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A Breath of Tainted Air

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"Now, if you would just channel Spirit into this. I'm absolutely sure that if you channel just a small thread of it..." Serena stared back at the tall, dark haired man in confusion and disbelief. "You cannot be serious. I can't just channel into something I have no idea what it's for." The man's black coat and breeches hardly creased when he crossed his arms. His dark brown eyes held the intensity of a flame. He did not need to speak for Serena to feel his disappointment, the bond reeked of it. Arath could toy with her emotions in ways she had never known a bond could be manipulated. "I-I don't want to. It could kill us both, Arath." His eyes burned with frustration, and she suddenly felt herself embracing the True Source. Somehow, he had managed to get her to agree that she would not channel unless he said so. How had he done that? How had he made her succumb to him? "No, it will most likely kill you, before me." Afraid beyond belief with sweat beading on her forehead, Serena channelled.


Pain prickled all over her body, from head to toe. She writhed with it. Was it coming from inside? Why couldn't she stop it? Waves of nausea rushed over her as the sharp stabbing pain seemed to increase. Small black dots danced in her peripheral vision as she shook....


..."No!" Serena bolted upright in her bed. The black dots that had invaded her vision still bounced about. Wrapping her arms around her slightly damp body, she shivered. Glancing over to the empty place in her bed next to her, Serena slumped foreword and let a few tears streak down her cheeks. It was on nights like this that the Blue Sister especially wished she wasn't at odds with Thera. The bond was fuzzed as usual, and Serena could not do anything but wish she could beg her Gaidar to come to her aide. But she couldn't. After returning from the Black Tower, Thera was hardly to be seen. It pained Serena to know that she had caused such a wall to build between the two of them.


Wiping the cold sweat from her brow, Serena made her way to the washstand. The sun had not yet appeared on the horizon, and she already knew it would be ridiculous for her to try and return to her sheets. It was much too lonely there anyways. Glancing at her reflection in the mirror above the washstand, she could see that the usual mischievous spark had disappeared from behind her eyes. Was it from the torturous experiments that Arath had used, or was it because the love of her life would never lay in her arms again?


"I will not be broken." She lifted her chin in defiance, and set her shoulders. Too many of the women that had been bonded by the Asha'aman at the Black Tower had come back in pieces. Serena had been lucky. Arath had not been incredibly harsh with her. Other than the fact that he used her to test out his experiments. He had not raped her like so many others had done to their "bondmates". When it had come time for him to release her of her bond, he did it almost reluctantly. Arath had not gone mad...yet. Serena was sure she bad been able to feel the Taint lick at his brain, and perhaps at their bond, but she doubted if that was really possible.


After the experiments and the pain he had caused, was it possible she felt bad for him? Would she have bonded a man against his will if they had been stalking the Aes Sedai? What if saidar had been tainted and not saidin? What if the tables had been turned? What then?


Shaking her head, she was sure that any number of her Sisters may have slapped her in the face and asked her to return to sanity if she had brought up those questions to any of them. Suddenly, a thought came to her as if a candle had flickered on in her mind. There was a possibility that she may get some answers to her questions. One man, one freakishly tall and frightening looking man was here in the tower. Mad as any man could possibly be, and dangerous...




Serena stepped swiftly into her breeches and pulled her shirt over her head. Wrapping herself in her long blue coat with the flame of Tar Valon embroidered in blue on the breast and back, she headed to the dungeons.


Soft leather boots hardly made a sound on the cool stone floor. The guards let her through without hardly a glance. At last, she came to the cell that housed the man, if he could still be called that. Peering through the bars that caged the beast, she saw the large dark form of the Shienaran. Biting down on the inside of her cheek, Serena channelled a blue globe of light.


"Isha Talcontar, I am Serena Sedai. May I have a word with you?"



“Grrraaaaaahhhh ooooooooouuuuuuuuuut meeeeeeeeeeee!”


What had once been an arm forced its way through the barred window in the door. Now the limb was barely recognisable as a part of a human body, particularly a living one. The Yellows had Healed what remained of the flesh, but what had once been a bulging forearm was now reduced to a few layers of tissue separating the bone from the dank prison air. It was that lack of flesh that allowed the body part through the narrowly spaced bars on the door but when it tried to grab hold of the Aes Sedai’s throat, there was no hand to grab with. In fact, not only was there no hand to grab with, but only about half of the forearm remained.


Of course, the prehistoric scream had been preceded by much clawing and scraping at the door. After all, it takes a few minutes to locate the door and then the window when one has no eyes to see with. And, of course, it takes a few minutes to move oneself from the farthest corner of the room to the door when one’s remaining muscles are no longer sufficient to move one’s enormous body across even the tiny cell. Add in the lack of hands and mangled stubs that had once been feet and it had actually taken the man best known as Asha’man Isha Talcontar some three minutes to actually respond to Serena Sedai.


Now that it became clear there was no way he could have harmed the Aes Sedai short of bludgeoning her with his half-a-forearm, the man slumped back to the prison floor, all his energy wasted in that singular push.


“Sorry about that.” The voice wasn’t different from the scream in pitch or timbre but was certainly distinct from the earlier scream in that the words were completely cohesive and spoken confidently — almost with a sense of charm. “Couldn’t rein him back in time. You may have a word with me, though I doubt you’ll be able to coax Isha out. Actually words, plural, would be nice, no decent conversation around here — for obvious reasons...  Talking to myself is only so stimulating.”



“Grrraaaaaahhhh ooooooooouuuuuuuuuut meeeeeeeeeeee!”


Serena cursed herself for being foolish enough to believe that the bars and wood of the door could have been safe enough to keep the giant man at bay. Quickly, the threads of an Air Shield appeared around her. The Blue Sister had been surprised many times in her life, and it still made her heart jump into her throat; especially when a mangled arm came thrashing out through the bars of his prison. Emerald green eyes widened at the site of the twisted flesh of what must have once been his forearm.


Did we do this to him?  Arching a dark eyebrow in question, Serena then shook her head. Surely, if we did, there must have been some logical explanation for it. At least, she hoped there was.


Serena was about to speak when...


“Sorry about that.”


Tilting her head to the side in confusion, the Aes Sedai could hardly believe it was the same man. It was the same voice, but it was hard to understand that someone who was obviously insane enough to make a noise like he first had, could produce something that sounded so much more civilized.


“Couldn’t rein him back in time. You may have a word with me, though I doubt you’ll be able to coax Isha out. Actually words, plural, would be nice, no decent conversation around here — for obvious reasons...  Talking to myself is only so stimulating.”


Him? Wasn't he Isha? Serena wasn't exactly sure what to think. The man she had been Bonded to had not been as insane as Isha Talcontar already sounded. She knew that many of her Sisters had done studies of the Taint on saidin, Serena had read many of them, but was she really prepared to deal with it head on? For a moment, she chewed on the inside of her cheek while she considered her options.


Deciding to continue with her plan, however insane it may have been, Serena replied. "I can imagine. Conversing with ones' self can only go so far." Who knows? Maybe it went a lot further for the man on the other side of the door then it ever could with her. "Do you mean that you are not Isha Talcontar? And if not, then by what name should I call you? I am sure things might feel more...comfortable if I called you by the right name." This was a very sticky situation, and the Aes Sedai felt as if she was treading on thin ice. The man could switch at any moment.



He thought for a moment, leaning against the door. “I don’t suppose you mind if I sit down, do you? I... or we... are not what... umm... we... once were.” Dropping back down to the ground heavily, the man leaned against the back of the door, letting the acoustics of the tiny cell bounce his voice back to the Aes Sedai separated from him by a few planks of wood. How long had it been since he’d been that close to a human being? Months? Years? Millennia? It had been millennia and yet it had been only months; the unique situation of multiple personalities returning from Ages past in the same body was... if not unheard of since the Tainting of saidin, virtually unstudied due to the unstable nature of the subjects and thus the actual workings and therefore: methods of thinking and setting it into an understandable concept for a sane human being, even the insane human subjects, to understand was difficult and unprecedented.


“I’m not sure how much you know, or even anyone in the White Tower, knows about the Taint so I’m not sure what assumptions to make. I don’t know much about this myself, Abrem might be able to tell you more because he’s been here longer, even Dog’s been here longer, so I’m really just figuring this out myself.


“I suppose, for your sake, you can call me Isha. But I am and I am not Jethro “Isha” Talcontar; just as I am Abrem and I am Dog while simultaneously remaining a separate... not being but, consciousness might be the best word to describe it. As a separate consciousness, I am Petr Unrau; as a collective, we all make up the person who is now Isha Talcontar.”


“You are not me.”


“Now you come to talk? Sorry, he’s gone again. That was Isha as I am Petr. Are you following? I’m trying to explain everything the best I can but I am neither a philosopher nor psychiatrist and what I say is based entirely on what I’m experiencing and the assumptions I’m drawing from that. My education was not focused on the enigma of the human brain.”

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