defended himself from Selina, the moisture in the air thickened and the dust dissipated, the air too heavy with water to leave the dust dry.  It was a timely thing as well as he now knew what Jacob was doing as he ran, ran towards the Tower.

 

Focusing his attention on Selina, without Jacob she had little chance.  The ground beneath her becoming as liquid, she barely had a chance to scream as she dropped beneath, and no chance to pull herself free as the ground hardened once more, leaving no trace of her.  Turning, he ran after Jacob, hurling his weaves after the man in hope of catching him before he reached the Tower.

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As Tod continued his battle with the others, Aramina found herself one on one with the last woman.  Her shields were holding as the woman was barraging her with weaves, but she couldn't keep this up forever and hope to have something left to throw at her.  She struck with an ice blade but watched it shatter on the other woman's shield.  She didn't wait as she worked a piece of rock up from the ground and worked her weave on it.  She lobbed into into the air at the same time as she worked earth under the woman's feet, knocking her backwards a little.  Her shield faltered as she moved and the rock landed behind her, it's ward exploding with contact. 

 

Her own shield barely came up in time as another volley came.  The other woman was good, but her thrusts were coming slower than they had.  She sent another weave around the woman's shield, a wall of air that encircled her shield.  She began tightening it slowly, the shield finally crumbling from the pressure.  The woman screamed and a fresh ice blade made the end note more of a gurgle than a scream as she finished her off in the same fashion as the first. 

 

She looked around and took a few minutes for her eyes to adjust to what she was seeing.  The wind was making it impossible to see far and she had been so caught in her own fight that she hadn't seen where Tod had gone too. Seeing him, she began to run over towards him, closer to the tower. 

 

 

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"No!"

 

Rasputin held out a hand and a torrent of lightning poured forth, striking Jacob who was at the base of the Tower and had a hand resting upon it.  Arcs and sparks alike showered from the impact, thunder rolling over the grounds a moment later from the sheer power of the discharge as the air rushed back to reoccupy the rent that the lightning had torn.  Yet where Jacob had stood, Jacob remained with a smile of triumph on his face, he'd survived and now that he was there, he knew that Rasputin could not use more without risking the chance of breaking the Tower's seal himself.

 

"Submit, Scourge!  You can't win now, your Master will be lost this time and you as well if you do not bend knee now!  You were one of the finest generals, when war is called and the black banners of the shadow are raised once more, you could lead them.  The Light cannot resist another Trolloc War, their numbers are too few and ours too great, we could sweep this land of them once and for all, we will shatter with wheel's weaving with the inconsistency we create and when we shall be free once and for all."

 

Watching carefully, Rasputin weighed up his options before speaking.  "I know your strength Jacob, you won't be able to undo the seal without exposing yourself, the moment you begin weaving I'll kill you.  But, if you step away, I will give you this once chance to run, to leave, and I will not stop you.  This cannot be, will not be, wholesale murder is not change.  We must change and influence what approaches, we cannot simply fight against it.  When you are caught in a rip, you do not swim against it, you swim across it.  You use its strength and redirect it, you turn its strength into yours.  This is simply futile, there are certain preconditions that must be met before we reach Tarmon Gaidon or everything is lost, why can't you see that?  Are you so consumed by the thought of glory?  To think that you will be the one to bring freedom to all?  Is that it?  Hubris?"

 

The derisive laugh that answered Rasputin caused him to frown as he listened to Jacob.  "You're a fool.  More than that you're a slave.  One of the most important rules of conflict is that when your enemy is fighting you in a manner that favours them, you should not fight in such a manner but you should change your manner and style so they cut themselves upon you, that to change and adapt to motivate to our own strengths was our key to victory.  Prophecy is not the way to victory, that is their mode of combat, we should ignore it completely and forge our own path.  How can you not see that?"

 

"I see that you mistake the nature of prophecy."  Rasputin entertained a slight hope that he might win the man over as he prepared himself nevertheless for what might need to be done.  "Prophecy is not the way they fight us, prophecy is the terrain that we must master to our own advantage.  We need to pick our battles, the right moment, the right time, affecting the course of the Wheel's weavings and subverting it as we make a path to victory.  That is the purpose of Shadow prophecy, Jacob, it isn't grounded in what must absolutely be.  It is about what can be, what we can do in order to undermine the roles that Order has made for us so when Tarmon Gaidon comes we can end this once and for all.  You are not just a heretic anymore, but an apostate.  The moment you try to weave, you're dead."

 

There was a silence then, as the pair stared at one another, each waiting for the other to make a move as everything that could be said had been said.  Complete focus, control, attempting to find a single hint of hesitation or doubt, of distraction that the other could use to either kill or undo the seal.  Waiting...

 

Footsteps.

 

Unable to see who it was, it was Jacob's actions who answered as the man attempted to undo the seal.  Stripping away the man's last defence with spirit as he ran forward, a powerful hammer of air smashed the man's head forcefully into the Tower wall, ending the apostate's life.  Yet even as the man slipped from the wall, leaving a trail of crimson as he did so upon the flawless white, his hand dropped to reveal something that had not been before.  A single spot of light, no wider than his little finger, had pierced the wall and it was growing.

 

The wind picking up again, it now whipped about him with a demonic fury as it howled like a banshee, pulling at his robes as he turned to Aramina who was looking unsure of what to do.  Pointing to the entrance to the garden that the Dreadlords had used, Rasputin yelled over the wind at her.  "Run!  You can't do anything here!  Get out of the garden and wait out there!  Go!  There is no time!"

 

Whatever Aramina said was lost in the wind, but the shaking of her head and the fact that she wasn't moving were enough to communicate that she wasn't complying.  Fighting the urge to curse as he walked over to her, he grabbed her shoulders and disregarded her reaching for her dagger as he roared.  "If you don't leave we all die!  This is no time for games!  You're no good here now go!"

 

Shoving her away, Rasputin turned away and took a couple of steps towards the Tower before falling down onto his right knee, placing his hands on his left as he began to summon up the power he had within him as he began to summon the threads of every element before him to form a weave that was their only chance of survival now as the air began to dance and shimmer before him, catching the light from the Tower and splitting it into a thousand different hues and variations, whirling about as much as the wind to form a kaleidescopic display that permeated the grove.

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She was a fool, she thought as soon as she figured out what he was saying.  Leave.  She had to leave for some strange reason that only he alone knew because he was a Dreadlord after all and he had to be secretive.  No matter that she had helped him as she could, that she had killed two people today by the truth of his words alone. 

 

"Let me help... tell me what to do!" And yet even as she yelled over the noise she could see him shaking his head.  His arms gripped her shoulders tightly and she knew then that she would go.  He had been honorable and she was trusting all of this to him.  She had come this far on that alone.  She had to trust it now or all was false and she didn't want to think herself that big a fool.

 

So she found herself running away from the Tower and outside the Garden that was now a far different scene than what she had first seen.  She stopped outside the garden, looking back at Tod.  She couldn't see anything clearly but after a few minutes she started to make out the shape of someone running in the trees.  Tod came running out of the garden yelling for her to move.  She started to run as well, but as he ran past, he grabbed her arm, pulling her quickly behind him.   

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Grabbing Aramina's arm as he shot by, Rasputin pulled her along as hurriedly as he could.  There was little time now and they had to get away as soon as possible.  Knowing that this way was free of the wards whereas he had re-erected the ones on the path they had taken to reach the Garden, he didn't bother with caution as he could still feel an overwhelming level of menace in the air as the nightsky darkened from clouds overhead.  He knew that he had done the right thing, but he had wished to avoid it all along.  Jacob's folly had been a dangerous mistake, one that should never happened and now they would never be certain of how the circle had discovered the Tower, never entirely sure that the clue to its existance had been eradicated.

 

There it was.

 

Slowing down, Rasputin took her off the main track to where a small cave lay, even as it began to pour with rain and the sky was rent by a thunderbolt from above.  Then a second no more than a few seconds after the first, as the earth began to tremble.  Embracing saidin as he released Aramina's arm, Rasputin knelt down and placed his fingers on the floor, helping him focus despite the distractions as he began to work on the cave, making it strong enough to resist what was going to follow.

 

As they ran Aramina stumbled slightly as she felt a powerful amount of saidar being drawn.  She gasped to catch her breath, but Tod continued to pull her without stopping to recover completely from her slip.  She ran though, knowing that whatever it was behind could not be contained by her alone.  When they reached a cave she watched Tod moving even as he dropped his hand from her arm.  She couldn't see what he was doing but she could guess it well enough. 

 

"What... what is it?" she asked in between breaths.  "What's happening?"  She knew part of it, but there was a lot she didn't and she knew she had been stupid to think the man had told her everything she needed to know in the beginning.

 

It was hard to hear her over his work and the sounds that came from without, but Rasputin caught what Aramina said nevertheless.  It wasn't until he a moment, when he had finished strengthening the walls of the cave so it wouldn't collapse on them, that he was able to look up and respond.  "She is being sealed back in, but she is trying to force her way free.  You can feel her can't you?  She won't win, but we must stay clear in safety, wait until the storm has passed.  When it is done, she will have been sealed away once more."

 

"How do you know she will be sealed?  Is it possible for her to force her way out?"  Aramina asked.  She needed the rest, needed the break from the fight.  If there was a chance though, she needed to be preparing now for what was to come.

 

"The one who sealed her is now doing so once more."  He'd had a stronger will than the circle had thought, but Rasputin had known his master better.  He did things he did not like, but he did them because they were necessary and there was no way to avoid them.  The sky was almost incandescent now from the lightning storm that prevailed and it was raining so heavily that it was sweeping by the track outside much like a creek.  It would not look the same again when they emerged once more, the garden would be destroyed he had little doubt.  But it would renew itself once more, that which died lived, and that which lived died.

 

Aramina took a seat then close to him as she looked out the cave's entrance.  She shivered slightly because of the change in the air but pushed aside the thoughts of warmth and a cozy bed.  "So she will be shut in."  She looked at him then with a small smile.  "I suppose I should say that I'm sorry you lost people today, but I'm not." She admitted.  "I am sorry that the Garden was destroyed in the process though."

 

Surprised that Aramina sat so close to him, Rasputin nodded at her words.  She was honest at least, but then, thats what Aes Sedai were.  "It will be renewed with time, I am sorry for Jacob though, if not for those he gathered around him."  Falling silent for a moment, he decided that there was little harm in explaining why.  "He was my student.  But he did not have the patience to stay the course, he interpreted what I taught to suit his own need rather than doing only what was necessary.  A promising man turned apostate, but that is the nature of our way."

 

"That is the way of all people." She said, knowing all too well how teacher and student while in the same class did not always hear the same things being said.  She thought about the woman locked in the Tower, her own private grief having been interrupted so painfully.  "I am sorry for her, that we couldn't keep from intruding on her.  I have no love of the Shadow, but a parent's grief for their child should never be touched."

 

Nodding, there wasn't really much more to add, and with the storm that raged of saidin and saidar.  They would simply have to wait it out, and when it was done he would have to conduct her to her camp.  Some would have said it was unwise to do such a thing for an enemy, because there was no mistake that when they parted ways, they would be enemies.  They'd only been united here by a common goal.  But that was not his way, it would have been easy to take advantage but without any sort of ethics, he would become no better than Jacob who had foolishly thrown away his life.

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Several days had passed.

 

They were relatively quiet days.  The night they had spent in the cave had been a long one, the earth had shook and the sky had been torn asunder, saidin and saidar had danced and weaved things that had not been seen for centuries and indeed had remained as unseen as the players of the tune that was carried.  But soon, the trembling had ceased and the sky wept no more and the moon revealed itself once more upon a wasted eden, leaving only a single Tower of pure white standing amidst the carnage and sole witness to what had transpired.

 

The journey back had been a relatively quiet one, neither Rasputin nor Aramina spoke much.  While he didn't know the source of Aramina's relative silence, Rasputin simply felt little need to speak after what they had gone through.  They'd managed to forestall something that would have ended in tragedy, not only for the Light but the Shadow as well.  Too much depended on taking the right steps, in killing one person here or saving another there, or shifting a grain of sand at the right time for it to be ruined by those who thought they could simply ignore the future.

 

He did have to admit, he was somewhat impressed with the woman.  A weaker willed person might have sought to take advantage while the danger was clear, but she had kept her word and not tried to weasal out of it.  Perhaps it was due to a fear of his ability, he'd shown himself as more powerful than her, but he prefered to think that it was because she held to her word because she chose to do so.  Perhaps he was an optimist, perhaps not, but he held to that belief nevertheless and it wasn't challenged during their journey even once.

 

And so it was, they found the camp they had left sometime ago in order to reach the place where 'She' had been imprisoned.  It was awhile longer before they had packed their things and removed the evidence that they had ever been there, and they were ready to go their seperate ways.

 

Holding the reins of his mare in hand as she whickered at him, Rasputin stroked her face even as he looked over at Aramina who led her horse over.  Now would be where they parted ways, but you could always have a measure of respect for those who weren't so consumed by zeal that they were blind to the greater dangers.  In fact, he had decided to reward her for it, something for her to remember him by if nothing else, seeing as she would never be able to tell anyone what had transpired.

 

Releasing the reins as Aramina stopped before him, Rasputin folded his hands within the arms of his robes for a moment before extracting them with his left hand bearing one of his jet pommeled daggers within its heavily worked sheath.  Offering it to her, he smiled slightly as he spoke.  "You proved to be a worthy companion, Aramina.  Usually I would give such a thing to a person of different oaths, in fact, I think you would be the only Aes Sedai I have offered such a thing to."

 

"Keep it safe, and I hope it keeps you safe in turn."  At that, he also offered his right hand to shake hers.

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The days had been quiet and the other man seemed to share her reluctance to speak except when needed.  Even as they packed up their camp it was with an efficiency of movement.  Why shouldn't it be, she mused as she was packing her things on the back of her saddle.  They had been traveling for a bit now and it had become an accustomed ritual. 

 

There were things about him that unsettled her, things about the whole situation.  She didn't like it when situations went from Black and White to Gray. the enemy was always supposed to be some howling monster screaming for the blood of the innocent, or some raving psychotic Darkfriend who wanted to tear the world apart because of some need to make other people pay for their own idiocy.   

 

She wasn't supposed to respect her enemy and she wasn't supposed to like him either.  She certainly wasn't supposed to feel a certain amount of dread at parting either, but she did.  There was a lot she could learn from him and she knew it, if only their philosophies on life weren't at complete conflict with one another.  She didn't know what to say as she walked up beside him, but he took the moment to pull something out of his robe and hand it to her.  She saw the dagger come out and took it from him, looking carefully at the worked sheath and the workmanship of the dagger itself.  It was a beautiful gift, especially to one of her kind who could appreciate such things.  That it came with his words and the outstretched hand meant more. 

 

"I don't think I ever expected to be saying this to someone in your position," she said with a smile, "but you honor me.  Thank you.  I will keep it well. Until our paths meet again Tod."  She started to turn away but stopped and looked at him.  "And if you need anymore help cleaning house, i'm sure you can figure out a way to find me."

 

It was a jest but at the same time, he was an honorable man even if he did fight for the wrong side.  Perhaps time would see him mending his ways and she wanted to give him a way to contact her, should the need arise.

 

She packed the dagger quickly, putting it in close reach should she need it but out of actual sight before mounting her horse.  She gave as respectful a bow as she could from her saddle, then turned her horse and began the long road home.

 

 

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