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  1. Talina found her working in a small study alcove, deep in the Tower Library. She had four different books open, each one by a different author trying to explain how the nations fragmented after Artur Hawkwing died. Each theory seemed like a partial explanation, while none seemed to explain the entire situation. To Gera’s thinking, the only thing that could unite the theories to explain the thoroughness and duration of the collapse was a unifying direction that oversaw the entire collapse. Most scholars disregarded that possibility because the collapse lasted several centuries, but they did not account for the extended lifespan of a channeler. If an Aes Sedai, or Light forbid, a Dreadlord chose to intervene they could easily orchestrate the entire collapse. When Gera looked up and saw the Mistress of Novices standing there, she quickly got to her feet and curtsied to the appropriate degree. Ever since that rather thorough punishment for rudeness to a Sitter, Gera had respected the old biddy... even while she longed for the day when she would be her equal. “Gera Mondwin, it is time. You are called to be tested for the Shawl and ring. Are you ready?” There was just a hint of a challenge in her tone, as if she expected the older Accepted to fail, to ask for more time. “Yes, Talina Sedai, I am ready.” She put steel in her voice, respectful steel. “Then follow me.” The Mistress lead Gera deep into the Tower, along a similar path to the one she took a few years prior for her test to be raised Accepted. Inside the large room, Gera saw seven sisters waiting for them, all wearing their shawls proclaiming their ajahs. “Attend,” Talina’s word seemed to fill the chamber as the Aes Sedai formed a ring around the Mistress of Novices and Gera. “You come in ignorance, Gera Mondwin. How would you depart?” “In knowledge of myself,” was the only acceptable reply. “For what reason have you been summoned here?” “To be tried.” “For what reason should you be tried?” “So that I may learn whether I am worthy.” Gera knew that she was worthy of the shawl. She had to be. If she failed now, she would simply be an old spy mistress cast out into the world by the Tower. It was either succeed here, or relegate herself to a life of faded joys, her failure overshadowing everything else. She was worthy. “For what would you be found worthy?” “To wear the shawl.” Gera knew that hers would bear a blue fringe. At the word, Gera began disrobing, as she knew she must. Let the sisters in the room see her over-round flesh. She had lived her years. “Therefore I will instruct you. You will see this sign upon the ground.” Talina spoke, even as Gera stripped. She channeled, and a silver, six pointed star appeared in the air. As Gera nodded, she felt another woman channeling behind her, and a weave of spirit settled into the back of her head. It felt much like Healing. “Remember what must be remembered.” “When you see that sign, you will go to it immediately, at a steady pace, neither hurrying nor hanging back, and only then may you embrace the Power. The weaving required must begin immediately, and you may not leave that sign until it is completed.” “Remember what must be remembered.” That voice coming from behind was a minor irritation, but Gera ignored the irritation and focused on the instructions. “When the weave is complete, you will see that sign again, marking the way you must go, again at a steady pace, without hesitation.” “Remember what must be remembered.” “One hundred times will you weave, in the order you have been given and in perfect composure.” “Remember what must be remembered.” Gera felt those words had been etched onto each inch of her skull. She would not forget, the instructions or the words. Moving without signal, the seven sisters walked to the ter’angreal and knelt at its base. The pattern they wove of the power was incredible, and Gera felt a small bit of joy at the skill they obviously had. A task well performed was always a joyful thing. As the Power flowed into the ter’angreal, it began to rotate, slowly, colors flashing across the opening... faster and faster it moved, until suddenly the opening went solid white. That was her cue. Gathering her dignity, despite her nudity, Gera entered the ring. She was standing before the Amyrlin Seat, wearing her banded dress, all around Sitters glared. For some reason, they were deadly angry at her, and nothing she could do would change that. A quiet voice spoke behind her ear, “Remember...” Scanning the room, Gera found the six pointed star and walked toward it. A part of her heard the Sitters anger rising, but the more dominant part simply kept walking to the star. When she arrived, she began the appropriate weave. When it was finished, a blue coin appeared in the air where she had been weaving. Suddenly the Sitters stopped speaking, and Gera turned to walk toward the shining star. When her foot touched it, she found herself wading through hip-deep mud. She had never been in such a place, but she knew she hated it. There was a six pointed star to her left, so she walked toward it. With each step, she felt new disgusting things touch her, crawl on her, or attach themselves to her body. At the star, which was carved into a tree trunk, Gera wove the mandatory weave... and when it snapped into existence, she sighed. Had she made a mistake, she would have received a painful shock, which would only be made worse by the mud surrounding her. The next star was higher up in the tree, so she hoisted herself out of the mud and climbed for it. As her hand touched it, she found herself covered in mud in the middle of a ballroom. All around her were her friends, allies, and enemies. They were all dressed for a standard Cairhienin ball, but there she was wearing nothing but a thick layer of mud. In the center of the room, tiles described the six pointed star. Gathering her courage and the shreds of her dignity, Gera walked to the center of the room, ignoring the stares and snickers of the crowd. No one said anything to her directly, but she burned with the shame of walking in front of their stares. As she neared the star, their snickers and stares erupted into full laughter, and Gera’s shame burned brighter on her cheeks. She kept walking though, slowly and evenly. At the star, she wove, holding back tears. It went on. Each circumstance was worse than the last. There were some with physical pain, but Gera ignored those easily, so they stopped coming. It was as if someone noticed that the shameful scenarios caused her the most distress. In fact, during the 76th weave, she found herself in a bawdy dance hall, surrounded by girls and women wearing dresses so revealing that their cleavage ended a hand above where the slit in the skirts started. With each new scene, Gera forgot the details of why she was there and how, but a part of her remembered the shame. The weight of the shame kept growing. With each scene, her blush deepened, and it became harder to keep her composure. Shame was growing close to breaking her. The calm she wore on her face was a thin, brittle shell, but she still looked calm. She wasn’t sure why, but every part of her being was focused on maintaining her calm expression and steady pace. The shame and pain from each of the previous tortuous scenes had her wanting to weep, but she refused. She would not give up. The 84th weave came and went, with stinging nettles lashed across her back. The 96th involved walking through her son’s bedroom... while he bled to death. As soon as she reached the star and began that weave, she wove what little healing she was able to... but it was not enough. 97, 98, and 99 passed with simply variations on embarrassing situations in front of large crowds. Apparently, seeing her son die in front of her was enough to inure her to the shame. Weave number 100 created a fountain of sparks while Gera pulled a carriage by her own strength. Having a driver whipping her on added insult to injury... and yet more injury on top of the insult. Somehow, she managed to walk forward at a steady pace, despite pulling the carriage behind her. Gera suspected it might have been sheer willpower at that point. Once she finished the final weave and stepped onto the final six pointed star, the world around her vanished in a blinding light and she was back in the bowels of the Tower, surrounded by the seven Aes Sedai and Talina Sedai. The memories of the 100 different scenes suddenly crashed down on her, and Gera burst into tears. She cried in a way she hadn’t since she was a child. The Aes Sedai clustered around her, hugging and offering her their sympathy. One Healed her, without asking, but Gera was grateful anyway. Though physical pain was not their favorite in her tests, they still had used it. With a clap, Talina called the sisters back to attention. “Sisters, do you agree that Gera Mondwin, Accepted of the White Tower, has passed her test to prove her worthiness to wear our shawl and call us sisters?” Each of the women nodded, some more quickly than others, until the last held still. She was the Red sister, a bitter old thing, if Gera guessed properly. The Cairhienin woman knew she had blushed and that she’d nearly been broken, but she’d kept the appearance of calmness throughout the test. And the appearance was all that mattered, at least that is what they were taught. You could be a quivering wreck inside, so long as you kept your face neutral and your pace steady. An Aes Sedai must always be poised and ready to handle whatever situation came before her. It was much like playing Daes Dae’mar... just you were always surrounded by enemies and could never relax. It would be a hard life... but it would be hers. She had earned it. She had worked hard for years and passed this horrid test. It was a formality, waiting for the Red’s vote. The others had all agreed, but still every vote must be counted. Finally, she nodded, and Gera knew she would be Aes Sedai. The rest of the evening was a blur. Talina lead her back to her rooms, where a meal waited for her, and she was instructed to pray and meditate on her new life. After eating the meal, Gera decided to meditate by closing her eyes and laying down peacefully. Hours later, a knock interrupted her meditations, and she climbed off her bed. Outside her door was a group of Sisters, the Green, Blue, Yellow and Grey from the previous night’s testing. Silently, they formed a ring around Gera, and then all five began walking. The path was the same as it was the night before, but the room was markedly more full this morning. Inside were the Sitters of all seven Ajahs, the Keeper, and the most powerful woman in the world... the Amyrlin Seat. Despite having stood in front of her for judgment in both her tests, Gera had never actually met the woman. Today, the Amyrlin would welcome her home as one of her Aes Sedai. Passing through the ring, Gera moved to the Keeper and the Amyrlin. Words were spoken, but she didn’t remember them. Then it was time to take the oaths. Taking up the rod, held on a pillow by the Keeper, Gera channeled Spirit into the appropriate end. “Under the Light and by my hope of rebirth and salvation, I Gera Mondwin swear to speak no word that is not true. Under the Light and by my hope of rebirth and salvation, I Gera Mondwin swear to make no weapon by which one man may kill another. Under the Light and by my hope of rebirth and salvation, I Gera Mondwin swear never to use the One Power as a weapon, except against Darkfriends or Shadowspawn, or in the last defense of my life, the life of another sister, or the life of my warder.” With each clause, each phrase, Gera felt an invisible layer of power tighten down on her. She was truly bound now. After she set the Oath Rod down on its pillow, the Amyrlin and Keeper left, quietly. Looking at the groups of Sitters, Gera sighed. Now, to make another life changing decision. Really, there was only one choice for her. None of the others fit her properly, though the Grey and Red came close. She would be a Blue. As soon as the other Sitters recognized her intent, they dispersed, leaving Gera alone with the Blue Sitters, and one other sister. Gera recognized her as a rather recently raised woman. Smiling, Gera knelt in front of the women. “I seek to join the Blue Ajah. May I be admitted?”
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