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About Elessar

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  1. .. Players in a Game of Strategy.. ►▼◄ Physically entering Tel'aran'rhiod, closing the gateway behind him, Raphael moved across the marble floor of the small 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 chess board on it. The chess pieces depicted famous rulers in the nations from the Age of Legends. It was a favourite game of Vanahl’s. A game of strategy. A game of power. And this chess set was 4000 years old. How Vanahl had gotten his hands on it Raphael had no idea, but it was the Nae’blis’ pride and joy. On the wall hung objects of light. The room flickered in the strange way things often did in the World of Dreams, a reflection of the real world, caught between moments. Raphael waited in silence. Finally a chime sounded and a gateway opened close to the glass table. Vanahl stepped through, his eyes the usual pools of fire, his dark ornate coat swirling around him as the gateway snapped shut. “I see you are here”, the Chosen said smoothly as he sat down in the opposing chair. Raphael remained silent. Vanahl’s mouth twisted with distaste but he said nothing more as his attention was caught by the elaborate figures on the chess board. His right hand touched each figure on his side of the board, correcting their placement almost lovingly so they each stood right in the centre of each square. Raphael still said nothing, just watched calmly until the Nae’blis was satisfied. Studying the other man, holding onto Saidin as he knew - and felt - Vanahl 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. Vanahl was dark-haired with high cheekbones and a semi-dark complexion. Besides his burning eyes, he also had a scar that ran down his left cheek, marring what would otherwise have been a handsome face. Raphael knew that Vanahl had kept that scar as a reminder not to trust anyone. He had never revealed how he had gotten the scar but Raphael had his supicions. ● Vanahl’s eyes met those of his opponent’s, in chess as in all walks of life, and he smiled darkly. “Good”, he whispered and then made the first move with his white pawn. E2-E4. A standard opening. They played these games at intervals, when Vanahl wanted to speak privately with Raphael. Vanahl was the better chess player but on occasion Raphael beat him which always enraged the Nae’blis. Were he tactical, Raphael would let Vanahl win every time, to keep the slightly older man satisfied. But Raphael hated losing and loved the few occasions when he managed to beat the other man, so he always played his best. E7-E5. The standard retaliatory move. Vanahl looked across at him and grinned. “Not too daring a move, Raphael.” He said. His voice sounded amused. “Are you losing your nerve?” Raphael grinned back. “We shall see”, he replied smoothly but his eyes were hard, accepting the challenge. The Nae’blis looked at the board for a few moments, then moved his knight G1-F3. Another common move. As Raphael considered his next move, his attention was broken when Vanahl asked if he had seen Kharin lately. The question made Raphael pause. “Kharin?” he said in surprise. The other man nodded, a speculative cast to his features. “No, I haven’t”, Raphael replied, studying the man opposite him. “Any reason I should?” he added. Vanahl shrugged. “No particular reason”, the Nae’blis said. “I just haven’t gotten hold of her lately”, he added. “So I wondered if you knew where she was.” The pools of fire deepened if that were possible and Raphael could not help the slight unease he felt inside. “I have no idea”, he replied after a few moments. “You know Kharin, that stubborn woman minds her own business and cares little for anything or anyone else.” The Nae’blis nodded, knowing the truth of that. He was still unsure if Raphael was telling the truth right now but decided not to press him. “If you see her..somewhere, tell her I want to talk to her. About her plans and that other matter we all spoke about at the previous meeting.” Raphael nodded, keeping his own thoughts to himself. 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. 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 board with all the 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 destroy. ● Turning his eyes from the board game to Vanahl’s face Raphael spoke. “So, have you discovered who disobeyed you?” He could not remove all smugness from his voice and Vanahl’s features hardened. “Who messed with your plans for the boy dragon?” Fire swirled in the Nae’blis’ eyes as he responded. “So far, no” he almost spat. “But I will.. and when I catch whoever did it..” His voice filled with rage. “That person will be very very sorry.” Raphael did not doubt it. The half-mad Nae’blis’ rage was infamous among the Chosen. “Such betrayal must be punished indeed”, Raphael said, thinking inside, not for the first time, that Vanahl would never discover who it had been. Vanahl turned his attention to the chess board again, biting back a comment at the possible sarcasm in Raphael’s voice, and made another move. It was a more aggressive move amd Raphael responded in kind. Back and forth they moved across the battlefield of the chess board. At one point Vanahl asked Raphael if the business with the Aes Sedai Arahna Desonai had gone well and Raphael replied that it had. The Blue - or rather Black - Sister now was in a good position to disrupt the business of the White Tower. Divara - who was in the White Tower under the guise of one of these so-called Aes Sedai - would give her her commands and keep a close eye on her. Raphael had the impression Vanahl knew all this already, but he answered the questions the Nae’blis had. When he had asked Vanahl why he - Raphael - had been the only Chosen present at the Turning, the other had just shrugged and said there had been no need for anyone else. Raphael had not pursued the matter. ● Many moves later, Vanahl removed another of Raphael’s officer-pieces from the board in an aggressive attack. “That is what happens when you are not careful, Raphael”, the Nae’blis said, his voice ensuring the other man understood the double-meaning. “Indeed”, Raphael replied when he a couple of moves later removed one of Vanahl’s officers from the board in a counter-attack. “We all need to take care, don’t we, Vanahl?” His hard eyes met the other man’s burning eyes, the challenge explicit and open. ● The gateway snapped shut behind him as Raphael stepped into another room which flickered. This was another place in the World of Dreams, the mirror-image of a similar palace room in another land. Before him was another table with some chairs, a strangely decorated room it was but Raphael’s attention was all on the woman seated there. “There you are”, the woman said in icy tones as almost always was the case with her. “Why have you come? I have a busy schedule”. The woman was handsome rather than beautiful with brown hair, olive-shaped eyes and high cheekbones. She was dressed alluringly as was often the case. “Good to see you too, Kharin”, Raphael replied smoothly with a lopsided grin as he seated himself in a chair opposite her. “Do you have any wine?” he asked and smiled as she produced a goblet from behind her. Looking closely he saw that there was a small wine table behind her. He poured some wine from the goblet that she handed him into a cup and placed the goblet between them on the table. He watched silently as she poured some wine into her own cup and raised it to her lips. She watched him like one watches a predator ready to pounce but some of her inherent harshness was momentarily gone and in its place was amusement. “Drink, Raphael”, she said invitingly. “If I wanted to kill you, it would not be with poison. It would be a lot more painful and prolonged.” Her eyes glinted. ● Grinning back at her, he took a long swallow and watched as she did the same. “Not bad”, he said as he put his cup down. “Almost as good as that delicious red wine we used to get from the Seihm.” Some of the best wine orchards during the Age of Legends had been in the nation of Seihm. They both recalled it well. “As for you being busy”, he added almost like an afterthought, “I presume you meant having some.. amusement with your..plaything.” His grin widened. “Your Merindhra, the voluptuous maid from Arad Doman?” Her face darkened at his tone but then softened somewhat at the subject of their conversation. “My amusements are my business, Raphael. Never forget.” Her tone became a little less harsh as she added that Merindhra was, in truth, less infuriating than most others around her. It was clear from her voice that this also included the various Chosen. “Now then, why are you here” she asked after a few moments. “I have been to see Vanahl earlier today”, Raphael said and he saw the woman’s eyes tighten. “He is very keen on seeing you, my dear.” He knew the ‘my dear’ would infuriate her - it always did - but he could not stop himself. She controlled her rage but he could see that she struggled. “He can wait until I am ready to see him”, she spat. “That arrogant man will get what is coming to him, one way or another”. The last bit was almost a snarl and reminded Raphael how much this female Chosen hated the Nae’blis. She hated all men, in truth, but Vanahl more than anyone else. It was personal, Raphael understood, and more than the bickering at Chosen-meetings and trying to undermine the Nae’blis, but he kept his thoughts to himself. ● “You have not told him where I reside?” she enquired, a touch of doubt in her eyes for a moment. “Of course not”, Raphael replied and her hard eyes softened momentarily. “He can bloody well find that out himself.” Kharin nodded, a pleased grin on her lips. She knew that Raphael hated the Nae’blis almost as much as she did. She could not stand Raphael either if she were honest, but for the moment it suited her purposes not to be his enemy. Not an ally either, but a neutral party. For now. “And the others?” Kharin said, taking another sip from her drink. “Are they scheeming as usual?” Raphael nodded and his grin broadened. “Nothing new there. Everyone wants the Great Lord’s favour.” Kharin nodded, knowing the truth of that. She did her own share of scheeming, but those were secrets she shared with no one. “As it should be”, she added darkly, her eyes glinting. She watched him take another sip of wine, then after a few moments pushed her chair back and stood. Her stylish dress clung to her athletic body and her long legs. Had she not worn that angry face of hers most of the time she would have been a very attractive woman, Raphael thought. Her features hardened, in her usual way, as she looked at him, as if she had read his thoughts. “I have no more time for you”, she said almost imperiously. Her eyes were their usual angry again. “Get out of here, Raphael!” ● He stood up from the table and faced her from six feet or so away. He had never let go of Saidin throughout their meeting, as he was sure she had never let go of Saidar. They did not trust one another one bit. As his eyes met hers he wondered, not for the first time, how strong she was in the One Power. Rumours among the Chosen hinted at her being the second strongest female behind Arissa but this had never been confirmed. He was certain that she would not be able to overpower him should she ever get the desire, he was stronger in the One Power than she was, but it could still be somewhat risky.. were he to be taken by surprise. He met her angry stare with an amused one. “I will bother you no more, Kharin.” He said. “And give my love to your lovely.. plaything”, he added mischievously. “If she ever wants the taste of something.. different”, his grin broadened, “a real man.. just send her to me.” It pleased him to see her fury building, her eyes flashing dangerously. Opening a gateway close to where he stood, he stepped through before she had time to curse him - and the silvery line snapped shut behind him. ● Lord Rehmar, a tall and lean man with brown hair, piercing eyes and a moustache, stared out across the city of Bandar Eban from his room high up in the King’s Palace. The afternoon sun shone over the Capital of Arad Doman. It was an important port city located on the coast of the Aryth Ocean, lying on the mouth of the river Dhagon. Massive gates penetrated the city walls and opened up to streets of packed earth, with wooden boardwalks at the sides. Arandi Square, the main city square, was set with copper fountains in the shape of horses leaping from a frothy wave. The buildings were tall and square, shaped like boxes stacked atop one another. Rows of square wooden houses filled the city, rolling down a gentle incline to the massive port, the widest part of the city. Banners flew above, or hung from every building, some used as business signs, family names, or location names. The wealthy part of the city was located on the heights in the east. One of the grandest mansions was the seat of House Vedlar. You also had the Council of Merchants which always competed with the Crown for power. And then there was the Bandar Eban's Terhana Library which was considered to be among the best in the world. It was a grand city, perhaps not on the scale of Caemlyn or Tar Valon, but its citizens were proud of it. Leaving the balcony, Lord Rehmar went inside his oppulent living quarters and sat down by his ornate writing desk. As Chief Advisor to the King he had several responsibilities and he carried out his duties with care and attention. He loved all the political intrigue at court and the maneuvering that was necessary to keep the Council of Merchants off balance whenever possible. He had always had skills in this area and he made good use of them in his present circumstances. Taking out a piece of paper from a drawer, he dipped his pen in ink and began to write. ● Dear High Lady, I wish to invite you to a meeting here at the King’s Palace to discuss the proposal we talked about last month. It concerns the Alliance of Houses that the King wishes to build. This is, of course, confidential for the present, so please keep all details regarding this matter for yourself for the time being. We look forward to your presence on the 17th of this month. Your loyalty to the Crown is valued. Yours Sincerely, on behalf of the King, Lord Rehmar ● Putting the pen aside he studied what he had written, then grinned to himself as he placed the letter in an envelope. On the front of the envelope he wrote, High Lady Dahlia of House Kheren, then he closed the envelope and sealed it. Placing it together with several other similar envelopes on his desk, Sinam smiled. Things were proceeding nicely, the Chosen thought with a dark chuckle. Very nicely indeed. Alliances to make, Alliances to break. ‘Lord Rehmar’ leaned back in his chair, his green eyes glinting. The Great Lord would be pleased. ▀▄
  2. .. Concluding a Mission for the White Tower: Part 2 .. ►▼◄ Elessar and Kathleen sat all afternoon in the lounge of the house in Whitebridge discussing the matters of the Black Rose and the emeralds. Their guess that the emeralds were intended as a bribe had been proven correct. Nyriana had reluctantly admitted that they were meant as payment for the chief cook of a major Andoran Noble family to poison its High Lord. Elessar had heard similar dark and evil plots before and did not react much to the High Lady’s words and Kathleen had only raised one eyebrow in response, asking which High Lord. It had seemed a plausible plot, they had agreed when they had discussed it afterwards. The High Lady had remained silent when they had asked if the poisoning had already been carried out or if it could be stopped. They would need to find that out themselves. The High Lord in question lived many leagues to the south. Kathleen quickly got in touch with her Eyes and Ears in Whitebridge and a carrier pigeon was dispatched to the nearest town to warn the High Lord. They just hoped it would be in time. The larger mystery was that of the supposed Black Rose that would need to be ‘sacrificed’. What or who was this Black Rose? All they had gotten out of the close-mouthed Lyndelle was that it was a child of some importance. When Elessar had pressed her for more details, she had just stared at him in silence, her blue eyes shining with glee. Nyriana had not revealed anything about the Black Rose, just staring dumb back at him when he had mentioned the name. Even the threat of violence had not stirred her on this matter. It had made him think that sacrificing this Black Rose had to be very important for the Shadow, at least locally. He and Kathleen had discussed again what was meant by ‘sacrificing’. Had it been one of their own adult Darkfriends it could have been logical to use that word, but with regards to a child? It was strange, they both agreed. Using resources from the Green Ajah’s Eyes and Ears network they had a few trusted people go out and try to find clues as to this Black Rose, visiting inns and taverns where people talked freely when they were drunk and careless, listening for whispers on the streets. And a couple of days later they had some luck. A street urchin had been caught stealing and it turned out he was part of a local guild of thieves (or at least that was what they called themselves, much to Elessar’s amusement) and through him they had gotten word of another thief, an older man, who may know something. For adequate compensation, of course. Elessar and Kathleen had met this man, a bald one-eyed older man with scruffy clothes but a shrewd look about him, and the man had spoken to them willingly after receiving several silver coins. He told them that he did not know these folk personally of course, but he had heard from a mate who had heard from a mate that a certain boy child, son of a certain High Lord, was not long for this world. When Elessar gave him another silver coin, warning him though that if what he told were lies they would catch him and take it out of his hide, the old thief gave them the name they were after. ● They hurried to the next town, a smaller town called Ridgefield several leagues to the north-east. It was more of a large village, Elessar thought, but the locals prided themselves on the fact that they lived in a town, the largest in the region after Whitebridge. Hoping to be able to stop this murder or ‘sacrifice’ they hardly stopped before they were just outside the gates of the Manor of House Lamden. It was another small House among the Major Andoran Noble Houses but in this region it had some prominence and power. Head of this House was High Lord Robert Lamden and his only son and heir was the ten year old Richard, nicknamed the Black Rose. Apparently the boy was a cripple, lame from the waste down, and all he did day in and day out was sit in a specially made chair in the Manor garden, watching the blooming roses, it was said, in silent shame, bitterness and rage at his totally wasted life. It sounded a terrible life, Elessar had to admit, but it was still a life and better than death. Whether the boy’s father was a Darkfriend or not, the boy did not deserve to die because of some evil Darkfriend plot. Tethering their horses to a tree to the side of the gate leading into the Manor, Elessar stepped up to the guard who was watching them closely. A wall passed to either side of the gate for some distance, encircling the grounds of the Manor. The building itself could be seen some distance beyond, encompassed by trees. “My good man”, the Warder began, “Kathleen Aes Sedai wishes to speak to your High Lord.” The guard just stared dumbfounded back at him. “It is a matter of some importance”, Elessar added more powerfully. Still there was no reaction from the man. “Let us through and inform your High Lord we need to see him urgently.” The man looked at the Warder and the Aes Sedai, his eyes wide but he still remained silent. “Now!” Elessar shouted and his eyes took on a dangerous gleam. This time the man reacted. “Yes, My Lords” he stuttered as he moved backwards. “Sorry, I will let his Lordship know.” Turning, he almost sprinted down the path toward the building while Kathleen and Elessar followed at a more leisurely pace. When they arrived at the entrance to the mansion they were met by another guard, more formally attired. This one, a younger man, bowed to Kathleen and nodded to Elessar. “Please enter”, he said in a polite tone of voice. “The High Lord is honoured by your visit.” ● High Lord Lamden was a short greying man in his late fifties. He had strong arms and a somewhat bulky body. His blue eyes were shrewd though as he looked at the Aes Sedai and the Warder. “I am honoured by your visit”, he said politely with seeming honesty. “We do not get visitors from the White Tower here often.” That was probably the understatement of the year, Elessar thought with amusement, but he said nothing. “How may I be of assistance?” He asked as he bade them have some kaf. Sipping from her cup, Kathleen made some pleasant conversation for a while. Saying they were in the region on Aes Sedai business, they were visiting local nobles to hear if there was anything they could assist with in these ‘troubled times’. The High Lord nodded and exchanged pleasantries but Elessar could see from the man’s face that he did not for one minute believe her stated reasons for her visit. He kept his thoughts to himself, however. After a while Kathleen stopped speaking and the High Lord stared silently back at her. His eyes turned for a moment to the imposing Warder-figure beside her. He looked just like the ferocious Gaidins out of stories, he thought; not a man one would like to cross. Facing the Aes Sedai again he asked if there was anything else he could assist with. As if it were a passing thought, Kathleen asked after his wife. Was she well? The High Lord seemed surprised by the question but replied that, yes she was well and in the gardens at that moment plucking some roses. Kathleen nodded. When asked about his son next, the High Lord’s face darkened and his eyes clouded over. There was sorrow in his voice when he replied that his son was dead. When Kathleen probed, he replied that his young boy’s heart had simply stopped a week before. He had been a sickly boy, the High Lord informed, but even so it was a tragedy. Elessar and Kathleen shared a quick glance, both thinking we were too late, then she told the father how sorry they were. There was no proof, neither would there probably ever be, that foul play had played a role in the boy’s death, but the pair from Tar Valon were fairly certain that the death was no coincidence. They did not reveal their suspicions to the High Lord though, soon excusing themselves from his presence and leaving the Manor House. The High Lord might be a Darkfriend and he might not be, but that would be a mission for another time. The boy, the Black Rose, was dead and that was all there was to it. The mystery had perhaps not been fully solved, but they had done what they could. They rode in silent contemplation back to Whitebridge under a partially clouded sky with a wind gradually building from the south-east. ● A few days later, riding back across the huge white glass-like bridge - from which the town took its name - which spanned the River Arinelle, leaving Whitebridge behind, Elessar thought on what they had accomplished. Their mission had been a success for the most part. They had caught two scheming Darkfriend High Ladies who had sold their souls to the Dark One, and several other accomplices (disrupting the local Darkfriend Circle), as well as revealing the mystery of the Black Rose (though they had not been able to stop its execution) and recovering the emeralds (and the poison-plot had been stopped in time). Sure, there would still be some Darkfriends around that they had not caught, but they had done a great service for the Light on this journey into western Andor and he thought he felt some contentment also coming through the Bond from Kathleen. Now they both wanted to get back to Tar Valon as quickly as possible, the mission concluded. Glancing at the fragile-looking but ever so strong white glass of the bridge as they rode across he wondered once again what material it was made of. It was one of the wonders of the world, he thought. He had never seen anything like it elsewhere. He considered again asking Kathleen about it, but changed his mind. Let it be another of life’s mysteries. ● They stopped at several villages on the way back. Even though they were both eager to return to Tar Valon, they saw the need to give their mounts some rest at intervals. In Four Kings they made a slightly longer stop, getting more provisions, and then they set the course for Caemlyn. Kathleen seemed eager to see a little more of the Andoran Capital before their journey northwards and Elessar was always up for some more sightseeing in this beautiful city, so they stayed a couple of days before heading north. They spoke at times during their journey, sharing thoughts on what they had accomplished and on what might be to come, and as the days passed Elessar felt they were getting to know one another a little better which was important for trust and an effective Warder-Sedai team. Kathleen did not say much about her other Warder, her first, and Elessar did not press her. But he sensed that she missed him and was perhaps also a little concerned about his absense though that was just Elessar’s impression. In one way it would have made their mission easier had they had Nevuel’s experience and skills to draw upon as well. On the other hand, Elessar felt that it was best that he and Kathleen were on their own on this ‘maiden mission’, that way they could best get used to one another, each other’s ways and skills and temperament, to gradually become an efficient working team. He did not say so to Kathleen, not wanting to ‘step on any sore toes’ there, but he thought maybe she had had similar thoughts. Elessar felt good about this Bond, as he had from the start. It was a feeling of rightness which he had been fortunate to have had with all his Bondholders. He knew they still had a ways to go ‘tuning’ their skills and actions in their Bond, to gain the level where they could anticipate the other’s moved before they were made, but it was a very decent beginning. He smiled as he galloped down the dusty roads, Kathleen beside him a little behind to his left, in the direction of Tar Valon to the north. Mission accomplished, he thought. The first of many to come. ● Finally, many days later, on a windy and partially sunny afternoon beneath azure-blue skies, Elessar Gaidin of Kandor and Kathleen Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah, Bonded in the Light, came in sight of the Shining Walls of Tar Valon. Soon they rode slowly across one of the many magnificent arching bridges over the River Erinin connecting the island city to the mainland. Fabled Dragonmount rose in the distance, 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. ▀▄ ▀▄▀▄
  3. .. Concluding a Mission for the White Tower: Part 1 .. ►▼◄ The High Lady Lyndelle of House Serevan, gagged and bound like a common criminal, stared viciously at the Aes Sesai and her Warder from her place in the corner of the room, wondering not for the first time since her capture how the tables had been turned on her since the moment she had come upon the pair in her study. Blood and bloody ashes! She was caught like a fish in a net and there was nothing she could do about it. Blasted White Tower meddlers, sticking their noses where they did not belong, ruining her operation and schemes. They would not learn her deepest secrets, however. The ones that spoke of her true allegiance. No matter what they did to her, she would not admit to that nor forsake her sacred Oath to the Great Lord. All they had was rumours and innuendos. She would not give them the pleasure of seeing her break. Her eyes stared daggers at them as they stood conversing at the other side of the room. Her mouth would stay shut. No matter what. ● Turning to face the bound and gagged High Lady in the corner Elessar smiled darkly. She was bound by flows of Air and so could neither speak nor move her arms and therefore the cloth physically gagging her and the rope binding her arms behind her back were superfluous. Perhaps it was petty, but the Warder enjoyed binding this Darkfriend woman like a common criminal, taking away whatever dignity she had left. Kathleen had exchanged a silent look with him but had said nothing as he had proceeded. Now the two were discussing how to get more information out of the reticent High Lady. They were in an upstairs room in the house they used as their base of operations. Outside the afternoon sun glowed above the town of Whitebridge, a burning globe in an endless sea of blue. “I think it is the only way”, Elessar said as he turned to face Kathleen again. “She is stubborn as a mule and likely will not volunteer any information at all.. unless she is.. persuaded otherwise.” She understood well what he had in mind. An interrogation of the kind he had used on the other captured Darkfriend. Though their Bond was still fresh she trusted him not to go too far in his.. persuasion of this woman. He had showed competence and restraint before. Still, they needed more information if they were to conclude this mission and expose the Darkfriends and their plots. They needed to put pressure on this despicable woman who surely stood at the center of it all here in Whitebridge. She nodded to Elessar, giving her approval. Turning to face the bound woman again, the Warder from Kandor’s eyes turned hard and he removed the knife from its sheath at his side. His posture changed into that of a dangerous predator as he moved toward the bound High Lady, the knife held before him. Removing the cloth from her mouth he stared darkly at her. Kathleen altered her Saidar-wrought weave so the woman could speak. The High Lady looked spitefully at the Gaidin and she had a lopsided grin as she said, “I will tell you nothing. You are wasting your time!” “We shall see”, replied the Warder in a calm fashion. His smile broadened but his eyes adopted a vicious glint. Bringing his knife up to the woman’s chin he drew a little blood. “This is the part I like.” The way he said those words made Kathleen almost believe he meant it. He was good at this, she had to admit. And it was necessary. She kept that in mind as her Bonded Warder went through the motions of the interrogation. ● Later that day they sat in the lounge of the house discussing what they had learned. “She broke sooner than I would have expected”, Elessar mentioned at one point. Kathleen nodded, complimenting him once again on his interrogation skill. The High Lady was a hard and tenacious woman but the Warder had peeled off the layers of secrecy that surrounded her and combined with threats of violence (the knife had been an effective tool in that regard) had made the woman reveal much more than she had intended. “She as good as admitted to being a Darkfriend”, he added. “And we now know the evil plots she was working on and much about her dark accomplice, the High Lady Nyriana of House Vandahr.” Kathleen nodded and sipped more from her kaf, her eyes pensive. “I think we should pay this other High Lady a visit, don’t you think?” Kathleen agreed and so it was decided. With any luck this second High Lady had not received word yet of High Lady Lyndelle’s capture. She lived several leagues from Whitebridge, in a village called Melton, Lyndelle had revealed under questioning. Taking a sip from hos own cup Elessar nodded. These two Andoran Noble Houses would not be so noble much longer when Kathleen informed the local authorities - and the Crown - of their activities and allegiance. ● They arrived in Melton before dark. It was a small village with only a couple of streets and three dozen buildings. At the end of a dusty street stood an inn and opposite it - beyond large garden grounds - a grander building. It was no palace, far from it - but in this small place it was obviously the finest building around, a small Manor House. The local place of power. Handing their horses to the stable boy, Kathleen and Elessar went inside and got a couple of rooms. The innkeeper was almost beside himself seeing an Aes Sedai and a Warder in his humble establishment as he called it - it was obviously not something that occurred often - and they soon were in their rooms discussing the next move. They had two options as they saw it: confront the High Lady directly and take her into custody, or wait a little and see if they could find out if others too in this small village were Darkfriends or at least involved in the suspect activities of the High Lady. They wanted to catch as many people involved as possible, but at the same time he felt some impatience in Kathleen to get on with things and he had to admit he shared those feelings himself. It was time to conclude this mission, to get things finished and over with. A direct approach would be best. Silver rays from the moon high above shone down on the pair from the White Tower as they moved through the darkness toward the Manor House. They walked along a path which went beside the opulent flower beds up to the Manor itself. There were candle lights shining in several windows but no one could be seen looking out at them. That did not mean that no one was watching them, of course. It did not matter to Kathleen as she approached the front entrance. Knocking twice on the huge door she waited, Elessar beside her. A few moments later what looked like a servant or possibly a guard opened the door and look enquiringly at the two visitors. “Kathleen Aes Sedai wishes to have some private words with the High Lady”, Elessar said in a strong voice. The Andoran looked more closely at the woman before him and his eyes widened. “Of course”, he said in a somewhat strained voice. “Please come out of the dark”. He waved them inside and closed the door behind him. “Please wait here and I will announce your arrival to the High Lady.” He gave a small bow and then hurried along the hall and disappeared around a corner. Facing his Bondholder, Elessar whispered, “Perhaps things will go more smoothly this time.” He did not see the glance Kathleen threw him. Which was probably for the best. ● The High Lady Nyriana, a short-haired blond and lean woman in her late thirties, proved to be a harder woman than Lyndelle, staring daggers at them both when she realized she had been caught in her dark plots with her friend and refusing to say anything which might incriminate her. Still, after some.. persuasion by Elessar, she admitted that she had plotted but that it was all for the good of her House. That she was a Darkfriend was all lies though, put out by her enemies, she said with piercing blue eyes and a twisted mouth. When they went through her private study, finding incriminating evidence, she just stared at them with hate in her eyes and did not speak a word. She ‘accompanied’ them to Kathleen’s room at the inn and was soon bound and gagged similarly to Lyndelle in Whitebridge. When Elessar had produced the knife and drawn some blood from her cheeks she had given the names of three of her local accomplices. They would be picked up by local authorities as soon as Kathleen returned to Whitebridge and informed the local magistrates. The next morning they rose early, had a quick breakfast in the inn’s Common Room and then proceeded back to Whitebridge. The High Lady was slung across the back of the Gaidin’s horse, bound in more ways than one, cursing inside. When they finally arrived back at the house where they were based, Elessar carried the bound woman over his shoulder up the stairs to the room where they kept the other High Lady. Lyndelle’s eyes almost popped out of her sockets when she recognized Nyriana slung on the bed. Bound and gagged as she was she could not make a sound but inside she was screaming with rage. The next morning agents of the White Tower arrived at the inn and took the two captured Darkfriend High Ladies into custody and left after a quick word with Kathleen Sedai. Elessar was sure they would get punishment worthy of their Darkfriend crimes. The White Tower was not very forgiving in such matters. Justice would be served. ● Now to see to the final matters on this mission: the case of the Black Rose and the emeralds. They had clues gotten from the two Darkfriend women, but there were still some things to figure out. Another mystery to uncover. ▀▄
  4. A comment on the 'Moiraine-Thom' thing: I can see that for some that plot did not work. Personally though I thought it was great for several reasons. First and foremost because it was wonderful that Moiraine could find love and happiness having in some ways 'sacrificed' her entire life to Blue Ajah-causes (primarily to finding the Dragon Reborn). She saw Lan's (her Warder-companion of many many years) love for Nynaeve and perhaps in her heart of hearts wished for the same. Also because it was a total surprise for me, never saw that coming at all since Moiraine had seemed above such 'mundane' things as love. With everything Thom had gone through and all I was pleased for him as well. Robert Jordan liked, as we know, to throw in some surprises in his wonderful story (Verin a very good example) and I think this was another one of his surprises albeit a smaller one perhaps.
  5. Thanks for the reflections/insight, Jason (Phoenix). A few thoughts on the 5 points mentioned: Pt 1: Adult Content. This has me somewhat concerned. I mentioned elsewhere at DM that I feared they would be overly sexual with GoT-style nudity etc in the WoT series. Sex sells, we all know that, but I found Robert Jordan’s subtlety with regards to the ‘sexual adventures’ of Rand, Min, Elayne and Aviendha a nice change from George RR Martin’s more explicit/vulgar style in this regard. I hoped the producers would follow Robert Jordan’s style for this but am far from surprised they probably are going for more explicit scenes. It’s not a major thing for me but I hope they don’t go ‘overboard’. Pt 2: 8-10 episodes, focused on Eye of the World. I hope they go for 10 episodes (pr season) and it covers the book until they are at the Eye, then the chance is smaller I think that it will become an overly simplified, ‘dumbed down’ version of the book which is one of the major fears of many of us here. Let me add, were I producing this tv-show I would certainly have started it with the prologue from Eye of the World, both to stay in tune with the book and also because the emotional impact of the Lews Therin/Ishamael scene would be strong and hard-hitting but also interesting and intriguing for what was to come. Pt 3: Expanding Secondary characters...and maybe a few big omissions. With the multitude of characters in the WoT books it is to be expected that many characters are left out, but I do sincerely hope they don’t leave out any of the main characters outside our Two Rivers heroes (am thinking of characters like Min, Thom, Elayne, Galad, Gawyn, Loial, Morgase). Giving f.ex. Logain a bigger role does not bother me so much, it is necessary to alter some things to make a story work on tv/film, but the closer to the books they stay the happier I will generally be. I think GoT managed this balance quite well. If the producers follow the same line, I will be pleased. Pt 4: Less Binary Evil. One the one hand what is mentioned there does not bother me much, on the other having the Forsaken/Chosen less ‘pure-evil’ makes me both surprised and a little concerned, unless all it means is that f.ex. the Forsaken will be many-faceted, though keeping their dark, evil hearts and extreme ambitions as in the books.. There is no need to become revisionist when it comes to the Forces of Light fighting the Forces of Evil (Dark One) I believe, this is the main story of the books, never mind that it may seem a little generic to some people. Saying it’s ‘balance vs imbalance’ sounds somewhat vague and ‘out there’ for me. Even if it not entirely untrue, I think the producers should keep the 'light vs dark' at the chore of the series as I believe it is in the books. Pt 5: More Diversity. This has me somewhat concerned tbh. If there is any fantasy-series out there which has plenty plenty diversity as it is, it is the WoT – when it comes to race, gender, sexuality, personalities, backgrounds etc. I cannot see any reason why there should be need to amplify this, just make use of the enormous ‘tapestry’ of characters Robert Jordan has already given us. I see no need either to emphasize the LGBTQ or feminism part, it is already a part of the WoT Universe. Practically the whole Red Ajah are lesbians if we are to interpret what Robert Jordan wrote/implied, and think about all the female characters in the WoT, from our heroines to hundreds of Aes Sedai women.. has there in fact ever been a book series with so many strong, diverse, female characters? I highly doubt it. There is plenty to work with there without having a 'girlpower'/feminist agenda. And as for having gay relationships between characters who are straight in the books (say Egwene is now suddenly depicted as a lesbian), that smells of sensationalism and political revisionism to me and will certainly turn me off the show. Moiraine and Siuan had a 'romp' in bed at one time, which does not necessarily make her a lesbian but could open the door for the producers for her to be say bi-sexual, but doing it with a book-written straight character sits less well with me. As for making a white character in the books black/Asian-like I see no need to do so due to the great diversity already in the books, but if they do it I hope it is with a side-character, not one of the main ones. And not to be a bigot or anything, but if Mat suddenly becomes Mandy the transvestite during season 1 of the show, I may have a word or two or three to say about that.. I don’t like the tv-series of today being so political, that they change the source material to appeal to modern views on feminism/metoo, race, gender, sexual orientation etc. (Rumours of f.ex. making James Bond more 'feminist' in his views in the coming film due to metoo makes me shudder.. James Bond is James Bond with all his mannerisms in a fictional movie-universe, let him be what he is!). There are more than enough films and tv-series of a more social-realism nature that cater for that. Let the WoT be the WoT, producers - and give us a quality tv-series with book-based integrity, heart and style to love and cherish (ref. Peter Jackson and 'The Lord of the Rings'-movies and also the GoT tv-series I would say), the best way to honour Robert Jordan’s legacy and memory.
  6. .. In the Darkness of the Manor House .. ►▼◄ As Kathleen studied the letter, or note, from the other High Lady, Elessar’s thoughts were drawn elsewhere for a moment. He was thinking of Leandreen. He had no idea why the thought of her had popped into his mind at that particular moment but it had. In his mind’s eye he saw her glittering emerald eyes and slightly mischievous smile and a face framed by long fiery hair. As always the thought of her brought him both joy and sadness. Oh, Leandreen. She had told him that she had known straight away that she wanted to Bond him, and he had quickly felt that they were compatible too. She was much more impulsive than he was with a temper to match, but they had made a good, effective team, anticipating each others’ moves, and had, above all, shared a burning passion to fight the Shadow and evil wherever it was found. “I shall fight the Shadow ‘till I die, Elessar!” Her emerald eyes sparkled. “That I promise you!” And you kept your promise, my Leandreen. You fought those evil b*stards with your last breath! ● Kathleen, as a Battle Ajah Sister, shared some of that passion, he felt, from their conversations and their time together, even if she was very different in nature and personality from Leandreen. Their Bond was still fresh and he still felt that distance between them at times that he had felt at the beginning, but he thought they were complementing each other well so far as Warder and Sedai and, hopefully, meeting each others’ expectations. He did not really know how she felt about his ‘performance’ as her Warder, but he presumed she would tell him if she was unhappy about something. For his part, he was not out to impress her with how he carried out his duties as a Bonded Gaidin. Not at all. He had a job to do, and that was to serve, protect and keep his Aes Sedai alive. He would always strive to do it proficiently and well. It was his sacred purpose and duty. And I will not fail again. That final thought echoed in his mind. ● “How is your memory, Elessar?” Kathleen asked in a whisper, bringing him out of his partial reverie, as she handed the note from Nyriana, High Lady of House Vandahr, to the Warder. “I’d prefer not to have to take this when we leave”, she added, “but we will need the information later if we are to fully decipher the message. Let’s move along quickly now, we still have to get back through the whole bloody building and outer grounds when we finish in this study.”’ “My memory is excellent”, he replied honestly in a low voice, holding the letter. “I have always had a knack for remembering details, a very useful skill when one has an interest such as mine in history and stories. I will remember.” Even as a child he had always had an exceptional memory. He remembered his mother, and his other teachers, commenting on it many times throughout his childhood. It had also helped him later during his Warder training in the White Tower, not needing to be told things twice. His Warder teachers had been quite impressed. Neither of his parents nor brothers had this ability so he had no idea how he had come to have it or why, but he was grateful since it was a useful skill to have. ● Elessar scanned over the letter, many thoughts passing through his mind. There were many clues here but they were difficult to decipher. There was obviously another Noblewoman involved which was not that surprising as they would run in the same circles and could talk without anyone finding it suspicious. Two Houses, even if minor ones, plotting for the Shadow could give them many advantages and a fair amount of power, at least locally. Who was the sister that the letter mentioned? It could be another Noblewoman or an other associate in the Darkfriend circle, someone they thought of as ‘one of their own’. It could, of course, also be code for something entirely different. The two dots before ‘sister’, did that have special inference? And the Black Rose, what was that? Or rather, perhaps, who? Someone to be sacrificed in some way but how and why? Was it someone who had betrayed them, betrayed the Shadow? And who had ordered it? A rhyme he had read once - somewhere, somewhen - slipped into his mind for a moment. ● Three for three, the Silver weds Three for three, the Princess sheds One is true, the Prince she chose To the world, he was Black Rose ● It was a nice little rhyme, he thought, like a children’s rhyme and suitably intriguing, but he highly doubted it had anything to do with the Black Rose of the letter. Rather some of these Nobles had probably heard the rhyme at some point and used ‘Black Rose’ as a code name for someone or something. ● Reading on he wondered who this ‘Our Friend’ could be. Special care had obviously been taken to avoid revealing who or what this person might be and if he or she was a Nobleperson. He got the impression this was someone special though. Then there was the mention of emeralds and what a ‘princely’ gift they would make. Was this a hint somehow that someone in Royalty was involved, or was it just a way to describe that the emeralds were worth a fortune, ‘worthy of a prince’ as it were? Was it a bribe since there was mention of ‘leverage’? As for the ‘guests’, it seemed highly probable to him that he and Kathleen were the ‘guests’ they were referring to, though there was no proof after all and no date on the letter. But was it truly likely that these two Noblewomen had two other ‘guests’ who they had to watch and take care around at the moment? Elessar doubted it very much. He also noted that the High Lady Nyriana had signed the letter ‘Yours in the Faith’ which was somewhat unusual in his experience. ‘Yours in the Light’ was the common way to end a letter, at least between Nobles and other officials, so using ‘Faith’ instead was unusual. Of course it could be nothing more than a personal way of signing off their letters, he thought, but it caught his attention as something a little out of the ordinary and he wondered if it somehow were a hint at their somewhat darker association. So many possibilities and clues which said so much and at the same time so little. They would need to go over these elements in the calm and privacy of their temporary ‘home’ in Whitebridge, their base of operations, and see where the clues led them. There might, he thought, still be time to stop some of these events from happening if that was what Kathleen and the White Tower wanted. But in order to do so they needed to decipher the clues, and that would be far from easy as the Warder saw it. Summarizing it all in his head, the Warder did not think this was factual proof of Darkfriend association on the part of the High Lady Lyndelle - it could be the usual devious plotting among Noble Houses - but it certainly was a strong indication as he saw it. He did not know how Kathleen viewed it and there was no time to discuss it here; they would need to consider the matter later. As she had said, it was time they move along quickly before they were discovered. ● Kathleen put the letter back in the envelope and the envelope back in the small drawer. She closed it and stepped back as Elessar used his lockpick to close the small drawer-lock again. It was a trick he had been taught by a locksmith once upon a time. Just as they were about to move toward the door leading to the Great Hall, holding the candle light high for added light, a soft sound made them stop in their tracks. They exchanged a quick glance. The door from the Great Hall slithered open and someone, they could not at first see who, stepped into the room. “Now then”, a sly voice said in the semi-darkness “What do we have here..” ● High Lady Lyndelle, wearing a Black dress with a matching top, looked at the two intruders, her right eyebrow lifted, her smile smug. “Breaking in, in the dead of night, going through my private things.” Her azure-blue eyes glittered with dark amusement. “Is this what.. friends do, Kathleen Aes Sedai?” Two Andoran guards in formal attire with swords unsheathed and malicious stares followed her into the room. The door was closed behind them. The High Lady’s cold and inquisitive blue eyes fastened on the Sister of the White Tower, waiting for an answer. ▀▄
  7. .. As the Shadow Rises .. ►▼◄ The old Illianer woman screamed in pain. Her face felt as if it were on fire. The pain was endless and she knew she was going to die. Just as she was going to black out, the pain stopped suddenly and she gasped, her whole body shaking, her hands trembling uncontrollably. She was hunched over on the sharp rocks near the ocean, waves hitting the slippery rocks close by, the domes of Illian in the far distance. A canopy of darkness from horizon to horizon filled her blurred vision as she raised her head to the night sky. Tears streamed down her once handsome face, her semi-blond hair now matted with blood, her dress torn and dirty. “I ask again”, the cloaked man demanded harshly. “Did you break your promise?” “I do be doing no such a thing”, the old woman stuttered between panicked gasps. “Do be trusting my words. I do be keeping my promise.” Raphael looked down at the woman and cursed inside. Another worthless servant of the Shadow. Another oath-breaker. ● She had broken the trust they had put in her, speaking secrets to family members however much she denied it now, revealing things that were not to be revealed. There was only one punishment for such disobedience. Death. But first he had to know how much she had revealed. Not that she knew that much to begin with, being a minor member of the local Friends of the Dark circle, but any breach was serious and had to be closed before the problem escalated. “Don’t lie to me”, Raphael said icily and applied more pressure on her abdomen using delicate weaves of Saidin. The woman screamed in renewed agony and shook her head. “I do be truthful, Great Master”, she cried. “We know that you broke your oath”. He said it as a statement of fact. Easing up on the pain, he grabbed the woman’s hair and forced her face upwards. “There is no use in lying”, he added. “Who else did you tell, apart from your two cousins?” “I do no break my promise”, she cried. The pain increased. “All right, I do tell Willfred and Keldon about my meeting”, she spluttered, the pain grabbing her, her limbs trembling. “Only that. But they do be family. They do be trusted, they do be telling no one. You do be trusting them, Great Master.” Her bloodshot eyes begged him to believe her, her body quivering, but for him there was no mercy. “I - trust - no one”. His words were final and she saw her death in his eyes, partially revealed in the silver light of the moon. Closing her own ocean-green eyes, her body slowly going limp, readying herself for the inevitable, she waited for death to take her. When it came, a subtle weave of Saidin slicing through her brain like a sliver of ice-water, she hardly felt a thing. ● The city of Cairhien was situated on the east bank of the River Alguenya just south of its junction with the River Gaelin. There was a large dock area on the river with many granaries on the other side. The city walls formed a perfect square. The area outside the city walls, the Foregate, was also heavily populated. A sprawling settlement, the buildings in Foregate were mostly made of wood, and some of them had multiple stories. There were inns, taverns, homes, and shops galore. For the highly status-conscious and reserved Cairhienin nobility, Foregate was beneath their notice. The population was mostly commoners. Staring down at the city from his balcony atop the Manor House, Lord Taighan did not care about any of the commoners in Cairhien. In fact, he did not care much about the Nobles either. All he cared about was putting his plans into action and making sure no one messed them up. He was a dark-haired man of average height and build in his mid-thirties with dark eyes and a handsome face. He wore a dark blue coat and looked every part the Nobleman. The sun was rising in an azure-blue sky, a soft breeze drifting in from the north-west. It was late morning and it looked to be a beautiful day. Turning away from the view, Lord Taighan re-entered his chamber and headed across to his work desk. He picked up an envelope which read ‘To Lord Senidhred’ on the front and carried it down the stairs to the floor below. A young servant met him at the foot of the stairs and gave him a polite bow. Handing him the letter to have it delivered, the Lord walked past him without a word and out the front entrance. A horse and carriage waited outside and he stepped quickly inside the carriage, closing the door behind him. Soon they were headed into the centre of the city, a city soon filled with the sounds of voices and life; shopkeepers selling their wares and customers haggling, dogs barking in the distance, farmers bringing in their produce from the nearby region, horses and carriages bringing Nobles and merchants to and fro. Nothing of this registered in Lord Taighan’s mind as he passed down the city streets toward his destination. He was, in fact, thinking about the confrontation of the evening before. ● “That is a ridiculous proposal, Lord Taighan!” Lord Madhrid had made no secret of his strong disagreement. An older Lord in his early fifties, dressed as always in his finery, he had never been afraid to speak his mind. “Allying ourselves with Houses Sehnin, Khaledred and Lihren will cause major divisions among Cairhien Nobility”, he had shouted. “It is not in our best interest. We need some stability now that the world outside seems to be growing more and more chaotic every day.” “What rubbish!” Lord Taighan had replied emphatically. His voice was condescending as it often was when talking to people he considered his inferiors (which meant almost everyone). “This will bring more stability to Cairhien. Those Houses are often at each other’s throats as you well know; an alliance will benefit everyone, and the few Houses that may disagree will be.. persuaded otherwise.” Lord Madrid had not been convinced, suspecting this was a personal grab for power, and had left the meeting in anger, promising that he would do whatever he could to stop these new plans. Manoeuvring for power was part of every Cairhienin Nobleman’s blood. They had, after all, invented Daes Dae'mar, The Game Of Houses. It was the political and social manoeuvring employed by the Nobility to gain status or wealth, or to cause the downfall of others they dislike. Sometimes also called The Great Game, it was played heavily in Cairhien, where the most seemingly irrelevant act could cause Lords and Ladies to speculate endlessly about one's motives; even servants of the Cairhienin Nobility it was said play their own version of Daes Dae'mar. Lord Taighan was a deft player and used his skills to further his ambitions. And you, Lord Madhrid, thought Lord Taighan with some amusement, just overplayed your hand. ● Stepping out of the carriage before a large mansion at the outskirts of the city Lord Taighan brushed the dust from his dark coat and then walked up to the entrance. The door was opened before he got to knock and a male servant invited him in. The walls along the corridor were heavily decorated in a fashion which did not impress the Lord and he walked swiftly along, his mind on the meeting to come. Finally he entered a long hallway and saw a figure waiting for him at the end. Lady Surhin welcomed her guest enthusiastically, ushering him into a larger chamber which turned out to be the reception room. “Lord Taighan”, she said politely when they had seated themselves around a small table at the northern end of the room. “Lady Surhin”’, he replied with a thin smile. “Thank you for inviting me.” The long-haired, usually stern-faced middle-aged Noblewoman looked shrewdly at this Lord from the outer provinces, or so it was said, who had climbed the ladder of power in Cairhien in a surprisingly short time. Wherever he came from, he was certainly a man suited to The Game. His proposal for an alliance with her House Khaledred had certainly come out of nowhere and had surprised her. His House had often been opposed to her interests.. but his offer intrigued her and she was curious to hear what he had in mind. “Your offer interests me”, Lady Surhin said smoothly after they had exchanged the expected pleasantries. “It did come as a surprise though, seeing as your House has not been the most.. agreeable to House Khaledred’s activities of late.” Lord Taighan nodded with a thin smile. “We have been at odds for some time, that is true”, he replied smoothly. “But that is about to change.” The man once known as Esahm Seldin Terivahr grinned widely, his dark eyes glinting with possibilities. ● “Good times are ahead of us, Lady Surhin”, Kieran said. His deep voice resonated in the large room and the Noble lady’s face lit up, delicate threads of Compulsion aiding her positive reaction. “Together we shall help make Cairhien stronger”, he lied. The Chosen chuckled inside as he saw the Noble lady’s face glow with eagerness as he spoke of his - Lord Taighan’s - plans. Oh, these Nobles were so easy to manipulate, thought the Chosen with disdain as he watched her fall into his trap. Breaking up alliances, forging new ones, breaking up those through betrayals and re-forging them again later made for perfect instability and chaos. Kieran enjoyed the Game of Power though he missed his time as a scientist back in the world before the Breaking, when he had been doing truly important work. Working at the Sihn Theal, in his laboratories, he had created the Trollocs and other Shadowspawn for the Shadow, a feat almost unmatched by time. Banohr had aided too, of course, but it was he, Kieran, who had been the true brains behind the scientific success, the true innovator, the greatest scientist that had ever lived! This new Age knew nothing of such marvels, children they were playing in a world playground which was a poor and faint echo of the splendour of the world and Age he and his brethren had left behind. Scholar as he was, Kieran was a methodical man and he had quickly decided to make the most of it, after awakening from the Dreamless Sleep that he preferred not to dwell upon. For his own gratification. And for the Great Lord. Of course. He used his methodical, experienced skills in persuasion now as he convinced the Lady of House Khaledred to support his plans. Outwardly he was serious and formal, a slight smile on his lips. Inside he was chuckling with glee. Cairhien was there for the taking. ● The Sea Folk ship flew like an arrow across the waves of the Aryth Ocean, borne by strong winds. The Sailmistress, Tarah din Coral Rising Wave, a tall dark-skinned woman with grey streaked hair, a grave face and with four rings in each ear, one of them being connected to her nose by a chain, a sign of her higher rank, smiled contentedly from her position of command on the Quarterdeck. This was her vessel, a Raker called Wavesweeper, and she was mighty proud of it and her crew. The vessel was large 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. Tarah had begun aboard a ship as a deckhand many years before, in the tradition of the Atha’an Miere, and had worked herself up through the ranks. She had finally fulfilled her ambition and gained the rank of Sailmistress with her own vessel - and she felt as protective of her ship as she would of a child. Her eyes swept over her ship with practiced ease, storing every little detail in her mind, and spotting her Windfinder Chalor din Togara Evening Tide near the bow. Windfinders were women who could channel the One Power and they were invaluable in plotting the best course based on the wind and currents. Manipulating the weather with flows of Air and Water, weaves Windfinders were particularly skilled at, they could change the weather to avert storms and speed their ship along to its destination. And Chalor din Togara Evening Tide was the best Windfinder the Sailmistress had ever had on her ship. She gave silent blessings for her fortune in obtaining this highly skilled and proficient Windfinder after the sudden, unexpected death of her previous one, Mebreille din Eiran North Wind. The woman had been found on deck one morning, dark eyes staring emptily into the sky, her heart no longer beating. There had been no sign of injury or any wrongdoing though the Sailmistress found the whole thing puzzling seeing as the woman had been healthy as a dolphin in heat from what the Sailmistress had observed. Soon after Chalor din Togara Evening Tide had appeared at one of their landfalls with good recommendations from other Sailmistresses and Tarah had taken her on, even if this woman was a stranger to her. They needed a Windfinder and this woman seemed capable. It was the best decision of her life. ● Chalor din Togara Evening Tide stared outwards at the ocean-waves from her vantage point. She was dark-skinned like her Sea Folk-sisters, dark-eyed with short hair, a lean body and she wore tattoos on her hands of stars and seabirds surrounded by the curls and whirls of stylized waves. She was ranked only under the Sailmistress and Cargomaster on this ship and the arrogance in her gait as she walked the decks befitted her station. Gazing at the dark and heavy clouds moving in the sky ahead of them, floating in an unnatural manner against the wind, pushed by strong weaves of Saidar, Issandra grinned and there was wickedness in her dark eyes. She was very pleased with herself. Under the guise of Chalor din Togara Evening Tide, who unfortunately lay dead at the bottom of the Aryth Ocean (it was very unwise to eat posioned mussels!), she had easily manipulated this stupid and naive Sailmistress into giving her the position of Windfinder on this ship after poor Mebreille din Eiran North Wind had died suddenly in the night (I guess she had not prepared for my inverted weave after all.. poor soul!). Issandra was now exactly where she needed to be, to influence events. She knew (though it hurt to admit it to herself) she probably was generally the weakest of the Chosen in the One Power, but she had one ability which outranked them all: she was very strong in Air and Water and very proficient in manipulating the weather, or Weaving of the Winds, as the Sea Folk called it. She doubted any of the so-called Aes Sedai of this Age were anywhere near her ability in this regard, Cloud Dancing they appatently called this Talent, though perhaps some of these Windfinders were closer in skill; she had watched several at work on several ships since her awakening from the Dreamless Sleep and she had to admit they were not totally useless. She did not use all her skill as Chalor din Togara Evening Tide, however, not wanting to cast suspicion on her ‘extraordinary skill’, doing just enough to impress the Sailmistress and make their journeys swift and efficient. Having to act the Windfinder at all times vexed her in truth, but she put up with it in public, venting her frustration only when in private. It was all worth it and the Great Lord would be pleased. ● Chalor din Togara Evening Tide changed the flows of Air, altering her weaves ever so delicately, and the Sea Folk vessel jumped forwards, entering an even better sea corridor towards the north. The ‘Windfinder’s’ thoughts were, however, not entirely on the skies and the horizon ahead but partly in another Age and another Time, where Issandra was carrying out important research on wind power and accelerated particle division, to much scientific acclaim, in the science facility of Ner Khalid. ● A goblet of delicious, perfectly chilled blood-red wine stood on the table. Lord Serafehl poured himself some of that red wine and enjoyed the taste of Taraboner grapes on his tongue. He looked with relish at the plate with a large steak, roasted potatoes, vegetables and a spicy sauce in front of him. It looked delicious but just as he raised his fork and knife to cut that steak a servant came into the private dining room with a message. “Can it not wait?” He said briskly. The servant, a young Illianer man in his mid-twenties, bowed and apologized for disturbing him but said this message was urgent. Receiving the piece of paper, the Lord looked at the heading which read “Lord Serafehl”. It was written in a flowing script which to Raphael’s eyes looked female. A woman had written this, of that he felt sure. Gazing at the message, he saw that it was an invitation to a reception at the Manor House of Lady Derinha. She was a fellow councillor here in Illian, someone who had been neutral in most of the discussions in the council in the past year but who had supported Serafehl in the voting. He had not spoken much to her in truth, so he was a little curious why she wanted this meeting. Things were coming along well in Illian as he saw it, but he could always use some added support to his schemes. Maintaining a majority vote in the council was important and any action that aided in this endeavour was worthwhile. Nodding to his young servant, he bade him send a quick reply on his behalf accepting the invitation. When the man had left, Lord Serafehl focused on his meal once again and almost sighed with pleasure as he tasted that delicious red meat. ● A chime rang in his private chamber later that evening and he understood it was time to go. His orders by the Great Lord has been explicit. He intended to follow them to the letter. Putting his dark coat on, Raphael seized Saidin and opened a gateway right there in his chamber. Through the gateway he saw parts of a semi-dark hill cave, hard stone reaching in all directions, candle lights lit at intervals. Stepping through, the gateway snapped shut behind him. He knew he was in the Blight though he could not say specifically where. Not that it mattered for today’s business. It could have been carried out anywhere, in truth, but this place was.. appropriate, he thought. Secret, out of the way. Solitary. They would not be disturbed. Heading further into the hill cave, on a path that angled downwards for a long while, Raphael considered the evening’s business. This would be the first time since awakening from the Dreamless Sleep that he would participate in such an action. It had been done before, of course, during the War of Power but it needed ample ‘resources’ one could say and so was fairly rare and only done when deemed especially necessary for the Shadow. The cave path slowly straightened, then angled upwards and finally opened up, walls of stone rising upwards on all sides, with huge malachites hanging from the ceiling high above. In the middle of the huge stone chamber, criss-crossed by symbols on the ground and partially lit by three dozen candle lights, stood thirteen Myrddraal and twelve Dreadlords. Raphael joined them. Bound by flows of Air to the stone wall behind them, two feet off the ground, was the Aes Sedai. Arahna Desonai, Head of the Blue Ajah of the White Tower. Her blue eyes stared icily and defiantly at everyone gathered, her smooth ageless Aes Sedai-features strained, her long curly blond hair flowing down from her shoulders. She was gagged with Air but had she not been, Raphael felt sure she would have cursed them all as evil traitors to the Light. He liked women with spirit, but her defiance would soon turn to terror when she realized what they were going to do to her. Seven of the gathered Dreadlords were male, the remaining five female. The females were of the so-called Black Ajah, Aes Sedai who had forsaken their oaths to the Light and joined the Shadow. The Myrddraal stood silently waiting, their Eyeless faces turned upwards. Raphael walked up to the bound Aes Sedai and smiled wickedly. Staring up into the Andoran woman’s face he whispered, “This is a day of joy for you. Soon you will join your sisters and brothers in service to the Great Lord. You are forsaking the Light. Aren’t you happy?” Defiance gradually turned to terror as recognition dawned on her and she realized what he had meant, what was about to happen to her. Her eyes widened in horror. Her soul cried out and had she been able to, she would have killed herself rather than go through what she now understood was about to happen: she was going to be Turned to the Shadow against her will. Tears flowed down her chin, her cheeks burning with frustration, as she thought with despair that they would make her betray the Light forever. She had been told of this secret evil practice from Ages past - the last known case was during the Trolloc Wars as far as she knew - when she had been raised Aes Sedai more than one hundred years before. In order to Turn someone unwillingly to the Shadow, it was said, one needed to gather thirteen Myrddraal and thirteen Dreadlords in one place. The victim of Turning must also be able to channel. The combination of Saidin and Saidar channeled through Myrddraal in this way was said to shift the allegiance of any channeler to the Shadow against their will. The process twists the person so that any previous commitment to the Light is redirected towards the Shadow. It was the ultimate horror Arahna could imagine and she screamed silent screams that almost tore her soul. ● Raphael grinned wickedly, seeing the horror painted on her face. It was time to begin. He joined the other twelve Dreadlords, making and completing a circle of thirteen channelers. He was the one leading, controlling the flow. He felt Saidin surge through his body and he increased the flow almost to bursting, feeling ecstasy in his soul. The power coming from the thirteen channelers was so strong that it made the air vibrate. He removed the gag of Air from the Aes Sedai and she screamed loudly, unendingly, a desperate cry that welled up from the bottom of her soul. Channeling through the thirteen Myrddraal, mixing with the power that the Fades derived from the True Power, the thirteen channelers of the Shadow threw their combined might at the Aes Sedai woman and it hit her like a burning storm. Horrendous screams erupted from her mouth as she tried to fight the massive onslaught. Crying out for the Light, tears flooding her face, she fought the mental rape for what seemed an eternity, using every fibre of her being to defend her soul, her heart, everything that was Arahna, resisting for as long as she was able. Hysterical with pain and fear, trying in vain to reach for the blessed One Power, and wanting oblivion, she fought on.. and on.. OH LIGHT NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!.. her will strong and fighting and brave and pure….. but it was not enough. Not enough. Slowly, by increments, she felt her inner defences weakening, her thoughts became muddled and she knew .. OH DEAR CREATOR, I CAN FEEL IT!!! .. that her soul was being darkened. Her strength waned and then at a point, an eternity later, she could not tell, she felt a.. change inside her, as if a hand of darkness had reached into her and extinguished everything she had ever been, everything she had ever thought, every love she had ever nurtured, every dream she had ever had. Her soul was breaking - and the scream in her mind was endless. Her last thought as herself before she passed out, was that she wanted to die and end it all. ● Afterwards Raphael felt spent, and he crossed over to one of the stone walls to recover. He did not want the others to know how much this - leading the circle - had temporarily weakened him, so he brushed the sweat from his brow without anyone seeing and shielded his strength in the One Power in a way he had learned in the Age of Legends. It was a trick that had come in handy on several occasions. Looking at the others he saw that several of the Dreadlords were pretty exhausted too. It had taken longer than expected to break this Aes Sedai woman, she had been strong-willed, but they had succeeded. She had been Turned to the Shadow and was no longer the same woman, the same personality, that she had been. When Arahna Sedai recovered a little later, she had walked up to the Chosen and bowed to him. Her face had been flat but without any defiance as she had sworn new binding Oaths to the Great Lord holding a Binder, or Oath Rod as they called it in this new Age. Her eyes had been deep wells of nothingness.. but this did not surprise Raphael since he knew that Turned channelers were said to have a darkness or soullessness behind their eyes, at least for some period after the event. She had joined her Dreadlord sisters in the huge cave, and would now willingly (even if perhaps slightly diminished) join the Black Ajah’s efforts on behalf of the Great Lord to disrupt matters in the White Tower. Raphael did not know why none of the other Chosen had been asked to be present at this Turning, not either Divara who operated out of the White Tower, nor did he know if she had been informed (though he assumed so), but it did not matter. He had done as he had been ordered. Apparently this Head of the Blue Ajah was a person who it would benefit the Shadow greatly to have on their side. The Great Lord would be pleased. Raphael, feeling his strength slowly returning, exchanged a few words with some of the Dreadlords present, handing out commands and orders, then told them all to leave. All except the Aes Sedai. “Are you ready to carry out your duties for the Great Lord?” He asked carefully, looking deeply into the woman’s eyes. “I am, Great Master.” She replied truthfully. Deferentially. Her eyes were dead but there was no doubt in her voice. She was ready to serve the Shadow. ● Raphael was the last to leave the cave in the Blight. He opened a gateway to Travel to Illian. When his gateway snapped shut behind him as he stepped into his private chamber at the other side of the continent, the darkness of the night surrounding him, he grinned with malice but also contentment. Another day’s work completed. It was time to celebrate with some more delicious blood-red wine. ▀▄
  8. .. A Plan is only as Good as its Execution .. ►▼◄ The ball of light that Kathleen had weaved using Saidar partially lit up the dark cave where the two of them remained in silence for a while, the filthy words of the Poem of the Shadow echoing in their minds. They were also considering their next step. They had checked the cave as well as they could and there was always the chance that some of the Darkfriends would return. Not that Elessar doubted that the two of them could take care of such a situation - they were both seasoned warriors - but he felt it was best to return to the house they had made their new base of operations in Whitebridge and Kathleen agreed with his suggestion. As they left the cave, the ball of light winked out of existence and they headed into the night, walking resolutely in the direction of the town. ● They crouched in the shadows outside the Great Hall, the silence deafening. It was past midnight and the Manor House belonging to House Serevan was quiet. Elessar looked behind his shoulder at Kathleen and the glint in her stare made him guess that she was wondering how she had been persuaded by him to go ahead with this daring venture. In truth, he was wondering himself if breaking in, in the dark of night, with the intent of finding evidence of Darkfriend association on the part of the High Lady was such a good idea after all. ● The idea had seemed a good one at the time. The day after their return from the cave they has sat discussing their options in the house they were based in and both had agreed that the situation was complicated. There was danger but also excitement that both felt, eagerness to succeed in this mission but also a sense of prudence. The signs were clear that there was Darkfriend activity in the area as they had been led to believe, but they had no factual evidence as of yet. And the question was, how to obtain such evidence? Elessar had at one point suggested questioning their Darkfriend prisoner some more, pressing him for information, but they had agreed that it was highly unlikely the man would admit to any more than he already had, and uncertain how much more he actually knew. Torturing the man like a Whitecloak Questioner might have done was out of the question. Pressing a prisoner hard was one thing, torture quite another. After a long discussion Elessar had come up with a bold and daring idea: to break into the Manor House of High Lady Lyndelle during the night and look for evidence that proved she was a Darkfriend. At first it had seemed a somewhat rash, desperate idea with far too many downsides (the risk of being caught red handed at a private property in the middle of the night foremost, as well as the strong possibility that they would find no factual evidence after all), but the longer they considered it the better the idea seemed to the Warder. They had to do something and this was a bold move that the High Lady would never suspect. If they were careful, they could pull this off, he argued. He had to admit it sounded exciting as well, a clandestine operation and challenge where they would need to show honed skills and great care. Kathleen seemed to him not totally convinced by the idea but in the end she had agreed, also because they had not come up with any better alternatives. ● Perhaps this wasn’t my best idea. The Warder now thought in retrospect. Elessar considered the situation in the darkness. He had picked the lock to the huge main entrance door with relative ease (it was a practical skill learned many years before as a young Warder) and fortunately there had been no guards around, nor any alarm sounding. Sneaking into the hallway they had walked down some days before during their visit to the Manor, they had hidden in the shadows, waiting for an inside guard to appear at any moment. After a minute crouching in a corner they had walked slowly and silently down the hallway. Candle lights on the wall at regular intervals lit the way forward and Elessar glimpsed in passing the historical paintings he had seen on the walls before and the crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Stopping at a corner, the Gaidin had peeked into the next corridor and seeing no movement had motioned to Kathleen and continued forwards. Half-way along this passageway there had been sudden movement coming from some way ahead and they had rushed in behind a pillar, moving as silently as possible, in time to hide from whoever was approaching. It had been a guard with a sword at his side and the middle-aged Andoran had passed them by without seeing them. It had been a close call though, Elessar had thought, and they had taken great care as they had continued toward the Great Hall. And now here they were, waiting patiently in the shadows outside the Great Hall of the Manor. They had agreed that it was most likely that any papers or other forms of evidence would be found in the private office where they had had their conversation with the High Lady. And to get to that room they had to go through the Great Hall. Elessar exchanged another look with his Bondholder and her stare was hard to decipher but he thought she was not overly amused. Turning back to face the large pair of doors with the House sigil embedded into the oak woodwork that were the entrance to the Great Hall, he considered whether there would be any guards in there. Since they had only seen one guard so far there was every chance there would be more around. Then again, it could be that the High Lady did not see the need for having more than one guard in the Manor at nighttime. It was time to roll the dice. ● Nodding to Kathleen, he finally crept up to the large oak doors and turned the door handle. He half expected the door to be locked but was pleasantly surprised when the door sliced open almost soundlessly. He waited a few seconds, alert and ready for movement inside but there was only silence. They moved quietly into the Great Hall, closing the door softly behind them. The Great Hall had fewer candle lights along the walls but sufficient for them to make their way across the large room and toward the door at the back which led to the office room which was their destination. When they arrived outside the office room, they stopped and waited. He whispered a few words to Kathleen and she replied with a nod. If any room had occupants at this late hour, it would be this one. They had both agreed on that. They did not expect the High Lady to be up so late and working (which was part of the reason they had come this late) but one could never tell. Perhaps the High Lady enjoyed plotting at night. Placing his ear close to the door, the Warder listened for any sound. There was nothing. Waiting a few more moments, he then tried the door handle. Unsurprisingly it was locked. He had expected as much. Removing his lockpick from his pocket he had the door opened in moments. He pushed the door inwards ever so slowly, ready to pounce on whoever was inside, but there was no one there. The room was dark with no lights at all and only slivers of silver light coming through the window at the end. Waving for his Aes Sedai to follow, they crept into the room and closed the door silently behind them. ● They waited until their eyes had adapted to the near-darkness of the room, listening for any movement out in the Great Hall, then they walked past the big table where they had conversed with the High Lady and up to a cupboard in the corner. Elessar had noticed the cupboard on their previous visit but had thought little of it then. When they had discussed the most probable place messages and other evidence could be found in this office room, however, the cupboard had come to mind. It was at least the first place they would check. A small voice in the back of his head whispered that the High Lady would not be so stupid as to let compromising evidence be lying around, but then again he knew that people - also Nobles - made mistakes and were not always as careful as they ought to be. Perhaps we are lucky, Elessar thought as he stopped before the cupboard, lighting a small candle for them to see. Kathleen joined him and he watched as she waited a second, then carefully opened a small drawer on the cupboard, shuffling through several small pieces of paper. Then she opened a second small drawer which only contained a few trinkets. The third drawer was locked. They exchanged a quick glance, thinking the same thing. This would probably be where any important papers were stored. The Warder removed his lockpick set again from his pocket and chose a small lockpick this time. Inserting it into the small drawer-lock, he moved it around inside the lock with twists and turns until a small click sounded. Nodding to Kathleen, he put the lockpick set away and watched as she carefully opened the small drawer. Inside was an envelope with a letter inside. The envelope had not been re-sealed so the Aes Sedai was able to remove the letter with ease. Holding it up near the candle light, she read the flowing script. Afterwards she handed it to Elessar without a word. He read it in silence. ● It said: My High Lady, I bring you good tidings. The plans we discussed some weeks ago have been set into motion. Our Friend sends his regards and says that the Black Rose will be sacrificed. It has been ordered so. Let me also add that the emeralds have been received and will be a princely gift indeed. They should give us the leverage we need. As for our.. guests shall we say.. keep a close eye on them. We must not let them interfere in our plans. Nothing must come in the way now. Remember what happened to our.. sister who failed. Her misjudgement almost destroyed everything. We must be careful. Yours in the Faith, Nyriana High Lady of House Vandahr ▀▄
  9. .. The Price of Betrayal .. ►▼◄ Her body plastered to the wall by invisible flows of air, she knew she was dying a slow and painful death. There was no sound coming from her, a weave of air gagging her, but the woman’s pretty features twisted with horrendous pain and her whole body would have jerked with spasms had she not been so pinned to the wall, as extremely delicate weaves of fire every so slowly sliced through her abdomen and her side. ● Raphael did not share Divara’s great pleasure in inflicting pain on others, but he did what needed doing and it was necessary to make an example of this traitor to their cause. For she had betrayed them, had attempted to reveal a fellow Friend of the Dark and a long-planned scheme to disrupt activities in the region to the local town authorities. Very unwise. Before that she had spread discontent within her Friends of the Dark-circle, accusing her leaders - and even the Chosen! - of withholding the truth and raving about there being no hope now that the Forces of Light were marching. Though many took her for a fool, there were also some - especially those new to their oaths - who listened. Finally she had renounced her Oath to the Great Lord. Very unwise indeed. Personally, Raphael thought the dark-haired, slender built woman had gone completely insane. Whatever the case, she was now paying the price of betrayal. She could see his face and his intense gaze as he came very close to her. His words were spoken softly and in her momentous pain she heard. “Lady, this is the price you pay for disobedience.” Soft words. “You betrayed our cause. You betrayed our Great Lord.” ● He felt her vital organs being crushed by his Saidin-wrought fire and understood that she had only moments left before death. And so he said, “The penalty is death. Pray that the Great Lord will give you eternal sleep, after you betrayed his word and your sacred Oath. Perhaps instead you will have eternal pain.” His grin widened wickedly. In that final moment of torturous pain, Raphael slackened the weaves of air holding her bound a little bit - enough so that he would see her body break. And with a widening of her eyes, she gave a final jerk, a final soundless cry and then her body went limp, all light leaving her eyes forever. The Chosen let go of all the weaves of air and she fell like an empty sack to the ground. He only gave her a quick glance, then turned to the middle-aged man standing off to the side with impassionate eyes. “Take her body to the circle and display it well.” The Friend of the Dark nodded. “Let everyone know what was done to her and that this is the price they will pay if they betray our cause or break their Oath.” “Yes, Great Master.” The man spoke deferentially and did not meet Raphael’s eyes. “It shall be done”, the man said. Raphael nodded satisfied, then watched as the Illianer Friend of the Dark lifted the dead woman up onto his shoulder and carried what was left of her corpse out of the room. On the floor remained small parts of her in a widening pool of blood. ● Seated in his high-backed chair in his chamber in the Great Hall of the Council, Lord Serafehl shuffled through the bunch of papers on his desk, his mind elsewhere. Outside twilight was descending on the Capital City of Illian, day slowly turning to night. Getting up from his chair, the Lord walked across the room and out onto the balcony. He stared out at the Square of Tammaz as he so often did in the evenings, thinking about strategy and what move to make next. Raphael’s thoughts went back to the evening before when he - or rather Lord Serafehl - had been challenged in the Council. Lord Ardhen, together with his two accomplices, had accused Lord Serafehl of threatening councillors and of incompetence with regards to a financial transaction-deal which the council had previously approved but which had gone awry. Raphael - in the guise of Lord Serafehl - had barely been able to contain his anger and has used his strong influence in the council to carry a motion which criticized Lord Ardhen for baseless accusations and made him apologize. Lord Ardhen had stormed out of the council chamber afterwards, staring daggers at Lord Serafehl as he passed. Raphael, for his part, had decided to accelerate his plan for the Illianer Lord’s unfortunate demise. You should be more careful going for a swim with these dangerous ocean currents, my Lord Ardhen. The Chosen thought with wicked amusement. One day it will be the death of you. His evil laughter remained, wisps of shadows in the air, as he walked inside his chamber again, new plans forming in his head. ● Ebou Dar. Raphael stepped out of the gateway and it snapped shut behind him. He was in a small palace in the Altaran Capital, in a private chamber that stood next to the reception hall. The walls were decorated with paintings of all sorts and in all the corners were luxurious vases on ornate pedestals. Lord Elahron, first councillor to the Queen of Altara, enjoyed affluence. Vinadel has not changed since his re-awakening in this time and Age, thought the Chosen with some amusement as he studied the paintings with some interest. He knew that a chime would have alerted the other Chosen to his presence and that Vinadel would join him shortly. Walking across to a window which showed the Royal Palace in the distance, Raphael stared out at the afternoon sun which lit up the Altaran Capital. It was a beautiful city, with its pale white buildings and plenty of canals. Transportation was easy on the passenger canal boats as well as on the broad streets and bridges. Large buildings and palaces were scattered throughout the city, the palaces richly decorated with tall spires or domes in the shapes of turnips or pears, emblazoned with bands of crimson, blue, and gold. The city was surrounded by a very thick white wall, which had three main gates - the Moldaine Gate, the Three Towers Gate, and the Dal Eira Gate - as well as several minor ones. Throughout the city, paved squares were very common, often containing a fountain bubbling water, a large statue, or both. Out of these squares, the Mol Hara square was by far the largest. At its center stood a statue of a woman with one arm raised as to point toward the sea. One entire side of the Mol Hara square was dominated by the gleaming white Tarasin Palace, home of the current ruler of Altara. Ah, but the real power is here. Vinadel was not the most accomplished of the Chosen in Raphael’s view, neither a great general nor a master manipulator, but he did have a way with words and ideas, having been a renowned Philosopher before the Breaking, and had managed to move himself into the position of chief advisor to the Queen, influencing things nicely here in his base of power. He and Raphael saw many things in the same light and had had a loose alliance since escaping the Dreamless Sleep. They did not trust one another, of course, but they had an understanding of sorts which benefited them both at present. ● The door at the other side of the room opened and Raphael turned around. Lord Elahron entered, closing the door behind him. He wore an ornate grey coat with frills at the neck and cuffs and his boots also had frills. It was almost a mirror image of Raphael’s black attire. A tall, slender, scholarly man in his late thirties, dark haired with a short beard and brown eyes, the Lord nodded to Raphael and a small smile came upon his lips. “Lord Serafehl”, he said in a pleasant voice. “How good of you to visit me.” Raphael returned the small smile. “Lord Elahron, I am pleased to be back.” Raphael was not surprised when Vinadel made a weave which ensured their privacy from prying ears - he always did this for their meetings, something Raphael thought prudent - and then bade him sit in one of the two chairs near the window. Seating himself, Raphael considered how much or how little he could tell Vinadel. With all that was going on he expected Vinadel would be just as careful. “So”, Vinadel began tentatively. “How are things going in Illian?” Raphael smiled thinly. “Oh, very well. A few obstacles, as can be expected, but on the whole things are going smoothly. And here in Altara?” “Very well”, Vinadel replied. “The Queen is.. stubborn, but she listens to good advice. She affords trust to her advisors.” Raphael nodded. “That is good.” His eyes intensified. “And what of Vanahl’s commands?” Vinadel’s brown eyes narrowed slightly. “Ah yes. He was rather.. displeased by the whole boy Dragon affair, wasn’t he?” A small grin came upon his lips. ● Raphael grinned back. “Indeed. Our Nae'blis was not happy at all.” A small pause. “Any idea who was behind that whole thing?” He said it lightly, wondering what Vinadel knew and what he would share. “Oh, it was not me”, Vinadel replied with a small chuckle. “In case you wondered. I have no idea, but it was rather unwise, I think.” “Yes”, Raphael said, his mouth twisting slightly. “Some of our.. associates have been.. premature before.” He chuckled, knowing the double-meaning would not escape the other man. “Indeed”, Vinadel replied with similar amusement. “Have you spoken to Vanahl since the meeting?” “Yes, I have”, Raphael answered. His lips tightened momentarily. It had been an unpleasant meeting where Vanahl had accused him of holding things back - which he had, of course been doing - and Raphael accusing Vanahl of losing control of the group of Chosen. They had parted in anger. “He was not overly pleased by what I had to tell him.” Meeting the other man’s eyes, he added, “And you?” “Yes, he came to see me some days ago.” Vinadel replied, his eyes narrowing once again. “Not a very pleasant man. Never was.” Raphael nodded in agreement. “He feels things are falling apart, but it is more the question of him losing control, I think. Our plans are going ahead, the Shadow is slowly spreading. The Great Lord will be pleased.” “I agree”, Vinadel said. “I don’t know what some of the others are up to, but down here South things are going according to plan.” ● When he returned to his chamber in Illian a little later, the silver line of the gateway disappearing behind him, Raphael went over in his mind what his fellow Chosen had said. He had watched the other man carefully during their conversation, trying to pick up on body language and signals which spoke of intent and emotion, but had perceived little of use. Perhaps Vinadel had spoken truth, perhaps deception. It would have to do for now. The man could at least be relied on, as far as any of the other Chosen could be relied on in the great Game of Power. ● The Council of Twelve were horrified when they were informed the following morning that Lord Ardhen had been found dead in the sea outside the Capital. It was ruled an accidental drowning in strong ocean currents, a probable heart attack when the councillor had gone for his regular evening swim. Lord Serafehl had been most gracious in his kind words of the late Lord, saying that despite their differences Lord Ardhen had been an honourable man who had served Illian with dignity and strength for many years. A motion had subsequently been passed, honouring the dead Lord, and only when the meeting was over and he was alone again in his private chamber, had his somber mask of melancholy broken to be replaced by gleeful jubilation. There was an empty seat on the Council now but with his influence and power Lord Serafehl knew he would be able to get the right man selected. Oh we shall miss your valuable council, my Lord Ardhen. He grinned wickedly. We shall miss it immeasurably. ● The dying rasp of the Myrddraal (they always took a long time to die, damn them!) made the man’s almost black eyes harden even further, if that were possible. Disobedience of the Chosen was almost unheard of but this servant had questioned his orders and he would not stand for it. What business is it of yours, he whispered in his mind to the almost dead creature, how I decide to carry out the Great Lord’s commands ? You are a Servant of the Shadow, of the Great Lord, of me, and you live to obey! Disgust shone in his eyes as he stared at the dying body of the Fade. He tightened his fists and tried to control the anger within. “The penalty for disobedience is death.” His words were hard as stone. “May the Great Lord’s wrath be as harsh.” Turning to face the other Eyeless Ones, three tall figures with cloaks that never moved, he said softly but dangerously, “Anyone else want to question my orders ?” There was no emotion coming from the remaining Myrddraal but from their stance it was almost possible to detect some unease. But also some displeasure. The one standing nearest to the Chosen bowed carefully and rasped “No Great Master. We obey. “Good!” The Chosen said, anger in his voice. “Any more betrayals and you will all die painfully. More painfully than this one.” He pointed at the dead Fade. “Now take the Trollocs north”, he commanded. “There is a change of plan. Be ready for new orders.” Gerehl looked them each in the eyeless face, his stare boring into them, before he turned and entered the gateway. The lights of Tanchico could be seen in the far distance as his gateway snapped shut. ● Stepping out of the gateway in quite another place, the Chosen walked up to a tall mirror that stood beside a huge painting depicting a battle-scene. Looking at his reflection, he grinned at what he saw. A brown-haired man in his late twenties with almost black eyes and high cheekbones, a lean body and a dark green cloak with frills. Chuckling to himself, the image in the mirror slowly changed as the weave known as the Mask of Mirrors in the Age of Legends gradually changed his features from those of Gerehl back to Raphael’s. These were interesting times indeed, thought Lord Serafehl of Illian with dark elation and great satisfaction as he returned to his work desk to go through some more council papers. The chaos is spreading. The Great Lord will be pleased. His grin widened. Gerehl.. perhaps less so. Raphael laughed inside. Oh, it was good to be alive! ▀▄
  10. .. Pawns in a Game of Power .. ►▼◄ The room flickered in the strange way things often did in the World of Dreams, a reflection of the real world, caught between moments. Raphael was used to this after his long experience with Tel'aran'rhiod and its ‘laws’ but it still caught his eye at times like remnants of a shadow. Raphael stared admiringly at Arissa as Vanahl droned on. Her lavender dress was unique, he knew that much, and it set off her hair and eyes beautifully. Casting a glance at Divara he grinned. The woman was giving Arissa baleful glances, as usual. That would never change, thought the Chosen as he studied the woman. She had always been fashion-conscious and never liked anyone out-dressing her. She had always been a terrible gossip, so Serahna had told him on one occasion, and apparently that had not changed since awakening in this new Age and time. She had based herself in the pathetically named White Tower and was attempting to influence events among the Aes Sedai. Raphael always thought with scorn when he thought of these women who now called themselves Aes Sedai. So weak in the One Power, and weaker in character, they were not worthy of the name! He had come to hate the Aes Sedai back in what they now called the Age of Legends, due to the betrayal he had felt, but at least they had been men and women of power and ability, worthy adversaries. Something Vanahl just said grabbed his attention. ● "Someone has been interfering with the boy Dragon ahead of schedule”, the Nae'blis said. “Under EXPLICIT orders not to. He has been visited by an unauthorized Myrddraal, two Gray Men, and a Draghkar. Pass orders to your Friends of the Dark near him that any Shadowspawn within one country of his vicinity must be reported to me immediately.” Raphael could hear the anger in Vanahl’s voice and he laughed inside. So someone had acted against the will of the Nae'blis! A daring move indeed, perhaps unwise.. but exciting even so! Raphael enjoyed watching Vanahl’s fury, though nothing showed on his face. He knew how unwise it was to provoke the man unnecessarily and so he watched and listened as the other spoke on, inwardly chuckling with glee. “Each of you will meet with me privately to tell me your plans and your knowledge of every one else's plans. I WILL find who has disobeyed." Vanahl's eyes blazed hotter as he looked at each one of them in turn.” ● Raphael felt a sliver of fear when those blazing eyes met his but he controlled his emotion and afterwards convinced himself it had not been fear, just natural weariness. Inside he felt scorn for this man who thought he was so much better than the rest of them. Yes, he had been given the honour of being chosen Nae'blis, first among them - an honour Raphael felt he should have been given! - but even so Raphael thought Vanahl did not show them - and especially him - the right amount of respect. Your arrogance, Vanahl, will one day be the death of you, he thought maliciously and with glee as their leader’s eyes moved to the next in line. Looking at other faces around the table, he wondered who it was among them that had attempted to influence events with the young poor replacement for Dar Keran. He guessed several had been tempted - except Issandra, who he felt pretty sure would not be brave enough to even consider such disobedience, and a handful of the others who were loyal to the Nae'blis. He, Raphael, had considered it of course, but in the end he had found it too risky. The Dragon Reborn - Raphael felt spite whenever he thought of the name this young so-called reincarnation had been given - would have to be dealt with in due course, in some way or another, but this was not the time. So who had gone against Vanahl’s orders? He did not think Arissa had done so. She was more than capable, of course, if she decided the risk was worth it, but he did not think she was the one. Could it be Kharin? She had hated Dar Keran from the first day she had met him and he expected that she hated his young replacement as well. He sometimes wondered if there was anyone she did not hate. It was rumoured that she got on well, shall we say, with a certain Merindhra, a voluptuous maid from Arad Doman, so perhaps she was not filled with hate all the time. She had been close to defy Vanahl on several occasions, speaking up against his plans with a gusto that several of the others gawked at and some secretly admired, making Vanahl’s features contort in rage. Perhaps this time she had acted on the threat to act against him. He would have to find out. Perhaps it was time for his current alliance with Vinadel to be broadened. ● “I am sure it is all a big misunderstanding, Vanahl.” Raphael said when the Nae'blis had finished staring at everyone, echoes of his command reverberating in the chamber. “We all know better than to disobey Your commands.” There was a hint of sarcasm in his words and his blue eyes glinted dangerously but his face was smooth as stared back at the other man. It was not a challenge per se - though sometimes his temper got the better of him, Raphael was far from stupid and would never challenge the Nae'blis unless he felt he had the advantage - but a small reminder that Vanahl should step carefully and not overplay his hand. A couple of the others smiled thinly at Raphael’s words, baiting the Nae’blis. Serahna looked amused. Kharin’s upper lip curled in disdain. Arissa just stared at him but he thought he detected a hint of a smile on her red lips. Vanahl, however, gave him a hard stare, knowing exactly what game Raphael was playing. Another sly attempt to undermine my authority. I will destroy you one day, Raphael and wipe that smirk off your face. He kept silent though, biting his tongue. That was for another day. For now it was imperative to find out who had disobeyed his orders and almost messed up his carefully laid plans for the young boy. When he found out who it was, that person would wish he or she had never been born! As for telling Vanahl his plans, Raphael had no intention of doing so. He was no fool, after all. His plans were secret and would remain so. Their success depended on secrecy. Instead he would give the Nae'blis a loose version of the truth, a vague summary of his current activities, to make the man happy. Divulging other Chosen plans was also out of the question. Not that he knew that much about the others’ activities to begin with, though he had heard some rumours and speculated on a few other things, but alliances were built on trust and secrets were not divulged. Some of the others were so loyal to Vanahl that they might speak of secrets, but most of the Chosen had their own agendas and plots to influence the world and focused on those plans and strategies whatever Vanahl demanded. Raphael guessed it would never be discovered who had ‘interfered’ with the boy Dragon. And if by some chance the guilty party was discovered.. then Raphael felt pretty certain that Vanahl would punish him or her very harshly indeed. Oh yes. The gateway snapped closed behind him, leaving the World of Dreams behind, as Raphael stepped into his own private chamber and walked slowly across to his work desk, filled with papers, maps and scrolls, and sat down. It was time to put more of his plans into motion. ● 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 Serafehl, 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 darkly. 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 Serafehl 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 Serafehl 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! ● It had taken Raphael a while in the guise of Lord Serafehl to manoeuvre into the position he held now, a member of the Council of Twelve of Illian. In the first months after making the city his new home he had set himself up as an advisor to Lord Tiriahm, a rather arrogant but not too shrewd lord from the eastern provinces, helping him solve certain “difficulties” as the Lord had called them. I removed those obstacles for you, Tiriahm. Not in the way you expected, perhaps, but even so. After that, it was easy to prevail upon a somewhat uneasy but at the same time very political-minded Tiriahm to speak his case when the council suddenly were in need of a new member after the untimely loss of Lord Nemihl, who abruptly died in his sleep one night. People whispered about assassination and murder, but no one in government found any proof of that and so it was deemed that his heart had simply lost its will to beat. And so it did, after I crushed his chest with some delicate weaves, Raphael thought with great amusement and relish as he now stared out at the Square of Tammaz. The meeting with the others had taken place the day before and Raphael had since then received messages from two of the other Chosen. Serahna wished to speak on an important matter, she said. Raphael was curious what Serahna had in mind. She was not one with whom he had much contact, but her invitation made him curious. Perhaps she was someone he should consider an alliance with. The other message was from Vinadel. He had put that aside for the moment. 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. They did also make him think of paintings of a very different kind that had decorated his chamber back before the Breaking.. in his own time. A different world. A different time. ● Brushing thoughts of the past away, though echoes lingered in the back of his mind, he considered instead what he had accomplished since his arrival in Illian. He smiled gleefully as he reminisced. For Lord Serafehl had adapted to a Councillor’s life and political work with incredible ease, something that as time passed by made most of the other Councillors reassured that the right man had been chosen for this highly prestigious position. Even though he had come so recently to the city and they knew so little about him, he radiated confidence and showed great ability with his advice and prudent motions - qualities they knew to appreciate. Though he had somewhat of a brisk manner about him at times, and his temper sometimes got the better of him, they took it as efficiency and the sign of a man born to make decisions, born to rule. With them, of course. And the King. Of course. That was the way of Illian. That was the way it had always been. That was the way it would always be. All is going according to plan Raphael thought with satisfaction. Seeds of Darkness have been sown in Illian, the Shadow spreads ever so slowly across the land, breeding instability and chaos. The Great Lord will be pleased. Much remained of his very elaborate plans, but things were proceeding quite well. ● Leaving the chamber, he walked briskly down a huge marble staircase to the floor below. He met two servants at the bottom of the stairs who bowed deeply to him as he passed but he hardly saw them, new plans forming in his mind. He rounded a corner and suddenly came face to face with Lord Ardhen, one of the few Councillors who did not think as highly of this Lord Serafehl as many of the others seemed to do. “Lord Serafehl”, he said drily. A slight bow of the head as to an equal. “Lord Ardhen”, Raphael replied in the same manner, giving the same slight bow. “Your proposal to move a good part of our armed forces into our border-region in the north was rather .. rash”, Ardhen said carefully. He was going to say foolish, but decided to be a little more tactful. “We ought to have considered the matter further before the motion was passed.” “You think so, Lord Ardhen ?” Raphael replied with a slight edge to his voice, not liking the man. “Is it not prudent to guard our northern borders when we hear tales of troubles and unrest ? The north has been neglected for too long, I believe, and it was time to do something about it.” Raphael said smoothly. “Troubles and unrest .. , my Lord Serafehl.” Lord Ardhen said. “That is just rumours .... just rumours ... and we need to be alert should those fools in Tear suddenly decide to war upon us again. You never know with them.” ● Lord Ardhen held the neighbouring nation of Tear in as low esteem as most Illianers, and should Illian ever be thrown into a war it would be with Tear, he felt certain of that. “My Lord Ardhen”, Raphael said patiently in reply, “Tear is no threat to us.” He could see from the other man’s return-stare that he did not believe him. It did not matter. “And should Tear at some point in the future become a nuisance,” Raphael added for the lord’s benefit, “we have enough of our armed forces down here south so we can deal with it. The majority of the councillors agree with my assessment of the situation”. In a somewhat smug voice he said, “Only you and Lords Kerdan and Tharin were in fact against the motion.” The other man’s lips tightened. He was an older man, well past his prime but he still had some fight left in him. “Yes, this time we lost. This time.” With those final words and casting the other man a challenging stare, he walked straight past Lord Serafehl and did not stop before he was almost at his private council-room, anger clouding his mind. There was something about that Lord Serafehl that put his teeth on edge. He was a sly one, that one, that was for sure, politically very able, but Ardhen - who came from one of the oldest families in Illian and who had been a councillor for many years - felt in his bones that there was more to it than that. He bears watching he thought grimly as he poured himself a glass of red wine from a decanter and took a big swallow. ● Staring silently at the back of the departing Lord Ardhen, thinking about what had been said in their short conversation and what had not, and also the trouble this old lord could make in the future, Raphael wondered if the older Illianer Lord ought to meet with an unfortunate accident. The ocean currents of the Sea of Storms were particularly dangerous this time of year. The Chosen’s grin widened wickedly as he walked up the steps to his chamber. There was work to be done in Illian. ▀▄ Raphael Chosen
  11. .. Tel'aran'rhiod: A Meeting of Chosen .. ►▼◄ ..Tel'aran'rhiod, the World of Dreams, the Unseen World, a place that exists in the spaces between the weave of the Great Pattern of alternate realities. It is a world much like the natural world - a reflected universe that mirrors the physical world: mountains and rivers; cities and palaces; forests and oceans. But it’s an empty place. Living creatures are not reflected; they appear only briefly when they dream themselves into Tel'aran'rhiod, and even more rarely when they enter it physically. To enter the World of Dreams in the flesh can be dangerous for those not capable enough. Very dangerous indeed.. ● Raphael, like all the other Chosen, had extensive knowledge of Tel'aran'rhiod, more than any others in this Age. Even so, the World of Dreams had always seemed somewhat of a mystery to him, a puzzle of infinite possibilities. It is the place where no dreams die. ● Where those words came from, like a whisper in his mind, he could not tell - words of another Age perhaps. Whatever their origin, he thought there was a ring of truth about them. Physically entering Tel'aran'rhiod, closing the gateway behind him, he moved across the marble floor of the huge chamber and seated himself in one of the several ornate oak chairs with high backs that were facing each other around an ornate table across a space of twelve feet. On the table were elegant crystal glasses and a dozen candle lights burning. Not that the candle lights were necessary - there were other lights along the walls lighting up the room - but they gave the meetings a certain style and familiarity, he thought. This was a mirror-image, a reflection, of the same estate chamber in the western part of the country owned by a Nobleman who was also a Friend of the Dark. It was an apt place for a meeting, Raphael had always thought, also one conducted in this Unseen World. Raphael had used it several times for clandestine meetings in the time since he had escaped the Dreamless Sleep of the Bore. Holding onto saidin - though he did not expect treachery at this meeting he did not trust anyone, least of all the other Chosen - he stared around the empty chamber as he waited. His piercing blue eyes had a calculated look. His blond hair and handsome face, coupled with his tall broad-shouldered body, was a strong indication for anyone who knew. Then again, there were very few left who knew. This was a different Age and what had once been, what moved in Raphael’s memories from the Age of Legends, was dead and gone to this world. Even so, he preferred masking his appearance from the unknowing world - in the guise of Lord Serafehl -, prudence was always wise. Brushing his hand through his blond hair for a moment, his thoughts went back to that Age before his Dreamless Sleep and as so often was the case, his mood slowly darkened and his features twisted with anger as his memories were filled with the face of Dar Keran. The blasted man! Even if he was dead and buried now, he still infuriated Raphael whenever he thought of him. Bloody Dragon! Raphael remembered a time when Dar Keran had been impressed by his skill as General and Commander of Legions, a time when they had almost been friends, but everything had changed when Dar Keran had persuaded the Shon Mel to pursue his grandiose ideas. Your pride ruined everything, Dragon. The bitter thought lingered in his mind. His betrayal by Dar Keran, as he saw it, combined with lack of appreciation for his eminent skill as a Battle Commander by his other Aes Sedai peers and comrades had pushed him toward the Shadow and the Great Lord. Being accused of brutality towards his own troops, publicly reprimanded by the White Tower and subsequently having his military command removed, was the final straw. Kneeling in front of the Great Lord of the Dark, swearing a new and unbreakable Oath, offering his life and services, gave him immense gratification and he swore vengeance on all his enemies, on the pityful Aes Sedai and on Dar Keran above all. That he never got to kill the Dragon himself still rankled, like a wound in his soul that never quite healed, but at least that damn man was dead! And I am not. Gradually calming himself, his hands in his lap, reflections thrown by the candle lights, he waited. He wore an ornate black coat to this meeting with frills at the neck and cuffs and his boots also had frills. He looked very much the part of a powerful lord and acted the part. But in his heart he was the General of his past. ● A Master of War and Strategy. One of the best Military Commanders the Great Lord had had in the War of Power. Almost at the level of Vanahl himself. His features twisted anew as he thought of the man who had taken upon himself the role of leader of the Chosen. An arrogant man at the best of times, perhaps even half-mad it was suspected (but never mentioned in his presence), Raphael did not like him at all, but he respected him, sensed the man’s strength in the One Power (which was a little greater than his own and thereby strongest of them all), and followed his lead. At least for now. Political intrigue and manipulation had never been to his liking, unlike Tervihn and Sinam who seemed to thrive with it. Raphael had indeed always preferred open military conquest. But he saw the necessity of politics and subtlety and played along in order to achieve his goals. It was, after all, a delicate situation and he knew when prudence called for less direct confrontations. He was not the most patient among them though, not the most deft at subtlety, and his temper sometimes got the better of him, but he played the Game of Power with experience and ability. Kieran and Banohr were scientists, middle-aged scholars who had created Trollocs and other Shadowspawn in the War of Power. Dedicated men who definitely had their use, but Raphael had always considered them weak and not his equal. Vinadel, the eternal philosopher, was a valuable ally, often sharing Raphael’s views. He was not the most outspoken but could be relied on. Last of the men: Gerehl. He had been a teacher in the Age of Legends, famous for having made school children cruel, vindictive and murderous through long, subtle and clever indoctrination. He had served the Great Lord well, Raphael thought, spawning a new breed of Friends of the Dark, but he had been less efficient after his awakening from the Dreamless Sleep. Also he was the type of person who always voted with what seemed to be the strongest faction among them, he had no principles as Raphael saw it. Then there were the women. Serahna, Kharin and Divara. Three capable women, but more meddlesome than most, Divara especially. Kharin could not stand him and the feeling was mutual. A handsome rather than beautiful brown-haired, long-legged woman with olive-shaped eyes and high cheekbones, she hated all men and it was a trait that had not changed in 4000 years and her attitude toward her fellow male Chosen was no exception. Issandra was the weakest of the women, in character as well as in the One Power. She had been a research-assistant to the Lyr Nahm, a demure figure of no consequence and Raphael sometimes wondered how she had had it in her to go over to the Shadow in the first place. According to Serahna, Issandra had killed her two-timing lover out of spite and had fled the city to avoid imprisonment or, even worse, Severing, finally offering her soul to the Great Lord to gain freedom and immortality. It did not sound too plausible to Raphael he had to admit, something about the scenario sounded a bit.. off, but then again human nature was impossible to understand at times and a woman scorned, as most men knew, was not the best of enemies. ● And then there was Arissa. Raphael grinned mischievously as he thought of the very capable and alluring woman. With her dark red, wavy auburn hair, glittering emerald eyes and seductive curves she was a sight to behold. Her flirtatious nature and love of beautiful people, or rather servants, was no secret, and she appreciated his handsome looks, as she had teasingly hinted at on more than one occasion. Powerful in both character and the One Power, she was one of the most formidable Chosen as he saw it. She was an important ally who could be trusted.. at least as far as any of the other Chosen could be trusted, he thought with a wicked lopsided grin. Which meant not at all, if truth be told. But some trust was needed for alliances to be made here - and everywhere - and he gave what he received, some trust and mutual cooperation, building power from behind the scenes. Raphael was brought out of his reverie by the arrival of two of the other Chosen. Kieran with his dark complexion, short brown hair and dark-brown eyes stepped out of what looked like a heavily decorated manor-room and into this meeting place. He gave a noncommittal nod to Raphael and then seated himself in one of the chairs opposite. Raphael was not surprised that the other man too held onto saidin. Few who participated in these meetings ever let their guard down. Almost without thinking he measured or sensed how strong Kieran was in the One Power and it pleased him, as always, to register that the other man was weaker than himself. Another gateway opened on the other side of the room a few moments later, echoes of a stately room, half bathed in the golden light and half draped in darkness, left behind, and Arissa stepped through. She gave him a flirtatious look as she closed the gateway behind her, her wavy auburn hair luscious and dress clinging, and walked slowly toward the ornate table where the others were seated. The beautiful dress she wore emphasized her curves and Raphael stared appreciatively at her, his blue eyes glinting, as she sat down in one of the available chairs at the end of the large table. Her eyes met his, her ruby lips pursed, and he almost expected to hear her wicked laughter which she often shared with intimates when delighted or amused. He wondered how things were going with her ‘pretties’. Probably not so well for them, he thought slyly, remembering their glazed and highly unnatural ‘eager to please’-looks when he had visited her on occasion. Arissa was hugely accomplished when it came to delicate weaves of the mind, skillful manipulations of the brain, using Compulsion and similar so-called ‘forbidden weaves’ on unsuspecting victims, probably the most accomplished of them all in that respect. She had certainly been a valuable asset during the War of Power. ● “Vanahl is late as usual”, Raphael murmured with a slight frown, changing his train of thought, as he took a sip from the drink in the glass before him. “Perhaps one of these days we will have to teach him punctuality.” It was an idle threat, spoken more as a means of breaking the silence than for any other reason; no one, after all, ‘taught’ Vanahl anything he did not wish to be ‘taught’. The repercussions could be.. unpleasant to say the least. Raphael’s blue eyes narrowed, his mouth slightly twisted, as he gazed at the silent Kieran opposite him. The man seldom spoke at these meetings, preferring to watch and listen. Unlike Sinam who never stopped talking. And Tervihn who never stopped arguing. They were 13 men and women, all different but ambitious and all born with - and strong in - the One Power, stronger than the pityful so-called Aes Sedai of this Age, who had sworn allegiance to the Great Lord in return for the promise of immortality. Forsaken, those lightfools had called them, but they were Those Chosen To Rule The World Forever. And Rule we will, Raphael thought emphatically, excitement building inside him at the thought. We shall Reign! Silence followed his words, and as they waited for the others to arrive, Raphael went over in his mind how he was to gain the confidence of several of the other Chosen for his ambitious plan. It would not be easy, seeing as all the Chosen had their own agendas, plots and plans at all times, but Raphael had always enjoyed a challenge. Strategy, he thought to himself as he sipped more from his drink, his eyes taking on a calculated look. Strategy is always the key. ● Memories took him back to Davelle 4000 years before.. “The General has betrayed us! Run, everyone! Ruuuunnn!” Screams of pain, endless screams of agony, the stench of death all around. Raphael, confident in his own power and ability, throws saidin-wrought lightening at the defending forces, watches with glee as the men die in pools of blood. His forces attacking from both sides at once, as part of his carefully thought-out military strategy, catch the defenders in a squeeze and they have no chance. None at all. The screams keep coming, shrieks of terror, the storms of chaos steadily building, and Raphael’s blue eyes glitter in endless, glorious exultation.. ● Just then, a silver line tore through the air, another gateway opening - dangerously close to the table and chairs this time - and Vanahl, leader of the Chosen, stepped arrogantly through, his eyes pools of fire. ▀▄ Raphael Chosen
  12. OOC: This RP takes place in a self-contained, parallel Portal Stone World of the Wheel of Time. Mirrors of ‘reality’ as we know it, reflections of what has been, can be and may become, but in no way a factual portrait or representation of the Wheel of Time-books or its famous characters. ------------------------- .. The Breaker of Faith .. ►▼◄ There is no more faith. The echoes of another Age reverberated in Raphael’s mind as he stared emptily into the blazing fire. ● His name was Neram Setin Vadar. Or at least, so it had once been. ● “All faith is lost!” The screams of terror almost drown out the young man’s words of desperation as he runs down the street, blood pouring down his face. “He has betrayed us! The General has betrayed us!” He stumbles and falls face first into the ground, a stab of pain in his side. With some effort he gets to his feet but is almost trampled by the mass of people running in panic from the gates. He stares back for a moment and in the distance sees the guards fighting for their lives atop the gates. “Oh Light, we have no chance now!” His breath catches in his throat as he sees the gates come crashing down. He cannot see the General but he knows he is there. The Traitor. “Run!”, he screams to a couple of tear-stricken children who stand before a half-destroyed shop off to the side, panic in their eyes, shock in their faces, unable to move. “Run, children. Run!” ● Blood fills the street and the stench of death fills the air as the minions of the Shadow crush all opposition on their surge toward the centre of the city of Devalle. The General feels waves of saidin being channeled but quite a way off. Holding onto saidin himself, loving the power flowing through his veins, he walks forwards, his gaze focused. Buildings barely standing on both sides of the street. Destruction everywhere. He halts for a moment, nods contentedly and starts off again, but is soon stopped by a small noise. He turns sideways and suddenly spots a little terrified girl who is holding hard onto her doll. She is crying, tears running down her chin in rivulets, and her big brown eyes stare fearfully at him as he bends down to look her in the eye. She shivers with fear as his hand touches her face. 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, 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 brother is dead. They took him. There is no more faith” she says, her eyes watering over, her heart breaking. “No hope at all.” For you that is true, the General thinks. For those fools too. Yes, this is the beginning of the end. Great Lord, it is begun. The man who after this day was to be called Raphael, the Breaker of Faith, stares intensely into the smoke-filled distance as the child crumples to the ground before him. It is begun. ● The spoken words brought him back to the present. “No hope, Great Master. Or atleast so she says. Others are listening to her words and wondering if she is right.” Knee bent before the Chosen, the grey-haired man in his dark travelling-cloak faced the floor as silence followed his words. Finally Raphael spoke. “She will be silenced.” The Friend of the Dark heard the sentence pronounced and sighed. Even so, she had brought it upon herself. “But in one respect she is right” Raphael added, gaze hard. “Sometimes there is no faith.” Fools! He thought. We must rid ourselves of such fools and cowards before they damage our plans. My plans, he amended. “You may stand.” The words were softly spoken, the voice deep, but were perceived as a command. The man got to his feet and stood silently a few feet away from the Chosen. “Look at me.” The man turned his eyes up to stare the other in the face, swallowing hard even so. What he saw was a dark-haired, strong-jawed, hard faced man in his mid-twenties with dark-brown piercing eyes and a hawk-like nose in a partially scarred face. Those piercing eyes met his now in a no-nonsense manner. He swallowed hard again. Had the Chosen not used a spell of Illusion upon his servant, what the other would in fact have seen was a very tall and imposing man, handsome in looks, in his early thirties with broad shoulders, blue eyes that bespoke of power and intelligence and blond hair that reached below his neck. As it was, the Friend of the Dark stared into those dark-brown eyes of his Master only for a second before shifting his gaze slightly as it were. “You will let me know if others spread discontent, won’t you ?” The words were spoken dangerously softly. “Yes, Great Master. At once!” “Good. You may go now.” The friend of the Dark bowed one last time to the Chosen, shuffled away and then locked the door behind him on the way out, glad to have been dismissed. Most of all he was glad to still be alive, having brought bad news to the Master. ● Raphael’s eyes continued staring into the blazing fire, aflame with memories of another time, whispers reaching across the ages to surround him in his timeless place. “Breaker of Faith!” “Traitor!” They named me well, those lightfools, and I embraced the name they gave me. For I did betray the Gates of Karan, I did carry the Shadow into the heart of Davelle. Oh yes. Fire. Did they think I didn’t know what I was doing ? Oh I knew - and I conquered! Storm. If only I had gotten to destroy you, Dar Keran! You proud and self-glorifying man! You destroyed the world sealing the Great Lord and us away, you and your two hundred mad Companions. Chaos. Hope has blossomed in the world as the Wheel has turned, but I will break all faith, my naming will be true. That I promise! The intense and hateful look in his eyes would have given even the staunchest warrior pause. There was intelligence there, and an inner fire of purpose and endless determination. ● And the Fire blazed on, Storms raging in screaming Flames; the Past and Present blending in a moment of Dark Revelation. ▀▄ Raphael Chosen
  13. Well, actually I do have the time and interest 😁 but after I posted I thought perhaps it was better to talk off board by PM (was going to send you a PM but you beat me to it) and so I edited the post. If you are interested, send me a PM okies 😉
  14. Em! *huggles* Kinda quiet, yeah but some of us are still around. Good to see ya! 😉
  15. .. Hunting the Shadow - Part 2 .. ►▼◄ They watched the cave from a distance, waiting silently in the Shadows. They had received the ‘tip’ from the informant earlier that day, that ‘persons of dubious allegiances’, as the old man had delicately termed it, were rumoured to be meeting that evening in a cave in a hillside just outside Whitebridge. It had sounded somewhat dubious to Elessar, a bit too obvious and possibly also a trap, but then again this informant was trustworthy, or so Kathleen’s contact had said, and so they had, after some debate discussing the possible danger and risks involved but also the upsides, decided to check it out. From their vantage point they had seen several secretive dark cloaked figures enter and leave the cave in the past hour or so, some with burning candles, though what business they had inside the cave was anyone’s guess. The Warder did find it suspicious though, also with the late hour, and wondered if this really could be a Darkfriend meeting place or, perhaps, a hideout. Whispering some words in Kathleen’s ear, he turned back to gaze at the opening of the cave. They were on a small hillside with a path leading up to the cave. Since it was dark it was not easy to see much more than a dozen or so figures coming and going. It was noteworthy though that all the figures wore dark cloaks which hid their faces from the little light that shone down from the moon above. Elessar wondered if their High Lady was one of those figures but it was impossible to tell, or find out right then. Kathleen had made it clear that they were just to observe this night, not intervene in any way. They had, after all, no proof of any wrong-doing by anyone specific so far, just rumours and indications, also it was unwise to jump into any danger without preparation, even if they both were more than capable of defeating many foes. And so they lay silently watching, out of sight for any of those present. Finally, a good while later, two cloaked figures left the cave, throwing their burning candles aside as they walked down the path. They were whispering to each other and one of them was gesticulating but it was impossible to tell what they were saying. From the way they carried themselves Elessar guessed they were males, though he could not be sure. Was there any reason to believe all these people were up here meeting in this out-of-the-way cave near midnight with no dark intentions? The local history club on a late night outing, perhaps? Somehow it seemed very improbable to the Warder. They waited a while longer to ensure there was no one left in the cave. There was no movement in the darkness, only the soft breeze touching their hair, and finally they agreed that the last of the people attending the cave-meeting were gone. Were they to go and check the cave? Kathleen and Elessar discussed the matter in lowered voices (just to be on the safe side), whether there could be anything to be found in the cave or if it represented some danger to them. They ended up agreeing that it was worth taking a look, both excited at the prospect of doing something, and they were not defenseless after all. ● Creeping forth from the place they had been hiding on a small elevation a little to the side of the cave-opening, they walked down to the path and up to the cave. Peering carefully inside, Elessar saw nothing. It was pitch black. Exchanging a glance with Kathleen, he stepped aside as she made a light appear. It was still semi-dark further inside the cave but the light made it possible to see some details of what was within. Checking for any boobytraps, the Aes Sedai then nodded that it was safe as they went inside. They walked slowly, Elessar vigilant as always and ready for any sudden danger. Nothing happened, the shadows surrounding them as they went deeper into the cave. They stopped and gazed at a wooden table and some old chairs on one side. Further in were some more chairs and the legs of a broken table, but nothing else. Just the rock walls and the stone ceiling. The cave was larger than they had anticipated, the temperature sinking as they went further in, and at one point it branched into several smaller passageways. The Gaidin wondered who had dug out this large cave once upon a time and for what purpose. There were no animals of the four-legged kind either in the dark cave, some who might frequent this western Andoran region, for which they were both grateful. Then again, Elessar might have had more sympathy for a bear or a stray wolf than for the filthy animals of the two-legged kind that they were hunting. They studied the rugged walls and ceiling of the cave, both wondering if this place hid any secrets that could give an indication of what all those people were doing here and who they were, but they found nothing important. A broken cup on the floor of the cave, a piece of glass that had fallen off something, a torn piece of clothing, and the remains of some burned-down candles. They seated themselves in two of the old wooden chairs, Kathleen studying the piece of glass, and exchanged views and thoughts. Elessar thought he felt renewed excitement through the Bond from Kathleen and he guessed she felt the same from him. Hunting Darkfriends was exhilarating; dangerous yes but also exciting and fulfilling. To Elessar this was the most important duty they had as Guardians of the Light, as he liked to think of them. ● Studying his Bondholder as she spoke now, he thought they were making a good team so far. The Bond was fresh, however, and he knew from his former Bonds that it took a while for Warder and Sedai to learn each others’ subtleties through the Bond and know each others’ moves almost before they made them. The Bond would also be tested at some point, they would disagree and have to work through their differences, he knew this from experience and Leandreen had also spoken of it, but so far he was pleased. It felt much as it had with Leandreen in those early days: two dedicated partners in the Light, learning to think, act and work in tandem, and united in common purpose. Finally, after some minutes of deliberation, they agreed to search some more, this time separately. Elessar stepped over to one rock wall a little further down the passage to check while Kathleen went the other way. They searched for some time without luck, feeling with their hands along the rugged walls and looking into the small crevices that were found intermittently. It was not easy with the lack of light in the cave but his eyes had become accustomed to the semi-dark and he kept on looking for some time. Elessar was beginning to give up, resigning himself to the fact, when he suddenly encountered something. He spoke her name, not too forcefully (still being careful) and waved her over. ● “I think I found something”, Elessar said over his shoulder to his approaching Sedai. Squeezed in between two rocks on the side of the cave in a corner was a smaller stone pitched at a strange angle and behind this a dark gap. Another stone, flatter, stood against the rock in that place , as he reached in, and when he touched it he felt it give way. Behind, in what was obviously a secret compartment, there was a steel box (with some decorative signs on top which bespoke of age) which he pulled out, excitement building inside him. Could this be something important? Hidden away as it was, his hopes rose. As Kathleen joined him from farther inside the cave, he opened the steel box (it had no proper lock, just a steel bar which he pushed to the side) and pulled out a small, bound parchment. It was old, showing its age. He opened it eagerly, but careful not to rip it, and read it quickly, barely breathing, before handing it to his Bondholder. His eyes then fastened on a small dark stone with an almost illegible inscription that also lay in the steel box. His eyes were wide, his mouth open in disbelief. It cannot be..! How is it possible?! ● A memory took him back into the past. A long time ago… .. a young boy had found an old, strange document in a cave in the hill-country of northern Kandor. It had been buried in a steel-like box and only by chance had the young Kandori boy come across it as he had dug for ‘hidden treasures’ like most boys at that age. Excitedly he had shown the box to his father, who had remained at the opening of the cave - having first, of course, checked that the cave was not the home of any dangerous animals - and his father had managed to force open the box by using a knife he carried. Hoping for a treasure of some sort - perhaps some gold crowns! - the young boy had been mightily disappointed when the box had only contained a small dark stone with an almost illegible inscription and an old, bound parchment. His father, however, had looked carefully at the stone, and in even more detail at the parchment, noticing its old age, speculating on its content, and had pocketed them, without a word, for later study. Only later that day, as they had headed back south toward their estate, had the boy noticed a strange, dark, uncompromising look on his father’s face but as young boys were want to, his thoughts had drifted, distracted by all the exciting countryside they were riding through, and he had thought no more about it. Elessar remembered.. ● That evening, however, a day’s journey or so north of the Telcontar Estate, in their makeshift camp in the lee of a hillside, his curiosity had gotten the better of him. Seeing his father sleeping soundly beneath his blankets a few paces away, Elessar had crawled, making as little sound as possible, across to their belongings and to his father’s travelling cloak. Checking carefully in one of the cloak pockets, he had felt the stone and the parchment beneath his fingers. He had disregarded the stone. The parchment, however, had been of more interest to him. Taking it out, carefully removing the soft binding, barely able to read the front of the parchment by the light from their camp fire, he had read: “Glory to the Shadow’. Finding it a strange and exotic - more than frightening - title, his curiosity had grown. Opening the parchment, glancing back at times to make sure his father was still sleeping, he had started reading. His eyes had grown wider and wider as each verse had registered in his mind, but it was only later, much later, when he had admitted to his father having read the unsigned Dark Poem in secret and had been chastised for it, that he had understood, at least to some extent, what a rare - and despicable - document he had found in that cave that day. Elessar would never forget those Dark words and that ‘filthy Poem of the Shadow’ as his father had called it, before handing the document over to the local authorities, spitting the words in great distaste. Only years later, as his own interest in history, poetry and stories had grown, had Elessar truly understood what a rare find they had made in those northern Kandori hills. Poems praising the Dark One, or the ‘Great Lord’ as worshipping Darkfriends termed him - poetry of the Shadow - were really rare (at least outside Darkfriend circles) and very rarely spoken of, if at all. The Warder had often privately speculated that the White Tower probably kept some historic documents of the Shadow hidden in their secret vaults, be they any rare Dark poems, stories, proclamations or even, perhaps, prophecies of a sort, but he had never shared his suspicions with his Aes Sedais, knowing they would very probably never reveal any such secrets, if they existed, even to their Bondmates.. ● And now, having read the words on the parchment, he knew it was the same words, the same filthy Dark poem he had read all those years ago. And the same dark stone accompanied the parchment. He could not quite believe that for the second time in his life he had found one of the rare - as far as he knew, at least (though more learned men might, of course, know better) - Poems of the Shadow. Shaking his head, he wondered if this was an omen of sorts. He had always hated the Shadow and had dedicated his life to fighting the Darkness, to fighting Evil wherever it may be found, the main reason why he had left his Borderlander home around the age of 17 and travelled to Tar Valon to become a Warder in the Light. In all the years since he had stood proudly and defiantly at his various Bondholders’ side in the eternal struggle against the Shadow. Kathleen finished reading the old parchment and handed it back to him in silence, picking up the small dark stone with the almost illegible inscription from the steel box. She studied it for some moments, running it through her fingers, before placing it back. The emotions coming through the Bond were muddled. He was unable to read her eyes but he thought she looked somewhat questioningly at him. She had probably seen or sensed his reaction and understood that there was much more to this, at least for him. He met her eyes and nodded affirmatively. ● “As you may have guessed, I have seen this.. filth before.” Elessar said. There was still disbelief in his voice. “I know such.. poetry.. if we can call it that.. is rare. At least that is what I have picked up from books over the years. But I have actually seen this same poem before. And a similar dark stone. In a hidden steel box. A long time ago..” He told his story and Kathleen listened attentively without interrupting him. Afterwards she gave him a strange look, a look he could not quite understand, but she did not question him about the matter, keeping her thoughts to herself. Instead her eyes returned to the old parchment he was holding. He looked down at it again, his fingers touching the flowing script, and his eyes darkened. Filthy words. Dark words. Words of praise to the Shadow and their Master. It made him sick, but at the same time he knew - and he knew that she knew - that this was another piece of evidence that there were indeed Darkfriends in this region if there had been any doubt. Servants of the Shadow. Men and women with black hearts and devious minds. Enemies of the Light. Enemies of the White Tower. The letters of the Dark poem, the zealous words of devotion to their evil Master of Darkness, almost leapt from the page in Dark whispers and echoes to surround them there in the partial darkness of the cave. ►▼◄ ‘Glory to the Shadow’ Glory to the Shadow! Our day is Near! When Darkness will cover the Land in Fear To you, we Pray, to ignite the Spark Arise, our Master, Great Lord of the Dark! Glory to the Night! We will Hunt in Strength Covering the World, in its Breadth and Length Destroying the Lightfools, wherever they Be Drawing their Blood, on the Land and the Sea Glory to the Darkness! Our Great Lord’s Return! For Victory, Immortality - Let the whole world Burn Oh, Lord of the Grave - we Salute you, we Obey! Your Triumph we await! On that Final Day! ►▲◄ Kathleen and Elessar remained standing in the semi-dark cave in silence for a long time, lost in their own thoughts as they considered the implications of this latest find, two beacons of Light among threatening Shadows. ▀▄
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