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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY

Elessar

RP - LEGACY
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About Elessar

  • Birthday January 1

Retained

  • Member Title
    Warder

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    Wheel of Time / Fantasy / Sci Fi
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    Male

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  1. .. In Honour of Maragaine .. ►▼◄ Lightning flashed across the heavens and thunder crashed shaking the world in its inner folds, as powerful, valiant horses, bred for battle, bore Oceans of Green Ajah Sisters to War! Their green cloaks streamed behind them like raised banners, and a hundred Warders or more rode at their side - t h u n d e r i n g - across the barren lands of the Blight! Before them awaited a Battlefield of Death, but they rode on proudly, strongly, unyieldingly, with Passion, Life, Strength and Hope, the vanguard of the main White Tower Forces; their Battle Ajah banners held high, ready to fight for the Light and vanquish the Shadow in this long prophesized Last Battle! !Tarmon Gai'don! ● Opposing forces of Dreadlords, Darkhounds, Myrddraal, Trollocs and Darkfriend soldiers in uncountable numbers met them head on, like an avalanche of Darkness; and the Power unleashed as swords clashed with swords, axes struck axes, and lightning fires of the One Power crashed in the skies above as the thunder kept roaring made the earth tremble in its heart. This was what they had trained for.. what they had lived for.. what the Battle Ajah, of all the various Ajahs of the White Tower, had always stood in readiness for.. and for Calia Aes Sedai and Elessar Gaidin, storming forwards in the endless Sea of Green, this was the moment they had been waiting for! Elessar’s blade was raised high as he screamed proud and fierce battle cries of Kandor, his nation of origin, and Calia’s eyes sparkled like sapphires as never before, her whole face elated and so filled with determination and steely purpose that it almost shone! They rode to Destiny. Finally, the time had come! Finally!! ● Galloping into the Horde of the Shadow, the Kandori Warder’s sword sliced into a Trolloc as he passed and almost removed its arm. His black warhorse Stormbreaker, trained for battle, stormed into the melee and trampled a Darkfriend in the passing as Elessar’s blade struck out at more foes, left and right. Balls of fire streamed across the skies, Dreadlords hurling them at the Aes Sedai who deflected them using various combat weaves, and who retaliated with deadly lightning bolts that struck down amid the Forces of the Shadow. Several Trollocs exploded before him, blood and guts and body parts raining down on him as he rushed by, his sword moving in another arc to behead a brute of a Darkfriend who tried to thrust his sword into his horses’ side. The evil minion managed to duck just in time, the Warder’s sword cutting the air above him, but then he was destroyed by a Green Sister’s deadly combat weave of Saidar. A little further ahead a Trolloc with its animal snout suddenly stepped into the horses’ path and swung its huge battle-axe in an arc and smashed in the face of an oncoming Warder, but was then engulfed in flames from a furious, screaming Aes Sedai who threw lightning bolts at the Trolloc until it was utterly destroyed. The Aes Sedai, a tall, regal woman with flowing hair the colour of flame, threw herself into a cluster of nearby Shadowspawn, leaving Death in her wake. Across the Battlefield there was Death and Screams Flames ablaze! Also Sisters of the White Tower and Warders were slain, mostly by Dreadlord attacks but also by Myrddraal and Trollocs, sometimes also by Darkhounds, when they were simply overwhelmed by numbers. Blood filled the barren slopes of the Blight. A Sea of Blood. An Ocean of Death. ● Calia, in the middle of the Chaos, hurled Flames of Saidar at an oncoming Myrddraal and it’s black flowing cloak came afire with deadly shrieks. She deflected weaves hurled at her by Dreadlords some way off, shielding herself and her Warder, and used all her learned combat weaves to fight the Shadow. Another Green Sister, a blonde-haired Andoran woman with piercing eyes and a short temper, threw a fireball towards a cluster of Trollocs and Myrddraal and saw to her great satisfaction that they screamed and howled in death though it would take long for the Fade to die completely. Her three Borderlander Warders, tall and strong men, raised their fists high in the air, crying out in elation and celebration of their Aes Sedai’s successful strike, then swung their swords at the attacking Trollocs. Elessar hacked off the head of an oncoming Darkfriend soldier, gave a fierce eagle-snouted Trolloc a mortal wound, and battled a mounted Myrddraal hard, finally defeating the Halfman. The stink of blood and death filled his nostrils but he remained as calm as possible within the Flame and the Void as he battled his enemies. Only his wide eyes showed the thrill of battle that he felt. Calia fought hard and strongly by his side, her valiant mare keeping up with his warhorse, throwing fireballs and other deadly combat weaves at the Shadowspawn and obstacles in their path. With several scores of forceful Green Aes Sedai, they stormed into the heart of the enemy forces! ● Elessar, his side now bloodied but not lethally, fought the Shadowspawn from atop his warhorse as time lost meaning, his sword rising and falling endlessly with deadly precision. But the path of Death swerved away from his bondholder then and.. Suddenly .. out of the corner of his eye, Elessar saw - almost as if in slow motion, time slowing down - Calia scream and fall out of her saddle some way off to his side! It happened so quickly that he barely had time to react - was it a lethal blow or weave aimed at her? - as he shouted in her direction and then turned Stormbreaker sharply toward her. A few moments later - but it felt like an eternity - he was beside her, dismounting hurriedly and throwing himself to the ground beside her. The battle crashed on around them, the skies filled with fire and lightning, the battlefield filled with screams and horror, but for Elessar it was as if the whole world was gone. All that was left was Calia. She was all that mattered to him right then. ● Shouting worriedly to her if she was all right, looking for any signs of injury though she lay on her side and it was difficult for him to tell, feeling her pain through the bond, he took her in his arms and cradled her to his chest. She looked paralyzed, her body limp, her pulse slowing.. and she only stared up into his dark eyes, a solitary tear running down her cheek.. ..then another tear.. her eyes sad.. oh so sad.. Oh Calia! Elessar thought, his soul dying. His heart bled tears. He held her close, only now seeing the hole in her chest, as the light of life left his dear Aes Sedai. The bond snapped. In the Storm of Death around him, her Warder was alone, drifting like a leaf. ● Touching his dead bondholder’s cheeks caringly, he kissed her forehead and closed her unseeing eyes. Forgive me, my bonded. Forgive me, Calia. Then .. the Blood rage took him. His dark eyes going black, Elessar of Kandor was Death! incarnate as he stormed into the Shadowspawn like a ferocious Whirlwind, no care left in the world for his own safety only intending to take as many of them as possible - I will kill them all!! - with him into the Beyond!.. ● The blonde-haired, green-eyed woman looked down at the corpse and a small smile came upon her lips. “Lady Carahna”, she whispered deviously as a cold northern wind made the banners on top of the castle walls ripple, “I guess you should not have taken my advice, after all.” The Noble Lady’s face was twisted in death, one eye missing and her jaw crushed by a Trolloc’s hammer. Her long dark hair was cluttered by blood, her dress was torn and her legs bloodied. There was nothing noble about her now. Taking the fight to the Shadow army had been a huge mistake, of course, just as Sirih had planned. The five hundred men the Noble Lady had sent to attack the oncoming force had been slaughtered. Myrddraal, Trollocs and Darkfriends had waited in the night and had ambushed the castle soldiers. The remaining three hundred soldiers protecting the castle and town had had no chance. Lady Carahna had fought valiantly, a warrior woman to the core, but had not been able to dispatch of two Trollocs coming at her from opposing sides. Her death meant the remaining five dozen valiant castle soldiers lost all hope but they fought to the last man, Borderlander-proud as they were. Afterwards, all that remained was blood and death. The Trollocs feasted on the dead bodies, their huge cook pots brimming with spices and liquids and meat and the smell wafted across the castle grounds like an echo of death. Sirih turned away from the Trollocs, disgusted by the eating frenzy, and walked toward the Myrddraal in charge. The Fade was wearing black armour with overlapping scales and a black cloak which did not stir in the wind. It was muscular with lank black hair and waxy-white skin. The eyeless face turned toward the approaching woman and she felt its condescending look. She could not quite rid herself of the fear she always felt when in the presence of these Halfmen, but she kept up the pretence. ● “I did as I was ordered”, she said curtly, looking at a space just to the left of the Fade’s face. “I have served the Great Lord well.” The Myrddraal remained silent as it watched her closely. These Darkfriends were useful after a fashion, it thought, but the Great Lord should be careful since these.. humans could not always be trusted or counted upon. This female had performed well, however. “The Great Lord is pleased”, the Fade hissed between jagged teeth before waving her away. She was just as glad to get away from this Halfman Battle Commander and return to her own room in the castle. This part of the building had not been much damaged by the fighting and as she closed the door behind her she shut out the sound of feasting Trollocs and post-battle celebrations. Removing her cloak, she sat down in one of the chairs and poured herself a drink of red wine. The vintage was not the best but it would do. Sipping from her glass, her mind went back to that time five years earlier when she had pledged her soul to the Great Lord of the Dark. She had felt the Shadow spreading in the Borderlands, a power that one would not be able to withstand, and she wanted to be on the winning side for once. Good, Evil - it meant little to her. What mattered was survival. And so she had become the first member of this Kandori Darkfriend-cell. “Here’s to you, Lady Carahna!”, she said loudly, raising her glass in salute. Sirih’s eyes sparkled like glistening emeralds. ● Darkness filled the sky above Falme. They had been playing cards all evening and he kept losing. He had lost more than he could afford and he knew his wife would berate him for it. Damn! He had never been a master card player but this evening he had lost much more than usual. He just could not understand it. How could all his luck have run out? His older mate, Feran, had done much better. He had only lost 80% of his money. Sighing heavily, Erath looked at the last coins on the table before him and decided to go all in. The other players, seeing his look, grinned, recognizing it, looking forward to getting the last of his money, but he tried to ignore them. His three queens had to be the winning hand! ● Smoke filled the private chamber but he ignored that too. His mate loved his cigars and they were used to the partial haze, or at least so they pretended. Studying his cards closely, he made up his mind. Just as he was about to make his bet.. Something made him stop.. A moment of utter silence.. but then the table in front of them seemed to tremble slightly.. Gazing at it closely, Erath thought for a moment that it had just been his imagination. But then it happened a second time. And a third! And this time the beer glasses started rattling. Staring at the other men seated around the card table, he saw their eyes widen too in surprise. The glass before him started moving on its own. A few inches, a few more. He stared, spellbound. But when the cards started dancing on the table, following the rhythm of the men’s heartbeats, his jaw dropped to the floor! The Black Queen of Spades danced opposite the Red Queen of Hearts, bouncing on the table for several long moments. And when the Black Queen suddenly changed direction, pointing straight at him, he gasped but could do nothing more as the card flew straight at his throat, severing the common carotid artery or jugular vein, killing him where he sat. His blood flowed onto the black card in streams of red, painting the Black Queen in crimson. ● It was early evening, twilight having come and gone, as Nadhene Carahnas, the Watcher of the Seals, The Flame of Tar Valon, the Amyrlin Seat leafed through the ancient texts, written by White Tower historians in Ages past, and tried to gain courage. She was a short woman, 5 ft 3 inches tall but what she lacked in height she more than made up in forcefulness. Arad Domani, she had short brown hair, piercing brown eyes and high cheekbones. One hundred twenty years old, she wore her ageless features with pride and had been Amyrlin now for fifteen years. Raised from the Gray Ajah, she had managed to control the Hall of the Tower to such an extent that Sitters had spoken behind her back of an Amyrlin of steel and tact, partly in admiration, partly in frustration. She had long been aware of these whispers but they had only pleased her. If she managed to run the White Tower through strength of character combined with some cunning, then that would do. Some of the Ajahs had been against her becoming Amyrlin from the start though; the Red, not surprising, since they most often only supported their own candidates, the White, more surprising, since they rarely bothered that much with Tower politics, focusing on logic and common sense, besides study, as they usually did. The Yellow and Brown had been neutral on the matter. The greatest support she had gotten from her own Ajah, the Gray, the Green and the Blue. It had been enough to tip the scale and she had prevailed. And so she was the Amyrlin, the supposedly strongest Aes Sedai in character and judgment, strong in the One Power and wise in its usage, she was their Mother and the one everyone looked to for strength, wisdom and guidance. And yet, at the moment she felt like a ship adrift on the ocean, uncertain of herself and of her choices and decisions. ● She could not appear weak though; that could be the death knell for her time as Amyrlin. The Hall would act if they felt the Leader of the Aes Sedai was too weak or unsuited to the position. Their scheming would increase and they would move to remove her as Amyrlin. And that would certainly not do. So, she had to give the impression that she was strong, certain and forceful. But deep inside she had doubts and wondered if her latest decisions had been the best. She was alone in her personal chamber, seated in a high-backed chair by her work table which was lit by two candle lights, one on each side of the old parchments. The stole striped with all seven Ajah colours that she wore as a symbol of her station felt heavier than usual. She had been absent-minded all day and had retired to her chamber early, after saying goodnight to her Keeper and friend, Tarah. There were so many things on her mind and she felt inadequate to the task. Were those who criticized me for lack of judgment right? She wondered, running over in her mind the latest proposals she had given to the Hall. Am I overreaching as some of the Sitters believe? Her latest proposal had indeed been bold. But what other choice did they have, in truth? She needed the courage and wisdom of former Amyrlins and other Aes Sedai who in the past had faced great challenges with dignity, strength and power. And so, she had spent the last few evenings delving into old histories, trying to get inspiration, clarity and some wisdom. If I am wrong, she thought sternly, brushing her hand through her hair, it could be the death of us all! ● Qariahna stared out the window of her room on the third floor of the Ocean Mistress inn in Mayene. It was one of the largest inns in the city, clean and stylish. It was one of the most expensive too, but cost was not on the Chosen’s mind. It was late afternoon and intermittent clouds littered the sapphire-blue sky above. She ran a hand through her long dark hair and enjoyed its softness. It was always that way after a long, hot bath. She could still smell the herbs that had been in the water, that lovely scent of Solariah, the flower of spring. And that always made her think of home. V’saine. And the magnificent flower gardens of R’hien’kahrt, close to the Collam Daan, the great university of silver and blue domes that no other had ever bested. A huge elaborate garden with beautiful sections of trees and flowers of all colours; from Orange to Purple; from Maroon to Teal; from Yellow to Green. And everything in between. In a myriad of exquisite combinations and scents, placed in elevations and axis in a way which sometimes defied gravity and people’s senses, in a kaleidoscope of colour and breathtaking beauty. People had come from all over the world to experience these famous, stunning flower gardens, enhanced by the One Power. The memory made Qariahna smile, but her smile was as always tinged with regret. For her home that was gone for all time. For the world that had irrevocably changed. Not for the first time she thought this Age was a pale shadow of what had once been. ● Brushing those thoughts away, she focused on what she could see in the distance. She glimpsed several ships at anchor at the docks and what looked like a Seafolk Raker, long and sleek, heading into the Sea of Storms. There were a couple fishing boats coming in with their cargo and people running to and fro on the docks. In the nearest streets she saw vendors hawking their wares and people rushing to buy. Carriages drawn by horses disappeared in the distance, probably Noblemen out on errands. And people of all kinds - local or foreign, rich or poor, adults and children - went about their own business. It was a typical late afternoon in this city-state of Mayene. The Chosen stood there thoughtful for a long while, also considering her missions here in Mayene and what she had accomplished, before finally returning to the old wood desk at the other side of the room. Seating herself in the comfortable low-backed chair, she dipped her pen in ink and continued writing the letter she had begun earlier in the day. It was addressed to: Ledosian Anarigo, High Lord of Tear It began: Thank you indeed for your invitation, Lord Anarigo. It is most gracious. I am sure we will find something we have in common. These are exciting times.. ● When she was finished writing some time later, she put the pen away and opened the hidden drawer underneath the table. Removing a small leather pouch, she opened it and stared greedily at the object within. It was a small marble white figure of a woman wearing a sword and a crown. Touching it tenderly, she tried to keep her elation at bay. This was the main reason she had come to Mayene. To acquire the Thalion, this ancient Angreal long thought lost. It was unique in that it could be used by both men and women who can channel. Such objects of power that could be used by both had been rare even back in the Age of Legends. They were almost unheard of in this time and Age. When she had heard whispers from her personal Eyes and Ears in the South that an object sounding very much like it had been discovered, by chance, in a sealed iron box in a hidden, secret vault in a Mayene Nobleman’s private library, she had decided right away that she had to have it in her possession. It was far too valuable to fall into the.. wrong hands. And so necessary steps had been taken.. and the object acquired. And now it is mine. The thought made Qariahna’s pulse rise and her near-black eyes sparkle with glee. ● Calia and Elessar were welcomed by a merry-eyed bearded man with bushy eyebrows. Sand-coloured hair was peeking out from under his hat and he looked surprised to see them but not unfriendly. He greeted Calia in a familiar way, giving Elessar the impression that they had met before. His bondholder smiled brightly at the man and it pleased the Gaidin that what could have become a very awkward situation had been avoided. The sudden sound of footsteps passing in the corridor behind the man stopped abruptly at his words. In the same instant, a look that Elessar read as slight worry washed over his face. The footsteps rushed in their direction, a dramatic drumming on the wooden floor. Calia took a step back even as Elessar stepped forward, bringing the two of them into a balanced line. A woman appeared at the man’s side, clutching his arm as if for support even as she attempted a curtsy with skirts that were not yet settled. Her blue eyes scanned past the Warder and Sedai, and then her gaze returned, full of trepidation, to meet Calia's own, before glancing back at the man beside her, at Joem. Words and glances were exchanged, of which Elessar understood little, though he sensed from Calia’s posture that she understood. They were welcomed inside, the man extending a hand towards the Gaidin. "And you too, Warder”, he said, a rumble of deep bass in his voice, “- Welcome and happy Sun-day." ● Elessar was pleased that Calia seemed to take it all in her stride. Meeting her relatives who she might not have seen in years. And replacing potential awkwardness with warm smiles. Something had passed between them - a name had been mentioned - but once inside everyone seemed friendly and at ease. He wondered how long it had been since Calia had met these relatives but it was her story to tell. Again, the age perspective between the Aes Sedai of more than a hundred years and these people was.. daunting. Or perhaps it was just so in his mind. They had an early supper, one which Elessar enjoyed a lot - and which he praised, making Amelie smile with barely hidden pride - and afterwards he spent some time alone in the guest room, understanding that Calia would appreciate some time on her own with her relatives. He thought he could feel her gladness through the bond, smiles for being back in the place where she grew up, and that made him smile too. He thought she deserved some smiles and happiness in these dire times. To live! Once again, the thought struck him that it was indeed for such moments they were fighting! They retreated to their rooms but first Calia spoke to him some more about her past and her little sisters. Elessar listened carefully and did not interrupt her as she talked. He appreciated her honesty when she talked of her time as an Accepted and then visiting her sister many years later. Leaving the White Tower without permission before being Raised had serious consequences and there would be serious lessons learned. When he was alone, Elessar thought about what she had said and then spent some time sharpening his sword, an activity which also gave him time to think about their journey this far and what lay ahead. Ebou Dar lay countless miles to the south and there was no certainty that it would be their end destination. They would travel as far as needed to complete their mission. ● Later he felt Calia approaching, the bond telling him she was only seconds away, and so he put aside the short story he had been reading (an amusing humorous piece called “Is Lugard really as shifty as people say?”) and exited the room adjacent to hers. She smiled warmly at him and he smiled back at her. "Nice of you to join me, Warder-mine!" her grin was teasing as she turned with him towards the stairs. Inside though, they were one, and the sincerity of her words flooded through the bond with feelings of gratitude and the hope for Life! It made his smile widen - and he felt the Oneness between them. That special connection. A Passion and Gratitude for Life indeed! “I would have it no other way, my bonded Aes Sedai”, he replied with a grin and a wink as they descended the stairs. Their unity flowed through the bond with sincere feelings of Life! ● Entertainment at Joem and Amelie’s inn included a gleeman in the Common Room telling stories and playing his flute. Wearing a cloak made of many colourful patches as was tradition in his trade, he was Andoran by his looks, a fair complexion, blue eyes and blond hair, a tall man who smiled a lot and who truly enjoyed entertaining. After some jaunty tunes he started singing and telling stories. The inn’s guests showed their appreciation by banging on tables and cheering the gleeman on. Some of the local patrons who wished for an even more lively atmosphere were in the alehouse next door, a separate building that Calia had told Elessar about, but the Common Room was almost packed too which showed the popularity and sincerity of Joem and Amelie’s hospitality. Several of the gleeman’s stories were appreciated (stories of princes running away with blacksmith’s daughters and being hunted by her angry brothers or one-legged prostitutes having it on with one-armed dwarfs bringing much laughter) but the one that was most special, the one that captivated them all the most, was the one about Maragaine, the legendary Queen of Andor. Elessar smiled inside, knowing how appropriate it was for the gleeman to sing of Maragaine in this place. Here in Four Kings where she had battled hard for Andor. ● The Warder knew quite a bit about her from history books. She was said to have been the fifth Queen of Andor, succeeding Queen Termylle in FY 1054. There was some uncertainty as to whether Maragaine was Termylle's daughter, though several historians suspected as much, but she was without doubt a descendant of Queen Ishara Casalain, the founder of the kingdom of Andor. In FY 1063, during the War of the Hundred Years, Andor faced the gravest threat to its survival since its founding when Four rival Kings, envious of the growing power of Andor, united their armies and invaded the kingdom from the west, marching on Caemlyn. The battle that ensued was to be known as “The Battle of Four Kings”. Queen Maragaine bravely led the Andoran army into battle, meeting them some distance west of the River Cary. In a furious battle, in which Queen Maragaine is often depicted personally leading a charge, the Andorans broke the invading force and routed it, securing the future survival of the kingdom. The Andoran town of Four Kings later grew up on the site of the battle, thereof its name. The gleeman’s voice rose in pitch as he sang the name of the Queen, drawing in all the inn’s captivated guests there in the Common Room. A name that would not be forgotten in Andor. A name remembered in honour and pride. The Nemesis of Four Kings. The Queen who Conquered for Andor. Maragaine ● ►▼◄ Queen Maragaine: The Battle of Four Kings Four Kings with armies fought To vanquish the Andoran foe Numbers would count, they thought But resistance was strong, even so Envy of Andor’s might United the armies in steel Certain of victory bright Attacking with force and zeal The White Lion banner held High With screams of Andor! Around Forward! Our Queen! The Cry Echoed on the Battleground Sword at the ready, they Charged Maragaine leading the Way Bloodied death they Discharged Strategy giving them Sway Her blonde hair streamed in the Wind Her passionate face glowing Strong A storm unleashed and Twinned By soldiers’ courage, for Long To me! She cried in Force Fighting for her kingdom with Strength Behind her the army, on Course Pride in their eyes, at Length Like a Warrior Queen of Old Maragaine’s eyes Blazed Brave as few and Bold She destroyed the threat they Faced Forward the White Lion! For Andor! Were the battle cries of Might At Four Kings so says the Lore Maragaine conquered in Light! ►▲◄ ▀▄
  2. .. A Dream Fulfilled .. ►▼◄ The sky was sapphire-blue, a canopy of ocean waves running from horizon to horizon, and the wind from the south feather-light as Calia and Elessar rode westward towards the historic town of Four Kings. They rode in silence in early afternoon, refraining from putting into words what they were both thinking: they had been betrayed and there was with a great probability Shadow now in the White Tower. The image of their assassin being carried from his watch-house cell, very much dead, dried froth still coating his lips, early that morning stayed with the Gaidin. He exchanged a few silent glances with his bondholder, several thoughts running through his mind, but said nothing. Perhaps there was more information that could have been gotten from the man; perhaps not. He would never speak another word. ● In mid-afternoon they stopped to rest their horses. Sitting with their backs to a pair of tall oak trees they ate some dried beef and drank a little water. A few clouds had appeared in the sky as they had come further west but it was still pleasant travelling weather. Turning toward Elessar, Calia spoke. She told him that she thought he had been right about the betrayal. He could hear some strain in her voice; it was clear that this was something she admitted with a heavy heart. "I cannot believe it would be Liss, though, Elessar.” She added, “Truly, I cannot," But she added, that it had to be someone from inside the Tower. This echoed his thoughts of before and he nodded softly, his dark eyes tightening. Her bright blue eyes were hard as ice, for all they shimmered momentarily like they were at risk of a sudden melt. Anger mixed with some despair at this reality. She went on to say that it was unthinkable that something like the Vileness might be happening again. Looking at him squarely, she ended by saying that for once she was at a loss on what to do. ● Elessar appreciated her honesty. It showed her respect for him. They were together in this, a team working together in every way, and he had felt some weariness and conflict from her through the bond. They needed to trust one another and with trust came truth. As her Gaidin and protector he needed to know what exactly they might be in for, so he could prepare and be ready to protect her from any danger, and he was glad she realized and valued this. He did not respond immediately because he sensed that she had more to add. She paused for a moment, but then looked at her Gaidin, feeling the flow of connection and emotion through the bond. "Elessar”, she said, her voice serious - “it could be you and me alone on this, against the world!” Her blue eyes appeared to tighten but her voice was resolute. "I don't think we can warn, or trust, those at the Tower with any of our updates now”, she said, “until our quest here is absolutely done... do you?" ● Elessar took a long moment to respond, going over in his mind all that she had said. Picking up a twig from the ground, he ran it between his fingers as he considered his reply. He had been in several dangerous situations in his many years as a bonded Warder, close to death a few times as well. He had fought the Shadow all his life. “Thanks for being straight with me, Calia.” He began honestly. “We are in this together and to succeed we need to work in tandem.” He looked at his bondholder and gave her what he thought was a reassuring smile. “It might very well be that we have been betrayed”, he added, “and the Shadow is a sly and dangerous creature, but we will outsmart our enemies.” “The Shadow, which I have fought all my life, will not get the better of me,” he said emphatically, “that I can promise!” He shifted the twig to his other hand and looked at it closely. It was part of a small branch of a brown bush, only 4 inches long, rugged to the touch. It made him think of the bushes that had grown beside their house in Kandor when he had been growing up. Bushes that they had cut every season on the Telcontar estate, also seasons when they had had Trolloc raids. His eyes tightened in anger at the thought of those vicious beasts. “The Shadow is Rising, this we know.” His voice was calm but resolute. “I have confronted it in many shapes and forms, among lowborn and highborn alike, through the years. Power is seductive.” The Vileness. He had never heard the word before and he wondered at its meaning. He knew more than the average man of history, but he also knew that some stories and truths were hidden and secret among Aes Sedai. Leandreen had hinted as much when he had asked her many years before. He deduced this was one such hidden fact. And in the way she said it, he sensed it had to do with the Shadow. The Shadow was a vile beast. A beast that could be found anywhere. ● Even in the White Tower, Bastion of the Light? So it seemed. “No place is safe from the Dark One’s touch”, he whispered, his eyes hardening again. He met her eyes squarely. “Not even the White Tower, however foul it feels even to say it.” Calia’s eyes seemed to tighten at his words but he saw sad agreement in her face. “The Shadow must have infiltrated our Home,” he added darkly, his mouth twisting in disgust. The White Tower. Tar Valon. Home. Their Sanctuary. “It stands to reason we have been betrayed from within and, as you correctly point out, we dare not trust anyone there for the moment.” “So for now, it’s you and me.” He paused for a moment. Then he added, “But our mission is a difficult one and later we may have to re-evaluate who we can trust.” Trust was a three-edged sword he had heard someone say once. That might very well be true. He added that they would need to be extra careful now that they knew they were being hunted, but that their mission was too important to call off. He tried to convey reassurance through the bond, wanting also to show the respect he had for her, and thought any doubt she might have had quenched when he saw a small smile on her lips and a sparkle in her bright blue eyes. The way she returned his gaze told him she appreciated his words and his being there with her. He felt her strength through the bond but standing together in the storm increased that strength manyfold. We are one Throwing away the twig, Elessar sprang to his feet. A sparrow chirped in the trees high above, singing a song of joy, a song of hope, and it made him smile inside. His eyes fastened on his Aes Sedai and now they were filled with determination. “And remember what I told you just after we bonded up in the Borderlands”, he said in a stronger, emphatic voice and winked at her, his grin broadening, “Woe to anyone who stands in our way!” ● Later that day as they were nearing Four Kings, tall wide shadows in the far distance, Calia suddenly stopped her mare in mid-stride and turned to face Elessar. There was a playful grin on her face. "Elessar Gaidin, my dear bonded," she began playfully. "I propose it is high time we all really stretch our legs!” He stared back at her with a lopsided grin, not used to this playful side to her. Stretch our legs? he thought. They were almost alone on the road and had been so for the last half mile or so. Far ahead he could see a few people walking along the road but there was plenty of space. Always ready for a challenge, the Warder grinned. “What if you and Stormbreaker beat me to the Chestnuts?” Calia went on. “If you do, you can have as many as you like, and I'll tell you the story of their great revenge!" She spurred her Brown mare into action with a laugh and raced away down the road. Elessar set off after her with a broad grin, Stormbreaker running like the wind and soon catching the smaller mare. He was the stronger horse and leapt ahead, enjoying the run and the exhilaration. As did his rider who threw a winning grin over his shoulder as the warhorse kept the twenty strides lead all the way to the Chestnuts. When they dismounted, Elessar felt the thrill of his bondholder through the bond and he saw it on her face as well. A Passion for Life! The thought ran through his mind and made him smile. With all the doom and gloom of their current situation it had felt good to forget it all for a moment and just.. live! Seeing the joy on Calia’s face, an almost youthful exuberance, he was pretty sure that had been on her mind also. It made him think back on a similar moment of joy and thrills a time back with his then bondholder Myrrhi. She had been Green too, with a Green’s heart, and like all her Sisters had had a passion for life. Riding fast into the wind, without a care in the world for a few precious moments, had given Myrrhi much joy and in a way a release - her joyful laughter echoed in his memories - and it had bound him even closer to the Green Ajah. A little later, with a handful of chestnuts in her lap, Calia laughed and conceded she would tell her Warder the story of the Chestnuts' Revenge. ● The clump of trees, she explained, were almost as old as her - the result of an obnoxious, overly handsy, pushy Chestnut merchant throwing his last two bags from the wagon in rage after discovering they'd been topped up with sheep droppings - the Twin's idea of 'fair punishment' for the way the man had behaved and the insults he had flung when he was caught backing Calia and Kaylan into a corner against their will. The fact that the trees were still standing, so long after the man would have passed on gave her heart, since they were both proof of the power of protection and that good things could spring up anywhere, even from the middle of a pile of dung! The allegory was not lost on him. Their situation was pretty crappy too but hope always existed and something good could spring up anywhere, one never knew! He thanked her for the story, enjoying it and the handful of chestnuts she gave him. When they arrived in sight of Four Kings, Elessar nodded to himself. He had been there several times through the years on journeys south but had seldom stopped there for the night. It was a town with residences and inns, some shops, a few carpenters (useful for repairs to wagons and carriages), a blacksmith and a couple main roads. Some thought of it as a drab, careworn place used mostly as a stopover by merchants' wagon trains but Elessar had always liked the place for its history; the Battle of Four Kings. It would be different for Calia though. This was her hometown. Or at least it had been so a hundred years or so before. The Warder had often wondered what it was like for Aes Sedai to cut all ties with family and friends. Living way past the time of their families. He did not know if Calia still had family or relatives here in town, he supposed she had, or if she had any interest in visiting them. Living many generations made Sisters of the White Tower special.. but it also meant they would see friends and family turn to dust. It felt somewhat surreal to Elessar but none of his bondholders had spoken much about the matter and he had felt it too sensitive to approach. He thought he sensed some ambiguous feelings through the bond which was not surprising. He could guess that Calia felt both some joy to be home again and some sadness at the changes to the town. He did not know how often or seldom she had been here over the years. Neither had she spoken that much about her past though he did recall a conversation in Caemlyn when she had talked a little about her father and her family, smiling at the memories. Calia pointed out some places as they rode into town, Stormbreaker and the Aes Sedai’s brown mare riding slowly side by side, dust in their wake. ● They finally arrived outside a local inn and dismounted. A look Calia gave the building gave him the impression this was a place she knew well. With his Aes Sedai by his side he tied the stallion’s reigns to the rail of the 'Queen's Stand', mirroring Calia beside him, and then she started up the side path to a secondary door. Elessar gave her a quick glance, wondering for a moment why they were not going in the main entrance, but she only smiled back and he followed a step behind her. She rapped the brass knocker, one-two-three times. Soon the door opened and a figure appeared. ● Physically entering Tel'aran'rhiod, closing the gateway behind him, Kalessin moved slowly across the marble floor of the chamber and seated himself in one of the two ornate high-backed chairs facing each other. Between the chairs was a glass table with a marble chess board on it. The chess pieces depicted famous rulers from the Age of Legends. It was a favourite game of Amaranth’s. A game of Strategy. A game of Tactics. A game of Power. And this chess set was over 3000 years old. How Amaranth had gotten his hands on it Kalessin had no idea, but it was the First of the Chosen’s pride and joy. On the white walls hung objects of light. Otherwise the walls were bare. The room flickered in the strange way things often did in the World of Dreams, a reflection of the real world, caught between moments. Kalessin waited in silence. He would have loved a cup of delicious red wine but Amaranth did not allow any drink in this place though he had never divulged the reason. So instead Kalessin’s mind drifted and he thought of his plan that had been set in motion. Finally, a chime sounded and another gateway opened, dangerously close to the glass table. Amaranth stepped through, his piercing violet eyes sparkling, his posture arrogant, his dark ornate coat swirling around him as the gateway snapped shut. “I see you are here”, the First said smoothly as he sat down in the opposing chair. Kalessin remained silent. Amaranth’s mouth twisted with distaste, having always disliked this dark-haired academic man who always wore an air of superiority because of his philosophical prowess, but he said nothing more as his attention was caught by the elaborate figures on the chess board. His right hand touched each marble figure on his side of the board, correcting their placement almost lovingly so they each stood right in the center of each square. Kalessin still said nothing, just watched calmly, almost smugly, until the other man was satisfied. Studying the other man, holding onto Saidin as he knew - and felt - Amaranth was doing too - neither man trusted the other an inch - he thought again that the Great Lord had chosen the wrong man to lead the Chosen. A mistake which could turn out to be costly. If not deadly. ● Amaranth’s eyes met those of his opponent’s - powerfully in chess as in all walks of life - and he smiled darkly. “Good”, he whispered softly and then made the first move with his white pawn. E2-E4. A standard opening. They played these games at intervals, when Amaranth wanted to speak privately with Kalessin. Amaranth was the better chess player but on occasion Kalessin beat him which always enraged the First Among The Chosen. Were he tactical, Kalessin would let Amaranth win every time, to keep the other man satisfied. But Kalessin hated losing and loved the few occasions when he managed to beat the other, a man he would never respect, so he always played his best. Black pawn E7-E5. The standard retaliatory move. Amaranth looked across at him, ran a hand through his blond hair, and grinned. “Not too daring a move, Kalessin.” He said. His voice sounded very amused. “Are you losing your nerve?” Kalessin grinned back. “We shall see”, he replied smoothly but his brown eyes were hard, accepting the challenge. The First looked at the board for a few moments, then moved his knight G1-F3. Another common move. As Kalessin considered his next move, his attention was broken when Amaranth asked if he had seen Nymeria lately. The question made Kalessin pause. “Nymeria?” he said in feigned surprise. The other man nodded, a speculative cast to his features. “No, I haven’t”, Kalessin replied, studying the man opposite him shrewdly. “Any reason I should?” he added. Amaranth shrugged. “No particular reason”, the First said. “I just haven’t gotten hold of her lately”, he lied. “So, I wondered if you knew where she was.” His violet eyes became more intense as he scrutinized the other Chosen’s face. “I have no idea”, Kalessin replied after a few moments. “You know Nymeria, that stubborn woman minds her own business and cares little for anything or anyone else.” This was also not quite true but it served his purpose to give that impression. Amaranth nodded, knowing it was a lie. It did not matter. This was not the time to press the issue. Strategy. Know when to attack, know when to retreat. His suspicions that the two were in some kind of secret.. alliance.. would have to wait. “If you see her..somewhere..”, Amaranth added smoothly, gazing at all the pieces on the chess board, “tell her I want to talk to her.” ● Kalessin nodded, keeping his own thoughts to himself. How much does he know? He moved his own black knight B8-C6, a move that mirrored the other. It was a cautious stand-off at the moment between the white and black armies. This was often the case when they played. And it reflected the way it was between them in reality. A tentative stand-off. For now. But I have my black Queen, Amaranth. Kalessin thought shrewdly. She can change the game. The chess pieces flickered at times, as they always did in this place, but both players were so used to this by now that it hardly registered in their minds. They both studied the chess board with all the grand pieces with seeming great interest, but were in truth thinking strategy, in the real Game of Power: How to gain the Upper hand on the other, how to Conquer - and how to Destroy. ● Sandana ran laughing through the colourful meadow, the soft green grass caressing her feet and toes, the butterflies surrounding her with wings of silver and gold which sparkled in the golden rays of the warm sun above. Birds of all colours flew from tree to tree, sparrows and finches, pardalotes and robins, and several sapphire-coloured hummingbirds diving towards her and bringing joyful tears to her child’s eyes. She giggled and smiled and could feel the thrill from her head to her toes, as a tingling sensation enveloped her and colourful dust, like tiny, tiny remnants of stars, surrounded her. I am the Octagon. The thought broke through her near-ecstasy but did not diminish it. It gave her added fulfillment and she basked in the glory of it all, becoming one with the radiance. I can see it all. A beautiful hummingbird, part sapphire-coloured, part emerald-coloured, part ruby-coloured, stopped before her radiant face and remained in place flapping its brilliant wings. Staring into the bird’s deep eyes Sandana felt beauty and awe, and as she was slowly being drawn into those eyes - was she getting smaller or the bird larger!? - she was not surprised to hear the hummingbird speak in her mind. The voice was crystal-clear, in musical beauty. The voice was love. You are the Heart of the Wind. ● Peering into the darkness between the three huge standing stones, the blonde-haired woman frowned. She hated not knowing what was down there. She had her suspicions, of course, but it was impossible to say for certain. Unless she channeled.. and that she dared not do. At least not yet. Clutching her dark cloak in irritation, her blue eyes pensive, she continued to stare into the dark depths. Nothing much frightened her in this world but this place, this focal point of the Dharan, made her.. weary.. No sound could be heard from anywhere in the Stone of Tear though she sensed the guards standing watch in the tunnels. Passing them in silence, using delicate weaves of Saidar, had been no problem. Solving the puzzle of this.. darkness.. however, would be much more.. difficult. Carefully touching one of the standing stones, she drew her hand back quickly as a soft buzzing noise enveloped the chamber. The sound disappeared after a while but stayed in her mind as she took a step back and sighed. The stones were warded. But who had made the wards - and when? She was tempted to try again but changed her mind. Shaking her head in frustration, she withdrew from the standing stones, gazed for a moment at the intermittent lights glowing on the rock walls, and then headed towards the nearest exit. It could be that the ward had warned certain.. parties.. and in any case, she had other matters to attend to. Passing silently by the young Tairen guard and Defender of the Stone, who suddenly felt an urge to gaze into the rock wall beside him, Nymeria the Chosen headed down the tunnel and departed the Stone of Tear in silence. ● Serehstra left The Swordfish and walked hurriedly down the streets of the Rahad, streets that reeked of refuse and violence, keeping a close lookout for trouble, and back to her room. She had moved to a new inn a little further away from the docks. This was the Silver Crown, an inn with a polite innkeeper, who ran a tight ship so to speak, and decently clean rooms. Heading up the stairs to the level above, she went over and over in her mind what she had learned. Which was not as much as she had hoped for. Not by any reach. She had pressured the dubious innkeeper of The Swordfish inn as much as she could, to learn who it had been that had sent the assassin to kill her, but he had remained reticent and stubborn in his silence. All he had admitted was that it was an Outlander as he called him. Someone from far away and certainly not Ebou Dar or Altara by his attire, looks and slurring accent. The man had paid the innkeeper for some information, had stayed only one night, and had then been gone. Blast! Cursing inside, the Red Sister headed up the final few steps of the staircase and turned right on the second floor in the direction of her room. ● The reality was, she had no idea who had sent the killer! No idea at all! And why try and kill her in the first place?! The questions she had asked around had just been about the rumours of strange tidings in the Aryth Ocean. What was so dangerous about that? Opening the door to her room, channeling softly to pass through the ward she had set, she entered and shut the door behind her. Removing her cloak and the Red shawl she always wore, Serehstra headed across the room to the small balcony outside and stood with hands on the rail for a long time staring out at the nearby houses and alleys, her blue eyes intent, as Twilight slowly crept up on the southern city of Ebou Dar. As the Sun was setting in this part of the world, the Sun inside her kept blazing as strongly as ever. A storm might be coming.. a storm unlike any other.. but she would weather that storm come what may, of that she was very certain! ● Blood flowed onto the white marble floor of the hall in streams. Red and Plentiful. It was a stark contrast to the white marble pillars and white marble statues that adorned this Palace of the First of Mayene. The dead woman’s dark long hair spread behind her and her green eyes stared emptily into the beyond. Her white robe was stained by blood where miniscule weaves of Saidar had torn through her chest and her left hand still held onto the artefact. Qariahna grabbed the Ter’angreal and placed it in an inside pocket of her cloak. She did not bother to hide the body of the Councillor to the Ruler of this city-state on the Sea of Storms. The woman would be found soon and rumours would spread that murder had come to the palace. Speculations would begin about who the perpetrator could be and it would add to the chaos in the world. The Chosen smiled darkly with satisfaction. ● This particular Councillor, Sethia Lerian, had spoken to the First, the Lady who ruled here - a direct-line descendant of the founding ruler Tyrn sur Paendrag Mash- era - and had several times in the past month, it was whispered, argued that they get an Aes Sedai presence at court. The Ter’angreal could be an indication that she had had interaction with a Sister of the White Tower. An alliance such as this would simply not do. It suited the Great Lord’s plans well to have Mayene isolated and on its own. It was not the greatest of nations, far from it, but alliances with more powerful powers, the White Tower not the least, would not be beneficial for the Shadow. And so, this potential alliance had to be quenched at its root. Throwing a final cold glance at the corpse, Qariahna walked away and down the hall. It was empty. Touching her dark cloak as she turned a corner, ignoring the historical paintings on the walls of the province of Moreina and Artur Hawkwing’s military victories in the distant past, she almost bumped into a young male servant who came carrying a meal on a platter, presumably for someone at court. Giving the short, dark-haired young man a sly seductive look, touching his cheek tenderly, the minute weaves settling on him making him forget her face and that he had ever seen her, she continued walking down the corridor, now running a hand through her beautiful long dark hair. A dark smile came upon her face, a face which most men would find stunning. Her eyes, wells of near blackness, glinted in the afternoon sun as she left the Palace behind, the guards never remembering that she had ever been there, and headed into the busy city streets. She had a second piece of business to take care of in Mayene. ● "Sovenhia Taralth, you are Summoned to be tested for the shawl of an Aes Sedai. The Light keep you whole and see you safe." Garihna Semendhei, the Mistress of Novices, was formally dressed wearing her fringed shawl as such an official occasion demanded. Her voice was matter-of-fact, her face smooth but there was a glint in her blue eyes which the young dark-haired Arad Domani woman staring back at her recognized. Sovenhia’s heart stopped beating for a moment, her breath shallow. She had known this moment was coming soon, her training to become an Aes Sedai close to completed, but even so she was taken aback now that it was time. Time to take the test to become Aes Sedai. ● She had been an Accepted only sixteen years which was less than usual in the Tower, her steady progress had been lauded by the Sisters, and she had anticipated this moment in her mind a hundred times in the past months, but now that it was here her mind went momentarily blank. Her mouth opened but no sound came out. She blinked, trying to collect her thoughts, her hands going nervously to her fringed Accepted dress. Finally, she got hold of herself and curtsied to the Aes Sedai. She was then escorted down into the basements of the White Tower to the room where she was to be tested. She knew the procedure and went over in her mind what awaited her. In order to become Aes Sedai an Accepted had to complete a test that assessed her ability to weave Saidar and her ability to remain calm under extreme pressure. If an Accepted failed, she was put out of the White Tower, there were no second chances. I will not fail! she swore to herself as she walked silently down the steps to the lower levels. She knew that during this time she must remain silent unless spoken to; she must also show no emotion and remain composed. She would be led to a large circular room on the lowest level of the Tower in which seven Sisters would be waiting, one from each Ajah. ● Sovenhia kept her composure as she arrived at the Testing room. Walking through a doorway she saw the huge Ter'angreal, the object of the One Power, in the middle of the room. The Sisters were waiting. She recognized them all, several were Sitters in the Hall of the Tower. She remained silent, not exchanging glances with any of the Aes Sedai, her eyes fixed on the Ter'angreal. She had been told of it, but this was the first time she actually saw it. It was a great oval ring, shimmering in a multitude of colours; a span high and a pace across. The colours seemed to be constantly changing. The Ter'angreal stood alone with no support. It was, she had been informed, activated by the channeling of all five Powers by seven Sisters. When this happened the Ter'angreal would change colour even faster than it did when not in use and would begin to revolve slowly. The air within the oval would turn to a pure white that seemed to draw in light from the room. She had also been told the basics of the test. She remembered the Mistress of Novices’ lecturing voice: ..An Accepted must step through the Ter'angreal into a 'reality’ that is determined in appearance by the Sisters operating the Ter'angreal, she had begun. From here she must find a six-pointed star carved into the ground and stand on it; she will then be required to create a weave. One hundred weaves are required for the test - these the Accepted has been taught - and so she must find one hundred carved stars. The weaves must be completed in order and must be woven within the star. Each weave must be completed correctly for the Accepted to pass.. With echoes of those words in her mind, she came to stand in the place allotted to her. ● The Sisters quickly formed a ring around her and the Mistress of Novices - and then began the ancient ritual: Mistress of Novices: "You come in ignorance, Sovenhia Taralth. How would you depart?" Sovenhia: "In knowledge of myself." Mistress of Novices: "For what reason have you been summoned here?" Sovenhia: "To be tried." Mistress of Novices: "For what reason should you be tried?" Sovenhia: "So that I may learn whether I am worthy." Mistress of Novices: "For what would you be found worthy?" Sovenhia: "To wear the shawl." Sovenhia then hurriedly undressed. She had to enter the Ter’angreal naked which symbolized that she trusted the Light to keep her safe. She then removed her Great Serpent ring. The Mistress of Novices then faced her again and gave her instructions of what she must do during the test. The White Aes Sedai intoned: "Remember what must be remembered". She repeated it four times in all as was tradition and cast a weave on the Accepted. The seven Sisters now activated the Ter’angreal using Saidar in a complex and intricate weave and a powerful hum permeated the circular chamber. Naked in every way, focused in on herself, composed as well as she was able to, Sovenhia stared for a moment at the great revolving ring, the air within turning the pure white .. and then she took first one step, then another.. and another into the ring.. and was lost from sight. ● She was walking down a street. It seemed somehow familiar but she could not quite make out where it was. It was only as a man came around the corner and looked lustfully at her, his grin wicked, that she realized she was stark naked. Light! She resisted the urge to cover herself or sprint off in panic, and instead walked with as much dignity as she could muster past the man, then turned down an empty side alley and stopped. Some children were staring at her with wide eyes and an old lady who was emptying a bucket in her garden stopped and looked at her worriedly. “Are you alright, child?” she asked seeming genuinely concerned. Struggling to stay composed she replied quickly that she was fine and continued down the alley. When another man, a scruffy middle-aged fellow with dark hair, sunken eyes and a big nose, suddenly appeared, staring fixedly and lecherously at her breasts and the dark patch between her legs, she felt her cheeks redden. “Have you never seen a naked woman before, mister?” she said in a straight-forward tone of voice, hiding the embarrassment she felt. He kept staring, his grin broadening until she swept past him and turned a corner. Twenty paces or so ahead of her she saw a familiar face. The neighbour boy of her childhood. He was fifteen and a couple years older than her. He stared goggle-eyed at her and she swallowed hard. She passed him with as much dignity as she could muster and continued walking as she glimpsed out of the corner of her eye what looked like her family’s old house. She did not have the time to feel pleased with herself for having remained fairly composed in very embarrassing situations because just then something made her glance to her right. Twenty feet or so away she saw the first six-pointed star carved into the ground by a low concrete building. She hurried toward it, running on bare feet, and stood on it as she performed her first weave. Once it was done, she walked to the end of the alley, glancing around. There was only the sound of the wind. She no longer saw any people around. It was as if they had never been. Then something suddenly shimmered to her right, thirty paces away. Looking closely, she saw that it was an arch. Sprinting toward it, she stepped through. And realized she was in another place. ● To her sudden relief she saw that she was now clothed. She wore a dark brown riding attire which surprised her somewhat since she had never been overly fond of riding though she did know how to ride. Slivers of sunshine came through the canopy of trees and branches above, it was mid-afternoon she thought, but she noticed there were no sound in the woods, no sight of any woodland creatures either. A feeling of danger suddenly came upon her! and she held Saidar ready. She walked a few tentative steps forward, looking around for the threat, and suddenly a shadow stormed at her from her right! Her eyes widened but she managed to step smoothly aside just in time for deadly claws to miss her. Something made her turn and she spotted a six-pointed star shimmering off to her left. The shadow, now growling dangerously not far away, made her weary but she managed to stay composed as she reached the star and made her second weave. She turned swiftly as the beast leapt at her and threw a Net of Saidar on it which caught it and left it immobilized, growling in pain. An arch shimmered off to her left and so she stepped quickly past the beast, whatever it was, and entered the archway. On and on it went, familiar and unfamiliar situations and places, testing her will, strength, ability, endurance and concentration. Lightning striking her from above, gale winds slamming into her body, deserts with monstrous heat that made her lightheaded, knives and short-swords thrown at her in combat, being buried in the ground with only her head visible, stumbling in huge castles and buildings in utter darkness. On and on it went. And each time, sometimes through force of will, she managed to remain fairly composed and in control and found the six-pointed stars, performed the correct weaves, and survived, continuing through new arches. ● At one point her dying father screamed her name as he begged her to help him, but having made the appointed weave under duress she suddenly saw the arch shimmering outside the door to their house and knew she had to reach it before it disappeared. With deep sorrow and regret in her eyes, tears flowing, she hurried toward the arch and ran through. At another point her brother begged her to kill him since he was one of those dangerous men who could channel who would destroy the world, but she was unable to do it, she could not kill her brother no matter what! and she ran from his desperate cries choking on her misery as she almost dove for the shimmering arch outside their home. She found it harder to focus as she completed the final weaves. Her body was tired and her mind was exhausted. But she knew she had to finish this, she had to find strength she perhaps did not know she had, or she would be lost. Finishing the ninety-nineth weave, there was only one more to go. Passing through another arch she found herself suddenly in a storm-filled ocean, struggling to keep her head above the stormy water. The waves were huge and they slammed down on her as she tried to keep afloat. She had never been a good swimmer and the thought of swimming in the ocean far from land had always frightened her, but she focused on breathing correctly and managed to keep some composure in this - for her - very demanding situation. Suddenly she swallowed some water and her head went under for a moment, causing momentary panic, but then she broke the surface and breathed more calmly as she slowly regained control. ● She channeled then.. instinct grabbing hold of her.. and felt the world change around her. There was light.. and then the ocean was gone. She stood on dry land, in a desolate place which she knew to be the Blight. She had never been there, but it had been described to her in class and this could be nowhere else. Her clothes, an Aes Sedai travelling dress blue of colour (she had chosen Blue?), were dry and framed her body well. There were some foothills in the distance and she started walking towards them. Everything around her seemed barren and dead, a wasteland bereft of hope. She knew, however, that this was a place of danger. Coming past a small ridge she saw what appeared to be a swamp of sorts off to her right. Something drew her instinctively in that direction, she could not tell what, but as she came nearer, she saw what seemed to be a six-pointed star in the ground near the edge of the soggy, dirty waters. She approached carefully, but then suddenly a huge creature with very long tentacles emerged in the swampy water and headed straight for her! It was incredibly quick for its size but Sovenhia was ready and composed! She threw fireballs at the creature and threw a ward around her just as it reached her. It pounded on the invisible barrier she had erected but was unable to breach it. Using the One Power, she threw another weave at the creature and heard it cry out in pain. She then moved to the side and twisted her body, attacking it again from another angle. This time she took it by surprise and her deadly weave hit it straight on and it sank silently beneath the dirty waters and was not seen again. Breathing a little more heavily from the exertion and exhilaration, she was nevertheless pleased she had removed the danger and been composed in the circumstances. Taking another look around to ensure there were no more immediate threats, she went to stand on the star. Fully focused she completed the right weave. It was a most difficult one that had to be completed just right but she managed it. Shining, colourful specks of light shone in the strange twilight for a moment as the weave came together, then dissipated. ● She nodded to herself and looked around for the archway. It was nowhere to be seen! Her eyes widened in momentary startlement.. but then she took hold of herself. Turning in the direction from which she had come, she started walking back. The colours of this place were strange, she noticed again, there was no sun in the sky, a kind of permanent twilight with neither night nor day beckoning. She had walked for quite a while (though time here could not be measured) when she of a sudden saw something to the south-west. Someone or something was approaching. Steadying herself, she held onto the One Power as the figure came closer. It was a Myrddraal. From descriptions of Shadowspawn by Brown Sisters in the Tower she knew that this could be nothing else! Her body tensed as the creature came closer and she readied her weaves. It stopped twelve feet ahead of her and she saw its muscular body and eyeless face, its lank black hair and waxy-white skin. She kept the instinctive fear at bay, keeping focus and readying herself. But then there was suddenly a scream from somewhere behind her! Turning swiftly, she saw what had to be a Trolloc, a huge beast with a bear-like snout, twenty feet or so away and it was about to crush the skull of a little girl. At the same time there was a buzzing sound off to her right. It was the archway! The poor little child screamed again and the Myrddraal came at her from the other side. For a split second she hesitated, uncertain what to do, but then she acted! She threw a weave of lightning at the approaching Myrddraal who was thrown forcefully back and turned to throw a fireball at the Trolloc. It barely missed them both. She knew she had to reach the shimmering archway before it disappeared, however, and so she sprinted towards it, leaving the others behind, and threw herself at the arch seconds before it was gone. Her last thought was one of deepest regret and sorrow for the little girl. Sovenhia almost stumbled as she stepped out of the Ter’angreal, her face drawn, tears falling, her mind and body totally exhausted, and after a few trudging steps fell into the caring arms of a waiting, smiling Mistress of Novices. ● After her night of contemplation, seven Aes Sedai, one from each Ajah, summoned her to be Raised. Sovenhia knew she must be alone when the Aes Sedai came to collect her and so she waited expectantly in her Accepted quarters. She was then escorted in silence down into the basements of the Tower to the chamber where she had taken the test. It had only been yesterday that she had completed the test, but to her it felt like an eternity. When she arrived, she saw that there were many women present as was custom. The Amyrlin Seat, the Keeper of the Chronicles and the three Sitters of each Ajah accompanied by the newest member of each Ajah. All the Sisters wore their shawls and the Keeper held the Oath Rod on a cushion. Sovenhia walked slowly into the room and stopped at the appointed place. She now had to ask to be Raised, she knew. It was the final step. Nadhene Carahnas, the Watcher of the Seals, The Flame of Tar Valon, the Amyrlin Seat, of all Ajahs and yet of none, wearing her seven-striped stole over her dress, broke the silence. Her blue eyes glittered. Amyrlin Seat: "Who comes here?" Sovenhia: "Sovenhia Taralth" Amyrlin Seat: "For what reason do you come?" Sovenhia: "To swear the Three Oaths and thereby claim the shawl of an Aes Sedai." Amyrlin Seat: "By what right do you claim this burden?" Sovenhia: "By right of having made the passage, submitting myself to the will of the White Tower." Amyrlin Seat: "Then enter, if you dare, and bind yourself to the White Tower." Sovenhia walked to the Amyrlin Seat and passed through the Ter'angreal, not active now, and knelt before her. The Keeper then passed the Amyrlin Seat the Oath Rod and she placed it in Sovenhia’s hands. She channeled Spirit into the Oath Rod and Sovenhia had to swear the Three Oaths: To speak no word that is not true To make no weapon for one man to kill another To never use the One Power as a weapon except against Shadowspawn, or in the last extreme of defending her life or that of her Warder or another Sister ● Sovenhia swore the Three Oaths, her voice steady and clear, and they settled tightly into her skin, becoming part of her, the binding Oaths of an Aes Sedai. She felt great pleasure and a rewarding sense of achievement, her smile widening. She returned the Oath Rod to the Amyrlin. Only the final part remained now. Her choice of Ajah. She had been ‘courted’ by Sisters from several Ajahs over time and had had time to think about where she thought she belonged. Some Accepted made their choice early, having decided on the kind of service they wished to provide long before being Raised, while others were more uncertain and did not make their final decision before the very end. Sovenhia had from early on discarded several Ajahs that did not fit with her personality and philosophy. Discussing logic with the Whites was just as unappealing to her as was studying history with the Browns. She did not want to be stuck in the Tower Infirmary with the Yellows either and hunting men who could channel with the Reds was not her calling. Spending her time with treaties for the Grays, being go-betweens in conflicts, did not really appeal to her either. So, the choice was between the Blue Ajah, fighting for causes for the Light and Tower, and the Green Ajah, carrying out missions for the Tower out in the world and above all standing ready for the Last Battle. Both these Ajahs and their commitments appealed to her and in the end she made her choice based on her gut feeling. The Amyrlin looked into the face of her newest Aes Sedai and saw strength and commitment there. She smiled inside though her face was outwardly smooth and formal as she began the final part of the ceremony. Amyrlin Seat: “In which Ajah will you serve?” Sovenhia Sedai: “I have chosen the Blue Ajah. That is where I will serve. If they will have me.” ● The ceremony now over, she walked happily over to the Blue Sisters there who welcomed her heartily. The Amyrlin Seat, the Keeper of the Chronicles and the other Sisters, all smiling at the new Sister, left the room and let the Sisters of the Blue Ajah speak with their newest member. One of the Green Sitters, Leihda Sedai, glanced shrewdly at the new Aes Sedai before she left, her lips pursed, her blue eyes sparkling dangerously. The youngest of the Blue Sisters, a young-seeming blonde Andoran woman with a fair complexion but kind eyes, then lay the Aes Sedai shawl on Sovenhia’s shoulders and they escorted her to her Ajah quarters for a proper welcome from the entire Blue Ajah. As she walked up the stairs to the levels above, her hands touching her blue-fringed shawl caressingly, Sovenhia’s eyes watered and her Smile was radiant, shining as brightly as the Sun. This was what she had worked for so many years in the White Tower, the culmination of all her dreams, her ambitions and hardships. She was finally Aes Sedai. ▀▄
  3. .. Mirror Mirror, on the Wall .. ►▼◄ Mirror Mirror, on the Wall Will you Rise or Will You Fall Your Reflection Bright as Light In the Glass, is Life and Might She whispered the words she had found in the book, that ancient leather book with runes on the front, reaching into the mirror glass, feeling something beyond. It felt like liquid water just thicker, denser - and alive. Her blue eyes widened in excitement, the thrill of the moment running through her entire body. But then It all changed. Something in the mirror was pulling at her hand! She gasped! ..and tried to withdraw her hand but was unable. She tried to stay calm, to not panic, but her pulse was rising and her heart beat faster. She tried to pull back her hand again but it was stuck in the mirror. A tear of frustration ran down her cheek as she bit her lip. Come on! Come on! The words ran through her mind as she pulled and pulled but to no avail. She suddenly felt a great pain in her hand! It felt like claws ripping into it - claws and razor-sharp teeth! She screamed but it was a scream that no one heard. “Heeelp me!!” She cried in desperation, frantic with worry. “Pleaaase!!” Something was biting into her fingers in the mirror, the skin of her fingertips being ripped open, and she screamed as pain shot through her arm like needles. Her screams increased as she felt her arm and then her entire body being slowly pulled into the glass of the mirror “NOOOOOOO!!!” A moment of pure terror as her face was drawn into the glass, a final horrifying piercing shriek - and then she blacked out! ● Keyraa Erem Sani ne Paendrag, the Daughter of the Nine Moons and heir to the Seanchan Empire, gazed into the far distance as the Seanchan warship danced on the waves of the Aryth Ocean. Her eyes, dark brown and green the colour of emerald, glinted in the late afternoon sun, but her mind was elsewhere. She was back in Seandar, the Imperial Seanchan Capital, on that fateful afternoon eight months earlier when it had happened… Seated in her resplendent divan in her large private chamber in the Palace of the Empress, she had had several so'jhin, personal upper caste slaves, attending her. One had been polishing the heir’s lacquered nails while the other had been fanning her with a large feathery rod of a sort, ensuring the future Empress of Seanchan was comfortable. They had been pretty, young women with half-shaven heads, as befitted their station, their remaining hair plaited into a long braid. They had looked excited at carrying out their duties, excited and appreciative. The Daughter of the Nine Moons herself had been bored…. She yawned as she thought of the endless lessons her mother made her attend, her private teachers trying hard to make her learn history, law, customs, languages and all the many many things a future ruler of the Empire ought to be well versed in. None of the subjects interested her; weaponry was more to her taste, to her mother’s disapproval. A knife lay beside her on the divan and as soon as the subservient woman before her finished doing her nails she picked it up and held it in her hand, feeling the sharp edge with her other fingers. It had become a daily routine for her, to her mother’s disgust, and she found it eased her mind. She was very good with knives, having been taught to fight with them from an early age (her mother sick of her daughter’s constant pestering and finally relenting), and she always wore one on her person. Sororicide was not unheard of in Seanchan noble circles and both of her elder sisters, she felt sure, were going to attempt to kill her at some point since they had been passed over for the honour of becoming heir to the Empire. She would make sure she killed them first. ● When the attack came a few days later, it was the knife she carried that saved her life! She could find no other explanation. The special crystal-hilted knife was, in fact, an old Ter'angreal which suppressed weaves of Saidin, deflecting them, a secret she had come upon (and had confirmed) years earlier and which she had ordered her servants to keep secret on pain of death. Though she shared the disgust most Seanchan held for Damane and scepticism of the One Power and all the havoc it could cause in the world, she understood the value of the chained - and controlled - Damane in warfare and she also saw the value of artefacts of power. She had held onto the Ter'angreal partly out of curiosity (it was an historic object) but also in part in case it would one day be needed to defend against a man, an enemy, channeling Saidin (it did not protect against Saidar for some reason). It was a horrifying thought of course, but even so a wise precaution, also in view of certain secret Prophecies she had come across, and today it had saved her life. She could not see from where the attack came, but felt the knife at her side go ice-cold and a slight icy burning sensation came in her side as she sprang up from her divan and threw herself to the side before the table beside the divan exploded in a thousand pieces. She screamed a warning to her so'jhin but was unable to see if they managed to get away in time. Staying put, a mixture of anger and fear flowing through her, she waited while fireballs flew above her head lighting up the decorative curtains behind her. Shouts were coming from outside but still some way off. An ancient vase shattered close to her shoulder and the small table upon which it had stood broke and fell to the floor as she lay low, not daring to raise her head to look for her assailant. Screams came from the other side of the room now and more shouts from outside. A moment later several soldiers rushed into the room followed by two Suldam with their Damane, and finding the Daughter of the Nine Moons safe though shaken they breathed a huge sigh of relief as they hurried her out of there to safety. Keyraa cast a quick glance over her shoulder as they ushered her outside and saw one of the women who had attended to her dead, her eyes glazed and blood oozing from her head, and another crying hysterically from pain, one arm gone and part of a shoulder badly damaged, as she was being tended to by one of the Damane. ● Two thoughts remained in her head that entire day. One: it had to have been a man channeling the One Power - a man not collared! - who had attacked her, however unlikely that seemed. A man who must be found and leashed - or killed - for the safety of everyone. The Ter'angreal was not wrong. Could it have been him? The prophesized one? She shivered at the thought. And Two: could her jealous sisters somehow be involved? It seemed unlikely, for how would they get a channeling man to cooperate? But they hated her and would certainly want her dead. Shock replaced fury as day turned into night and she swore on her mother’s life that she would find whoever had attempted the assassination and would have him or them whipped naked through the streets of Seandar before beheading the person(s) publicly in the central square. The Empress, for her part, had the entire military squad patrolling the palace grounds executed for their ineptitude in keeping her daughter and heir safe. She also had a whole division of the Ever Victorious Army, aided by a dozen Suldam and Damane, out hunting the channeling man. The Commander of the Royal Family’s personal guard was demoted to da'covale, a slave of low rank, whipped and paraded around the grounds on his bloodied knees. When the day was over, he wished he were dead. ● We never found the channeling man, Keyraa thought to herself now as she stood by the rails of the warship. But whoever he was, I bet he was hired by one of my sisters. For who else would dare to kill the Daughter of the Nine Moons? She had been doubtful at first, but over time she has come to the conclusion that it had to have been one of them. The crystal-hilted knife she always bore on her person was a constant reminder of the threats she faced. Having it close at all times made her feel safer. Especially when travelling into foreign lands. A few more days and they would sight land. And not Falme as had been the original plan. But Tanchico, further south along the coast. The Captain-General, Meiahl Kereb, had been surprised by this revelation, as expected, and had argued against it, as expected. And he had obliged politely, as expected, when she had told him that if he did not obey her order, he would be thrown overboard but would first be stripped naked on deck and receive one hundred fifty lashes from the whip that some of the Suldam carried on their person. The Daughter of the Nine Moons thought he had chosen.. wisely. ● Calia studied the blond-haired muscled man closely. So, this was an assassin sent to kill them. A Darkfriend. His icy cold stare told her this was a veteran and someone who would not scare easily. Elessar’s threats, a very convincing act by her Gaidin, had not frightened this man but she had observed that he looked at the Warder as if seeing someone just as dangerous as him. He would be cautious for that reason. She knew that she would not be able to threaten him with things that would be lies and so she needed to be tactful.. What they needed above all was to get confirmation that he had been sent by the Shadow.. and if possible, to learn who he had received his orders from. Calia had experience from interrogations over the years and knew she needed to use some clever tactics to get this assassin to talk. Balancing it all with the truth, of course. Elessar stood a little behind her but she felt through the bond the absolute loyalty he had to her and belief in whatever she was going to do. He had her back and that increased her confidence. “So, big man”, she began smoothly. “We are to believe you are an assassin.” Her eyes looked sceptical. “But what assassin is as mediocre as you with the bow and arrow?” He had missed several times, after all. She saw his eyes widen slightly at the remark but his face remained the same stoic as before. She smiled inside. “Elessar, have you seen little girls showing this weak ability with the bow and arrow?” He replied that he had and, playing along with her line of questioning, he added that surely this man could not be an assassin with such pitiful skills. ● The man’s face hardened at the barb and it was just the reaction Calia wanted. She was aiming at hurting his pride. Pride in their craft was something all craftsmen - not the least assassins - valued highly. And they did not take criticism lightly. “Perhaps you are not an assassin after all”, Calia said smoothly, “and just a poor country boy”, she emphasized the boy, “out to rob travellers on the road.” His mouth twisted at the words but he remained silent, a sullen look on his face. “He is just a child”, Elessar added in the silence that followed. “A pathetic little boy playing at being a brigand. See the tears coming in his eyes. He wants to go home to mama.” The man made a grimace of disgust at this remark and Elessar could see anger building up in him. Calia saw it too and her smile widened inside. Her face was smooth though as she spoke again. “Perhaps we should take him to the next village, Elessar, and let some of the small girls teach him how to use that bow of his.” She smiled openly now. “His poor ability might.. amuse some of the five-year olds.” ● The man could not hold his anger anymore. “You pitiful Lightfools”, he shouted. “I am great at what I do!” He glared at them both, his pride hurt mightily. “Why else do you think they sent me to do the Great Lord’s bidding..” He stopped abruptly, realizing the trap he had walked into. His glare intensified. “So, they did send you to kill us.” Calia added, her blue eyes sparkling. “You are not a country boy playing brigand after all.” “You trapped me!” He spat, his whole face going red. “You Tar Valon whore!” In two quick steps Elessar was in front of him and he slapped him so hard that the man’s jaw was almost dislocated. Kneeling down before him, the Warder’s knife pressed against the assassin’s chin and drew a little blood. “I told you”, he said in icy dangerous tones, “no disrespectful remarks aimed at this Aes Sedai.” His eyes darkened. “If you do that again, I will not be as lenient.” Drawing more blood, he then held the knife before the man’s eyes for a long moment before stepping back and moving to the side. “I am sorry for the interruption, Calia Aes Sedai”, he said formally and with much respect. He was smiling darkly. “But I will not listen to such blatant disrespect.” A small smile came upon Calia’s lips but it was gone almost at once. She stared at the assassin again, ready to continue the interrogation. They had confirmation now that the Shadow had sent this man to kill them. They had to try and learn who he had gotten his orders from. And so she continued with her questions, with Elessar adding some dangerous threats intermittently. ● Together they goaded him into admitting that someone higher up in the Caemlyn Assassin’s guild had given him the orders but no matter what threats they gave he was unwilling to say anything more. He was a professional in that way and knowing the kind, Elessar was glad they had gotten any information out of him at all. They brought him tied across the back of Elessar’s warhorse, Stormbreaker (who kicked the assassin in the nuts as he was being hoisted up on the horse’s back; something that made the Warder grin inside) to the nearest town where he was delivered into the hands of the town watch with orders to have him subsequently brought under guard to the authorities in Caemlyn. So, the Shadow is after us, Calia thought to herself musingly as they rode along the dusty road in the direction of her hometown. They would arrive there around midday the next day. ● Serehstra walked into the noisy inn and looked around. The Common Room was filled to the brim with cheerful and drunk patrons, banging tables and singing lustfully. By the bar most men leaned over their glasses of ale seemingly oblivious of the gleeman’s jaunty tunes while next to the entrance door two bouncers stood like rocks, ready to throw out any troublemakers. They were big, bearded, muscled Ebou Dari men with hard eyes who no one wanted to argue with. And then there was the innkeeper, a heavy set Ebou Dari man with a smooth smile on his lips who wore an apron and seemed to follow every single movement in his establishment. He was now talking to one of the serving girls, a voluptuous red-head with long legs and a short skirt who liked to flirt with the customers. So, this is The Swordfish. Serehstra thought. The roughest inn in Ebou Dar or so the rumours went. It lay in the Rahad, on the other side of the River Eldar. It was locally known as the area of Ebou Dar where the less fortunate in life made their living. The streets in the Rahad were often narrow alleys, with buildings standing as high as five or six stories above the ground. The streets were filled with the refuse of the inhabitants. The Rahad was no doubt a very dangerous place. Not only were duels very frequent there, some adversaries did not even bother with the formalities and simply stabbed their victims in the back. A rough neighbourhood indeed, thought the Red Sister as she walked further into the inn. She was spotted now by the innkeeper who came bustling toward her in quick steps. Gazing into her face and half-nodding to himself, he gave a polite bow and welcomed her to his inn. “We are not used to customers of your high standing, Aes Sedai” he said smoothly though his eyes belied his discomfort. “We are pretty full this evening”, he added, “but I am sure we can find a comfortable room for you.” Serehstra waved the offer aside. Her smile was feigned. “No need, my good innkeeper”, she replied politely. “I don’t need a room for tonight.” Her eyes tightened slightly. “What I do need, however, is some information.” ● He glanced at the red shawl she wore atop her light-red dress, at her light-brown hair and finally again at her smooth face which he had learned was that of a Sister of the White Tower. Her piercing sapphire-blue eyes were watching him like a hawk or at least that was his impression and he wet his lips. He had never been comfortable around Aes Sedai. He did not think of them as witches as good folk thought in neighbouring Amadicia, but neither did he enjoy their company. He tried to keep his dismay off his face as he replied. “Information you say.” His eyes took on a shrewd look. “What information did you have in mind?” Serehstra recognized the look in his eyes. She had seen it many times before. It was the look of a man who was thinking about secrets he should not tell but also how much money he might earn if he were to divulge some information. A greedy look but also a cautious one. “Oh, I think it is something we should talk about in private, my good man.” Her tone of voice brooked no nonsense. Seeing her determined gaze, he nodded softly and then led her across the room and through a door to the small office behind. It only had a desk, a couple of chairs and some shelves on which a handful books were stacked. A small window at the back let in some light but otherwise the office was very plain. In a drawer he had his ledger for his business but it was safely locked and only he had the key. When he was comfortably seated behind his desk and she had sat down in the chair opposite, he spoke. His eyes were still shrewd but inside he was feeling weariness. He did indeed know secrets that were very private. “How may I be of assistance”, he said smoothly, his hands resting on the desktop. Serehstra considered the man before her. His black beard covered much of his face. His brown eyes were deep set and there was a scar on his left cheek. His hair was short and greasy. She had seen many such men in the Rahad, often sailors, sometimes not. But very often unsavoury. “I know you are aware of everything that happens in your establishment”, she began. “And so.. you can tell me.. who it was here among you who sent that man to kill me.” The way she said it matter-of-factly disturbed him much though he tried to hide it. Her smile was dangerous and her face hardened. She was not going to leave this room without an answer. ● “Papa, I love you”, Sandana said as she buried her face in her father’s chest. “I love you too, sweetheart”, he replied lovingly, his hands caressing her hair. Sandana’s face was radiant and she cherished the comfort of her father’s warm embrace. After a long silence she spoke softly. “Papa, what is an Octagon?” Argam seemed surprised by the question and replied that he did not know. Sandana frowned for a quick moment, but then her smile was warm again. She was not sure if the ceremony with the white-robed women had been real or just a dream. It had felt real at the time, very real, but thinking back on it she wondered if it had been just a fantasy, a dream such as girls often had. Of being a princess or a queen on a beautiful throne. It did not matter. It had been magical either way. She had woken in her bed and had felt the love of those women caressing her soul. A tear had flowed down her cheek, perhaps of loss but mostly of wonderful remembrance. “There is beauty in the world, Papa”. She said, her smile widening. “There is beauty in our souls.” All Argam could do was smile warmly in wonder. ● Walking along one of the tunnels that led far into the Stone of Tear, Tiragh Rendiana wondered not for the first time what was inside the locked room near the centre of the massive structure. Only the High Lords had the keys to that room and the room was sealed in more ways than one. Rumours had spread over the years what was hidden within but the Captain of the Stone had never put much stock in rumours; he wanted cold facts. When he had approached one of the High Lords with the question, he had only received an empty look in return and so he had let the matter be. It did not mean he stopped wondering though. Coming to a stop at the end of the tunnel, he turned the corner and entered a chamber. In its centre was another mystery. Three huge standing stones made up a triangle and inside was a darkness which could not be penetrated. Gazing into that darkness the Captain could see nothing but he felt sure there was something there hidden from his eyes. To touch the standing stones was forbidden though so he was not able to investigate any further, and so he passed them by as he always did on his rounds, throwing a glance over his shoulder as if expecting something to appear from the dark depths. Nothing ever did. Heading down another tunnel, the stone walls on all sides almost glowing in red granite, he could imagine the footprints of Captains of the Stone embedded into the rock from their countless rounds through this massive structure over the years. And if he stopped and tried to listen ever so carefully, he sometimes thought he could almost hear their whispers flowing along the tunnels and corridors like echoes of times gone by. Turning another corner, he came upon another door. This one was guarded by a Defender of the Stone who came to attention when his commander approached. Giving the Captain a bow of respect he opened the door and let the older man through. Stopping just inside this larger chamber which was lit by a dozen lamps giving ample light, Tiragh Rendiana’s gaze went to the locked granite door. Are the rumours true as to what lies within? Running a hand through his short dark hair, his grey-green eyes widened momentarily at the thought but then he caught himself and shrugged. It did not matter. His job was to guard and protect the Stone regardless and he would do so with his life. Passing the locked granite door, he moved to the end of the chamber where a door led down another corridor. A guard stood outside and he too gave a respectful bow to his commander and much-admired officer. The Captain gave a nod back with a smile and continued down this new tunnel. Some time later he departed the huge structure, walked out into the afternoon sunlight, and headed down to the officers’ barracks. He did not see the woman entering the tunnel he had just left, her dark cloak disappearing into shadows. ● Lady Carahna was a Noble Lady and Head of House Lenaga, one of the five big Houses of Kandor. Standing at the castle walls, staring with her deep brown eyes in the direction of the Plain of Lances in the far west, her long dark hair flowing in the cold wind sweeping across the Borderlands that late evening, she thought once again about the battle, and subsequently war, that was coming. It filled her with dread. Kandor was one of the four Borderland nations which lay on the threshold of the Great Blight, sitting between Saldaea to the west and Arafel to the east. The nation was formed early in the War of the Hundred Years when the governors of Hawkwing's five northern provinces met and agreed to form stable nations to preserve the peace and defend against the Blight. Kandor was one of these nations. And Jarel Soukovni had been its first King. Now Kandor was ruled by a Queen. The question was how long she would sit on the throne. A month or so ago the bodies of fallen Kandori soldiers had begun to arrive here in the western town of Ferala. Fallen soldiers from the battle further west. It had been an important fight against the Shadow, she had been told by the Aes Sedai who had stopped in the town before going east to the Capital. The Kandori soldiers had fought with honour, it was said, and it made her proud. It had been just one battle though. The war was coming. Of that she had no doubt. She knew that the town garrison consisted of about eight hundred men of which four hundred would defend the castle, the heart of the city. But against an army of Myrddraal, Trollocs and perhaps worse she did not believe they would stand for long. She had sent word to the Kandori Queen to send additional forces west but had received no reply. This worried her more than she would admit. Oh, she was warrior-bred and hard as steel as everyone around her knew, but she was also a realist and knew when opposition forces would be too strong. Turning her mind away from the inevitable defeat that was echoing in her head, she left the castle roof and walked down the stairs to the level below. There she stumbled across her advisor Sirih, a Borderlander woman of iron and wisdom who had given the Lady much good advice in the past months. “Sirih”, she greeted the slightly younger blonde-haired green-eyed woman. “Walk with me.” The woman called Sirih walked beside the Lady of the Castle along the corridor and down another level. As they walked, the Lady talked. “Advise me”, she began. “An army of Shadowspawn will be outside our gates in perhaps a week or so I am told by our scouts.” Her eyes tightened darkly. “How are we to stand any chance against them?” The other woman thought for a long moment before answering. Her dark eyes had a shrewd look but the Lady did not notice, staring ahead as she did. “The odds are not very good”, she admitted, “but.. I think you should take the fight to them!” ● Lady Carahna stopped in her tracks and looked at her advisor, her mouth agape. “You mean, we should.. attack!?” She finally uttered, disbelief in her voice. “They will have overwhelming superiority in numbers if what we surmise is correct. How can we stand a chance attacking them on open ground? And who will defend the castle?” Sirih remained calm as she answered. “Lady, an attack is exactly what they will not expect!” She smiled cleverly. “You will take them by surprise! I think the numbers we hear rumoured are inflated, and even if you don’t succeed in defeating them their forces will be somewhat depleted. They will not be anywhere as strong when they reach the castle here.” It sounded logical the way her advisor described it, but something made her doubtful, as if there were a flaw in that logic. But she trusted her advisor and mulled over what she had heard as they continued along the walkway which led down to her personal quarters. Stopping just outside her door, she turned toward her advisor a final time. “You really think we can take them by surprise?” When Sirih nodded, the Lady added, “And the castle will stand a better chance that way?” “Yes, my Lady, that I believe”, Sirih lied. Her face was smooth. “This way you will save more of your people.” That seemed to make an impression on the Lady of the Castle because she nodded, a small smile appearing on her face. Sirih, the advisor to the Lady, left her standing there by her door and headed up to the level above, passing several Kandori soldiers on the way. Some winked at her but she pretended not to notice. Once she arrived back in her own quarters she quickly moved across to a small cupboard and poured herself a drink. The red wine tasted particularly delicious this day. ● Whispers ran through the Dark room like a wraith moving in a dance with Death. Soft laughter seemed to come from within the glass of the tall, heavily decorated mirror that stood alone in the chamber. Like a sentinel. It was close to midnight, the silver moon shining brightly in the night sky, when the whispers became everything. Mirror Mirror, on the Wall Into Shadow, you may Fall Step beyond and conquer Fear Fail and feel the victim’s Tear ▀▄
  4. .. In the Face of Threats .. ►▼◄ “You have been asking questions”. The deep male voice said. “The wrong sort of questions.” Feeling the cold dagger pressed against her throat, Serehstra embraced the One Power immediately and relaxed inside once she felt Saidar warming her. An instant of irritation that she had become overconfident in the belief that no one would dare threaten an Aes Sedai and so had not set any wards around her room, but she left that self-incrimination for later. Now she gazed smoothly up at the manly figure leaning over her bed, his dark green eyes pinned on her face. Knowing she was no longer in any danger, she started grinning which made the man’s eyes tighten. “Do you know who I am!?” the Red Sister said, her voice sharp and her mouth twisting with distaste. “You dare threaten ME!?” As she channeled, the man’s face lost its dark grin and it was replaced by fear. ● The dagger started to glow dangerously bright and the man screamed and lost his grip on the weapon which slid down the bedcover and onto the floor. A sparkle of satisfaction blossomed in Serehstra’s blue eyes - and then the big man flew through the air to crash against the wall on the other side! Climbing slowly out of her bed, touching the soft silk of her nightdress as she walked across the room, she stared down at the intruder with harsh eyes. He lay on the side grumbling and was trying to get to his feet. Unsuccessfully. Using Air to pin him down, she stared at him balefully. She had never liked men to be honest, which had probably been the deciding factor against joining the Greens when she was Raised Aes Sedai despite her eagerness to fight the Shadow, but especially bullying men. This man looked ordinary if somewhat scruffy, in his mid-twenties but the many scars across his face told her much. He was the kind of man people would use as enforcers, or assassins. “So, big man”, she said scornfully, “who sent you to threaten an Aes Sedai?” He mumbled something under his breath but she could see from his weary expression that he likely had not been told or had known that she was a Sister of the White Tower. “Ah, so you did not know who I was.” The Red Sister nodded to herself. “Too bad for you.” Her blue eyes glinted. “I am not overly fond of men. Especially”, she added darkly, “your kind.” Channeling again, she moved his body so his back was against the wall and his hands were pinned behind him. His eyes widened and he was unable to close his mouth. It was clear he had never been in the presence of anyone channeling before. “So”, she asked again, her eyes hard. “Who sent you?” ● When he showed no inclination to answer, she picked up the dagger he had brought and turned it over in her hand. It was no longer hot to the touch and she found it to be an ordinary dagger, nothing distinguishing it from any other she had seen. It seemed sharp though. Pointing the knife at the man, she said calmly. “If I get no answers from you, big man, we can find out how sharp this dagger is.” It was a weak threat, since she had no intention of using it on him no matter what, but he did not know that. She needed to find out who had sent him though - and why. He still remained silent although he eyed the dagger somewhat warily. She considered her options. Could it be that he did not know who had sent him? Over the years she had learned that some enforcers were hired on a “no know, hidden employer” basis for a single mission while others were part of a guild and hired accordingly. “I ask another time. Who sent you?” The man mumbled something about there being no point in threatening him to which Serehstra’s blue eyed tightened dangerously. The weaves of Saidar holding the enforcer tight hardened somewhat and the man grunted in response. “I am not going to kill you.” Serehstra said truthfully. Not for the first time she wished she was able to lie. She understood the reason for the oath but it would have been very.. convenient.. to be able to lie sometimes. Aes Sedai had, of course, become very proficient at bending the truth. “You may die today though.” This was true. Someone might kill him this day however unlikely it was, or a horse might trample him. Who could say. The man’s eyes widened slightly though his face remained sullen. “This is a sharp dagger”, the Red Sister added after a long, telling moment. Her voice was icy. “I am sure you don’t want me to test its sharpness.” With a sudden flick of her wrist, she hammered the dagger into the floor an inch away from his most priceless eh ‘jewels’. It was a trick with a knife she had learned many many years ago and it made the big man gasp, his mouth hanging open. When she was finally done with him, placing him in the hands of the local city watch, all she had learned were two words but they would have to do. The Swordfish. ● "Perhaps." Calia answered Elessar's two questions at once. The hard truth of that one word landed like a boulder in front of them and left a bad taste in her mouth. His Aes Sedai’s one word response echoed in Elessar’s mind as he kept scanning the field in search of their adversary. Could it really be that the Shadow had learned of their plans and were adamant to thwart them? They had no proof, of course, but instinct told the Gaidin that his hunch had been right. Even if he felt no Shadowspawn close, the Shadow used humans as well in their war. And sometimes Darkfriends could be just as dangerous. They were on a very important mission for the White Tower and though the mission was secret the Shadow was Spreading in the World and they could not be certain that word of it had not somehow slipped to a minion of the Dark One. It was a harsh truth but Elessar had dealt with harsh truths for many years as a Warder and faced it with determination. He could feel Calia studying their surroundings intently, mirroring his intense gaze. Above in the trees birds were chirping, happily unaware of the danger. The moments extended until suddenly the birds went silent. ● The Gaidin’s attention increased and he held his breath, staring hard into the dry grass. Dust swirls, tumbling across the packed dirt here and there in the sections visible beyond the patches of longer field grass. A minute went by. Two minutes. And then suddenly a flurry of movement and chaotic sound broke the silence in the trees above Calia and himself. Elessar readied himself, the sword in his hand. Just as Calia’s head whirled and her eyes locked upwards. A storm of birds whipped around and past the two of them and up toward a shadowy patch. They swooped and stabbed at the shadow in a chaotic moment of force. A shadowy creature, dark as midnight, finally tore loose from the storm and lurched away from the trees and all the birds. Elessar recognized the crow and immediately his dark eyes tightened, thinking of crows and shadow creatures. He sensed his Aes Sedai following the large bird intensely with her blue eyes. He was surprised though when an arrow-tip suddenly out of nowhere tore through the crow and a smaller bird at its side. Joined, like in a deadly dance of Light and Shadow, pinned together in an eternal embrace, they fell from the sky. Watching them fall, Elessar’s eyes scanned the field looking for the bowman but still saw nothing lurking in the tall grass. Calia turned to him, catching his gaze again, and he returned the gaze which said, he had not seen their adversary yet and he knew no more than she what was going on. He heard her repeated “Perhaps” and thought to himself that it was probably more certain than either of them would have wished. Not for the first time in the past months, not for the tenth time either, Elessar Telcontar Gaidin of Kandor thought darkly to himself: The Shadow is Rising. ● The man had been an assassin in the Thieves’ Guild in Caemlyn for many years, first having been recruited as a pocket-thief in his youth. He had always been very good at what he did and had risen quickly in the guild ranks. What most of his other brothers and sisters there did not know, however, was that he had also sworn new oaths. To the Shadow. A secret hidden inside the deepest wells of his heart, only revealed to two other high-standing Darkfriends inside the guild. His new oaths did not complicate his ordinary duties as he saw it, they only added to them. And so it was that he had been approached by another servant of the Great Lord a week earlier with a very important mission. To kill an Aes Sedai and a Warder. He did not ask why, only named his price. To go up against such dangerous people added to the danger and meant a handsome bonus was expected. He had placed the gold coins in a secret pocked inside his cloak and had left to prepare for what he would have to do. And here he was, hiding in the tall grass with his intended victims some distance away by some trees. And he was gnashing his teeth in anger because he had missed! He had crept up on them from behind, giving him a perfect line of vision for his bow and arrow shot, but just as he was about to let the arrow go, a small gust of wind had ruffled his blond hair, disturbing his concentration for a second, and he had missed, even if only by a whisker. The arrows he had fired shortly after had also gone slightly wide and now he was unable to see the accursed Aes Sedai and Warder though he knew approximately where they hid. Cursing inside another time he stared at the tall grass for any movement. There was no sound except for the birds in the trees, chirping again. In fury at missing his targets he had impulsively fired the arrow at the crow in the sky, wanting to hit something, only afterwards recalling that perhaps it was one of the creatures the Great Lord used in his service. Never mind, it felt good hitting.. one target, he thought to himself as he held onto the bow in his right hand, crouching in the tall grass, and kept gazing at the trees in the distance, his light-blue eyes tightening. ● “So, what do we have here?” Elessar said, his knee across the throat of the Andoran man, pinning him to the ground and grass with his strong arms. “Out for a picnic in the countryside, were you?” His voice became harder as he spoke and a few moments later he saw his Aes Sedai arrive out of the corner of his eye. The man remained pinned to the ground even when Elessar removed his knee and got to his feet. Now Calia’s weaves of Air were holding him down and the Gaidin nodded in respect when the Aes Sedai murmured that he had done well. They had finally decided that whoever was out there would wait and wait and so they would need to take the initiative. After considering the various options, Elessar had argued that he would creep carefully through the tall grass and find whoever was hiding out there. But she should remain by the trees. In safety. Calia had not protested though it was impossible for him to read her face or feel through the bond what she really thought. At last, she had nodded, and he had begun a low crawl through the grass, his sword fastened to his side. He could not know exactly where their adversary was, but he used his Warder’s intuition and crept along, stopping at intervals to see if the person out there would make a noise and reveal his position. Finally, he did, a small cough which he did not expect anyone to hear, but Elessar heard. Sneaking up on him, coming at him from the side, he took him unawares and slammed his shoulder into the man’s face, then pinning him to the ground. He gave a small whistle for Calia to hear, their pre-arranged signal for when he had the situation under control, and here she was. Now it was time to interrogate this blond-haired muscled man who stared balefully up at them. “I am thinking we should remove his left eye”, Elessar lied expertly. His smile became very dangerous. “Or perhaps the right?” ● It was very convenient - and useful - that Warders were able to lie since Aes Sedai were not, and he had made use of this fact in many interrogations over the years. Some of his Aes Sedai bondholders had at first been surprised at how hard and seemingly brutal he could be in interrogation situations, but they had quickly learned that it was all an act by him. A very convincing act nonetheless. “That is what we do to Darkfriends. And Assassins.” He added, meeting the ice-cold gaze of this man who had tried to kill them with a gaze just as icy. “First though”, he said, indicating the Aes Sedai beside him, “you are to answer some questions from this Aes Sedai.” His smile darkened further. “But if you don’t answer truthfully, or if you are disrespectful to her, then I may use my knife on you”, he added, removing his new knife from its sheath at his side. “Or worse.” The Warder’s dark eyes were deadly. ● Denya brushed her almost white hair caressingly as she stared at her own image in the tall decorated mirror. Her piercing blue eyes stared back at her as if silently asking, who are you? Who was she indeed? She stared at her prominent cheekbones and at her delicate nose. Her complexion was pale, a little too pale for some but she thought it suited her well. A moan from the other side of the room broke her chain of thought momentarily but she quickly disregarded it. I am who I was always meant to be. The thought made her smile widely something she rarely did. Oh, she could wear a small smile in public, a smile which put others at ease and which made her appear kind and empathic, an old and sturdy Brown that others could depend on, but the true smile was the grin she felt when she succeeded with her discoveries and ‘projects’. Another moan came from back in the room and she put the brush down and walked across to the bed. The man was almost unrecognizable, face swollen, body bloodied. She had made many cuts in his flesh, probing, trying to understand how touching his nerves gave him so much pain. It was fascinating to her, and there was still so much to learn. “There, there, my dear one”, she said soothingly, her hand on his head. “You will not be in pain for much longer.” ● Running her fingers through her newly-brushed hair, then down her brown dress, she thought about the next stage of this.. ‘project’. There was a nerve along the side of his thigh that made him scream when she pressed it with her surgical knife. Interesting. There was also a point at the back of his neck that also seemed particularly sensitive. Hmmm. Pressing a few other nerve points made his moans increase and she noted it down in her book. Just then a small chime sounded and she turned around as a shadow materialized at the other side of the room. A sliver of light which was gone as soon as it had arrived. She immediately went to one knee, placing the surgical knife on the floor beside her. “Great Master”, she said in reverent tones. “Denya”. It was a whisper. The cloaked figure turned its eyes on the man on the bed for a moment. “I see you indulge in your.. amusements.” “I continue with my discoveries”. Denya’s voice was cautious as it always was when this Chosen visited. Which was more often of late. “Yes. You do.” There was amusement in that voice but Denya ignored it. “Have you done as ordered, Denya?” The voice was harsh and unyielding. “I have, Great Master.” She replied truthfully. “They will be dealt with, as ordered. It has been set in motion.” “The Great Lord will be pleased.” She added after a short silence. “For your sake, that better be true.” The cloaked figure said. “The Great Lord does not forgive mistakes.” “And neither do I.” ● She felt something pressing against her throat and then she was unable to breathe. Her blue eyes widened in panic, all Aes Sedai composure gone. Trying to get to her feet she found she was unable to. The seconds went by but it felt like minutes to her. Just as it seemed that she was done for, the pressure let up and she gasped as she drew in a welcome breath. She drew in another one and started coughing. “Remember. I will not tolerate any mistakes.” The cloaked figure said, his voice stronger now. “You live to serve.” Then there was a slight sliver of light and the shadow was gone. Few things frightened Denya. She had lived a long life and had survived many dangers. But this man frightened her. And she dared not disobey. Climbing somewhat shakily to her feet, still coughing, she picked up the surgical knife and put it on the small desk beside the bed where her other appliances were stacked. Looking down at the man on the bed as she was regaining her composure, she saw that he had lost consciousness again. A pity. Walking back to the mirror she gazed at her reflection for a second. It seemed somewhat paler than before. Shaking her head, she went and sat down in the rocking chair by the wall. It was dark outside by the time she rose and checked on her ‘patient’ again. ● The Banners of Illian, Twelve Golden Bees on a Field of Green, situated atop the Palace called the Great Hall of the Council, rippled on the soft winds that came in off the Sea of Storms. Standing beside a large window in one of the top council rooms, Lord Sandhar, wearing a dark coat with golden fringes, ones that mirrored those in his boots in the Illian style, looked across the Square of Tammaz to the almost identical huge Ogier-built white Palace situated there, the King’s Palace, and grinned smoothly. These two famous Palaces in Illian bore witness to the struggles between the two political powers in this nation: the King and the Council of Twelve. Your Palace may indeed be two feet larger in every measurement, as the stories go, Lord Sandhar thought to himself somewhat smugly, but here is where the true power of Illian resides. There had been a power-struggle in Illian for what seemed forever. The system of having the Sovereign being “advised” by a council of lords - The Council of Twelve - was bad enough for the King of Illian. But in addition to that there was still another “advisory” body known as the Assemblage chosen by and from Illian’s merchants and shop owners. Both of these groups contended with the King for power, with the result that the nation lacked apt leadership. Or so many thought. And that, Lord Sandhar mused, is what I am going to give them. Leadership. But from behind the scenes, of course. That was always the best way, a whisper in the right ear here, a whisper in the right ear there, gaining influence among those with power, but without drawing undue attention, and slowly but surely the master-puppeteer holds the strings of a nation. And then when the time is right.. to strike - and to strike hard! ● Stepping back from the window, he walked across his ornate chamber and seated himself in a high-backed chair. On the walls were paintings that depicted battles in Illian’s history. They pleased him, reminding him of his own battles and triumphs of command. Sipping from a crystal glass of red wine, he was lost in thoughts and reflections when there was a knock on his door a little later. “Come in” he said finally, gazing toward the door expectantly. A woman entered the room, a stately woman in a luxurious robe. Her hair was long and blonde and her beautiful face radiated sensuality. He stared at her appreciatively and his grin widened when she closed the door and dropped her robe. She was completely naked underneath and her body was glorious to behold. “Do you like what you see, Lord Sandhar?” Her voice was smooth as silk, her green eyes twinkling lustfully. “You are beautiful, Erihna”, the lord replied honestly, his eyes running over her curves with desire. “A continent to be conquered.” His reply made her tingle all the way from her head to her toes, a lascivious smile on her hot-red lips. It was very late in the evening by the time Lord Sandhar was able to focus on the politics of the nation again. ● “So, what do you think about the Amyrlin’s proposal, Leihda?” Maras Sedai asked, looking across at the slightly younger Sister in her light green dress. They were sipping to cups of tea in her personal quarters in the Green Wing of the White Tower. Her own dress was of somewhat sturdier material and slightly darker green. Her gaze met the other Sister’s and she smiled softly. Maras and Leihda had been friends ever since their Novice days many decades before. ‘Pillow friends’ some had called their relationship but there had never been anything sexual about it. Just close friendship, best friends. A friendship which had lasted over the decades. Maras had been the strongest of the two, the leader, but Leihda had been the shrewdest. Her cunning had on many an occasion surprised her Sisters. “I think it is a bold proposal, Maras” Leihda responded after a while. Her face was thoughtful though. “It has its risks, but there is little choice, I think.” She met her friend’s gaze and smiled. Then she sipped some more from her tea and finally put the cup down on the saucer. “Some Sisters think she is overreaching”, Maras said with a twinkle in her eye. “But then again, some will always complain.” “That is certainly true”, Leihda replied with a knowing gaze. “It is impossible to make all Ajahs content. Thus, it has been from the beginning.” Her face looked pensive but then it was Aes Sedai-smooth again, unreadable, as if nothing had happened. Maras smiled inside, having seen that look on Leihda’s face many times over the years. It was a way to disarm others, to make her seem much more uncertain and confident than she really was. ● “So, have you decided on your 3rd Warder?” Maras said with a broad grin, elegantly changing the subject. It was well known among the Green that Leihda had decided to get another Warder, as if Seldin and Antar were not enough to handle. Leihda gave her a shrewd look and then started chuckling. “Yes, I know the rumour mill is active these days.” Her cheeks reddened slightly but then reassumed their smoothness. “Well, I am looking, yes. But so far, I have not found the right one.” It was also well known among the Green that Leihda was a very picky Sedai when it came to Warders and she would not take just anyone. “I am sure you will find someone.. eventually”, Maras said with another smile, thinking inside that her one Warder, Samir, was enough for her by a long shot. Such a stubborn man.. but also a great Gaidin and friend. “Well, it’s time I get back to my quarters”, Leihda said with a small grin. “I have some.. important matters to deal with.” “Important as in.. Seldin?” Maras asked innocently. Leihda’s cheekbones gained a red colour anew before she was able to control her emotions. “Important.. exercises perhaps?” Maras tried to hide the chuckle but was unsuccessful. Leihda stuck her tongue out at her friend, then got to her feet and faced her. “I enjoyed our time together. Friend.” She smiled and Maras smiled back, just as earnestly, before Leihda closed the door behind her and started down the corridor. Alone at last, with no one around, Leihda Sedai’s smile broadened in a different way, a wicked grin building inside, and colours suddenly swirled around her face and figure, making it impossible to determine who it was. Erandel, the Chosen, headed down the empty corridor, very pleased with how in the guise of the dead Leihda Sedai, whose personality and mannerisms she had studied and learned down to a T, she was influencing events in the White Tower. Commanding the Sisters of the Black Ajah. Carrying out necessary murders. And weakening the Tower by creating small conflicts and strife between the Ajahs. Just as the Great Lord wanted. The Shadow right at the Heart and Bastion of the Light; it was something that appealed to her in more ways than one. ● Spread over the steep hills embracing Tanchico Bay at the mouth of the River Andahar, the south-western city of Tanchico had three separate peninsulas jut into the harbour: the Verana to the east, the Maseta in the centre, and the Calpene nearest the sea. These peninsulas were guarded by a dozen fortresses that surrounded the harbour and each peninsula had a "circle" or assembly arena among its buildings. The smallest of these, the Great Circle on the Calpene Peninsula, could hold thousands of people to watch horse races or displays of Illuminations. The largest arena was the King's Circle, located on the Maseta Peninsula. The Panarch's Circle was slightly smaller than the King's Circle and was located on the Verana Peninsula, as was the Panarch's Palace. Khoram, Cargomaster of the Sea Folk vessel Oceanfold, did not spare the local geography and history much thought as he walked through the city’s streets. A heavy-shouldered man with greyish hair and green eyes with four gold rings in each ear, he was never comfortable when on land, missing the gentle roll of the waves. But these things needed be done, the matters dealt with, and so he did them. He turned a street corner near the central plaza and almost bumped into a heavy-set man, somewhat strangely clothed who grumbled in a foreign tongue, slurring his speech, but then he walked on toward the grocery shop where he was to meet the trader. Later he headed toward the docks again, most of his business done, his thoughts on Carah, his dear wife and Sailmistress, foremost in his mind. She always worried when he went ashore, and did not like him walking among the ‘stone dwellers’ as she called them. Well, this time she would be pleased with what he had learned. The enemy forewarned was heading this way, or at least that was what the rumours indicated. Who or what exactly this enemy was no one could say for sure, not even in the couple inns he had visited on his way back, but word was it was heading this way, toward land, and that meant Carah would get the battle she yearned for. When back aboard the Atha’an Miere Raker Oceanfold, he told his wife the news, her grin was as broad as Tanchico Bay. ● Evana had just turned seventeen and her family had had a party for her the evening before. They had complimented her on her pretty face and lovely figure, her long brown hair which reached half way down her back, and her heartfelt smiles. She had been the centre of attention as was only proper on such a day. Smiling at all the lovely things she had gotten as presents - several beautiful dresses, a few books and bracelets, and the best present of all, a jewelled necklace with several red rubins that had been her grandmother’s - she had gone to bed more content than ever in her life. All alone in her bedroom, closing her eyes, the soft blanket covering her from head to toe, her fingertips caressing the soft sheets, and with her head comfortably placed on the soft pillow, she thought how wonderful life is. When a pair of arms coming out of the mattress suddenly pulled her down, pulling her long hair painfully, pushing her head and body into the mattress with crushing force and through the bed and.. elsewhere.. she only had time to scream once in utter terror! Blood - and parts of torn hair and skin - remained on the white sheets and on what was left of the bed, dripping onto the floor in red rivulets. The stench of death and blood remained in the bedroom for several days. ▀▄
  5. .. A World of Colours .. ►▼◄ A scream ripped the darkness. A second scream. A ripple in the air, as if the air was turning in on itself, a reflection of deep darkness as a Shadow materialized where nothing had been before. As if answering a call, the Draghkar shrieked in the sky. It cast back and forth in very long arcs leaving little doubt that it was hunting. Another shriek that sent shivers down the running woman’s spine. Her blue eyes were wide with terror, her shoulders sagging wearily, her torn and bloodied dress covering a torn and bloodied body as she ran frantically among the trees in this inhospitable dark forest. Death was calling for her - she felt it in her bones and in her soul - and she was trying desperately to evade it. ● She ducked down under a low branch which seemed to grab for her, swept around a tree trunk that stood ominously in her way, almost stumbled as she came upon a huge solitary rock among the undergrowth but kept going, fleeing for her life. Suddenly the air shimmered a few paces ahead of her, the darkness becoming denser and a Shadow appearing. She came to an abrupt stop, sinking to her knees on the hard ground, her elbow slamming painfully into some sharp twigs, as her face turned upward in terror. Amaranth stared coldly down at the bloodied woman, the traitor. His dark cloak with the symbols running down the sleeves glimmered slightly but almost became one with the surrounding darkness. His violet eyes gleamed harshly and in them the woman saw her death. “Great Master”, she stuttered, gasping for breath, fear making her wet herself, “please forgive me!” But there was no forgiveness for betrayal of the Great Lord. The Chosen looked down at her only with scorn. And then he channeled, powerful impeccably controlled minuscule weaves of Saidin, the blood veins in the woman’s body rupturing all at the same time, her harrowing death scream mired in blood and gore, melting slowly into the darkness of the night. ● Stormbreaker tossed his head with a soft whicker, nearly pulling the reins from Elessar’s hands as an arrow flew past the horse’s head within an inch of hitting. The warhorse lunged against the Warder’s restraint but then Elessar wheeled the stallion about and shouting to Calia on her grey mare off to his right he headed for the trees in the near distance, pushing Stormbreaker into a fast canter, seeing out of the corner of his eye that his Aes Sedai followed. Another arrow barely missed him, then a third whooshed by and a hundred paces further along he cursed inside as he threw himself from the horse as they came up to the group of trees and drew his sword almost in the same motion. Calia was only a couple seconds behind him as she too dismounted swiftly and crept down beside him. “Any idea who it can be?” She asked calmly though he felt through the bond that she too felt some concern. “No idea”, Elessar replied, a touch of anger in his voice, his gaze sweeping meticulously over the terrain before them. “Damned if I know”. He was mostly angry at himself for not having sensed the danger. The journey west from Caemlyn toward Four Kings which had begun a few days earlier had been uneventful, smooth riding in lovely sunny weather, and he had grown lax. There had been surprisingly few people on the main road, some carriages and farmers and a handful travellers but little else, and he had come to believe there was no danger about - and would be none until they got further south - and so he had skipped riding back the road to check on this leg of the journey as he usually did. A foolish mistake and one not worthy of an experienced Warder. ● Trying to keep his anger under wraps, though seeing in Calia’s blue eyes that she felt it through the bond, he studied the small brush and empty field before them scrupulously. Nothing moved and there was only silence except for the chirping of some sparrows and finches in the trees above them. His eyes tightening, the Gaidin kept gazing at the field. The wind slowly began to pick up and ruffled the leaves on the branches above them. Elessar half-turned to ensure their horses remained nearby and was pleased to see that they did. Turning back to the still silent field he considered their options. There were brigands in the forests and hills from the Borderlands in the north to Tear in the south, outlaws who would try their luck with anyone. But the Warder believed this was only one man or two at most. Otherwise he believed they would have followed them into the trees. Did they know that they were trying to rob an Aes Sedai? Not likely, Elessar thought. But then again, what if these were enemies out to get the Warder and Sedai? What if they were Darkfriends who somehow knew of their important mission and intended to make a stop to it? Could that be possible? It did not seem likely to him but he could not disregard any possibility. “There is no one out there”, he whispered to Calia as he kept scrutinizing the field. “Or they are very well hidden and very patient.” His bondholder nodded silently, keeping her thoughts to herself. The seconds passed as they lay in wait. Finally, Elessar whispered anew. “Brigands perhaps..”, he began softly. “Though I don’t think there are many, perhaps only one or two”. He paused before adding, even more softly, “But.. it could also be Darkfriends.” He met Calia’s gaze squarely, his dark eyes hardening. “Has the Shadow learned of our mission? Have we been betrayed?” ● The sun was setting in Ebou Dar and the city was enveloped in Twilight. Serehstra Sedai looked at her own reflection in the mirror and sighed. The necklace with the red ruby around her neck which usually made her smile seemed dull now. Her long light-brown hair curled down her back and her blue eyes stared back at her questioningly. Her face looked tired, worn and mirrored what she was feeling deep inside. Disappointment. She had been in Ebou Dar a good while now, the days passing like raindrops, one after another in an endless sequence, and she still had not found the answers she had been looking for. Rumours were spreading through the city of a danger in the Aryth Ocean - some said an enemy fleet was coming, some said the Sea Folk were massing, some said the Panarch of Tarabon was sending warships from Tanchico to intercept illegal traders and pirates, and some even said monsters of the sea were crippling sea vessels - but nothing could be substantiated. The local Red Ajah’s Eyes and Ears knew no more than she. And Voreyna would be of no help, especially after their last meeting and the spiteful words Serehstra had thrown in her face as she was leaving. She half-regretted being so hostile but the Gray Sister’s condescending and unhelpful attitude had ticked her off. Not that it was certain that Voreyna had any more useful information about what was happening in the Aryth Ocean, far from it. I need to find out, she thought as she brushed her long hair for a long while. But how? What must I do? ● Half-turning to gaze out the window of her second-floor room, seeing the yellow-orange sun disappearing in the horizon, somehow made her think of the sunsets of her youth, a century and more ago in Cairhien. As a little girl, sunsets had always thrilled her. The beautiful warm sun falling in the sky, ever so slowly, to disappear into what she felt sure must be the ocean far away. For where else could the shining sun go? Her parents had smiled warmly at her words and fascination with the sun, privately amused by their daughter’s infatuation. Years later Serehstra had come face to face with another Sun, one that was within her, its warmth giving her the Light she had always craved for. A small, nostalgic smile came upon her lips at the memory. Putting the hairbrush aside, after a final glance in the mirror she moved to the bedside table in the corner of the room and started writing in the small notebook she always had on her person. It was dark outside by the time she finished. When she went to bed later that night, faint sounds of merriment drifting up from the inn’s Common Room two floors below, she still had no idea what her next step would be. ● Serehstra woke abruptly two hours later, with a sharp dagger pressed against her throat! ● “Lady Mehrina”, the Royal Advisor to the Queen of Andor beckoned, “Darihna Sedai is ready to meet you now.” An Andoran Noble, the grey in his hair made him look older than he was but he did not mind. Distinguished, was the word his dear wife used when describing the way he looked. He had upturned moustaches, a small nose, somewhat pale skin and there was an almost perpetual smile on his face. Sadhyn Redhan had been Royal Advisor to the Queen for many years and he performed his duties to perfection. The Aes Sedai advisor in Caemlyn, Darihna Sedai of the White Ajah, had the Queen’s ear, he knew, but deep inside he was confident that his advice was followed in most circumstances. Who else knew as much about political intrigue in Andor as he did, after all? None, in his mind. Walking down the corridor on the west wing of the palace, he wondered who this Lady was. As far as he knew, she was not from any of the Andoran Noble families. And she was not an Aes Sedai. He had seen enough Sisters over the years to recognize the ageless face of a Sedai. Even so, Darihna Sedai had agreed to meet her and so he presumed she was of some importance. A beautiful woman, tall, dark haired and with a face women would kill for, she followed his footsteps down the corridor, her pale green dress and regal stance making her glide across the floor. Finally, they arrived at a door near the end of the hallway and the Royal Advisor knocked three times. A voice from inside bade him enter and he pressed the door handle and went inside, indicating that the Lady wait. A few moments later he reappeared and said she could enter. When she had closed the door behind her, Sadhyn headed back to his own chamber in the east wing. “Lady Mehrina”, said the White Sister with feigned politeness, as the regal looking woman entered the chamber and met her gaze. “Darihna Aes Sedai”, replied the lady smoothly giving the barest minimum of a respectful nod. Darihna’s eyes tightened slightly but then her face was Aes Sedai smooth again. “Please do sit”. She indicated the chair opposite her across from the table and Mehrina seated herself, smoothing her skirts. The Aes Sedai studied the woman before her. She had the proud bearing of a Noble Woman, but did not belong to any of the Andoran Noble Houses as far as she knew. The woman had dark long hair and a stunningly beautiful face only marred by a small scar on one cheek. Her dress was beautiful too but showing more cleavage than Darihna thought proper. Merihna stared back at the Sister as if measuring her. Darihna saw strength in those dark eyes, power of resolve, but she had nothing to worry about. This woman could not channel; if she could, the Aes Sedai would have known instantly. So she was not a threat. Darihna had invited her for a talk based on recommendations from some local Nobles, though she could not quite remember who, though that did not matter right now. They each waited, eying each other, to see who would speak first. ● Merihna stared back at the Aes Sedai hiding the mischievous smile she felt inside. The Sister had the ageless look of her kind, and the short blonde hair that framed her handsome face suited her. The woman’s eyes were blue-ish in colour with a touch of grey and they were studying her closely. Finally, the Aes Sedai spoke, opening the conversation. “I was told that you had some.. valuable information”, she began smoothly. “Of value to the Queen.” Merihna nodded, a small smile now on her lips. “Yes, there are things I know. Of value.” She said nothing more, waiting for the Sister to ask. The Sister’s eyes tightened slightly. She did not like having to ask again. But finally, she did. “And this information, what exactly is it that you know?” “I know many things..” Mehrina replied. Her stare became shrewd. “For instance, that you keep many secrets from your Queen.” The Aes Sedai’s face betrayed nothing of her thoughts but there was a gleam in her eyes that told Mehrina her guess had been right. “She is not my Queen”, the Sister said smoothly. “I serve at the pleasure of the Amyrlin.” Her eyes tightened further. “If you have no real information”, she added, “I don’t see..” She was interrupted as Mehrina started to chuckle. “Oh Darihna, Darihna..” She began, her face very amused. “I know you do not want me to tell the Queen of your deepest secrets.” “Especially your deepest secret of all.” Mehrina paused momentarily, intrigued by the puzzled but also weary look on the Aes Sedai’s face. “Namely that.. you are Black Ajah, a servant of the Dark One.” ● A shocked expression came upon the White Sister’s face and her mouth fell open. “Whaat!!?” Her Aes Sedai composure was gone and she half-raised herself from her chair, stunned. “What lies are you..” she stuttered, trying in vain to regain her composure. Her face was darkening by the second but she was too flabbergasted to complete a full sentence. Lady Merihna looked at the Aes Sedai’s horrified face and grinned wickedly inside. The accusation had been a lie but she had enjoyed the Sister’s reaction. “Oh Darihna”, she said very smoothly, “shut that gaping mouth of yours. There is no reason for panic. I have not told the Queen. Yet.” The Aes Sedai’s mouth would not close and anger now shone in her eyes. Anger and disbelief. She was unable to do anything, however, because just then - impossibly! - a shield slammed between the One Power inside her and her ability to draw from it! Her eyes almost popped out of her head in utter shock! and all she was able to do was mumble.. “Impossible!!” She tried to reach Saidar again but it was as if a wall stood between her and the One Power. She knew she would never be able to breach that wall, never in a hundred years. Slumping in her chair, the White Sister’s face lost all colour as she studied the lady seated opposite her as if watching a deadly viper. Impossible kept echoing in her mind. ● Finally, she stuttered. “Those are all lies. The Light of the Creator is in my heart.” A shiver came upon her body and she almost sobbed. “You are Aes Sedai”, she said accusingly. “Somehow you are able to do what you do. At the least I deserve a trial before my peers.” Qariahna stared back at the Sister with dark amusement. Then her eyes hardened. “I am no Aes Sedai”, she spat fiercely. The White Sister’s eyes looked disbelieving. “Then who are you?” She asked finally. The Chosen drew herself up, her face proud in its cold beauty. “I have been known by many names”, she said smoothly, triumphantly. “Most you will not know. But the one you may recognize”, she added, her dark eyes sparkling, “is.. Qariahna.” Darihna’s mouth opened again in complete disbelief and now there was terror in her eyes. One of the Forsaken!!? It could not be.. but there was something about this beautiful woman, her regal bearing, her cold pride, that made her believe her. Even so, ancient doubt lingered.. "The Dark One and all of the Forsaken are bound in Shayol Ghul..” she began but stopped as a broad triumphant grin came upon Qariahna’s face. “Were bound..” she replied. “But no longer”, she added with great satisfaction. Touching the purple hairpin she wore, a powerful Angreal, she let the moment linger as the Aes Sedai stared perplexed at her. She had warded the room, inverting the weaves so as to not be detectable, as soon as she had entered so the Sister’s screams would not be heard by anyone. Masking her ability to channel had made this much easier and it was one of the ancient weaves Qariahna had made the best use of over the years. Very, very handy indeed. “This secret, for now, is not well known.” The Chosen said squarely. “Why am I telling you, you might wonder?” She saw the Aes Sedai wet her lips. “Because, my dearest Darihna Aes Sedai of the White Ajah, you will soon be dead. Very soon indeed.” The Sister of the White Tower felt Air pushing in on her from all sides and she was unable to move an inch. The pressure increased on her chest and she found it harder to breathe. Her eyes lost all fight and resistance as well as hope as she waited for death to claim her. A Forsaken! was her last thought, terror running through her in rivulets. When death came, it was swift and almost painless - her heart just stopped beating - for which she was thankful. ● Staring at the dead body of Darihna Aes Sedai, Qariahna felt nothing. Except pleasure at having completed the task and mission the Great Lord had given her. Killing this Aes Sedai advisor to the Queen (no need for blood or gore) and thereby spreading Chaos in the land. She had to admit she had taken pleasure also from playing with the White Sister. We all need some amusement in this pale shadow of an Age, she thought to herself with a dark lopsided grin as she left the chamber behind, walked up the corridor and found the Royal Advisor. With practiced skill she placed weaves on his mind so that he would forget all that had happened this day and would even forget having ever met the Lady Mehrina. Leaving the Andoran Royal Palace behind, Qariahna walked gently through the palace gardens and none of those seeing her would ever remember her face. When she finally stepped onto the main street in the Inner City, her expensive and elegant dress making her stand out in the crowd, the large hat once again atop her head, her stance proud and regal, she looked like a Queen. ● The Twelve female figures in long white cowled tunics, decorated with strange symbols and paired with belts in shining silver, surrounded the brown-haired little girl in their midst and placed a blindfold over her awed oval eyes. She was wearing a pale blue tunic in the same style as the women but hers had a silver octagon centered on the front and had been woven of fine silk. The palace interior was one of pure white marble, thousands of small marble bricks fused together in a way that it almost looked to be one massive piece of eternal white. The shape of the central chamber was one of eight straight sides, a beautiful structure symbolizing the octagon that stood at the centre of their Order. Leading the little girl forwards, the white-clothed women slowly ascended the steps to the throne above, holding onto the girl carefully to ensure she did not stumble. Several of the women at the back started singing in soft tones, an ancient hymn which somehow seemed so familiar to the little girl. The sound permeated the chamber and a soft light started to glow from all eight sides of the octagon that formed the hall. A symbol also detached itself from the ceiling high above, a shining Star two paces wide, and floated downwards toward them. They reached the top of the stairs and placed the little girl on the throne of white marble. Smiles could be seen on several of the women’s faces; euphoric smiles, happy smiles, expressions of awe - and wonder. ● The woman who had led the small procession, a tall handsome blond-haired woman of middling years standing beside the throne, raised the hood of her white cloak and faced the other women. Her eyes were pale green and they sparkled now. “We are One”, she intoned and the other Sisters repeated the words in clear voices. “The Winds hear our Voice.” Removing the blindfold from the little girl, touching her face caressingly, the woman smiled warmly. “And You, Vayasha, are the One prophesized.” She added passionately. “You are the Octagon.” Placing a small emerald stone on the little girl’s forehead, she spoke words of Resonance and the green stone, delicately cut with eight equal sides, now seemed a part of the skin. All the women knelt and bowed before her, their white robes touching the marble floor reverently. The Chamber sang with white Radiance - and the Star above stopped its descent and remained positioned ten feet above the throne. Sandana’s eyes Watered in Delight - and her Smile was as Warm as the Sun. ● Staring awestruck at the light that streamed from the middle of the black door there on the otherworldly plain, the woman hesitated again. With every fibre of her being she wanted to open that door.. reaching for it again in her mind.. but she dared not. She believed she knew what was on the other side. Or at least she suspected for no one knew for certain. And she wanted to see.. so deeply that her hunger for it took her breath away.. But something inside her stopped her. Perhaps it was survival instinct. Perhaps something else. But the silent voice of caution broke through her enthralled being and she took a step back. And another step. The wind which had come out of nowhere seemed to recede and the sound of waves crashing against the rocks disappeared almost as if it had never been. The green sky above, unnatural in every way but somehow fitting to this strange place, pressed down on her and the intermittent flashes of silver light became bolder and more ominous. Gazing upward in wonder but also some confusion her eyes were drawn yet another time toward the black door which now seemed farther away. Had she moved? She could not tell. The light coming from the door seemed to gradually recede too until it was all lost in blackness. She did not have time to think, because just then colours of all kinds swirled again inside her mind like raging storms and she was drawn into somewhere else.. another time and place.. in a beautiful moment of transition. ● When she opened her eyes again, the radiance of the light gradually disappearing from her vision, she saw that she was back in the cottage, the fire still burning and the lights streaming out of the windows into the darkness without. She was seated by the old oak table and in her hand the Karanth blazed like a star, the soft buzzing sound of before remaining. She stared at the ancient circular object for a long time, her dark eyes wide with wonder. The mysterious symbols running down its side and dark brown surface glinted as if powered from within. She wished she knew how to control it but she did not. It acted on its own, sometimes haphazardly, and however much she willed it to take her back to that plain with the mysterious door it was to no avail. Finally, she gave up and placed the Karanth on the table before her, running a hand through her long brown hair, her eyes tightening. The object soon lost its radiance and the buzzing sound went away. Letting go of Saidar, she felt the loss she always did when not holding onto the One Power. As always she was tempted to hold onto it at all times but she had learned of the dangers long ago and knew that the seduction could destroy her if she was not careful. Even so the loss lingered as she kept staring at the mysterious object for a long time, craving to learn its deepest secrets. Oh, they had studied the Karanth at the Collam Daan in V'saine. She remembered it well. The great university, with its silver and blue domes whose architecture was overshadowed only by the Sharom that floated overhead, had had scholars of brilliance who had spent years studying ancient objects. As had she, the famous University Lecturer and scholar Ariahna Herahl Themen, but often with little success. All they knew about the Karanth was that it was an object from an even earlier Age, with hidden properties, a thing of mystery but of great value. It had been hidden away when war broke out in the world, the Great War which ended in what others would call the Breaking of the World, and certain prophecies had proclaimed that it would be found again in a Time to come. Now the time was here, and she had felt its call - and found it. In this new Time and world. But she was still unable to control it and that frustrated her. This world was a pale shadow of what had once been, as her memories and dreams of the past told her time and again, but it was the world she inhabited and a world she meant to succeed in. The.. others.. had their plans and schemes, of that she was aware. Let them have their power games, she thought to herself for the hundredth time, I will work in the shadows where they cannot see. ● As dawn broke over the small cottage in the dense forest in southern Arafel, the sun beginning its long journey toward midday, she prepared herself for her next task. Her multi-coloured dress shimmered now, empowered by the light of Saidar, and it was impossible to see her facial features, the colour of her hair, or any details of her attire. It was just as she wanted it. Cloaking herself in colours. With a small wave of her hand, the air before her shimmered, almost as if in symmetry with her dress. Her dark eyes sparkled with determination. She smiled but it was a wicked smile, one that spoke of danger. One that spoke of a predator. A Chosen, she had been known by many names over the Ages, but the one she had taken for herself pleased her the most. Erandel ▀▄
  6. .. Existence is All there Is .. ►▼◄ A curl of smoke was rising from the stone chimney. A vagrant gust of wind made the leaves on the surrounding trees tremble in the darkness of the night. Light streamed through the windows of the cottage, slivers of white-yellow breaking the shadows without. Inside, the lone figure of a woman dressed in a multi-coloured silk outfit leaned across a wood table gazing excitedly at an object which hovered a few inches above the table top. The strange hand-sized circular object had mysterious symbols running down its side and a dark brown surface. A shining light surrounded the Karanth and there was a soft buzzing sound in the air. The woman reached eagerly for the object with both hands, whispering words that were hardly audible.. and as they touched the Karanth, a brilliant light shone forth in every direction! She gasped, feeling euphoria as the radiance streamed into her mind and body - and the object drew her into its warm embrace! Colours of all kinds swirled inside her mind like raging storms and she forgot to breathe in her thrilling excitement. The beautiful, almost otherworldly moment seemed to last forever.. until finally her vision cleared. A coastal plain now stood before her and she could hear waves crashing against the rocks far below. She brushed the tears that had come unbidden to her eyes and gazed upward at a sky that was not normal. It was green the colour of emerald and with no sun.. and small flashes of silver light were seen intermittently. Shifting her gaze to the plain again, she blinked.. and then saw the door standing twenty or so paces before her. It was black as midnight with a golden door handle. ● She could not pull her eyes away from the door. It beckoned. When she suddenly stood before the door - had it moved to stand before her? - her eyes widened in wonder. Holding her breath, she carefully reached for the golden door handle. Just as her fingertip touched the handle a wind seemed to rise out of nowhere. She hesitated and drew her hand back, casting a cautious glance around. Nothing seemed to have changed except for the wind. Turning back to face the door again she reached for the door handle for the second time but something made her stop. Taking a step back, she studied the door intently for several moments, hands resting at her side. When a silver light suddenly tore through the blackness of the door, she gasped out loud! ● Serehstra Sedai walked purposefully into the Tarasin Palace. The light shone on the marble floor as she glided past the two royal guards hardly giving them a glance. She looked regal in her pale red dress with the crimson overcoat and a Red shawl and her ageless face was smooth showing no emotion. Inside she was far from calm though. The Eyes and Ears had confirmed the rumours that Darkfriends had taken over a couple Noble Houses in her homeland Cairhien and it infuriated her! She had wanted to fight the Shadow ever since she had become an Aes Sedai, almost choosing the Green Ajah at her raising but selecting the Red instead to ensure men who could channel would be taken care of before they break the world and do the Shadow’s errand. That the Shadow was spreading, of that there was no doubt in her mind. Besides that, she was still angry at Voreyna’s lack of help. The Gray Sister, the Tower’s representative in Ebou Dar, had been unenthusiastic to say the least when Serehstra had approached her several days before. Her manner had been haughty and she had seemed annoyed that Serehstra was there at all. Relations between Ajahs had always been somewhat strained in the White Tower, each faction feeling superior to the others and Sisters seldom mingling with Sedai from other Ajahs (though there were some exceptions). Away from the White Tower, however, Serehstra had always believed Aes Sedai should try to be helpful to one another. It was a matter of respect and integrity. They were Aes Sedai, after all. Walking down the corridor, ignoring the expensive art on the walls and the marble statues in the corners, she considered how to deal with the Gray Sister this time. There were also dangerous rumours to consider, the ones which spoke of dangers from across the sea. Serehstra had dismissed those rumours but her Eyes and Ears had indicated that something was amiss in the Aryth Ocean. Voreyna had to have more news in this regard and Serehstra intended to press her on the issue until she was told. Touching her Red shawl, she turned a corner and stopped before a door on the left. It was the Gray Sister’s chamber in the palace. Making sure her face was Aes Sedai smooth, she knocked softly. There was a shuffling of feet inside and then the door opened. A tall woman, brown of hair and with almost black eyes, high cheekbones and a pouty mouth stared back at the Red Sister. ● “Serehstra”, she said cooly with little kindness. Her eyes were piercing and her whole demenaour condescending. “Voreyna”, the Red responded in the same manner. She took in the Gray Sedai’s beige long sleeved dress which had a high neckline and, in Serehstra’s view, a rather dull look. Voreyna saw her disapproving look and her eyes hardened. Opening the door so the Red Sister could enter, she shut it behind her and turned to face the other woman. “You asked to meet me”, Voreyna said, her voice cold. “I don’t know what you think you will accomplish after our last conversation, but I will not have it said that I am hostile.” There was a touch of irony in her voice at the last part, her eyes looking very hostile indeed. “I am glad you took time away from your.. important duties to talk to me again”, Serehstra responded, her voice equally cold. Her eyes glittered. “These are dangerous times..”, she added smoothly, “and.. friends must stick together.” “Friends?” Voreyna said, raising an eyebrow. “Colleagues then”, Serehstra amended. “And Aes Sedai.” She moved across the room and pretended to be interested in an ancient painting on one wall. It showed two armies facing one another on a battlefield of old. “What exactly do you want, Serehstra?” The Gray Sister said, watching the other Sister speculatively. ● Turning at last, the Red Sister’s eyes met the other Aes Sedai’s. “The matter we spoke of last time.. I have gotten the information I needed.” She refrained from adding, no thanks to you. “But there is another matter I wish to speak of.” Serehstra’s eyes tightened. “There are rumours of a danger coming from the west.” Her voice was smooth but she stared fixedly at the other woman’s face to see if there was any reaction. “Across the Aryth Ocean.” She pursed her lips. “I wondered if you could confirm any such rumours.” Serehstra said. “Being stationed here in the far South, I am sure you would be informed if there is any credence to such rumours.” The Gray Sister stared cooly back at the other Aesa Sedai. “And why would I share any such information with you?” She replied. “If there was any information to be shared, that is.” “Is there? Or isn’t’ there?” Serehstra responded calmly but with a hint of impatience. A very haughty look came over the Gray Sister’s face. “I report to the Amyrlin.” She said, her voice even colder than before. “Not to some upstart Red who is out of her depth.” Serehstra’s eyes glittered dangerously but she kept her Aes Sedai calm. She was not going to let the other woman provoke her. At the same time, however, Serehstra had never been a weakling and she knew how to deal with impudent Sisters. “I understand”, she replied cooly. “I will find the answers myself.” She paused for a moment, a small grin coming on her lips. “But Voreyna”, she added almost as an afterthought, “you do know that the Amyrlin sent you here, as far as possible from the Tower, because she deemed you useless and best kept away from where true power and important decisions are?” Enjoying the way the Gray Sister’s mouth twitched in clear irritation at the barb and remark, Serehstra bid her a good day, her grin broadening, and left the chamber, heading resolutely down the corridors of the Tarasin Palace and then out into the Ebou Dari afternoon. ● The Oceanfold was safely moored to the dock at Tanchico. Carah din Toral Rising Wave, the Sea Folk Raker’s Sailmistress, stared at the buildings along the quay and wondered for the hundredth time when they would be able to leave. Like most Sea Folk she felt uneasy on land, having been born and bred to be on the seas, and moored like this felt just as bad. She had not walked onto the dock since their arrival several days before and had no intention to do so. Some of her crew had done so though, to get some supplies and to gather information. The ship’s Cargomaster, Khoram, had gone ashore to oversee things. He was a heavy-shouldered man with greyish hair and green eyes. With four gold rings in each ear, he was a hard man but fair. He was in charge of the defence of the ship, as well as all trade, and even the Sailmistress was hard pushed to overrule him in matters of negotiations and combat. They worked well together though, also because he was her husband of many years, her trusted life companion. Just don’t go ahead and get yourself killed among these stone dwellers, thought the Sailmistress, eyes tightening, as her gaze fell on the activity on the dock. She had never trusted people who lived their lives on land, stone dwellers as she called them, and hoped her husband would be back aboard ship soon. ● On the lower deck, Morin din Rubai Blue Wing, Windfinder of this proud Atha’an Miere vessel, stared outward at the sea, longing to be back among the blue-green waves and currents of the Aryth Ocean. Moored like this made her restless and she kept walking back and forth on deck several times a day trying to stay patient. What added to her uneasiness were the dreams. The strange dreams she had had far too often of late. The dreams that almost felt like they were not real.. even though she knew they had to be. The dreams and her mother. The mother who had been dead for years. Why was she haunted by memories and the strangest dreams? And by bad omens? Brushing her hand through her short dark hair, she closed her dark eyes and tried to push the images from her mind. Unsuccessfully as always. Placing her hands on the ship’s rail, she stared at the muddy water below and calmed herself. Embracing Saidar, feeling the glow of the One Power build inside her, she enjoyed the feeling of completeness that she always felt when holding onto the female part of the true Source. The calm within her increased and her worried frown disappeared. Channeling just so, combining weaves as she had been taught long ago, a small flame danced in her palm and the sight made her smile. As long as there was life, there was hope. And as long as she had the One Power inside her, she would always believe. ● Calia and Elessar visited several vendors in Caemlyn the next day to replenish their supplies. There was a chill in the air, cold northern winds brushing against their travelling cloaks as they made their way through the busy city streets. Shops had awnings out front sheltering tables covered with goods and the cloth-covering rippled in tune with the gusts. Vendors stood by their market stalls hawking their wares but several wore warmer coats than they normally would have this time of year. People hurried along the streets, intent on completing their errands as fast as possible, and one youngster, a scruffy-looking boy of twelve or so, blundered into people as he hurried through the crowd, earning hard looks and angry comments from some. Elessar glanced at the young boy as he hurried past, then shifted his attention to the crowd ahead. A stately carriage drawn by four black horses passed them near the central plaza, the carriage driver urging the beasts onward. For a quick moment the Warder glimpsed the passenger in the carriage, a beautiful lady wearing a large hat and an expensive-looking dress. A Noblewoman, without doubt. Then she was gone from sight, the carriage heading up the street, but he could not shake the feeling that there was something familiar about her. Shifting his thoughts to the errands they had yet to complete, he continued walking with Calia at his side as they approached a blacksmith’s shop. He wanted to get a new knife since his old one was tired and worn. Gazing admiringly at the weapons displayed beside the forge, Elessar spotted a knife which would do very nicely. The blacksmith, a huge Andoran fellow with blond hair, a beard, kind blue eyes and arms the size of logs, grinned when he saw the Warder approach. Gaidin-customers would always appreciate quality work and would always know the true value of craftmanship. ● Later that day they sat and talked for a while at a bench in one of Caemlyn’s central parks. The green grass and trees surrounded by colourful flower beds made for a peaceful place. Birds of different colours and sizes chirped happily in the trees - sparrows, finches and hummingbirds - and the sun’s warmth drove away part of the northern chill. Gazing at one of the little hummingbirds on a thin branch, a green-black bird with long, narrow bills and small, saber-like wings, it made Elessar think of the sparkling green dragon-fly that Calia had spoken of in her sweet story from her childhood. It was after he had finished his re-telling of Old Celter, a story which Calia too had found delightful. She had spoken of how she had always loved Caemlyn ever since she was a little girl. The Warder had smiled warmly when she had told her story of a child’s wonder and how it indeed was easy to believe in ancient myths and magic here in the Andoran Capital. "Especially”, she had added, leaning forward, her blue eyes sparkling, “after you've managed to catch a dragon-animal near the palace before you've even learned you can channel!" ● He had been unable to hide the surprise and wonder in his eyes. A dragon?! It was a mythical creature and he had told her before how much he enjoyed myths, legends, stories and history. He was very curious to hear the rest of this story and had been captivated as she had explained in detail. He enjoyed seeing her blue eyes sparkle as she spoke. This was a cherished memory for her from her family’s visit to Caemlyn, that was clear, and he enjoyed having her tell him a story this time. “We reached the outer wall of the palace.” She said. “It was magnificent. Everything about it awed me, the shining stone, the sheer size of it, the divine smells floating over the wall from the gardens. It was as magical as I had ever dreamed it. I imagined, right then and there, all manner of amazing and perfect instances that must surely happen in such a place!” He could hear the child-like wonder and enthusiasm of her voice in his mind, smiling anew at the memory. The dragon in the sky.. observed by a child’s eager eyes.. which had turned out to be a tiny dragon-fly of some beauty. Calia’s ‘dragon’, no less wonderful and mesmerizing because of its small size, had stayed in her mind and memory for over a century, one of those moments that stay with you forever. And it had sparked a joy in adventures which had eventually led to her becoming a Battle Ajah Sister of the White Tower. An Aes Sedai, perhaps the greatest adventure of all! Smiling at the beautiful hummingbird, the green in its feathers glinting to his eye, somehow made him think of the charm at Calia’s wrist which sometimes fluttered in a small flash of silver, and the tiniest, brightest little sparkle of green. There was beauty in a sometimes dark and Shadowy world. ● They talked some more about the journey ahead into the South. He knew from the little she had told him about her background that she came from Four Kings, a village west of Caemlyn located at the junction of the Caemlyn Road leading southwards to Lugard. It was an historic village and one which the Warder had visited before. It would be a suitable stopover place for the next part of their journey if she approved. They agreed that they would continue their journey the next day, leaving early in the morning. Heading back to the inn, walking side by side along the busy, bustling city streets of Caemlyn, they did not notice the pair of eyes watching them intently from a distance. ● The sun was just setting over the Seanchan Capital of Seandar. Kalessin sat in his living room sipping to some red wine. He was in a reflective mood. After a while he picked up the old book he had been reading earlier that day and leafed through the pages. He had read it countless times before but it never ceased to amuse him. The book title was “The Inevitability of Delusion” and it was one of the few objects he had been able to bring with him from his former life. Before the Long Sleep, as he had come to think of it. The author had been one of the most famous in the Age of Legends, an old scholar from Jalanda, and being a scholar himself, Kalessin had read all his works. As a Philosopher of renown, Kalessin had always been interested in learning, in books and theories and thoughts. And being a scholar he had always remained neutral, objective in all circumstances and debates. Right and wrong did not matter to him, all that mattered was the possibilities and how things could be interpreted. What was up and what was down, depended on one’s perspective. Thought itself was a matter of intellect but also reason and deliberation. Everyone was a product of one’s limitations. Everything was possible - as long as there were no restrictions to evolution or development. To higher thinking. To becoming.. more. ● For years he had lectured at higher institutions in V’saine and Emar Dal, speaking to students and teachers and scholars, debating various philosophical questions with vigour and logic, and he had been listened to and even respected. Those had been the good years. The years that followed had been more troublesome. His methods to understand human behaviour had been criticized, his insistence that human evolution needed a culling of the weak had been deplored. His statement and subsequent thesis that good and evil did not exist, that intent and consequence was all that mattered, that morals and ethics were excuses conjured by weak minds, resulted in him being sacked from his university positions and shunned by the scholarly community. He continued giving advice in philosophical matters on a private client basis, as well as private counselling, but he had lost much of his income and prestige and understood that changes soon needed to be made. Around that time as society was slowly breaking apart, the utopia of the world showing cracks in its foundations, he heard of the rebels who were fighting against the hierarchy and failing traditions. The rebels were called evil by many, and denounced by the Aes Sedai, but being one who neither believed in evil nor in good, just in what was and what could be, Kalessin had no problems approaching them. The promise of immortality and thereby the opportunity to study life and behaviour, thought and evolution, in all its million facets for generations to come was seductive, as was the chance to do so in an environment where his methods and theories would not be criticized or demeaned. And so he joined the rebels and left the Aes Sedai, kneeling before the Great Lord of the Dark in Shayol Ghul and promising him eternal service. To him there was no Shadow or Light, just Existence and he would serve in whatever capacity needed, with whatever tools at his disposal, to continue that existence for ages to come. As one of Those Chosen to Rule the World Forever. ● The Wind blew in her face, a strong breeze that spoke of Revelation, as Sandana stood alone on the rocky hilltop half a mile north of her home in Saldaea. She was only wearing her night clothes and her feet were bare. Something had urged her to come to this strange place, a feeling, an emotion, and though it was not logical she did not question it. The sun was setting in the west, twilight gradually cloaking the surrounding area and shadows waiting in the north. Her eyes were wide with wonder and her hair streamed behind her as she stared into the far horizon. Whispers came in her mind, soft words that she could almost but not quite understand. They were foreign, spoken in a language she did not know but felt she ought to know, and she was filled with excitement. Child. Remember! Suddenly ..the air rippled before her, as if a wave of air was pushing forwards, and she was lifted upright twelve inches from the rocky ground, arms outstretched! She giggled in childish wonder, screaming in delight as she was lifted even higher into the air, carried on the wave, feeling like a bird on the wind; light as a feather, soft as a petal, free to soar! Her eyes shone, as her vision was breaking up into a million specks of light. You are one of us. When after a while she sank back to the ground, the air around her softening, the wind slackening, the light from the sun almost gone, she had a feeling of loss but her excitement remained. Running hurriedly back through the terrain, not minding the stones, rocks and twigs she tread on, and the low tree branches she had to evade in the near-dark, she threw the door to their house open and gasping for air looked delightedly at her father. “Papa, papa!” She laughed with tears of joy. Her thrill and exuberance were such that Argam could only stare at his daughter in wide-eyed wonder. “I am going to be a Vayasha!” ▀▄
  7. .. The Daughter of the Nine Moons .. ►▼◄ Keyraa Erem Sani ne Paendrag, the Daughter of the Nine Moons and heiress to the glorious Seanchan Empire, stood with feet planted steadily on deck as the Seanchan warship flew across the waves of the Aryth Ocean into the East. She was a woman of below medium height, slim of figure, but bore herself with authority. Her personal banner with three golden leopards harnessed to an ancient war-cart stood beside her, gently moving in the sea breeze. Behind the war vessel came the rest of the ships in this massive fleet, a hundred vessels or so, and high above in the sapphire-blue sky Raken and To’raken flew parallel with the fleet. A strong wind blew steadily in her face as she studied the horizon for land. She knew it was days yet before they would make landfall, but she watched expectantly even so, curious to see the lands stolen from her ancestors. Like all Seanchan nobility she believed those lands had been stolen from Artur Hawkwing’s descendants and now they were going to reclaim them. The Corenne, the ‘Return’, the Empress had called this vital war-mission, and it was led by the Daughter of the Nine Moons and, under her, Captain-General Meiahl Kereb. He was a tall man with his white hair in a crest, its tail plaited to his shoulders. He had a creased face and green eyes, stern features and his fingernails were lacquered black. He was a brilliant battle-commander of many years and he was utterly loyal to the Royal Family. Keyraa shifted her gaze to her Captain-General and wondered if he would react badly to the additional orders she would give him later. Any battle commander needed to be able to improvise whenever necessary but she knew that Meiahl was ‘old school’ and liked to follow the strategy he had devised and gotten approval for. He will have to cope, she thought to herself as she walked down to the lower deck, passing dozen upon dozen of armed soldiers and their platoon leaders whose watchful eyes noticed everything, to stand beside one of the Sul’dam. ● The dark-haired woman was of average height and with high cheekbones in a face which was handsome rather than beautiful. Her eyes were light brown with a touch of grey in them and they were smiling now. The Damane prostrated herself on the deck, face down and arms stretched out, in respect of the Leader of The Corenne. Keyraa looked down at the short-haired woman, dressed in the traditional clothes of the Leashed Ones, and frowned. Commanding her to stand up she waited as the Damane got to her feet with a frightened look. “Don’t be afraid, Lolla”, her Sul’dam said kindly patting her on the head as if she were a pet. “You will not be harmed.” The woman nodded though her pale blue eyes still looked terrified. “Indeed”, the Daughter of the Nine Moons said earnestly. Her shaved bald head nodded softly as she studied the Damane. “Nothing to be afraid of.” Her right hand touched the woman’s cheek tenderly, her red-lacquered fingernails glinting in the afternoon sunlight. The colour of her eyes had always been a matter of some discussion in Royalty Circles in Seanchan. For while her right eye was dark brown, her left was green the colour of emerald. It gave her an exotic look, something unique which most believed befitted a future Empress of Seanchan. The Sul’dam preferred not to look at those eyes and focused on a point some place to the left of the Daughter of the Nine Moon’s face. The Damane looked anywhere but at Keyraa’s face. “You are pretty if the dirt is removed from your face”, Keyraa mumbled, then faced the Sul’dam again. “You are ensuring Lolla is well fed?” She did not wait for an answer. “It is important that she has her strength when we go ashore.” Her eyes intensified. “We are sure to meet some resistance.” “She will be ready, I promise, Highness”, the Sul’dam responded, trying to keep the fear she felt from her voice. She always felt uncomfortable before this powerful woman with the strange eyes. “You need have no doubt.” Keyraa stared at her for a long moment before nodding softly. “For your sake”, she added in a colder voice, “it better be true.” The Sul’dam bowed low in the Seanchan fashion and the Damane prostrated herself on the deck as before. Shifting her gaze to the twelve other Sul’dam-Damane pairs on board this war vessel who stood assembled together in one corner of the lower deck, the Daughter of the Nine Moons smiled cunningly inside. Though the lowest of the low in Seanchan society, ranked below even common house slaves and, in reality, akin to animals, these.. creatures are what’s going to win us this war, Keyraa thought to herself with confidence as she walked determinedly up to the deck above and across to the Captain-General. He bowed low to her and avoided her face, gazing instead at her colourful dress in many different patterns which was of the most expensive silk. The Sei’jin necklace she wore was worth more than he would earn in a lifetime, he knew, but it did not really bother him. It was the natural order of things. “We have a matter to discuss, Captain-General”, said the Daughter of the Nine Moons smoothly. Her eyes glittered, the dark brown and emerald green colours blending almost as if in revelation. ● Serehstra Aes Sedai, dressed in a pale red dress with a crimson overcoat and a Red shawl, walked the busy streets of Ebou Dar on a late morning, almost gliding along in the way of women of the White Tower, her face smooth but her emotions on fire. People moved out of her way, seeing the hardness in her blue eyes even if her ageless face, framed by her light brown long hair, showed nothing. They wanted nothing to do with Aes Sedai or their business. This suited Serehstra well, and it cleared her path whenever she had business in the city. She had arrived in the Altaran Capital several days earlier, on secret Ajah business, and had settled in an inn near the harbour that was run by a woman. Gazing through the room window on the second floor of the Southern Queen inn she had observed the many ships assembling in the Ebou Dari harbour. Her contact had not arrived yet but that did not trouble her. The woman would be here soon, of that the Aes Sedai had no doubt. No, what troubled her was something else entirely. And so she was now on her way to see the Eyes and Ears for the Red Ajah in the city because she needed to know if the rumours she had heard were true. That Darkfriends had infiltrated several Noble Houses in her homeland Cairhien! She had not been there for decades, her work as a Sister taking up all her time, but the thought that filthy followers of the Dark One could be spreading their evil filth there made her stomach turn. And that blasted Voreyna!, the Tower’s representative in the Tarasin Palace, had told her nothing, staring coldly at her when she had asked if she knew anything. Too proud that one, she thought frowning, then dismissed the Gray Sister, thirty years her junior and far less able, from her mind. Now she hoped the Red Ajah network had ‘sussed out’ something of what was going on. Passing a local merchant man in Ebou Dari attire, strong of build but clearly simple of mind, who stared at her a little too long for her comfort and who got a very icy look back, she entered a flower shop and shut the door behind her. Stepping up to the empty counter she rang a bell and waited. Flowers of all kinds and all colours were assembled around the room and her eyes fastened on some red tulips high in the shop window. Then she turned as the shopkeeper arrived. A middle-aged Ebou Dari woman, somewhat stout, dark-haired with deep brown eyes and a somewhat pouty mouth, she bowed respectfully when she saw that her customer was an Aes Sedai. “How may I be of assistance, Aes Sedai?” The Shopkeeper inquired politely. She glanced quickly at the Red shawl around the Sister’s shoulders and then back at her ageless face. “I am looking for a particular flower”, the Red Sister said smoothly, her eyes glittering. “It is not easy to get hold of, but I hoped you might be able to help me.” “It is called Alstroemeria.” ● Carah din Toral Rising Wave stood on the Quarterdeck of her vessel Oceanfold gazing into the far horizon. The sun had just set but there were still echoes of fire-red in the sky. Her Windfinder, Morin din Rubai Blue Wing, turned for a moment to stare upwards at her Sailmistress. She had served this woman for many years and intended to do so for many more, presuming they survived this season of war. For war was coming. Morin could feel it in her bones. Turning back to stare at the blue-green ocean waves, framed in reflections of pale red far ahead, she adjusted some of her Saidar-wrought weaves so the ship would flow more smoothly through the sea. Her tattooed hands moved softly in the air as she channeled, as if in a dance, the painted stars and seabirds seeming to flow through the curls and whirls of the stylized waves. She was humming as well, a song she always remembered from her childhood, a lullaby from a past long gone. The large triangular sail carried the wind as they flew through the waves, flapping slightly in tune with the ship’s movement. The smaller white squared sails mimicked the movement, making a swishing sound in the air. The Windfinder smiled inside. They were making good time and Carah would be pleased. ● When she had the dream the first time, Morin did not pay it any heed. She had often thought of her now dead mother - blessed be her soul - in the ten or so years since she had passed on, so it was not strange at all that she would appear in the Windfinder’s dream. But when it happened four nights in a row, Morin wondered. What also struck her as strange, was that though her mother looked the same, she acted.. differently than she had in real life. Weaker. More filled with doubt. Morin had had dreams before of friends who acted strangely too, but somehow she believed her mother would be as she remembered her also in dreams. A strong character. A defiant one. Meeting her mother therefore became an ambivalent experience, filled with joy but also with some weariness. Was this her mind twisting her memory of her mother? Every time she woke after one of these dreams, she was sweating and felt an ache in her head, and it always took some time before her body settled. What made her very uncertain and weary was also the message her mother always had. Do not trust anyone. You are being deceived. The Coramoor will bring our people Doom. Morin had always believed in Omens. And this was a very troubling one. ● The Stone of Tear was an immense fortress, believed to be mankind's oldest surviving stronghold and indeed oldest existing structure, having been erected shortly after, or during, the Breaking of the World. It was built by Aes Sedai using the One Power: Earth, Air, and Fire fusing stones together without joint or mortar. The Stone resembled a great mountain and towered over the city of Tear. Only the White Tower was taller. The Defenders of the Stone were the elite military group used specifically to guard the Stone. Only Tairens were accepted into the Defenders, selected at great care, and officers were usually of Noble birth. The Stone had its own docks, and was an essentially self-sufficient citadel. The inside of the fortress was intentionally complex with multiple hallways joining at odd intersections in order to confuse invaders and provide defenders with even more of a territorial advantage. Arrow slits were the only sizable windows, and any attempt to reach them would only succeed if the person trying was not spotted by the towers (the arrow slits were a later modification, when the kind of warfare was less advanced than the time when the Stone was initially built). The Stone of Tear housed many secrets, for those who had such knowledge, but for most commoners it was simply a grand structure of historical value. The Stone had never fallen and this was something of which its Defenders were very proud. ● Staring up at the Stone from a level below, Tiragh Rendiana, Captain of the Stone - his Captain’s insignia on his golden uniform’s shoulders glinting in the afternoon sun - felt some of that pride as his gaze swept over the magnificent structure. As leader and Commander of the Defenders of the Stone it was his responsibility to keep the Stone safe and secure. He was a handsome Tairen man of average height with short dark hair, a light-brown complexion, and kind grey-green eyes, a minor Noble, in his early forties and his military uniform fit him well. He was a lifelong soldier, and keenly aware that he had had to struggle to get where he was. He was intense, fastidious and meticulous of nature and he was a respected and competent Commander. He took his duties very seriously and it was his life’s mission to ensure no enemy of any kind ever took the Stone. When he walked up the levels to one of the Stone’s several Gates, he saw several of his guards in resplendent uniforms standing watch beside the Gate. They came at attention when they saw him, and he nodded with pride as he passed by on his way into one of the many stone tunnels leading inwards. The Stone was his. ● The white marble walls flickered in that slightly off-hand fashion they always did in this place. Slivers of light from the sun streamed through the windows and touched the marble making it almost sparkle but not quite. The tall blonde-haired woman dressed all in white almost see-through silk walked down the hall and opened a door at the end. Her sapphire-blue eyes tightened and there was a frown on her otherwise beautiful face as if she were displeased about something. Walking into another room, marble-white in all its splendour, she shut the door hard behind her and lay down in the luxurious white settee. The white table beside the settee flickered slightly as well, as if echoing the flickers on the walls, but Nymeria ignored it, her thoughts somewhere else entirely. She was used to these aspects of Tel’aran’rhiod, aspects which they had never understood fully even back in her own world, the time that today they called the Age of Legends. Oh, the World of Dreams had been studied extensively at the Collam Daan ever since it had been discovered, by chance as it turned out, during a world-wide study of atoms reflected through bent streams of acceptor-positrons. And what a discovery it had been! But it had been kept secret from the general populace, of course! There would have been world-wide panic if people had learned that it was now possible to affect people’s dreams, even to enter those dreams in a parallel reality. The Aes Sedai had kept the secret - and a select few had been given permission to study it further and gain expertise on how the World of Dreams functioned in all its apparent glory. Nymeria had been one of a dozen researchers who had been given this chance and she had leapt at the opportunity. Several years of study had given her much skill and competence, some of which she had shared with the others. Some she had kept all to herself, of course. That was only prudent. Even so, though she had learned much, there were many things about Tel’aran’rhiod she never would understand - and still did not. It was a reflection of the real world, a mirror-image in a way, and Nymeria guessed that was also why it flickered, as if attempting to gain the stability and solidity of the real world. She had always been interested in puzzles, finding answers to difficult questions, finding truths where there were none. And above all she had been fascinated by the human mind. And dreams. Why do people dream at all? Do all people dream? Can secrets be found in dreams? Why do some people have weak minds and others strong? Her studies at the Collam Daan had taught her many things and afterwards she had had a successful career as a medical practitioner and clinical psychiatrist in a private practice in Emar Dal. Her prowess and accomplishments in her academic field had made her famous, among scholars and other Aes Sedai, but she had kept her new studies secret since she knew many in her profession would disagree with the lengths she would go to in order to increase her skill and knowledge. For she wanted to learn how much pain a mind could cope with, and used her clients to test out her theories. ● As the years went by she realized that she also enjoyed giving pain and seeing the reactions, it gave her a thrill and a satisfaction that she did not question in her eagerness. Using Compulsion, which was frowned upon by society, she was fascinated to see how humans changed their behaviour with a few nudges here, a few nudges there, and through experience she became extremely skilled at it. That she killed some of her clients during her experimentation did not faze her. Some sacrifice needed to be done in the pursuit of science, as she thought of it. That her own mind was darkening, her ethics weakening she would not have admitted to anyone. She was only following her passion after all, excelling in a field that few had truly excelled in. One day it all ended, as a trusted assistant betrayed her to the authorities. Accused of murder and illegal practices, she was to be arrested and have to stand trial before the Aes Sedai hierarchy! Forewarned by a trusted friend, she was able to escape before being captured and hid for a while in a small village several miles from the great city. Hearing of the rebels who had found an other power to serve, she decided to join them, thinking pragmatically. She wanted to continue her research into the human mind and dreams and with these rebels she would be able to do so without restrictions. That was all that mattered to her. That they served some other higher power was of less interest to her. She would do what she had to do to survive - and to excel. Turning to the Shadow was therefore a practical matter for her. And a few weeks later she found herself bowing before her new Great Lord, as One of Those Chosen to Rule the World Forever. Laying on the settee now, she tried to calm herself. Why had the man’s mind broken so easily? She had used delicate weaves of Compulsion on the young Borderlander, probing into his mind, into his dreams, touching the nerve-centres ever so slightly.. but it had caused a seizure and he had blacked out and soon after died. Damn! She was certain that she had been careful enough, her weave precise, but clearly not. That he had died did not upset her. It was rather that she had failed.. again.. in her procedure. Why are their minds so weak? Closing her blue eyes, she travelled in her mind back to that time when she had practiced her skill on captured humans. It had been back in the War of Power, as it came to be known, when they had tried to plant fake memories in people’s minds to make them perfect assassins. There had been some successes.. but also many failures. Minds broken, cases of permanent insanity. And subsequent death. Most people are simply too weak, thought the Chosen now as her eyes opened again and she stared silently, determinedly, at the flickering ceiling above. Too weak by far. ● The Red apple was just as delicious as Sandana had anticipated! The sweet juices ran into her mouth and also down her cheeks and she happily took another big bite as slivers of silver Moonlight pierced her bedroom window. It was the best apple she had ever eaten - and she was about to give a shout of joy to her father in the bedroom next door when she suddenly felt a tingling in her fingers.. Something was happening! The tingling spread to her arms and legs and her eyes widened.. ..as a globe of shining light suddenly appeared above her bed, floating in the air.. She was so amazed that she almost dropped the apple! ..and then she started to laugh joyously.. This was the most fantastic thing!! ● The shining globe moved slowly downward toward her face and she caught her breath. It was so beautiful!! She started to reach for it with her empty hand, her excitement unstoppable, but then, inside the globe of light, she suddenly saw her own face reflected. The eyes were of a different colour than hers, the cheekbones a little more prominent, but it was unmistakably her! The reflection was smiling! Sandana gasped in amazement! And then the reflection whispered to her. The voice was not hers but it resembled it closely. The voice drew her in - and her face moved close to the shining globe. Her eyes widened even further, if that were possible, her mouth agape, when the child’s voice said softly: “Do not be afraid, Child. The Winds hear your Voice.” When after a few moments the child’s voice spoke again, whispered words that lingered in the air, the globe’s brilliance seeming to draw light even from the Moon’s silver outside, Sandana dropped the Red apple in pure astonishment. ● Elessar and Calia sat together in the White Lion inn’s small library in Caemlyn sipping to some tea and kaf. It was hardly a library in the general sense, only a small room with several shelves filled with books and maps and some interesting objects of history, but it functioned as a small library for guests in the inn and a place to sit and rest, read or talk. Elessar had picked up several books of interest (not seeing Calia’s smile at his eagerness) and had leafed through them in the few hours they had been sitting there. Now he put the last book away, it was a summarized history of Andor by a local author that he had found interesting. It had also reminded him that he wanted to tell Calia the story of Old Celter. That charming old man he had met here in Caemlyn years before on another journey South. “There is a story I want to share with you”, said the Warder as Calia put aside the book she had been studying. She smiled and asked him what it was about. “It is about an old man I met here in Caemlyn years ago”, Elessar replied. “My bondholder Carys Aes Sedai and I were travelling South just like we are now. And one day, on a stop here in Caemlyn, we entered an antiques shop. That is where we met this charming old character”. He smiled with fond memories. “This is how it happened..” said Elessar, and using his near photographic memory he recited in detail how it had taken place.. ● “We were walking along the city streets”, the Warder began, “Carys and I when she suddenly stopped next to an antiques shop with the tagline that mentioned that it specialized in local, Caemlyn history...” Knowing Elessar’s special interest in history, and saying that she bet this shop had even more detailed local information than perhaps even the White Tower library, she had entered the shop without waiting for a response, knowing that he - with his passion for history - would eagerly follow. A tiny bell had sounded as the door had clicked shut. Carys had looked around, her nose twitching at the dust in the air. Apparently this was not a shop often entered, she had thought. There were objects on tables all around, small plaques in front describing why they were important. Paintings had hung on nearly every inch of wall space, making the small shop seem even smaller. The Aes Sedai had begun speaking, and then the shopkeeper had come upon them. He had been whistling a tune, unknown to Elessar, and now he stared at them with wide eyes, holding tightly onto a plate of steaming food, his words drifting away like whispers.. “My ...Lady.” the old shopkeeper had said rapidly. “To what do I owe this visit?” He was a very old man, Elessar now explained, wearing a woolen shirt which had once been colourful but where the colours had faded over time, and trousers which had not been in fashion for over a century. He had a prestigious girth, and a wrinkled old face, grey hair, crystal blue eyes with bushy eyebrows, big ears and a large nose. He wore ancient glasses and he looked positively shocked to see them there! Elessar and Carys exchanged a quick look and the Warder tried for the second time that morning not entirely successfully to hide a grin. Light, the man looks like an ancient scholar! he thought with kind amusement. He must be as old as some of the books in here! Carys met the old man’s eyes and answered him that they were visiting the city and had seen his shop as they were walking by. “We’re students of history, my good man” Elessar added, his gaze eagerly taking in the room with all its objects of great age. “We’re interested in Andoran history and traditions”, the Aes Sedai said and smiled. ● The old Andoran scrutinized them, noticing the woman’s fair skin and complexion, then nodded to himself, murmuring under his breath. “History and traditions you say?” he said and a wide grin came upon his lips. “Well then, come in, come in strangers”, he said as he started to walk back in the shop, bidding them to follow. “Old Celter will give you some of our history”. He chuckled a little, then added: ”Come now. Hardly anyone visits my shop nowadays anyway, so little chance we will be disturbed. Come follow me. Follow me to the back. Follow old Celter.” They exchanged a quick glance, shrugged, and followed the old man to the back of the shop. He placed the plate of steaming food on a shelf in the back room and it was soon forgotten as he motioned for the two of them to sit down in a pair of heavily decorated brown wooden chairs that looked as old as the Trolloc Wars. The ancient chairs creaked slightly as they seated themselves and Carys and Elessar exchanged a silent glance which read: please, let these antiques carry our weight! “Traditions... yes”, the old man mumbled to himself as he ran a finger down the side of his chair. “I don’t often get visitors”, he said and he pushed up his glasses that had fallen down on his nose. “History is all about us here”, he said, “but no one seems to care.” He shrugged. There was regret in his voice, but then, as if a switch had been turned, his eyes lit up and he studied them closely again. “But you do, strangers”, he said and a playful grin came upon his lips. “So all hope is not lost.” He smiled in a strange way but Elessar was charmed by this old man, who, he somehow felt, was more than your everyday shopkeeper and antiques-dealer. What is your history, old man, I wonder? the Warder thought to himself. I bet you have seen many things in your long life. “History and traditions, yes” the old Andoran mumbled and looked them each in the eye with a fixed stare. “Here is an old tradition for you”, he began. “Perhaps the oldest and most well known tradition in Andor: The Succession.” The Warder nodded, smiling inside since he had read about this Andoran tradition just that same morning. Carys also seemed interested and they sat back to listen, leaning backwards in their chairs ever so carefully so as to not put too much strain on them. ● “The most widely known tradition of Andor”, the old man began, “is - as you have probably heard - that only a queen may sit upon the Lion Throne and wear the Rose Crown, never a king.” The old man paused for slight dramatic effect. “But you might not know that it was not so in the beginning”, he said. “Or rather, it was not meant to be so from the beginning. The tradition, in fact, arose when none of the royal sons survived the War of the Hundred Years.” He mumbled something under his breath about sons always going off to war only to get killed, what a waste.. what a waste.. but his words were not clear. Then, in a stronger voice, he continued. “The First Queen, revered Ishara, only had a daughter left alive after her sons died and so she became her heir. She in turn also was left with only a daughter many years later and so her throne was passed to another woman and queen. In time this became Andoran law, and ever since only Queens have ruled Andor.” Elessar listened, captivated. Always interested in history, it was special to hear about it in such an old and history-oriented establishment and especially from a very old man who seemed to have lived through some of that history himself. “Now then”, the old Andoran continued, “as I am sure you know” - he said this last bit with a quick look at the Aes Sedai - “the eldest daughter is named Daughter-Heir and is by law sent to the White Tower to study, then ascends the throne upon her mother’s death or retirement.” Elessar nodded to himself, recalling the description in the book he had read. Carys listened knowingly. “Her eldest brother”, the old man went on, “who is styled First Prince of the Sword, is sworn to protect and defend his sister with his life. He is trained from childhood, and later in Tar Valon,” - he gave the Warder a quick look - “to command the Queen’s armies in times of war and to be her military advisor. If the Queen has no surviving brother, she appoints the First Prince.” He mumbled to himself for a moment.. about Daughter-Heirs and First Princes not always living up to their promise.. and then reached out behind him, removing an ancient parchment from the shelf. “Now then”, he said, coughing slightly, “what happens when there is no surviving daughter? Ah well, that is when we often get.. the disturbances.. ah what Outlanders often call.. Andoran Wars of Succession.” He added the last part with slight disdain, refusing - as did all Andorans - to acknowledge that their system for selecting an heir could possibly lead to war. ● He chuckled and a broad grin came upon his face. “Ah yes, the Great Houses - there are nineteen of them, you know - come into the playing field”, said the old man, his finger softly brushing the parchment that he held, “out they come to.. play.” His eyes seemed to go far away for a moment, as if in old rememberance. Then they fixed back on the two attentive listeners and his eyes widened, almost as if shocked that they were still there with him. Soon though his face relaxed and he seemed to recall why they were there. He pushed his glasses back up from his nose and ran a hand through his hair. Then he spoke. “Where was I? Oh yes, the Succession.” He handed the parchment to Carys who opened it reverently - Elessar leaning over to have a look - and saw that it was a list of all the Great Noble Houses of Andor, resplendent with House-sigils and honours. The old Andoran chuckled a little to himself again before he went on. “Yes, when there is no Daughter-Heir, the throne is given to the nearest female blood relative. But succession is based not only on close relation to the former Queen, you see, but also on the degree of blood in a line of female descent from Ishara, our first Queen. As you can surmise, this makes things very.. intricate.. and interesting.” He seemed to be enjoying himself now, like an old tutor lecturing in front of his favourite students. “Ah yes, matters of lineage have become quite complex, since all the Great Houses are related after years of intermarriage. There have been political reasons for this practice, of course, sons and daughters marrying for the benefit of the House.. Families craving power and influence.. always power and influence..” Again he seemed to drift away, lost in thoughts.. but he caught himself and fixed his gaze on them once more. “And so the question of succession”, he said, “has led to intrigue, plotting and often bloodshed” - he sighed - “when the Houses do not agree.” Another chuckle escaped the old man’s lips and his right hand clenched. “Ah, they are like children.. who act before they think.. who want it all, never mind the consequences.. but so it has always been.. always..” The old man shook his head resignedly and his eyes seemed to drift.. to go back.. into lost memories. He folded his hands and placed them on his lap, weariness embracing his features. “As Carys and I watched in rapt silence”, said Elessar now, smiling in fond rememberance, “the old man’s eyelids gradually became heavier and heavier and finally his eyes closed, his head leaned back on the top rail of his chair to rest, and he drifted slowly, ever so slowly into blissful sleep.” ● Daros Guhlen was getting tired of cutting the tall grass on his piece of land a mile or so outside the town of Trustair in north-western Murandy. A tall brown-haired man with bushy eyebrows and a long beard, he had been using the scythe ever since morning. His workman’s clothes were dirty and sweaty and his back ached, and his temper was now getting the better of him. It was late afternoon, the blue sky filled with patches of grey clouds, and for some unimaginable reason! his field appeared almost as filled with tall grass as when he had started even though he had been cutting the grass for hours on end. It was impossible!! Putting the scythe aside, he looked at it questioningly. It was an ordinary tool with a long, sharp, curved blade and a long handle held in two hands. Nothing special about it. Picking it up again he touched the curved blade for the umpteenth time and it was just as sharp as it should be. A drop of blood assembled on his fingertip just to prove that it was indeed sharp enough. Cursing inside, he wondered what his dear wife Jhenda would say when he told her something weird was going on. She would probably say, he was off his rocker again. Shaking his head, grumbling to himself, he could imagine her disapproving frown. Casting the scythe another very dark look, he was just about to head back to the farmhouse when out of the corner of his eye, he saw the scythe move on its own in the grass! What the heck!!? As he half-turned, his eyes widening and his mouth now agape, the scythe came alive, rising into the air with the dangerous curved blade pointed toward him. Before he was able to move, the scythe flew straight at him! Screaming aloud in shock, he just managed to twist aside and avoided being struck in the face by the animated tool. Whisps of his long beard were sliced right off though! The scythe flew at him again, and again, the blood-sharp blade making a swooshing sound as it hacked at him continuously - chasing him all the way back through the field to the farmhouse! ▀▄
  8. .. In the Shadow of Shayol Ghul .. ►▼◄ Amaranth, the leader of the Chosen, walked silently onto the black slopes of Shayol Ghul. His black cloak with the now black symbols running down the sleeves mirrored the Darkness of this place. Black clouds almost hid the sky and the mountain’s peak was cloaked in mist and black night. Releasing the One Power quickly, since it was dangerous to hold onto Saidin this close to the Pit of Doom, he started walking toward the opening in the rock some way in the distance. Thunder rolled as it always seemed to do in this place and flashes of lightning came from several directions at once in a way which should normally not have been possible. This place was, however, different, as he had experienced on his several visits. The ordinary laws of nature did not apply here. Striding through the deepening mists he tried to prepare himself for what was to come. He knew he would not be prepared, however. He would be overwhelmed. He was only mortal, after all. At least as far as this place was concerned. The Myrddraal standing guard did not acknowledge him a he passed between them into the mountain proper. Black armoured with overlapping scales and with eyeless faces, they looked like any Fades though somehow they seemed a bit taller but that could just be this place altering his senses. Walking past he sensed, as always was the case, the air becoming a bit warmer, and the further he walked the warmer it became. After a while he felt the heat from ahead and tried to calm his senses knowing what awaited. The path slanted gradually downwards, the tunnel floor marked by the passage of feet over time. A dim light shone from crystals and minerals in the walls but Amaranth ignored them as he followed the downward-sloping corridor. As he neared his destination, the heat increased and jagged spikes hung down from the ceiling like pillars of warning, giving the impression that one was walking into a dangerous predator’s forbidden lair. The tunnel opened at last onto a wide ledge which stood above a lake of molten stone with dancing flames. Upward there was only a great hole that reached up the mountain into.. elsewhere .. This was the Pit of Doom. ● He felt the same awe that he had felt every single time he had been here, ever since that first time when he had pledged his soul to the Shadow and had taken the unbreakable Oath to his Great Lord. And fear, though he would not admit it to anyone. Here he sensed the Bore, the hole that had been drilled through to the Great Lord’s prison all those many years ago. Here he felt the Great Lord’s closeness to the world and beads of sweat now ran down his forehead and chin, and it was not only from the heat. He could not stop himself. There was as always a soft hum in the air but he had never been able to pin point where it came from. It seemed to come from the rock itself. Time passed but he could not say how much. He ran a hand through his blond hair trying to calm himself but he could not keep the combination of excitement and fear away. Suddenly the air around him.. shifted. There was no wind but reality altered if only slightly and the hairs on his back rose, goosebumps running down his arms. His eyes widened, his stomach clenched and his mouth became as dry as dust.. Tears came unbidden to his eyes.. and he caught his breath.. AMARANTH ● Pain and ecstasy co-mingled in his brain and it was like an explosion of awareness and emotion as the voice crashed through his head like an avalanche. Every single hair on his body now stood on end and he did not know whether to shout endlessly in exultation or scream in horror. ARE YOU LOYAL, AMARANTH. With the almost cataclysmic emotions crashing through him, he was unable to breathe, never mind answer! He was lost for a long moment.. but then with the greatest of effort he was able to partially collect himself to the extent that he was able to breathe again and see.. He fell to his knees, however and bowed his head in submission. Tears ran unashamedly down his cheeks but a small flame of fire came to his eyes. Burning pools of red that slowly diminished. “I am as ever your loyal Servant, Great Lord!” Amaranth said truthfully and with fervour. “You need never doubt my loyalty and work in Your honour!” YES. YOU HAVE SERVED ME WELL. SO FAR. Each word the Great Lord spoke struck him like a hammer blow but tinged with sweetness in that impossible combination which, however, reflected this place. He could not keep the tears from flowing. WHAT OF THE OTHERS, AMARANTH. The Chosen gasped as pain struck him again, unable to look up from his crouching position on the rock. “They are following their orders, Great Lord!” Amaranth replied, gasping, believing it for true. “So far they have shown they are to be trusted. They know the price of betrayal.” ● A long moment passed, an eternity for the Chosen. He felt added pressure in his mind.. a pressure that increased as he started to scream.. ..but then after a while it eased up, and Amaranth, hands trembling like leaves in wind, panted in relief. He hated being this weak. YES. THEY DO. WATCH THEM CAREFULLY, AMARANTH. I ENCOURAGE AMBITION IN MY CHOSEN AS YOU WELL KNOW, I VALUE STRENGTH AND INITIATIVE, BUT BETRAYAL WILL NEVER BE ACCEPTED. The Chosen, almost lost in pain, tried to brush tears from his chin but his arms now felt too heavy, as if something was pinning them down. Breathing heavily now, he felt he was close to losing consciousness. CHAOS MUST REIGN AS MY ENEMY GATHERS HIS FORCES. THIS WILL BE YOUR MAIN RESPONSIBILITY, AMARANTH. BE AN AGENT OF CHAOS. “I will, my Great Lord!” Amaranth replied fervently, his voice almost a scream. “I will bring the world into Darkness as You command.” A never-ending tempest, a storm of Ice and Fire, pain mixed with ecstasy, ran throughout his body and mind for that final second before he lost consciousness and blacked out. ● Delerihn Lehndre stood watching the plaza until the last soldiers had departed. He saw another Raken in flight and also two To’raken, the larger cousins of the Raken who were not as fast or agile but stronger and could fly much longer distances without rest and carry heavier loads. Their primary purpose, he knew, was transportation of troops or cargo. These creatures were not native of Seanchan and he had his strong suspicions from where they originally came. They had been a part of Seanchan fauna for as long as anyone could remember, however, the same as other animals like Grolm (large bear-like creatures of weight at least 300 pounds with three eyes), Lopar (the main combat animal of the Seanchan, large creatures of weight at least 1500 pounds with six toes on both front and rear paws, all with large retractable claws), and Torm (a cross between a horse-sized cat and a lizard, with bronze scales, six-clawed feet that can grip stones in a road, and three eyes; an intelligent creature). The Torm was the animal that impressed Delerihn the most. It was bright and could, it was said, come close to human levels in certain areas of problem solving, such as maze tests. It was fiercely loyal as well to the extent that it would only accept one rider and would not allow any other to mount. Such loyalty should be rewarded, he thought with some amusement as he turned away from the plaza and re-entered his lavish apartment. ● Well inside he poured himself a drink and seated himself in his comfortable high-backed armchair. He had always preferred red wine and though this vintage was rather poor in his opinion it would have to do. Sipping from the wine glass he gazed at the parchments and maps which filled his desk and considered the information therein. The map of the large continent to the East interested him the most. Studying it carefully his mind drifted. Finally he set the wine glass aside. Glancing fondly at the figures and small marble statues on the shelves around his living room, many very rare items, he smiled. There was always something new to discover. Rising from the armchair he walked across to the tall mirror on the wall, the one that was heavily decorated with hawks in flight top and bottom, gazed at his reflection and then left closing the door behind him. As he entered the Imperial Palace, walking between massive pillars of pure marble, up countless steps he came across several Sul’dam (Leash Holders) and Damane (Leashed Ones). Seanchan had long believed that women who could channel were far too dangerous to roam free in society. He had always found the practice of leashing women who could channel.. interesting. Amusing even. He was well familiar with the practice. Sul'dam controlled the Damane through the use of an a'dam, a special Ter'angreal that looked like a silver leash and bracelet. Using the a'dam, the Sul'dam could sense the thoughts and feelings of the Damane and also inflict pain or pleasure. If Damane tried to escape their a'dam, they would undergo severe pain and headaches that vanished when they stopped thinking of escaping. Most Damane were terrified of roaming free, having been brought up as leashed women which they found safe, and even the thought of Marath'damane - “those who must be leashed” - a term used in Seanchan for any woman who was able to channel the One Power but had not yet been leashed by an a'dam - terrified them. Looking at the Damane walking behind the Sul’dam like a timid dog on a leash, Delerihn kept his opinions to himself though he was not entirely able to lose the small grin on his lips. When he entered the first Hall of Visitors, the guards in their resplendent uniforms nodded to him out of respect. For he was the man the Empress turned to for Truth in Seandar. He was a Soe'feia, a Truthspeaker, a so'jhin - an upper and particularly valued servant of the Empress - who served Seanchan Royalty by telling them the absolute truth of a situation as they saw it, no matter how painful or humiliating it might be. While many of the Blood called their Voice "Truthspeaker," few understood how much power they truly held. Since those owned by the Blood were so'jhin they could be punished, but a true Truthspeaker was required to tell the absolute truth and may not be punished for it. There were many truths to tell Ilahna Erem Sani Paendrag blessed of her name, the ruler of this proud and great nation. Also truths she may not be so happy to hear. ● The Imperial Palace was an enormous building built by Ogier stonemasons on several levels and it took him a long time to get to the Royal Reception Hall. More guards waited outside that huge chamber, these armed heavily and fiercer of eye, and he had to wait for permission to enter. Finally he was let through and was soon face to face with the Empress herself. She was seated on the Crystal Throne which was, in fact, a great Ter'angreal that caused anyone who approached it to feel immense awe and wonder. Very few indeed were aware of this fact but Delerihn was one of the few who knew. It amused him, though he never let the Empress know that he had the knowledge. “Delerihn, there you are”, said the Seanchan ruler as he bowed low before her. She was a short woman of dark complexion with large brown eyes and a bald shaved head in the ancient tradition of the Seanchan Imperial Family. All her fingernails were also lacquered which furthermore showed her high station. She wore three huge earrings in each ear and a necklace with a diamond sapphire of prominent size. Her eyes were those of a hawk. “Empress”, he responded smoothly as he always did, “I am Yours to command.” She gave him a shrewd look as she added, as she did every time they met, “And what truth do you have for me today?” ● Seating himself in the provided chair on a level below the Empress, the Truthspeaker smiled. His eyes glinted. “Some truths come when least expected, Empress. Some truths will not find favour.” “I know this, Truthspeaker”, the Seanchan ruler replied a little impatiently, her eyes narrowing. “Speak your mind.” “The truth has come to me.” He said, looking slightly past her as was custom. “The decision to broaden your Empire was a wise one, Empress.” He waited a few seconds before adding, “The Star and Moon smile upon you in favour.” “Oh really?” She replied, her mouth not smiling. “Do you see any more let’s say practical truths?” “Empress, truths must be interpreted.” His voice was serious though his eyes had a shrewd edge now. “I can say though that the Winds do favour an all-out strike in the East.” “Thank you, Truthspeaker”, the Empress finally replied, eying him in that way she often did, with appreciation but also with some suspicion that he was not telling the whole truth. He bowed from his seated position but showed no inclination to leave. The Empress’ eyebrows rose questioningly. “You have more truths for me?” It was not a question. “Yes, Empress.” The Truthspeaker replied. He seemed to hestitate before speaking on but finally he did. “I am sorry to say, but one of your Generals in the East will betray you.” “Is that so?” said the Empress, her look even shrewder. “And who may this.. untrustworthy General be?” ● When he left the Empress and the Imperial Palace behind, Delerihn Lehndre headed back to his apartment, walking quickly across the plaza, into the adjacent building and up to his room. Closing the door behind him, he stopped for a moment to gaze at the huge painting on the wall. He had often studied that painting with interest. It depicted a defining moment in Seanchan history or, as some thought, myth and legend, when Luthair Paendrag Mondwin, the son of the infamous Artur Hawkwing (or Artur Paendrag Tanreall as was his real name, who created an Empire in the East) came ashore to this land in the West in his resplendent ship at the head of a fleet sent by his father. They unified the continent and created the Seanchan Empire, in time, through conquest (called ‘The Conquest’ or ‘The Consolidation’ by the Seanchan people). What is truth and what is not? That is always the question, Delerihn thought with great amusement. Gazing down at the blue gemstone on his ring finger, he grinned widely. As he embraced the One Power, feeling the glory of the avalanche that was Saidin rushing through him, amplified by the Angreal that was the ancient gemstone, the false Truthspeaker of the Seanchan felt the Fire within. Channeling Saidin, through the weave known in the Age of Legends as the Mask of Mirrors, his face changed gradually in the reflection of the mirror on the wall, from a middle-aged Seanchan man, a so'jhin with the half-shaved head but otherwise ordinary looking, to a medium tall, heavy-set man of dark complexion with short black hair and deep brown eyes in his late twenties. Looking at his real image reflected he nodded in satisfaction. Turning away from the mirror, he sat down in his armchair and closed his eyes. All was proceeding nicely. All was going according to plan. The real Delerihn Lehndre had departed this earth many months before, killed and buried where he would never be found. And the Seanchan were off to war in the East; his whispers in the Empress’ ears over several weeks had convinced her of the soundness and wisdom of his suggestions. Now he had also planted a seed of doubt and confusion with his false accusation of one of the Seanchan Generals on the fleet heading eastward, adding some chaos to the coming war. The Great Lord would be pleased. The Chosen who had once been called Ildahr Nenth Rinahmon smiled broadly. He had taken a new name during the War of Power, a name borne of Change and Glory. Kalessin ● The proud and stately banner of Andor, with a resplendent White Lion rampant on a Field of Red, rippled strongly in the wind above the city-gates of Caemlyn, as Calia and Elessar passed through the gates and rode into the Andoran Capital. Stormbreaker whinnied happily as he stepped onto the cobblestone streets of the city and started prancing. Elessar almost laughed, grinning widely, as he gave the stallion an affectionate pat on the back, whispering words of encouragement. They were valiant companions on the road and in war, the two of them, and had been for many years. They understood one another perfectly. It was late in the afternoon and clouds had blanketed the sky from early dawn. They had ridden many miles through Andor and now had begun to feel saddle soreness and aching backs and so were looking forward to a few days’ respite in Caemlyn. They needed a refill of provisions and some rest. As they rode slowly along the city-streets among the buzzing crowds, passing merchants and shops, local folk and travellers as well as city-guards patrolling the streets, Elessar was reminded of his previous visits to this city and of Andor’s colourful past. Andor was, in fact, one of the oldest nations in the world, founded during the War of the Hundred Years. Many of Andor's traditions were established during those early years. Unlike many nobles of the time, Queen Ishara, Andor's first ruler, had realized that no one ruler would be able to take control of Hawkwing's entire empire. Instead, she had focused on controlling only what she could. As a result, Andor began only with the Capital city of Caemlyn and the small surrounding villages. Cautious expansion had marked the reigns of the early queens of Andor. Caemlyn A majestic city, second in beauty only to Tar Valon in many people’s eyes. Elessar could not disagree. He had been here several times in the past on White Tower missions with his former bondholders and the city had never failed to impress him. Historically Caemlyn had been made up of two cities; the New City and the Inner City. The New City, less than two thousand years old, had been constructed by men, surrounding but largely to the north of the Inner City. The ancient Inner City, however, in which sat the magnificent Andoran Royal Palace, seat of government for Andor, had been constructed by Ogier - expert stonemasons - much earlier on the hills. Thick walls had encircled Caemlyn for years beyond knowing, keeping intruders and enemies out, protecting its denizens and its interests. Power in Andor lay in its Capital. Whoever held Caemlyn ruled Andor. And only Queens rule this great nation, the Warder thought to himself, recalling Andoran tradition. Only a woman, a Queen, may sit on the Lion Throne. ● The Sea Folk Raker sped through the blue-green Seas of the Aryth Ocean. They were on a southward course but were still some ways north-west of the mainland which locals called Falme. Carah din Toral Rising Wave, Sailmistress of the Oceanfold, studied the sea charts in front of her wondering how far south they were supposed to go. She was alone in her cabin and the sun had set outside. Go south, they tell me. But how far south? She had been as far south as Tanchico on the south-western part of the mainland once but it was not very common for Sea Folk ships to be that far south. Would she be asked to go that far? The enemy would be coming from the west so she did not want to place her ship too far away from the centre of battle. But she had to follow orders, and so they were speeding south as quickly as possible. Putting the charts aside, she got up and went out on deck, closing the door to her cabin behind her. The wind had picked up in the last hour or two but it came from the south and so the ship faced headwind for the next stretch of their journey. Her Windfinder needed to use more force to keep them running smoothly in the water but she was experienced, the Sailmistress knew, and would act accordingly. She watched with satisfaction as the other sailors moved ably and efficiently around on deck doing their duties. She had always run a tight ship, in every way - and her crew knew it well. ● Taeda din Varede Four Moons, the Mistress of the Ships and ruler of the Atha’an Miere, stared forcefully at the Sailmistress. Carah did not frighten easily, but this woman made her weary. It had always been so. Taeda had very dark eyes, almost white hair and a face carved of iron. She was tall for her race and thinly built but her arms had the strength of someone half her age. She had six rings in each ear, a sign of her high station, and numerous medallions on the chain connected to her nose. Forceful, was indeed the word most Wavemistresses and Sailmistresses used to describe her. And she had embraced it to the fullest. “You are to sail to Tanchico.” Taeda din Varede Four Moons repeated in a cold voice. “And stay there!” The command was clear but it left a sour aftertaste in the Sailmistress’ mouth. Stationed that far south, and in dock, she would miss all the action!! She had said as much, trying to be polite but her anger shining through. The Mistress of the Ships was not amused. “Follow my orders, Carah”, she said, her voice hard, beginning to lose patience, “or I will string you up like the deckhand you once were and strip you of all your titles!” The Sailmistress blanched, her face going an unnatural pale, but even so her eyes remained fierce. “Just as long as I get to fight the enemy on the open seas.” She replied at last, her voice meek-ish. “I am no good to anyone on land like a flaming Ranoya; none of us are.” The Mistress of the Ships stared long and hard at her Sailmistress before she answered. Carah was one of the most capable Sailmistresses around, she knew; one who might one day become a Wavemistress. But she could be stubborn and could not be allowed to disobey orders. Seated across from her in the Sailmistress’ cabin, the leader of the Atha’an Miere tapped her fingers on the small table while she was thinking, her fingernails making a distinct sound on the wood. Finally she made up her mind. “Fine”. She said, her voice still cold, though her eyes lost their hard edge. “You will get into the action when it comes, I promise. But for now, sail straight for Tanchico and stay there until further orders.” The Sailmistress bowed in acknowledgement and obeisance, her hand touching her lips in their traditional fashion. Inside, a small smile was slowly blossoming. The Mistress of the Ships sighed inwardly, wishing she could divulge more information, and thought, what must be, must be. ● The nation of Ghealdan stretched from the Great Blackwood, along the southern banks of the River Manetherendrelle, to the River Eldar in the south, and from the Mountains of Mist in the west to the immense ridge known as Garen's Wall in the east. Its Capital city was Jehannah, located on the banks of the River Boern. Ghealdan was a land of mountains and foothills in the west, the rocky lands along the ridge in the east, and large swathes of forest in between, such as the Dhallin Forest. Though one of the smallest Kingdoms, Ghealdan was a proud one and none more so than its current ruler and King, Anthard Ramat Legarin. He was advised by the Crown High Council, which consisted of lords and merchants, at least formally, but in truth he made most decisions on his own, at least most of the time, aided by his close advisors. He thought it only right. He was the King after all. And those old fools on the Crown High Council were just interested in intrigues and political gain anyway, they did not care much for ruling the nation. King Anthard was in his early fifties and his once dark brown hair had streaks of grey now. His physical strength was weaker and his body fatter than it had once been as well and his face more worn. Even so he had a warm smile that won over any doubters and he had a good head on his shoulders. At least he was convinced of that himself. He chuckled as he walked down the corridor to his private chambers in the Royal Palace. He had had a great idea which he knew would infuriate the Council. He would triple the size of the Legion of the Wall! His grin grew as he anticipated the lords’ and merchants’ reaction to this bold new move. Oh they will hate it, for sure! he thought with glee. ● As a small country, Ghealdan did not possess a substantial standing army. Instead it had a small, professional force - the Legion - which protected the borders, policed Jehannah, and protected the ruler. In times of war the Legion formed the core of the Ghealdanin war effort and trained new levies to support its operations. In recent years the Legion had become less and less effective, however, since the Council in their endless wisdom had decided that the money could be better spent elsewhere in these peaceful times and the King though opposed had been advised to not push the matter. Now chaos was erupting many places according to the secret reports he received from his agents domestically and abroad and there would be need for a bigger Legion. He did not feel confident the Council would agree though, he knew they would call it unsubstantiated rumours and would argue and stall the whole matter for months if they had their way, and so he was taking matters into his own hands. The thought excited him. Finally he would take the initiative and damn them if they didn’t like it! Stepping into his private chambers, he immediately sensed that he was not alone. He did not see anyone there as he closed the door behind him but he felt eyes on him. Turning full circle his eyes searched for the intruder. His good mood was slowly evaporating but he did not feel any fear. No one who would want to harm the King would be allowed into the Palace, never mind his private room. It was probably his boy, Prince Kynric, who was hiding somewhere in the chamber. He had been told many times that he was not allowed in here, but telling a boy of eight such a thing only made him even more eager to try. ● Sighing to himself, he looked more closely toward the wardrobe at the end of the room by the southern wall, thinking that that was the most probable hiding place for the boy. “Alright Kynric”, he finally said with exasperation. “How many times have I told you not to come in here?” His statement was met with dead silence. “Alright, come out now”, the King demanded in a louder voice, tired of playing this game. Still there was only silence. Behind him though he suddenly sensed.. something.. there was no sound but more a feeling.. ..turning ever so slowly, the hairs on his neck rising, now sensing true danger for the first time, he just had a moment to realize that there was a creature of great size by the huge writing table on the left side of the room before the Darkhound, darker than night, eyes shining silver, and double the size of a wolf, leapt at him and sank its poisonous corrosive saliva-dripping jaws into his neck, ripping out his throat in a pool of blood and gore! The King’s last bewildered thought before he descended into eternal blackness was that now he would never be able to increase the size of the Legion of the Wall after all. ● Sandana looked up at her Papa and pouted. “Why can’t I play with it anymore?” She sat beside his armchair playing with her beautiful blonde-haired doll. The one her father had bought for her in a market some years before. The one she had treasured ever since. “You cannot, sweetheart.” Argam replied, smiling down at his beautiful daughter. He knew exactly what “it” she was referring to. “It is too dangerous.” Sandana had been afraid of the strange object, her former favourite, since it had started to glow and become warm some weeks before. But as time had gone by her curiosity, the great curiosity of a child, had returned and hear fear had been overcome. She wanted to play with it again.. to make it shine. “Yes, but Papa…” she began. “No, sweetheart.” He said, his voice kind but firm. “We don’t know what it is or what harm it can do. Play with your doll and your other toys.” Miffed, such as a 7-year old can be given the right circumstances (and this must be experienced), she looked away, a frown on her face, and thought how unfair the world was. ● It was the following early evening, just as the sun was setting, that there came a knock on their door. Argam looked with surprise toward the door since they did not expect any visitors. Nor was it common for anyone to visit them here at their farm. Could it be their neighbour, for a change? He did not live near but was the closest in this region. Telling his daughter to retreat to her room, he went carefully toward the door and opened it slowly. Outside stood an old woman in a slightly bent posture with grey hair, a wrinkled face and crooked front teeth. She wore a thick hooded cloak and carried a sack on her back which was filled with wood. “I have come as you called”, she said in an old and somewhat feeble voice. Her eyes were grey-green but intense, he noticed. He looked strangely back at her, his eyes questioning. “Called?” He enquired with a frown. “I have not called you, old lady.” “Lady, huh?” She chuckled. “No one has called me that for a long time.” Her eyes lit up. “But you did call me - and here I am.” A baffled expression came upon the man’s face as he looked outside to see if anyone else was about. The old woman seemed to be alone though. “Are you selling wood?” He tried, staring at what she was carrying. “Oh this?” She replied with an almost toothless grin. “No, this is for you. As payment.” “Payment?” Argam shook his head. Was this old woman out of her mind? “Payment for what?” “Payment for the Karanth, of course.” She grinned and there was a gleam in her eyes. “Karanth?” Argam had no idea what she was talking about and was going to ask her to leave when, to his great surprise, he instead asked her to join him inside. The old lady thanked him and followed him. Well inside, she turned toward him and set the sack of wood aside. “Yes, the Karanth you have kept in your family for generations.” She explained. “You have kept it honourably and safely for this day when I come to collect.” Argam was still baffled. He half-turned toward his daughter’s bedroom but quickly turned back. This was all so confusing. Who was the old lady!? Was this all real? Then suddenly an idea took root. The object! Did she mean the strange object? Was she here to take it away? Before he was able to consider his options, he found that he had fetched the object from where it had been hidden, the family heirloom, and had handed it to the old lady. What surprised him even more, was that he felt grateful that she would take this object and lift the burden from him. He was so pleased. ● “Papa”, Sandana whispered as she closed her bedroom door and walked softly toward him. “Is everything alright?” She looked wide-eyed up at the old lady, curiosity mixed with fear. Holding safely onto her father, she stared at the circular object which the old lady was now holding. The old woman saw her gaze and with a small smile produced a big Red apple from her sack. “Child, here is something for you.” She handed her the apple which looked very delicious. Argam smiled at the graciousness of this strange old lady who even showed kindness toward a child she did not know. Sandana took the big red apple carefully in her small hands, looking at it fondly, knowing it would be very tasty. When the old lady focused on the strange hand-sized circular object again, touching reverently its symbols and dark brown surface, Argam felt obliged to talk about it. “Do you know what it is?” He asked questioningly. “We have no idea. It suddenly started glowing a few weeks back and became warm to the touch. It frightened my daughter.” “My family has kept it safe for generations”, he added proudly, “not knowing what it was but understanding it has value.” “Oh yes, it has value for certain”, the old lady replied, her eyes glittering “And your family deserves gratitude for keeping it safe all these years.” The gratitude increased his happiness and he felt a tear run down his chin. “I will take it with me”, the old lady said kindly, “and keep it safe from now on. You no longer have to be its caretakers. The burden passes to me.” ● Argam thanked her several times, happy at last to be rid of the burden. Holding Sandana’s hand tightly, he watched as she walked away, the object now placed in her empty sack, and was soon lost from sight. It was only much later that night when he gradually came out of his daze, as he later came to think of it, that he wondered why he had so easily let the strange old lady take his family heirloom away, the object which he no longer could recall the name of, and why he had been so grateful to her for doing so. ● Just before going to bed that night, with the Moonlight shining down on her in silver slivers through the bedroom window, and with the howling of wolves in the far distance mingled with echoes of subtle laughter, Sandana took a big bite out of the big delicious-looking Red apple! ● Elessar had suggested they stay at the “White Lion inn” in central Caemlyn and Calia had agreed. He had stayed there on previous visits and it was a clean and decent inn with friendly-to-Aes Sedai owners. They were heading in that direction, passing one of the city’s plazas with several great monuments and beautiful fountains, when Elessar noticed a dark-haired woman standing at a street corner. He did not know why she in particular caught his eye, there was nothing extraordinary about her or the way she was dressed, but he did notice her and the image stayed in his mind as they rode onwards. She is probably some Noblewoman or other, he thought to himself, but she sure had been strikingly beautiful. When they finally arrived outside the establishment, they dismounted and the Warder brought their horses to the stable behind the inn. A lanky young stable boy, blond of hair with a face that perpetually grinned, smiled broadly when Elessar threw him a copper coin and told him to take very good care of their horses. Stormbreaker was still a little frisky and so Elessar whispered some calming words in his ear. He did not expect his mount to bite the stable boy, the black war horse was usually even-tempered, but the horse sometimes became a bit excited, it had been bred for war after all, and for strangers it could be prudent to stay alert. Joining his bondholder near the front entrance to the inn, beneath a hanging sign which depicted a white lion in stride, he followed her inside, carrying all their saddle bags. They were quickly met by a beaming innkeeper, a local man with a big smile and a large girth wearing an apron who claimed to remember Elessar from previous visits (which might be true or not true but either way pleased the Warder) and they were swiftly shown to their rooms up on the second floor. The Gaidin made sure his Aes Sedai was well settled in her room and then went to his own room, slightly smaller, next door and closed the door behind him. He placed the saddle bag in the corner, took off his travelling cloak and travelling boots, and then lay down on the bed closing his eyes for a moment. ● That evening they met up for a meal in the Common Room. It was nearly full but they found an available table near the back. Sitting opposite Calia, Elessar’s gaze swept over the room and took notice of every single detail in the way of alert Warders. The pretty and voluptuous redhead serving girl off to the side flirting with a grinning customer, the innkeeper running around between guests while trying to keep an eye on everything, the locals sipping wine and ale near the stage where a gleeman was playing the flute, the foreign travellers by the look of them gathered further back drinking quite heavily and chatting amicably, and the two bouncers standing beside the entrance, heavy set muscled no-nonsense guys ready to intervene at any sign of trouble. Elessar did not think there would be trouble this night though some of the guests present were quite loud, but things could get out of hand so it was wise to be prepared. They ordered some food and drink and waited until the pretty redhead serving girl returned. She winked at Elessar before she left. Sipping to his ale, the Gaidin listened to the gleeman, a short man in his late thirties with blond hair and a decent voice, tell the amusing tale of a lustful court bard who had an eye for married women. It seemed to be a local favourite because he got lots of applause when he was finished, many near the front banging their tables in appreciation. As he ate his meal, enjoying a steak with roasted potatoes, gravy and some local vegetables, Elessar thought about his previous visits to this city. Last time with Myrrhi, his former bondholder. And he thought about Old Celter. He would have to tell Calia about him some day. The story would for sure make her smile. When they had finished their meal, they talked a little about their journey from Tar Valon. They had not talked much while riding hard, wanting to get to Caemlyn as soon as possible, and had only rested when absolutely necessary. They were quite weary and looked forward to the couple of days here in the Andoran Capital before moving on southwards. First though, Elessar wanted to enjoy another poem and song by this gleeman, and when the blond man a little later spun his tale of a Lost Prince and a Maiden, the Warder listened eagerly and attentively with a smile on his face. Elessar was soon lost in the echoes of Legends and Fairytales. ● ►▼◄ ‘Ballad of the Lost Prince’ A Prince he Was, with duties Clear In Castle Great, there was no Fear He would not follow King’s Decree Or from the Land could swiftly Flee For our dear Prince a Love had Found A Maiden sweet, not Royal-Bound And so abscond, seemed only Choice He left his Life, Love oh ’Rejoice! The King sent soldiers, searching Far But found no Prince, ‘neath Heaven or Star Where could he be? The Prince was Lost In Land and Time, and borders Crossed But then Afar, a rumour Grew That Prince and Maiden, people Knew Were living in a village Small There hidden from the Royal Call The King sent soldiers there to Find His Son and Heir, his Oath to Bind The Prince, however, ran Anew Was Lost again, where? no one Knew Years they passed, no Prince was Seen As if the Heir had never Been The King gave up, the Queen’s tears Flowed Duty to King and country was Owed But then one day, a visitor Came He looked familiar, but said not his Name A farmer of Trade, he had Produce to Sell And insisted the King should buy as Well And lo and behold, it was their Son! Come back from Beyond, their eyes to Stun Embraced he had, new Life and Love Forsaking his Past, taking solace from Above The King and Queen were shocked but in Joy Their son was alive, now a man, not a Boy Forgiven was the Past, now a time to be Glad And meeting his Wife, a new family to be Had ►▲◄ ▀▄
  9. ELESSAR CONTACT - PM TIMEZONE - GMT+1 (CET) WANTED LINK - INTRO: I live in Norway in Northern Europe. Started my time at DM with RP in 1999 back near the beginning (when I also was part of Warder Org Staff). I left in 2000 for other priorities but returned in 2010 and have been here ever since writing regularly in DM RP and enjoying WoT talk/reading. CHARACTERS: Elessar Telcontar - White Tower - Warder (bonded to Calia Aes Sedai, Green Ajah) - BIO MISC: -
  10. DM Handle: Elessar Character’s name: Elessar Telcontar Age: 45 Place of Origin: Kandor, near Canluum Hair Colour: Black Eye Colour: Dark Height: 6’3” Weight: 225 Rank: Warder Bond: Bonded to Calia Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah Former Bonds: to Leandreen Sedai (Green), Carrain Sedai (Yellow), Carys Sedai (Yellow), Kathleen Sedai (Green), Myrrhi Sedai (Green) Weapon Score (old WS system): 18 (official and approved) Blademaster level Philosophy: The Flame and the Void Primary Weapon: Longsword Secondary Weapon: Hand to Hand Tertiary Weapon: Short Bow Warder Sword skill Elessar is quite a large man and so is not light on his feet, but he compensates with sword skills and techniques learned and refined over many years. Embraced in the Oneness - the calmness of the Void - Elessar becomes one with the sword and is very proficient/skilled in the dance of the blades having reached Blademaster level. Physical Appearance Fairly dark complexion, short dark hair and hard dark eyes. Strong build (result of hard physical training over several years). He has some battle-scars, most prominent is one across his abdomen. In fury over the death of his mother and his inability to prevent it, he shaved off his forked beard (so common in Kandori men) and never re-grew it. Personality (Mental & Emotional) Elessar is a strong believer in loyalty and in excelling at all he does. He believes in duty, service and honour and wants to make a difference in a changing world. Borderlander-born he hates the Shadow. He is kind despite his rather hard looks (he is often serious), is a bit of a loner but nice to be with once you get to know him, and, surprisingly for some, has a knack for -and interest in- poetry and old stories and legends (hence being called a “Warrior Poet” by his 1st bondholder). From an early age he had had a passion for both history and swordplay never seeing them as mutually exclusive. He wanted to enjoy both. On the negative side, he sometimes pushes himself too hard to excel, sets standards for himself that are often unreachable, and sometimes is a little too stubborn for his own good. He closes himself up too much. He lives with a stain upon his soul due to being unable to save his 1st bondholder from death, failing in his paramount duty as a Warder, a stain which haunts him at times but which he manages to cope with most of the time. It is, however, a part of him, a vulnerability, that will never disappear. Character History OOC Intro: Elessar has been a regularly active RPed Warder in DM RP for over a decade++, created as a character all the way back in 1999, and all the information below with other Aes Sedai characters is as roleplayed with approval at DM (canon). Elements have some places been summarized / simplified out of necessity. Origin: Elessar Telcontar, second son of a minor Kandorai House, was brought up by a harsh and unloving father and a kind but repressed mother-figure. His father, a proud man of fairly dark skin with angry dark eyes and a hard face, insisted he become a soldier and from an early age started weapon’s training, and physical training, with him, pushing him hard and unrelentingly. Elessar endured and in time started to enjoy the physical exertions and became better with the sword. As he grew he developed a strong muscular build and good fitness and in the many staged spar-fights he most often won against the other boys on the manor (boys of servants mostly). His elder brother Valdherien was more politically minded, the heir to the estate and title, and did not care much for the weapon’s training, while Elessar’s younger brother Vehran usually watched in awe while his older brother fought. Elessar did not take much interest in politics himself but enjoyed reading and - at times - writing poetry, something his father deplored (a waste he said) but his mother approved of. When Elessar neared the age of 17 he decided he would go to the White Tower in Tar Valon and join the Warders. He wanted to excel at swordplay and who better to be his teachers than the fabled Gaidin. His father was proud of him while his mother, though understanding - as did all Borderlanders - his eagerness to stand against the minions of the Shadow - looked at him with pride and kindness but also worry for the harshness she saw in her son. She knew he was kind at heart and very loyal, he had always been that, but he often pushed himself too hard and excelling almost became an obsession with him, an obsession she was afraid would destroy him one day. A short time before he left for Tar Valon his mother died of a fatal illness. She had been sick for quite a while but Elessar had somehow believed she would pull through, and her death created a coldness inside him and a fury that he had not been able to save her. Becoming a Warder: Upon reaching Tar Valon, Elessar enlisted with the Warders. In his training to become a Tower Guard and then a bonded Warder he learnt to focus his anger and mould it into strength and focus which he used to excel at swordplay. He became one with his sword and found that place and calm deep within, that Flame and Void, where he could focus his will and power as he improved his skills and learned his craft. A certain coldness still was within him - and always would be, he suspected - but he kept it in check and used his new ability to excel at what he did. After much training he finally passed the tests and reached his first goal: he was now a Tower Guard. The multitude of months had flown by as he had practiced his sword-skills in addition to learning all the other skills that Tower Guards had to learn to reach the proficiency the Tower demanded. As a Tower Guard, he kept on training, improving his skills, and served to the best of his ability. 2 years passed, and then one day, on a sunny spring day which he would never forget, he was approached by an Aes Sedai who was in need of a Warder. Her name was Leandreen and she was of the Green, the Battle Ajah. He joined her on several trips in the months that followed, to see how their working relationship functioned. Though both knew that he was obligated to serve in whatever capacity necessary, they also knew that for a Sedai and Warder to work well together they needed a certain understanding and “chemistry” for it to function well. She had said as much on that first day and he had nodded softly, in agreement. Bonds and RP-history Bond 1: Leandreen Aes Sedai (Green) They bonded after this period and their bond was one of companionship and friendship. His final goal reached, he worked as hard as he could to protect his Sedai and to do his duty honourably and well. They were a good and efficient team, travelling often in service to the Tower and enjoying the companionship, and Elessar’s world consisted, day and night, of protecting and serving his Sedai. It was a life with which Elessar was very content. It was what he was. It was who he would always be. It was all there was for him. It all ended on the day, many years later, when his Sedai died. They were on a mission for the White Tower and were caught in an ambush, by bandits, and Leandreen Aes Sedai was killed by an arrow in the heart. It all happened so quickly that she was unable to put up a shield of Saidar in time. Elessar felt the bond snap and in a moment of shock the world stood still for him. With a scream he ran to his fallen Sedai, but too late. In a terrible rage he stormed toward the bandits and dispatched of two men with his blade while the remaining bandits, who were on horseback, galloped away. Returning to his Sedai he knelt and lay her head in his lap as tears of sorrow and anger streamed down his face. He lifted his head to the sky and howled in fury. In near-madness he headed for the Blight a little to the north to avenge her not caring if it would be his death. All that mattered to him was vengeance and to strike at the hated Shadow. Bond 2: Carrain Aes Sedai (Yellow) Carrain Aes Sedai, a Sister of the Yellow Ajah, travelling in that region, found him there a little while later. She approached him very carefully, spoke with him in measured tones, and saw his loss and his extreme rage. She knew that like most Warders who lose their bondholder in death Elessar was losing his will to live and was ready to throw away his life in some berserker rage, likely against the Shadow. And so to save his life, and to give him new purpose, she bonded him against his will. He went through a difficult time in the following months, the anger in his heart only slowly lessening, but he embraced his new duty and focused everything on protecting and serving his Sedai to the best of his ability. As time went by he slowly became himself again and a friendship grew between them and for several years they worked well together for the benefit of the White Tower and the Light. A stain upon his soul like a wound that would never quite heal remained, however, from his inability to save Leandreen and fulfil his paramount duty as a Warder (“my life before yours”) and in periods he felt this perceived darkness within though for the most part he functioned well in his role. Bond 3: Carys Aes Sedai (Yellow) After around 4 years unbonded in the White Tower, serving as a Tower Guard again for the most part but also a few times as a messenger outside Tar Valon, he met Carys Sedai of the Yellow Ajah who was to become his 3rd bondholder. A Yellow Ajah Investigation party from the White Tower was in Cairhien and Elessar was accompanying an Aes Sedai there. At one point in a dark alley he sensed something was wrong and ran toward the cloaked figure of a woman, even before he knew what he was doing, and with a shout of warning and a massive leap he threw himself at her, carrying them both crashing to the ground, just as a deadly arrow embedded itself in the building just behind where she had been standing a moment earlier. A second arrow whistled in the air and narrowly missed them both. A third arrow, however, was embedded in his left leg and he began to feel dizzy and realized the arrow had been poisoned. He lost consciousness but was found and Healed by an Aes Sedai. Waking up, he saw her standing near him, the woman who had saved his life. It was Carys. It was the same woman he had saved. So they had saved each other’s lives and were inadvertently indebted to each other. They talked a little later when they reached the estate but when Elessar mentioned returning to Tar Valon she faced his squarely and said “I would prefer that you stay here rather than leave for Tar Valon. We have need for a Warder here, especially me, apparently having stumbled onto something close to the hearts of those we are pursuing. Someone is aiming poisoned arrows at me and Saidar cannot Heal death; I cannot Heal myself. I … would feel safer if I had someone to guard my back as I search.” Elessar felt conflicting emotions. He met her eyes but did not reply. Part of him felt duty-bound and honour-bound to assist her, she was Aes Sedai after all, but part of him protested. Guilt surfaced in his thoughts, guilt and shame from having failed Aes Sedai before. If she put her trust in him and he failed.. what then? Could he live with that? Eventually he decided that he must assist this Sister of the White Tower who he also owed a great debt. She appreciated his help standing by her side almost as if he were her Warder. Some time later, as they hunted their enemies, Elessar triggered a booby trap and was almost killed and only by major Healing from the Yellow Sister and bonding him to give him added strength mental and physical did he survive. They were joined now in a bond of hope as Warder and Sedai and went on several new adventures/missions for the White Tower in the following years. As time went by, however, Carys wanted to spend more time in the White Tower, Healing in the Infirmary, and so they were in Tar Valon almost all the time. Elessar understood his bondholder’s choice, she was a Yellow after all, but often felt restlessness and missed being out on the road. Her also felt somewhat useless, for what danger could face Carys here in the White Tower that she needed to be protected from? And how could he make a difference in the world staying in Tar Valon. Carrain had been happier on the road as had Carys in the beginning. He got a bad conscious for complaining for it was his duty to be at her side, after all. Even so this all was something he was unable to shrug off. When Carys of a sudden mentioned that she planned to pass his bond to another Aes Sedai, he was caught totally off guard and reacted in anger, saying he would not be passed on “like a sack of potatoes”. ‘To death and beyond’ a Warder served, that was what he had promised his bondholders. That was what he had promised Carys. That was what she had accepted. Now he would be unable to fulfil his duty to her. It was like a broken pact. There was sadness because of their close friendship - and partnership - as Warder and Sedai, a friendship which had strengthened as time had passed, a friendship which meant much to him, and - he knew - to her. But there was also, when he managed to process his feelings, a sense of relief, because giving him a new bondholder would solve his frustrating situation, would give him the chance to shed his current anguish and make it possible for him to fulfil his Warder-duties out in the world, out of this ‘cage’ which the White Tower had become for him. He felt a little shame to think so, considering he was as a Warder dutybound in whatever capacity was needed, but he could not quite help himself. Carys explained that she was sorry, which was not something one normally hears from an Aes Sedai but which she thought he deserved given their history. That she had been called back and that she hadn’t make time for him, for them, and that she had let the distance between them grow so far. She was also sad that she was the cause of his unhappiness. “You have fulfilled my every command and request as Warder, of course.” She said. “Perhaps unknowingly, you also became my dearest friend. Your pain is my pain and it's crippling us both. Each going through the motions but unable to truly commit to how our lives have changed due to the missive I received.. more simply put, Elessar, I hate seeing you this way. I hate knowing that I'm the cause..” She paused. “But I think I may have found a solution, short of death.. I think I have found a way to pass the Bond to another, willing, Aes Sedai..” He thanked her for her warm words and said he was sorry too. He told her why not being able to serve and protect her for life troubled him, as was his duty and purpose, but that he understood her arguments and her solution. When she said that the Aes Sedai in question who could take his bond was Kathleen Sedai of the Green Ajah, he smiled inside with some relief since he had met Kathleen a few times before in the White Tower together with her other Gaidin and they had spoken freely and with kindness. Also she was Green and he had felt an affinity with the Battle Ajah from his days with Leandreen. Green Sisters were also often out of the White Tower, on missions and fighting the Shadow, which suited him the best. Bond 4: Kathleen Aes Sedai (Green) A short time later the bond was passed from Carys to Kathleen Sedai of the Green Ajah who became Elessar’s 4th bondholder. He had met her a few times as mentioned in part because he needed someone to talk to due to his anguish over his situation, in part because he felt drawn to the Battle Ajah. Now as they were Warder and Aes Sedai they would build on this shared trust and, as it turned out, view of the world. In the time that followed they went on missions for the White Tower, got to know one another better, in a Warder-Sedai partnership based on friendship (Elessar was not a believer in a bond which went beyond friendship anyway, he had always been of the opinion that bonds built on love would make them vulnerable in stress situations and less able to fulfil their duties). After a while they were sent on a mission to the Borderlands. Kathleen’s other Warder was elsewhere on a personal mission and so she and Elessar headed northwards. Carys and what had happened still stayed with him but he was able to focus on what he thought of as his “renewed” purpose and duty in the Light, happy to be out on the road again. It was another New Beginning which he appreciated. Leandreen’s emerald eyes faced his in his dreams, sometimes in anger and betrayal, other times with kindness as would be the case in the years that followed and he kept working on keeping the stain on his soul - his eternal guilt - in check. That they were heading toward Kandor made him recollect that he had spoken very little to Kathleen about his past. He needed to open up a little, he owed it to her to show trust. He knew from his previous Bonds how important it was that a Warder and Sedai trusted each other, only then could they function as an efficient team. Trust came from familiarity and some personal knowledge. Trust came from openness and honesty. And so he told her about his past, about the boy he had been in the Borderlands, about growing up there and what made him journey to the White Tower at age 17. She appreciated learning his history and thanked him for sharing. She shared her compassion and offered her comfort and her ear, late into the night, something he appreciated. She also assured him that if he wished to stop in his old stomping ground she would be honoured to accompany him there. He had not been at his old home in Kandor for a long time. Going back would bring him joy but also possible pain. Unsure he did decide in the end that it was worth visiting his home anew. Travelling further north he shared with her his passion for history and stories, of old poetry and legends, while keeping their end destination at the back of his mind. He felt they were working well together and when Kathleen shared some painful memories with him it was a reflection of his trust in her. To him it made their connection feel even stronger and despite their different backgrounds and different struggles in life it made him think of them as kindred spirits. They entered the Borderland Kingdom of Kandor one afternoon and headed toward the city of Canluum which was near the Telcontar Estate. Upon stops Kathleen brought forth a journal and pen from her travelling bag, which made him think of Carys, his former bondholder, who had also travelled with such a journal in which she had drawn and written on occasion. When he asked, out of curiosity, she said this was the journal she had started during her days as Initiate of the Greens. Some miles south of the estate, they stopped in a small town. Elessar felt pride at being back in his old homeland something which surprised him a little. "There is something I want you to see". Elessar said, as he led his Bondholder to the ruins of an old building-structure on the western part of the small town. It had been a stable of sorts once, paired with a small building that had housed a smithy, but now it was all worn down and had been abandoned long since. "Father used to take us here on occasion when I was a boy". He explained, gazing at the ruins as memories came back to him. "My brothers and I would play outside while my father talked with the owner inside. There were horses here and a smithy as well. I remember picking up bits and pieces of metal that had been discarded by the blacksmith and pretending it was a warrior’s sword I was holding and that I was a famous warrior, swinging the blade heroically against imagined opponents of the Shadow. " An amused smile came upon his lips at the adventurous dreams of young boys. "This was always one of my favourite places in this town and I always begged father to go here whenever we visited." As they neared the estate, thoughts of his family swirled in his mind. How would his old, frail father welcome him? Bitter memories stirred inside him and he tried to push them aside, though with only partial success. Will you always blame me for Vehran’s death, father? He had been playing by the river many years before and his youngest brother Vehran had accidentally drowned. His father had ever since blamed Elessar for not protecting his brother, therein blaming Elessar for his death. The Warder feared his father would never forgive him. He had never forgiven himself for not being able to save his poor mother from dying. The Telcontar family had its share of griefs. The family reunion became a mixed blessing. His younger brother Valdherien, lord of the manor welcomed them to the estate, happy to see Elessar, but his father was still a bitter man who reminded Elessar of his betrayal of Vehran as he called it. Elessar begged him to see sense and for them to end this long strife which was tearing the family apart but his father would not listen. Elessar then showed Kathleen, his bondholder, the estate and walked with pride in his step shrugging off his father’s ill-spoken words. When their business in Kandor was done, they travelled east toward Arafel. In early afternoon some days later they rode slowly into the nation of Arafel, almost as if crossing this frontier boundary in the northern hills also meant crossing a line between them. It was, in some ways, true. In the past days, moving from one make-shift camp to another as they headed ever eastwards, the silence had grown between them, both lost in private thoughts. Little did he know that only days later he would be riding south toward Tar Valon, the change within him impossible to ignore, as he no longer could feel Kathleen through the bond. She had released his bond, ending their Warder-Sedai partnership, ending his duty for her. He was in a kind of shock as he rode, miles upon miles, trying to understand what could not be understood. Kathleen had private reasons for ending their bond and he had no right to press her on the issue though he was deeply disappointed. It was another life changing situation for him and he wondered, when a black mood came upon him, if they would never end. Kathleen was an honourable woman and an Aes Sedai of great integrity but he was saddened by the fact that they would no longer be a bonded couple in the Light. Bond 5: Myrrhi Aes Sedai (Green) Elessar spent more years in the White Tower as a Tower Guard, performing his duty competently but never forgetting his former bonds and the Aes Sedai he had been of service to. One day, as he was doing sword forms in the Warder’s Yard, a young-looking woman was watching him intently from not far away. She wore an Accepted’s dress, he saw. Meeting her eyes across the distance between them, he gave her a polite nod. She introduced herself, a little unsteadily, as Myrrhi Morrigen and said she had some questions for him, for her studies. He smiled and said he would give answers as he could. This was to be his first meeting with Myrrhi who later was to become his new bondholder. They spoke on several occasions and once trust was built they shared stories. They gradually developed a close friendship over time, beginning with those visits as a Tower initiate to the Warder’s Yard as part of her training, the ‘incident’ in the Tar Valon streets and, not least, the elaborate horse-riding lessons he had given her a few years back and the dramatic, oh-so-secret, near-death experience she had had then. He had subsequently helped her with physical training exercises and had given her different kinds of advice when needed. He had from the beginning seen something of a young Leandreen in her, which had appealed to him, a passionate young woman with a warrior’s heart, and had appreciated her friendship and their many pleasant talks. And now, finally, she had been raised Aes Sedai. Time had passed but he remembered her well. The last time they had met she had looked.. questioningly at him as if she wanted to ask him something but was not sure how. More time passed and then, as fate would have it, one day in Ebou Dar in the far south he suddenly saw her striding toward him. She was Aes Sedai now and it was the first time he saw her since she had been raised to the Shawl. She was now a Battle Ajah Sister. Like Leandreen and Kathleen. They spoke a little and then found a place to sit in private. Myrrhi spoke a little about the hard last months before she took the Test to be raised, then stopped and met his eyes squarely. "I was wondering", she begun carefully, "now that I am a fully raised Sister, ... If you would agree to become my Warder." A panicked gleam came to Elessar’s eyes as he thought of the horror of seeing Myrrhi die in his arms.. He trembled as he replied that he could not! With the look of a wounded animal, his eyes wide, his hands shaking, all self-control lost, he sprang up from his chair in a sudden, abrupt motion, making Myrrhi almost jump out of her skin, crossed the room in long strides without looking back, tore the library-door open, and slammed it behind him on his way out! Later he felt shame over his outburst and that weakness had pushed all other thoughts away. Myrrhi deserved so much better but the fear of him failing her was too strong to overcome at the moment. Some days later they met again and decided to take a ride together out of the city to find a place to talk some more. This time Elessar spoke of Leandreen and the haunting dreams he had of her at times and his fear of failing in his duty again. And Myrrhi understood that Elessar had never learned how to forgive himself. She placed a hand on his shoulder and said that death was inevitable for everyone, and that all that could be expected was that one did the best one could in the time one had. She added the risks the Green Ajah knew they were taking in their service to the Light, and that Leandreen, a cherished Sister, would be remembered - and honoured - for her service. He should not feel blame for what happened to her, she said, nor look upon it as his failure. "It will only be one", she added, "if you let it destroy you." Later in Ebou Dar they fought enemies and ended up saving one another from death. It reminded Elessar of what had happened with him and Carys and the bond it had created between them. “This is my Sacred Duty as a Warder; an Honour and a Sacred Trust.” He said with renewed confidence. “This is who I am -and- this is what I want. I am ready now.” It was, for Elessar, an important step on his Path of Redemption. “My Life before Yours. He said reverently. And Light streamed into his Soul as they forged a Bond of Redemption. Theirs was a successful bond and partnership for several years and it was one Elessar would always remember with fondness. It ended one day as Myrrhi was called back to the White Tower and his bond was released yet another time for personal reasons. And Elessar had a new path to walk once again. Bond 6, current: Calia Aes Sedai (Green) In the years that followed he returned to his duties protecting the White Tower as a Tower Guard. It was not his preferred service but he was loyal as always and kept on focusing on doing his duties with excellence. He trained regularly in the Warder’s Yard, did his messenger duties and kept the few friendships he had with other Gaidin. He was getting on in years by now, in his early 40s and was one of the older and most experienced Warders in the Tower. He dreamt of another bond and being out in the world fighting the Shadow but knew younger Warders would be preferred by Sisters and so he tempered his expectations. Then of a sudden he was ordered to accompany an Aes Sedai on a mission to Falme on the west coast. She did not have a Bonded Warder and Elessar would take on the role as protector and companion on the road. He was overjoyed at this opportunity and enjoyed his time outside Tar Valon on this mission. It was some time later that he met Calia in the White Flame inn in Tar Valon. One evening she approached his table and asked if she could sit with him since the inn was full. “Please, Aes Sedai”, Elessar replied kindly and in his usual formal way, with a respectful Warder’s bow. “The honour is mine.” He added. “ I am Elessar of Kandor.” They spoke a little and the way she held herself made him think of Leandreen, Kathleen and Myrrhi too. There was a particular strength in Green Sisters, the Warder had found over the years, and not just physical but just as much of character, a passion for life mingled with steel to survive war, something not as easily found in other Aes Sedai. They walked together back to the White Tower when they were set upon by thugs. Together, she using the One Power and he using his proficient hand-to-hand skills, they overcame the threat and took them back to the White Tower for questioning. Some time later the White Tower assembled Sedai and Warders for a mission to the Borderlands and Elessar was asked to join. Calia was one of the Sisters also going and they travelled north toward Saldaea where an army of the Shadow was gathering. This was the start of a mission that saw the two of them bonding in the Light, to Elessar’s delight, having found they seemed to be kindred spirits and shared the same values and grit and determination to stand fast against the Shadow. Theirs will be a bond of Faith as they stand together, loyally and faithfully, strongly and with integrity, as Warder and Sedai in proud enduring service to the Light. ▀▄
  11. .. A New Quest Begins: The Seal of Forbidding .. ►▼◄ This I attest, in the Light According to our ancient historic records, Seven cuendillar discs, each bearing the Ancient Symbol of the Aes Sedai (a white teardrop and a black teardrop conjoined) were created at the end of the Age of Legends as focus points, or anchors, to Seal and hold the Dark One in his prison. The discs themselves are not Seals but have in common usage been referred to as Seals over the generations, or the Great Seals. They are believed to be the size of a man's hand and should be unbreakable, but after extensive research I do believe there is a distinct possibility that the entropic influence of the Dark One could cause them to weaken to such an extent that they could shatter from a fall to the ground or being struck by a man with a hammer. No certain knowledge of this exists anywhere but it is, I believe, prudent to keep in mind this possible eventuality and not count on the Seals staying unbroken for all time. The secret location of these Seals has, I believe, been unknown since the Trolloc Wars. Before that time our historic records indicate that the Amyrlin Seat knew, hence her historic title “Watcher of the Seals”. The knowledge was, unfortunately, lost in time, and no Seals have so far as I know been found and searches by the White Tower have been unsuccessful. Despite the clear and evident inherent danger, since it is certain that the Shadow will hunt for them also and, in their case, certainly to destroy them to free their Great Lord, it is of utmost importance that the White Tower find and recover several of these Seals to keep them safe and protected from the Shadow until Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle is upon us. We must sacrifice what must be sacrificed to achieve this goal, of that there is no doubt. They are Seals of Forbidding. They are our Salvation. Added Note to “The History of the White Tower” Chapter 77, part 14d 571 NE, the 3rd Age Evahlia Semerehn Sedai Brown Ajah ● It was a moonlit Night and the bright Stars spread out across the far horizons like burning gems on a canvas of deep blackness. Rays of silver from the shining moon rained down on the Aryth Ocean making it almost glitter in reflections as the Sea Folk Raker sped through the ocean waves borne on Winds of Providence. Carah din Toral Rising Wave, a tall dark-skinned woman with grey streaked hair, a grave face and with four rings - of good quality metal - in each ear, one of them being connected to her nose by a chain, a sign of her higher rank, stood proudly on the Quarterdeck of her ship gazing into the far horizon. The Raker, which was named Oceanfold, was a large vessel with multiple decks, easily a hundred paces long, with three towering masts amidships, and one shorter one on the raised sterndeck. It had large triangular as well as somewhat smaller white squared sails, and a very narrow body, as was common in such ships, that made for great speed across oceans. She had begun aboard a ship as a deckhand many many years before, in the Atha'an Miere tradition, and had worked herself gradually up through the ranks. She had finally fulfilled her life-long ambition and gained the honoured rank of Sailmistress with her own vessel - and she felt as protective of her ship as she would of a child. ● She shifted her gaze from the dark horizon to the front of the ship where her Windfinder of many years, Morin din Rubai Blue Wing, stood directing the ship’s course through the soft wind and currents. Morin was a handful years younger than Carah but just as experienced on the seas. Her dark skin and hair gave her a handsome look rather than beautiful and like many of her Sisters she wore tattoos on her hands of stars and seabirds surrounded by the curls and whirls of stylized waves. She was very accomplished at Weaving the Winds, strong in the One Power and especially at channeling Air and Water, thick weaves that never failed to impress her sister Windfinders, and she had served her Sailmistress faithfully for many years. In some ways she felt this was her ship too, and she felt very protective of it. The Sailmistress shifted her gaze back to the blue-black horizon, standing there for several minutes in silence, feeling the soft breeze on her cheeks and tasting the salt in the air. The Sea had always been her Home, holding her in its cold but oh so familiar and shielded Embrace. She should have gone to bed to get a few hours sleep but she was too excited to rest. The orders she had received from her Wavemistress, leader of her Clan, several days earlier had thrilled her. Head southwards. Our oceans are no longer quiet. The Time of Reckoning could be upon us. She had waited for years for a chance to battle the Shadow. Now she might get her chance; she felt it in her bones. For who else would send fleets of ships eastward on the Aryth Ocean? Her dark eyes glinted in fierce anticipation. ● It was early morning, the sun just rising in the far horizon, as Elessar Telcontar Gaidin of Kandor walked across the Warder’s Yard in Tar Valon and readied himself for his training session. A few fellow Warders were also up and about but most of the Yard was empty. Later it would be filled with Warder trainees going through the motions under the guidance of Warder tutors, and gawking Accepted watching from the sideline, but now there was plenty of space for Elessar to find a spot and he selected one on the yard’s north end. There was no wind for a change (the almost perpetual soft breeze that seemed to hang over Tar Valon was momentarily gone..) and he ignored the small chill in the air as he removed his shirt and readied himself. Unfolding the Fan, the opening move, which flowed into Low Wind Rising, a diagonal slash which began low and rose cleanly, followed by The Boar Rushes Down the Mountain, a vertical slash starting high and which in this case altered course in mid-swing, paired with Tower of Morning, a vertical slash but this time beginning low and ending high. In the Flame and the Void he felt complete calmness and truly felt one with his sword, a participant in a never-ending dance of motion. A few pearls of sweat beaded on his bare chest, arms and forehead after a while as he moved efficiently through the forms, his focus all on his imagined opponent before him. The Falling Leaf and then straight into The River Undercuts the Bank. He then improvised in a fashion only highly skilled swordsmen were able and moved dynamically from one sword form into another, combining forms creatively, flowing smoothly from stance to stance. He kept on going for quite some time until at last he ended the session with Folding the Fan, sheathing his blade. The sword was smoothly swung around from guard stance and sheathed, all in one motion. He breathed a little heavily, but that was to be expected after this exertion, and he dried himself with the towel he had brought. ● Gazing across the Yard, Elessar waved to another Gaidin who had just finished his forms some way off and received a friendly wave in return. He then grabbed his things and started walking towards the building that housed the Warders quarters. As he walked his mind turned to what Calia, his Aes Sedai bondholder, had told him the evening before. They were going on a new journey, or ‘adventure’ as she had teasingly named it with a gleam in her sparkling blue eyes. To be frank, Elessar was happy with the news. He did not yet know what kind of mission they were going on this time but after a couple months in the White Tower after their return from Saldaea he was becoming restless and felt the urge to get out on the road again. It had been good to get back to Tar Valon and to rest and heal properly after the battle in the north, but for the past few weeks Calia had seen his increasing uneasiness, Elessar unable to hide his restlessness. Now that they were being sent on a new mission, and a very important one at that, she thought they would be able to kill two birds with one stone. ● “This place is just an echo of what was.” Qariahna mumbled to herself as she stared pensively at the buildings that crowded the Inner City of Caemlyn. “Nothing more than an echo.” She appreciated the quality of the Ogier stonework - the Alantin had always been skilled - but this city was still a poor reflection of the amazing cities she had seen back in her home world, in what these people now called the Age of Legends. Gazing upwards into the semi-clouded blue sky she travelled in her mind - and remembered. V'saine, her home city. A city of many wonders. A city of unsurpassed beauty. ..with the Collam Daan, its perhaps most famous wonder, a great university of silver and blue domes whose architecture was overshadowed only by the Sharom that floated overhead. The S’idhan, the magnificent colourful gardens that flowed and streamed across the meadow of Kehliar in wondrous winding spirals that never seemed to end. The marble palaces of V'saine, filled with bridges and walkways of such grandeur and beauty and ingenuity that architects travelled all the way from Jalanda and Mar Ruois to experience them. And of course the Ja’ahl in the sky, that incredible monument to mankind’s achievements.. She remembered it all as if it were yesterday and not thousands of years ago. And it was all destroyed in the war. The war that never seemed to end. The war they should have won. We should have conquered! She thought angrily. And preserved that beauty and wonder of a thousand years! ● Her dark eyes tightened and she pushed some strands of hair away from her eyes in irritation. Such incredible beauty and magnificence destroyed. Never to be seen again. Never to be copied. Only to be reflected in a few moments, here and there, in this very imperfect world. Suppressing her anger, she shifted her gaze to the majestic Royal Palace in the distance, there it sat on a hill dominating the Andoran capital. A mischievous grin came upon the Chosen’s face for a fleeting moment before it became smooth again. Her long dark hair flowed down her back, over the green-blue blouse and travelling dress she was wearing this day. She touched the purple hairpin she often wore, a powerful Angreal, and also the ring she wore on her right ringfinger. It seemed to be a simple ring of steel but she knew better. She was not holding onto the One Power, she had in fact masked her ability to channel so as to stay hidden from.. inquiring parties.. but it felt good to have these objects at hand. For when they become necessary. An elegant carriage Andoran in style drawn by four black horses passed by in the street, the driver giving the beasts a taste of the whip to hurry them along. It was probably some local Nobleman or other, the Chosen thought to herself with little interest. She also ignored all the sounds and smells and bustle of the city around her as people hurried past on private errands and official errands and loud eager shopkeepers kept selling their produce and wares to enquiring customers. Her interest grew, however, as two middle-aged seeming women, one tall and one shorter but both striding confidently in tandem, passed close by where she was standing at a street corner. They paid her no mind, engaged in conversation as they were, but the scar on Qariahna’s left cheek started burning. She had recognized their smooth Aes Sedai-features straight away even without the accompanying Warders and as often when she thought of Aes Sedai anger rose in her. High and mighty Sisters. They betrayed us! That she had once been Aes Sedai herself she had almost wiped from her mind. As far as she was concerned, it had never happened. She had always been better, always been Chosen. In her heart. Watching the Sisters of the White Tower head almost imperiously up the hill towards the Royal Palace, people moving quickly out of their way, Qariahna calmed herself again and focused anew on her new orders. One of these days, I will be the one giving orders, not taking them! Her dark eyes burned with black intensity, as the air seemed to ripple momentarily. A shadow passed over the sun for a moment, momentarily darkening the afternoon and bringing with it a sudden chill, or at least so it seemed to many of the city’s surprised and wide-eyed citizens. ● Rays of gold reflected in the marble domes towering over the Imperial Seanchan Capital of Seandar. The Deathwatch Guard stood at attention in the late morning sun. They were the elite Seanchan personal guards to the Seanchan Empress, Ilahna Erem Sani Paendrag blessed of her name. The Deathwatch Guard, an elite division that was particularly honoured and valued, was made up of both men and Ogier Gardeners, but the main force was Warrior Ogier, resplendent in their famous armour which was lacquered red and green, the latter colour so dark that it was commonly thought of as black, the colour of death. The humans were da'covale - slaves - and were the private property of the Empress. The ranks in the Deathwatch Guard stood a half step above those in the Ever Victorious Army, the Seanchan military forces. They were the elite, the best, trusted for protection and missions not given to others. But since they were the elite, more was expected of them - and if they failed they were more heavily punished. It was well known that if a person the Deathwatch Guard was protecting died, the remaining human guards were executed. Samak Therade, the tall dark-skinned, shrewd-eyed General and Commander of the Deathwatch Guard, watched his troops with pride. Row upon row they stood at attention with weapons at the ready, their armour shining as a strong breeze drifted in from the Aryth Ocean. He started his inspection round, going from soldier to soldier, checking details on uniforms, speaking a few words to a soldier here and then, his manner gruff but professional as he went through the ranks. Finally he stepped to the front of the ranks and shouted the ancient Seanchan battle cry. “For the Empress!” He shouted, raising his right arm - and the battle cry was echoed along the huge plaza before the Crystal Throne, the seat of the Empress at the Court of the Nine Moons. Then every single member of the Deathwatch Guard as one bowed to their seasoned Commander, on one knee in the sun. ● Watching from a building and a balcony above the plaza, opposite to the Royal Imperial Palace, Delerihn Lehndre, a medium tall, heavy set man of dark complexion with short black hair and deep brown eyes, nodded to himself. The Deathwatch Guard was indeed impressive. As was the Ever Victorious Army. His dark eyes shifted to the blue skies above and he spotted a Raken flying northwards. They were, he knew, creatures with a body considerably longer than a horse and about equal in girth, with leathery grey skin and large powerful wings much like those of a bat. Ideal mounts for scouting and/or sending messages, as the Raken could fly at around three to four times the speed of a running horse. They were, he also knew, ridden by morat'raken, special Seanchan fliers of which three out of five were women. A shadow atop the Raken indicated the person flying though he could not see from this far distance whether it was a woman or a man. Not that it mattered. What mattered was, he thought slyly with a black gleam in his eyes, his hands on the balcony railing, the blue gemstone on his left ring finger sparkling: the Seanchan were going to War! ● Silvahria woke abruptly from the dream and for a moment was not sure where she was. Then she remembered - and breathed more slowly, gathering her thoughts. It was the dream. The one she kept having far too often. The one that always started at the moment of the betrayal. The betrayal of her, her work and her significant research. In her dream she was re-enacting the murder of her co-worker and assistant at the laboratory, the young man Senath, with the bloodied knife sticking out of his throat. Senath who had betrayed her, who had in fact stolen her research. Oh they had praised her in the beginning, showing their pride that one of their own - and a woman to boot! - had solved the obstacles they had faced with regards to practical use of accelerated particle division in the production of high-tech wind power. But then Senath had begun taking credit for some of the work, gradually whispering in ears and convincing the entire Ver Salidh science facility that she was a fraud and they had all turned on her. In rage and humiliation she had confronted her devious assistant who had only laughed in her face, calling her a liar, a naïve woman, and saying that no one believed her anymore and that she would be sacked soon for the despicable fraud she was. The way he had laughed spitefully at her had made her mad with rage and in a psychotic moment she had grabbed the knife before knowing what she did and soon it had stood out from his throat, blood flowing onto the floor amid his endless screams. Finally only silence had remained as blood had continued flowing in streams across the white sterile facility floor. ● She had fled the science facility in panic and had hidden in the home of a friend from her school days until she discovered that she was being hunted by the Aes Sedai authorities for murder. She knew she would never get a fair trial and the penalty would either be death or Severing, cutting her off from the One Power, and either way it would be the death of her, she felt. Her only way of surviving, her only protection as she saw it, was to join those rebels who had renounced the Aes Sedai and the Light and given new Oaths to the Dark One and the Shadow. The thought made her sick to the bone, but she had no other choice as she saw it, and in desperation for survival and anger at what had been done to her, she escaped and eventually found her way to Shayol Ghul where she knelt before the Great Lord of the Dark in desperation, pledging her Soul to the Shadow in return for the promise of safety and immortality. In the War of Power, as it came to be known, as one of Those Chosen To Rule The World Forever, she did what she could in service of the Great Lord, using her specialist knowledge of wind power machination combined with the One Power to make a fearsome weapon that was used with great success in several battles. She was respected now, she was appreciated for her eminent skill, not cheated out of her glory as had been the case at the science facility and any doubts of her purpose in life and her dark allegiance were gradually removed. Coldness, pride and hatred found its place in her heart, hatred against all who had wronged her and especially against her former Aes Sedai brethren. Even the word ‘Aes Sedai’ left a foul taste in her mouth as she joined the forces of the Shadow in the war. Forsaken they had called her and her new brethren, and she had embraced the name in glee and rid herself of her original three names in a dark cleansing of the soul. She would forever more be known as Silvahria. ● Riding beside his bondholder Calia Aes Sedai across the magnificent arching bridge over the River Erinin which connected the island city of Tar Valon with the mainland, Elessar Gaidin thought about the long journey that awaited them to Ebou Dar in the far south. He had been there several times in the past, on missions with different Sedai bondholders, and he knew the journey south well. The main road would take them first to Caemlyn in Andor, then to Lugard in Murandy, before entering north-eastern Altara. Ebou Dar, the Capital, lay on the southern coast, straddling the River Eldar. A beautiful city in many ways, a place of many reflections, but also a place where danger could lurk in Shadows, as he had experienced all to well. One would have to stay alert at all times. And he intended to. ● He had always been happiest when on the road, on missions for the White Tower with his Sedais, fighting the Shadow in ways big and small, and he had been on many quests over the years. Even so, each journey was different and each became a valuable learning experience. On this journey he thought he and Calia would get to know one another better too. They had worked well together in Saldaea but there was still much to learn for each of them. Looking sideways at Calia upon her mare, her green travelling cloak flowing behind her, he could not read her mood but he thought he saw a sparkle in her blue eyes as she gazed forwards toward the mainland in the distance. Stormbreaker, his valiant black warhorse, seemed happy to be on the road as well and whinnied enthusiastically every few minutes for the first half mile which brought a smile to Elessar’s lips. People on the bridge moved to the side as they rode past and, as always, many gave them looks of reverence. Some did not, of course, but Elessar was used to people being ambivalent about the White Tower and the Aes Sedai. So it would always be, even this close to their domain. One man, of middling years wearing the dusty worn attire of a seasoned traveller, walking beside his horse, stared angrily at the Warder and Sedai from underneath his lowered hood as they rode past him and disappeared further down the mile-long bridge. He stared after them long after they were gone from sight, his one blind eye twitching nervously. ● As they finally reached the end of the tall bridge, passing the last of the magnificent arches as the clear waters of the Erinin far below kept streaming southwards, the Sun climbed high in the cloudless sapphire-blue sky and Elessar felt those golden Rays from above warming his face. It was a good sign, he thought silently to himself, as they left the Shining Walls behind in the distance, a good omen for the start of a New journey for him and Calia. There are neither Beginnings nor Endings to the Wheel of Time. But it was A Beginning. ▀▄
  12. .. The Light of Tar Valon .. ►▼◄ The Sun was Shining.. in a beautiful ocean-blue afternoon sky, with a soft breeze coming out of the far west, as Elessar Gaidin of Kandor and Calia Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah came in sight of the Shining Walls of Tar Valon. The Tar Valon party returning from the battle with the Shadow north in Saldaea were glad again to see the city that over the years had become their home. It had been a long journey in varying weather conditions and general weariness prevailed among its members. Riding near the front aside his bondholder Calia, Elessar studied the people they passed, as always vigilant and focused. Most of the people were local farmers and business folk heading to and from the city with the odd foreigner and wanderer among them. They all looked respectfully at the Sisters of the White Tower as they rode passed, giving the Gaidin looks of respect too. One little boy, blond-haired, scruffy-looking and gaunt but stronger than he looked, perhaps six or so of age, looked wide-eyed at the tall and strong-looking armed Warders riding by, and dreamed of one day becoming a Warder-hero himself. Soon they all rode slowly, in orderly columns, across one of the many magnificent arching bridges over the River Erinin connecting the island city to the mainland. Elessar’s dark eyes glinted and turning in his saddle to Calia he thought he recognized a small sparkle in her blue eyes too. Stormbreaker, his valiant black warhorse, pricked up its ears as they crossed the bridge, as if sensing that this journey was nearing its end. Fabled Dragonmount rose in the distance, a place of history and legend, and on the city walls high above them the proud banners of Tar Valon - wonderous city of the Aes Sedai - rippled strongly in the wind, as if welcoming them home. ● “Mariahna Arinahl, come with me!” The Mistress of Novices met the young blond woman’s eyes with a firm but kind stare and recognized the mixed emotions in the Novice’s eyes; exhilaration mixed with some fear. Mariahna caught her breath, having known for a while that this moment was coming but even so now that it was here she felt.. unprepared. She had been a Novice for twelve years, ever since she was brought to the White Tower at sixteen, and had shown average progress throughout her time in the Tower. Some of the girls who had started with her had been Accepted a couple of years but there also were a few who it seemed were nowhere near being Raised. Curtsying to the Sister, the young woman from Murandy followed her through the corridors of the Tower, going over in her mind everything she had been told and taught about the Test for Accepted. She remembered her Aes Sedai teacher, a strict elderly Cairhienin woman of the Brown Ajah, going methodically on about the Test and why it was so important. “It is a test”, the Aes Sedai had said facing the class of expectant Novices, “that forces you to face your greatest fears about what has happened in your past life, what might be happening in the present-day, and what might happen in your future”. In order to become Accepted, she had emphasized, the Novice must want to be Aes Sedai more than anything else in the whole world, enough to face anything, fight free of anything, to achieve it. I really want this, Mariahna thought as they passed several Aes Sedai in one corridor, the Sisters hardly noticing her. I have always wanted this, ever since they found the spark in me. ● Her teacher’s voice echoed in her mind as they entered a doorway heading down into the basements of the White Tower to the room where she was to be tested. A Novice may refuse to take the Accepted Test twice. If she refuses a third time, however, she is put out of the Tower. What a woman sees during her Testing for Accepted is not required to be shared with anyone, as a woman’s fears are her own. Mariahna remembered her teacher’s description of the Ter’angreal used for the Accepted Test. It was in the shape of three round, silver arches that stood on a silver ring, with their edges touching each other. The arches were just tall enough for someone to walk beneath them. During the Test, an Aes Sedai sat in front of the Ter'angreal at each place where an arch touches the ring, activating the Ter'angreal. “The Ter’angreal”, the Brown Sister had said in her lecturing voice, “forces the candidate for Acceptance to enter three different visions, or alternate realities (it is not known which), where she must face her fears. While within the Ter'angreal, she is not supposed to be able to remember who she is, where she has come from, or that she has the ability to channel. An arch will eventually appear in the vision/reality and the candidate will remember that she must go through it.” “Remember”, she had emphasized, “the way back will only appear once. You will be tempted to stay and be distracted.. you must show character and strength.” ● The words echoed in her consciousness as they descended the final steps to the chamber below. They were far below the White Tower. Looking tentatively around, Mariahna saw that the room was carved out of the bedrock of the island and had a domed shape. The walls were pale, smooth stone. The floor was bare stone. The Ter’angreal sat in the center of the room, and light from tall stand-lamps flickered oddly on it; she could not see what lay inside. She also saw a plain table near the Ter'angreal holding three large silver chalices which were filled with clear water. An Aes Sedai stood beside the table. It was all as it had been described to her, but seeing it was still a different experience. She felt her heart beat faster and tried to compose her thoughts as she had been taught. She was only partly successful. Three Aes Sedai sat around the Ter’angreal where the arches touched the ring. They did not look up as Garihna Semendhei, the Mistress of Novices, and the Novice to be Tested entered. Garihna stopped just inside the room and faced the young woman. “Mariahna Arinhal, are you ready to face your fears?” she asked, beginning the formal ceremony. “Yes.” Mariahna’s voice seemed a little weak to her as she responded but she was steadfast as she faced the Mistress of Novices. “You will now be told two things that no woman hears before reaching this point”, Gahrina Sedai said, meeting the Novice’s eyes. “If the candidate for Acceptance fails to complete the Test once she has begun, she will be put out of the Tower without enough silver to last her a year, and she will never be allowed to return.” “Also, take note. The Test is dangerous. Some women have never returned from the Silver Arches.. we do not know what became of them.. you must be steadfast.” Mariahna nodded silently, trying to quench the butterflies in her stomach. ● “You are now given one more chance to refuse to take the Test.” The Mistress of Novices looked pointedly at the Novice. She had seen Novices lose their nerve at this point before. “I will not refuse”. Mariahna replied determinedly. “I am ready to face my fears.” The Mistress of Novices nodded, her blue eyes glinting in satisfaction, and then they walked a few more steps into the chamber. They were now addressed by the Blue Sister who was beside the table with the chalices. Aes Sedai: Whom do you bring with you, Sister? Mistress of Novices: One who comes as a candidate for Acceptance, Sister. Aes Sedai: Is she ready? Mistress of Novices: She is ready to leave behind what she was, and, passing through her fears, gain Acceptance. Aes Sedai: Does she know her fears? Mistress of Novices: She has never faced them, but now is willing. Aes Sedai: Then let her face what she fears. Mariahna knew she was now required to undress and she removed her Novice dress and her undergarments until she stood stark naked before the other women. She focused on what was to come and did not bother covering herself. Nakedness was the least of her worries here. She needed to be totally focused on the tasks ahead to succeed. Before she entered the first arch, the Mistress of Novices told her: “The first time is for what was. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.” ● Walking through the arch, she did not know what she would face, but she soon found out. There was her sick father, begging her to stay and care for him. There was the man who had tried to rape her at age fourteen in a back alley of her town and she struggled to get out of his grip again. And there were the salivating vicious dogs that had attacked her and almost killed her at the meadow she had walked across when she was a young girl. On and on it went and she faced her fears the best she could, tears running down her cheeks, her mind tiring slowly. And when after a long time she saw an arch appear fourty paces or so off to her right, glowing with a silver radiance, she ran towards it and entered, stepping back through the arch to return to the chamber below the White Tower. Her pulse was racing, the tears only now stopping and she had to catch her breath. It took a moment for her to gather herself and she brushed the remaining tears unashamedly from her face as she faced the Sisters present. The Aes Sedai standing beside the table poured one of the chalices of water over her and told her: “You are washed clean of what sin you may have done and of those done against you. You are washed clean of what crime you may have committed, and of those committed against you. You come to us washed clean and pure, in heart and soul.” Mariahna registered the words spoken but her eyes were fastened on the second arch. After a moment’s hestiation she entered it after the Mistress of Novices said: “The second time is for what is. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.” The second arch was worse and Mariahna had to face her worst fears of what was happening in the present, not the least the greatest fear of all that she would fail as an Accepted and later fail to become an Aes Sedai and would have to live with the shame for the rest of her life. Sisters of all colours stared at her in disappointment and great disapproval as she walked naked through the halls of the White Tower in shame, as an example to others. She came upon a few young Warders walking beside their Aes Sedai and they stared lewdly at her nude body which shamed her even further. When she emerged from the Ter’angreal this time, tears were flowing even stronger down her deep-red cheeks and she felt exhausted, physically and especially mentally. The Sister standing beside the table poured the second chalice of water over her and said: “You are washed clean of false pride. You are washed clean of false ambition. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul.” Mariahna had to pull herself together to regain the needed courage to enter the third arch. She bit her lip resolutely. First the Mistress of Novices told her: “The third time is for what will be. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.” ● She knew the third arch would be the worst of them all, facing her fears about the future, but even so she was taken aback by the harsh trials she faced. She was an Aes Sedai but she did not have the time to revel in the joy, before an avalanche of Darkness swept her away. On the battlefield facing Myrddraal and other vile Shadowspawn clawing at her with bloodied hands. Seeing her Warder crushed beneath the onslaught and feeling her soul cry out in utter anguish as the bond snapped. Failing in missions for the White Tower. Betraying trust. Betraying promises. And worse. Much worse. She was drenched physically and emotionally as she staggered through the shining archway and into the White Tower chamber. Her face was stricken, her eyes pools of tears, her face in agony, and she felt her knees give way. She was caught by the Mistress of Novices who smiled proudly at the young woman and held her for a moment in her arms before helping her stand steady on the stone floor. Mariahna was full of swirling emotions as she gradually got her bearings and her head cleared. Echoes of what she had been through remained in her mind but she pushed them aside as best she could and focused on the present. At what mattered. She had passed the Accepted Test. ● Relief and happiness replaced the memories as she dried the tears from her eyes. Once her eyes were clear of water and she was able to take a better look around the chamber she saw that the Amyrlin Seat and one Sister from each Ajah, formally garbed in their shawls and arranged to either side of the Amyrlin, now occupied the room as well. Mariahna knelt before Nadhene Carahnas, the Watcher of the Seals, The Flame of Tar Valon, the Amyrlin Seat who poured the third chalice of water over her. The Amyrlin told her: “You are washed clean of Mariahna Arinahl from Arad Doman. You are washed clean of all ties that bind you to the world. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul. You are Mariahna Arinahl, Accepted of the White Tower. You are Sealed to us now.” The Amyrlin smiled as she presented the new Accepted with a Great Serpent Ring. Mariahna felt tears coming again, thrills of achievement running through her entire body. Pulling the new Accepted to her feet, she said: “Welcome, Daughter,” kissing her on the cheek. The other Aes Sedai present smiled as well, the Red Sitter’s eyes glinting as she looked at the new Accepted, and Mariahna was quickly helped into an Accepted’s banded dress. Her smile was radiant. She was Accepted. ● Denya Aes Sedai studied the man bound by threads of Saidar on the table before her almost as she would a fascinating insect. There was always something interesting to learn, a new discovery to make. For instance, why would he scream so much when she poked at his privates with a burning iron? Why did the nerves connect to his brain and then to his voice? Why did the blood flow so readily when she cut off one of his fingers? And why was he so terrified when she poked at his eyeball with a needle? So many questions. And so few answers. A short woman with almost white hair, piercing blue eyes and prominent cheek bones, Denya had always wanted answers to her questions - and she had never questioned her.. affinity for extreme measures. Or necessary investigation as she liked to call it. She was Brown to the soul, enjoying every little discovery however insignificant. The thought made her touch the Brown shawl around her shoulders without thinking as she studied the blood and sweat covering the man on the table. I will always be a Brown, she thought with pride and determination. It’s just my allegiance that has changed. She frowned. My methods will never be understood by my Brown Sisters. ● Moans came from the near unconscious twenty-five year old Andoran, blood coming from his lips. She considered what to try next. If she were to press.. there.. she thought it would increase his pain and she was right. She noted it down in her notebook for future use and documentation, then walked across to the other side of the man and poked some more at him with the burning iron. Interesting, she thought to herself, as his moans turned to near-screams. The armpits were a sensitive area as well just as she had predicted. She noted it down and then picked up a book from another table in her quarters. “The World of Anatomy” by the famed southern scholar Gheras Vanider. She leafed through the pages until she found the one she was looking for. Nodding in satisfaction, she noted down some more, then put the book aside and touched the almost broken man’s cheeks affectionately. She had always liked men and they had always been a subject of fascination for her. "There, there".. she muttered softly. "Your pain will soon be gone, my boy - and you will rest in the welcoming arms of the Great Lord." No one outside her personal quarters in the Brown wing of the White Tower heard anything as she worked, her having Warded the room, and she continued to discover new fascinating things about pain and endurance until late in the evening. Finally all that was left was Darkness and Silence. And Death. ● Lyanna Tirahl, originally from Cairhien, was a Sitter for the White in the Hall of the Tower. She had been a Sitter for more than twenty-five years and the hints of grey in her dark hair spoke of her 114 years on this earth. Most of these she had spent in Tar Valon, as a Novice, Accepted and finally Aes Sedai of the White Ajah. Like most if not all her Sisters she based her life on logic; on logical explanations, reason and sense. She disregarded all foolishness. So it had always been and so it would always be for her. Rumours floating around the White Tower that something was.. amiss.. she took as pure speculation. There were always rumours.. and more often than not they were unsubstantiated and not worth even thinking about. Her friend in the Green Ajah, however, was not so certain. Seated opposite the White Sister, the Green Aes Sedai repeated what she had heard. Taurin Delehsan was a dozen or so years older than Lyanna, a Sitter for the Green, and what she in the White Sister’s opinion lacked in logical reasoning she more than made up in energy and enthusiasm. A blond-haired woman with a sharp nose and a friendly smile, she leaned over the table which stood in the middle of her own quarters and her azure-blue eyes glinted as she spoke. “They say the Amyrlin is hesitant.” She raised an eyebrow. “Some say.. frightened.” Lyanna shook her head. “The Amyrlin is frightened of nothing” said she. “This is just silly rumours.” She sighed. “I don’t know why you even speak of them.” Taurin sniffed loudly, in the way only Aes Sedai could do, but did not retort. She just studied her friend’s face closely, wondering what really went on in that logical mind of hers. “But what if the rumours are.. true?” Taurin said at last in a speculative voice. “The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills..” Lyana replied, using the old Aes Sedai saying. “But I think this is just nonsense. It is not logical at all and I for one don’t believe the rumours.” ● Taurin leaned back in her chair and studied her old Novice-friend closely. They were so different, personality-wise and philosophically, Lyanna and she, that it was a wonder that they had become close friends when they were Novices. They had kept the friendship in the years they were Accepted in the Tower, and though they were no longer as close as in those days past they still were as friendly as Sisters in different Ajahs could be, keeping in touch when both were in the White Tower. Taurin had always liked Lyanna, and remembered with fondness their erotic pillow-fun when they were young, but she had to admit that the White Sister was naïve and there were so many things she did not understand. Her eyes took on a new gleam as she looked at Lyanna’s dark grey dress. It was very conservative, high-necked, with a few subtle decorations and some frills down the side. Staring down at her Great Serpent Ring for a moment, Taurin thought of her many years in the Tower. The golden ring fashioned into the shape of a serpent biting its own tail, was an ancient symbol of eternity and time itself. Time. Time eternal. Turning her gaze to her friend opposite her, she took a sip of tea from the cup before her, then said smoothly, “The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills indeed. By the way, I like your red dress, Lyanna.” It took a moment to register, then Lyanna’s eyes and mouth opened wide.. and a Scream began to form in her Soul! ● Elessar and Calia were seated opposite one another across a small table in the Leisure Room. So it was called, at least among the Sisters in the Tower, a small room adjacent to the White Tower Library that was used for ‘private talks’. It was sparsely furnished with only a few chairs, a couple of tables and some bookshelves filled with books, maps and some figurines of different shapes and sizes. A pair of huge windows at the end of the chamber let in some light, added to several lamps on the walls. Calia had placed Wards on the room, just in case. She wanted privacy for their talk. “We underestimated that Shadow army”. Elessar repeated, meeting his bondholder’s gaze. His voice was soft but Calia heard the undercurrent. He was not pleased and, in truth, neither was she. “White Tower intelligence was lacking.” He added. “As simple as.” Calia did not reply, thinking her own thoughts. The leader of the Tar Valon-party that had gone north, the Captain-General of the Green Ajah, had shared no evaluations upon their return that he had heard, neither had the leader of the Gaidin. He therefore presumed any evaluations had been done in a private setting and were confidential. Even so, there could, in his mind, be no doubt about this issue. “We were lucky to survive that onslaught”, the Gaidin added after a while, his eyes tightening. “The next time we might not be as lucky.” ● They had talked for several hours about their experiences and how they had worked together on the battlefield. It was their first battle as a bonded couple, as a team, and they needed to learn from any mistakes made. They had spoken of the valiant fight of Warders and Sedai and Kandori, and of the brave Fallen, but also of the Shadow army they had faced, a mightier force than expected. And of the powerful Darkfriend channelers up on the hillsides. Whoever they were, they were dangerous foes indeed. Their discussions had evolved into a talk about preparations and what to learn from this battle. And about a lack of intelligence about their enemy. Elessar was concerned, as he had made clear, but he knew none of it was Calia’s fault and so he did not push the issue further. Calia saw his worried frown and knew that there was sense in what he was saying. She knew from her own experience that there was always something to learn from every battle. Whether people took learned wisdom to heart, now that was quite another matter. This is only the beginning, she was thinking again. ● Samos walked the streets of Tar Valon like a lost soul. In the weeks since he had returned from Cairhien he had used all his resources to try and discover who it was that had tried to kill him. And the result? Nothing! Blasted nothing! He had found no clues anywhere and this had annoyed him even more. Roaming the streets, talking with his informants, the days had passed quickly but not pleasently. Cursing at everything and everyone in sight he strode down one of the city’s main streets and almost ran into a parked carriage. Throwing curses at the horses who just returned a dumb look he continued towards his destination, a butcher’s shop in a back-alley not far away. Turning a corner he at last entered that alley and headed for the butcher at the end. Entering the shop, he walked straight to the back and opened a door to a small room. Passing the butcher, a middle-aged man wearing a bloodied apron, he only nodded slightly before closing the door behind him. The room was lit by a small lamp and was an office of sorts. Papers covered a desk and several books too in addition to some parchments. There was blood many places, a result of his several interrogations. None of the men had talked though and Samos had slit their throats in anger after torturing them for a good while. The butcher had been unhappy but had stopped his complaints when Samos had reminded him of his loyalties. Thinking back on it now he thought he should have been less lenient. Next time the man complained he would break his arms. Seating himself in the chair by the desk, he closed his eyes and considered his most secret and dangerous of thoughts: that it was.. her who was trying to have him killed. Perhaps she wanted to do away with him after his disappointing work, as she saw it. Clenching his fists he felt his cheeks redden in anger. But then he reconsidered and calmed down. She could kill him any time if she wanted. And she would have no need of an assassin. No, it was not .. her. But who then? Who could it be that wanted him dead? ● Opening his eyes, he looked at one of the parchments on the desk, it was a map he saw, and started studying it closely. A map of Tar Valon from what he could see. Someone had drawn lines and symbols on the map and he wondered what they could mean.. just as the door FLEW open and a BLAST of Air threw him -and the chair- back toward the wall!! Everything was a blur as he tried to regain his feet. Disentangling himself from the chair, holding onto the wall, he steadied himself and then rose slowly from the floor, his back aching, his head ringing. Gazing toward the door he saw.. something.. it was a kind of haze.. but then came recogniton and his eyes widened. Samos froze, and uttered in bewilderment and shock "You? No!" ● “Oh, shut that gaping mouth of yours, Lyanna”, said Taurin with an exasperated sigh. “You look like a gasping fish on land.” Lyanna slowly closed her mouth but her eyes remained wide and her face haggard as she looked at her old friend. She was unable to utter a word, stunned. It was all soo illogical. A lie.. how..? All so.. impossible. “Oh relax, Lyanna”, the Green Sister added smoothly as she removed her Great Serpent Ring and placed it in her other hand. “If I wanted you dead, you would have been dead already.” Lyanna’s eyes widened even further if possible! Only her long Aes Sedai training and experience of many, many years kept her from screaming aloud. In fear and frustration. And shock. How could her friend of ages be…. a Black Sister.. Impossible! “Dead!?” Lyanna finally stuttered, watching her old friend as if she had never seen her before. “Oh, take it easy, Lyanna”, Taurin said as her hand closed around her Aes Sedai ring. “We all do as we must.” Her eyes turned to her friend’s still shaken face. “As will you.” Her eyes hardened and her smile became tighter. They both held onto Saidar and Taurin felt her greater strength in the One Power. Lyanna felt it also and knew she would not be able to overcome her ‘friend’ if it came down to it. Opening her closed hand again the Green Sister gazed at the Great Serpent Ring for a long moment, as if considering all that it stood for, before placing it anew on her finger. ● “We all do as we must”, she repeated and her eyes hardened as they fastened on the White Sister seated opposite her in the chamber. “It is time to consider your allegiance, Lyanna”. She nodded to herself seeing the fear in the other woman’s eyes. A strong woman in more ways than one, the White Sister did not scare easily, but now she was scared. And panicking. Cold shivers ran down Lyanna’s back and she tightened her hold on Saidar. “It is time for you to Serve in the.. right way”, Taurin said, her eyes glinting darkly. “I am sure you have much service to give.” A Shadow passed before Lyanna’s startled eyes for a moment, but she could not tell whether or not it was just her imagination or her fear manifesting itself. Another Scream began deep down in her Soul, the Light trapped inside her. Oh, Dear Creator. NO!! ● A Darkness in The White Tower. A Darkness of Tar Valon. ● That evening, some hours after their long talk, as Twilight was settling over Tar Valon, Calia and Elessar entered the “White Flame” inn and found a table at the back of the establishment. The innkeeper Taman waved at Elessar and smiled broadly when he saw Calia. He exchanged a few words with her off to the side, before she seated herself opposite her Gaidin. She wore a green dress and a matching silk blouse this evening while he wore his black shirt and pants, his most informal attire if truth be told. The inn was quite full that night with a mix of locals, travellers, Sedai and Warders, seated and mingling, and they both recognized several faces among those present. And there was a gleeman. Which always brought a grin to Elessar’s often serious face. The man, wearing the cloak of his profession, was in his middling years, brown-haired and tall. He had the kind of eyes that always sparkled as if amused by something and during one of his stories those green-grey eyes fastened on Elessar who stared back at him in the same way. There was.. something in the gleeman’s eyes and, in Elessar’s view, false smile that made the Warder study him closely for the rest of the retelling. He could not say what it was but his instincts told him something was.. off. He did not say anything to Calia though, perhaps it was his imagination after all, but the feeling stayed with him throughout the evening. It did not damage his enjoyment of the epic story told later that night, however. “The Light of Tar Valon” was a poem and story Elessar had heard on occasion through the years (and usually in this grand city) but it was not very common. And the inn’s guests listened attentively and with great enjoyment and enthusiasm, sipping to their drinks and some also banging their tables, as the gleeman spun his historic tale of the Aes Sedai and this fabled island city of Tar Valon. ● ►▼◄ ’The Light of Tar Valon’ The Light of Tar Valon, shines Vibrant and Pure The Heart of this Island beats Strongly for Sure For Ages and Time, a Stronghold for Truth And Governed by Sisters of Power in Sooth Construction of the City near a Century Began After the Breaking, and in Time’s true Span When Elisane Tishar the Amyrlin Became Protector of the Seals, Defender of the Flame Ogier Stonemasons, Masters of their Craft Created wonders, they Laboured and they Laughed As Marvels Arose, bridges, buildings, towers Shone With Aes Sedai help, they Sculpted Walls and Throne A Glorious Sight, it was a Wonder to Behold A Hundred Years to Build, striving hard, we are Told And Central to all was the White Tower Bright The Pinnacle of Skill, and the Power of Light Under Attack, in the Trolloc Wars it Came The Shining Walls stood against Shadowspawn and Flame The Forces pressed hard, Defenders tried to Stall But Rashima Kerenmosa, she Prevented its Fall A Thousand years later, after Covenant and Pact As a False Dragon’s army, the City Attacked Seizing two great Bridges when Victory was Set But Hawkwing’s Army, it destroyed the Threat Later the High King turned Foe, and in Pain Besieged it for Years as they Struggled in Vain But finally as Hawkwing passed on Did they Sway The Siege was lifted and the Troops went Away Queen Ishara of Andor played a Part in this All Convincing the Commander of the Siege of its Fall No Damage was sustained in the City in the End And Tar Valon and Andor became Allies and Friend As the Site of the Battle of the Shining Walls Tar Valon felt threatened by Aiel Battle-Calls As they hunted King Laman of Cairhien, by Decree In Vengeance, for destroying the Avendoraldera Tree A Center of Power, the Island Prevailed For Leadership and Courage, the Battle-waves Sailed And Gathered the Nations, through Ages and Might To Stand against Darkness, the Shadow to Fight The Light of Tar Valon, burns Brightly and True In lee of Dragonmount, the Erinin in View As a Beacon of Hope, the City Will Stand With Aes Sedai in Strength, Protecting the Land ►▲◄ ▀▄
  13. .. A Symbol of Shadow .. ►▼◄ Prologue The BLAZING sun overhead in the azure-blue sky made for a scorching day. “What is Shara, Mama?” the little dark-skinned, short black curly-haired girl of five years asked as she brushed some sweat from her face. Her olive-shaped curious brown eyes stared at her mother wonderingly. She had heard the name in the market a little earlier when her mother had been buying groceries and like most children she was curious about most things. “It is what outlanders call our country, Radhia”, her mother said explaining, speaking over her shoulder as she walked. She was used to her daughter’s many daily questions and always tried to be patient with her answers. She was not always successful, she had to admit, but then again she guessed few mothers were. They passed a crowd of people on their way home. The little girl held onto her mother’s hand tightly while at the same time studying all the other people with great curiosity. “But why, Mama?” She added, when they reached a square with a large stone fountain statue of a cloaked woman holding a globe in her hands, and were free of the tight crowd. Her mother knelt down beside her and smiled. “They don’t know any better”, she replied with a wink. “If they did, they would know that our country, the greatest nation in the world, is Co'dansin, land of the glorious people.” ● Radhia grinned mischievously at her mother’s tone of voice - it was the voice she used when she thought someone - usually Radhia - ought to know better - and then followed her out of the square smiling, past several men and women clad in local attire - some silent, some whispering, some grumbling - who carried their wares and groceries steadfastly from market. Some way ahead a new crowd of people had gathered. Suddenly there was a shout in the street and the people in front moved aside as a group of women in strict rows of three came walking confidently down the street. They wore brown travelling clothes of unusual style and fabric and were all tattooed on their faces and, to many but not all, thereby recognizable as members of the Ayyad. It was not common to see the Ayyad in town, the mother knew, far from it, but things were changing and this was not the first time these women had been seen here lately. Murmurs of respect but also some uncertainty followed them as they walked past the ordinary people, their eyes facing forwards, their faces determined, and soon disappeared down the street leaving whispers from some bystanders in their wake. Radhia stared after them long after they were gone, not understanding who or what they were but fascinated with their tattooed faces and, had she been able to explain it, their mysterious aura of power. ● The Amo’hra, in the guise of Khraa’malia, grinned inside as she saw the looks of the common people that they passed down the street. Weaves of Saidar made her feel cool even in this burning heat and it was something she appreciated mightily. A little girl looked at her as she passed, her child’s eyes filled with curiosity and wonder, while the adults were more guarded, respectful but also a little wary. As they should be, she thought haughtily as the group of Ayyad women she led continued down the street. Traditionally the Ayyad stayed separate from the common people, remaining in their towns and rarely venturing outside. But times are changing - and more than they know, the false Leader of the Ayyad thought to herself with dark amusement, her almost black eyes glittering, as they rounded a corner and headed toward a rugged-looking low concrete building in the near distance. The door to the building opened as they approached and another tattooed woman, dark of skin, dark of eyes, welcomed them in, giving the Amo’hra a nod of respect as she entered. Seating herself in the high-backed chair at the end of the long table, the Amo’hra looked at each of the Ayyad women in turn. They were all channelers and they were all weaker in the One Power than her. Holding onto Saidar a woman could sense the strength in another female channeler though it was something seldom spoken of. The Amo’hra had masked some of her strength in the One Power since her task here in Shara had begun, so she was even more powerful than they ever knew. Glorying in that knowledge, and enjoying the wickedness of this necessary charade, it made her think back on her murder of the real Amo’hra months before. ● The woman’s dark eyes had widened in shock, her whole body going rigid as she had felt a thin but lethal weave of Saidar slice through her; her heart had constricted, internal bleeding beginning and respiration had stopped. A moment later her incredulous eyes had rolled up into her head and she had fallen dead to the ground. The false Amo’hra had cremated the body of the real ruler of the Ayyad and had taken her place. Using the Mirror of Mists, or Illusion - weaves of Saidar that gave her the exact same appearance - she had ‘lived’ and led as the Leader of the Ayyad, the society of female channelers in Shara, ever since. And no one suspected a thing, something which amused this woman greatly. ● The other assembled women, of different ages and sizes and temperaments, but all with short dark curly hair, dark eyes and the traditional facial tattoos, looked back at their leader with respect but also caution. She had a reputation for being fair but demanding (more so lately) and any dissention in the ranks would be hit hard. “As you all know, our glorious leader, our Sh'boan was assassinated recently”, she began. Her voice was hard but tinged with sadness. “We are deeply pained”, she lied. “Enemies of our nation are behind this atrocious act.” She added, hiding the real truth. “And this also means that the mission of the Ayyad has.. changed.” She looked at each woman around the table in turn, maintaining eye contact for a time, ensuring they were paying close attention. One of the women, an elderly lady with a scarred cheek and a blind eye, seemed about to say something but seeing the Amo’hra’s piercing stare she clamped her mouth shut. “We need to aid more directly in the protection of our glorious land”, the false Amo’hra proclaimed. “We will avenge this murder!” Her voice became louder, more emphatic. “No matter the cost.” “Our enemies will feel our Wrath!” Her dark eyes now blazed with fury. “And they will pay with blood!” A roar of approval! erupted from the seated women of the Ayyad. And they spoke as one! ● Gazing at her own reflection in the tall decorated mirror in her private chamber in the building a little later, the woman who to everyone appeared to be the Amo’hra, glorious Leader of the Ayyad, smiled with great amusement as she watched her face slowly, gradually change from that of Khraa’malia into.. someone else entirely. Short brown curly hair turned into long golden-brown hair falling around her shoulders in waves. Her eyes turned green the colour of emerald and her face became paler with a fair complexion. Her nose narrowed and her cheekbones became more prominent. She admired the face of the woman in her late twenties that now stared back at her as the weaves of the Mask of Mirrors dissipated. It was a beautiful face with few imperfections and one that certainly would stand out in crowds. And it had. Thinking back, the woman who had once been called Nemani Eradhil Dilmate, of Jalanda wondered at the long journey she had made. That time, that Age - oh how beautiful had been the colourful orchards of Stei’ha outside the suburbs of M'Jinn! - stayed in her mind even as she followed her orders in this new place which would never feel like home to her. Even so, she had important work to do for the Great Lord and the Shadow - and she had always prided herself on completing her given tasks. Their enemies would indeed pay in blood! Her green eyes sparkled like crystal emeralds - and the woman who long ago had named herself Silvahria laughed wickedly inside. ● Chapter Qariahna entered through the Mists on the hillside above the valley clad all in black, her long dark hair Shadowing the path behind her, the black painted stripes on her cheeks burning, her sparkling dark eyes Mirroring the Darkness slowly filling the valley floor. The thick fog, filled with substance but at the same time not, organic in its vastness and all-encompassing, was ominous as it spread its wings over beast and human alike, an unnatural smog that was almost impenetrable and which moved like an animal of prey low across the battlefield. She could see Nymeria on the opposing hillside, standing inside her shield-dome which shone like crystal ice, throwing Fire and Lightning down on the defenders below, intermittently seen in-between gaps in the darkness of the smog. Frowning as she did whenever she saw or thought of this woman, she swept her dark gaze over the valley and then focused on her task. Using Air and Earth, with a touch of Spirit she drove the Darkness forward, like a Storm of Shadow, Saidar blazing inside her as she fashioned the complex weaves. ● Wave upon wave.. Light meeting Darkness.. Fire burning the Skies as small threads are snipped from the Great Pattern.. And then.. Forming ancient weaves, long forgotten in this Time and Age, Qariahna, once called Caitriona Sandher Neidhar, of V’saine, throws a masked - invisible - spinning pillar of Saidar, a force on its own, at the defenders below, reveling in the hum of power it leaves behind, glorying in its unseen descent on the enemy, knowing it will stun. And destroy. ● Nymeria felt the strong weaves of Saidar from the other hillside, pushing into the unnatural smog that was slowly floating across the valley floor, and understood that Qariahna had arrived. She had been suspicious when Amaranth had informed her beforehand that Qariahna would be joining them today, but orders were orders and she did not dare question them. Yet. She frowned as she stared across the valley toward the woman dressed all in black on the other hillside. She had never felt that Qariahna was her equal, more a bothersome woman aiming above her skill level. A schemer who could disrupt Nymeria’s plans. And therefore someone she had to keep an eye on. Her attention returned to the valley below and the Aes Sedai defenders she could view through small gaps in the black smog. They were resilient, much more so than she had expected! Keeping her shield-dome intact, reveling in the Flames of Saidar running through her mind, she hurled more Fire and Lightning in their direction, drawing on the One Power through her ancient Angreal. ● Drawing more power through her ancient purple hairpin Angreal, triumphant in her perceived might, Qariahna almost approached the level where she would burn herself out. With great reluctance she stopped just in time, but the amount of Saidar she held unaided was only matched by that of Nymeria in this Age, of that she was pretty certain. The Angreal amplified her power satisfyingly though not for the first time she regretted not having her hands on the Meluahra. Through the small gaps in the deadly smog, the Aes Sedai in the valley below suddenly became aware of this new powerful channeling woman on the other hillside and felt through the link of Saidar that she was the one pushing the deadly fog across the valley floor. Splitting the circle into two parts, adjusting the shield-dome accordingly, several Battle Ajah Sedai kept throwing Fireballs at the powerful blond channeling woman on the hillside while the second group of Sisters focused on the new threat of the dark-haired channeling woman on the other side, throwing series of Lightning in her direction. Qariahna had built a shield-wall of Saidar around her, filled with Spirit and Air, making it harder than steel and several times as sturdy, and kept on channeling into the blackness in the valley, focusing her energy and thereby feeding that sliding ‘animal’ of death. ● Elessar kept on fighting valiantly until all strength was gone. Sidestepping thrusts and slashes, by axe and sword alike - deadly blades created in the dark forges of Thakan’dar and steel blades almost equally sharp and lethal - the Gaidin from Kandor moved in a fluent dance of the blade. He continued taking strength - both physical and mental - from his bondholder Calia as he disposed of several Trollocs and one Fade under the canopy of red-burning skies. Time almost seemed to stand still for him as he went through the unending motions, in varying combinations, imprinted in him over the years Swing. Move. Deflect. Attack. Move. Block. Swing. Deflect. Counterblow. his body acting almost of its own volition, keeping it up way past normal endurance, standing by Calia’s side and protecting her as she channeled the combined power and might of the circle of Aes Sedai. The black deadly unnatural smog came closer and closer, inching forwards on its lethal path, Shadows hiding within Shadows, but Aes Sedai managed to fight the darkness with light and the defenders cheered as white flame burned through the black mist in patches. Not everywhere and not at the same time, but even so it gave the defenders hope. Fire covered the sky with lightning bolts streaming in all directions as the defenders threw their combined might against the deadly smog and the powerful Shadow channelers up on the hillsides. The second woman on the opposite hillside had taken the Aes Sedai by surprise and now they had divided their attention toward both these powerful wielders of the One Power. Elessar had kept Calia’s back free of oncoming beasts and other threats so she could focus on channeling the might of her circle, and had tried to stay close to her. The shield-dome they had built of Saidar to withstand the Fireball- and Lightning attacks had nearly broken on several occasions but incredibly had held, a testament to the skill of these brave and valiant Aes Sedai. ● A soft southern wind made the banners on top of the city gates in Tar Valon ripple. Silver light from the moon high above shone down on the White Tower this midnight, breaking the darkness. Inside the White Tower, the corridors were silent. Sisters, Accepted and Novices were fast asleep in their beds. A few lights were still turned on in rooms where Sisters slept, for one reason or another, but for the most part all was dark. Not everyone had gone to sleep though. Far down in the hidden cellars beneath the Tower, in a small dusty chamber sparsely lit, the two young Aes Sedai stared at the White Tower Oath Rod as if looking at a viper. Their eyes were fearful and their souls cried out, but they knew they had no other choice. If they declined the ‘offer’ to join the Black Ajah and forswear their Oaths to the Light, they would be killed. There had been no doubt about that. Even so, the choice was IMPOSSIBLE and neither managed to meet the eyes of the four Black Sisters present. “It is time”, said the oldest of the four, a stern woman with some grey in her hair, showing her great age for an Aes Sedai, her voice harsh. She wore a red shawl around her shoulders and was a Red Sitter. “Swear your new Oaths”. ● She handed the Oath Rod to the youngest of the two, an Aes Sedai of only ten years. The rod was one of two in the White Tower, a Ter’angreal created millennia ago in the Age of Legends, smooth, ivory-white cylinder shaped, a foot long and wrist-thick with odd, cursive script carved on one flat end. It felt almost like glass, cool to the touch. Like its twin it was activated by a thin thread of Spirit added to the numeral that was carved into it. It was used when raising Accepted to Aes Sedai, upon which they were required to swear the Three Oaths, making them binding. Unbeknownst to most, the Black Ajah had found a way to break the Three Oaths, to remove them, and to swear new Oaths to the Shadow. This they could do while retaining the ageless Aes Sedai faces, a great benefit in their secret work to undermine and overturn the work of the White Tower. “Come on, then”, the Black Sister urged. There was clear impatience in her tone. Though it was unlikely anyone would come upon them down here, this was dangerous business and they did not want to linger here and risk getting caught. Tears were assembling in the White Sister’s eyes as she stared long at the Oath Rod in her hands, viewing it as if it were a deadly viper. All her Aes Sedai composure was gone. Her hands started shaking. “I CANNOT!” “I CANNOT BETRAY THE LIGHT!” Her screams were desperate and tears were flowing now. Her Soul cried out in pain. “CREATOR, PLEASE HELP ME!!” “Stop whining like a child!” This from another of the Black Sisters. “Behave like an Aes Sedai. And do what you came here to do.” The young Aes Sedai sat with her face in her hands for a while until she dried her eyes and met their gazes again. Breathing hard, still trembling slightly, she tried to regain Aes Sedai calm. Her eyes though were still those of a cornered animal. She knew deep inside that she had no choice, a harsh truth, and in the end she accepted her fate. She hated herself for doing it, her Soul crying out in anguish, but she finally spoke the words that bound her to the Dark One, her new Great Lord of the Dark. ● Her voice was barely a whisper but the words she spoke were binding. With each word she felt her Soul shrivel, felt the Darkness consuming her until she was empty of emotion, almost a Dead shell. “I will not betray the Great Lord and will keep my secrets until the hour of my death.” “I will not betray the identity of any Sister of the Shadow, or else slay me down in death.” “I will not kill or harm any Sister of the Shadow and will obey all commands by the Great Lord.” ● A soft resonance or vibration came from the Oath Rod as her old Oaths were removed from her being and replaced by her new binding Oaths to the Shadow. She felt the change in her body and soul and knew it was done. Looking down at the stone floor beneath her, her eyes lost their passion and life. “Good, it is done”, said the oldest Black Sister. “We welcome, you, Sister.” Her eyes glittered dangerously though not unkindly. “Now you”, she indicated the slightly older Green Sister, an Aes Sedai of twenty years, handing her the Oath Rod. This woman seemed just as reluctant, almost losing her grip on the Oath Rod, but having seen the other Sister’s plight and seeing the stone-hard look on the Black Sisters’ faces she quickly lost the will to fight and she too accepted her new destiny, swearing the new Oaths, part of her dying inside. The older Black Sisters nodded and she too was welcomed into their midst. When it was done, they all left the chamber behind, taking the Oath Rod with them. It was to be placed back in the artefact-chamber several levels up. The Amyrlin must never know that it had been removed, and certainly not that it was being used to swear new Oaths to the Shadow. Faint Echoes of Darkness were all that remained when they were gone. ● Twilight was close, with darkness slowly descending over southern Saldaea, as Argam closed the door to their farmhouse and went inside to find his daughter. Sandana had been kind of quiet lately, thoughtful, which was not normal for her. Picking her up he held her close as she buried her face in his chest. “I love you Papa”, she mumbled into his shirt and he ruffled her hair lovingly. “I love you too, sweetheart”, he replied and the words as always burned themselves into his memory. She held onto him for long moments, as she always did, and then slipped out of his embrace and down to the floor. He smiled as he watched her head across to the cupboard for some of her toys. She had recently turned seven years but was still the lovable young child he had always loved more than life itself. Now, though, he thought something troubled her but it was something she did not want to talk about. How was he to make her tell him what was the matter? She could be stubborn when she wanted to and then no coaxing or persuasion would make her speak. It was not in him to be disciplinary with her. She was a kind child and an honest one. “Sweetheart”, he began softly. “Is something bothering you?” “No, Papa”, she replied equally softly. “Are you sure?” he added carefully “Yes, Papa.” Wondering what next step to take, he waited for a while before speaking again. “Sweetheart”, he started. “Is there then something you are wondering about?” This time Sandana did not reply straight away and her father took notice of it. “Can I help you explain something perhaps?” ● Now Sandana turned toward him, put her toys aside. Tears started flowing in her eyes and Argam hurriedly walked across to her and picked her up. “Sweetheart”, he mumbled, “what is the problem? Don’t cry. Don’t cry.” Holding her tight, he made her feel safe and gradually the tears stopped. When she was calmer he put her down on the floor and sat down beside her. “Please tell me what the problem is and I will help. I promise.” His voice was kind and loving and she held onto his arm for courage. Finally she spoke and her voice was almost a whisper. “Papa, make the symbol-thing stop hurting me.” “Symbol-thing? What do you mean, sweetheart.” She saw the puzzled look in her father’s eyes and whispered some more. “Please talk to me. What is troubling you, Sandana?” “The symbol-thing.” She pointed at a hand-sized circular object made of a strange dark material on the cupboard. “It hurts me.” ● Argam stared at the object in confusion. It was Sandana’s favourite object in the whole world. A family heirloom, passed down in his family over generations. They did not know what it was exactly or its function but his mother had told him to keep it safe, believing it was of value. He had often wondered what the strange symbols meant but had never found any answers. How could the object hurt his daughter? Was this one of her fantasies? “How can it hurt you, sweetheart?” He added carefully. “It is your favourite thing after all.” “Not anymore, Papa.” Her voice was soft as a whisper but he heard her. “Not anymore.” Giving his daughter a big hug, telling her again how much he loved her, he stepped across the room and picked up the object from the cupboard. Holding it in his hands, he studied the mysterious symbols again and they made no more sense to him now than before. How could this object in any way be dangerous? Taking the object with him he sat down in his chair and ran his fingers across its dark brown surface. The surface was rugged in places, smooth in places and there was no way to open it in case there was anything inside. He shook it but heard no sound. Frowning as he stared down at the object, his gaze shifted back to his daughter. “How did it hurt you, sweetheart?” He asked. He did not know if she would answer but she did. “I was just holding it, Papa”, Sandana said in a somber voice. “And then suddenly something happened.. and it burned me.” ● Looking more closely at the object, turning it around he studied the strange symbols that ran all around its circumference. He tried pressing various parts but nothing happened. Perhaps it is her imagination after all, he thought to himself, as he continued pressing but just then.. suddenly, he felt a burning sensation in his hand and then the circular object started glowing! A silvery white glow surrounded it and there was a humming sound in the air. Sandana turned to look at the object with wide children’s eyes, half afraid, half curious.. While her gob smacked father dropped the object and stared at it in disbelief! WHAT IS HAPPENING!? ● The object rolled a little on the floor and then stopped. As they both stared it at, fascinated but also a little fearfully, the silver glow surrounding it slowly dissipated until it was gone altogether. Argam waited for a full minute to be safe that nothing more would happen, but then, Carefully picking the object up, he studied it anew in great detail before placing it on the table before him. “What is it, Papa?” Sandana finally asked, her voice soft and a little uncertain, eying the object carefully. “I don’t know, sweetheart” he replied honestly. “I really don’t know.” But there is certainly more to it than we have ever guessed, he added to himself. That was for certain. What is this, that my family has kept hidden for generations? Darkness filled the region, everything cloaked by Night, by the time Argam stopped staring at the mysterious object he had inherited and finally went to bed, enjoying a dreamless sleep. ● In the battle near the Plain of Lances, south of the barren Blight, Light and Darkness struggled for victory. At one point, in the midst of the relentless assault, a sudden rupture echoed through the air. For an instant everything quivered as if suspended in the grip of an unseen force. Elessar felt a moment of uncertainty and surprise coming through the bond from Calia, echoing his own. What is this!? Light! ● At a later point, Elessar was thrown back as a powerful and deadly weave SLAMMED into the protective shield. This time he was unable to get to his feet again, exhausted and aching. Fumbling for his sword, his bloodied fancloak crushed beneath him, he lay in a daze as explosions continued around him, feeling Calia close by but any emotion from the bond was drowned in the chaos of war. The throb of pain in his side made him wince but he tried to ignore it as he attempted to drag himself to safety. Finally he managed to do so - or did someone drag him? He could not quite say.. - and opened his eyes to the world. Strands of dark hair covered his bloodied cheeks and his right hand was broken or so he thought. Dust was everywhere, dust and the stench of death. He thought he heard someone speak his name, it seemed from afar, but he could not be certain. His thoughts were foggy and nothing seemed real. It seemed the explosions had stopped and a deadly silence now lay over the battlefield but it could be that it was only his imagination. When he finally saw a familiar face lean over him and hold him close, he recognized Calia’s blue eyes and concerned face and a small smile came upon his lips - she was alive and well! Soon though he felt dizziness grabbing him, he started drifting and finally lost consciousness, descending into a well of blackness. ● Amaranth watched - and waited. In the distance Lightning danced across the sky, Fireballs slashing through the smog and mist that covered much of the valley. He saw Nymeria in her crystal ice shield-dome on one hillside, and Qariahna in a darker shield-dome on the other. Both were sending deadly weaves down upon the Aes Sedai, Warders and Kandori fighters on the valley floor. The defenders had survived much longer than Amaranth had anticipated, and though he would never admit it to anyone, they had underestimated the power of Aes Sedai circles. These.. children.. were craftier than had been expected. It was a lesson learned. Never underestimate your opponents. He had known as much back in what he always had thought of as his real world.. in that different Age of which this one was only a poor reflection.. but here, in this time, in this place, it was so easy to underestimate. How can I not do so, in this place where nothing and no one is the same as it once were? Staring at the enveloping blackness swallowing the air and light, a Wall of Shadow pressing against their enemy, his violet eyes tightened. These.. children.. know nothing of what we could do, what we could create, what we could accomplish! What we did accomplish! They know nothing. Holding onto the powerful black Sa’angreal staff, feeling the torrent that was Saidin inside him - the Storm that was his essence, his Soul - he rejoiced in the feeling of power and near invincibility but at the same time held a tight grip on the One Power, the avalanche that always threatened to overpower him. It was a question of control and release; embracing the Storm but at the same time fighting it. I am the Storm. And now he had to keep the storm at bay. For he had his orders. And this battle was not important enough to disclose the full power of the Shadow. He had been ordered not to play a further part in this battle with the Aes Sedai and the Kandori. Just to be a bystander. And though he yearned to crush the remaining forces of Light in this valley, he held back and let Qariahna and Nymeria throw their combined power at the defenders. ● The black poisonous smog crept further along the valley floor, like a deadly predator on the prowl, fed by Qariahna’s powerful weaves of Saidar, while Nymeria attacked the Aes Sedai ferociously from the other side, throwing avalanches of Fire and Lightning at them. The Valley was reflected in Dancing Shadows. ● Nymeria was tiring though and realized she would not be able to keep it up much longer. Cursing inside at the combined linked power of these so-called Aes Sedai, she tried to alter some of her battle-weaves but somehow the shield-wall these.. these.. children.. had managed to create stopped her Fire and Lightning. It was humiliating. She was tempted to draw even more of the One Power through the Angreal, surrendering to that glorious ocean within that was Saidar, but stopped herself. I will burn myself out! I cannot let that happen! Her blue eyes shot daggers at the defenders in the valley below. Light suddenly flared above her! And Lightning SLAMMED into her shield-dome, making it crackle with power, but it held as on so many occasions before. ● Taking a moment to solidify the shield-dome, she adjusted her weaves. Increasing Spirit and adding Earth and Air, she tied it off and breathed easier. Blasted Aes Sedai! Gathering herself, she drew on Saidar as much as she could, and then using a combination of ancient weaves forgotten in this Age she formed a sapphire-glowing sphere that kept growing in size until it almost was the size of her dome. The sphere pulsated with power and Nymeria tied off the weaves. Smiling darkly to herself, with her last strength she directed the glowing sphere toward the Aes Sedai below with all her might! She was pleased to see it EXPLODE into the defences below - YES! - , killing several dozen brave Kandori archers and seriously wounding a few Warders, as well as partially shattering the shield-dome though it still somehow stood. The effort had taken most of her remaining strength, though, and she fell to her knees with a loud sigh, holding onto the shield with the last of her power and strength. ● Several Dreadlords in black cloaks came running to her aid now and this time she accepted their help. They added their strength to hers, weaves of Saidar burning, and kept the shield-dome as strong as ever. One of the women, of prominent age with some silver in her hair despite her smooth Aes Sedai-features who was wearing a Brown shawl tucked in beneath her cloak, looked worriedly at her, knowing that Nymeria had pressed herself too far. She needed time to gather her strength. “Great Mistress”, she spoke with reverence. “You need to withdraw and regain your strength.” Nymeria started to object but the older woman held up her hand. “You will have greater battles to fight for the Great Lord.” And Nymeria knew it to be true, however bitter it felt. Climbing slowly to her feet, leaning on the Brown Sister’s shoulder, she stared down into the valley and saw that the black smog had dispersed in places and so parts of the valley floor were visible now. Even as she watched she saw weaves of Light burn through Dark patches, White flames conquering the Black fog. In other places the smog was too powerful to be overcome and drove the defenders backwards on the ground. It came to her then. This was a stalemate, a battle neither side would win. That was the truth. A bitter truth but truth nonetheless. More important battles awaited as the Last Battle loomed in the distance. ● Qariahna kept throwing Lightning at the Aes Sedai shield, at the same time pouring power into the black smog. Her own shield shook as powerful weaves SLAMMED into it from below, the circle of Aes Sedai now fighting on two fronts, but it held. Even so, she was surprised at the combined power of these Aes Sedai women though deep inside she was highly uncertain if they were even worthy of the name. She remembered her life in that other place, that other Age, that had been her home.. It felt a lifetime ago. Those Aes Sedai women had been powerful! They had been worthy of grudging respect however much she had despised them at the end. These were but a poor reflection. Even so, they were craftier than she had expected, or perhaps luckier, and it was clear to her that this was not a battle easily won. She felt as much as saw the black smog weakening in places, white flames conquering the darkness, and pushed as much of her energy as possible into the living darkness to keep it alive. She saw Kandori soldiers falling to their deaths below the deadly fog which now snaked forwards only five or so feet above ground, saw Warders struggle to stay free of it while Aes Sedai threw battle-weaves at it. Lightning broke through the blackness and fire streamed above it in a chaos of death and destruction. Another Fireball SLAMMED into her shield and almost broke through, throwing Qariahna backwards several feet. Blast! Picking herself up, her dark eyes blazing with anger, she maintained the shield and added some new weaves to strengthen it. Combining weaves in a complex fashion, she threw a huge Fireball at one group of the Aes Sedai and was triumphant to see it SLAM into their shield, throwing several Sisters to the ground. Take that, blasted Aes Sedai! ● The battle of power between the forces of Light and Shadow in this valley in north-eastern Saldaea continued for a long time that day before silence finally cloaked the battlefield and the surrounding region. It was a deadly silence, a silence born of futility and of realization. For it became clear for all that neither side would be able to conquer this day. ● When the Shadowspawn started retreating from the battlefield, Trollocs following Myrddraal in what can be best described as a semi-orderly fashion, the remaining Kandori fighters cheered as if victory had been achieved. The Aes Sedai and Warders, however, knew better. Elessar, still feeling as if a mountain had fallen on top of him but at least awake again and feeling better after some Healing and tender care and attention by his bondholder Calia, was just glad the battle was over. It had been the hardest battle of his life. And most importantly, they had survived. This battle had ended a stalemate, a draw with neither side winning. He knew it was so and so did Calia. So did also the other Aes Sedai who also knew that linking their power in a circle was what had saved them this day. Individually, with no more Sisters than were present, they would have stood no chance against these very powerful Darkfriend channelers. More battles would be fought before the Last Battle, the one to end them all, and everyone needed to be ready for that. But for now they had survived and had fought the Shadow as hard and valiantly as possible. There had been losses though, grave losses, as was sadly always the case in war, especially of brave Kandori soldiers and archers of whom only a handful were left alive. Those few, however would return proudly to their homeland, knowing they had sacrificed everything for the Light. ● Soon the enemy channelers up on the hillsides were gone from sight too, withdrawing into the Mists like Shadow phantoms. The Watcher with the staff also disappeared in the distance, becoming one with the surrounding Dust. And finally the last of the Shadowspawn were no longer in sight. All that was left were small areas of the valley floor still darkened by parts of deadly smog slowly dissipating, and the smell and stink of death that covered the entire valley. Some Aes Sedai had been removing corpses for a while, burying them beneath the soil and dirt and earth, and so the valley was no longer littered with flesh and blood though the stink still remained. Elessar was pretty certain that this patch of land would not give way to any growth any time soon, however. This place had seen too much death. And blood. ● Before leaving the battleground that day, all the survivors gathered to pay tribute to the Fallen. The Captain-General of the Battle Ajah spoke warmly of honour and duty to the assembled Kandori soldiers, Aes Sedai and Warders watching silently, heads bowed. The names of the Fallen would be remembered, she promised - those valiant and brave men and women who had given their lives in the Fight against the Shadow. “We honour you”, she said in a proud, strong voice as the tribute was coming to an end. “May you Shelter in the palm of the Creator's hand, and may the Last Embrace of the Mother Welcome you Home.” ● “So why did we withdraw?” Qariahna enquired again a little angrily. She looked at Amaranth across the marble table, an impatient look in her dark eyes. She had removed the black stripes down her chin (“war paint” as Amaranth teasingly called it) and had changed into clean clothes. Her dress was emerald-green and showed a fair amount of cleavage and she wore one of her favourite necklaces. “This is not the major battle”, Amaranth replied coldly, running a hand through his neck-long blond hair. “We must preserve our strength for what is to come.” He sipped from his wine while meeting Qariahna’s angry stare. He glanced at her cleavage and grinned inside. She had always enjoyed exposing herself. And he had always enjoyed looking at her. She finally looked away but he could see that her anger was still present, her cheeks reddening. Nymeria frowned though she had agreed with the decision. She had been ready to withdraw on her own, out of necessity, when Amaranth’s order had arrived. Even so, she was displeased. “So this was all a.. test of sorts, is that right?” Her voice was cold too and disapproving and her blue eyes narrowed. She had not touched the wine glass before her, wanting to be clear-headed this day. She was still feeling somewhat drained from the battle-exertions and hating that she still felt tired. She smoothed her blue silk dress beneath the table, savouring the feeling of silk beneath her fingers. Then she touched the sapphire ring on her right ring finger affectionately. It was special to her, in more ways than one - and brought back ancient memories. Of Emar Dal. “If you wish to think of it that way”, Amaranth replied smoothly, his violet eyes sparkling, “then do so.” ● He met her gaze as he placed his wine glass carefully back on the table. “We do as the Great Lord orders. Here and elsewhere.” His voice was cold again. “He is satisfied with the deaths we provided this day. And the lessons we learned.” Lessons, yes! Qariahna stared silently at Amaranth for a long moment, trying to hide her dislike for this man. He appeared calm but she was certain he would be holding onto Saidin. She wondered if he ever let go of it. Then her gaze shifted slowly to Nymeria. She weighed them both in her mind, wondering which one she would have to kill one day to become the First Servant of the Great Lord. It will be him. Always him. Nymeria saw Qariahna’s glare from across the table and glared back, flushing angrily. Keep your fingers off my schemes, slut! She held onto Saidar and sensed the other woman was doing the same. There was no trust there - and never would be. What kept them from each other’s throats was Amaranth who smiled with mild amusement as he watched these two very dangerous women glowering at each other. Taking another long sip from his red wine - a poor reflection of the magnificent wines from the orchards of Co’isanne that he remembered fondly from his distant youth - he wondered which of the two was the most cunning. The most powerful. The most lethal. Perhaps one day he would find out. They both had their uses. For now. And the Great Lord was pleased with their work. For now. ● “There are new orders for us all.” Amaranth added after a while. Both women eyed him closely now, noticing the slight change in his voice. Symbols in gold ran down the sleeves of his black cloak and the symbols changed even as they watched. He held his hands out before him, palms up as he rose from the high-backed chair. “The Day of Return is soon upon us!” There was passion in his voice now, passion and hard determination. Tiny threads of Saidin danced on his palms like minuscule streams of blue Lightning and his violet eyes shone as he added in a loud, exultant voice, spreading his arms wide !C A R A I A N S I D A M A! The chamber reverberated with power and energy, echoes of thunder in the distance. Qariahna and Nymeria rose from their high-backed chairs and, ignoring their mutual animosity for a moment, they moved to stand beside Amaranth. Their eyes were blazing, their expressions enraptured in expectant Triumph. Amaranth smiled broadly - and then, with a quick glance at each of the other two Chosen - for CHOSEN they were to Rule the World Forever - he embraced the True Power, the source of energy that came directly from the Great Lord of the Dark and which could only be wielded with the Great Lord’s permission. Glorying in the euphoric power he now had at his disposal, he kept a tight control on it, knowing that carelessness could be very dangerous. !K I S E R A I! Speaking words in a language that had not been spoken for millennia, the First Servant of the Great Lord, the First among the Chosen, Amaranth channeled the True Power - dark weaves forming in intricate patterns as the runes on the marble table started changing - and a dark Mist slowly materialized before them as their eyes widened in elation. It was a Shadow unlike any other, swirling like a wind in an ocean of Darkness, black like the deepest Night, moving as if alive, meandering in unending twists and arcs until the Ancient Symbol was formed: ●●● ●●●● ●●●●●● ▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀ ▀▀▀ ▀ The FLAME of AXION Under this Symbol shall He Conquer In Fire and Flame Strength in Shadows! Burning His way to Victory Feasting on Blood Glory in Shadows! Walking the path Foreordained Screaming in Souls Triumph in Shadows! Bow before the Great Lord! Rejoice in His Power Beg for your Salvation! From The Prophecies of the Shadow 302 NE, the 3rd Age Author unknown ▀▄
  14. .. The Deceiver of Hope .. ►▼◄ Prologue SCREAMS of Terror run through the streets of the burning city of Comelle Adanzan like a Whirlwind borne of Shadow. “All hope is lost!” “Death has come upon us!” “Death!” The screams echo down one street and up another, mingling with explosions and fires in buildings just destroyed. A frail brown-haired young man, blood pouring down his face and with his one arm hanging limp at his side, his eyes horror-stricken from having seen too much death and destruction, cries out to nobody. “He has betrayed us! The General has betrayed us!” He stumbles and falls face first onto the dusty and bloodied cobblestones, nearly breaking his nose and bruising his cheeks. Slightly dazed and with some effort he climbs to his feet but is almost trampled by the mass of frantic people running in panic from the gates. He stares back for a long moment and in the distance sees the guards fighting for their lives before the main gates to the city. “Oh Light, we have no chance now!” His breath catches in his throat as he sees the gates finally come crashing down, armoured beasts streaming into the city followed by legions of men. He cannot see the General but he knows he is there. The Traitor. ● “Run!!” He screams desperately to a couple of tear-stricken children who stand with torn clothes and bruised faces before a half-destroyed blacksmith shop off to the side. There is panic in their eyes, shock in their faces, and they are too stunned to move. “Run, children. Run!” His voice is near hysterical as he screams at them to escape. Finally they are brought out of their state of shock. They take one tentative step, then another.. and then they disappear around a corner hand in hand. The young man brushes tears from his eyes, hoping against hope that they will make it. ● Blood fills the street and the stench of death fills the air as the minions of the Shadow crush all opposition on their inevitable surge toward the centre of the city. A platoon of city guards fight the beasts valiantly but, disorganized and leaderless, they are no match for the intruders. Further back an armoured black-cloaked figure walks slowly, confidently, imperiously along the street and then suddenly stops, gazing westward. The General - and former Commander of the city garrison - Amir Tavaneh Vendahlin - feels weaves of Saidin being channelled but some way off. He nods to himself, knowing what it means. He takes in the scene before him. Dead bodies lie everywhere, citizens and people now bereft of life. Blood flowing in streams, mingling with the dirt and the dust. Buildings barely standing on both sides of the street. Destruction everywhere. Nodding contentedly he starts off again, but only fifty or so steps later is stopped by a small noise. He turns sidewise and suddenly spots a little scruffy girl with long brown hair and bloodied legs who is holding hard onto her doll. She is crying and her big brown eyes stare fearfully at him as he bends down to look her in the eye. She shivers with fear, feeling wetness on her leg, as his hand touches her cheek. An unreadable look passes across his face, then he says, with passion in his voice, passion mingled with harshness, “Little one, this is a day of Death. You should be long gone.” The little girl looks back at his hard face, her eyes wider than before, and starts sobbing even louder. Finally she speaks, but in such a soft tone of voice that the General almost does not hear. He leans down and hears the words. “My bb-rother is dead. They tt-took him. There is no more hh-hope” she says , her eyes watering. “No hope at all.” For you that is true, the General thinks. For those Lightfools too. Yes, this is the beginning of the end. Great Lord, it is begun. The man who the angered citizens had named Amaranth, the Deceiver of Hope, stares intensely into the smoke-filled distance, eyes pensive and intense, as the child crumples to the ground before him. It is begun. ● The dark-cloaked man continues walking down the burning street, ignoring the carnage and the clouds of smoke rising from countless buildings. People flee when they see him, screams of horror and death in their wake. He ignores it all as he heads toward a half-standing building on the right side of what had been a central city street. Pushing a half-destroyed door inwards he enters the remnants of the building and stops. In the adjoining room he hears voices and heads in that direction. Inside the large room, behind an overturned desk and a damaged shelf that had fallen from the wall, he finds two figures; a shabby-looking man in a dusty grey travelling cloak with greasy brown hair, dark eyes and several scars on his cheeks, looking down at an older woman on the floor who is simply dressed with short blond hair -now streaked red with blood- and a plump face. “She has broken her Oath, Great Master.” The man says angrily as he kneels before the General, facing downwards. “She admits as much. Two of our people were arrested by the city watch three days ago. One of them was executed yesterday.” The General looks down at the woman for a long time, his face twisted in fury. Finally Amaranth speaks, his voice emotionless. “She will be silenced.” ● The young Friend of the Dark nods, his eyes still fixed on the floor. “Oathbreakers are traitors to the Shadow”, Amaranth adds coldly. “The Great Lord will feast on their souls.” Commanding the young man to stand, the other does so but averts his eyes. “Look at me.” The General orders. The young man’s eyes turn slowly to stare into the older man’s. He swallows hard. What he sees before him is a very tall man in his forties with short black hair, a beak of a nose and dark brown eyes that are intense and bespeak of power and intelligence. Those eyes meet his now in a no-nonsense manner. He swallows again. Had the General not used the Mask of Mirrors, a spell of Illusion, upon his servant, what the other would have seen was a very handsome man in his early thirties, medium tall with piercing violet eyes, high cheekbones and neck-long blond-brown hair. As it is, the Friend of the Dark stares into those dark eyes of his Master only for a few seconds before shifting his gaze slightly. “Are you loyal, young man?” Amaranth’s voice is hard. “Yes, Great Master!” He replies in a strong voice. “You never have to doubt my loyalty”. The General nods once. Then he looks down at the crouching woman. “You broke your Oath to the Great Lord”, he says in a voice as cold as death. “You informed on your brothers to the authorities. “ “I have returned to the Light.” She whimpers, her hands twitching. “I can no longer live with betrayal of the Light. Dear Creator, help me!” “Traitors such as you deserve death.” Amaranth’s voice is now deadly. “The Great Lord will have you.” Without ceremony he bends down and touches her forehead, Saidin at his fingertips, and sends a tiny stream of Fire right into her brain. A small stream of blood runs from the deadly head wound; the old Friend of the Dark woman is dead before her head hits the floor. Turning back to face the young man, he indicates the dead body. “This is what happens to traitors to the Shadow. Let our brethren know the price of betrayal.” It is a command and the young man bends the knee again before the General, nodding his understanding. “Yes, Great Master.” ● Once he is alone in the room, Amaranth remains standing in silence for a while. Traitors. Betrayers. He clenches his fists in anger and pushes the overturned desk further out of his way with the One Power. We cannot have such cowards in our midst. Then his eyes move to the fireplace at the other end of the room. Logs are stacked inside the fireplace for use and he channels to get the fire blazing. Standing before the orange-red flames, listening to the fire now crackling, he notices the wood soon broken like twigs in a storm. That Storm mirrors the storm without, the storm within, and the Storm of war and destruction in this city and all other cities where the fight against the Light has recently begun. His thoughts turn inwards as he remembers the accusations levelled at him. “Deceiver of Hope!” “Traitor!” They named me well, those Lightfools, and I embraced the name they gave me. For I did deceive the citizens of this once so proud city, I did carry the Shadow into the heart of it. Oh yes. And I would do the same again. For Immortality and Glory. Fire Did they think I didn’t know what I was doing? Oh I knew - and I conquered! Storm Those others, those self-glorified arrogant men and women in their precious Hall of Servants, they always thought they knew best; they never listened to voices of dissent telling the truth of the decay of our society, voices of reason, voices of respect, voices of power, but now they will feel our wrath. My wrath! Chaos Hope has blossomed in the world as the Wheel has Turned, but I will Deceive all Hope, my naming will be true. That I promise! The intense and hateful look in Amaranth’s now violet eyes would have given even the staunchest warrior pause. There was intelligence there, brilliance of strategy, and an inner fire of purpose and determination. And the Fire in the World blazed on in what historians would later call the War of Power; the Past and Present blending in a Moment of Epiphany. ● Chapter A Wall of Air and Fire SLAMMED into Nymeria’s shield-dome and almost destroyed it, flinging her twenty feet backwards on the rise. All breath knocked out of her, strands of her smudged golden hair hiding the bruises on her cheek, she took several moments before she was able to get her bearings. Lying on her side, her back aching from hitting the rocks behind, dirt stinging her skin, she ignored the pain. Anger was building inside her, an avalanche of fury rising at this.. this humiliation. Climbing slowly to her feet, steadying herself, her dark eyes swivelled in the direction of the Aes Sedai on the battlefield below and shot daggers at the women standing in line. Cursed Aes Sedai! They linked in a circle! That is the only way they could manage this. None of them are as strong in the One Power as I. Not even near. The thoughts rushed through her head as she gathered herself, brushing the strands of hair away from her face but ignoring her now dirtied dress. She drew on Saidar, using her powerful Angreal for added strength, and hardened the shield-dome with added touches of Air and Fire. One of the Dreadlords came hurriedly toward her on the rise, black cloak swerving around her in the soft breeze, but Nymeria waved her away impatiently. She would deal with this on her own! Drawing as much of the One Power as she could without burning herself out, Flames of Saidar running through her mind in Rivers of power, Nymeria - once called Sirahna Mar Devirahn, of Emar Dal - raised her arms to the Heavens and Death followed in its wake. ● Samos fought for his life. The rough hand pressing down hard on his face made it hard for him to breathe. And to think. His survival instinct took over and he reached desperately for the knife he kept at his bed side table. He could not reach it! With his other arm he tried to push at the face of the shadow above him but the figure was large and strong. The blue eyes of his would-be killed sparkled again in the near-darkness. Samos tried again to push him away, his fingers clawing at the other man’s face, but the man was too strong. Panic entered Samos’s eyes, his vision was becoming blurred, and he felt his lungs about to burst from lack of air. He kicked out with his feet and managed to get the figure slightly off balance. The hand over his face slipped for a moment and Samos sucked in welcome air and then took the opportunity afforded him to grab the bed-side knife and stab the attacking man in the side with it. The large man grunted in pain and Samos thrust the knife inwards, kicking out at the man again, cursing inside. Taking large breaths, his vision soon returned to normal. He pushed again at the man above him and managed to dislodge himself and rolled out of the bed, slumping onto the floor. Crawling away from the bed before the attacker was able to grab him again, Samos found the second knife that he hid in his clothes and threw it at the man by the bed. Either his aim was excellent or luck was with him, for the knife embedded itself in the large man’s right blue eye which did not sparkle anymore. He slumped onto the bed, dead. ● Samos caught his breath and his pulse gradually slowed. His eyes were still wide though as he looked through the near-darkness for any additional enemies though he somehow knew there would be none. Climbing to his feet he walked slowly toward the bed, lit a lamp and looked down at the body, turning it over. The assassin looked ordinary in every way with the kind of face and features that would fit in any crowd. Perhaps that was what made him the perfect assassin. Samos spat at him, angry at this near-assassination. Who had sent this man to kill him? Who would dare!? Samos would find out if it were the last thing he ever did! ● Qariahna touched the Khi’dara reverently. It was a three-dimensional crystal object triangular in shape with swirling colours of blue and violet. It was warm to the touch and it gave her thrills just touching it. Staring into its colourful depths she felt she was floating.. and like many times before she felt the object was.. reaching for her. She could not explain it any other way. It was.. calling to her. And the One Power responded. Embracing Saidar always made the.. pull stronger. It was an ancient Ter’angreal brought from another time and place - and she had been ordered not to use it. But she could not resist the temptation to learn what its function was. All she knew was that it was somehow connected to dreams and Tel’aran’rhiod. Anything having to do with the World of Dreams had always fascinated her and so she found it worth it to take this risk though she knew she was walking a very dangerous path. Placing the object carefully on the huge marble table before her, she gazed at it excitedly, almost lovingly, only daring to touch it as she held onto the One Power. She had used it once, but she still could not remember how she had done it. She had tried a few weaves of Saidar and suddenly the object had responded, in a brilliant flash of light with a humming sound, bridging the real world and Tel’aran’rhiod in less than a second. But it had not been the World of Dreams as she knew it, rather an alternate, different version of it. Which she did not think should be possible. Almost as soon as she had been transported into this new reality, she had been brought back, falling dazed to the floor. And not remembering what exactly she had done to.. activate the object. Amaranth had somehow learned of this episode though and had berated her. Thankfully the Great Lord had not sensed it, though that seemed surprising to Qariahna since he was touching the world more and more with every month. She was tempted to give it another try but changed her mind, the swirling colours within the Khi’dara making her think twice. Picking up the crystal object delicately she placed it in a silk covering and then carried it to the closet where she kept it well hidden. Using weaves of Saidar akin to Illusion she then hid the entire closet from sight and only when she was done did she breathe normally again. Later that afternoon, under an azure-blue sky, she left her house in the outskirts of Maradon - the home she kept secret from everyone and even the Queen - and rode back to the Cordamora Palace to continue her duties as Arihna Gharam, Aes Sedai advisor to the Queen of Saldaea. On the way she murdered the Queen’s second cousin, a High Lady of seeming no importance, but she did as she had been ordered, leaving the body headless and mutilated. ● When THUNDER roared both above and below ground, the Blast of Power starting from the end of the valley and whirling forwards like a Storm threw Elessar backwards on the battlefield and he crashed to the ground amidst some Kandori soldiers. The Fade he had been fighting was gone from sight. As was Calia. The roaring sound seemed to go on forever - but finally it stopped. In the deadening silence that followed the Gaidin tried to find his bearings. He was lying on his back, stones, rocks and other debris digging into his muscles. The heavens were still orange-red and even yellow in places but silent now. Elessar shook his head and tried to climb to his feet. Through the bond he felt Calia some way off. How had they been separated? She seemed relatively fine was his impression - and alive. That was what counted the most! He finally staggered to his feet and looked for the enemy. A little off to the side Trollocs were gaining their feet too, as were several Fades. He saw three Aes Sedai standing close to one another and a few Warders too. He could not see Calia but dust and smog now filled much of the valley floor, in a shroud of surrounding chaos, and it was difficult to see anything beyond twenty feet or so. For long moments it was as if waking in a dream of dust and desolation. ● Balls of light then lit up the battlefield, streaming through the smog and dust, and Elessar was able to get a better idea of the situation. He saw the Trollocs gathering under the command of the Myrddraal some way off to this right while up on the rise the golden-haired woman he had seen earlier, still enlarged by Illusion, stared balefully down at the battlefield. Soon she threw fire down on the troops, deadly streams of orange and red, and the Warder sensed intuitively that she was mighty powerful with the One Power. Several Aes Sedai were gathering off to his left, and some of them seemed to be staring at the golden-haired channeler in the distance, and he felt Calia in that direction too though he could still not see her. Suddenly he felt danger approaching from behind, his Warder instincts alerting him, and turned just in time to avoid the Myrddraal’s deadly blade! Bringing up his sword, he parried the Fade’s swings and then smoothly entered his sword forms, forms that were as much a part of him as his blade. The Fade hissed through its jagged teeth as Elessar attacked it again and again. And then of a sudden a boar-tusked Trolloc appeared out of nowhere on his left, saliva running from its snarling mouth, and attacked with its huge war-axe! It took all of Elessar’s skill and experience to defend proficiently against both these enemies at the same time. He entered a Dance of Death. Attack. Block. Move. Swing. Deflect. Attack. Deflect. Counterblow. Again and again. ● He tried to ignore the growing tiredness, and pain from his earlier wounds, as he parried slashes and thrusts and kept out of the Shadowspawn’s reach but was tiring gradually and understood he would struggle to keep this up for long. He hoped Calia was nearby and would feel his predicament through the bond. Sidestepping out of the way of an incoming strike the Gaidin swept his blade in low and blocked an attack, then counter-attacked. Coming inside the Trolloc’s guard he slashed hard and felt his blade bite into the beast’s side, then he quickly moved out of its retaliation range, pleased to see the huge beast staggering. Facing the Myrddraal now Elessar tried a few tentative moves, back and forth, mostly trying to conserve his energy. But then of a sudden he quickly reversed his grip on his sword, his blade snapping back in a way that was previously impossible. He ducked low and spun underneath the Fade’s black blade, thrusting into its side, and got back on his feet in one fluid motion. It was an improvised move which only highly skilled swordsmen would be able to execute, but Elessar knew he needed his dynamic proficient skill to survive this battle now that he was weakened. Back and forth their dance flowed, thrusting and parrying, attacking and spinning out of range and moving swiftly from stance to stance, two opponents locked in combat. In the Flame and the Void he felt detached from the world around him but even so he felt a tug through the bond from Calia and started to move in her direction. The hissing Fade followed, its black cloak not stirring in the wind, while the Trolloc crashed to the ground after another lethal strike from Elessar. His strength was abating and so he decided to head towards Calia so they could fight together side by side. Catching the Myrddraal off balance, the Gaidin struck with a clever move which seemed to wound the Shadowspawn and then he raced off towards where he felt his bondholder was. ● He arrived at her side just as a Shadow appeared almost between them, readily seen from the light of the orb Calia had created. Her brief grin of appreciation and determination to see him was returned by a similar grin from him but it was all they had time for. ● She had erected a solid shield of power and a midnight-black blade struck the crystal edge, whirling in a lightning-fast blur, searching again and again for any weakness to exploit. Then, knowing that together they stood more than ready, she dropped the barrier between them and the Myrddraal completely. The Fade lunged, black blade whirling, the folds of his black cloak hanging perfectly still. Elessar parried the strike deftly. The Myrddraal then spun blade and body around him, ready to attack again! The Gaidin stood ready - but then a second series of razor-sharp blends of Spirit and Air SNAPPED into place, just ahead of the unnatural twist in the Shadows - and this time they did not miss. This time there was no question of survival for the Fade. Momentum carried its ghastly form forward, until it was several paces past the end of the weave. ● Across the battlefield cheers of triumph and evident surprise sounded as the bodies of a whole legion of Trollocs collapsed in mid-run, mid-roar and mid-swing. Bound to the Fade in a mental link they were stronger and more united in battle, but if the Fade was killed then they would all lose their lives. It was a risk the Shadow was willing to take. ● Elessar shared a triumphant grin with Calia as the Myrddraal started dying. Fades always took a long time to die but this one was well on its way though its limbs were still jerking. Gazing down at the Shadowspawn he moved aside as the still moving corpse was handled by another Sister of the White Tower. The Fade was slowly being dragged into the ground itself by the One Power, as was its deadly and evil, tainted black blade wrought in Thakan’dar. Soon dirt, rocks and stones covered the place where the Shadowspawn and the abomination of its blade had been. Thunder bellowed across the heavens and the sky was darkening. Flashes of lightning, huge whirls of blazing fire snaking its way among the defenders, and the winds of storm were crashing across the battlefield, ensuring that chaos still reigned. A fresh fist of Trollocs rushed down the hillside and though they had suffered a setback with the death of the Fade linked to the legion of Shadowspawn this Army of the Shadow had not given up. Dreadlords fought Aes Sedai, the golden-haired woman on the rise sent fireball after fireball at the valiant soldiers fighting below, and further up the alley the unknown threat waited patiently for the outcome. ● Mist was rising over the lower, darker patches of the plain and battle had resumed everywhere. Elessar took stock of the situation, still ignoring the pain from his wounds, knowing none of them were lethal and could be Healed later once this battle was ended. He shared another look with Calia, seeing her slight concern since she would feel his exhaustion through the bond, then nodded with a small smile that he would cope. Drawing strength from her beside him, both physically and mentally, and determined that they would survive this together, he stood proudly by her side as she lined up with some of her other Sisters and - as he understood it - linked with them with Saidar. Together, Aes Sedai and Warders, valiant Kandori fighters, as one they stood in the warm Glow of the Light as they readied their Final Stand against the Shadow. ▀▄
  15. ..In the Line of Fire and Storm .. ►▼◄ A Wall of Air SLAMMED into Elessar, flinging him twenty feet backwards on the battlefield! He landed hard on his back, tumbling over in pain and confusion, the wind knocked out of him. Sounds of battle echoed in his mind but whether it was from far off or close by he could not say. It took several moments before his lungs worked again and he was able to breathe. He took some ragged breaths and tried to get to his feet but was unable. He felt great concern through the bond from Calia but was still dazed and was unable to determine how close she was. They had been fighting side by side but somehow had gotten separated. Trying to ignore the pain in his chest and back, the Warder tried a second time to rise. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a Trolloc come towards him battle-axe raised and his instincts took over. Brushing aside his pain he rolled away from the beast and with a great effort found his feet. Just then one of his fellow Gaidin shouted to him and threw him a sword. Grabbing it in mid-air he swung it towards the charging beast and deflected an overhead swing. Adrenaline now helped him overcome the dizziness. He thought he heard someone shout his name and Calia seemed to get closer to him but he had all his focus on the bull-horned beast trying to kill him. Swinging his blade upward but then twisting to the side at the last moment, a surprising and proficient move, it slammed into the Trolloc’s abdomen making the beast curse in pain. As the moments passed Elessar felt his head clear more and more and he was able to make use of his advanced sword forms. He was cloaked now in the Flame and the Void, the sword a part of him as he leapt to strike, bent to defend, went high and then low, slicing into the beast before him. With every slice the Trolloc cursed in fury, blood flowing from his wounds. Low Wind Rising, a diagonal slash which began low and rose cleanly, followed by The Boar Rushes Down the Mountain, a vertical slash starting high and which in this case altered course in mid-swing, paired with Tower of Morning, a vertical slash but this time beginning low and ending high. It was too much for the beast and it fell mortally wounded to the ground as Elessar’s blade struck hard into its neck. ● Only then did the mayhem and loud noise of battle register in his mind. Having time to look around for a moment he saw Calia running toward him and even from a distance he saw the concern on her face. He felt it through the bond as well. On his other side the Warder who had thrown him the blade was fighting another brute beast, his sword running through the Trolloc even as he watched. Further away nearer the hill he saw several Sedai and Warders fight what looked like two Myrddraal and almost a fist of Trollocs. Sweeping his gaze up past them on an elevation he saw a woman with long golden hair and hands raised throw fire around her in what was a very powerful display. Even as he watched she created a kind of transparent dome around herself and appeared to grow in size. Twice as tall as a Trolloc. Three times as tall. Four times as tall. It was Illusion by use of the One Power, Elessar guessed from what Leandreen had strongly hinted at years ago, but even so very impressive! The huge-seeming figure turned its large eye on him for a split second and he could have sworn the woman grinned darkly at him. It was HER. I am sure of it! The moment passed.. ..and he swung his eyes back toward his bondholder who came to a breathless stop right before him. She touched his arm, her blue eyes concerned as she looked into his. Was he ok? He gave her what he thought was a comforting smile, underplaying some of the pain, but just then a shadow moved toward them, out of the shadows to the side, and stopped what he was going to say. When it came closer, he saw that it was a Fade! The Myrddraal moved slowly but confidently, its black cloak, which did not stir in the slight northern breeze, shrouding the beast beneath, its Eyeless stare fixed on the two of them. When it was ten or so feet away it stopped. It raised a black sword, a soft hiss coming from its opened mouth, the jagged teeth glistening in the late afternoon light. Elessar met its Eyeless stare with a deadly one, feeling strength and belief coming through the bond from an equally determined Calia - and then he attacked! ● Several days before, they had left the village of Renajhar in early morning, riding northwards under a light blue sky. There had been a chill in the air but they had ignored it as they had kept riding with a few Warder scouts somewhere ahead. At one point Calia had caught up with Elessar on her bay mare and had asked him if he had any news. "What news if any, Warder mine?" He had felt her coming nearer through the bond and had turned his warhorse Stormbreaker to meet her, enjoying the way she greeted him. Atop her mount her blue eyes had sparkled or at least that had been his impression and she had given him a smile which he had returned. He had greeted her back in a similar fashion, feeling the Oneness between them and revelling in it, but then had added that there was no news so far. More would be known further north. They had ridden together for a distance, chatting a little, and then she had ridden back to the main party following some distance behind. Late that same day they had arrived at the small Saldaean village of Sirah, a place equally desolate, and had bedded down in the village’s only inn. Warder scouts had been sent further north and had arrived later with news of a Shadowspawn army waiting less than a quarter day’s march away. The following morning they had awakened rested and plans had been made as to strategy now that they were only a few miles away from the battlefield. The scouts had said that the enemy army was larger than theirs and were camped in a valley before a small hill. The platoon of Kandori soldiers had arrived also and had camped a quarter mile east of the village. The Captain-General of the Green Ajah who led this Tar Valon party together with the Head Gaidin had met with the platoon commander and had agreed on a plan of attack. Two Sisters and three Warders had accompanied the Kandori war party and they had joined their brethren from the White Tower as they prepared for what was to come. Calia and Elessar had not had much time to talk since the bonding but had taken the opportunity afforded in Sirah. They had worked well together so far but connected through the bond their coordinated work would make them even more efficient in the face of the enemy. They had shared confidence and had felt they were ready for whatever lay ahead. The whole war party of the Light - from Tar Valon and also Kandor - had set off a few hours before midday, confident in their ability to face - and conquer - this Army of the Shadow! ● The Shadow of the Night cloaked the Saldaean Capital of Maradon. In the Cordamora Palace the Queen of Saldaea remained seated on her throne as the last petitioner left the Royal Hall. She sighed heavily, tired of petitions and citizens always complaining about this, that or whatever. Sweeping her fingers over her face, she then closed her eyes. It is my duty as their sovereign. I must be more patient. This is not becoming of me. Shaking her head, she turned to look at her advisor Arihna Gharam who stood close by, eyes staring at the opposite wall. Arihna was a paradox to her. Sometimes she seemed so understanding and helpful while at other times she seemed so distant. And why was it that sometimes she, the Queen, wanted so much to please her? She was only an advisor, after all. Arihna was wearing a dress of pale blue colour this evening with silver threads on the shoulders and sides. As usual she wore a necklace to match. The woman confused her, and the Queen did not like to be confused. To make a point she had been more stubborn with her advisor recently, ensuring that Arihna knew that she, the Queen, decided matters and she would take advice or not depending on each case. Arihna had not said anything but she could see it in the blond woman’s blue eyes that she was not pleased. Her advisor noticed the Queen watching her and turned toward her with a feigned smile. “I think you handled that last petition well, Your Highness.” It had been a local farmer complaining about dozens of sheep being taken by animals or beasts of some kind. She had compensated him somewhat but also demanded that he improve the fences surrounding his farmland. ● Arihna had started to call her “Your Highness” of a sudden which pleased her but also made her wonder if it was said with some mockery. Why have I started to doubt her? “I think we are done for the night”, she said smoothly, nodding softly to her advisor. “Thank you for your advice, as always.” She tried to make her smile seem genuine. “I am always ready to serve, Your Highness” Arihna replied smoothly, smiling back in a way she hoped was appropriate. She then gave a slight curtsy and headed down the aisle toward the huge oak doors at the end of the chamber. One of the guards standing there opened the door to let her through and then closed the door behind her. Alone in the Royal Hall besides the guards, the Queen remained seated for a long while, her thoughts far away. She was thinking how simple life had seemed when she had first become Queen many years before. She had been instructed in her duties by her father, the King over several years and had early on learned to handle the scheming and intrigues of the Saldaean Noble families. Their version of Game of Houses was rather pitiful compared to that in Cairhien but even so Nobles everywhere would scheme and fight for power and prestige. Now, however there was talk of Shadowspawn everywhere, of wars and upcoming strife, even rumours of the Last Battle approaching and though the Queen believed little of it she kept receiving conflicting reports and in her heart of hearts wondered if Arihna was telling her the whole truth. Were things under as much control as her advisor was trying to indicate? She wanted to believe her, her advisor seemed to know many things, but some small doubt still lingered. Shaking her head, she rose from her throne and walked out of the Royal Hall, the guards bowing to her as she left, and headed for her bedroom. It was a ways down the opposite hallway but finally she reached her room. Another guard stood outside her door and opened it for her to enter, then closed it behind her. Walking slowly across her bedroom she sat down in front of a large mirror. It was decorated in Saldaean style and she was very fond of it. Looking at her reflection in the glass she noted the grey strands at the end of the brown hair, the large oval brown eyes, the prominent nose, the strong chin, the long neck. The beautiful pale green dress of the finest silk. And the beautiful gem-filled tiara on her head matched by sapphire earrings. She looked stately, she thought. She looked a queen. But I am getting old. She could not escape the ravages of time. ● Arihna entered her personal quarters and almost slammed the door behind her. She was angry with the Queen. And also with herself. Why has she become so stubborn of late? Seating herself at her desk she retrieved a quill and paper. Dipping her quill in ink, Qariahna started writing, the sentences coming to life in beautiful flowing script. She was not pleased with her new orders, far from it, but she had to obey them. When the letter was written, she placed it in an envelope and ensured it would be delivered to the correct recipient. Putting the quill back in its place she sat back in her chair and remained seated for a long while. Her eyes drew together as she considered the situation. Her fists clenched in anger. She could continue to use Compulsion on the Queen but extended use sometimes affected the person strongly and Qariahna did not want an irrational ruler on her hands. It was much better if subtle ‘nudges’ and encouragement did the job. ‘Subtle’ was not Qariahna’s strongest character trait, though, so it was a balance she struggled somewhat to achieve. Finally she got up from her chair and went to her wardrobe. Finding a simpler dress which was suitable for riding, she put it on as well as riding boots. She also put on a travelling cloak. Stepping out of her room Arihna walked along the hallway, nodded to a pair of guards at the entrance and then departed the palace, heading for the royal stables nearby. Soon she was atop a black stallion which carried her away into the night. ● Iraya Vandelehn, Aes Sedai of the Blue Ajah, walked hurriedly through the Tar Valon Library. Her eyes were expressionless, her face smooth to the degree of coldness. All feeling and passion had been driven out of her by the Turning; all that remained was a total focus on completing her mission for the Shadow. Which was to break the Blue Ajah from within. She had killed two Sisters already from her former Ajah - bodies that lay hidden in graves miles out of Tar Valon - but had not yet been able to dispatch of the Ajah Head. She was sure she would succeed though, and without having to involve others of the Black Ajah in the Tower. Her determination was as strong as ever and she always succeeded with tasks she set her mind to. ● Passing another Blue Sister, a tall brown-haired woman with green eyes and delicate features, leafing through an ancient book by some shelves she nodded perfunctorily but walked on without a word. The other Sedai frowned momentarily but shrugged, having become used to Iraya’s cold attitude ever since she had returned from her mission. Instead she shared a few words with a Brown Sister, Denya Sedai, a short woman with almost white hair, piercing blue eyes and prominent cheek bones, who had stopped near her. Sisters from different Ajahs often avoided one another in the White Tower but Amandha Sedai had never cared for such customs. She was a positive, smiling person and enjoyed talking to all Sisters in the White Tower. The Brown Sedai grinned, her eyes friendly, when Amandha mentioned that the book the other was holding perhaps was more appropriate for a Green. “Ah, but this is a topic worthy of some serious research”, Denya said with a wink. “We all know what men can be like.” Amandha had to stifle a non-Aes Sedai like chuckle and her grin made the one hundred eighty five year old Brown Sedai grin back. “You are probably right”, Amandha said as she looked down at the book the other was holding. “Did you find anything of special interest?” She enquired, trying to wipe the grin off her face but not with any success. She had always been fond of men and some of her Ajah Sisters on more than one occasion had said she should have chosen Green. “Well”, the Brown Sister replied with a lopsided grin, “here is a part you might find interesting.” She opened the book and found the section she was looking for. It was an excerpt on the difference between men and women by a scholar called Paitr Dulain. Handing the book to the Blue Sister with a kind smile, she watched in silence as Amandha read the old excerpt. Denya thanked the Great Lord that she had not lost interest in men once she had chosen the Brown Ajah many, many years ago. Men would always be interesting for her. Men of history but also men of.. flesh. There was always something new to discover. Her eyes glittered in rememberance. ● An excerpt from the book “Men and women: a Difference in Perspective” by Paitr Dulain, Scholar Mindea, Murandy The Third Age ------------------------------- ..One of the first lessons a man learns (or rather is supposed to learn) when he reaches a certain age, is that when in the company of a woman there is a time to speak - and a time to stay silent. This is a very interesting lesson because there is seemingly no definite as to when one should speak in a lady’s company and when one should remain silent. It depends much on the man and the woman. On culture and local customs. And on the situation itself. And perhaps also on other, more basic, factors. Seeing as men are very simple beings (no hiding that fact however much they may protest such a description in public), men are extremely good at missing the nuances and hints and intricacy of this matter and therefore more often than not manage in a spectacular fashion to do the wrong thing, i.e. to speak when they should not, or to stay silent when they should speak. Some believe this is a gene that men are born with, though scholars across the continent have found no definite proof of this as of yet. There is great speculation, however, that such a gene probably exists because one cannot escape the fact that a surprisingly large amount of male members of society - whether highborn or lowborn, from the North or the South, the East or the West, whether fat or slim, shy or extrovert, dim-witted or intelligent, sly or honest - they all seem to share this fascinating, extraordinary ability. It seems improbable to most scholars that all males around the world should learn this ‘ability’ to such an impressive degree in childhood or through adolescence, regardless of culture, national traditions, local customs and so on. It seems more a kind of ‘inborn’ instinct - and one which on countless occasions throughout history has landed men in trouble to the great amusement - and sometimes painful frustration - of their female counterparts. It must be admitted that _some_ men do learn some of these intricacies through frequent interaction with wives, mistresses and other females in society over a long period of time and after much, much practice (and countless failures), but it is highly doubtful if any man will ever truly excel in this (for him) instinctively highly unnatural endeavour. More research will definitely have to be done on this matter - and fortunately (for us scholars) there is an unending supply of test-subjects for our use.. ● The dagger stood out of High Lord Saididred’s throat and blood flowed readily onto his white embroidered shirt. His eyes were bereft of light as they stared endlessly into the void. By the time the Head of House Delovinde was found by passersby in the Cairhien side street, Samos was long gone. The assassination had gone exactly as planned and Samos was very pleased. With the help of two other men they had stopped the horse-drawn coach just in the right place that evening, the darkness hiding much. They had dispatched of the guards on and inside the coach and finally the High Lord himself. He had begged for his life like some commoner, wetting his breeches in fear, but Samos had shown no mercy. Stabbing the man in the throat to make sure he was killed he had grinned darkly, relishing the murder, before leaving hastily along with the others. Later that night, laying in his bed in the safe house in the northern part of the city, he smiled smugly. He would only get praise this time. For once. The thought pleased him. He deserved to get accolades for his work for the Great Lord. He had succeeded in this mission and even she had to be pleased. He could not fathom anything else. Licking the blood from his fingers, not having bothered to wash his hands after he got back, he relished the taste of death. When a few moments later a shadow rose from the shadows in the corner of his room and a large, rough hand soon pressed down hard on his face, blue eyes somehow sparkling in the near-darkness, Samos hardly had time to react. He reached for the knife he always kept at his bed side table but did not know if it would be too late. ● The SKIES were on FIRE. Red and orange and yellow in a terrifying blend - and bolts of lightning battered the battlefield! Thunder rolled across the heavens and the blood of war littered the ground. Blasts upon blasts as Aes Sedai fought Dreadlords with Fire and Air and Water in cascading waves. The air sang with Power, Saidar burning with Flames of intensity, as the Forces of Good and Evil fought on that battlefield near the Plain of Lances that day. And Death Surrounded them all. Trollocs fought Warders, brute strength pitched against excellence with sword and blade, and blood flowed in streams. Myrddraal glided like Shadows among the combatants, Dancing along dark paths only they could see, while arrows in their hundreds flew over their heads from Kandori archers at the back. Aes Sedai stood strong with their valiant Warders at their side, fighting like warrior poets in the face of Shadow and Death. Their arms raised, lightning bolts flew from their hands and spiralling whirlwinds shot across the battleground to fall upon the enemy. It was a World of Chaos. And then…. ..unseen by most of those fighting.. .. a little further along the battlefield, a figure suddenly came into view. The figure was cloaked in black and with the hood down so no one could see its face. It stopped, however, and remained standing for a few seconds as if reviewing the battlefield. Then it raised a tall staff it had been carrying. The staff was Black as Night with ancient, unfamiliar letters and symbols running down its length. At one end was a small crystal ball which was sizzling with power. A Sa'angreal from another time and place. ● Time seemed to Stop for a moment.. and all sound and activity Ceased across the battlefield, leaving an eerie Silence. ● And then, Raising the staff high with both hands, Shouting commands in a language never heard in this place for millennia, he hammered the staff into the ground! C A R A I A N S I D A M A!! The ground shivered in pain, shaking - and a BLAST of Power shot forward like an avalanche of Air! A Storm spreading out and SLAMMING into most of those battling it out along the valley. And roaring Thunder followed in its wake. A Storm of Saidin also blew inside the powerful black cloaked hooded figure, strengthened by the ancient Sa'angreal - but it was a storm he relished and embraced! A figure of Darkness, a figure of Power, Amaranth was one with the Storm. ▀▄
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