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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY

Sam

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  1. Rory held no such preconceptions as Rory had no idea what weapons training entailed, other than the use of a weapon. Somehow, though, she concluded that a branch picked up from the wet earth was not the commonly used substitute for any kind of weapon, except maybe a broom or a mop. On the chance that she was wrong she phrased her question very careful so as not to cause offence. “This . . . ah . . . this do be what I am going to use? I no do be thinking I be using a stick; possibly a lathe . . . ?” Rory smiled helplessly. There was not a lot she could do without calling Aran on something she wasn’t even sure he had done and she couldn’t really do that without risking more difficulty. She did not need any more difficulty. Rather, an expression born of both utmost confusion and gratitude passed over her face. “Thank you. What type of oil do I be using to keep it, anything in particular or do it no be mattering?” The question was a little pointless but she felt herself compelled to say something and it was the only think coming to mind that didn’t sound ridiculous. She certainly had not expected to be given a stick, and definitely not one picked up off the ground that she had to prepare herself. No point worrying about that though, she wa here for training, after all, and couldn’t be expected to understand everything. “I be having one other question, yes. What next . . ., sir?" Rory had a sudden prophetic realisation: Aran was going to be the death of her if only he could; she hoped she could avoid giving him that opportunity.
  2. “Oh ho. I do be answering that just as soon as we be finding some place to eat. The first rule of alehouses: no do be eaten where you be drinking. They do be offering food, sure enough, but only so that you do be drinking more. I always do be wondering if they no do be slightly resentful than ale no be enough for anyone. I do be understanding that as it do be fantastic. I do be knowing just the place. Come along!” Rory Sedai (yes, yes I do enjoy saying that), dropped a few coins on the table and headed for the door. She may have left a little more than necessary for whomever was quick enough to claim it; . . . wasn’t as though she had anywhere else to spend it. Some of her sisters never had enough money, others like her always had too much; she considered it something to use once and a while and to weight her pockets. A brisk walk and the pair was sitting behind another table waiting for a lot of food. You may wonder what the name of this place is but I shan’t tell you. Frankly, it is not my job to be creative and make-up Tar Valon landmarks and inns and such, for that is surely someone else’s responsibility. However, if you choose to content yourself with the knowledge that they serve bloody fantastic food here, which is the important thing, well done! She, Rory, was not hungry; this would not stop her supplying food to her new charge, who clearly was. That would be easier in some ways: she could speak while Miya listened, she wouldn’t be interrupted nearly as often by excited responses and it would be conducive to Rory’s over-all health and well-being. “Now, I do be coming from one of those Southern lands. You be correct there. Illian; now I do be calling Tar Valon and The White Tower my home as do my sisters. When I be younger I lived, and worked, in an inn. No surprises there. I know my way about the taps good as any. The call of home no do be as strong as it once was. The taverns and inns and alehouses of Tar Valon be just as fine in their entertainment and better in their fare . . . nice to travel there once and awhile, still. “Your meal do be well?”
  3. Mocking her accent was one thing, but doing it that badly was altogether another. She winced as he pronounced every deliberate syllable. Rory had expected trouble, she had been warned specifically that there would be trouble and wasn’t so much fazed as amazed that he would continue to try have her on. Terribly persistent he was. Now, if only he would teach her with the same level of commitment displayed here. She grinned again at the second part of his monologue; especially, flailing it about like an idiot. She fully intended to do that, but again, that is why she was there to be trained. For that little remark she would make sure to come off as useless a student as she possibly could, not that this would be hard. Spite was a wonderful thing if used in constructive ways. When he at last fell silent she simply stared. The last line in particular was somewhat out of place and Rory was unable to decide whether to laugh or . . . what. She chose a middle option, to wear a very genuine bemused expression bordering on a frown. Such a strange thing to say, no doubt said for that reason, as well as the belief that it would be difficult for her to respond to it, which held some truth. “. . . If you do be referring to you teaching me, then I do be supposing you be right in that I want it. If you do be meaning that in any other way I do be having to tell you: there no do be anything you have that I be wanting. You do be having at least one added appendage that I be preferring to do without. Good? Good. “I could be going and speaking to the Mistress of Trainees if I be wanting, that’s fact. But I assure you I no be asking for a replacement, no sir, you no be that lucky. I be telling, maybe, some of the things you do be saying while you do be teaching me. That way I do be getting to watch and enjoy whatever punishment she do forcing upon you. “Shall we begin now?”
  4. Asking a question without waiting for the answer reminded her of someone she knew, and she grinned against her better judgement. Well, well, well. Rory listened with amusement as the spiel continued; her smile infectious and warm as heat lamp. She was not going to like this girl, she wasn’t. There was absolutely no way! Tough words, but her foe was too mighty and her resistance was slipping. Fortune prick me! Kicking some shadow butt toppled her, who couldn’t enjoy hearing something like that? It was a perfect reflection for how Rory saw it, with small adjustment that Rory was now more aware of little words like, ‘repercussions’, ‘consequences’, ‘and that light cursed fool head of . . .’ hers. Impulse was great, enthusiasm priceless. Miya not really knowing the full implications of her words was not really a problem for Rory, who wasn’t about to ruin that spirit. “Hah! I do be Rory Sedai of the Green Ajah sure enough,” she pointed to the green sash she wore around her waist. Conspicuous against the brown of her leggings, “but what that do be having in common with my thirst I no be knowing. Just wait until you be meeting Lillian Sedai of the White Ajah. One of the worst hangovers I ever do be having was a night cradled in the arms of one of her wine bottles. I do be sticking to ale now, thanks much.” She thought for a moment, phrasing her next words to get the girl’s interest without illuminating on the full danger of the situation. “I do be travelling to the borderlands now and again, almost every year. (It) do be a nasty habit Lillian inspired, I do be travelling with her, as fact, and it do be even more thrilling than you do be thinking. If you do be making it to the shawl, and I no do be doubting you got the stuff, no doubt you be able to come along. We be living a long time, you and I, the time it takes to reach the shawl only do be seeming long until you get there. “Kicking shadow butt be what we be all about. There be nothing finer than a cool glass of ale and a fallen enemy in the morning, at noon, in the evening—Creator’s bed—there just no be a thing finer. Typical Ajah chest thumping aside, now. As a sister you do be doing most anything you be wanting so no do be limiting yourself by Ajah choice; they do be a good guide but a rough one. Some of the meanest beatings I ever do be witnessing came at the hands of a yellow sister, the healing Ajah. And if you do be wanting to see a battling spirit try arguing with a one of the browns. You do be finding that they all be overlapping and you be free enough in all of them.” Rory could have told her of the different Ajah and their professions, but she knew there would be enough recruitment pressure to come as Miya progressed and refused to divide separately what was part of a single whole. Another sister or an Accepted would be more than happy to point the pros and cons of each, no doubt. Rory refused, indefinitely. “I am glad you do be looking forward to your learning, it certainly do be making things easier. I don’t suppose you do be hungry?” OOC: Bah, James got all pouty so I chucked in the green dialogue.
  5. Rory was grinning so hard that her mouth hurt; the last comment made her laugh loudly, and merrily. It took her several minutes to compose herself from his initial outburst which had been, without a doubt, impressive. Her laughing pains travelled down to her chubby lovehandles. She wondered if he’d made it all up on the spot of if it was rehearsed. Aran almost earned his freedom with that performance. Almost. She may have been twice as old as he was but she still had no idea how to respond. What did a person say to something like that? Uppity like only a sister can was a possibility, as was giving in to his demands and visiting the Mistress of Trainees with a complaint or six. Neither of these options would hasten the training she was really quite certain she wanted. No, she’d decided: stuff him. “I cannot be saying I no do be warned about you.” She raised her arms, looked at her belly and then behind at her own backside to make sure Aran was talking a lot of rubbish—he was. “I do be sorry my body no do be pleasing you, but look on the bright side: you no do be doing a lot for me either. Do be working out for both of us that, as I no do be here for you to look at, and besides, you no do be my type. Sorry. Don’t worry, even if you know do be used to talking with a woman you no do be paying for, I be sure I can run you through the basics.” “My name do be Rory Sedai, but you be calling me Rory if you be of a mind to, or I be tempted call you Aran Tower Guard, maybe.” That being said, the young Aes Sedai extended her hand on the off chance that her new mentor, and he was going to be whether he liked it or not, we take it and they could get something done.
  6. Rory Sedai. Fantastic. She didn’t feel very Aes Sedai though, nor Accepted, nor Novice. No, she was the same Rory she had always been with a few minor lessons learnt along the way. Something grander was supposed to have happened, she was sure, some kind of inner transformation upon ascending to the level of full sister that would . . . do something. Instead, Rory Sedai went along as she always had, only now no one told her what to do except for Rory Sedai, which was nice. Oh, and Darienna, but then, some things never changed. All by herself she decided to pursue training in the combative arts and all by herself she had done so. Not quite all by herself she chose Aran. He appeared to know what he was about, and he was a guard of the tower, warder material or some such, not that Rory really wanted one of those, a lot of added responsibility; a lot of added bother. No, she and Saline together could face most anything and they had Lillian if they couldn’t. What need did she have for an over-bearing and mothering individual with a sword? None, that’s what. Melee combat was attractive in its own way or Rory would not in the yards now waiting for her first training session to begin. She supposed that is what they were called, training sessions. Saidar was more powerful than anything shaped from the bones of the earth, stronger than most things, yet she really wanted to have that, too. She was not the most powerful member of the Green Ajah, far from it, and the more skills she possessed the better she could compensate for this deficit. It was winter still; the air was cold. Rory did not have to see her breath rising to know that, the prickle against her skin was more than adequate proof. She was dressed in pants, sweet, glorious pants, as well as a blouse and shoes and that was pretty much it. A jacket would have been nice but if she were going to be doing anything physically strenuous she would only regret it later; therefore, she decided not to bother. Saline was a little concerned about all this, she knew that. Saline did not trust this Aran fellow, having heard some less than savoury things about his relations with the tower. She would not give her anything to worry over; there was no reason to do that. Having made a deal with Aran she would see it through and so would he and that would be that. It needn’t be complicated further. It was nice to know that Saline would be looking out for her, or more accurately, keeping an eye on Aran. Aran was late: an excellent start. Where was he?
  7. When Rory glared, and she did, she made sure that Darienna was far enough away not to notice; then she snorted and finally looked at her new student. “That be that then, I expect. My name do be Rory, you needn’t bother with the ‘sedai’ unless we do be in public. Other sisters do be expecting that kind of thing and too much change be frying their noggins—your hair do be looking very nice, by the way.” Rory was not thrilled with the prospect of being responsible for anyone who was not Rory, especially after her own paragon behaviour as a novice and later an accepted. Zalena’s involvement would remove a lot of the pressure from her small shoulders. They weren’t made for this sort of weight. In the mean time Rory had a few uses for her new ward. “Come along, then. I do be instructed to show you around and that do be exactly what I am going to do . . . starting with an alehouse.” She led, pointing out anything of interest along the way; admittedly there wasn’t a lot that Rory found interesting. The bells in Miya’s hair made pleasant, musical notes as they walked. Light, what was she going to do with a novice? When at last they reached the alehouse, one of Rory’s favourites, she could not have been more pleased. Not only did those bells make little bell sounds when Miya walked, but they also did when she looked: up, down, left, right, back, forth. It was a nightmare! She was ready to cut them off herself, or the head to save time. Rory sat Miya down at a table and ordered two foamy mugs of ale, which she cooled herself. At first determined to drink in silence, she reneged when the tinkling bells continued. She sat her mug down softly, “How about you do be telling me a little bit about yourself. What do you be leaving behind to come here, and do hoping to make it to the shawl?” If she couldn’t drink in silence, she could keep enough of the girl’s attention to silence those damn bells.
  8. Emelia smiled with a small glimpse of sharp, even teeth. It was not a pleasant smile. Emelia knew a game when encountered one. Emelia liked games. She did not remember how many people she had killed in Illian so far, nor how many she allowed to speak first, but not one person had treated her with courtesy or respect. No, and when a porcelain witch was the first to do so, one was bound to become suspicious. Is this why I should fear her? Unlikely, game-playing was for children. Children—and what was that word—bureaucrats? If that was where the aes sedai power lay, Emelia was going to be disappointed. They were supposed to be like her, channellers, they called it. She remembered. The old one had harped on about saidar and taints and all sorts. Emelia had paid little attention. None of that was important. Her thoughts of the old woman led to her death, and awakened desire. Her cheeks began to warm. Not here! Her inward message went unheeded and the heat spread throughout her body, causing her breathing to become shallow and rapid, her eyes to glisten and her hands looking desperately for something to occupy themselves with. When her forehead became damp with perspiration and the heat of her body rose as steam into the air she knew she would have to move fast. “Illian chose . . . me, of course. I do not really remember how I . . . got here. But now that I am here, I do not wish to leave.” She waved a burning hand in a vague direction, “They accept me here. I can be myself without anyone . . . chasing me. It is refreshing. There is no one else around, except for you, why should I not rule then, in the absence of all others? I would be a good . . . leader. “I am not originally from here . . . no. I do not remember the city of my birth it was a long time . . . ago. My parents died in a fire, and I travelled a lot . . . afterwards. I may as well be from here as any other place. It makes no difference to . . . me where I hang my hat. Oh, darn. Where did I put that . . . anyway?”
  9. Placing the quill down as though almost an act of worship, Damion pushed the open book forward, signaling that his attention was no longer upon it. Next, he placed the fingers of one hand through the spaces in those of the other hand, and rested the sides of his palm heels on the table. It sounded like a very complicated movement but is not. With his hands in this locked position he could resist the temptation to gesture when he spoke. He smiled again, an action that came very easily too him, and spoke, his tone careful and well-suited for a library, “I suppose I became interested in zoology at about the same moment I became interested in most everything else, which was some time ago. I grew up as a harvester of sorts; I had my scythe, my clothes, my Bride and my crops. Life was my world view was much narrower than it became later, when I was introduced the idea of knowledge.” Yes, he even managed to pronounce the word bride with a capital letter. Now that is scholarly. “I’m not in Tar Valon often, and so I take the opportunity, where I can, to visit this library. It is one of the biggest and most comprehensive I have visited, and enjoys certain volumes, such as this, that other libraries do not. And what is better is that you can have a discussion here and disagree without making an enemy who may one day try to kill you. “I do have to make a certain admission: that I choose this particular book was part luck and part co-incidence. I knew I would visit but I did not know what I wished to read. On my way here I came upon a moth stuck in a spider’s web and decided that today I would be fascinated by arachnids. Well, I saw your book first and so here we are. “And where does your interest stem from?”
  10. Young woman. Emelia giggled. She was older than the oldest normal person, probably. She did not know how her age compared with others of her kind; she and they weren’t suited for each other. More often than not they would attack her without warning and she had no idea why. A burn first, question later policy would have been smart, yet she did look good in her dress and what was the purpose behind looking good if everyone died before getting a look. Her skirts swished several times. Unfortunate events? The other woman looked strange. Some people may have described it as ‘ageless’; Emelia did not understand what an ageless person would look like. To her, the stranger appeared like a doll of porcelain, crafted, fake; unnatural; not a person at all. She knew then, that she looked upon an aes sedai. Having heard stories, but never seen one before now, Emelia always thought she would be afraid, or nervous in their presence. She felt nothing but curiosity. What unfortunate events could the other woman be referring to? She was pointing towards her handiwork and nothing was amiss there. Emelia would know if there was. And then the realization dawned. The other woman was talking about her handiwork; she found this funny and began to giggle behind her hand. “That’s not an unfortunate event, silly, that was me! I did that. Give me time and I’ll have a palace over there. You’ll see. A queen needed a palace, after all and it is a good spot.”
  11. (One week later, you'll have practised that form with both hands every day since, as well as still doing your shroud climb) Mr. Sweeper swung his training lathe. It was such a puny thing and barely more than a toy. Why use such a useless, fine contraption when a great, brutal halberd could cleave a man in twain with nary an effort. (I stole that off wo de nai just then) Later he would show his recruits how a real weapon was handled, right this moment he would give them a glimpse of true battle and its demands on the mind. It was unfortunate that sea-combat called for fierce and quick melee combat for it denied a sailor the pleasure of clobbering his enemies into puddles with a great maul, punching a hole clean through them with a spear or generally eviscerating them with an axe. Sweeper himself, while aboard, used two maces; one was flanged, the other spiked. Their names were “Thud” and “Splat” respectively. “Today, ladies, I’m goin’ to make ye all men. No, not ‘ow yer mothers did; a better, more mutually pleasin’ way: we’re goin’ to spar! That’s right, ye and me in-divid-ually. The art of combat is glor-ious, swift and bru-tal. There is no time fer muckin’ about, there is no time fer second guesses and there is no time fer mercy or consideration. Yer job, and yer only job, is to survive; usually this is done by ensuring that yer opponent does not.” He motioned for the first recruit to step forward, which he did. Mr. Sweeper held his sword in a nonchalant way, not all too concerned about being struck. The recruit watched him warily but did not move. It was plain that he was thinking and thinking hard; Mr. Sweeper waited. The recruit, having decided on a course of action sprang forward, halting suddenly when Mr. Sweeper moved. About half a second later the recruit in question was flat on his back. His breathing was pained, and would be, for the next few hours. Mr. Sweeper waited to see if he would stand again and when he made no movement to, looked towards the next recruit. “Do not second guess!” The second recruit stepped forward and moved in a cautious defensive movement. Mr. Sweeper snorted and then closed the distance between them too rapidly for the recruit’s comfort, grabbed his sword arm with a vice like grip until the sword dropped and all but threw him across the deck. He slid a fair distance. “Do not hesitate!” The third recruit stepped forward and didn’t wait; he ran at Mr. Sweeper’s exposed side and struck hard with his sword. Mr. Sweeper bellowed and bent over, clutching his ribs and groaning. The third recruit came forward quickly to apologise, having seen what happened to the last person to strike him unannounced. When he got there, Mr. Sweeper met him with the flat of his blade. It was amazing how quickly the recruit dropped when the wood struck his forehead. “Very good, but show no mercy! When yer enemy is ‘urt ‘e is less likely to ‘urt back!” And so Mr. Sweeper moved down the line. OOC: Right, so here is your first spar and you're going to lose. He's bigger, meaner, and better, but don't mind striking a blow if you think you can land it. If he knocks you down you may also get back up and keep going, whatever you like. Just remember I get to impose the rule of "this is my ship" and inject reality if I have to. Have fun!"
  12. The chamber of shaped stone brought no warmth to her naked form, but that is not why she shivered. The seven Aes Sedai around her observed her body, but that is not why she hugged herself. The ritualistic words were heavy, but that is not why she found it so hard to speak. The shadows pushed down upon her bearing the weight of ages, and in that place where fear knew no limits, it was that which consumed her. She knew this to be a place of testing, that this was where her right to be called Aes Sedai would be determined. But her fear was not born from respect for the ancient tradition, only knowledge of her weaknesses; the limits of her endurance and of her ability. Any test designed to cleanse, to uproot the “weeds” from the tower could prove beyond her, and of this she was all too aware. Rory did not deserve any more than she already possessed, she knew this. In the beginning she had been so disinterested and unwilling to learn that for months she had done anything in her power to disrupt or dismay her teachers. Her craving for saidar had begun only when she discovered it was a presence she may never feel, a basic lesson left unaccomplished. This had not sat well with her. And then she had discovered those relationships that had the strength to guide her throw her Arches, had been the only links strong enough to pull her from the seductive clutch of false reality, but they could not help her here, not Lillian on whom she saw as a guide and teacher, and not even Saline her roommate and constant companion. No. This test would be taken alone, and only the strength of her mind; the strength of her body could hope to prevail. She stepped into the oval, and the world melted away into black oblivion. With no point of reference Rory panicked. Eyes closed or open the view was the same: nothing. She could not her feet, nor he legs, nor he hands, not the ground around or above her. Her body locked with paralysing fear. She remained still. She felt firm stone beneath her feet … and what if that changed from in one step? Her eyes adjusted to the pitch and her eyes were drawn toward a faint light: the star. Her heart beat a little faster and her muscles loosened with the arrival of an object of familiarity. Still … what if there were gaps, or holes in the stone and she fell? Would falling be any different to standing stationary? Not really. She took one careful step, slowly following it with another, and then a third. So far so good. The star was much closer in just those three steps. She took another, and another, and some more, to a total of seven and she felt almost as if she could reach out and touch it. She tried but the star appeared to be above her, out of her reach. She felt around blindly, the fear causing her to sweat. At first her hand came in contact with nothing, and the world was all a silence, even her own breath afraid to make known its presence. How could she reach the star? There was nothing there! She jumped, feeling foolish for the failure but having had to try. She felt around some more, her hand coming into contact with rough hewn stone: a step. Yes! With her hands feeling her way she began to climb. She reached for the star, and then began to weave, a bright flash of light illuminating the darkness. The world around her began to change. A sharp intake of breath find only water, she coughed violently and spun wildly in the murk for any trace of direction. The star was easy to find and she swam towards it, her lungs itching. It was far away, and by the time she touched it her chest on fire and her vision was becoming cloudy. She surrendered to the source. Nothing happened. No reason to worry it happened all the time. She tried again; failure. This has happened before as well, it wasn’t good, but nothing to worry about. A third attempt, failure. She tried a fourth and even fifth time. Still nothing. Rory became frantic, trying to find a way out, there was none she could see and she knew that soon she could not help but breathe the green liquid. She offered up a silent prayer to the creator and tried once more. The warm glow of saidar surrounded her and she wove desperately. She would not release the source again, it was too risky. She was not going to die here. So she was not! The world shifted once more, only moments after her mouth had opened and she had been forced to breathe. Rory attempted to suck in air and cough the remnants of the water out of her lungs all at the same time with minimal success. When at last the convulsive fit subsided she looked up at the moving clouds. It was at the same moment that she noticed the clouds above becoming farther and farther above that she felt the rushing wind at her back. She tried to turn, but realised there was no ground beneath her to find purchase. Horrified she understood her predicament: an aerial free fall. In vain she twisted and wriggled, trying to see how far the looming earth was below, and the skin on her back began to prickle with dread. She looked for the star and found already in her left hand, and had no idea how. Had it always been? She wove…. …And crashed into a table in the common room, splitting it in twain and landing on the floor amid splinters and foamy ale. Loud angry voices cursed her bitterly. Disorientated, confused and dazed as she was, she did not understand the nature of the curses until the first blow fell. Instinct curled her into a ball, protecting the sensitive areas while still exposing her to assault. Worn leather boots dominated the landscape seen between her elbows, glimmers of movement and pain. Her mind reeled, cast adrift. What kind of test was this? She felt the glow more than saw it, and dragged herself along the ground towards it, each strike causing a grunt of pain and there were many. Rory clenched her jaws in her hallmark pose of defiance and exposed her body to the full brunt of assault as she stretched out to grab the star. Her eyes Rolled back from a particularly nasty boot to the stomach, but still she held firm to weave. Time wore on and the pressure did not relent. Rory felt the success of each weave with a mix of elation on apprehension: closer to victory, but feeling the loss of each small piece of power keenly, she could only continue for so long. Each new challenge tested. Physically, emotionally and spiritually they drained her. She fought through horrible half-man half animal shapes, through a forest of trees more than capable of trapping her amongst its wooden bars, each trunk a jailer. She had channelled though the ground beneath her feet heaved and buckled with tremours; had channelled through the fear of a skeletal, eyeless thing, and had at one point been forced to weave while dodging explosive balls of white fire. One by one the challenges were meet and over come, one by one until one remained. Saline helped her to stand, embracing her face with joy, stroking her hair. “You do no be real.” Rory mumbled, eyelids drooping and body sagging against the Saline illusion. She was not real, but felt so warm, so warm and so inviting and Rory longed to do nothing but sleep. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if she gave in, just a little while, let the illusion enfold her with its realistic body, the fragrance of fresh soap and cleanliness. Surely no one would mind. She had one weave left. There was no rush. Why rush? Just one ... and Saline was as warm as she was in life, her breath as sweet, the rise and fall of her chest and the beating of her heart. Who would blame her if she rested a moment? Hadn’t she earned it? Didn’t she deserve it after all she had over come? Somehow she found herself on her knees without remembering how she got there. Saline was crooning, her lips brushing across Rory’s forehead. No one would need to know. They could share a few moments here, beneath the juniper tree in the arms of one another and she could still pass her test. Just a few minutes longer and she’d continue, yes; the shade of the juniper was so nice. The Juniper tree ... Rory groaned and broke Saline’s soft embrace. She longed to stay, but knew it was not real, and if she lay down she would fail her test and would never become an Aes Sedai, might never see Saline again. Who knew what the Aes Sedai did with their failed. Feeding them to trollocs hidden beneath the tower was likely. Groggily, Rory made her way towards the star and cast her final weave.... ...And landed on all fours in the small oval chamber, the damp, cold stone revitalising her body and mind, washing away the residue of her fatigue. She attempted to stand, but found she lacked the strength. Her limbs were flowing water, not heading command, but following the path of least resistance. Her mind was melted wax, refusing to be drawn together to form any collected thought. She heard words but they were faint, far away. She was helped to her feet and congratulated, but the only sound she heard was a loud buzzing. She felt drunk and in need a very long rest. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Rory stumbled into their combined room, sad to see that Saline was not there. She could have used her roommate’s embrace for real this time. Tripping over almost everything between the door and her bed, she finally managed to flop down onto the hard mattress and close her eyes. She knew she should be reflecting but she just couldn’t bring herself to think. It was too difficult. Which Ajah would she choose? The choice did not seem a difficult one to make. She had known inside where she wished to be, known it the moment she had been brought within the tower against her will, kicking, cursing; fighting. There was no choice, only decision, and she knew come the morrow where she would stand. The temple had tried to curb her will, and they had failed. What they had achieved was the redirection of her stubbornness. Rather than fight against the tower and all of its inhabitants she fought against her own weaknesses and the disadvantages she knew she possessed. It was difficult to be unaware of such things where those stronger than her were everywhere, and seldom let her forget her weakness. She had almost failed her test for a minute’s respite; for Saline’s touch. Maybe she should be concerned about that, fearful, or regretful, but she felt none of the above. It had been a meaningless illusion thrown to ensnare and trick her and it had failed. In the end she had chosen correctly, had she not? So what was there to be worried about? Nothing, that’s right; nothing. Thus sorted, Rory hide herself under her blankets, closed her eyes and slipped into a coma like sleep. "Who comes here?" "Rory Baker." Her voice was strained and sore. She spoke as loudly and as clearly as she dared but each syllable caused her to wince. There had been a lot of sleep, but Rory still felt more than a little fatigued, mind, body and soul. "For what reason do you come?" Indeed, why had she come? Well, she had been forced, of course, but now she truly believed she wished to become an Aes Sedai. Yes. She had earned the shawl and she would wear it proudly ... well, she may not actually wear it as such, but she’d use and abuse her rank to get cheap beer. "To swear the Three Oaths and thereby claim the shawl of an Aes Sedai." "By what right do you claim this burden?" "By right of having made the passage, submitting myself to the will of the White Tower." I do be hating you all! "Then enter, if you dare, and bind yourself to the White Tower." Rory did not blink as she stepped into the chamber. She aimed directly for the Amyrlin and the oath rod. She knew she should be afraid, and far more nervous, but the testing had left her with little energy to call upon, even to emotionally react to the monumental occasion. She was dazed. "Under the Light and by my hope of Salvation and Rebirth, I vow that I will speak no word that is not true." But I can think them! "Under the Light and by my hope of Salvation and Rebirth, I vow that I will make no weapon for one man to kill another." "Under the Light and by my hope of Salvation and Rebirth, I vow that I will never use the One Power as a weapon except against Shadowspawn, or in the last extreme of defending my life, or that of my Warder, or another sister." The idle thought came to her and almost made her laugh. Does that mean she could not defend the life of an innocent, even if she anted to? And just where, oh where, was the fun in not using saidar as a weapon? It wasn’t anywhere, that’s where. Rory would have to figure out for herself what the tower definition of “weapon” actually was. "It is half done, and the White Tower is graven on your bones." "Rise now, Aes Sedai, and choose your Ajah. All will be done that may be done under the Light." Rory made all the proper motions and movements on auto-pilot and then stumbled toward those sisters of the green ajah. She wanted this over quickly so she could leave, and the more indecision she showed the longer it took. She came in ignorance and she would leave against in ignorance. The only thing learned to ware the tower and its graduates. Somewhere there was a very strong drink with her name on it, and she intended to look at the bottom of every ale jug across Tar Valon until she found the right one.
  13. Rory giggled. She didn’t actually know why, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that she had to convince Lillian and Darienna it was because she was that eager to play the game. In truth she had not played it in some years. The last time was before coming to the tower, not even she and Saline had played; it was a way to pass time when she had been disruptive and was temporarily banned from the common room. Oh, the questions she could ask both Lillian and Darienna. Here was Rory’s chance to get her own back, indeed to ask such appalling and frightful questions that they were forced to anoint her Rory Sedai, Mistress of Truth, right then or there, or some such. She almost said it, but it came out as a giggle instead. “Yes! Absolutely. I no do be having any problems playing truth or dare.” Quite stealthily she thought, Rory rubbed her hands together. Payback time. "Riiight." Looking to Lillian whose smile was barely discernable, Darienna winked so Rory couldn't see before turning back to the Accepted. There was going to be some fun had with this after all, they'd have to make the best of it. Besides, whatever was said was not going to leave the three of them, that was the basic foundation of trust. "Alright then Rory. To be fair, you may go first. Truth." Rory’s eyes sparkled. Oh yes. Here it would begin. Now, what to ask, what to ask. “Okay. I have one. How much trouble do you ever be getting into before becoming aes sedai?” Rory thought her question was fantastic and couldn’t withhold a look of stupid self-indulgence. She had some more wine to hide it, wondering when it began to taste like sunshine. Laughing, Darienna realised that that was probably a question she should have anticipated. Oh, how proud Rory looked at her question, it would be interesting to see how Rory took the answer that she was given. "I actually got in more trouble than you, Rory, though not quite the same. I quietened down a bit as an Accepted, after I went to the Farm, but not that much. Why do you think that all the pranks and jokes and silly things that Novices and Accepted do are so easily picked up on? I've already been there and done it." "I believe its my turn. Truth." Smiling as she looked over at Lillian, Darienna already knew what question she would ask her. "How many months did you spend on the farm with me?" "Too many. Seven months." Nodding at the answer, Darienna turned to Rory as Lillian did, as now it was Lillian's turn to ask a question. "Truth or Dare?" Rory gasped. It was a surprise and then at the same time it wasn’t. It did make a lot of sense now that she thought about it. She was being caught rather easily and she was very clever—giggle. She had never been sent to the farm, not even one. Rather than consider the fact that her own punishment may have been somewhat similar, or that her transgressions may have been somewhat more life-threatening she decided she could puff herself up for the evening at least. And that’s what she did she was obviously sitting straighter in her chair by the time it was her turn. “Well, you both be choosing truth so I be choosing truth, too!” "Really?" Darienna almost rolled her eyes at Lillian's tone, it was overly dramatic but at the same time, Rory was overly drunk. Regardless, whatever the question was going to be, Darienna was quite certain that Lillian was going to cane the girl well and truly. She knew that tone of voice far too well by now to mistake it for anything else. "In that case, whats the closest you've ever come to losing your virginity? Oh, and when you've answered, my turn and truth." Rory’s breath hissed out as though she’d just been punched in the belly. If she was drinking at the time it’d have gone everywhere, thankfully she wasn’t, “W-w-what? You mean like . . . like . . .” she made interesting gestures with her hands. For some reason her mouth had suddenly stopped working. Was that in the rules? They never played like that at home. She was sure that that wasn’t in the rules. Rory looked pained, then plaintive. There were some questions you just didn’t ask a girl, and this was one of them. There were others, but they weren’t nearly so embarrassing to answer. She assumed this, as she had never been asked them, of course, before right this moment she hadn’t been asked that one either. Lillian would pay, pay! “Well . . . I . . . err . . . I . . .” she paused for breath, and a groan, “Like . . . I . . . there was . . .” Another pause and a small sigh. “I-I suppose it do be, err, just before the, ahhh, prank with the, ahh . . . you know what prank. I, um . . . well, we do be sleeping. That be, Saline and myself, she do be in my—her bed and I do be in mine. I, ah, do be err . . . sitting on her and, um . . . kissing her until she do be awake.” She flushed redder than the wine. After the several minutes it took Rory to regain her composure she eyed Lillian with what she thought was a fair amount of danger and said, “Let’s see . . . Do you ever be kissing a girl?” "Yes." The simple answer, quickly dealt with and Darienna was pretty sure that Rory was searching for a more adverse reaction than the one Lillian gave. Not much of a chance of that, she'd known Lillian long enough to know that that was a wasted question. But, it was her turn now and Lillian was looking at her expectantly. "Truth." "Have you ever kissed a woman?" Darienna rolled her eyes. "Yes. My turn, Rory is that truth or dare?" Rory suspect she was being mocked, but couldn’t prove it. Wine was definitely not her strong point. In her own mind she justified her drunkenness by her lack of muscle tone and the fact that she hadn’t had a solid meal before hand and also that someone was secretly spiking her drinks with some stronger kind of substance. She didn’t trust either of them to dare so, “Truth.” Well, it was more like ‘thruth’ to be honest. Smiling, Darienna already had her question ready. After all, she'd seen what an effect that Lillian's question had, and it would be interesting to know besides. Leaning back in her chair, Darienna removed the pipe from her mouth as she asked her question of Rory. "Are you attracted to men at all or only women?" Rory grimaced. Now that was just mean. She really knew she was being picked on now. On the other hand she couldn’t really answer. The only person, man or woman that she felt ‘attracted’ to was Saline . . . and Darienna was even supposed to know that. She squirmed a little and then shrugged, “I don’t know.” “My turn! Truth or dare, Darienna Sedai?” Truth it was, “Why you do be sent to the farm?” Smirking at the answer Rory gave, the smirk only grew at the question that was fired back at her. She'd been expecting it the moment the farm had been brought up, and she it didn't trouble her at all to say what she'd done. After all, it had been done, and truth be told she didn't regret it. "I 'fraternised' with a Tower Guard for a few months, some people were very unhappy when they found out. And I believe that was meant to be 'Why did you be sent to the farm?' Sniffing slightly, Darienna got to her feet as she made her way to the oven. "Cake smells done. Rory, you're on clean up." Groaning, Rory staggered to her feet and began running water to the assortment of cooking tools. Correcting a drunk Illianer’s grammar was such bad form. Lillian came up beside her to give her a hand. Rory decided out of the two of them she’d probably rather the left, and this made her giggle . . . through her nose. Lillian looked at her curiously but Rory just grinned. Today had been a good day!
  14. Rory eyed the number three card, which was looking suspiciously like a number eight. This game was difficult! She didn’t remember the name; didn’t remember a lot of things right now. Who knew wine was so . . . tasty! How much she had drunk, well she didn’t remember that either. Lillian and Darienna were handling themselves okay and she was resolved not to let them know that she saw one and a half of each of them. Creator’s lightly toasted beard, what do be in this stuff? Their cake was in the oven, she could smell it but only a little. Darienna’s pipe smoke was aggressively defending its nasal territory and, like a wounded old dog, was too fierce for any serious contenders to emerge. Rory had wanted to try it earlier, after many calf-eyed expressions and begging Darienna had relented . . . Rory spent the next half an hour in the bathroom vowing never to even look at a pipe again. They were the work of the Dark One. Rory, having never witnessed Aes Sedai at ease before, or at least not the one who was currently veiled in smoke like a demon birthed from hell, was enjoying this immensely. Lillian appeared to be more relaxed too and Rory was really glad to have her back. Actually, she was pretty happy in general right now. Not even the fact that she was supposed to be being punished with work and chores right now mattered much—especially when she wasn’t being asked to do them! Rory knew she was going to be beaten this round, she had been beaten every round since they started and she could actually read the numbers then. This game was pure evil, why it was even allowed in the tower was beyond her. Surely there was some kind of evil-meter that it sounded on loud and clear. It really was that bad! Light, what was it called?
  15. Mr. Sweeper was ridiculously pleased with himself. Not only had he managed to put Archon in his place, which was flat on the deck as far as Mr. Sweeper was concerned, but he’d also managed to injure him right and proper in the process and this could be viewed with anything other than deep pleasure. Why the recruit had to pull his eye clean out of its socket and mush it all up with his hand rather than let it be healed by August was a mystery, but hey, he wasn’t going to complain. Now he stood upon the foredeck grinning and appearing very smug. The recruits filed out slowly to form the line. As usual, although previously unstated, Mr. Sweeper called out the names of each, ticking their names off on his list as they replied, “aye, aye.” Although he decided that in Archon’s case there would probably only be one “aye.” That made him smile, even some hours later. Really he was a clever man when he wanted to be. “Well ladies, today is yer lucky day! I’m goin’ to give yer sword arms a break. Ye can all thank me later. Now, put yer swords in yer opposite hands and let’s get down to business. Today will be a lo-ong day. Ye know the forms I’m goin’ to ask for and ye know what I expect, but these unschooled ‘ands do not. It will be my humble pleasure to teach you to teach them the right ways to move. This is not goin’ to be fun, this will not be easy but ye will not be relieved until both of your arms are equally useless.” Mr. Sweeper rattled up and down the lines cuffing and swatting whether he saw a misstep or wrong movement. Today was going to be glorious.
  16. You should also be sure to check out the role-playing side of things. It's a hell of a lot of fun and also stupidly addictive.
  17. Rory was working her way through grating the last carrot, hands swinging wildly as she told the Darienna the story of the one time her father had ever been entrusted to cook in her mother’s kitchen. Her father had followed the recipe incorrectly, and rather than a smidgeon of cayenne pepper to warm the stew, he put in well over cup and turned the stew into free-ale-chili. So named for afterwards he was forced to give every customer free ale, to their delight. He was also banned from the kitchens forever. When she saw Lillian she sucked in a breath, made a sudden movement to hide the carrots and ended up spilling carrot shavings everywhere. Lillian stiffened and walked past. Rory stared at her back and tried desperately to think of something to say. Fortune prick me! If only the cake were ready, she was sure she’d know what to say then. She stared at Darienna, who was looking at her expectantly, then back to Lillian’s retreating back, mouth doing its best impression of a goldfish. Half of her wanted to speak, to say anything even if it was incredibly stupid, the other half wanted to clam up and hide. Both teams were incredibly strong. Why wasn’t Darienna doing anything? Surely she could say something. Well yes, she could and wouldn’t and Rory knew it and didn’t even have to look to her face for confirmation. Rory’s mess, Rory could clean it up. Well, Rory didn’t think she had ever been a good cleaner and didn’t see why there would be a start now. [blood and bloody ashes, she do be getting away! “Lillian, wait. I do be baking you a cake!” It was better than nothing.
  18. Leisurely devouring information was surely divine when the time for it was there. Damion, unfortunately, was always in a hurry. There was a heap to be done, even for one with his extended life and the joys of paced study were no longer his to experience. To combat this, he had trained his mind to siphon words almost clean off the pages. He read very fast; he absorbed that information. By his left side sat a small square of parchment. His left hand distractedly recorded phrases and interesting observations with very neat, fine script. Normally he wrote with his right hand, having trained himself to do so, most developments in technology were right handed, if his delving into the Age of Legends was anything to go by and would be again. He was, though, sinister—left-handed, and that hand was habitually hard-wired to his brain. A sudden question startled him, his left hand veering across his notations with a stripe of black. The words were still more than legible; the only offence was to his sense of style and neatness. The Brown Ajah was notorious for its lack of order. His own documents would never be so chaotic. When he died, and he knew without doubt that he would eventually, he would be known as a very precise and orderly man. The knowledge collected over the years would be catalogued and easy to find for everyone. It was only fair. That or he would scatter it across the world, for he found the hunt thrilling . . . and certainly others might as well. He looked up into the eyes of an aes sedai . . . and smiled genuinely. “It is a very good book, yes.” He paused, and “I am almost finished if you require it. There are some very interesting theories and ideas; writing them down appeared to be the wisest course.” Damion looked at his scarred page with an expression of mourning, then back to the cheerful face. “My name is Damion. And you are?” “Shaneevae Sedai.” “Ah. It is a very informative book.” He stood. “Care to join me?” OOC: I didn't see the point in your wasting a whole post on telling me your name!
  19. A white dress turned crisply at the tinkling, bells. Her eyes shied; clear blue, summery skies. "Ahem." Charm worked more efficiently than intimidation, and Saline smiled her most reassuring smile as she paced toward the startled young woman. "Would you like assistance, perhaps?" Though it was the Accepted Quarters, plenty of initiates had lost their way in the labyrinth before. While Saline was not exactly expecting a Novice in her room, a poor sense of direction had been common amongst the best when first they came to the Tower. Saline should know; she had been that confused Novice not so long ago. Even as an Accepted there were areas she was unfamiliar with throughout the Tower, and sometimes, a few more than anybody might expect, she would inadvertently give out wrong directions to the ever changing classrooms and lecture halls. Older, though no wiser (as the inner voice always reminded her), she now gave directions only when she was positive, and in areas of uncertainty would refer the Novices to an Aes Sedai who could help. As an unexpected benefit she was able to familiarise herself more with the Tower and its navigation. At least, she added ruefully, it was not as wild as having to find her way in the woods with a compass. Now that was hopeless. Then it was Saline's turn to be startled. Her dark gaze focused on the rainbow hem in the Novice's soft white hands, and the neatly folded shifts piled on Rory's desk. Rubbing the calluses from years of toil – mostly weapons training on top of an even longer period of working in Mistress Laras' kitchens; Saline continued, only more avidly pursuing her line of questioning. "Are you looking for my roommate? Rory's not back yet, but you may either wait on her bed there, or leave a message with me." More and more it was becoming clear to Saline that this bright-eyed lass was not here by accident. Her first idea was preposterous, that the Novice could have somehow picked her way into their room just to nab Rory's possessions. The possibility of a thief in the White Tower was easily conceivable. Aurora, the student Saline had taught how to read, came from a very tough upbringing in which there was no other way to avoid starvation if a woman did not employ her witty fingers. Nay, the ability of a thief was there from her knowledge of others' past, but what about having faith in new beginnings? When Saline summoned the memory of Aurora printing her letters neatly in the first home that fulfilled all her physiological needs, she flushed with shame, but recovered quickly. That was a knack she developed from many years rooming with Rory. She eyed the Novice's hands again, inspecting them. Too white for snatching in the markets, she assessed. Bright-eyes had probably been a stupid, lumbering Noble, like Saline, whose earlier years did not disappoint as they provided her with another conceivable motive. Perhaps it was a sudden bout of paranoia at work, but what if the Novice was after Rory to pay a grudge? Saline was sure that her ever mischievous roommate could easily have offended a Novice or three. After all, three Novices had kidnapped Saline before, just for a tattered diary. Who knew what this one might have done, if Rory had in fact turned her bread into stone or whatnot. The Novice's mouth was unsmiling, making it difficult for Saline to check for chipped teeth; besides, couldn't the Sisters in the infirmary fuse a tooth back? Then again, why would the Novice organise Rory's dresses for her? Were they laced with itchweed? Saline shifted at the thought. Again, paranoia struck. She had blackmailed the three Novices who kidnapped her to put itchweed into Vera and Estel Sedai's towels, and to this day she did not reckon the Gray or the Blue knew who the mastermind was behind the itchweed prank. Such a prank was unlikely seeing as no herb pouch was visible, but let none say Saline was an unwary person, for that wondrous attribute of caution had been shaped by a childhood saturated with intrigues. Along came a third idea, and this was by far the worse. By this point, it had occurred to Saline to simply ask the Novice why she was folding her roommate's clothes in the room, but she hesitated. Perhaps Rory had pulled rank. An Accepted asking a chore of the Novice was very common for the sake of discipline. However, doing one's own laundry for mere convenience was frowned upon… And the inner voice piped up: "Pah, Saline is weird! Laundry, shmuandry, how is it the worst?" Well, the first solution would have been easiest, for the fault lies with the ignorant Novice. She would learn not to steal, for much was freely given if asked with proper deference, while the Sisters looked unkindly on thieving. The second answer was more troublesome, and might require a serious inquiry before the Novice's grievance could be settled (without harming Rory, of whom she was very protective), but in terms of damage control all Saline needed to do was to wash Rory's dresses and shifts. But the last idea, this one implied a fault within the Accepted, and that her roommate might have wronged was the idea Saline would grudgingly accept, has she always had. As the simplest answer usually neared the truth, Saline considered the third option the most, and the more she considered, the more she wished it were not so. Again, she would have to chide her roommate for abusing her status as an Accepted. Sigh. Sisters such as Jagen of the Red Aes Sedai would not have cuddled their students like Saline did hers, but former Mentor or Mentee, the Taraboner really felt responsible for everything that may or may not happen. It was not a staggering case of universal guilt, which, as everybody knew, was quite the ego-booster. She had learned from that when she was still filled the role of a Mentor, and had neglected Rory due to her own insecurities and passivity. But Rory had brought to Saline her epiphany, and throughout the process of breaking Rory's so called 'block' they grew to care for each other, and were inseparable after seven years of rooming together. No, no, Saline did not feel guilty when she thought back to the beginning, only joy that they had both grown so much. On the other hand, some things would never change. Rory would always pull some stunt that would have worked brilliantly, and sometimes they do, but most times the pranks would land her into more trouble, Saline along with her roommate. Were she a stronger woman, for example Lillian, she would not have gone along. Regrettably, the White was always in and out of the Tower, and the Accepted pair rarely had time to catch up before their friend went abroad again. But nay, she went along, mostly to keep an ever watchful eye on Rory, to protect her and others, but also to have fun. Most people could not be bothered to learn why she 'babied' Rory, pinning it immediately for guilt, obligation or some other complex they could dispatch. Nay, she helped Rory whenever she could because she cared for her companion, who had become so precious to her. Saline enjoyed Rory's company more than she would comfortably sit with anybody else, and Rory was dearer to her than her Tower Guard friends, her other roommates as a Novice, and, she would not lie in the privacy of her own mind, even the Tinker. That boded. But Saline did not mind, as long as the secret remained hers. At night she would find something to chide Rory about, and laugh in the mornings when the other woke her up in the most pleasant manner. Thus was contentment, for now. Once more, Saline smiled at the Novice, having a fairly good notion why the other seemed nervous. Since she was quite sure Rory was to blame, one way or another, she could afford to be kind to somebody who might have a legitimate grudge. Picking up another one of Rory's dresses she grinned. "Mind if I help with the folding?" Not giving the other a chance to refuse she tucked the dress neatly onto the pile on Rory's desk and moved onto a shift. Although she was grateful that her hands were not itching yet, her tummy tumbled in dread. So the third idea was the right one after all. Saline had almost wished it was a Novice for Vendetta, instead of Rory being in the wrong. She would have to lecture Rory for the umpteenth time, knowing her roommate would not change her living style. And did Saline really want her to change? A part of her suspected not, for she had enjoyed too much of the said style to resist. And not for the first time the hypocrisy of lecturing Rory on not abusing one's rank struck her, when she herself had sinned in such a manner by punishing three initiates with a 'chore' to rub itchweed into the two Sisters' towels at the bath, but at the time it seemed like a great idea not to turn in her kidnappers. Besides, she still kept Taya Gille's diary in a cubbyhole near the Tower Guard's steams, where she was certain no Novices could venture without permission. A useful hideaway for what could potentially be the greatest discovery of secret societies since the beginning of the Gruesome Girls' Guild. On the bright side, the lack of itchweed meant that Rory had not yet tricked this initiate into biting anything hard. Saline thought that perhaps after their last run-in with the Mistress of Novices her roommate thought more before acting on impulses. Rory certainly did hold Darienna Sedai in high regard for her creativity and fairness, although it was not altogether, well, respectful. Yes, well anyhow, that was good news, and Saline would not be chastising too sternly knowing personal growth does exist for her roommate. Besides, she would read a story, and in her heart of hearts Saline knew stories solved everything. Buoyant by the prospect, she gathered her thoughts on the present situation. In silence they -- the Novice and herself -- worked until all was packed away nicely, and Saline dismissed her partner with a twist of rue. "I'm Saline. Sorry about this. You probably have studying to do; thank you…?" She waited for a name, which the Novice gave, after an odd start at Saline's name. "Amber." Seizing Amber's hand Saline's smile widened. "I could do the washing for Rory, really. You've been a great help." But Amber did not leave; she stood, examining Saline, who watched the young woman shuffle as if debating how to proceed, and watched for that tale-tale twitch of a falsehood as she held her breath tight. The Novice finally chose to give her an uplifted smile, full of dazzling, un-chipped teeth. Why then, why was her heart beating, faster and faster as if something had gone very wrong? "Cheers Saline, but I am instructed to take your roommate's belongings elsewhere. I am not permitted to tell you where Rory has gone, and if you follow me I must report you to Darienna Sedai. I am to give you a message. You cannot help Rory." Was her heart pounding? The poor thing stopped instead. Feeling a bit faint, she sat down on Rory's bed. Then she recovered herself, though this time composure took longer due to the shock. Suppressing the alarmed thoughts racing in turmoil, Saline asked in slow deliberate tones, "What can you tell me, Amber?" That debating look came over Amber again, but this time Saline did not wait. "Please," she pleaded, dropping all façade of the Aes Sedai every Accepted tried so hard to emulate. "I need to know." Or I shall die. Amber locked eyes with her, and nodded slowly, then explained what happened with Rory, the trolloc, Arette Sedai, and most of all Darienna Sedai's sentence. When Saline had gotten information she asked for, Amber slipped out carrying the last of Rory's pack. Rory's things were gone, and Saline had helped pack them out of their room. Saline could have cried readily, but the banner of her despair was quickly taken up by another. She trembled with 'righteous' fury. Why had Rory not listened to her the last time they were punished, and she specifically talked her way through the night about hurting their chances? Now her student was taken from Saline, a disgraced Mentor. That felt a sharp slap in the face. Why had Saline gone along with Rory's pranks as she always had, indecisively encouraging the other to go wild, and laughed about it later? She had failed, failed Rory as a Mentor, and Rory had probably failed out of the Tower altogether. Perhaps that was why she had to 'stay away', when… when her darling could be out there in the wilderness with only a pack of the dresses to keep memories of. Saline was pained by her anger, knowing it was not directed at Rory so much as at herself. A disappointment burning in her eyes as tears of self-pity threatened to overflow. Lillian had always told them to lead by example, to be a role model, and Saline, well, she was too short sighted to protect Rory from herself. Now Darienna Sedai had taken Rory away, and Saline might never talk with Rory again. She lifted her head to keep in the hot tears, staring through a mirage of colours. You cannot help Rory. Ooo, but she could help! Saline would convince Darienna Sedai to bring Rory back to her. Yes, she could face the old dragon, provided that persuasion would work. For Rory she would wake the kraken itself, if she thought it would help. Here was the most troubling of her thoughts, as she knew what answer she would be given. Aes Sedai may take ages to determine a course of action, but once given, they did not take back their orders without good reason, and Saline's plea of how she missed Rory would not bode well. Besides, she had never known the Mistress of Novices to eat her own words. No, she could not counteract Darienna Sedai's orders, not directly, anyway. It reminded her of the time when she and Rory actualised her friend ' Rome's desire to train in such a manner as to defeat a dreadlady, to which Lillian had given them some sterling advice. Some things were beyond one's abilities, and she ought to accept her limits. The thing about pessimism, however, was that Saline would be defeated, and then harden her heart so she would not care. She could not neglect Rory this way, she would not. Were we doomed to repeat the same mistakes all over? She had neglected Rory once more, this time out of liking Rory too much. Last time she had given in, and that made things between them alright. But she could not disobey the Mistress of Novices who had no need of her help (for fear of Saline influencing Rory? After all she had not done so well in Advance Saidar – nor did she care, really -- and on top of that, starting the Guild for the girls…), what could she do? Saline did what she always did whenever she was vexed. Her eyes closed. Drawing deep breaths she began a simple exercise 'Rome had taught her, and calmed as she gathered all her emotions into a ball, then letting the feelings she had felt course through her. Confusion, anger, desperation, regret, solitude… all her fears and worries she fed into that tiny ball, as one by one they flickered through her. Ever so slowly, a new feeling battered into her, one that told her how things were meant to be. It rejuvenated her as she focused her mind, and realised how a channeller touched the one power, and that was more applicable to many other situations she had never linked to before, although the association was clear now. Saline had given in, simply submitting to the flow that the Aes Sedai dictated for her. They were her teachers, guides, and for a few, friends, but if she wanted the freedom to shape her own choices, she must. The only way to counteract Darienna Sedai's orders, and share with Rory whatever punishment she had been given, was to gain complete independence. Instead of running or resisting, the best way for her to do this would be to work as hard as she could so to show Darienna Sedai that she could do well in the classrooms, and she was ready to be tested. Yes, that was true. Saline Sedai could room with whoever she bloody well wants, but Saline Wastrel could not be with the person she preferred. Saline Sedai could help Rory, while Saline Wastrel, Rory would have to tough the life alone. Nights were definitely the loneliest. During the day hours she could at least interact with the Sisters, the other initiates, and her friends, although it never occurred to her until the first week without Rory how little she talked with others. During classes she would contribute, and in study share her opinions, but the real feelings and jumble of thoughts she disclosed to one only, and now that Rory was gone, what she tried to say was awkward to people she never felt a need to connect with before. Sometimes ' Rome would impress her with his clarity of thought and his loyalty though she knew he probably thought she was a mental. Her storybook was unopened, as she would no longer read ahead without Rory. Since some nights were best forgotten, Saline craved sleep, but however she tried she could not hide in the luxury of sleep. Instead she distracted herself with research, and when her brain had fizzed over homework, in which she devoted much effort into, she found some other hobbies. Timmons, the gardener, was one of the best people to have a heart to heart with, perhaps because he had not known Rory very well, so Saline did not find it awkward when the subject turned to her roommate; they shared an interest in horticulture, and she genuinely believed that Timmons was fond of her. Saline began growing a brier of Rory's favourite flowers around the back of the juniper, and would keep circling there as if Rory would suddenly appear beneath its broad branches one day, and play together like they used to. She kept busy with her studies, but never forgot her roommate. How could she? Rory and her, they had been inseparable for seven years. Several months would not eradicate memories of the one her world had centred around. But it was true that without Rory, she had more time to invest in other things. Helping out with the soup kitchen project, Saline cooked with some Novices in the Blue Ajah chicken shed when she could not sleep, which was half the time, and became quite efficient at hotpots and soufflés. Wines were good remedies as well, and if they took a while to understand it was certainly worth ploughing through the jargon, although she took care not to indulge as she had in her novitiate, which was easy enough if one had prepared a meal and invited company. Saline was a patient woman, and those nights were worth the days of planning even though company was not always easy to arrange for, given everybody's schedules. As for pity, perhaps Huxley described her best. He wrote that one should not wallow in pity so much as to become stagnant, or move on so quickly that one does not retain the experience of being moved, but rather to wallow in self pity long enough that one would always learn from the experience, and thus being able to move on. Saline's roommate was present, and always a part of her wherever she went, but she did not give herself too much time to dwell on Rory, except when she wanted some inspiration so she could get over her frustrations with whatever task at hand and work harder. Instead of worrying about what was beyond her, she had simply moved her focus elsewhere, establishing her worth as a Mentor. She learned from everybody as her examples, especially Arette Sedai, whom she held in great esteem after the Brown had broken her student Tirzah's block. Now Tirzah had an interesting older brother, who was very good with metals, something she knew very little about, and yet the properties were so thrilling. Saline only wished that Rory would be able to hang out with the duo of Ogier and Novice, but it was a fleeting fancy. Months passed and Darienna Sedai never assigned another roommate to her for which she was grateful. The nights were lonely but nobody could replace the Rory in her heart, and she did not want another roommate. Her motivation was Rory, and she worked hard. Her achievements were thought highly by Vera Sedai, her advisor, and frankly, the recognition was humbling to a girl who was never so clever or skilled to begin with. Saline always regarded praise with a suspicious mind, taking most to be mockery, but there really was no need for the Gray Sister to flatter Saline, who failed to imagine her advisor to be any but sincere, although her words of encouragement were far too kind. As for herself, Saline was quite satisfied with her personal growth. In the months, she was forced out of her natural passivity to interact with others, and found much good in the Tower. That made her days bearable, and she always had something to work for. As Timmons had been fond of saying, above your mountain there is another, and there was always room higher for improvement. That was true, and changes had occurred, but she no longer resisted them. At first she did not care what others thought, but lately she cared a great deal, and their thoughts of her invigorated her. She was embracing the river she tapped into, and drawing from her connections every day more reasons to venture out. Saline was just as good as anybody else, and all she had to do was to reach. Timmons had pointed out the attitude shift, comparing her to a gem hidden inside a stone. Before, she had waited for somebody else to notice her, somebody like Rory or Timmons who had the time and energy to share with her. Now, she shone with a definite purpose. Throughout her activities, she was missing Rory, and Saline was determined do her best to get her roommate back. The roses were in bloom and calmed her. A blanket under their juniper was spread, and mounted on top were little paper plates with napkin folded into artistic forms. She dabbed at her skirts with one of those, shifting as it deepened with the moisture. In her arms she cradled a basket laden with dishes, and the smell of a particularly rich ginger cake pervaded her senses. Her excitement was almost palpable. It had taken hours of planning. Not just the decor, but the mental preparation took a great deal from her as well. Amber was an Accepted now, when she gave Saline the heads up. As for Saline, she had not seen her roommate in a year. It was not new that people sometimes move on, and where there was no longer regular interaction grow to forget their friends. What if Rory would not like the changes Saline made to their sanctuary? She was scared, that she would be left behind, before a chasm she could not cross. Things had always been expressed physically so much that talk seemed unnatural, and instead of the speech she prepared, words died in her heart, as language failed her altogether as she marveled, then lurched into the other. She, she was thinner, taller, her eyes incredibly large, dark longer hair framed her face, paler than memory served; impact. Her delicate little fingers, so small I could snap them up within mine. Brittle, they would break in my clutches if that'll win me her. I felt a fool as she stared back, but cannot express my feelings, not with words. There was so much to say. How could I profess my feelings without ruining our fateful friendship? I had entertained the branches of multiple futures, and Rory had been the cornerstone featured in them all. She hardly seemed to comprehend the passion that I nurtured in her absence. I myself, brimmed with fearful apprehension, knew not what to do. In all my hours spent dreaming, it was hardly what I expected, though I had dreaded the confrontation even as it filled me with joy. I hugged her and made her understand how much she was missed. Dear, dear Rory. Why was Rory not responding, even as Saline reached up, up, and twining her fingers into the other's hair? She could have cried as she withdrew her unwanted attention, bracing herself for that angry resentment she dreaded. Then the strong arms she remembered enveloped her, and turned away further doubt. She leaned in, fastening eagerly onto my shoulder, surprising me as her fingers ran freshly through my locks, reciprocating my affections long and deep. A twist of the tongue, and I tasted this incredible, blissful warmth. For a moment I freeze, it was what I had always wanted, but that little idea of being a Mentor had sunken roots deep in me, that made me pause. Not for long, however. Her fashioned lips were still ajar, and I gave myself over as I returned her affections, brushing my dried mouth across hers, clumsily. And how about this for a jam: every time she moved, her enemy moved; each time she turned, her enemy turned. This was going to be a long day. She had been locked in mortal combat for the past four hours with no sign of surrender. She eyed herself in the mirror once more. Yes, her face was still there. Not that her desire was to see it vanish totally, only miraculously transform and become a little more manageable. She was procrastinating and her reflection knew it. She had left Darienna Sedai's cordoned off little "Rory Area" without pause, her excitement to be free, to be seeing Saline once more after so long, hopping the thought-queue of her mind and shoving that little old woman aside her, glaring at that little boy there, until no other thought dared to come anywhere near it. This had lasted long enough to take her, with a bundle of supplies under her arms, into town, where it quickly barged its way out of the queue with the same physical abruptness leaving her thoughts cowering on the floor. Truth be known, like it wasn't already obvious, she was terrified of seeing Saline again. She had been corralled by the will of Darienna Sedai for an entire rotation of seasons, not that this mattered—she seldom caught glimpse of the sun. Darienna kept her busy, very busy and Rory had become a touch thinner in the face, thinner in the body and her complexion several shades lighter. That is why she was where she was, not exactly a philosophical answer. Saline had once bought Rory a dress, one quite lovely that she was determined to wear today. Having said that, with her slimmer figure it would sit rudely and be unflattering to her and to Saline's choice, which on this occasion had been adequate. Finding a seamstress was easy. That sorted, Rory picked out an assortment of oils, flowers, perfumes and creams, and ran back to her quarters with them securely tucked under her arm. This was not typical Rory behaviour by any means, but these were not a normal set of circumstances, and Saline was no ordinary girl. How heavily did the last weigh into her decision? Rory knew how she felt about Saline or thought she did. It was a little hard not to over an entire year of separation; after all, there were only so many nights one could bawl oneself to sleep without realising something was up. She hesitated to term it "love," that was a powerful word with a complicated set of rules attached, and having no prior experience to compare it just wasn't ... how did they say ... cricket? She could say that it was the memory of Saline that had kept her sane in her isolation, the remembered warmth of her body, the rarity of her smile, the way her voice breathed life into the words of her stories; the way she would let Rory press against her in the night, the way she would stroke Rory's hair when she was upset. She could say that the thought of seeing Saline again filled her stomach with a hive of bees that she must have swallowed inside a candy apple at some point. She could say all these things, but she jolly well wasn't going to—not even think them. In all of her reunion scenarios, some of which being rather racy, she had not accounted for this particular feeling, and they fell short. Oh, fine. So she loved her, okay? She had thought of nothing over the past year but their final parting kiss and remembered every aspect of it: the taste of Saline's lips, the smell of her skin and hair, the feel of her body; the tremulous response of her own. She had known in that instant, or at least over the year that followed, that she wanted Saline in a way that was more than friendship, and this, coupled with the severe string of apologies she owed, scared her more than anything. Right, we've got that sorted. It's out in the open. Can we continue with the story now? Thanks much. Several hours more were spent in the bath, amidst potions, soaps, herbs and aromatic oils promising everything from the skin of a babe to youth eternal. Rory doubted severely that they would deliver anywhere near to what they promised, but when she left the bath and wrapped herself in a towel, her skin tingled pleasantly and really was more sensitive. And now she sat in front of a mirror, sighing the fringe from her eyes and staring glumly at her reflection. What could be done with a face like that? Her brown eyes were domineering orbs, and her pale amber skin had faded to a sickly pallor. Her hair was also brown—like chocolate—straight, dull; boring. She wouldn't even get started on her hands, those hands that looked thin and boney. I guess she would get started on her hands, after all. How tempting it was the cast glamour. A few quick weaves and she would be the essence of perfection, perfection according to Rory. Saline would know and if she mentioned anything it would be utterly embarrassing. Her mother had always tried to teach her to be "a woman" why did she have to be so light cursedly stubborn all the time? It was a wonder people put up with her at all. She did her best, yes, and tried very hard, yes, and pulled it off … well, almost. She gathered her hair into a ponytail at the base of her neck, leaving some "accidental" strands to curl down her forehead. It wouldn't have been bad if the ponytail had been straight rather than slightly crooked, but she wasn't able to see it. Her eyes had to be shrunken somewhat; no, not like the heads. Rory, brandishing kohl, ran a very thin ring of black around her eyes, for some reason unknown to her making her eyes appear smaller. She also shaded the upper lids, starting dark at the lashes and lightening as she reached the brows. A good attempt that would have been better if the black lines weren't as jerky and the shadowing not so blotchy in places. She wore the dress, pastel pink with a light floral print. A white sash was tied about her waist, loosely, so that it wouldn't show off the extra slimness of it. The kept rose, Saline's first gift to her was affixed over one ear, going quite nicely with the dress, which not only lessened the danger of her appearing pallid but brought out the colour of her lips. She did not even attempt to bolster those. Now there was an uncomfortable thought. She'd gone to all this effort, and wearing a pair of slacks beneath her dress now would make a good job of ruining it. She wore stockings, she actually wore stockings! Light, what was next? They were white, woolen, and clung immodestly to the shaping of her thighs and calves. Thank the creator for long dresses. The shoes were hideous: hideous. At least they were so to Rory, who spent most days in strapping, leather boots. Pale pink with a splash of white, certainly an appropriate match to her attire of the moment, but really? Horrible, detestable things. Rory would take sturdy boots; sturdy anything over those silly … she wasn't even sure she could walk in them! About the only thing that had gone completely right, and this depended entirely upon interpretation of that shy and elusive word, was the smell. Yes, you heard right, smell. It was an interesting blend of honeysuckle fresh apples and cinnamon. She loved apples, and Saline loved to bake. The perfect perfume. Well, I did say it was dependent on interpretation, didn't I? Rory was ready, utterly terrified of embarrassment, failure and reaction, but ready. Her mind had been drawing weapons on mischievous thoughts on that subject all day. How would Saline feel about seeing her, would she be angry, would she have changed, these three questions especially were too frightened to step inside the building. Had Saline not seen her she would have fled, she was in process of doing so when she was caught. She thought she had been afraid earlier; now her body was in full flight defence mode and she trembled as Saline came closer. She knew she was trembling, knew she shouldn't be, but Saline looked so good, smelled so good and it had been so long and…. Saline embraced her and her heart stopped. Completely paralyzed she couldn't smile or laugh or even grimace. Not fair not fair! There was so much she wanted to say, to apologise, to plead forgiveness; to say how much Saline had been missed and how much she cared; especially the last. But no, her body betrayed her and she stood frozen as Saline looked into her eyes, played with her fingers. Rory moved. Her lips pressed into Saline's mouth before she registered the motion. It was clumsy, and not exactly skilled, but it was fervent and her face flushed bright scarlet. She couldn't stop, for so many reasons. Foremost amongst them was the ignoble silence that would follow, and having to meet Saline's gaze. Oh, why wouldn't she kiss back? Saline's mouth tasted better than she imagined, and her lips were warm. Rory remembered the last kiss, remembered the spark that had flashed through her blood and the pleasurable sense of rightness. But here, here Saline was not kissing her back, her lips did not move; nothing else stirred. Rory continued desperately. Please, please, please. When Saline returned the kiss, and she did, Rory became so giddy that she swayed and would have fallen if it weren't for her roommate's embrace. A sob of relief escaped her mouth and she knew she was crying but she didn't care. A feeling much like that of the embrace of saidar came upon her and every sense surged with life. She focused only on that mouth, on that body, on her Saline and what she told her. Rory was home. How awkward. A little spontaneity and the disciplined mind simply melted into the textile sense. They were together again, but the experience was unexpectedly rough. Unlike the gentle caressing of her most intimate fantasies, her fingers pressed, making dimples on Rory as if to ascertain that the other was really there. They acted out not only her affections but her fear of losing Rory again, and they itched to reach all over, though she restrained their touch to seizing Rory's hands, then smoothing a slight bump in Rory's ponytail, tingling with a wave of pleasure when they encountered a familiar rose fashioned into the ribbon, and when they groped Rory's cheeks, they found wetness, as if in response to Saline's violence. When it came to being kissed Saline was a romantic, and that meant her eyes closed after a while, trusting that the other knew where her lips were. That she was kissing back was hardly of importance to her as she savoured the sensations consuming her mind. Although she didn't see them, Rory's tears came as no shock to her. Some had fallen unto her face before she pulled away from their kiss, so mingled that she could taste them; that was how she became aware of the other's tangled emotions, that and the uncontrolled release shaking Rory's thin frame as she held the other close. Instinctually her arms tightened around Rory, swooping in, demanding more warmth. Surely this was not wise for Rory to stay so close, but she would not, could not force her body to let go, not when she craved for the other's kiss for so long. And kissed they had, the feel, the memory of Rory's mouth haunting her as her hands yearned to cup the other's chin, to kiss her again. "Silly, why are you crying? Don't cry." As they always did whenever the other cried, Saline's fingers brushed along the thick fringes of Rory's lashes, chasing the tears down. The slopes of Rory's cheeks were sharper than she remembered: what little padding it had was eroded over the months. What was even more moving was the smudges that had came off at her fingertips, which then carved cakes onto Rory's face in a mixture of fluster and surprise. Rory's large brown eyes were encased by makeup. Saline stared in fascination. She had never seen Rory wear kohl before. That the other would go to such lengths to enhance her appearance indicated how frightened she must have been of the reunion with Saline, who didn't know whether to be pleased or saddened. And if she thought Rory's eyes were large before, without cosmetics the twin chocolates at the centre seemed to have increased their diameter. Did she look slightly cross-eyed to Rory as well? Through the sheen of tears Rory was smiling, and at the upturned cues around the corners of Rory's eyes and mouth, she smiled back, although she too, felt shaky. In Etiquette she was told to not look the men from head to toe, as if searching for something to like. Instead the proper place for a gaze was your dance partner's eyes, or if that was too much for the delicacy of the individual, one should at least examine the bridge of his nose. But Saline went against the rules, and looked everywhere. She had to admit it; Saline never saw a person so near perfection. "Look at you," her words sounded clumsy, as though they had grown too large and general for the tenderness she possessed in her regard for Rory. The Illianer had dressed to please, and the floral dress was one that Saline had hoped the other would wear as it flattered her curves, but hadn't expected since their tastes differed. The dress hung slack where its purpose was to shape, making her swallow hard. That the other had sought to please her, by wearing a dress she was sure the other thought was tacky gave her such a giddy rush. And the matching pink shoes were icing on the cake, though they did look uncomfortable. Though they no longer kissed, she couldn't resist touching, tugging at the elegant white sash (like something Lillian would own) around the other's waist, as if by keeping contact with Rory she could probe into the other's mind and see what Rory was thinking. The way her mouth had delved into Saline's the other wasn't altogether displeased, and neither was Saline. She could never get too much Rory, but confrontations made her uneasy. When she had neglected Rory for so long, that she would be reduced to wearing these shoes? Would the other hold their separation against her? When Rory was around sometimes Saline would try and convince herself to forget any other possibility beyond friendship, for both their sakes. She did not stop enjoying herself when people joked around, but she thought it was only her own heart she was risking, in controlled, discreet bouts of affection. While she did not like to think unwell of friends, she had even given an ungracious argument that Rory was self-serving in hopes that her passion would pall. But it had not. She loved, and lived in fear. The old fear, her heartbeat would so easily reveal her. Better to have no heart to confide in. Looking at Rory was akin to reading over a good story, there were certain things she had not noticed before. Like that scent, so strong she could taste it when she leaned. Never in her wildest inventions would she have devised such a scent, of honeysuckle and apples. Some perfumes when applied by amateurs were farfetched and overpowering, but somehow Rory had engineered the smell just right. And like everything associated with Rory, it was simple and divine. She had gone past her thoughts, out of her imagination, exited her league, and off the deep end, but inevitably the heady scent brought her senses back, recalling all the food, the apple pie especially, left to cool on the ground. "Hungry?" The roguish thought of making free while they had left a well-baked apple pie standing warmed her cheeks, and she was glad for the cover as she turned toward the cutlery, the sound of Rory's delightful laughter tinkling in her ears. Mmm; they tasted even better than they looked and they looked delicious. Rory was content to lean into the embrace of Saline and into her mouth forever—which seemed like no time at all, really. Fascinating: she had never actually been kissed before, not that Saline needed to know. Rory wasn't sure she'd be able to stand on her own if she'd wanted to—and she really, really didn't. The kiss spanned from the tip of her hair to the well pedicured nail of her biggest toe, not to mention everywhere in between and she hadn't even know that was possible. It was very little surprise that her bottom lip tried to latch onto Saline's as the other attempted to pull away. This was unsuccessful and so she opted for a small whine of frustration and a pout. Rory laughed when she believed that Saline's query about being hungry had been a joke and then laughed ever harder when she realised it wasn't. Saline had a gift in her ability to say the wrong thing at the right time to relieve most awkward situations, or to at least make it less awkward for Rory. And Rory was certainly not going to mention, or draw attention to, the sash tugging at all for fear that Saline might stop. It was good to be with her again, good to be out in the sunshine, beneath the Juniper tree and away from Darienna! She had come to respect Darienna a great deal, but still—hello free time! As Saline reached for the apple pie Rory leapt a little too quickly to get there first, Saline had done so much for her and she had never given much in return. Well, she'd start by cutting her own damn pie and a slice for Saline also. "Wait. Wait. Do be letting me. You do be preparing all this for us, the least I can be doing is cutting some pie. Here. Now please do be telling me everything that do be happening while I be away." Fork poised strategically, Saline waited until Rory had gotten herself a slice before digging in, taking a neat bite of the golden mass. She hoped Rory was finding the pie as scrumptious as she did. The Illianer always spoke of great and lofty ideals in a direct way that flirted with rudeness, and here she concerned herself with the cutlery. This fall from grandeur made her suspect Darienna might have had Rory at more than just lessons. She tried to pry her tongue from the divine sensations her mouth enjoyed by swallowing. Having nothing more to sense, except for delicious memories (and not just of the pie, either) her tongue did move, but it was not in speech. Rather it inspected her lips for stray crumbs, longing for more honey glazed morsels. Smearing a napkin across her mouth, Saline smiled, forgetting herself, more specifically her self-consciousness. After the second forkful of pie her smile evolved into an easy grin. She knew she could not avoid the question forever, and with a fortifying portion of pie she did not want to. Usually she would mull over her responses slowly, whereas now she was somehow capable of talking until words cascaded out. She did not start at the beginning, however; rather she had worked backwards, an odd way to relate a story, but Rory, used to Saline’s rambling tangents, wouldn’t mind listening and figuring out the sequence for herself. “Why not, so long as you keep eating, please eat, do not talk! This is just like story time isn’t it, when you’d sit and listen to me under the juniper.” Gesturing to the small blooms there, as her Taraboner accent took on a fervent lilt. “Did you notice the roses, are they not luscious? They are still your favourite flowers, I hope. Let’s see, what have I been doing? I’ve been doing a lot with plants in general, partly to grow these.” Absently she played with her fork: it really looked forlorn without any pie on it. After looking around cautiously, as if there were watchers in the trees and on top of picnic cloths, the Accepted said, “You remember Timmons, right? The gardener I met when Rossa and I were helping Vera Sedai with this Garden? Rossa sometimes takes her students here, but other than that it’s private, and really it’s Timmons who is the caretaker. He, ah, is rather elderly, if you’ll remember, but somehow on a free day had gotten caught up in a tavern brawl, Timmons hurt his leg in a scuffle to get away. And stubborn as he is he wouldn’t let me tell a Yellow of his injury, like it’s any shame that he cannot run fast enough to avoid getting hurt. His excuse is that he does not trust anybody with the Garden while he’s cooped up in bed weaker than a drowned kitten,” bemused she leaned forward, curls dangling, and whispered conspiratorially, “but I will be unkind and say he somehow stirred up the brawl, and the Sisters are on the lookout for troublemakers. Funny, isn’t it, that the old man has so much life in him. A look at him, so frail as he quavered with a pitchfork for a cane, and one would tiptoe around so not to use up his fresh air it’s that sorry a sight, but do not be deceived. For the love of Light he has such a strong voice… All the times I’d go and visit him it’d be: ‘’Aline, mulch!’ or ‘’Aline, weeds!’ Tcha! Not even an ‘‘Allo’ before I am once more forced to move the never-ending mount of mulch one wheelbarrow at a time while he limps back into his cottage. The weeds are okay since I learnt how to pluck ‘em using a weave Vera Sedai showed us, but still, that mountain of mulch has fell many a strong man. I must admit, I learned a lot more about gardening, and although it is mostly manual labour, I kind of like it. Running chores as a reward of my finding out his little secret is what is known as ‘unfair’, but seeing this garden flourish is something so much more meaningful with my hand in it.” “Perhaps one day, when - when not if, we must think positively - we are both Sisters I can grow my own garden here, and one day after that, I will retire and be a gardener. Some apple trees for ‘Rome and junipers for us, I’d imagine. I already have the cuttings for the russet apples, a gift from Timmons when his leg healed; apple seeds can be grown too, but those are sour no matter what kind you use, and I reckon ‘Rome prefers the sweeter ones. ‘Rome has been good to me, very friendly, he and Rossa both, and more settled too. He’s been raised as a Tower Guard, you see. And he actually invited me to his after ceremony party! Gave me a dance, too; how cool was that. I reckon he would have given you a dance too, or if he doesn’t it’s definitely his loss as I would have, though I am by far the poorer dancer.” Saline’s laugh cut short, realising abruptly while Rory was gone she had nourished a small ambitious flame, “That is, I don’t mind looking silly if you do not mind clumsy me. At any rate Timmons certainly minded, as I do not have much of what I believe the gardeners would call a ‘green’ thumb. Black, from all the dragon-snaps I have uprooted instead of dandelions! Timmons got so upset he ah, overwhelmed me with shrill reproaches, and abased me to the level of a hearth-brush. That made me study up on botany, and it was a week before Timmons let me back into Vera’s private gardens again. It’s worth it though.” “Ivy is fantastically tough - it just climbs and climbs despite neglect. And coleus too, I adore the fact that I do not have to water them all day like I have to dote on the heliotropes. More Saline-tropes if you ask me. Sorry, bad joke. I didn’t know that coleus flowers, a pretty, more sedated bluish-purple scatter of buds, really. You have to nip the buds though, as they are grown for their leaves and the buds will only take nutrition away, and the leaves will be less dense and bushy. I feel sad about amputating the flowers, but in the fall the leaves turned a dashing red, yellow, and blue. You should have seen them then, pure candy to the eyes. Oh, and we’ll have roses of course, I shall dedicate my (future) garden to you. It would be a shame not to put this knowledge to use.” Then a shoot caught her eye and she rummaged through the dark, oily foliage before turning proudly to share. “Go ahead and touch that flower over there. Wait, maybe I better do it first. Here, watch this.” She tried to reach for the spiky leaves underneath, but the plant … softened and folded its leaves away from contact. “Mimosa. Fragile, but it’s quite expressive. A funny little flower, it shies away from sunlight and touch, opening in the evenings. This is the secret ingredient to Timmons’ favourite drink. I only know this ‘cause he made it for me once last summer. Such a softie, really, once you get past the leather exterior. Most people don’t bother, but if you’re gentle, it’s all good.” With a final gush of pleasure she moved over so Rory could have a better look. “Not that I have much time to garden anymore, what with extra classes from Jagen Sedai, and my latest student Tirzah, but I do what I can. I rather enjoy soaking in the sun.” With a keen knack for social inaptitude, the Accepted delivered this last line rather insensitively, pleased with her new-found knowledge. She wanted to share the one thing she appeared to be good at to her talented roommate, and this seemed as good a time as any. Conversation was comfortable. Here was something she understood; kissing—not so much. The kiss had been great, left her tingling and warm all over, but ‘what next?’ She did not know ‘what next’ and there could have been a very awkward moment there. Saline could have given her the opportunity to figure it out. She would have, eventually. Rory didn’t mean that thought to ‘sound’ so reproachful—when did it get so hot out here? It did not matter what Saline said. Countless hours of lying next to her in bed and falling asleep to the timbre of voice had caused a sort of response mechanism and Rory was quickly becoming too relaxed and sleepy. Saline’s voice was like a warm day, Rory wanted to lie down on her belly and bask. Lying on the back works too, but then you have to shield your eyes from the sun with your forearms and feel a little weird. It is also less rude if you only lie on your back and not someone else’s. Saline was very busy these days, Rory observed. It was a wonder she found the time prepare for this picnic. Was that a touch of resentment? She did not mind that Saline was up to all that and more. She did not mind that Saline was up to all that and more with without her. What stole the wind from her sails (or would have if she were a boat) was the knowledge that she had done nothing in the year of their parting. Oh, hi, Saline. Yes, I no do be doing anything since I do be seeing you last. That do be slightly untrue, I learned to sit very well and study in silence. Not going to happen. It was thrilling to see hear how many things Saline learnt over that time and very satisfying that she was so excited to tell her about it. Soon the time would come for her to talk and what would she say? Rory deliberated over whether distracting her with a kiss would be successful. Probably not. When the question came, and it did—eventually, Rory offered up a weak smile. Behind her eyes her mind boiled like a kettle in an effort to come up with some way of having to avoid the truth. There was no reason why she should fear her answer. Their separation had not been by choice. This did not stop the idea of Saline knowing the truth from terrifying her stupid and she made her decision. To lie. “What I be doing? A bit of this. A bit of that. Darienna do be taking me to all sorts of places and teaching me all about them. I no do be socialising a lot but I do be travelling all the time. I do be doing a lot of study and a lot of learning and that do be what I’ve been doing since I saw you last.” Strictly speaking her answer wasn’t an outright lie. She was going to make a great Aes Sedai: Darienna had taken her to several different places around the tower and in passing Rory picked up information on them; she had travelled a lot but only inside her own mind. Day dreaming was an important recreational activity in confinement. Studying was pure truth and that helped to dust it off. Best not to over-complicate things. “I do be telling you about it later if you like. More pie?” Yes, tell her about her travels after she’d finished making them up. Pleasant as it was that Rory spoke so well of Darienna Sedai, Saline looked at Rory hard. Beside her eyes, everything about Rory was small, her waist, her ears, and her knuckles whitening as they gripped the knife. Small and light like feathers falling on snow. Wondering if something was up, the Taraboner quickly noticed the sparkle in her roommate’s eyes crunching smaller as Rory detailed the nature of her absence. It was not so much what she said, as the manner in which she had said that concerned Saline. Nay, where Darienna took Rory bothered Saline not at all. For one, Darienna Sedai could have still stayed in her study, and entrusted the Accepted for Lillian Sedai to take along in her travels. But Rory’s discomfort had not escaped Saline. Though clever with words, Rory was not a convincing liar, or else she could have talked her way out of punishments. For a moment Saline wondered whether she ought to confront the other . . . only for a moment. The months separated had hardened her but hardly to the extent of negating seven years of steadfast tutelage and friendship. If her old friend was not comfortable with the discussion it would be wise to stow the discussion and save the hammer for when Rory broached the subject on her own. Sooner or later, Rory would let her know the why of this, and until then there was nothing for it but to continue with the picnic, and assure the old girl of Saline’s continued adoration. Smilingly, she accepted another plate. A forkful of pie stopped their conversation, and there was a brief yet enlightening silence for Saline’s thoughts to outstrip themselves. Rory had changed, her months of isolation had taken a toll. She brushed kohl on her eyes to make them smaller, sported narrow pink shoes that pinched her toes, and hung a spring dress on her frame. Its colours made the flowers too messy, and Saline made a note to take up the hem by an inch or two. Next time she would use what allowances she saved to buy Rory a better frock, perhaps a darker green to accent her lighter complexion. Still the other tried and Saline was touched . . . *** Her head popped out and then her arms, wishing they felt a nicer texture than the rough cotton of the shift she changed into. Rory donned a similar shift, if a little longer in length than Saline’s and considerably less frayed. Saline’s shift would benefit from a wash too. Putting the worry from her mind she laid her head on the pillow. She should sleep but Rory’s presence, even though they were in separate beds, was so exciting that she did not want to. Rory had grown, and Saline could well grasp how precious Rory behaved to-day. She appreciated the considerations Rory had shown her, from serving her pie to gathering the baskets of food, and carrying them back to the Tower. All in all very pleasant, unless . . . Saline thought back to that lie Rory had told about travelling with Darienna, and all of a sudden it clicked. All the while Saline had been doing many things (Rory marvelled at her tan!) and her roommate underwent a quiet punishment that limited her freedom of moving about, meeting others. Then Saline had been thoughtlessly showing off her adventures and fun. No wonder Rory withdrew from ‘Rome, Timmons and the fine friends Saline’s forged without her. Cringing in her blankets Saline desperately wanted to apologise but instead of seeking absolution guilt was a burden she must bear until Rory was no longer bothered by Saline’s carelessness. Rory would get used to society again even if she had to be dragged along to shop with Rossa, and that idea brought a smile in its wake. “Saline?” So soft she thought it imagined. But it got closer, louder, and once again Saline’s heart quickened at her name. “Saline, do you be awake?” She turned over. Rory peered at her. “Saline, I --” Knowing what the other was about to confess Saline forestalled it, holding a hand up. “I know.” “But I . . .” “. . . Already forgave you. Come here.” “But ” Saline sat up, blankets falling off a shoulder and feeling the draft. Her gaze was stern and insistent, booking no arguments. But her hand was warm as it took Rory’s and gave a gentle squeeze. “Come on, over you come.” As Rory crawled in beside her she doused a wick with air and dimmed the lights. The touch of Rory’s skin was as fair as it seemed. And she smelled divine up close, way nicer than that expensive bathhouse in Tar Valon. Happily, Saline welcomed her beloved friend home. Rory & Saline P.S. She did all the hard work, colouring and such. I just wrote. Life is sweet.
  20. Blinded by the light, with his head near to bursting he was driven from the dream. His mind dwelt in darkness for a time, swept along by the currents of pain, unaware of his location. He wanted revenge. Violent, torturous even. He would tear Jester from whatever slumbering dream he dreamt and put his life to an agonising . . . he couldn’t find him. The pain was too great. If, in the world of dreams a man could be said to possess eyes, then his eyes wavered. His vision flickered, the small candle flame. One moment there, fluttering back and forth like a moth; the next, snuffed and leaving but a soft plume of smoke. Talon clung to that plume of smoke, the mere tendrils of questing dream awareness that remained to him. He was slipping back to the corporeal form. The edges of his physical body, the confines were becoming tighter and stronger. Jester would live . . . for now. But Talon would recover, and no mere quashing of life would sate him now. He would come for Jester. With a lurch, Talon’s eyes popped open and he twisted to one side, retching. His eyes burning, his head throbbing and his head aching, he lay very still for some time. In the silence he nurtured dark fantasies. He would come for Jester again, yes. And this time, in the flesh.
  21. Talon’s head pounded, keeping time with his pulse. Beat after excruciating beat. Jester’s dream had moved away from him and he was bathed in darkness, faint orange lights far in the distance. He should have given up He should give up. But to Talon, the consummate assassin, being thwarted by his brother twice was an impossible meal to swallow. He could do it. He would do it. Denying the internal pressures of attempting to manipulate the dream, thereby the mind, of another person could not be ignored or dispelled like a blow. It came from inside and was more real in Tel’aran’rhiod than most anything else. When he woke he was in for an hour’s solid retching and a migraine. No matter, he possessed herbs to alleviate those symptoms. His awareness drifted closer, disembodied. There was no sense in revealing himself once more until he understood what he saw. Not that the subconscious mind of Jester could not reveal him at any moment, nor even, was unaware of his being here; hopefully the dormant mind would not defend itself if he took no aggressive steps towards it. Jester was . . . on fire. Leaping through large columns, igniting them, and then jumping through the next. It was an endless series. Talon saw no point in attempting to harm him with any ‘physical’ weapon; perhaps the answer lay in the dream itself, and the manipulation of it. Talon focused all of his willpower on a column, three away from Aran’s current position and bent it to his will. The pressure in his head was intense and he almost cried out from the pain. He could do this. He could. The pressure relented and the third column collapsed upon itself just as Aran entered. Talon could 'feel' the reverberation from where he was. Surely this time Aran would die. . . .
  22. Self-preservation ignited and Talon was forced to retreat from the scene. This was not going according to his plan. Jester should be dead, twice over. Patience served him well until now and it would serve him well again. One more attempt and then more drastic action was going to be sought. Something was wrong here; he just wasn’t sure what . . . yet. Unusual scenes occurred in the subconscious dream, but not so much consistency. May Jester have sought instruction? Talon was not sure his ‘brother’ even knew of his gift. Like a rushing waterfall the curtain of reality slid down around him and again he stood before Jester, this time in a cave of ice. Jester did have some interesting dreams. It looked as though he were searching for a particular card within a deck, discarding the others . . . untidy, to say the least. Where are you, brother; how did you escape me? The dream gave no clues as to Jester’s material whereabouts, a minor setback only. With time and effort his awareness could flood the Westlands until he found the dream’s source, if such an action became necessity. Believing Jester dead he had never before tried such a thing, though he used it to try and espy Rakel for some time, with no success. Clever, clever, Rakel. As already mentioned the flaw to attempting to murder someone in their own dream is that you are attempting to manipulate the reality while within the subconscious mind of another. Small things are allowable, weapons, armour; flight. Full scale assaults were not worth attempting, the repercussions often disastrous. For complete control a dream walker must pull an enemy into their own dream, or, if not powerful enough to manage this, at least engage them in Tel’aran’rhiod itself. With that in mind, Talon again wrestled with the dream, attempting to impose his own will. At first nothing happened. Talon began to sweat, and his head flushed with pain. Slowly, one by one, the statues surrounding the table beside which Jester stood began to crack; the shadows within breathing with life . . .
  23. Spending life in disciplined pursuits of assassination and murder, removing many of those unimportant emotions like apathy to do so, and being tortured by those parental figures idolized in younger years, leaves no one unmarked. Talon was so marked. Badly. Given this unique perspective on life in general he was not sure how to take being assaulted by what appeared to be a lot of watery fruit. A normal man may take the occasion to laugh at the humour, but Talon was not normal, and it was not usual that he be so thwarted by an untrained mind he was attempting to kill. If it was, his life’s end would have come a lot sooner. Various questions were running through his mind, the chief of which being how, the first-lieutenant being, “Fruit-salad?” Talon’s opportunity was not yet over. There was going to be no change to the outcome of this dream, whether Aran used some unknown means to rebuff him, or not. Asking questions first and acting later was a wiser way of going about business, but Talon knew that Aran was no dream walker and thus had the good sense to be confident. His vision dimmed and he stood in . . . on a wooden floor: a wooden floor that stretched out to the limits of his vision in every direction, and no doubt beyond. He took a step and the floorboard echoed his footstep. That wouldn’t do, too much noise made him nervous. The scene surrounding him blurred and he travelled with his mind. Aran was leaning against a tree made of water and playing some instrument Talon could not recognize. A professional assassin like himself, who used the dream, remained ever cautious not to believe in any of the things he witnessed in the dreams of another. That was the quickest way to die. Jester was beneath a curtain of azure light, which mudded his outline. Talon saw enough. Talon fought the pressure of Jester’s dream and in his hands was a crossbow. This shot would not miss. He aimed, and fired.
  24. Talon stopped himself from falling. He was floating in the air, staring down upon another person, who drifted through the air as an ocean. Jester. He could not place this moment in time, the world of dreams offered almost incomparably accurate recollection; unlimited access to one’s own past, but this was not any memory of his. The Jester lived. Jester, alive: how was this possible? The revelation stunned him, and for a moment Jester was allowed to float free within his own dream. When the frightening surge of anger reasserted itself, Talon awoke from his stupour, the air around him boiling. Those months, believing Aventari to be avenged, now mocked him. His fate, so it seemed, was to leave his past unresolved. Not this time. Jester flew, Talon did not; more followed in pursuit with his mind and the projection of his body followed. This was Jester’s dream and he would have little control here. Not enough to quash Jester’s life force with overwhelming pressure. He could pull Jester into a dream of his making but he was not without power here and Jeter was not a walker. There should be no great difficulty here. He would need to find himself an appropriate weapon, and a blade of some sword would do nicely. Jester’s dream resisted his intrusion but he overcame it easily enough. A knife was in his hand. It may have been there for one moment or a lifetime. This was unimportant. It was there now; it would be enough. Another sensation of pressure, the resistance of Jester’s dream, and Talon was looking down upon him once more. Instinctive dream reactions could be painful, he had learnt, and so he remained high enough that his presence went unnoticed. Judging the time opportune he descended, with every intention of tumbling Jester from the skies and into the barren ground of his mind.
  25. Talon walked the dream. Less and less often he dared the shimmering paths of Te’aran’rhiod; seldom for recreation. His mistress turned her mind to more important matters than her wayward ‘child’, but he was ever wary of her traps. He could not escape a second time. Then, too, there were the wolf children and their bizarre affinity with the world of dreams. They presented many problems. The world around him rippled like cloth and he floated upon an icy stretch of road. He knew this place. He could still feel the cold wind chilling his blood. This was first road he had tread after escaping the home of his abusive father. At times he wondered if his father had survived the bungled attempt to burn his house down about his ears but to this day remained too afraid to confront his origin. It was here that he had been offered his first kindness. Again the fabric of reality shifted like a curtain in response to the breeze of his thoughts and he sat beneath the canopy of a small tent enfolded him with warmth. A girl sat opposite, fine and strong, her features blurred by time weariness. She offered him shelter and food; he accepted. When he recovered enough he fled that place ad that girl without a word of gratitude or thanks. Of all his sins, this one burnt the brightest. The scene faded, replaced by an approaching fist, which Talon attempted to block instinctively. He failed. He always did, every time he looked back upon this scene. Little more than a boy at the time his opponent was a giant figure. Likely no larger than Talon was himself now, but forever immortalised as a monster. A terrible defeat, but one richly deserved. The moment that last punch was thrown and his broken body lay upon the mat he learnt caution. Now he stood in a large antechamber, hands moving nervously. He remembered this place, her manor. Dressed in dark hues of purple and black to accent his sickly appearance he dined with his mistress. Soon to view for the first time the cruelty and violent temper that tainted her porcelain beauty. He blinked this memory away. It was not one he wished to remember. In time he was to escape, employed by The Rogues of Cairhein, fresh from his assassin’s training, as well as those other arts in which he was schooled, the young Talon found work and opportunity. More than that, he found a parental figure that was not abusive as his others had been. And then he had died at the hands of Aiel filth, his murder going unpunished. His betrayal, Talon saw to it personally, did not. He used the confusion of the aftermath to hunt them, those members of the guild professing loyalty to the late Aventari, those who disbanded his life’s work and sought no retribution, all except Rakel. To have evaded him so long . . . she deserved her life. Not even Jester had escaped his wrath in the end. Jester who more than anyone should have sought the blood of his brother’s slayer but did not. Jester: Aran. His name; his memory brought a wash of emotions too interwoven and terrible to examine. He deserved more than one death and if Talon had not already dealt with his treason he would gladly have killed him all over again. Talon considered replaying that memory in his head to sooth his anger but dismissed the idea. . . . Tel’aran’rhiod rippled . . .
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