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8th of Aien, 998 - Winternight **************************** The waves of the Errinin splashed gentled through Tar Valon's southern harbor as the noon day sun ceased its ascent to the mark the days apex. The sun burned brilliantly its rays chasing away the last vestiges of winter and illuminating the shining white spire of the Tower at the city's heart. At this time, on this day as it did only one other time each year the sun seemed to float perfectly overhead and for a moment the shadow of the Tower disappeared. And yet back at the southern harbor a man walked in the Tower's Shadow. Though the sun cast its raidance across his path, he did not walk in the Light. It was early. As Devin cast his gaze across the harbor, searching for a ship that was the one thought on his mind, it was too early. Squinting against the sun's glare on the water he finally gave up on finding his target, all the boats looked the same to him no matter how many times he'd made this kind of trip. Wandering over to the harbor master's stall he called out to the official in charge of tracking the moorings, "Where would I find the Redfish?" The clerk quickly checked a sheet and replied back, "Third dock from the end, first berth." He gave Devin a second look, likely marking his face in anticipation of his return. Devin had the appearance of a merchant and that meant he'd be back soon to pay the tax on whatever goods the ship was set to receive from the boat in question. Devin nodded, adjusted his coat and started walking through the crisp afternoon air towards the dock. In any other city he'd have flipped the man a coin in thanks and to grease the wheels on his return, but not in Tar Valon. Here that smacked too close to bribery and while the Aes Sedai weren't so harsh either man would face criminal charges for such a meager act, the clerk wouldn't hold his position for long. Devin of course, didn't need any extra scrutiny on his trip to the harbor. The redfish had a shipment of Tea for Devin's shop and that shipment had a set of correspondence secured inside it. News from his fellow Friends, news for for mistresses. Such things were well hidden, placed between the the double walls of the tin crates the tea traveled in, but scrutiny led only to bad outcomes. Careful of the wet stones of the wharf, Devin walked to the Redfish and hailed a sailor working on deck to come aboard. From there the process went quickly and efficiently as it always did. Devin met the captain in his quarters, papers were checked, coin was exchanged, and one of the carts that hung around the docks was hailed. After that a quick stop back with clerk saw a near repeat of the performance. Papers were checked, coin was exchanged, and the cart proceeded through the streets to Devin's shop. The tea was unloaded in the alley by the back door, the last bit of coin needed for the day's errand was shared, and then Devin carried the crates one at a time into the shop. He took them through the back room and down into the cellar. There he kept a room to store and process his wares. Dark and dry the tea would last months here even without the added measure of the sealed tins. Safe from prying eyes, he hung his coat on a hook, washed the gentle smile from his face, and removed the metaphorical mask of Devin Malasan, tea shop owner. Beneath that mask was another simple seeming man, though his eyes lost there friendly warmth in the dim light of the basement, hardening like water freezing into ice. This man was Kalen and he too had work to do this day. Sitting at a workbench Kalen lit a flame and set a blade upon it, letting it slowly heat. Once the blade began to glow he took it and slowly dragged it across the flux sealing the tea crates inner lining and outer form. Separating the two a cache of documents sat waiting for his consumption. They were written in code of course, but it was code he'd long ago memorized and he read them quickly. Finishing the last he grimaced, the letters contained little of value. He'd need to make a report but those he served would not be pleased by the lack of progress. There was little he could do in this case, he was just the messenger, but those he served wouldn't care. Amongst the Friends of the Dark failure always had consequences and those that deserved the blame were too far away to face those consequences. Too far away at least for today, Kalen felt soon he'd be traveling south again to relay his own message. He finished by burning the missives and reassembling the tea crates. Finally, he donned his coat and his countenance once more. Blowing out the candle Devin left the basement. He'd completed his shipment and it was about time to open his shop. Humming to himself the tea shop owner began the day, while beneath the surface the Dark Friend quietly brooded.