She had been taken here from a distant place. This by a woman, the Mistress of Novices, taken away. Twyle had little idea how she come to the room. Larger than her thoughts could master. The voices had been ragged as the Aes Sedai had carried her away. Now she looked, eyes staring at her, waiting for something.
â€œTwo 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. Second. To streek, to strive, is to know danger. You will know danger here. Some women have entered, and never come out. When the terâ€™angreal was allowed to grow quiet, they - were - not - there. And they were never seen again. If you will survive, you must be steadfast. Faltering leads to a failure.â€
â€œThis is your last chance, child. You may turn back now, and you will have only 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.â€
â€œI know this thing,â€ Twyle answered the glarry woman in the distance. â€œThis thing I must do. I am ready.â€
The women around her unclear spoke words of memory. Distant, Dark and terrible in her heart.
â€œWhom do you bring with you, Sister?â€
â€œOne who comes as a candidate for Acceptance, Sister.â€
â€œIs she ready?â€
â€œShe is ready to leave behind what she was, and, passing through her fears, gain Acceptance.â€
â€œDoes she know her fears?â€
â€œShe has never faced them, but now is willing.â€
â€œThen let her face what she fears.â€
Twyle felt as though her clothes were ripped from her being. She stood naked, not knowing what to do.
â€œThe first time is for what was. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.â€
There before her, an arch. She knew what this was, a test. She looked at the Arch. She did not want to pass through. She knew what lie within it; she knew it and she had not the strength to face it. Could she tell the Sisters here that her fear would take her? No, for so long she had gripped to her own spirit, her own voices, herself. She couldnâ€™t turn to them now.
She took a deep breath and prepared to face her end.
Mother? she heard a soft voice cry. Mother? Was the voice her own? Ages had past since sheâ€™d visited this place, yet she lived it each day.
â€œPlease no,â€ she tried to beg. â€œAnything but this.â€
She looked around her. All was as she remembered. The tall wheat, the stable, the yard, even the house had not changed. But it was a memory, she knew it to well. There it was the house, green flat, beautiful. Within it was the hope she had wanted all her life. A past she could never grasp but if she could change time, she would not change the breaking, not the horrors, not even the devastations; she doubted no more than she doubted this memory, she would change this.
A woman in a silver dress came over to greet her. She was simple but lovely. Aged only as a mother could be, with weariness, with guilt and with love.
â€œTwyle?â€ her voice was a sweet as she remembered. A voice tired with all the loveliness of a motherâ€™s soft call. A great voice commanding like a motherâ€™s will. A voice calming like a motherâ€™s grace. A motherâ€™s voice. â€œChild come in. It is getting late.â€
She was so close; to touch her would be a blessing and always a deathly wish. Mother how weâ€™ve missed you. She felt tears forming in her eyes and her throat aching with the words she knew she could not delay. â€œA memory,â€ she tried to remind herself.
â€œIâ€™ll just be a little longer mother,â€ she did not want to let the words go but they did. â€œIâ€™ll be finished once I have Mac in the Stable.â€
Her mother smiled and reached out a hand. Softly it brushed her face. No, this was not a memory; it was too true. A motherâ€™s touch soft and kind just likeâ€¦ The way out will come but once. Be steadfast. Of course, Aes Sedai would ruin this moment, forcing her to recall the words right then. Could she not have just felt her motherâ€™s touch? How she missed it, she did not want to let go.
Her mother gave a soft laugh, â€œYou are a miracle child.â€ She turned and said no more.
Mother! she ached to cry. All her voices crying; crying tearful pains and wants. Donâ€™t go inside.
She could not make the words form. She felt the tyranny of helplessness engulf her. She watched her motherâ€™s back, her sway. Her touch still on Twyleâ€™s cheek. The woman moving ever so distant; every step not mere feet but entire worlds.
Donâ€™t go inside!
She saw her mother reach the door. Then slowly her mother turned, and looked. Looking at the child she had loved all her life, until the end. Hoping that the child would never change. The child so sweet, so helpful, full of love. Then in an earth shattering change she left her child and entered the house.
â€œNoooo!â€ Twyle finally screamed. But it was too late. The door was shut and as if it were a bar from her cries, no one seemed to hear. â€œNooo! Please anything but this!â€
She was crying openly, heaving her heart out. No we cannot watch this. We cannot let it happen!
Then she saw them, men, perhaps women, beasts of the night, and the fire. Her eyes flickered with water. All she had to do was reach out and stop them. They were men her father had worked with, laughed with. Faces she knew to make this moment seem more a terrible torture than she ever recalled it to be. She found herself incapable of moving. Tears blurring her vision, to the point she could not be sure where the fire started.
In memory she had seen them. The beasts dancing, holding her mother and father within the house. The fire growing steady, the flame gaining strength. Here she saw it too. The faces of Darkfriends, beasts, fire. She saw them and shattered to the ground with tears and pain. Powerless.
Aleda, Kirah, Alyanna, and Lyle, all being consumed with screams. Small children huddled in a house. And she envied them. As much as she loved them she hated them, and envied them. For they in their last moments felt a motherâ€™s comfort. The way comes but once. Be steadfast.
â€œNo please, no!â€
She tried to reach for the flames, some way to stop the flames. But she was helpless. No true voice came, she could not bring it forth. She was lost within the darkness of ravished voices. Screaming with the pain of a powerless heart. Tears, they were all she had to give. The house looked no longer green but red and black. In memory she had hid but now she stood, helplessly watching. Things she did not truly recall but from their screams. The face of her father as he tried to reach a window and let his children free. The screams of a mother wavering beside him, in her arms holding their babe, barely new, already dead.
She reached for her cheek. The warmth of a dead mother still there. The touch of a good mother still near. All she had to do was reach out and douse the flames. But she would not move and her mind would not still. Too many voices crying out. Mother!
She heard the cries of her siblings, the cries of her father. Her mother was holding to them trying to comfort death in her own way. Tears smeared her cheeks. Not this.
Suddenly the arch appeared. She could move.
She reached to douse the fire. She reached for her mother. She tried to regain all she had lost.
The way comes but once. Be steadfast.
She hesitated, looking at her paths. Go you fool!
She turned to the arch. Tears ripping her apart, breaking her ever more. Behind her she left the final memory of her mother, screams she heard as she begged the Light for mercy.
I donâ€™t care what you say! A voice cried out, docile, shy perhaps compared the rage of the others. I know myself. I shall finish this and be like them.
â€œYou 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.â€
That is because you are a fool, loudly voices responded in chorus. Trust no one. Seek no one. For Arianna, we must not trust, we must learn, and then be great.
Hypocrites, a voice to often silent, often to strong to hear, called. You say donâ€™t trust, but we cannot learn without trust. We ourselves are not trustworthy. Fool you call her. No, she speaks truth; you seek the lies.
Twyle tried to look calm. As though she were giving attention to the Aes Sedai. Bearing her burden as easily as she could. But above all her own havic she could barely make out the words.
Liars! Theifs! You twist the mind. You take from the heart!
Hst! We are not the ones who trusted at the keep. We were not the ones who brought us here. Hst! Go back we said. No, we did not lie.
CEASE THIS TALK, the true voice rang, nearly touching the Power to bring calm. Learn we must. Here lies our lesson.
Hst! The voices screamed then stopped.
â€œThe second arch is for what is. The way will come but once. Be steadfast.â€
The second arch was not as she thought it would be. Light it was a miracle. Malikâ€™s old manor, Ariannaâ€™s home now. She ran through the halls laughing.
Home? A voice asked.
â€œYes,â€ she responded almost in song. â€œHome.â€
She did not seek Arianna, she knew this place would let her be found. She looked around; a smile, like an unmade joy, filled her. Beauty was she in that moment. Happiness touched her.
She followed the halls into the garden. Light! The voices cried. Itâ€™s exactly the same. The trees were tall, lusciously green. The flowers bloomed, colors more beautiful than in any other world she knew. The smell alone could have kept her from returning to the Tower.
Suddenly a child entered from across the room. He stopped when he saw her. She saw him and remarked how much he looked like Malik. He couldnâ€™t have been more than eight, handsome and arrgont looking just like Malikâ€¦ or was it Rackin she saw. For a moment she rested her eyes on him not sure. Her smile faded from her lips. No, a voice muttered.
She feel to her knees. She did not know if it was from the thought or from her own weakness. She tried weakly to smile again.
â€œWhat is your name boy?â€
He stared at her now. As if her voice had shattered all his fears, he approached her. Yes it was Rakin she saw. For that she could have cared but little. No it was his other half that scared her.
â€œI am Loring,â€ he told her quite stoutly. â€œAnd you are Twyle, mother told me.â€
She dared not ask him who his mother was. It would be too much. Better to face the woman, truly if she were who she feared it was, better to see her.
â€œWill you take me to her?â€ she asked softly, perhaps sounding as her own mother had once.
He nodded and turned, expecting her to follow. â€œFather will be glad to see you. For mother has taken ill, he says you could heal her.â€ The way will come but once. Be steadfast.
She didnâ€™t want to know if Father meant Rakin, but before she could even hesitate on the thought he appeared.
â€œTwyle!â€ he said with surprise. â€œIs it really you?â€
She had never liked Rakin. Now she did pity him. His face was old, not as handsome as it had been. He looked tired, worried. She pitied him, that was the most she could manage.
â€œShe wants to see mother,â€ Loring said from underfoot.
â€œQuickly!,â€ he said not pausing a moment. â€œEach day she grows worse. Sheâ€™s calling for you Twyle.â€
She followed him, hoping to run passed him. Audience alone with his wife would be a blessing. â€œHow long has she been ill?â€ She left the question hold, though she did not feel its relevance. No, she did not pity him, she hated him.
â€œA few weeks,â€ he answered moving just a quickly, not even turning his head to acknowledge her. â€œTruly it started after you left. She has been taking ill and getting well; a terrible illness, which she always seems to conquer. This I fear however might take her.â€
She wasted no more breath on these words. Tired words on a man who did not deserve them. She noticed suddenly more children, four gathering and following them. If not for their half-blood she would have kicked them down as they step.
Have we been gone so long? She had truly never thought it. She had never wanted to think it. She never imagined this. No, she had imagined things, never this.
She entered the sick-room where the woman now lay. A young woman, her hair long and blonde, so often held back now lay streaming a fevered face. Grey eyes stared up in wonder.
â€œYou came back,â€ the rasping voice of Arianna whispered.
Twyle smiled. â€œYes my love. I came back.â€
Suddenly she realized that Rakin and the children were watching. â€œLeave us. This is a sick-room, not a gallery. A healer needs room to work.â€ Rakin looked at her with awe. He softly let his gaze fall to Arianna, then turned and with his children left.
A maid stood in the corner. â€œLeave,â€ Twyle demanded. With fear in her eyes the girl fled the room.
Alone she stared at Arianna. She softly took one hand and placed it in her own. Her other hand she rested on the forehead of a burning woman.
â€œI never thoughtâ€¦â€ Arianna tried to begin, tears were streaming her face. â€œI wanted to believeâ€¦ but you were gone so longâ€¦â€
â€œShhhâ€¦ Itâ€™s all right my love. Be still.â€
â€œItâ€™s not alright,â€ Ariannaâ€™s sickly voice demanded. â€œYou left and I promised to wait. And then I married Rakin. I broke myâ€¦â€
â€œShhâ€¦ Nothing is broken. Love I want nothing but your happiness. Be still.â€
â€œIâ€™ve not been happy since you left me. Iâ€™ve been sick in my grief. Dying everyday since Iâ€™ve been alone. All I had to hold onto was that youâ€™d return. Now you have and thereâ€™s nothing left of me to give. I never thoughtâ€¦â€
â€œShhâ€¦ You are a mother Arianna. More than I could ever give you. You have made a good life. I have felt your grief my love, if I had known it laid this deepâ€¦ â€œ The way will come but once. Be steadfast.
â€œAll we ever wanted, happiness. That you gave to me. Now I have broken yours. I didnâ€™t wait love. Iâ€¦â€
â€œShhhâ€¦ I was the one who left. I was the one who broke your joy. Be still.â€
â€œYou had to go. You were dying, destroying yourself.â€
â€œShhâ€¦ You made me whole. You made me happy. It is you have I have lived for. Now I see what I have done. It is my sin, not yours. Be still love.â€
The woman just cried. Twyle held her hand, rubbed her forehead and comforted her. She felt pain, deeper than she had ever imagined. She had destroyed Arianna. Arianna, who she had promised to live for. How could she be dying from this grief? Twyle knew it was her own fault.
The way will come but once. Be steadfast.
At the sound of the words Twyle lent in and kissed Arianna. Lips red with fire, she did not fear the flame as she had thought. No she feared the death. Arianna returned the kiss, then died. Twyle cried. Tears she had thought were spent now came with a passion no temperance could claim.
The arch appeared.
No we cannot leave her! Weâ€™ve left her in life. We cannot leave her in death. No. We cannot leave her!
The arch stood and Twyne rested her lips on Ariannaâ€™s forehead.
We cannot leave her!
She stepped back slowly.
We must, the true voice cried.
Marching through the arch filled with the deathly silence hurt her far more than any scream or call ever could. Now she had faced it, but she had not conquered it. Her lover was dead, by her doing. A thread in her life had vanished, by her wrong. She was without half herself. She herself was dying. All this to be Aes Sedai. All this, so she might not die first.
She could not hear anything through her grief. â€œYou are washed clean of false pride. You are washed clean of false ambition. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul.â€ She could not touch this world, reality itself. â€œThe third time is for what will be. Be steadfast for the way back will come but once.â€ Nothing felt more real then her grief. Death, was that all she had left to give.
There was a slight glimmer in the night sky. She looked up at the night sky. The stars danced in the faded moonlight. Night was growing darker each time she took a liking to it. She could change that no more than she could change the past. The paintings of the Wheel, the Creator perhaps. She pushed away the memories and tried to think of other things.
What was this life now? The White Tower? No, this was far away close to things she knew. She looked down at her hand and saw the cursed ring. Was she truly to Aes Sedai? She still could not think the word without hatred. But she hated so many things, fewer perhaps since sheâ€™d arrived those long days ago. She strained a lonely thought as Aes Sedai. It troubled her.
She hung her head back and looked to the moon. Cold. She preferred it that way. She liked the wear the thick winter coats she used to wear. Snow, crushed better than leaves, felt better, like a smile. Light or thick, it mattered not. Winter brought about a part of her spirit, the chilling cold gave warmth to her heart. She did not like the feeling of warm, not heat, but reaching for the warmth you can never grasp such a different thing.
Cold, a dark cold came quickly. A child, an infant, before her, abandoned on the road. How a mother could ever leave her child she tried not to wonder? The thoughts of her own mothers leaving still strong. The child was sick, cold. Maybe it was hypothermia, she did not know. She was cold herself.
The way will come but once. Be steadfast.
Not only the memories cried to her but the voices. Yes when she saw that child they would not let it go. Screaming, yelling, telling her to heal. All as one, almost all. Coming out from the chatter, the tyranny of all those voices, was the one voice that could truly stand alone. She had no name for it, that voice alone had value of a name. It screamed for silence, and for once, for the first time in almost as long as she knew, silence came.
Thatâ€™s when trouble began. The warmth, the love, and the power, thatâ€™s when they came. She had been ready to touch Power, aided by the true voice. She had warmed the child from within herself. She had been itâ€™s warmth in a world filled with such things that could only take to still itâ€™s heart. Yes, thatâ€™s when she began to love winter.
She sighed, and turned her eyes to stare at the farthest star. Every night it seemed to go farther. Reaching the ends of worlds she had never been to. Seeking with itâ€™s eye the valleys of things she would never see.
The air was chilling and her breath was cold. Light what she would give to be that child. Cold. She herself had grown ill, with heat. Swarming through her like... no she dared not to think it. But the true voice had kept her strong, helped her through the raging fever. She cherished the quiet moments she could recall, at least those after theâ€¦. She buried the memory, turning from the sky. Cold was a wonder, at least until someone made the wood kindle for tired warmth.
The child still in her arms, smiling almost laughing. Dying and she was helpless to it. Then they came. Those who she had loved, who she had followed, who she had learnt to trust. The Children were coming. To bring her home?
â€œWITCH!â€ voices shouted, pointing and screaming at her. â€œWITCH!â€
She didnâ€™t know how it happened, but the child was taken from her arms. Arms reaching around her, voices within her screaming, RUN RUN! But she could not escape the mob.
â€œPlease. I am one of you. A Child of the Light!â€ She tried to plead.
â€œWITCH!â€ She didnâ€™t know where she was going but she felt death around her. The mob was a fire itself, the chill of the cold was no longer there. â€œWITCH!â€
Then she felt herself lit. Flames and rage as she was burning to death. The faces of the people she had gripped to, hoped would save her. She was losing everything, everything. And in this reality of fiction she was going to die.
The way will come but once. Be steadfast.
â€œNO!â€ she screamed. She gripped the fire within, that fire she had cursed til now. She threw it out on the mob. Before she knew what she was doing the crowd was tortured in flames and ashes. The eyes of the cold child staring at her from stilled arms, dead by her doing. She was surrounded by the ashes of her people, she herself still burning alive. Then the arche came, and she crawled towards freedom.
Death, she thought as she crawled through the exit. Thatâ€™s what I am.
â€œYou are washed clean of Twyle. 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 Twyle, Accepted of the White Tower.â€
â€œYou are sealed to us, now. Welcome, daughter,â€ A girl, no a woman smiled down at her. Twyle felt the cursed ring slip on her finger. â€œWelcome, Daughterâ€, Twyle felt the terror of a kiss on both her cheeks. â€œWelcome.â€
There was silence all around her. Her body forever scarred by the fire of her arches. Her face marred, there was no way to repair the burnt flesh along her bodice and her left cheek. No mother would ever touch that cheek again. For pain was all that could be left; Pain and Death.