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Friendship Lost


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Baran stepped out of his barracks, still buckling his sword around his waist. The weapon was fairly nondescript, the slightly curved blade of a simple soldier. The hilt was a solid piece of steel, wrapped in leather to make it easier to grip. It rested at his hip in an equally simple brown leather scabbard. He had been practicing with it almost as soon as he had requisitioned it from the Tower's stores of weapons. It had seemed the thing to do after his first few lessons in using weapons. His growing prowess in both the blade and the One Power had recently been rewarded with the silver sword pin of the Dedicated. He relished the advancement in rank, just as he relished the new responsibilities he had been given along with the promotion. Training Soldiers just meant more opportunities to be remembered, even if it was only as person who had trained a particularly effective Asha'man in his first days at the Tower.


He took a deep breath, enjoying the cool morning air for once. It was easier now that he wasn't in the practice yards, freezing his rear off waiting for an instructor to materialize to provide some kind of instruction. Instead, he and Jholan had scheduled some time to spar. Jholan in particular had been somewhat insistent on setting the time aside. He had recently commissioned a new blade to use. Where he had come up with the gold to commission anything was a mystery to Baran, but seemed to be one of those questions he didn't really want the answer to. He set off not for the practice yards, but for a small section of the forest surrounding the Black Tower. They had chosen the spot soon after they had joined, deciding that it would be better to fall on grass while they practiced than the mud churned up by the feet of hundreds of Asha'man in training over the years.


Baran easily made it through the Tower's walls, still under construction around the perimeter of the Tower's grounds. He broke into a jog as soon as his feet hit the ground on the other side, loping easily through the snow-covered leaves that lay along the forest's floor. The designated spot was a small clearing surrounded by a series of singed stumps, the only remaining evidence of tests with the Power that had left the pair somewhat singed themselves. He slowed to a walk as he entered the clearing, glancing around to see if Jholan had beaten him to the meeting place. He had, of course.


The supposed Ex-Tinker was moving through the forms with a sword unlike any Baran had seen in his admittedly short time in using them. The blade of the weapon was mostly unremarkable, with the slightly curved blade that seemed to be the standard to most swords. The only thing that stood out for him was what looked like the head of some kind of lizard jutting slightly out from the hilt, molded so that it seemed to be holding the blade to the rest of the sword with it's mouth. What Baran thought was supposed to be a ruby was situated at the creature's neck. However, Baran knew a piece of colored glass when he saw one. It looked somewhat like the head of the creature on the dragon pins the Asha'man wore. The hilt, however, was entirely different than what he was used to. A piece of metal connected the guard and the pommel. Was it supposed to protect the fingers? The entire hilt shined as though it were made of gold, except of course for the leather wrapped around the handle. Gold, really? What a ridiculous metal to make anything out of.


“Do you seriously intend to go into battle with that thing?” Baran asked, incredulous. Jholan turned as he practiced, his face blank, the way most people looked when assuming the Void. Baran was pretty sure his own face looked similar when he was concentrating, just as he assumed his voice sounded as cold as Jholan's when he eventually answered.


“I do. And I intend to win with this thing.” It was always strange to hear Jholan talk with that humorless voice, despite the way he occasionally joked from within the depths of the void. Even as he spoke, Jholan continued to move from form to form in an attempt to mimic the flowing motions of the more skilled Asha'man.


Suddenly, Baran became aware that Jholan was holding onto Saidin. He opened his mouth to ask why the other man to doing so, but before he could make a noise, the weaves that formed a fireball swept out of Jholan and sent the ball of flame surging towards Baran. Baran rolled out of the fireball's way, drawing his blade in a clumsy version of Unfolding the Fan. He had sparred with Jholan enough to know that the other man would be charging in behind the weave, hoping to catch him unaware. Sure enough, Jholan had been rushing in behind it. He was forced to break off his attack and circle around, his strange blade pointed toward Baran's heart.


Baran stood, confused. What was going on? Usually they used practice swords they had carved from the wood of the surrounding trees. Why was Jholan attacking him? He studied the other man's face, hoping for some kind of emotion to tell him what was going on. To his disappointment, Jholan's face was still blank. However, there was a sort of deadness about his eyes, a slackness around the mouth, that made Baran's gut twist. He had seemed fine just a few days ago, and now he was like this? Baran hoped he still had years before he went mad, which was how Jholan seemed now.


Jholan charged, his blade raised to begin the Boar Rushes Down the Mountain. Instead of meeting the attack, Baran turned and ran, channeling threads of fire around him to knock trees down behind him as he ran. Hopefully Jholan could be pinned beneath one. Baran couldn't bear the thought of killing one of his few friends in the Black Tower. Instead of a startled yell he was hoping for, Baran heard a series of explosions behind him. He could feel Jholan fairly blazing with the power behind him. He must have woven Fire and Earth to cause the falling trees to explode. Light, when had he gotten so good with the Power? He had to get back to the Tower. They would know what to do.



A few Soldiers were working on the wall now, watched over by a Dedicated. Baran shouted at them to run, even as he vaulted the waist-high wall of stone and ducked down, narrowly avoiding another ball of fire that melted a patch of snow a few feet from his hiding spot. Jholan jumped over the wall himself, his blade already raised for a vicious overhead strike. Baran raised his own weapon up, parrying the blow and retaliating with Parting the Silk even as Jholan moved into Tower of Morning.


Baran yelped and stumbled back as Jholan's attack caught him across the chest. His own slash, calculated to cause minimal damage, didn't seem to faze Jholan at all. He stalked towards Baran, his sword held up near his shoulder. Baran raised his own sword in a mirror image of his maddened friend, and stepped forward. He felt the other Dedicated Seize Saidin even as he ordered a Soldier to get help.


Jholan channeled again, this time in threads of air that snaked out towards both of the Dedicated. The other man had apparently expected Jholan to concentrate on Baran, and was thus caught across the face by the attack, which drove him to the ground, unmoving. Baran, for his part, Seized Saidin almost instantly and wove a shield to fend of the attack, although the shock of being forced to do so shattered the Void almost immediately. He moved forward as he defended himself, his sword thrusting forwards in Lightning of Three Prongs and slashing down to the side before reversing direction and rising up in Low Wind Rising.


Jholan fended off the attacks and then countered with Heron Wading in Rushes. Baran couldn't help but cry out as the thrusting blade pierced his calf. He dropped to one knee at the unexpected pain as Jholan raised his blade, obviously intending to behead his friend, a low, strange chuckle starting to rasp from deep in his throat. Time almost seemed to slow as Baran looked up at the madman that had been his friend, into the unfamiliar eyes. It was as though someone else looked at him, someone who hadn't spent days practicing with him in the woods. Was this how he was going to die? Alone? Unremembered, save as just another life claimed by madness? Oddly, his last memory of his father came to mind. A middle aged man, hacking his life out on the floor of a dirty little cabin on the edge of a small town forgotten by the rest of the world.


Baran rose from his knees with a shout, his sword flashing up in River Undercuts the Bank. A stunned look crossed Jholan's face as the blade met his neck, even as his own descending blade caught Baran squarely on the shoulder.


Jholan's body fell to the ground, his head landing near his body as Baran sank to the ground, gasping. The blade had cut deep. He could feel the blood pouring out of the wound. Before he lost consciousness he had enough time to wonder if maybe his friend hadn't killed him after all.




Baran woke in the infirmary with bandages wrapped around his chest. His shoulder was bare, the skin unbroken save for a small scar where Jholan's sword had sunk into his flesh. He was hungry, but more than that, he was tired. Light, was he tired. He raised a trembling arm to reach for the glass of water on the ground next to his small cot. It was snatched up by a passing healer before he could do more than touch it though. From the Healer he learned that he had been found unconscious near the decapitated body of his friend. There were questions as to what had happened, of course. Now that he was awake, the proper authorities would be notified.


Baran nodded, sipping gratefully at the glass of water the Healer helped him hold to his lips. When he was done, he laid back in the cot and tried to put the days events into their proper order in his mind. He wondered who would be sent to interview him.

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Skechid's day was fast turning out to be one of the worst days of the year. And it was barely evening. Starting with bad news in the West from his Eyes and Ears, to a rupture in one of the pipes in the Infirmary, to some random murder, mystery interview things he had been asked to conduct. It isn't as if death isn't already part and parcel of being an Ashaman, why did the bloody need an interview for this one? He wanted to ignore the little report on his table, but it nagged at him, like an itch that would not go away. Besides, he was tired of sitting in his office fighting fires, he figured he might as well do something about it.


It was a short walk to the bed of the interview. If anything, seeing the boy sitting on the bed made Skechid sigh inwardly. His face was calm as he sat down, but his temper was smouldering. Nothing showed. But he was definitely on edge. For one thing, one look at the scar on the man's shoulder told him whoever had Healed him had done a bad job.


"Storm Leader." The Ashaman who had been tending to the boy, Baran, Skechid seemed to recall the name, stood and saluted fist to chest.


Skechid frowned. "Why is there a scar?"


"Forgiveness, Storm Leader. The Dedicated was found unconscious by one of the scouts who was unskilled in Healing. Apparently he had lost so much blood it was necessary to Heal him on site anyway. And thus..." The Ashaman shrugged. As if that was explanation enough.


"Right. Thank you." Skechid waved dismissively and the Ashaman backed away mutely. Skechid turned to the man who looked at him through weary eyes. "Right, Dedicated Baran, was it? I understand you allegedly killed someone-" He held up his hand to deny the protest. "I said 'allegedly'. Unfortunately, it is a serious allegation and obviously being an army for the Light, we cannot ignore what happened. And I am here to find out what happened. Exactly, what happened. Now I know you were badly Healed, and from my Infirmary report, it is said you have wounds that are older than the Black Tower itself, I am willing to trade you. My skill in Healing is probably the best in the Black Tower, and there is little that I cannot fix short of death. You give me answers, and make this interview as short and effective as possible, and I will fix the old wounds. The scar, unfortunately, is not within my offer. Let that be a lesson to remember." Skechid sat back and narrowed his eyes.


"Right. What happened?"

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Baran was deep in thought, still trying to sort out what all had happened, when the Officer assigned to investigate what had happened arrived. Baran heard him approach, and lifted a tired head to see who it was. A slight widening of the eyes was the only sign the young Dedicated gave that he recognized the other man. Skechid, the man who had taught both his first class in channeling, and then his first class in learning the sword. Not a man that had seemed overly concerned in anything other than...well, not overly concerned with anything, really. Why would they have chosen him to investigate the death of a Soldier? A Soldier that was ready to raised to the Dedicated, to be sure, but a Soldier nonetheless.


The Storm Leader explained the reason he had come, which Baran already knew, even going so far as to offer extra healing in return for the information he was seeking. The attempt at...bribery, he supposed, caused Baran's back to stiffen. Really, the idea that he wouldn't be forthcoming without some kind of extra incentive to tell the truth was just insulting. The irritation didn't show on his face, but the words that came from his mouth were definitely heated by it.


"What happened? My friend, Jholan, went mad, and tried to kill me. I killed him first, though." The last sentence was softer, quieter, as though Baran still couldn't quite believe what he had done yet, himself. He went on to give a mostly accurate account of the fight between himself and Jholan, though he left out that they had both been practicing outside the walls of the Black Tower. No need to get himself in any more trouble than he was likely already in. Besides, if they had already talked to the other Dedicated on the scene, they probably already knew where he and Jholan had come running in from.


As he spoke, Baran looked down at his hands, still twisted from a cave-in at the mine he had worked in before coming to the Black Tower. Maybe the man could really do something about them, about the way they ached whenever the weather changed, or the way they hurt when he gripped anything tightly. He quickly pushed the ideas out of his head. No, he would do his duty because he had sworn to obey, not because he was offered a reward for doing so.


"I wouldn't want the scar gone at any rate. Something to remember Jholan by." Baran actually grinned. Partly at the idea of a scar being a gift from a friend, but more at what Jholan would most likely say about it. The tears that suddenly filled his eyes surprised Baran. He blinked them away by reflex, more confused than anything else. This wasn't him! At least not the way he acted. If a man cried, it was alone, away from where others saw him! There must have been something in his eye, that was all. Probably some dust, or maybe a bit of something lodged in it from the fighting.

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