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Kiyi's Arches: Ifs and Maybes

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The silence that blanketed the room was broken only by the hushed footsteps of Sisters returning books to shelves and occasional whispered exchanges between Novices receiving orders and the Aes Sedai issuing them. Kiyi, tucked away in an isolated corner, was unaware of even those minor intrusions to the peace of the massive room. Her fingers absently caressed the leather bindings of the small volume lying on the table before her and her eyes, although appearing to rest on the embossed title of the cover, were unfocussed. Normally, the writing, dealing with the undercurrents and complexities of Daes Dae’mar, would have held her spellbound; but not this day.


Having a few rare hours to herself, Kiyi had as usual headed straight to the Great Library, a building second only in size to the Tower itself. The sheer extent of the knowledge collected there was overwhelming; the privilege of having access to it, access which would be extended further upon becoming a full Sister, was the impetus that kept Kiyi going. She could barely begin to imagine the secrets held here and the hunger to immerse herself fully only grew as the years of novicehood passed.


Despite that wish, concentration was currently fleeting and elusive and instead, her mind was wholly taken up with a troubling thought. A thought that disagreed so entirely with Tower policy that it was causing a deal of heart searching. So involved was she in her convoluted internal debate, that she didn’t hear the Sister approach.


A firm hand laid itself upon her shoulder and Kiyi’s gaze lifted to discover the Mistress of Novices regarding her with an inscrutable expression. As the hand withdrew, Kiyi hurriedly stood up and curtsied, keeping her eyes downcast respectfully until the woman should choose to speak.


“Come with me, child and do not dawdle,” Larindhra’s voice was calm but made it clear that compliance was expected... immediately.


Kiyi’s brain scattered, trying to think of any mistakes she had made recently, certain that she must be in trouble for something to have attracted Larindhra’s attention. Her own visits to the Mistress of Novices’ office had been relatively few compared to her fellows but those visits had been more than memorable enough to make her avoid them like the plague. She favoured Larindhra with a sidelong look as they left the Library but could discern nothing from that ageless visage.


Trying to control fluttering nerves, Kiyi gradually became aware of their surroundings as wide open hallways gave way to narrower corridors with barely seen doors leading off into the Creator only knew what. The silent walk seemed interminable and a nugget of fear began to form in the pit of her stomach just as Larindhra Sedai finally spoke again.


“Your time of Testing is upon you, child. Keep up.”


Kiyi’s eyes widened, though she managed, barely, to keep the shock from her features and her thoughts tumbled faster wondering what was to come, what she would have to do. Elation at reaching this stage battled with self doubt as their steps echoed back at them from the walls. We must be far below the Tower now!


They came to a halt before a stout wooden door and Larindhra looked Kiyi over, a hint of speculation in her clear eyes. Apparently satisfied, the older woman opened the door and strode inside with Kiyi trailing her apprehensively, attempting to take in everything with one awed glance.


She was in a domed chamber, its floor dominated by three rounded silvery arches settled atop a thick silver circle, their glowing light casting further shadows around the room. The arches themselves looked barely high enough to walk under and where the ends of each one met, sat a Sister wholly concentrated on the rings before her. Kiyi knew she was looking at a ter’angreal and the nerves fluttered higher. Another Aes Sedai was positioned quietly beside a small table behind Larindhra, three chalices sitting atop it filled with what looked like crystal clear water. Like the Mistress of Novices, all of the Sisters wore their shawls, something that impressed the importance of the event on Kiyi, if any further emphasis had been needed. Sisters rarely wore their shawls within the Tower and seeing them added a measure of stateliness to the occasion.


Turning towards Larindhra, Kiyi straightened her shoulders, a determination settling on her now that the moment had arrived, but she could not prevent her hands pressing tightly against her stomach as though to hold herself together.


“Two things that no woman hears until she enters this room. Once you begin, you must continue to the end. Refuse to go on, no matter your potential and you will be very kindly put out of the Tower with enough silver to support you a year, and you will never be allowed back. Secondly, to seek, to strive, is to know danger. You will know danger here. Some women have entered and never come out. When the ter’angreal was allowed to grow quiet, they – were – not – there. They were never seen again. If you will survive, you must be steadfast. Faltering leads to a failure.”


Larindhra’s voice carried through the room, her eyes fastened to Kiyi’s intent on imparting every bit of meaning behind her words and Kiyi was sure they would be imprinted on her mind for all time. “This is your last chance, child. You may turn back now, and you will have only one mark against you. Twice more will you be allowed to come here, and only at the third refusal will you be put out of the Tower. It is no shame to refuse. Many cannot do it their first time here. Now you may speak.”

Seconds passed in what felt like hours as Kiyi tried to find her voice and push it past tight throat muscles and a dry mouth. A brief nod was followed by a strangled but definite, “I am ready, Larindhra Sedai.”


The Aes Sedai at the table, a Yellow by her shawl, waited barely a heartbeat before speaking in a hard voice, “Whom do you bring with you, Sister?”


“One who comes as a candidate for Acceptance, Sister,” the Red replied promptly.


“Is she ready?”


“She is ready to leave behind what she was, and, passing through her fears, gain Acceptance.”


Kiyi looked back and forth from one to the other, her fingers tangling together and untangling once more as she took in every word.


“Does she know her fears?” intoned the Yellow.


“She has never faced them, but now is willing.”


“Then let her face what she fears.”


The Mistress of Novices returned her attention to Kiyi, instructing her to undress. Fingers fumbled with buttons, feet tangled up and everything seemed to conspire against Kiyi’s haste to do as she was bid but at last, she self consciously allowed Larindhra to lead her palely naked form towards the first of the Arches.


“The first time is for what was. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”


Step. The soft glow of light vanished behind Kiyi, forgotten already, and she blinked, staring around the barn and then at her companion. She smiled at the blonde haired Lana.


“They won’t look for us here. Let’s go up to the loft.” Her voice sounded musical in the silence and Kiyi had a momentary sense of something being wrong. She wasn’t 6 any more and Lana was long gone…but the feeling passed. The other girl grinned back, and Kiyi raced her to the ladder, scrambling up into the dingy space below the rafters. A quick push from behind sent her flying into the loose bales and Lana joined her as they tumbled together laughing and shoving, throwing handfuls of hay at each other. Tiring of this sport, reaching boredom quickly as only the young can, Lana stood up to light a torch left in a bracket by the barn window and lifted it down. “There, we can see now. I want to explore.”


The barn loft was a place of intrigue and secrets to the youngsters, filled as it was with long disused implements, old chests of toys no longer needed, discarded items dusty with long years of neglect but which made a veritable treasure trove for bold adventurers such as they were. They often spent hours pretending to be Hunters of the Horn or heroes of legend, drawing on all of the best stories they’d been told.


Some time later, Kiyi and Lana poured over the contents of a box they had unearthed from under some old rugs. “Look! It’s a diary I think,” Kiyi’s grey eyes shone with excitement but Lana threw her a scornful glance and snatched the small book away.


“Books are boring. You’re always reading Kiyi. It’s no fun.” Lana’s voice took on a petulant whine and Kiyi, annoyed at being denied her pleasure, reached out to shove her hard, grabbing for her prize. So quickly that neither child realised what was happening, Lana fell sideways, knocking the torch from between two shelves where it had been wedged to free up her hands. Kiyi would never have believed that flames could spread so far, so fast, as all of the ancient, dusty, tinder dry relics fell pray to the reaching fire.


“Run, Lana, run,” Kiyi shouted, taking to her heels and speeding the length of the loft. She was down the ladder in moments, sure that Lana must be right behind her, but as she gained the floor and looked back, there was no sign of her friend. Something flickered in the corner of her vision and a glance showed her a silvery archway. It called to her, drew her and she knew she had to go.

Screams reached her ears, the terror and pleading in them clear. “I’m stuck, Kiyi. The fire... get help, quick. Please... get help!”


Kiyi stood undecided, scared tears coming as desperation rooted her to the spot. This was not how it was supposed to be. She couldn’t leave Lana, but she had to go. Her eyes whipped to the silvery glimmer and back to the ladder. “Help, Kiyi help.”


Kiyi took a step towards the distant house. She would get her parents. “Be steadfast.” The words were an echo inside her skull. She had to go. “Noooo, Lana!” With a sob, Kiyi changed direction, and flung herself at a run through the archway... and landed hard on her knees on a cold stone floor. Pain seared endlessly through her bones, the light so bright it seemed to consume her.


In seconds, Larindhra’s hands were raising her with peculiar gentleness and Kiyi was shocked by the sudden drenching of cold water as the Yellow Sister upended the first chalice over her coppery curls.


“You are washed clean of what sin you may have done and of those done against you. You are washed clean of what crime you may have committed, and of those committed against you. You come to us washed clean and pure, in heart and soul.”


Gasping, Kiyi stared at the Sisters, horror and uncertainty warring within her for dominance. She couldn’t remember exactly what had happened, the memories fragmented and vague, but it had been bad… very bad. Still, she held her peace, shivering and stealing herself for what must come. I will do this, no matter what. There is no choice. I will succeed.


Larindhra urged her towards the second of the Arches. “The second arch is for what is. The way will come but once. Be steadfast.”


Step. Kiyi eyed her reflection in the mirror. She was as ready as she would ever be and she turned to leave the room, her pace measured, as though she had all the time in the world. Anyone else would see only a serene expression, a Sister going about her normal business but inside Kiyi was far from calm.


She had worked long and worked hard for this day… dreamed of it for even longer. So long and so hard that she had indeed begun to fear it would never come. It was unusual for a Sister as young as she, even a Blue, to be assigned to such a key political role but she knew she deserved it, knew that no other Sister still in the Tower could play Daes Dae’mar half so well as herself. Advisor to the Cairhienin monarch! Her slippered feet whispered across the tiles of the hallway accompanied by the gentle rustle of her skirts.


She was only peripherally aware of Novices and Accepted curtsying respectfully as they scurried by, her attention focused on what was to come. Reaching the antechamber to the Amyrlin’s office, Kiyi paused briefly, allowing the Keeper time to announce her arrival. At the Keeper’s gesture, Kiyi entered and waited patiently for the Amyrlin to speak.


“Well Daughter, are you ready? I have the documents here and you may begin your journey today. We have had no reliable information from Cairhien in months. It is of the utmost urgency that you take up your position as soon as possible.”


The Amyrlin’s clipped sentences spoke volumes. The White Tower did not like to leave anything to chance and having a monarch of such importance without an advisor was intolerable. A slash of silver made Kiyi turn her head. “The way will come but once.” Confusion clouded her face. She was suddenly certain that she had not yet become a Sister but was equally sure that she’d been raised for many years now. She shook herself.


“Indeed Mother, I am ready to leave as soon as you order it so.”


The Amyrlin held out a sealed leather case containing the papers and information Kiyi would need… and the archway shone more brightly catching and holding her eyes. Just two steps and I will have what I want. Just two, she thought longingly. But she knew deep within herself that there was nothing to do but go and that to hesitate would somehow be disastrous. With a snarl curling her lip, Kiyi flung herself through the arch…through the heat, the light, the excruciating burning.

Kiyi tried desperately to orient herself and steady her legs as the Yellow Sister stepped forward a second time to pour cold water from a chalice over her head and stated, “You are washed clean of false pride. You are washed clean of false ambition. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul.”


“Did it happen? Was it real? I didn’t... I couldn’t...” blue-grey eyes appealed to Larindhra for answers, for reassurance against the sense of loss and dashed dreams.


“Nobody knows, Kiyissalle,” the Mistress of Novices murmured quietly. “Some believe these things seen in the Arches are possibilities, alternative lives. Others believe they are not real at all. We just do not know. You must decide for yourself.” She urged Kiyi towards the next Arch. “The third time is for what will be. Be steadfast for the way back will come but once.”


A shudder ran through Kiyi’s slight form but she pulled herself together as best she could and went on. What other choice was there now? Once more, just once more and it will be over. She held tightly to that thought as the light blazed and scoured her body yet again.


Step. She wiped the back of her arm tiredly across her brow, scanning the low hills for any sign of pursuit. Nothing. She didn’t have time to be tired. We can’t stop now when so much depends on us. A frown brought the elegant arch of her brows tilting downwards in confusion. Us?


“Kiyi, there do be no trace of them. It do be looking to me as though we did lose them this time.” The masculine voice intruded on her puzzlement. A voice she knew as well as her own... and yet, somehow, she was convinced she’d never heard it before in her life.


Dove grey eyes transferred themselves from the surrounding vista and came to rest on the owner of that voice; a man who held himself with a deadly grace, whose pale blue eyes never stayed in one place for long and who stood a good 5 inches taller than the diminutive Aes Sedai appraising him. She nodded briefly.


“Well we have no time to stop now, my Gaidin, followed or not. We must make what haste we can. We should reach Tar Valon by daybreak, no?” The momentary befuddlement passed as the urgency of the situation was renewed. Kiyi smoothed the bronze silk of her skirts when her stallion pranced fitfully and she settled the animal with a slight pressure from her knees. Tossing her head disdainfully, impatience showed and was gone so quickly that most would not have seen the slight disruption to the calmness of her features. She continued, “I am not about to allow those fools to impede us.” She sniffed delicately, ignoring the fact that the band who had set upon them the day before had in fact already delayed the journey and that their own escape from the trap had been a closer call than either of them liked to acknowledge.


“I do no be thinking they be alone, Kiyi,” his voice countered warningly. “There do be no point to pushing ahead and finding ourselves trapped by others.”


Kiyi nodded a reluctant agreement as they moved their horses on down the narrow trail. Night would fall soon and that would bring too many opportunities for accidents if naught else.


“Be steadfast for the way back will come but once.” Kiyi’s brow wrinkled at the familiar but distant words, the sense of unreality taking her again though it lasted but seconds. The horses settled into a steady trot and it took all her attention to watch the path ahead. Her Warder moved off into the trees, scouting carefully and giving himself space to move.


Their route was taking them through a small copse of trees when Kiyi suddenly felt a sharp, strangling pain of a taught wire across her throat, the pressure forcing her unceremoniously from the saddle to land with a solid thud and an agonising crack to her skull before blackness took her. She could only have been unconscious for a matter of minutes but that had been long enough to give the attackers their chance.


As she rose unsteadily to her feet, Kiyi was already embracing the power but she saw immediately that she could do nothing without risking harm to her bonded. He was moving fast, striking at several men like lightning slicing through storm clouds but he was outnumbered and Kiyi knew he could not hold them off much longer. As the frantic realisation came, a silvery flicker caught her eye off to the left and a shout of denial spilled from her. The archway hung there, taunting her and she ignored it, turning desperately back to the fighting.


“Kiyissalle... go! Now!” his words were knives, cutting ribbons through every fibre of her being and she shook her head in refusal even as she felt his agony blossom inside her head and watched the first sword pierce his side. “You do be doing our friends no good by getting killed. GO!” Another pain flared as a second sword caught him across the back and Kiyi’s knees almost gave way. She could not... would not... leave him here like this. As well be dead herself. She would not run again.


The arch seemed to fade a little as she glanced at it but its light pulled at her just as strongly, mocking her wish to ignore it. “Be steadfast.” Kiyi let out a low moan. She had no choice. She ran and leaped, closing her eyes against the betrayal, against her own weakness, against the memory of a pair of ice blue eyes that held death in their depths. His life for hers…the light burned her to the core.


Kiyi felt the cold, bare stone of the chamber grazing her palms as she collapsed, the howl that left her throat then sounding as though it came from the farthest reaches of her soul. Gradually, bit by bit, she became aware of her surroundings and saw that there were more Aes Sedai in the chamber than before. The Amyrlin Seat, her seven striped stole across her shoulders, stood watching, her face impassive though her eyes showed empathy for the devestation clear in Kiyi’s own gaze. A Sister from each Ajah flanked the Amyrlin on either side and, recalling what she was meant to do, Kiyi willed herself to stand and walked slowly toward the Amyrlin Seat, kneeling before her as she had been taught.


The Amyrlin poured the final chalice of water over Kiyi’s head then spoke clearly, “You are washed clean of Kiyissalle Chevra of Tremonsien. You are washed clean of all ties that bind you to the world. You come to us washed clean in heart and soul. You are Kiyissalle Chevra, Accepted of the White Tower.”


A brief silence fell, Kiyi still not fully believing she had completed what seemed like a trial by fire and feeling sick to her stomach though she could not clearly remember why.


“You are sealed to us, now. Welcome, daughter,” said the Amyrlin Seat, a hint of a smile touching her lips. She handed the empty chalice to one of the other Aes Sedai and produced a slim band of gold, a Great Serpent ring, which she slipped onto the third finger of Kiyi’s left hand. Kiyi just had time to curl her fingers possessively into a fist around it before the Amyrlin pulled her upright. “Welcome, Daughter,” she said, kissing Kiyi lightly on both cheeks. “Welcome.”


At last, it was real. At last, it sank in that she’d achieved the first step on her journey to becoming Aes Sedai…at a cost. Kiyi’s eyes glowed, a dazzling smile flashing briefly over her face as she curtsied. “Thank you, Mother.” Daughter, not Child, she thought to herself in satisfaction. And now a new road must be traversed. I will succeed. The silent vow repeated itself over and over within the confines of her mind. One day, one day soon, she would see it fulfilled... and hope the cost was not too great.




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