January 2001



Muirenn Alianin

Nimue Stormsong

Karina Sunsoar

Aelwhin Kerridar

Daelin Eidheann Ekelle

Calia Luin



back to Library                       February Arches



Julannah’s predicament was very much real as she opened her eyes to another day. Another day in the sense of the world rotating and sun shining, she thought, as her lips parted in a nervous smile. What will this matter in a year? She thought to herself. Will this ever matter again? The smile was wiped off her face as it dawned on her that she could not be inconsistent with her philosophies.
Yesterday will never be, today is real, and tomorrow does not exist.

She was startled out of thought when she found herself at the door of the arches room, wondering how her thoughts had taken her so far away when over those boundaries the unknown to even the most powerful would soon be hers to experience. She started contemptuously at the arches in front of her, paying little heed to Sabine’s words but registering them somehow so far deep in the corners of her mind.

"I am ready, Sabine Sedai." She said with little thought.
Sabine looked at the girl sternly before turning back. Mumbling incoherently to another Aes Sedai, Julannah focused on the present. Today is real.
Listening to Sabine Sedai giving her instructions and even telling her she could turn back three times, Julannah readied herself. She was going to overcome this experience and come out a stronger person. She was going to do this, and she was going to do it now.
Sabine turned to the Aes Sedai with the pitcher of water. The ceremony began with little ado. Today is real.

“Who do you bring with you Sister?” Mumbled the Aes Sedai with the pitcher.
“One who comes as a candidate for Acceptance, Sister.”
“Is she ready?” The woman spoke the words robotically.
“She is ready to leave what she was behind, and in passing through her fears, gain Acceptance.”
“Does she know her fears?”
“She has never faced them before, but now is ready.”
“Then let her face what she fears.”
Sabine then turned to Julannah with a slight smile.
"The way back will come but once. Be steadfast"
Julannah closed her eyes and leaped through the first arch.

The world flickered around her, and for an instant Julannah felt weightless before being sucked like a vacuum into a semi-hazy reality. She opened her eyes.
The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. Those words were all she could hear.
The room was familiar. The table at the center of the kitchen seemed to have withered with age, but the pots and pans hung around the stove as they always had.
Of course, you haven’t moved them in fifteen years.
The thought came from nowhere but she was so sure of it that she questioned it little. Fifteen years ago?
The door to the kitchen opened and Julannah's husband Trysthin strode in, carrying in his arms a playful girl of about seven years old. Julannah smiled to herself. Her daughter had her hair and eyes but the strong chin and broad shoulders belonged to her handsome father.
"How is it that you two take so long to buy a loaf of bread and some eggs?"
The words seemed to come from somewhere deep inside her, and while they made sense, they made no sense at all to Julannah’s dwindling concept of her own reality.
The girl giggled and drew another smile out of her mother.
"Mummy! Daddy carried me on his shoulders all the way home!" Arenya giggled as she ran to hug Julannah, clinging to her skirts like she had seen many a child do. Julannah’s hands took the child’s head and an unbelievable surge of love and suffering swept through Julannah.
Deep in the corner of the room a silver arch appeared.
Be steadfast...
Julannah looked at her beaming daughter with hurt in her eyes.
I have to..
I have to go..
Her head felt dizzy as the arch began to fade.
A tear rolled for a love lost and one that would never be, and for suffering never known but always there, but the words echoed in her head.
Be steadfast...
All Julannah heard before she leaped through was a child's cry...

Julannah stepped back out into the room with a jolt, her tear still rolling. Sadness. Suffering. But most of all, she felt deprived. She felt lonely.
"Is it... please. My husband is dead. It can't be real." She looked to Sabine with desperation in her eyes but Sabine only put her arm around Julannah's shoulders and explained that the answer to that was unclear.
She followed her to the other arch. "The way back will come but once. Be steadfast." Julannah glared at it confusingly. A thousand voices in her head, a thousand feelings at the pit of her stomach, she clenched…

As the world came into view, Julannah sat high in a tree and stared into the distance. The sky was blue and serene. The sun gave rays of false security as the air was pungent with evil. She smiled a child’s innocent smile.
A black raven flew high against a blue sky, and in slow motion, Julannah knew her lips were moving and the breeze was touching her face. Fingers of sin brushed her lips and drew tears of terror.
The raven flew. And flew.
It came within three paces of her but still she did not move. Terror enveloped her as the touch of evil drove her sense of reality into the ground.
Be steadfast...
It came at her with a vengeance. It's sharp beak ate at her and tore at her flesh. The raven grew wider. Taller, until it was a giant. It encased the sky, the world, the universe, it gobbled her sin ridden flesh and took away her life.
Suspended in mid-air between the branch she was sitting on and the ground beneath her, was a silver arch.
Be steadfast...
The voice rang in her head as she tore herself away from the raven. She could literally breath it and feel it running through her veins as she moved her arms and legs. Her foot caught a broken branch and she slipped...

She stumbled back out into the room and soon regained her sight to see Sabine gasping at her. Julannah’s heart was beating and her head ached. Her mouth was dry. Sabine smiled sympathetically.
"Come." She motioned and Julannah followed.
She faced the last arch.
What am I doing here… where am I?
Today is real.
"The way back will come but once. Be steadfast."
Julannah looked at Sabine as she disappeared into oblivion...

She held her hand up to her eyes and years flashed before her. Years of one lifetime. Perhaps more.
Julannah sat in a chair in the middle of an endless room.
Be steadfast...
Her withered lips moved and she snickered.
"How could I be steadfast," she said to the air in front of her. "I'm two-hundred and fifty-seven years old! I couldn't crawl even if I tried!"
A part of her listened to the ramblings of an elderly lady with disbelief. Inside her head she screamed with solitude.
"What?" The old lady said. "You think this is not real? It is real. It's very real."
Be steadfast...
"I'm dying."
The old lady held on tightly to a bundle on her knees, seeking out a cloth. A stole with seven colors.
Be steadfast...
She looked up and instantaneously knew what the silver arches were.
"I'm too old for this," she mumbled, and the silver arch began to fade.
Forcing herself up, the stole dropped to the floor and thunder wailed, her weak bones carried her through the arch...

Julannah stumbled out of the arch and once again water was poured on her.
Resisting the urge to weep, she regained some composure as she was given a ring. People spoke around her, at her, to each other but she did not notice. All of a sudden, she wanted to run to her room... and... laugh. Laugh.
Sabine turned to her sharply, and Julannah realized she had laughed out loud.
"I apologize, Sabine Sedai."
She gathered her things laughing and turned her back on the Aes Sedai.
Laughter trailed behind her and rang in the corridors.


Muirenn Alianin

Muirenn was flying Rhisa in a secluded spot in the Spring gardens. He had just finished his molt and needed to stretch his wings. She watched as he flew, envying him his freedom. You can leave whenever you wish Rhisa she thought, why must I be trapped here? Muirenn sighed. She knew the answer to her own question, knew that she had to learn to control the ability within her. It would destroy her otherwise. Her head understood the logic of the situation perfectly. But her heart didn’t. I wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy staying in the Tower, it was wonderful! And she had met more friends than she could ever imagine having! And who wouldn’t want to live in a city as beautiful as Tar Valon? But unlike Rhisa, she couldn’t fly away. She was confined to these Tower walls. A large prison, and an attractive one, but still a prison. And deep inside she longed to spread her own wings and fly from this place. I will not be pushed to fit with others plans like a caged animal!
But how to leave? If she ran away, they would just bring her back. And if anything, her life here would be far from pleasant upon her return. Still pondering these questions, she gave a long low whistle to Rhisa, and he landed on her arm in a flurry of white feathers. She soothed and petted him, saying how beautiful he was as she turned around. She was startled to see Sabine Sedai there. So lost in thought had she been that she hadn’t even noticed the other woman’s approach. “Good day, Aes Sedai,” she said, dropping a quick, if awkward, curtsey, still trying to balance Rhisa, “What may I do for you?”
“You certainly can be difficult to find when you don’t want to be found, can’t you girl? If I hadn’t seen your hawk, I might not have found you for hours yet. Well, come along, everyone is waiting on you. It is time,” she turned at began to walk away, expecting Muirenn to follow.
“Where are we going Aes Sedai? Time for what?” she asked as she let Rhisa go again, he knew his way back to her room.
“You are to be raised to the Accepted girl. Now hurry. The hour waits on no woman, but you certainly seem to try!”
Muirenn quieted, and allowed herself to be led down into the bowels of the White Tower. Sabine Sedai led her into an enormous domed chamber. Three silver arches, just tall enough to walk under, stood on a silver ring, their ends touching where they joined it. Three Aes Sedai wearing their fringed shawls, one white, one green, one gray, sat on the floor at each of those joinings. The glow of saidar surrounded them, and she could see the Arches flicker with a strange light. It made her head hurt to look for too long.
“Do you refuse?”
Muirenn turned back to Sabine Sedai who was speaking, she colored briefly, for not paying attention, “No, Aes Sedai.”
“Good,” Sabine Sedai said, “Now, there are two things a woman doesn’t hear until she stands where you do. First, once you begin, you must go on to the end. Refuse to go on, and you will be put out of the Tower with enough silver to support you for one year, just as if you had refused to begin for the third time.”
Muirenn perked up at that, “Wait Aes Sedai. If I refuse to begin three times, I will leave the Tower with enough silver for one year?”
Sabine Sedai sighed, “Yes girl. Haven’t you been listening to anything I have been telling you? Now stay silent until it is your time to speak. Second, to seek, to strive, is to know danger. Some women have entered, and never come out. When the arches were allowed to grow silent, they--were--not--there. If you will survive, you must be steadfast,” she paused giving Muirenn a look that told her exactly what happened if you were not ‘steadfast’. Muirenn shivered slightly, but wasn’t truly paying attention. One year. She snapped back as Sabine continued speaking, “This is your last chance. Refuse now, and it only counts as your first. You may still try twice more.”
She thought about it, This is my chance! Three times, and I’m free! And I won’t even have to go through those nasty arches. They really do give me a headache when I look too close. Muirenn looked Sabine straight in the eye, “I refuse.”


The past three weeks had been hard. Muirenn hadn’t had even an hour to herself. Rhisa was cranky, she was cranky, and she even seemed to be making her roommates cranky, and they didn’t even know what was wrong! Even if no one else in the Tower knew what had happened, the five Aes Sedai who had been in the room did. And now wherever she went, one of those five just happened to be there. Usually with another chore. Muirenn was certain that they were trying to make her see the error of her ways. Right now, she was up to her elbows in greasy water. Apparently, the Gray sister had thought it might be ‘beneficial’, she had said, if Muirenn spent the afternoon scrubbing pots. Bloody lot they know if they think this is going to change my mind! she thought.
She was so distracted by her own thoughts that she failed to hear Sabine Sedai come up behind her. “It is time.”
Muirenn jumped, sending soapsuds flying, “Would you quit doing that! Can’t you just walk up to someone like a normal person?” The look Sabine gave her made her shut her mouth. She wiped her hands on a dishtowel and followed.
Once they were in the room again, with the same Aes Sedai, Sabine turned to Muirenn, “This is your second chance girl. You may still refuse, and you will have one more try after this. Do you wish to go on?”
She spent the rest of the day scrubbing pots.


Early the next morning, she was called into Sabine Sedai’s study. She went to the room, knocked on the door, and entered at the answering “Come!”
“What is it you called me for, Aes Sedai?”
Sabine Sedai snorted, “Don’t pretend that you don’t know girl! It is about your Accepted test. Many girls refuse the first time. It is no shame to do so. But very few will refuse the second time. You did. Why?”
Muirenn was looking out the window at a pair of squirrels, watching them play on the branches of a tree. “Do you see those squirrels Sabine Sedai?” she asked, “They don’t have to be here. They choose to be. Because they like this place. I like this place too, but I don’t have a say in the matter.”
“Is that what all this fuss is about?” she sighed, “You know that the Accepted can go into the city of Tar Valon, don’t you?”
“Only to be locked up again at night!”
“Yes,” Sabine Sedai said slowly, “but when you are Aes Sedai, no one but the Amyrlin and your Ajah Head can tell you where you can and cannot go. You will be free to go wherever you wish. But if you leave the Tower where will you go? Back home? To be stuck in a manor and never get to see the world outside Caemlyn? Wouldn’t that be just as much of a prison?”
Muirenn eyed the Aes Sedai warily. The woman was right. She stared out the window. Where will I go? I can’t go back home. Never again! She looked up at Sabine Sedai again, “I will take my test now.”


Muirenn entered the testing room once again. The same Aes Sedai were there. She was half listening as Sabine Sedai repeated the instructions that Muirenn could, by now, recite by heart. “Do you wish to go on?” Muirenn nodded. “Then ready yourself.”
Muirenn stripped out of her white novice dress and shivered. She realized that those Aes Sedai weren’t just wearing their shawls for formality’s sake. It was cold! She rubbed her arms briskly as she followed Sabine Sedai.
“Whom do you bring with you, Sister?” asked a woman in a red fringed shawl.
“One who comes as a candidate for Acceptance, Sister.”
“Is she ready?”
“She is ready to leave behind what she was, and, passing through her fears, gain Acceptance.”
“Does she know her fears?”
“She has never faced them, but is now willing.”
“Then let her face what she fears.”
“The first time through is for what was,” Sabine Sedai told her, “The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”
Muirenn stepped forward into the arch. The light engulfed her.


“Oh, that’s lovely, my Lady. Your husband will love it.”
Muirenn looked up from her embroidery hoop, I hate embroidery, and looked at the woman across from her. “Do you really think so Nina?” she asked.
“Certainly, my lady. Lord Triste always likes the things you make,” the woman--Nina--answered.
“Lord Triste. My husband?” Muirenn put a hand to her head. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. It was not her thought. Strange. “Lord Triste is my father’s friend,” Muirenn began to rub her temple. Lord Triste was twice her age. And thrice her weight. And going bald besides. Why would I marry him? Muirenn mentally reprimanded herself. Of course you married Lord Triste. Your mother wished it. Alliances, she said. And your father was absolutely smitten with the idea. And you never could say no to Daddy. Muirenn could remember the wedding. How happy her family looked. Her eldest brother would be a Sword Captain in the Queen’s Guards. Lord Triste would see to that. But you don’t love him! her mind screamed.
“Yes, my Lady. He was. But your father passed on two winters past. Are you all right, my Lady?”
Muirenn waved the question away, “Yes Nina, I’m fine.” She would be fine. If only she could remember. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. She rubbed harder.
Nina settled back in her chair, “That’s good, my Lady. I was afraid that those headaches of yours were coming back. Those were bad times.”
The headaches. I was sick. Very sick. No one knew what was wrong. But I got better.
“And with the baby coming and all...well, no sense taking chances. You had the birthing sickness bad too. Good that it’s all cleared up now.” Baby? Muirenn reached a hand down to her stomach, which she had just now noticed was swollen. Muirenn knew that she was at seven months. Everyone had been so happy. This time, she was sure that she would keep the child. Lord Triste was very angry last time. Muirenn touched her eye in remembrance. Very angry. This time would be all right. She was sure of it. And her mother was sure of it. Soon she would have a child of her own. Lord Triste’s baby. He wanted a son.
“Aye, my Lady. And it would be best for you to give it to him.” Muirenn hadn’t realized that she had spoken that last thought aloud. Nina sighed, “But a daughter would be so lovely. A bright young girl for your mother to spoil. You were going to name her--”
“Aaolian,” Muirenn said. The put her hand to her head again. Where had that thought come from?
“Yes,” Nina said, and brightened visibly, “After your childhood friend who went off to become Aes Sedai.” She left to Tar Valon. Muirenn remembered that. “Why didn’t I go with her?”
“Oh, you wouldn’t have wanted to go with her, my Lady. Who would want to become Aes Sedai anyway? You know the stories about them. But a strange girl she was. Always having notions of grandeur. Should have kept her feet planted on the ground. Gotten married and started a family like a proper Lady.” Her tone left no doubt that any girl who didn’t do just that was certainly not a proper lady, “But if she was your friend, my Lady...Well, I won’t say bad about her. Anyway, I say give Lord Triste a son. Name him Jain, after his father. Produce an heir first, then worry about daughters.”
“Jain. Yes, a good name.” But Muirenn knew it would be a girl. Muirenn stood up and walked over to the fireplace. It got cold in Caemlyn during the winter. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a glimmering silver arch outside the door. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. Without thinking, she took two steps toward it.
“Where are you going, my Lady?”
“I just need some fresh air, Nina.”
“You know the Wisdom said that you shouldn’t be on your feet. Don’t want to hurt the baby, you know.”
Muirenn paused. The baby. This time would be right. Yes. She should go back to her chair. Muirenn started to turn, but forced herself to take another step forward. There was something she needed on the other side. Tears leaked out of her eyes. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. Behind her, she could hear Nina pleading, “My Lady, come back. You must come back and sit. Lord Triste will be angry again. You don’t want to make him angry.” Be steadfast. She continued forward. She had to go through. She had to get what was on the other side. Had to. “I can’t, Nina. Light help me I--”
Muirenn stepped into the arch and was consumed by light.


Muirenn stumbled out of the arch, tears streaming down her face. “--can’t,” she looked around. Memory came back to her, hit her like a hammer. She reached down to feel her stomach, and was met with the flat smooth skin that had always been there. Was I expecting something else? A stream of cold, clear water fell down on her head from a silver chalice held by the Red sister. “You are washed clean of what sin you may have done,” the Aes Sedai intoned, “and of those done against you. You are washed clean of what crime you may have committed, and of those committed against you. You come to us washed clean and pure, in heart and soul.”
Muirenn could only stare, Light, let it be so! Did I really leave my baby? She wasn’t even given a chance to live! “A son,” she said, still weeping, “He wanted a son.” She turned to look into the eyes of the Mistress of Novices, seeking some sort of confirmation of her experience, “But it would have been a girl.”
“Hush, child,” Sabine Sedai said, “A woman’s fears are her own.”
Muirenn searched her eyes and shivered at what she saw reflected, “ seemed so real. Was it real, Sabine Sedai?” Could I have left her?
“Every woman that I have seen pass through those arches has asked much the same question. The truth is that no one knows. But one thing is certain, the danger is very real. Remember that and you will come back to us,” Sabine Sedai said, leading her to the next arch. “Are you ready?”
Muirenn nodded, swallowing her sobs.
“The second time is for what is. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.” It cannot be worse than the first. Nothing could be worse than that. She stepped through the arch and into the light.


Muirenn was riding a horse as fast as she could. Where am I going? Looking around, she recognized the countryside around her father’s manor. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. The thought was not hers, but did not seem strange. She rode on and on, finally coming to the gates of home. Home. Is it still my home? And why am I going there? Muirenn shook the thought off. Why wouldn’t it still be her home. She was going back because it was where she belonged. Back? Where have I been? She couldn’t remember.
Slowing her mount to a walk, she went up to the gates. Her mother was there. Wearing white. The white seemed important somehow, but she couldn’t remember why. Mother never wears white. She can’t stand how she looks in the color. It looked as though she had been crying. Muirenn dismounted and went to embrace her mother. “What is wrong, mother? I’m back now. I came as quickly as I could when I heard the news.” What news? Her mother pulled away, “It is too late. You came too late.”
“Too late for what?”
“He is dead. Your father is dead, Muirenn.” The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. Muirenn put a hand to her head and closed her eyes. This could not be happening. When she had heard that her father had fallen ill, she had taken the next boat out of Tar Valon. She had come as quickly as she could after reading the letter. But a part of her was certain that she had never read any such letter. “When?” she asked.
“Four nights past,” her mother answered. “If you had been here, instead of in Tar Valon playing at being Aes Sedai, he would have lived!” she said accusingly, “Here is where you belong. You-” her mother broke off in a fit of coughing.
Muirenn put her arms around her, steadying her. “Come, mother. Let’s get you inside. I am here now. I won’t leave you.”
“Yes, inside. He called for you, you know Muirenn. In his last hour. He wanted you to be there,” she stopped, grasping Muirenn’s arms, she looked up into her daughter’s eyes. “Your brother Jehrad is sick now too. The same fever your father had. You can help him, can’t you? You are going to be Aes Sedai. Aes Sedai can heal the sick. You will help your brother.”
Muirenn stared uncomprehendingly. She had been in Tar Valon. She was training to be Aes Sedai. But she knew that she didn’t have any sort of Healing Talent. Looking at her mother, “I will do what I can,” she promised. Turning to continue toward the manor, she caught sight of an arch, gleaming in the sunlight. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. Letting go of her mother, she took a step toward the arch. And away from her home.
“Where are you going, Muirenn?” her mother asked. “Jehrad is upstairs.”
Muirenn sobbed as she took another step forward.
“He needs you, Muirenn. You are the only one who can help him!” her mother pleaded.
Muirenn stepped forward once again. It was the hardest thing she had ever done. “I am so sorry, mother.” Tears streamed down her cheeks.
“Muirenn, come back! Stop Muirenn!”
Her mother’s cries echoed in her ears as Muirenn stepped into the light.


She stumbled out of the arch, putting her head into her hands and weeping. “I couldn’t save him, mother. I couldn’t.”
Cool water streamed down onto her head, washing away her tears, but they kept coming. Seemed like they would come forever. “You are washed clean of false pride,” the Red sister intoned, “You are washed clean of false ambition. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul.”
Sabine Sedai came to take her arm. “Once more and it is done, child.”
“It was not real. Please tell me it was not real! I left him to die! I could have saved him. Somehow, I could have,” she began weeping anew.
“There is always some reason to stay. You must want to be Aes Sedai more than anything else. Enough to face anything, leave anything, fight free of anything to achieve it. The ter’angreal weaves traps for you of your own design. Traps more alluring than saidar, strong as steel, and deadly as the viper's bite,” she said, leading Muirenn to the third arch. “Come back to us, child. The third time is for what will be. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”
Muirenn stepped into the glow, and the light swallowed her.


Muirenn smiled as she looked out the window of her chamber. Not many could find beauty this close to the Blight, but she could see the simple functional elegance of Fal Moran. And somehow, she also felt a distant sense of loss. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.
Muirenn put a hand to her head. She hoped she wasn’t coming down with something.
There was a knock on her door. “Come,” she called. The door opened and the shatayan entered, dropping a curtsey.
“Aes Sedai?” she asked, “Will you be dining with the King tonight?”
Muirenn looked around the room, slightly startled. She hadn’t realized there was anyone else here with her, much less an Aes Sedai.
“Aes Sedai?” the shatayan repeated.
Muirenn looked up, the woman was talking to her! She put her hand to her head again. “Yes, of course. I will be dining with the King.”
“Good, Aes Sedai. Honor to serve,” the woman left, shutting the door behind her.
Muirenn reached out with her right hand and picked up a glass of wine. For the first time, she noticed that there was a golden ring depicting a serpent eating its own tail on the second finger of that hand. She frowned. I am Aes Sedai? The thought seemed foreign to her. Of course I am Aes Sedai. I have been the Tower’s ambassador for more than twenty years. She knew it was true. She had traveled to many places in the name of the White Tower. Kings and Queens had paid her reverence. Muirenn knew that she had come farther than any daughter of an Andoran minor noble could ever have dreamed. She went where she wanted, and when she wanted. She answered only to the Amyrlin and her Ajah Head. What Ajah am I? She strained to remember, but the answer eluded her. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. She knew it was almost time for dinner. She readied herself, and went down to the dining hall. She was met by the King. “Muirenn Sedai, you honor us with your presence. It is always good to have the ambassador of the White Tower here. How are your apartments? To your liking I hope.”
Muirenn smiled and nodded and made all the appropriate responses.
“Just like your father,” he commented, “A person of few words. But when you speak, many take notice.”
“You know my father?” Muirenn asked, surprised. She knew that her father had served in the army, he was given some considerable rank, becoming a Captain in the Queen’s Guard, but he had never mentioned meeting the King of Shienar.
“Yes, Aes Sedai. His untimely death saddened us all. And the loss of you brother so soon afterward. They were both such good warriors. I feel honored to have known them. Even though I was still the heir to the crown at the time, I feel that your father taught me much about the nature of war.”
Muirenn wondered what her father could have done to earn the respect of a King. He hadn’t been involved in any sort of active duty since she was a novice. He must have met this man during that time. Soon after he returned home, he had caught a horrible fever. She didn’t want to remember that time. She pushed the memory away. As she allowed herself to be led to the table, she listened with only half an ear to what the man was saying. “What was that?” she asked, something that he had said sparked some memory within her.
He turned, startled, “I only said that it seems you are doing well, considering the circumstances. I have heard that the loss of one’s Warder can be a difficult thing to bear.”
Muirenn stopped. That sense of loss she had been feeling grew. My Warder. Memories came rushing at her. They had been caught in a Trolloc raid on their way to Fal Moran. Very common this close to the Blight. There weren’t many. But there were enough that one Aes Sedai and her Warder couldn’t handle them all. As her Gaidin lay wounded and dying, Muirenn had cursed her lack of any sort of Healing Talent. I could have saved him, had I only tried harder. Just like I could have saved my father. She shook the thought off, there had been nothing she could do. She knew that for true. Light! Nothing short of a Yellow sister could have Healed either one of them.
“Are you all right, Muirenn Sedai?” the King asked, seeming slightly puzzled, “I apologize if I have offended.”
Muirenn looked up at him, “No. No, it is quite all right.” She took a deep breath before continuing, “The loss of a Warder is a difficult time. I ask for your patience with me.” She made an attempt at a smile, “Now, how are the fortifications along the blightborder going? That is the reason that I came. I was told that the current defense will not hold in the face of a renewed assault.” The King was visibly relieved, obviously glad to get away from a touchy subject.
“Yes, Aes Sedai. It is well that you came. The people of Shienar are very grateful to the White Tower for all of their help.” The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.
Muirenn looked over her shoulder, there was a light-filled silver arch taking up the entryway. No! Not now! Not this! Light, this is all that I ever wanted! I am free! She turned her back on the arch. Continued talking to the King. This is what I want. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. Sabine Sedai’s voice danced on the edge of hearing, You must want to be Aes Sedai more than anything else. To leave anything to achieve it.
Muirenn sighed, she knew that she must leave this place. She pulled away from the King and began walking toward the arch.
“Muirenn Sedai? Why are you leaving?” asked the startled King.
Muirenn began to weep, the feeling of loss combined with the loss to come she was experiencing proved too much. Why am I doing this? she asked herself. You want to be Aes Sedai was the answer her mind came up with.
“Muirenn Sedai! I am sorry if I have offended! Please stay. You came to help us get free of the Blight. You cannot be leaving before you have finished your work.”
“With all my heart I wish it were not so,” she said, and stepped through the arch. It felt as though she was giving up her soul as she was drowned by the light.


Muirenn staggered out of the arch. “I damned them all to the Pit of Doom! I took away any hope they had to be free!” she sobbed. “I gave away my own freedom,” she whispered. She looked up at Sabine Sedai, “Was it worth the price?”
“There is always a price,” the Aes Sedai said quietly. “Each of us must pay the piper. Come, get what you have paid for.” She led Muirenn to kneel in front of the Amyrlin Seat. She poured out the final chalice over her head.
“You are washed clean of Muirenn Alianin of Caemlyn. You are washed clean of all ties the bind you to the world. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul. You are Muirenn Alianin, Accepted of the White Tower.” The Amyrlin’s eyes bored into her own, “You are sealed to us now.” The Amyrlin gave the chalice to another of the Aes Sedai and produced a gold ring in the shape of a serpent biting its own tail. She held out her left hand and the Amyrlin slipped the ring onto her third finger. Muirenn shivered. Was it worth the price? ~~~

Muirenn was called to Sabine Sedai’s office later that day. She knocked on the door and entered when the Aes Sedai answered. “You summoned me, Sabine Sedai?” she said, dropping a curtsey.
“Yes,” Sabine Sedai rummaged around on her desk, “This letter came for you this morning. I thought it best to wait until after your testing to give it to you.” She handed over the letter. Muirenn took it; it bore the seal of House Alianin. A crescent moon behind a hawk in flight.
“Thank you, Aes Sedai.”
Back in her larger room she was now entitled to as an Accepted, Muirenn broke the seal of the letter.
My dear child,

I am sorry to have to write to you like this. I know how much you care for your father. I regret to tell you that he has fallen gravely ill...

Muirenn dropped the letter in shock. She didn’t need to see her mother’s signature at the bottom, or even read the rest of the letter to know what it said, and that it said true. You father is ill. He has a deadly fever. No one knows how to cure it. Come home quickly. She also didn’t need anyone to tell her that it was already too late. She sat on her bed and wept. There is always a price.



Nimue Stormsong

Nimue sat in her room, alone, except for the sleeping Pyewacket. It was nearing time to blow out her lamp, she realized, so she began to prepare for sleep. Ubah had become an Accepted a few weeks ago, and she had never felt lonelier than now. Someday she would become an Accepted too... But when? As if in response to that thought, she heard someone approaching her door, then stop in front of it. Before they could knock, Nimue said, "Come in, if you're going to," and waited to see who was visiting her at this time of night.

It was Sabine Sedai. The Mistress of Novices, but Nimue knew that better than most, since she had spent more time in Sabine's study than most of the other Novices. Nimue curtsied, wondering what Sabine had found out about her doing this time. Was it the chickens, or the ink? Or something else? Sabine said simply, "It's time."

Nimue blinked. Time? For what? A punishment, at this time of night? "Excuse me, Aes Sedai, but time for what?"

"Time for your Acceptance test."

Nimue gulped. So it was finally going to happen. "Yes, Aes Sedai," she said, and Sabine began to lead her through the Tower. Thoughts of what this test could be, the test that people had died in, ran through her head, each possibility worse than the last. Down and down they went, further down than Nimue could have imagined it going, and she had been down fairly far. And had gotten in big trouble for it, too. Perhaps the test was even more dangerous than she had ever imagined, and it had to be kept down here to keep it from preying on those in the Tower above. She shivered at the thought. She was now glad that she had been caught before going too far down. Nimue walked a little closer to Sabine, eyeing all the old, dusty doors they passed with growing suspicion. Soon, all too soon, Sabine stopped in front of one of the doors, and opened it, revealing...

A room... No, more of a cavern than a room, and in the middle of the cavern was a... Well, a something... It might have been a ter'angreal.. It was three arches, made from one piece of metal. The arches were just tall enough to walk through, but what was inside of those arches was hidden by a trick of the light. There were four Aes Sedai there too, three sitting around the arches, one sitting at a desk with three chalices of water sitting before her. Nimue noticed them only for a second, then her attention was fastened on the arches, on the terrible light hiding their contents from the world.

Nimue was startled when she head Sabine speak up. "Novices are given three chances at this. You may refuse to enter twice but on the third refusal, you are sent out of the Tower forever. You have the right to refuse. Do you wish to go on?"

Nimue gulped, and then nodded.

"Good, good. Now I will tell you two things no woman hears until she stands where you do. You must finish once you start. Refuse at any point and you will be put out of the Tower just as if you had refused to begin the third time. Second. To seek, to strive is to know danger. Some women have entered and never come out. When the ter'angreal was allowed to go quiet, they---were---not---there. And they were never seen again. If you will survive, you must be steadfast. Falter, fail, and… This is your last chance. Refuse now and it counts only as the first. You may still try twice more. If you accept now there is no turning back. It is no shame to refuse. Choose."

Nimue listened, and thought.... And spoke up. "I... I refuse."

Sabine nodded, and led Nimue back to her room, and Nimue went to bed, trying not to think of what she would do without the Tower. Would the Warders accept her into training? She hoped she wouldn't have to find out.

The next night, Nimue was washing dishes in the kitchen, a penance for dropping an egg on another Novices head from her window, when Sabine entered, and headed right for her.

"Oh great... As if washing dishes isn't enough of a punishment," Nimue growled under her breath.

But when Sabine approached, she said, "It is time."

"Again? Already?" Nimue asked, quickly drying her hands on the front of her dress, ignoring Sabine's scowl when she saw that.

"The Wheel waits for no woman," Sabine replied.

"Uh... Er... Right. Lead on," she said, trying to sound as if she wasn't scared out of her mind. She followed the Aes Sedai down again, although the walk seemed longer this time, which was strange, since her room was higher in the Tower than the kitchen. Finally, she entered the cavern again.

"Novices are given three chances at this. You may refuse to enter twice but on the third refusal, you are sent out of the Tower forever. You have the right to refuse. Remember that you have already refused once, and if you refuse this time, you have only one more chance. Do you wish to go on?" Sabine asked.

Nimue considered this for a few minutes, then shook her head. "I refuse."

Sabine nodded, a little slower this time than she had the night before. The other Aes Sedai in the room seemed to be looking down at her, although they were all sitting, with disappointment. Nimue lowered her eyes, and Sabine led her back to the kitchens, to finish washing dishes.

Nimue sat quietly in the windowsill, for once having nothing to do for a few minutes. She couldn't forget the looks on the Aes Sedai's faces, but she knew she had been right in her decision. She couldn't do it. She couldn't make herself step through those arches. She heard footsteps, and hastily jumped down from the windowsill, already halfway into a curtsy. It was Sabine again.

"May I ask why you refused the second time, child?" She asked softly.

Nimue nodded, dumbfounded. "I... I couldn't do it, Sabine Sedai."

"The Wheel waits for no woman," Sabine's reply was. "It is time."

Nimue nodded. She had suspected it would be time again. "I will come, but I don't think my answer will please you..." She said.

Sabine just nodded again, and led her down into the depths of the Tower. The door opened, and Nimue stepped in.

"This is your last chance, Nimue. Refuse, and be put out of the Tower."
Nimue barely listened. She knew her answer. She still couldn't make herself walk into that light. With a sigh, she said, "I refuse."

She heard one of the Aes Sedai gasp, a most un-Aes Sedai-like sound. Sabine spoke again. "Are you sure, Nimue? Do you understand that if you refuse now, you will be put out of the Tower forever?"

Nimue nodded. "I understand, Aes Sedai. And my answer is the same."

"So be it." Sabine looked sad, and the other Aes Sedai venomous. Nimue walked from the chamber sadly.

An hour later, Nimue was walking from the Tower as well, a brown woolen dress on her back, and a few gold coins in her pocket. She sighed, breathing in the cold Tar Valon air. She may have wasted quite a few years of her life, but she had come out of the Tower richer than she had went in, and with a few more skills. But was it worth it?

"Nimue!" She heard a familiar voice shout. She looked around, then smiled at Shoar.

"Hello, Shoar," she said sadly.

"I heard about you being put out of the Tower..." He said, his voice sympathetic. Nimue simply nodded. "Well, you may have been put out of there, but there's always room for more Gaidin," he said.

Nimue looked up at him, searching his face for signs that this was a joke. There were none. "Are you serious?" She asked.

Shoar nodded. "I know that's always been your dream...."

Be steadfast.

Nimue shook her head. Where had THAT come from.

Shoar looked confused. "It hasn't?"

Nimue quickly said, "Oh, it has, I was just... getting a fly off of my hair... When do I start training?"

Shoar smiled again. "As soon as you can. I don't imagine you have anything you need to take care of...." Nimue started to shake her head, then noticed something glittering in an alley nearby.

"I'm ready now, sir," she said.

"Then welcome, Ward."

The way back will come but once.

"Where are you going?" She heard Shoar ask before she realized she was heading toward the alley. She stopped herself. Where WAS she going? This had always been her dream, to become a Warder... And now she knew enough about the Power that she could use it some without killing herself with it. Yet she knew she had to go towards the light in the alley.

Be steadfast.

"Ward, come here!" Shoar commanded. Nimue glanced at him for a second. He looked every bit the scary Warder she had thought him to be the first time she had seen him. But she had to do this. She didn't know why, but..

The way back will come but once.

Nimue shook her head. "I'm sorry, Shoar."

"Your training starts NOW Ward. The first lesson is, don't ignore your teachers!" Shoar started advancing towards her.

"I wish I could, Shoar... Light knows I do... I just can't..." Nimue turned, and ran through the glowing archway....

...And came out, naked, inside the arches chamber. She had thought she had been inside for days, but somehow she thought that for the women in this chamber, it had been mere minutes. Well, that wasn't so bad... She thought to herself, although she knew it was a lie. That had been the hardest thing she had ever done... To walk away from her dream.... And this time, she didn't have the Keeper of the Chronicles dragging her away... It had been her choice. She wanted to cry, but made herself stop. She wouldn't let these women see her crying.

Tania Sedai, whom she had once loved for making the students in one of her classes stop laughing at Nimue for accidentally walking into a wall, lifted one of the chalices of water over Nim's head, and poured it onto her, while saying, "You are washed clean of what sin you may have done and of those done against you. You are washed clean of what crime you may have committed and of those committed against you. You come to us washed clean and pure, in heart and soul."

Nimue wasn't sure what to do, so she merely nodded. Tania... Light, why did Tania have to be a part of this?

Sabine spoke. "The second time is for what is. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast."

Nimue nodded again, then walked through the second arch, letting the light engulf her...

...And tripped, nearly bowling Melissa over. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Aes Sedai..." She said, curtsying, grateful that the woman was only an Aes Sedai, and not anything more. That was bad enough, but at least she wasn't the Amrylin or anything...

"You clumsy little..." Melissa started, glaring madly at Nimue.

Nimue shrank under the gaze, hoping that by playing the humble, scared Novice, Melissa would let her off the hook easier.

"Novice." Melissa voice snapped like a whip. Nimue looked up. "I believe you didn't address me properly, GIRL."

"Excuse me, Aes Sedai?"

Melissa sneered at her. "If you paid attention at the meeting this morning, instead of goofing off, then you would have known..." Melissa smiled, and Nimue's blood froze. "I am the Mistress of Novices."

Oh LIGHT! Nimue stared, shaking her head. This couldn't be happening... Melissa would make her life a living hell...

"Oh yes, little Nimue. It's the truth," Melissa said.

"I'm sorry for almost knocking you over, Mistress of Novices Sedai ma'am," Nimue said quickly, curtsying. She was flustered, and frightened. Light, how could they have done this?! Melissa was one of, if not THE, youngest Aes Sedai ever. And now she was the Mistress of Novices too... Nimue had no doubts that if she didn't watch her step, and be polite, and do everything she was told, and nothing more, she would stay a Novice until her hair was gray.

Melissa sneered. "Too late, Novice."

"But I..." Nimue begged, wincing at the thoughts of what Melissa would do to her.

"I'll teach you to pay attention, Novice," Melissa said.

Nimue yawned and stretched, trying to straighten her back. She had been mucking the stables all day, and her hands felt as if they were on fire. The hem of her dress was stained and the dress was probably ruined, or at least Nimue didn't want to wear it again until it had been washed a few dozen times, and her hair was a mess. She sighed, and leaned on her pitchfork, barely awake.

"Do you think you be done, girl?" The Ward watching her asked, boredly.

"No, sir," Nimue said with a groan.

"Well, you do be," the Ward said with a chuckle. Nimue considered hitting him, but stopped herself. Tiredly, she trudged back to the Tower.

Light burn Melissa! How could she be so bloody cruel? Suddenly, she saw a blink of silver near the top of the Tower.

The way back will come but once.

How the Light could she get up there? She would have to go to the top of the Tower.... She shivered. As if that wasn't bad enough, she would have to... to JUMP off! She hated heights...

Be steadfast.

She bolted for the Tower. She knocked into an Aes Sedai, sending her books flying, ignoring her cries. Light, she would be in so much trouble if she was caught... She ignored the Aes Sedai's yells, and ducked into a staircase, tiredly climbing as fast as she could. Her back ached, her hands ached, her head ached. Melissa was going to kill her! Running through the Tower was bad enough... Melissa would flay the skin off her back, THEN kill her!

As if drawn by Nimue's thoughts, Melissa appeared in the doorway Nimue was about to enter, the doorway to the last staircase she needed to climb to get to the roof.

"And what exactly do you think you're DOING, Novice?!" She asked, crossing her arms beneath her breasts. Nimue stopped for a second.

Be steadfast.

With a roar, Nimue leapt at Melissa, trying to push her over. And fell backwards, hitting the stairs with a cry of pain, rolling downwards faster and faster...

She managed to stop herself rather quickly, pulling herself to her feet with a groan. There was a window, and she looked up, and saw the arch. Light, she had to get there.... Melissa was blocking the staircase to the only way Nimue knew to get to the roof, so...

No! That was crazy... But it was her only chance... And she had used to be good at climbing trees... How much harder could this be? Almost unconsciously, she reached into her pockets and withdrew two pieces of cloth, with steel claws sticking out from them. She had had them since before she had come to the Tower, but hadn't used them for a long time.

"Novice!" Melissa roared from the staircase above. Nimue paused for a second, the Mistress of Novices' wrath freezing her.

The way back will come but once.

Nimue tied the cloths around her aching hands, then stepped out onto the windowsill. Light, she must be crazy! The blocks that made up this Tower were almost as tall as she was.... She used the claws to grasp the seam between two of the stones beside the window, and swung out into thin air. Amazingly, she didn't fall, although she thought her hands were going to snap in half She gave a shuddering sigh, and quickly began to climb, straining to reach the top of the next stone.

"Novice Nimue!" Melissa shouted at her from the window.

Be steadfast.

Nimue ignored her, and stared up at the arch. And saw a familiar figure on the roof.

"Nimue!" Cari shouted, her voice sounding concerned.

The way back will come but once.

Nimue pushed the claws on her right hand into the crack between the next couple stones. Bits of cement fell, and Nimue had to avert her eyes to keep it from getting into her eyes.

"Nimue, stay still and I can use the Power to lift you to the roof!" Cari shouted.

"Novice, make one more move and I'll make sure you can't sit down for a month!" Melissa shouted.

The arch flickered.

Be steadfast.

Nimue was even with the arch now, but she had to go higher to be able to get in, since it was too far from the Tower to reach.

"Nimue, please!"

"Novice, stop now!"

The way back will come but once.

Nimue climbed one last stone. This should be high enough. Light, could she do this?

"Nimue, just stay there! I can get you back to solid ground, and I'll do my best to keep the Mistress of Novices from punishing you too bad..."

It was tempting... But she had to do this. Nimue gulped, and kicked off the wall, unhooking her claws as she went.

"NIMUE!" Cari screamed.

She wasn't going to make it... Light, she was going to miss the arch...

"NOVICE!" Melissa roared.

Nimue had a feeling that both were reaching for the Power as they spoke. She fell, faster and faster... She was going to die! She just had to scream, and Cari would save her right away, she knew it... She fell... And fell... How much longer? She was going to die... Cari would help her...

The light engulfed her...

.... And fell from the arch onto the stone floor, on her hands and knees. Her hands ached, the blisters from the work in the stables still there, her back still aching. Cari was standing before her, holding a chalice of water. Light, why did Cari have to be here?! Cari dumped the water on Nimue's head.

Sabine spoke once more. You are washed clean of false pride. You are washed clean of false ambition. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul."

No, she wouldn't let these women see her cry. Cari stepped forward, putting her hands on Nimue's head and Healing her. Nimue shivered, then stood, heading for the third arch.

"The third time is for what will be. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast," Sabine said. Nimue nodded, and stepped forward into the arch, letting the light engulf her...

...And she tripped on a stone, stubbing her toe.

"Watch where you're going! We can't afford to be stopping to Heal you every five minutes," Melissa said.

Nimue bit back a curse. She hadn't asked to be on this trip to Tear with the woman. In fact, she had refused to go, until the Amrylin had ordered her to. Even now she wasn't happy about the arrangement, but she couldn't go against the Amrylin herself.

Melissa tugged her shawl around her shoulders tighter as they continued walking. Their horses had been taken by the Tairen authorities, when they had come to kill Melissa and Nimue. Melissa's shawl was blue, for her Ajah, although Nimue thought it was stupid, since they were trying to convince the Tairens that they weren't Aes Sedai. At least she had been able to talk Melissa into buying a shawl that didn't look too much like the ones their Sisters wore. Nimue wore no shawl, although if she was in the Tower, hers would be Yellow. The sword at her hip made it hard to imagine her as a Healer, but that was what she was. A Healer.... And a swordswoman. Neither one of the women had Warders, which made Nimue's ability with a blade especially important.

"Wait... Do you hear that?" Nimue asked.

"No, I don't..." Melissa said, annoyed.

"Hoofs... They're approaching..." Nimue said, looking towards the road where the sound was coming from. "Embrace saidar, you should be able to hear it then..." Nimue didn't need saidar... Years of being half blind had sharpened her other senses.

A second later, Melissa gasped. "Light..."

Nimue nodded. "Yes... There are only a few though... We can't outrun horses, Melissa..." Nimue loosened her sword.

"You're actually going to use that?" Melissa asked with a half-laugh.

"Melissa... Shut up," Nimue said, scanning the horizon for anywhere they could hide. But there was no where. The horses burst into view, three of them. "Behind me," Nimue said.

She could feel Melissa's indignation, her anger at being helpless... But the Tairenns had some kind of... of anti-saidar ter'angreal, or something.. They had discovered that when their horses had been taken.

But Melissa could do something. And she did. The horses fell to the ground suddenly, and for a second Nimue thought that the Tairenns had been killed... But alas, it wasn't so. The men stayed down for a second, then they stood, unsheathing their swords.

With a grimace, Nimue unsheathed her own sword also.

The men advanced, and Nimue stood her ground, hoping that their having just fallen off their horses would be enough of a disadvantage to let her survive this encounter.

"Come with us, or we'll have to.." The man who appeared to be in charge said.

Nimue didn't wait for him to finish. She leapt forward, swinging her sword down at his neck. He blocked the sword, but Nimue was prepared for that. She pulled her sword back quickly, then, quicker than the man expected, stabbed the man through the heart. The man fell, and Nimue freed her sword, turning to deflect another man's sword. She kicked him hard in the knee, slashing his throat, almost decapitating him.

Where was the last man? She turned and saw Melissa, holding a belt knife, holding off the last man, her arm dripping blood. Nimue rushed at them, shouting, trying to attract the man's attention. He slashed Melissa across the stomach, and she fell with a cry. Nimue struck at his chest, and the man blocked, but her fury gave her speed and strength she hadn't known she had.

"Die, you son of a goat," she growled as she swung her sword again, but the man blocked. Nimue growled again, swinging again and again, never hitting flesh. But, as they fought, Melissa managed to sneak up on him, and stab him in the back. As the man fell, and Nimue's fury drained from her, the horror of what she had just done hit her, and she dropped her sword.

"What's wrong with you, Nimue? Come on, Heal me..." Melissa said, annoyed.

"I.. I killed them..." She said, shocked.

"They were going to kill you... Heal me, we have to keep moving!"

Nimue glared at Melissa. "I never liked you..."

Melissa looked shocked. "But.. You can't leave me to die..."

"Watch me," Nimue said, and turned.

"I can Heal your eye," Melissa said. Nimue turned quickly. "No, it's not impossible... And I can tell you who your parents were."

Nimue was at Melissa's side in a flash. "How?"

Melissa answered with, "And I can tell you your real name."

Nimue gasped. "How? Light burn you, HOW do you know?"

Melissa smiled. "It's easy to know... Since you're my sister."

Nimue shook her head. "No... No..."

"Yes, Elizabeth... You're my sister..."

Nimue's head was spinning. "But... But how can you Heal my eye? It's a birth defect... No one can Heal that.."

"Well... I won't Heal it... HE will," Melissa said, and the world seemed to spin...

And they were in a cave, a pit of lava on one side, with a giant head that also seemed to be made from fire above it. Nimue unconsciously back away from the fire, not only because she hated it, but because she knew, somehow, what this was.

It was Shai'tan.

Be steadfast.

An arch glimmered across the cave.

YOU HAVE BROUGHT A NEW FOLLOWER? a voice echoed across the chamber.

"No.. No..." Nimue whispered.

"Yes," Melissa said.

"You... You're..." Nimue stammered.

"Black Ajah? Oh, you don't have a very big imagination, SISTER," Melissa said.

Nimue wasn't sure what to make of this, so she asked the next thing on her mind. "If... If you have... him... then why do you need me to Heal you?"

"Why, to seal you to me, dear. Not that it's necessary... You'll join me, whatever you do." And with that, Melissa changed, grew a little older, and much, much more beautiful. Somehow, Nimue knew who it was immediately. This was Lanfear.

"No..." Nimue said, shaking her head, baking away.

DO NOT MOVE AGAIN, the voice of Shai'tan boomed.

The way back will come but once.

The arch.... She had to get to the arch... Even as she thought that, the arch started flickering. "NOOOO!" She started towards the arch.

There was a sound like an explosion, and a bar of flame exploded from the pit of lava, surging through the air toward the arch. Nimue knew that if she walked that way, there was no way it wouldn't hit her. Light.. Fire.... She hated fire... She shivered.

Be steadfast.

Nimue ran, knowing she couldn't outrun the fire, but knowing she had to try. The flames rushed closer... Closer...

The way back will come but once.

If she stopped now, she might escape the flames... Light, how she wanted to stay as far away from the fire as she could.

The flames ripped closer. With a roar, Nimue leaped the last few feet to the arch. Even as she flew through the air, beginning to shield her head from the upcoming impact with the floor if the arch disappeared, she felt the heat of the fire. Maybe she could stop... The fire hit her dress, and burned through, to her leg. She screamed, and she felt her flesh catch on fire. The fire spread up her leg, burning more and more of her flesh...

... And Nimue landed on the hard stone floor, almost crying out in pain as her burned legs hit, but made herself stay quiet when she saw who was standing in front of her.

The Amyrlin herself was standing before her, Sisters from every Ajah surrounding her. The Amyrlin rose the third silver chalice over Nimue's head and poured the water onto her.

"You are washed clean of Nimue Stormsong from Tar Valon. You are washed clean of all ties that bind you to the world. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul. You are Nimue Stormsong, Accepted of the White Tower."

The Amyrlin handed the chalice off to one of the Sisters and pulled Nimue to her feet. "You are sealed to us, now."

Nimue glared at the women in the room as a great serpent ring was pushed onto her finger, and a striped Accepted dress pulled over her head. Cari stepped forward again to Heal Nimue of the burns on her legs.

When Cari finished, Nimue glared once more at the women. "I hate you all," she said matter-of-factly. Cari looked hurt, but the other accepted her words with barely a blink. Nimue wouldn't let them see her cry.

"I hate you..." She repeated, then, when Sabine told her she could, stalked from the room, through the halls, not wanting to meet her friends, definately not wanting to see Melissa. She burst into her room, ignoring Pyewacket's meows, and plopped onto her bed, probably for the last time. Then she cried.


Karina Sunsoar

Karina was sitting in her room, contemplating the changes in her life, both good and bad, since she had come to the White Tower. On the one hand, she had more friends than ever before. On the other hand, well she had spent so long up to her elbows in hot, soapy water that her hands were unrecognizable as those of a noble who had spent the first 15 years of her life with servants waiting on her every move. As always when deep in thought, she was working some embroidery, the needle dipping in and out of the cloth almost without conscious effort, creating another of her cushions for a friend. Then the door opened, without a knock or question. She looked up to berate the impolite visitor, but stopped herself barely in time when she saw that it was the Mistress of Novices. "Come with me, child." When she questioned her, she was answered with a mysterious: "The hour waits on no woman. Come with me. NOW."

Karina put down her embroidery, wondering what was so urgent that she could not be given time to put it away properly. As she followed Sabine Sedai into the depths of the Tower, further than she’d ever been, or at least was ever allowed to be, she realized what it must be. She must be going to be tested for Accepted.

They entered a huge, domed room with 3 silver arches in the center. An Aes Sedai sat cross-legged at the junction of each arch, staring into the glowing openings. To one side was a table, holding three silver chalices, with another Aes Sedai next to it. Karina had not expected anything like this when she dreamed of the day she would be raised to Accepted, and then Aes Sedai.

Following the Mistress of Novices’ orders, she stripped off her Novice dress, and stood shivering as she was told the conditions, the words that every Novice who arrived at this point had to hear. "There are two things that no woman hears until she is in this room. First, once you begin, you must continue to the end. If you refuse to go on, you will be put out of the Tower with enough silver to last you for one year. You will never be allowed back. Second, to seek, to strive, is to know danger. You will know danger here. Some women have entered, and never come out. When the ter’angreal were allowed to grow quiet, they were not there. They were never seen again. To survive, you must be steadfast. You have one more chance to refuse the test, you will be allowed back twice more. There is no shame to refuse."

"I want to do it." Karina said, hoping they could not hear the fear and uncertainty in her voice, but instead the confidence in herself that she was trying, desperately, to project.

She followed Sabine Sedai towards the arches. The Aes Sedai near the table questioned her, "Who do you bring with you, Sister?"

"One who comes as a candidate for Acceptance, Sister"

"Is she ready?" A question came again.

"She is ready to leave behind what she was, and, passing through her fears, gain Acceptance." The questions and answers, all delivered in a ceremonial voice, lulled her somewhat, as she concentrated on facing, and conquering, what lay beyond the first, innocuous-seeming arch.

Then words were addressed to her: ‘The first time is for what was. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast." Taking one last step, Karina passed through the first archway.

She was in the woods, on a beautiful summer’s day. The leaves cast dappled shade over the grove where she stood, and the air smelled of fresh greenness. Casting away thoughts of being older, and a Novice at the White Tower - a dream? - she remembered what she was doing. Foolish to think that she had any talent with the One Power - an Aes Sedai had tested her last year and had pronounced that she could not even be taught. She had come here with Mikellan Aarenis, her closest and only friend, and the heir of a neighboring lord. Although her parents approved of their friendship, she knew that they most definitely would *not* approve of this meeting. They wished for proper, chaperoned visits where she acted like a true lady. But Mikel was here to show her what he had learned the previous day in his staff lesson. "Again." he said, and she summoned her wandering thoughts to practice the exercise. He asked her for as much excellence as his master demanded of him, and she tried her best to oblige. This was important to her, this learning as much as all others, and she knew that someday it would be useful.

Then, the lesson was over, the exercise perfected, and they…A voice sounded in her head The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. Odd, she seemed to remember those words from her dream of being older. She brushed the thought away, and concentrated instead on what Mikel had just said. "Yes, it is strange," she replied. "But I suppose they know what’s best." Then, he stood up, pulling her to her feet. "What is it?" she asked, but got no reply.

Then, "I thought I heard something, but it was probably only a deer." And the woods erupted into noise as a huge, otherworldly creature burst into the clearing. Karina shook her head to clear it, realizing that this was not some monster or Trolloc from the stories, but something almost as dangerous - an angry bear. "Run!" Mikel shouted as the voice sounded once more in her head *The way back comes but once. Be steadfast.*

"No!" Throwing him his staff, she picked up hers, knowing that they would be a futile defense, but unwilling to leave him and escape herself. Not only would his parents never forgive her, she would never forgive herself if he died protecting her.

Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a silver arch filled with white light appear at the edge of the clearing. *The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.* That voice again…she knew she had to go through it, but she couldn’t. She had to stay here, to help Mikel. She couldn’t leave him to die…could she? Then she heard his voice "Karina - go!" Be steadfast. She couldn’t ignore both the voices, turned to run for the archway, tears running down her face. As she stumbled through, she thought she heard him say something, then his scream as the world filled with light…

She half-fell into the room in the White Tower, and felt a stream of cool water running over her head, mingling with her tears. She heard the ritual words being spoken as she realized the contents of the chalice was being poured over her. "You are washed clean of what sin you may have done, and of those done against you. You are washed clean of what crime you may have committed and of those committed against you. You come to us washed clean and pure, in heart and soul."

Once again she was led towards the arches. "The second time is for what is. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast." Instead of screaming that she wouldn’t, couldn’t do it, Karina steeled herself, and stepped through the second archway.

She was sitting in the parlor of her house, dressed in leaf-green silk and emeralds. Her parents were there, and they were smiling - at her. "We’re so proud of you" her mother said. "This alliance will do us so much good." Alliance? Karina thought, then berated herself for being so silly. Her mother was talking about her marriage, and just because she was unused to praise from her perfection-seeking parents was no reason to be so silly. Yesterday Mikel and his father had arrived, to ask…*The way back will come but once. Be steadfast*…now she was hearing voices. She sighed, wondering what on earth was wrong with her. Her parents started talking to her, again telling her how proud they were that she was going to marry Mikel, give up her childhood dreams of doing something *different* with her life, and join their lands. She had never thought she could be happy being an ‘ordinary’ Lady, but it seemed that the approval of others was more important to her than she had realized. The conversation moved gradually to the wedding plans, as her mother began discussing her ideas. Karina’s mind moved away - it would be her mother’s day, more than hers but it would be easier for them all that way. The voice in her head sounded again *The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.*

Just then, the door opened, and she saw an arch behind the servant who was bringing in the tea in preparation for her betrothed’s visit. She knew what it meant - she had to leave. But for once she was happy in her own home, or was she really? The question was enough to make her pause, and slowly she got up from her chair, ignoring her parents’ questions, and moved towards the arch, even though behind her, they were begging her not to leave, and for the first time in her life, telling her that they loved her.

She staggered out of the arches and into the cold stone room. Another Aes Sedai reached up to pour cold water over her head again. "You are washed clean of false pride. You are washed clean of false ambition. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul."

Sabine Sedai turned her towards the final arch. "The third time is for what will be. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast." By now unable to control her trembling, Karina stepped towards the arches again. Just once more…

Once again she was dressed in silks, this time blue. A Great Serpent ring gleamed on the middle finger of her left hand…but she was a Novice, wasn’t she? Of course not, she muttered angrily to herself. She was an Aes Sedai of the Blue, had been for over 10 years, and had a Warder almost that long. At that thought, she ‘reached’ for the section of her mind that indicated him. He was…injured, no dying! Shocked, Karina looked around herself, and realized that she was in the middle of a battlefield crowded with dead and dying. A few figures, recognizable even from a distance as Aes Sedai to her, from the glow of Saidar around them, were moving from one to the next, helping those who were in most need of them. She, however, could not. *The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.* The words that had been circulating in the back of her mind finally sounded out loud, but she pushed them back into whatever little corner they had come out of. She had more important things to do.

As she drew closer to the presence that indicated her Warder, she thought with dread of what she might see. The reality, however, was much worse. His blue eyes gazed at her through a mask of blood, and as for his body… "Mikel…" she gasped, the pain that was wracking his body also making its way through hers. As she said his name, everything they had shared flashed through her mind. They had played together as children, and when she was finally raised to Aes Sedai, she had sent him a letter asking him to be her Warder. He had accepted, and they had been working together for almost all her life. She needed him to help her, and he was dying. She looked around helplessly for a Yellow, knowing that even their healing-orientated Power could not help him. They could not heal the dead, and her Warder was as close to that state as made no odds. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a silver arch glinting menacingly. "No! I can’t leave! Not again!" Again? a section of her mind unoccupied with her double distress questioned, even as the rest of it writhed in pain.

"Mikel, I have to go. You’ll be happy, I promise." It wasn’t a lie, even if she had been able to do that. She knew that he *would* be happy, sheltered in the Creator’s palm.

"No, Karina, don’t! I need you! I love you!" And at his words, which should have made her want to stay, she finally found the strength to go. She understood now. The less people you cared about, the less you needed them, the less you could be hurt. She walked towards the silver glow, not looking back, but tears were still running unbidden down her face.

As she fell weeping through the last arch, gasping with relief at the thought that the ordeal was over, Karina saw the Amyrlin Seat holding a chalice. Slowly, she reached up and tipped it over her head. "You are washed clean of Karina Sunsoar of Andor. You are washed clean of all ties that bind you to the world. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul. You are Karina Sunsoar, Accepted of the White Tower." The Amyrlin slipped the Great Serpent ring on the third finger of Karina’s left hand. "You are sealed to us now."


Aelwhin Kerridar

Aelwhin cried out in pain, as blood dripped down her finger onto the letter she had been writing on. Fighting back another cry, she clutched her wounded finger, as a few drops more fell and landed on her white novice dress, staining the spot a dark red.

It took all her willpower and Cairhienin composure not to throw her head back and scream in frustration. It was close to the middle of the night, and she was tired. Chores and classes blended together in a long muted blur; she had never felt this tired before. Back in Cairhien, no one would have expected her to wash pots and pans all day long; she was the only daughter of a noble House after all, no matter how minor the title.

She had been writing a letter to both her brothers Haledrin and Sevaal; she missed them so, and wondered how they were. She knew that Haledrin had expressed a desire to join the army, it would be no surprise if he was a lieutenant or even a high-ranking commander by now. Sevaal had joked about joining the Warders so he could keep an eye on his younger sister, but with Sevaal she could never be sure if he means one thing when he actually meant the other. She had never found out if he had made good his promise; the Warders' yard had been closed to novices and more recently, even Accepted, and Aelwhin silently felt that asking a Sister on the whereabouts of her brother would not be welcomed.

She thought she knew every nook and cranny of the writing table given to her in her small novice's room; Aelwhin had no roommate, and thought that may be for the best. Sometimes, she was cold enough to be a White as she heard some say, though it had never been her intention to be. Her fingers had explored the smooth surface of the table as she wrote; a habit of hers. That was when her index finger had found the small splinter barely noticeable at the corner.

After making sure that none of the wooden splinters had gotten into the wound, Aelwhin sucked on it hard, trying to will the bleeding to stop. Light, she did not need this. It was past her time to sleep, and she was expected to rise early on the morrow, if she was to make it for her next class. She studied her dress, and frowned. She would have to clean it as best she can tomorrow, but she would have to write Sevaal's letter all over again; her lanky brother was protective enough as it is, and receiving a letter with her blood on it would send him into hysterics, plausible explanation or not.

She was just lifting to stand up from her chair, when the door opened unexpectedly. Startled, Aelwhin whirled around quickly at the intruder, dislodging the papers on her desk with her hand and the leg of her chair with her foot. Papers flew as she lost her balance and fell, skidding to a stop with her stomach on the ground as she looked up into the stern face of the Mistress of Novices.

Aelwhin felt her face flush, realizing how she must have looked, on the floor with loose sheets flying down towards her, her novice dress rumpled and stained. Ignoring her throbbing finger, she scrambled up awkwardly, trying to salvage what pride she had left and curtsied. "Good evening, Aes Sedai." She stammered, her voice trembling. Light, but she will be composed.

What Sabine Sedai thought of her current condition, she gave no sign. "I see that you are still up, child." Though her face gave no indication, the tone of her voice showed slight disapproval. "You will come with me, now." Again, in a voice that brook no argument. "The hour waits for no one."

Trembling now, Aelwhin silently followed the other woman, surprise and fear settling in. Was she to be punished because she was writing letters in the middle of the night? What did she do that couldn't wait until the morning? Abruptly, she realized that her hands were shaking. The throbbing in her finger lessened to a slow, dull ache.

Sabine Sedai was leading her into a lower chamber that she hadn't been in before. It was dark and unornamented, but it was bright enough for Aelwhin to make out the long wooden doors up ahead, ominous in the small glow of candlelight. Sabine Sedai pushed open the doors with ease, motioning for Aelwhin to follow.

Inside, she could see that it was a large room of some sort, where three arches stood at the ready, bathed in a glow that didn't seem to come from the candles all around. A simple table stood at one side, bare save for three silver chalices.

Aelwhin's heart nearly stopped. She recognized the ter'angreal, knew now why she had been summoned.

Three Sisters, each from a different Ajah, stood by the arches. She recognized them as sisters from the Blue, the White, and the Brown. Her heart leapt when she recognized Quatilina Sedai, her mentor, as one of them.

Sabine Sedai stepped forward. "First: novices are given three chances." She spoke the words softly, but it echoed throughout the chamber. You may refuse twice. On the third, you will be sent away from the Tower forever. Once you begin, you must go through with it till the end. Refuse at any point and you will be put out of the Tower just as if you had refused to begin for the third time. Second: To seek, is to find danger. Some women have entered, and never come out. If you will survive, you must be steadfast. This is your chance to refuse; it will only count as the first. You will have two more chances. If you accept there is no turning back. It is not a shame to refuse the first time; many have done so."

Aelwhin swallowed hard, Sabine Sedai's words running through her head. Some women have entered, and never come out. "I will continue, Aes Sedai." She managed. She will come out. Light, she will!

The Mistress of Novices nodded, satisfied. "Take off your clothes, child."

Feeling her face flush, Aelwhin complied, hurriedly disrobing, conscious of the small red stain that lingered on her novice dress. It didn't seem right, really, to be summoned to the Arches wearing something she soiled, as if it took something important away from her. Once free of her underclothes, she folded them up and stacked them neatly in one corner. Standing up, the Mistress of Novices beckoned her to the first Arch, were she and Quatilina Sedai waited.

"Whom to you bring with you, Sister?" Quatilina Sedai asked quietly.

"One who comes as a candidate for Acceptance, Sister," Sabine Sedai replied.

"Is she ready?"

"She is ready to leave behind what she was, and, passing through her fears, gain Acceptance."

"Does she know her fears?"

"She has never faced them, but now is willing."

"Then let her face what she fears."

"The first time is for what was. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast."

Swallowing hard again, Aelwhin walked up towards the Arch, hesitating slightly before she took a step forward. Light swallowed her. For what was. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

"It's like this, Aelwhin." Haledrin was explaining to her patiently. "Lunge forward, turn a bit to the left, and thrust upwards. See?" He demonstrated to prove his point.

For a moment, she was disoriented. Where was she? What was Haledrin doing here in the Tower?

Tower? She was astounded. Where did that thought come from? She was here in her father's house in Cairhien, and her brother Haledrin was teaching her how to use a rapier, with her other brother Sevaal watching.

"Got that, Aelwhin?" Haledrin asked again.

Aelwhin blinked back up at him, at his dark hair that was becoming long at the shoulders, his dark blue eyes. It was odd, but it almost felt as if she hadn't seen those eyes for sometime now. She dismissed the notion.

"Of course I did." Aelwhin lunged forwards smoothly, thrusting just as Haledrin did. "Like this?"

Haledrin smiled, pleased. "Excellent, Aelwhin! You'll be a match for Sevaal soon, at the rate you're learning."

"Hey!" Sevaal protested from the sidelines.

"It's true, you know. You look like you're trying to spear fish sideways with that large sword you always carry. And you want to be a Warder, of all people?"

Aelwhin laughed as Sevaal sunk down on the floor in mock consternation, then made a playful lunge at his older brother. Her brothers teased each other on a daily basis, and she knew they never meant anything they said. Her mother chose that opportunity to walk in, just as Sevaal had a squirming Haledrin in a headlock.

"Haledrin! Sevaal!" She cried. "What in the Light are you two doing? I told you to take care of your younger sister for me, and look at you two now!"

Looking guilty, Haledrin and Sevaal scrambled to their feet, while Aelwhin tried to look as innocent as she possibly could. Inside, something screamed at her that something was wrong, that her mother could not possibly be there. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. Chuckling, Aelwhin's father, from behind her mother, put an affectionate arm around her shoulders. "Don't be so hard on them, Lihla. Boys will be boys, after all."

"I suppose, Teon." Her mother relented, as the two boys scuffed their feet like schoolboys caught dunking girls' braids in ink. Her blue gaze riveted back to Aelwhin. "Mavrick is waiting in the main room as we speak, and you're still in your old clothes. You don't have much time to look your best for your suitor, young lady."

Heart beating faster, Aelwhin blushed. "I'm sorry mum, I didn't know he was here." Sevaal opened his mouth to tease again, but was swiftly elbowed by Haledrin.

Sticking her tongue out at Sevaal, Aelwhin turned to change. And froze.

A shimmering archway shone in front of her, flickering slightly. With it, came realization.

"No." She breathe, tears coming to her eyes. "I don't want...."

"Aelwhin?" Her mother asked with some concern. "What's the matter? Mavrick's waiting for you."

She couldn't. She wouldn't. But she had to.

She fought to let the words out. "I'm so sorry... mum, dad. I'm sorry, everyone." She began to run towards the beckoning arch, as her family cried out after her.



She bid them no notice, as the light consumed her.


She stumbled and went down in a small heap, sobbing. She had given up the family she had always wanted to have, and for what? She had wanted that so much.

"It's not fair." She wept brokenly. "It's not fair."

Quatilina Sedai bent and emptied the contents of the first chalice over her head. "You are washed clean, of what sin you may have done, and of those done against you. You are washed clean of what crime you may have committed, and of those committed against you. You come to us washed clean and pure, in heart and soul."

Funny. Aelwhin didn't feel clean.

Helping her up, Sabine led her to the second Arch, and she inwardly cringed. Light, was there anything worse?

"The second time is for what is. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast."

Trembling for what she may find, Aelwhin stepped into the light. For what is. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

It was madness.

Admidst the screams of terror and fear, Aelwhin found herself staring at her finger, where the cold Serpent ring gleamed admidst the throng of red. What was she doing here?

And then she remembered, and her blood ran cold.

Shadowspawn had come to Cairhien.

Making her way past the sudden rush of frightened people going the opposite direction, she could sense one of her warders, Hardred, slightly to the southeast, and another, Lyle, somewhere closer. They were both tired and bloody, but didn't seem to sustain any serious injury.

Warders? Aelwhin was startled. Was she an Aes Sedai? The serpent ring glinted again, as she pulled her green shawl closer to her.

Yes. She was a Green sister, and she was one of the sisters who had come to Cairhien upon rumors that Trollocs and Myddraal were in the area. To their disbelief, they had found the rumors true.

She was worried. Where was her parents, Haledrin?

A cutting weave she formed promptly slashed a Trolloc in two. A Myddraal made for her, but she ducked his slash, using her strength in the Power to implode the ground underneath him, sending him sprawling. Running, she could sense Lyle moving in to finish what she had started.

Making it out to the other side of the panicked crowd, she dashed towards the direction of her house. From behind, she could feel her warders follow her lead.

Her old house lay in ruins when she finally found it, couldn't believe that the burnt down dwelling had been her home. Her parents were older now, and in no condition to fight. She prayed fervently that Haledrin was protecting them, that they were all alright.

Another one of her warders reached the door at the same time she did. They both had so much at stake in this. She looked up to meet Sevaal's ice blue eyes. Her brother knew how she felt. As one, they burst in.

Haledrin was there, wounded and fighting off a Myddraal, while behind him, Lihla Kerridar looked on with horror, clutching a bloody Teon in her arms. Aelwhin did not need to look to see that her father was dead.

And more Trollocs were shambling in through the broken window.

With a cry of profound loss, Sevaal threw himself towards the Myddraal. He knew that killing the Myddraal would hinder the Trolls' rampage. But there were too many.

Tears in her own eyes, Aelwhin moved to help them, her hands forming weaves she had been accustomed to channeling. Her eyes caught a sudden glint, but it wasn't from her ring.

A silver arch stood, slightly opaque in the dark light.

"Aelwhin!" Sevaal shouted over the roar. "Help us! "Be steadfast "Please." She sobbed, "just let me help them. I can help them. Please...."

The arch wavered, and grew even more opaque. It drew nearer. Abruptly, Aelwhin realized that she was running towards it.

"Aelwhin!" Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Haledrin go down, two Trollocs jumping on top of him. Her heart broke. "No!" She and her mother screamed together, but she forced herself to keep running with an effort. Just before she disappeared into the light, she heard her mother's long, lingering scream, and felt the bond she had to Sevaal break.


Clawing wildly, Aelwhin fell through the entranceway of the Arch, crying uncontrollably. "Let me help them." She wept brokenly. "Light, why didn't you let me help them?!" She realized abruptly she was screaming.

"You are washed clean of false pride, you are washed clean of false ambition. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul." Aelwhin could barely feel the cold water falling down around her, on her head, but she heard Quatilina Sedai's voice, sounding gentle and sympathetic. Her tears didn't stop, even as Sabine Sedai gently led her towards the third and final arch.

"The third time is for what will be. The way will come back but once. Be steadfast."

The third time. The last time. Aelwhin took a deep, choking breath. "Let it be over and done with." Breathing hard, trying to control her tears, Aelwhin closed her eyes and stepped through. For what will be. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Was she crying? Aelwhin blinked, reaching a hand up to touch her face, and came away dry. Light, I must be imagining things.

Idly, she fingered the stole. She had been the Amyrlin Seat for close to ten years now, and she could still never feel accustomed to the feel of the striped stole around her, or being called "Mother". It was a strange feeling, almost as if she didn't deserve such an honor.

Scolding herself mentally for being childish, Aelwhin turned to her Keeper. Laryssha Sedai, like her, was of the White Ajah, and they had gotten along well after being raised to the shawl. She was pleased that it had been Laryssha Sedai who was her Keeper of the Chronicles. "Mitain of House Bryshand is here, Mother." She reported.

Aelwhin nodded, as the newcomer, a slender young woman with a mop of curly red hair was sent in and curtsied prefunctorily. After Laryssha left, Aelwhin slowly wove a ward around the room, to prevent eavesdroppers. Any Sister who would encounter the ward would be suspicious, but it was the best she could do at the moment. All that mattered was that none would hear.

Mitain bowed, "Mother." Her voice was cool, mocking even.

"What possessed you to come to the Tower like this?" Aelwhin replied, just as coldly. "You risk too much, Mitain." She frowned inwardly. There seemed to be a strange noise happening outside.

"And you risk too little, 'Mother'." The insult was there. Aelwhin carefully composed her face into a mask. Mitain looked up to smile at her. "I have been ordered by our Great Lord himself to start the plan in motion."

Though her face belied no expression, Aelwhin felt cold inside. Great Lord? Light, was she a Darkfriend? Black Ajah? Impossible! She was the Amyrlin Seat! Even as she thought, Aelwhin knew with cold dread that what Mitain says is true. Moreover, she realized that Mitain was far more than just a noblewoman of a minor House.

"As you now, a Dragon has proclaimed himself, Aelwhin. He does not seem to be false, like all the others." Mitain's smile curved at her implication that she was far more than the Amyrlin Seat herself. "Send some of your Black Sisters to apprehend him; he would be of much use to us in the future." She added, almost as a side remark. "He was responsible for the Whitecloak riots that killed most of the Houses in Cairhien and Andor."

Aelwhin's blood boiled; he was responsible for the deaths of Aelwhin's family. Her parents had passed away long before, but Haledrin and his family did not deserve to die. The riot had also killed her warder Mavrick, sent there to gather reports. He did not deserve to die. She had cried many nights for him, and still did.

"So be it." She was surprised at how merciless her voice could be. Something was going on outside; the noise was louder now. What was Laryssha doing?

A sudden lash of pain shot through her like a lance; she realized her error.

"You forget yourself." Mitain said coldly. "Show me the proper respect I deserve, child; what is an Amyrlin Seat compared to a Forsaken?"

"Forgive me, mistress." Aelwhin cried out in pain, squirming. At the corner of her eye, she saw a long silver arch, gleaming and opaque.

"I leave you alive because you are strong in the Power Aelwhin, and will serve me well." Mitain went on. "I am delighted in fact; you may well be the first Amyrlin Seat to serve the Great Lord. I find many in your White Tower however, far from useful." With a gesture of Air, the front door opened, and Aewhin looked on with horror.

A Myddraal calmly stood up, partly blocking the dead body of Laryssha Sedai. Her eyes stared upward in shock.

Aelwhin cried out, half-standing from her chair.

"A few Sisters I will keep." Mitain continued. "but the rest I see no need. Tar Gaimon is approaching, and I will see your Tower broken rather than against us, even if you are a Black Sister."

Horrified, Aelwhin's eyes moved towards the arch again. It was growing fainter now, almost s if it would disappear at any moment. "What have I done?" She breathed in terror. What had she done?

Turning, tears falling down her face, her mask no longer in place, Aelwhin began to run towards the silver arch. She could see her sisters and warders fighting, some of them she knew during her novice and accepted years, had been raised together. Panting, a Warder came into full view. He cut through a Myddraal, but it refused to die, still reaching out to him even in his death throes.

The warder turned to look at her. "Aelwhin!" Sevaal called out, "Run, Mother! We don't have much time!"

She didn't want to run, but she couldn't stop. She wanted to help them, for betraying them and leaving them to this fate. Tears blinded her vision. With one last leap, she jumped into the arch, and everything stopped.


"It isn't real!" Aelwhin cried frantically. "I would never betray anyone! Oh, Light!" It couldn't be real; she would never had done that, she knew. "It's not real." She begged, "Say it's not real." This was the worst; she had betrayed everyone, and left them to die because of her.

Gently, Sabine Sedai guided her to her feet. She realized that Kathana Sedai, the Amyrlin Seat stood in the chamber as well, surrounded by Aes Sedai of the different Ajahs. She had not noticed them before.

"No one knows if anything in the ter'angreal is real or not." The Mistress of Novices told her. "What went on inside the ter'angreal is for you alone, and you do not need to talk of it to anyone. Each woman's fears is her own."

Trembling, Aelwhin kneeled down in front of the Amyrlin Seat, who held the last chalice in her hands. She remembered being the Amyrlin Seat, seemingly a lifetime ago, and stifled a small sob.

She felt the cool water down her face. "You are washed clean of Aelwhin Kerridar of Cairhien. You are washed clean of all ties that bind you to the world. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul. You are Aelwhin Kerridar, Accepted of the White Tower. You are sealed to us, now."

And in the silent aftermath, Aelwhin wept.



Daelin Eidheann Ekelle

Daelin was sitting alone on the edge of the fountain, staring into the distance. She had known for days that it was time for her to be raised to Accepted, but no one had approached her about it yet. She had just kept doing her chores and lessons as though she had years to go! What was the deal with that? She knew little of how one was approached for Raising. Laurya had told her once that it would happen when she least expected it but now she expected it all the time. When, then, would they—
“Child, come with me. Now.” It was Sabine Sedai, standing behind her and gesturing with an impatient look. Daelin sighed and wondered what chore she was up for this time, but followed as bid.
Instead of taking her to the kitchens or the library, though, the MoN took Daelin to a different room, one she’d never been to before, though she knew what it was for.
“Now?” Daelin asked in astonishment. Wasn’t this supposed to happen in the dead of night, during a storm or... something? “But this is so…so…” she trailed off. ^Boring^. Sabine smiled as though she’d heard her thought and spoke.
“Daelin, what I am going to tell you is something told to all girls at this time. There are two things you must know, and remember. First, once you begin the testing you must go on to the end. Refuse at any point after you've begun and you will be put out of the White Tower. The second thing is this. To seek, to strive is to know danger. Some women have entered, and never come out. When the ter'angreal was allowed to grow quiet, they were not there. If you survive, you must be steadfast. Falter, fail and ... This is your last chance. Refuse now, and you will be allowed to resume your Novice training. But if you refuse twice more, you will be sent from the Tower just as though you faltered during the test. Choose daughter. Will you refuse?"
Daelin looked at the MoN as though she were crazy. “Refuse?” ^Refuse? Does she really think I want to be a Novice any longer?^ “No, Aes Sedai, I accept.” Sabine nodded and turned to open the door. Inside the room, there were sisters of all the Ajahs, standing in wait for her, watching expectantly. Daelin looked back with her best Aes Sedai face, the one she’d been practicing in the mirror, and grinned. “Hi,” They ignored her as one Sister spoke to Sabine.
"Whom do you bring with you, Sister?"
"One who comes as a candidate for Accepted, Sister."
"Is she ready?"
"She is ready to leave behind what she was, and, passing through her fears, gain Acceptance."
"Does she know her fears?" ^Will they just get on with it?^
"She has never faced them, but now is willing."
"Then let her face what she fears." ^Good, let’s get going.^ Daelin removed her clothes at their direction, and stepped up to the ter’angreal.
"The first time is for what was. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast." With a cocky grin over one shoulder, she stepped through the archway. ^This is easy.^

She stood in the corridor of the Tower, a place familiar to her as her own rooms. This was where she had grown up, after all, right outside Laurya’s rooms. She noticed as she stood there that she was about ten years old again. “Um. . .eeep? This is really scary. Good job, mysterious ter’angreal people. I’m terrified.” She felt her memory going, and didn’t bother to reach for it, figuring it was supposed to happen. *The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.* She shook her head to get rid of the annoying voice and opened the door to Laurya’s and her rooms. Before she could step inside, an unfamiliar Aes Sedai glared at her. “Get out of here child,” She was often sent away from important business, but she really had to see her Mom, so she pushed through the crowd around her mother, who stood in the center. “Mom,” she began, then looked at the thirteen sisters there. Thirteen sisters. Even Daelin knew what that meant, but why would they be around her Mom?
*The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.* Daelin wanted to ignore the voice and talk to her Mom, but she couldn’t, not while Laurya was Shielded. Her mom’s anger was obvious. Shouldn’t she be afraid? Something was wrong. Quelling rising panic, Daelin picked up a book and threw it at the nearest sister, but as she did so, noticed the doorway. As she did so, she heard the voice one final time. *The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.* Suddenly she remembered everything. “Damn you,” she growled at the ter’angreal, but it gained more than one shocked glance at the language. “I’m sorry mother, but I have to go. Anyway, it was going to happen eventually.” The not-Laurya couldn’t hear her, not without channelling, but Daelin was glad she’d spoken. Then she turned and headed for the door, pausing only long enough to chuck another book at one of the sisters before leaving. It was the least she could do for her mom. They wouldn’t even have let her say goodbye. Just like last time.

She came out shivering slightly in the chill air, and before she had time to think, a bucket of water was dumped on her head. Cold water. Daelin yelped, but didn’t react any more as a sister spoke. "You are washed clean of what sin you may have done, and of those done against you. You are washed clean of what crime you may have committed, and of those committed against you. You come to us washed clean and pure, in heart and soul." ^Really?^ She thought bitterly, remembering Laurya. ^You think so?^ Then the true meaning sunk in. ^You mean I can’t get in any trouble for what I do in there?^ This had definite possibilities.
She was led to the second arch. "The second time is for what is. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast." ^Yeah yeah yeah. I get it.^ She stepped up unhesitatingly and entered the arch.

She was standing in the warder’s yard. ^Hey, I like this already.^ She noticed the Amyrlin walking by, and briefly wondered if she should really give in to temptation. Then the MoN showed up, and she gave up the debate. This was just too much. It was as though the arches wanted her to do it!
Daelin marched boldly out into the midst of the Warders training, and up to one particularly good looking one. “Hey big fella. How’s ‘bout you and me gettin’ into some serious bondage, what’cha think hun?” She considered leering suggestively, but decided against it. ^Shouldn’t I be losing my memory about now? Nothing’s happening.^ Noticing the startled looks around her, Daelin figured she’d been a bit loud. Oh well. “Think about it, ‘kay?” She pranced up to the Amyrlin and grinned. “Hi Mumsy!” At the astonished looks from both Kathana and Sabine, she channeled the striped stole onto her own shoulders. “Okay everybody, listen up. I’m the new Amyrlin, and I want some cookies, right now. Chocolate chip. And all good looking Warders are to report to my study in five minutes.”
*The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.* No! Not yet! She was enjoying herself! Then she looked over at Kathana and Sabine, and noticed the looks on their faces. Well, maybe… With a squeak of pure terror, she turned and darted into the waiting arch, tossing the stole over her shoulder as she went.

She escaped back into the room, only to have another bucket of water dumped on her head. "You are washed clean of false pride. You are washed clean of false ambition. You come to us washed clean, in heart and in soul,” Daelin looked up with wide eyes and asked the room at large. ^False ambition. Good.^
“Is it real? Will it ever happen?” She shuddered in memory of the MoN and Amyrlin’s faces. The Grey Sister answered. “Nobody knows for sure child. But now you must continue. The third time is for what will be. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast." Daelin stepped into the third and final arch, wondering what it’d throw at her this time.

She sat in a chair next to a fire. Around her feet a bunch of children played. ^Kids? Yeah right. I hate children.^ A blinding flash of light flared from the fire, and all went dark.

She was standing on a dais in front of a huge crowd in northern Tear. ^Wait a minute. I’ve never been to Tear! How do I know what it looks like?^ The sun overhead flared brilliantly, and all went dark.

She was leaning against a stone wall. In front of her was a metal cage, surrounded by the sisters who were holding a shield on the best looking false dragon she’d ever seen. Strangely, the surroundings seemed somehow tentative. ^This is more like it!^ The scenery firmed, becoming more solid than before.
“Mother, when will you be scheduling his gentling?” Daelin looked in horror at her Keeper. She was the Amyrlin? How did that happen? She was the last person anyone would pick to be a leader! She glared at the sky, trying desperately to hold on to her memory as it fled. “How’s next Tuesday look?” she asked distractedly trying to remember what was happening. ^Arches.^ Oh yes, that was it.
She looked up at the sky and laughed a bit hysterically. “How can I be the Amyrlin? Is that what you people give everyone? Don’t you have any imagination whatsoever?” She didn’t know whom she was talking to, and everyone was looking at her oddly. “What?” They kept staring. “Oh, that. I’m terribly sorry. Don’t know what came over me. It’s just that I’d never in a million years become—“ The comet crashing down from the sky was totally unexpected. And it landed directly on the gorgeous false dragon!
Daelin ran to Heal him, and the Voice returned. *The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.* ^Not yet!^ She looked at the man a final time, then turned and darted through the Arch before it disappeared.

The Amyrlin Seat stood in front of Daelin and dumped the final bucket on Daelin’s head. "You are washed clean of Daelin Eidheann Ekelle. You are washed clean of all ties that bind you to the world. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul. You are Daelin Eidheann Ekelle, Accepted of the White Tower. You are sealed to us now."
The Amyrlin passed the empty bucket to one of the other Sisters, who took it and handed her a serpent ring. Daelin lifted her left hand and looked up a slightly sardonic grin. ^To think, I’ve always preferred silver.^ The Amyrlin slipped the ring onto Daelin’s third finger and spoke. "Welcome, Daughter.” Daelin accepted the rest of the ritual impatiently, wanting for it to end. She was finally Accepted! As soon as she was allowed to leave, she grabbed the nearest Novice to help her move her things to the bigger room she had finally earned. It was past time to leave that tiny shoebox!

Calia Luin

Calia was beside herself with joy.
Uncontrolable joy and excitement.
She laughed outloud to herself as she entered her room. Nemesis threw a startled look in her direction, but Calia only laughed again. She knew it wasn’t a mistake. She HAD seen Joesh earlier this morning entering the Warder’s yards.
She was so happy! Joesh! Her brother. Her favorite person in all the world, along with Kaylan, was here!
She remembered the many pranks they’d planned and executed together as children and smiled. Light, they’d been a mischievious pair!

A thought struck her. If Joesh was here, Shem wouldn’t be far behind! As twins, Shem and Joesh were as hard to keep apart as Calia and Kaylan.
Joesh and Shem, here!
She had to tell Kaylan!
Calia flung the door open hurriedly, ready to race to Kaylan’s room, and almost collided, full force with the Mistress of Novices.

Startled, she froze in mid-dash, dropping into a rather flustered curtsy.
"Sabine Sedai. I..."

"Come child, follow me." Sabine gently put an end to Calia’s babbling before it started.

She closed her mouth and followed. She was confused. Was she in trouble? She racked her brains trying to think what she’d done wrong lately.

"Excuse me, Sabine Sedai, but, um, ... Am I in trouble?" she asked.

"No Calia, not this time, it is time for you to move on from being a Novice, it is time for you to take your arches and become Accepted."

Calia missed a step and tripped over her own feet.
Time to be raised? Take her arches? Now?!
Her jaw dropped open. She wasn’t sure if she was ready for this.

She barely heard the words the Mistress of Novices was saying to her.
Her mind was racing. All she could see was Kaylan’s face the night she had come back to her Novice room for the last time.
Her face had been drawn and pale, her green eyes filled with terror and sadness, her chin squared stubbornly. She had stayed that way for days.
Kaylan was one of the strongest people Calia knew. If the arch could do that to Kaylan, what was it going to do to her?

"This ter’angreal will bring you face to face with your greatest fears, No-one will ask you what you have faced and you need tell no-one," Sabine was saying as she led Calia into a great, domed room.
Three rounded, silver arches stood in the center of the room, Aes Sedai sat on the floor, one at each place where arch touched ring.
"Do you wish to continue?" Sabine asked gently.

Calia nodded, once she passed through these arches, she would be Accepted, and then Aes Sedai, like Kaylan.
She listened as Sabine explained how, once she began, she had to continue or she would never be allowed to finish her training.

The Mistress of Novices continued, "Second. To seek, to strive, is to know danger. You will know danger here, child. Some women have entered and never come out. When the ter’angreal was allowed to grow quiet, they - were - not - there. They were never seen again. If you will survive, you must be steadfast. Falter, fail, and..."
Calia shuddered. It all seemed like some strange nightmare. Women disappearing, never to return.

"This, child, is your last chance to refuse. If you refuse now, you can still try again later, until the third time. On the third refusal you will be put out of the tower. Remember, it is no shame to refuse." Sabine looked to Calia.

"I will not refuse," she whispered her answer.

At once, one of the Aes Sedai spoke up in a loud, formal tone.

"Whom do you bring with you, Sister?"

"One who comes as a candidate for Acceptance, Sister," Sabine replied.

"Is she ready?"

"She is ready to leave behind what she was, and, passing through her fears, gain Acceptance."

"Does she know her fears?"

"she has never faced them, but now is willing."

"Then let her face what she fears."

Calia realized this was the part where she was supposed to remove her dress.
Reluctantly she undressed, and stood bare on the stone floor, under the watchful eyes of the Aes Sedai, feeling more vulnerable and pathetic than ever before. Not that she’d never been bare in front of others before. It was just, they were never women and they had certainly never been Aes Sedai.

"The first time is for what was. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast," Sabine said.

Calia hesitated, then gathered up all her courage and stepped forward, through the first of the arches, into the glow -

... She was walking down the hall of her inn at Four Kings.
She was home!
The familiar smells of baking bread and different alcohols wafted past her and she breathed in deeply. home. By the noise coming from the common room, Calia guessed it was mid evening. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast she shook the thought away as her mother’s voice drifted down the hall.

"Light, Calia! For the last time! Hurry up! I can’t do everything in here!"

Calia hurried towards the kitchen.

As she passed the common room, she spied Kaylan at a table with a large, drunk looking merchant. She was dressed in her green dress, the one so similar to Calia’s own, and her face was made up just like the Domani woman had shown them.
Kaylan was laughing and joking with the big man, while unbeknown to him, she lightened his purse and pockets.
Calia grinned, it was a pity her mother needed her, it would have been fun to join Kaylan with their usual tricks. Kaylan noticed Calia’s grin and winked at her. Calia winked back and hurried into the kitchen.

Her ma was busy with the usual evening chores. the way back will come but once, be steadfast.

"do the dishes for me, love? Then sweep the floor and empty the bin. After that, could you prepare dinner for Mr Taynnla in the fourth room? He’s feeling sickly, the poor man. Mind you do those dishes properly, a job worth doing is worth doing well, and mind your manners with Mr. Taynnla, you hear?"

"Yes, Ma." Calia answered as she began her chores.

"After you’re done, you can do as you please," her mother said.
"as long as it doesn’t involve causing trouble," she added as an afterthought, sending a meaningful glance Calia’s way.

Calia hurried towards room four, clutching Mr. Taynnla’s evening meal. All she had to do was deliver this, and then she could join Kaylan in the common room.

Suddenly she froze. A girl’s muffled scream reached her ears. It was coming from the very end of the hall. The very last room. The scream came again and Calia sighed as she quickened her pace. Her da had told her many times before that what the guests did in their rooms was their business and theirs alone, but this time it didn’t sound right, Calia had to make sure there was no trouble.

As she neared the door, a string of tear-choked but colorful words reached her ears.
Calia gasped. She would recognize that voice anywhere!

She ran to the door and peered through the keyhole.

Kaylan was half on the bed, half on the floor, struggling violently to escape from the grasp of the big merchant pinning her down.

As Calia watched, horrified, the man slapped Kaylan’s face with his huge hands and threw her back onto the bed, cursing and ordering her to be quiet. Kaylan pulled her legs up and kicked him, square in the chest. She was rewarded with a violent backhand to the head.

Calia felt as if she was going to vomit. "Blood and Bloody Ashes," she fumbled with the keys at her waist, her hands shaking. She had to do something! Kaylan was strong, but she was no match for the large drunken merchant who had her pinned. She found the key and gratefully slid it into the lock.

A strangled sob from Kaylan nearly broke her heart and Calia flung open the door.
"Stop right there, you - " Calia’s temper took over and she threw insult after insult at the man.

"CALIA!! HELP! Oh, CAALL!! HELP!!!" the man was ripping at her dress. "HEEELLP!!"

With all her strength, Calia threw the tray full of food at the man. It hit his back hard and cluttered to the floor. He turned around to face her and snarled.

"Get Out. Thiss iss noot your business Girrl" the man drawled his warning at her.

"I MEAN IT! Get OUT!!" he bellowed when she showed no sign of moving.

Calia’s blue eyes flashed angrily, "NO!" she lunged in to save her friend.
A punch to the jaw sent her crashing backwards. the way back - NO! Calia turned to find the arch glinting in the hallway behind her.
NO! Tears began rolling down her cheeks. NO!

The merchant turned his attentions back to Kaylan.

Calia looked from her friend to the arch, and back. She could not leave now. She would not! She choked back a sob as she looked at her helpless friend.

"Cal, please, HELP!" Kaylan sent a hysterical look at her. She had run out of energy and could only sob as the big man ripped away at her dress. She tried futilely to push him away.
"HELP!" she screamed again. Her pleading eyes stared right into Calia’s own.

Calia’s head was spinning as she picked herself off the floor. the way back -

She choked out a tearful, "I’m so sorry, Kayls" and flung herself through the arch.

As the cool clear water was poured over her, Calia was overwhelmed by a feeling of immense self hatred.

"You are washed clean of what sin you may have done, and of those done against you. You are washed clean of what crime you may have committed, and of those committed against you. You come to us washed clean and pure, in heart and soul." HOW could she have done that to Kaylan? HOW? No matter what being Aes Sedai meant to her, abandoning Kaylan to that foul man when she could have saved her was wrong!
Furiously wiping the tears from her eyes, Calia convinced herself it was not real. She had to believe these were just fears and in no way a reality or she would not make it. Kaylan is fine! she told herself. she is here. In Tar Valon, in the White Tower. There had been no drunk merchant and Calia had not abandoned her.
"you left her. Your best friend. Kaylan. you left her," her conscience accused her from the back of her mind. Calia shoved the voice away and stubbornly squared her chin. She would make it through this.

"The second time is for what is. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast."

With her chin still set stubbornly Calia walked into the second arch. It’s only a fear, its not real its not real...

She was hurrying through the grounds towards the warders yard. She was going to find Joesh. She tried not to think about how she would be in more trouble than ever before if she was caught. "I will not get caught" she thought defiantly.

Almost there, Calia stopped, frozen in her tracks. Joesh’s familiar laugh rang in her ears.
Her grin broadened until her face hurt. It was him.
She snuck hastily into a cluster of bushes at the edge of the yards. After making sure she was fully hidden from the eyes of any passer’s by, she cautiously pushed aside the branches that hid her brother from view.

The sight of him after so long made Calia’s heart ache for home. She wanted to run to him and smother him with hugs, ask him how ma and da were, if Shem and the others were well. But she knew she could not. She would be in more than severe trouble if she was caught, and besides, she noticed, her brother was not alone.

A boy not much older than Joesh stood 3 paces away from him, a sword ready in his hands. Joesh stood squared off from the other boy and Calia was surprised to note that he too held a sword. Absently, Calia wondered why they held real swords instead of the practice ones she had heard the warder’s trained with. The thought was pushed from her mind as she studied every little thing that had changed about him since she had left.

He was taller, she noticed, but then again she supposed, so was she. His hair was also longer and he bore a new scar down his left side.
His eyes, blue as Calia’s own, shone with excitement and that particular glint they held when he was playing around.
Both boys striked and blocked each other’s blows in a way that meant this match was far from serious. They laughed and joked with each other as they circled around the yard.

Joesh was standing directly opposite Calia’s hiding place now. Suddenly, a look of recognition swept over his face and he grinned. "Cal!" he called to her, lifting his sword arm to wave.
Calia watched the scene before her unfold with growing horror. The seconds flashed before her in what seemed like slow motion.

There was Joesh. Smiling at her.
The other boy, casually thrusting his sword at Joesh.
Joesh, lifting his sword arm to wave at Calia, leaving his chest unguarded.
The look of realization crossing his face a moment too late.
The look of horror on the other boy’s face as his blade plunged on, unblocked, deep into Joesh’s bare flesh.
Joesh. His face twisting with agony.
The other boy. Exclaiming as he hurriedly withdrew the blade from Joesh’s chest.
Joesh. A look of faint disbelief as he awkwardly moved to touch the wound. Shock as his hands came away covered in thick, deep red blood.
A sob as the other boy flung the bloodied sword to the ground and ran away, as white as Calia’s dress.

Suddenly, things went from slow motion to high speed.

Calia flung herself out of her hiding place towards her brother, not caring now what would happen if she was caught. Joesh stumbled, and collapsed to the blood-splattered ground, his eyes full of absolute fear.
"Cal. Calia!" he cried, his face contorting with pain.
Calia ran as hard and fast as she could, tearing strips from her dress as best she was able to while she sprinted.
Joesh curled up on the ground, blood seeping through his fingers as he tried to hold the wound together.
She was halfway to her brother when she felt compelled to look up.

Behind Joesh the arch glimmered faintly.
Calia stumbled in her run. NO! Not Now! NOT Now! She begged.
" Oh, Cal, help, oh. Look at me, oh Cal. AAAaaargghhh!!!!!" the pain ripped through him and Calia felt as if it was her that had been stabbed as she watched him squirm on the ground.
She ran towards him, her mind racing. She had to find a Yellow. She. Had. To. Help. Joesh. She had to!
She had less than 5 paces to go until she reached her brother when the arch behind him wavered.

NO! She knew what it meant. She knew that if she stayed, she may well have to stay forever and never be Aes Sedai, but Joesh was dying! She had to help him!
The arch flickered. Joesh screamed in agony and Calia raced past him, afraid of what she was doing, and afraid that if she slowed down the arch would disappear.

The look on Joesh’s face as she passed him mad Cal feel as if her entire being was crumbling into a billion tiny pieces. It was as though her passing him caused a deep pain, worse than being run through by a sword.
"Cal?" his fear-filled eyes took on a look of uncertainty, disbelief and then finally, utter abandonment. All in less than a second.

A great, body-wracking sob welled up inside her and burst out as she flung herself through the fading arch, the heart-breaking vision of Joesh’s eyes as he realized she was abandoning him burning unmercifully in her mind.

The cold water was poured over her head.
Slowly, Calia sunk to her knees on the ground before the Aes Sedai, sobbing.
"You are washed clean of false pride. You are washed clean of false ambition. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul." The Aes Sedai stepped back.
Calia knew the Aes Sedai were watching her. She knew she made an ungraceful heap, dripping wet and sobbing on the cold stone floor. She knew and she didn’t care.
Eventually her sobs gave way to a quiet but steady flow of tears. Calia had never liked crying, and she usually avoided it at all costs, but she could do nothing to stop the tears now. She felt worse than ever before. There were no words to describe it.
Slowly, ever so slowly, she raised herself from the ground and straightened her shoulders.

"Do you still wish to continue? No-one will force you to enter a third time child." The Mistress of Novices stood by her side. "Do you want to go on?"
Calia wiped her eyes in a vain attempt to stop the flow of salty tears falling down her cheek. Nothing could be worse than what she had already done. She looked up at the Aes Sedai and nodded. Yes. She would go on.

"The third time is for what will be. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast."

Calia flung herself through the arch, the tears still streaming down her face.

she screamed with the pain for what felt like the thousandth time.
tears flooded down her face, but she did not notice for the agony.

"I can stop the pain for you." The voice said.
"I can stop the suffering."
"Swear to me and the pain will end. Forever."

Calia’s head rolled to the side and she strained again, futilely against the chains that bound her to the wall.

the pain racked through her again, her entire being burned.

"Swear to me."

Calia glared through her tears at the figure before her.
He was clothed in the blackest of black, his face covered by a black silk mask.
Inside the eyeholes of the mask were nothing but flames.
Ba’alzamon. Calia turned her head away from the heat of his stare.

"Never." She choked out the word.

She was not sure how long the pains lasted, only that they never seemed to stop.

"Perhaps all you need is a little more encouragement," the sinister voice suggested.

In the next moment, a group of terrified people were dragged into the room by trollocs, who were bowing and scraping to their master.
Calia studied the newcomers through tear-swollen eyes. Who she saw made her hang her head in grief and shame. Her stomach heaved.
Bound by chains as she was, the people she held most dear to her cowered in the presence of Ba’alzamon.
There was Kaylan, wearing a dress of green like Calia’s own, a ring in the shape of a serpent biting it’s own tail on her finger.
Joesh and Shem, dressed like a warders, their eyes ablaze with fury.
Her Ma, hands clasping Calia’s Da’s, both their eyes wide with fear.
Calia’s younger sisters, Thayet and Skye, terrified.
Calia choked back a sob, but there was nothing she could do to stop the tears.

"Cal! -" Joesh was flung against the wall before he could finish his protest. Calia gritted her teeth as she felt the impact through their bond.
"Noo!" Calia, her Ma, Thayet and Skye cried out.
Calia watched in horror as her Ma and little sisters seemed to lift off the ground in agony. She hung her head. She knew the pain they were feeling.

"Swear to me."
"Swear to me and this will all end."

Filled with shame, Calia again shook her head. No.

One by one, each of the people Calia cared about most cried out. In pain. In terror. Their bodies were racked with sobs.
Even her da, Calia noticed. Her da was the strongest person she knew, but now, he lay crumpled in a broken heap on the ground, sobbing like everyone else.

Calia wanted nothing more than to sink to her knees and pledge her life, just so the suffering would cease. But she could not. Could not and would not, however much it hurt her. She was sure the others would understand.

The pains had stopped tearing through her own body, but Calia felt a million times worse as she watched them tear through the others. Faintly, she was aware of the aching in her very bones. Every fiber of her being burned with fatigue. It was an effort to breath.

Kaylan was struggling with the chains that bound her, just as Calia had struggled in the beginning. Calia sensed her friend trying to embrace the source, even while she writhed in agony. It would do no good. Calia could remember trying. She had reached for the source and nothing had happened. There was nothing she could do to end the torture. Nothing but the unthinkable anyway. why does he want me anyway? What good would I be to him? Calia was puzzled. This didn’t make sense.

Suddenly, Skye, Calia’s youngest sister, stood up, her blue eyes flashing. No Skye, don’t try to fight it, don’t. Calia begged to herself.
Ba’alzamon turned to stare her in the eye. Skye screamed. And screamed and screamed.
Joesh and Shem strained at their chains, reaching for their sister.
Suddenly, the screams were cut off. Skye fell to the floor and did not stir.
A sob escaped her Ma’s throat, and her Da looked away. Kaylan hung her head. Thayet curled up in a ball. Shem and Joesh stood still.
Calia screamed.

"Swear to me."

She did not stop screaming.

"Swear to me!"

All she had to do was say five little words, five little words that would set her loved ones free.
I am yours, Dark Lord. Those were the words. The words she would never say. the way back - Calia saw the arch, glinting on the wall beside her, filled with the glow.

"No. Not now" She whispered. If she could not save the others, she would not save herself.

She saw Kaylan look up at Calia, startled. "The Arch? Here? Now? Cal, you have to go!" her body lifted from the ground and convulsed with pain. Shem’s eyes blazed with fury, but he did not move to aid her, he knew better.
"AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH - CAL!!! AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!" she dropped back to the ground and Calia felt the pain rip through her own body again.
"Cal." She heard Kaylan gasp out the words. "You have to. For us and everyone. If you don’t, you - you won’t be Aes Sedai, you won’t be able to figh - AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!"

Calia realized the truth of her friends words, even as she struggled to ignore them. She could not leave, but she had to. Her family still lay before the dark lord, they could not escape. they were all screaming.

Calia threw herself to the side, stretching the chains that bound her to their limits. She was surrounded by the glow. It pulled at her, but the chains held. She screamed as the shackles were torn from her wrists and ankles, taking chunks of skin off with them.

The water from the last chalice poured over her, stinging the lacerations in her flesh.
She sobbed, and stood.

"You are washed clean of Calia Luin from the Four Kings." the Amrylin said. "You are washed clean of all ties that bind you to the world. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul. You are Calia Luin, Accepted of the White Tower. You are sealed to us, now."

Calia bowed her head. She was Accepted. She would be Aes Sedai. She would train hard, she wanted to have the ability to fight the dark lord and his followers. She gave a twisted smile through her tears. She would be Aes Sedai.

Calia Luin