2002 - The Final Test (Attn: Rayel!) (Madeline, Rayel, Ariana, Ava)

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2002 - The Final Test (Attn: Rayel!) (Madeline, Rayel, Ariana, Ava)

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Madeline Sedai
The Final Test (Attn: Rayel!)
Sat Aug 10 11:21:04 2002

Madeline’s slippers whispered against the smooth polished wood floor of the Library, seeming loud against the thick silence that filled the high ceiling rooms. Muffled whispered rose and fell as she passed down the long rows of shelves, and the air was filled with that familiar scent of oiled leather and aged parchment.

She smiled pleasantly as she noted the number of novices seated in study nooks, taking advantage of Study Day. It was a day given to the novices every few weeks, not exactly a free day, but with no lessons so that novices might catch up on missed chapters and essays. They were watched by the careful eyes of the Browns, noting any torn pages or spilled ink before it even happened.

It had been nearly two hours since Madeline had begun her search for Rayel Markhin, but with no set schedule, it could be difficult to find Accepted in midafternoon. She had finally been tipped by flame-haired Eldrina, who thought she had heard Rayel mention spending time in the Library. Rayel was one of the eldest Accepted, given more freedom than those younger than her, but expected to produce far more. Of course, those waiting below would wait as long as they needed to, but Madeline would prefer to see this done. As grand as it was to see one of her Accepted raised, after years of watching a slow transformation from child into woman, there was always that sense of unease. This Testing was far more dangerous than the one given to novices, and though rare, it was not unheard for an initiate to be lost to this final Test. A necessary risk, but one Madeline could never become easy with, no matter how many years she was Mistress of Novices.

She climbed the winding staircase up to the middle balconies, just below the study rooms set aside for lessons. Her lips curved in a smile as her gaze fell upon a young woman in the banded dress of Accepted, seated in a candle lit nook with a heavy book resting in her lap.

Rayel lifted her eyes, blinking in surprise at Madeline’s silent approach, then she rose, dipping a graceful curtsy. Rayel already carried herself with the cool serenity of a sister, so different than the naive child she had been when she first arrived many years ago. Her mouth opened in question, but before she could speak, Maddy lifted a hand.

Rayel Markhin, Accepted of the White Tower, you are hereby summoned,” Ask no questions, and delay not in your coming. It is time.”

Without another word, Madeline turned and glided away. Rayel gave one final glance towards the class, then fell in step as Maddy led down the narrow staircase and out of the Library. The wave-like structure was set away from the main building of the White Tower, and they took a small open corridor that spanned the two.

After descending several floors, meeting fewer people as the further they went, Madeline took a side corridor that led to a dark wooden door, locked with an iron padlock. Maddy fished a key from her pocket, and the silence was sudden once the door swung shut behind them. There were dozens of passages like this, twisting, windowless corridors that cut into the deepest bowels of the Tower. They passed row upon row of locked doors once they reached the basements, and a thin layer of dust covered the stone floor.

Their journey ended as they drew up before a pair of white stone doors, polished to a dull gleam. The Great Serpent hung in the center, engraved centuries ago by a long dead hand. The door swung open at a touch, just so on the Serpent’s eye.

They passed into a dimly lit chamber, the white walls rounded in a perfect circle. Seven torches burned, casting flickering shadows on the floor and walls. At the center of the room stood a single Arch. It stood about seven feet high, carved from a strange, inky brown wood. Twisting symbols traced its length, words in a tongue known by only a few.

The Amyrlin Seat drew up before them, resplendent in her striped stole. Deiree Sedai stood at her side, her blue stole hanging neatly on her shoulders. They were flanked by Zhareen and Briar Rose Sedai, in the yellow and green of their Ajahs. A faint hum quivered in the silence, emanating from the single Arch.

Madeline turned to Rayel.

“Accepted Rayel Markhin, today you will be tested for the shawl. You must pass through this ter’angreal, and if you come back to us, you will be known as Rayel Markhin Aes Sedai, you will don the shawl of whichever Ajah you choose. You will know danger in this Testing, and you must rely on your heart and wits to see that you remain calm and act wisely. If you fail, you will not survive. You must use all that you know of the One Power; all that you have learned in these years if you hope to return to us.” She paused.

“You may not refuse this Test. If you do refuse, you will leave the Tower at once, and you will never be Aes Sedai. Knowing this, do you wish to continue?

Rayel nodded resolutely. “I will continue, if it pleases the Light.”

Madeline turned to the row of Sisters watching them. Deiree stepped forward, holding her staff of the Keeper before her.

“Who comes before us?” she said in a clear voice.

“One who seeks to be Aes Sedai,” Madeline replied. “She has been deemed worthy, and will stand to be Tested.”

“Has she completed her training in full?”

“She has, and stands ready. She is ready in mind, body and spirit. She wields the One Power with skill, and she seeks to lend her strength to the White Tower.”

Deiree turned to face Rayel, and tapped her staff on the floor.

“Do you seek to serve the Light, daughter? Do you seek to be Servant of All? Do you seek to be Aes Sedai?”

“I will serve, as it pleases the Light, Aes Sedai,” Rayel replied.

Deiree nodded. “As one who serves the Light, you must be clad in the Light.”

Rayel doffed her Accepted’s dress and shift, folding them in a neat pile. Without another word, Madeline led her towards the Arch.

“May the Creator guide and protect you,” Madeline said. “The way back will come but once. Remember your heart, remember your wits, and at all cost, be steadfast.”

Rayel stepped forward into the Arch. The silver light flared into brightest white, and swallowed her. The Aes Sedai waited in silence, all eyes fixed on the single Arch.

Rayel Markhin
Into the Unknown
Sun Aug 11 07:36:48 2002

Sometimes she found it difficult to believe how dark it could seem in this place even while the daylight hours lasted. She had lost track of time by now, and for the most part she was entirely absorbed by the tomes that lay before and around and behind her. One of them, a work written by a nearly outdated but still influential historian several decades ago, lay open on her lap. Her neck would’ve caused her grief from being craned for such a long time, if she had not been so absorbed in the task at hand: a comprehensive study of the history and nature of the Forsaken.

The study of the Forsaken had long been a passion of hers, and after all these years it was only just coming to a head. She felt as if she was on the brink of obtaining a much more thorough understanding of the subject, but no matter how close she came the facts she had gleaned just would not gel together into anything truly understandable. She was certain that every little fact she had gleaned so far could be slotted into a broader wealth of knowledge, but she had failed so far to create a viable framework into which those facts could be slotted. It was something to do with not having all the facts. While she couldn’t stand not knowing everything, she had recently come to the reluctant conclusion that she might not have a choice; that perhaps her goals were unrealistic.

She stifled a yawn behind her hand, glanced around briefly, noted without surprise that she was still alone up here in this niche, and turned back to her current task: analysing the three most influential opinions on the nature of Graendal’s power in relation to her most remarkable personality traits. If she didn’t pause in her studies to take in her surroundings now and then, she developed the most excruciating headaches.

She was not sure how long it was until another inhabitant of the Tower joined her; all she could judge time by was how much she had read: everything on Graendal that was necessary for her current purpose. She had written two sentences in her notebook, working from the notes she had already made in her head. She could already feel her argument’s main points pulsing in her mind. Now all that was left was for her to record them while they were still crystal clear.

She sensed more than heard movement ahead of her and lifted her eyes automatically. She blinked in surprise when she saw Madeline Sedai approaching. She rose hastily, her assignment forgotten, and dipped into a curtsey. She went to ask a question of Madeline but before she could get a word out, the Aes Sedai’s hand lifted to stop her.

Rayel Markhin, Accepted of the White Tower,” the woman intoned, “you are hereby summoned.” The look on her face might have frozen Rayel’s blood in her veins, but instead she felt a calm veil of acceptance descend over her. “Ask no questions,” Maddy added, “and delay not in your coming. It is time.”

‘It is time’, Rayel thought. It has been so long since I last heard those words. Madeline was already walking away when she gathered her skirts and stepped away from the desk, her work abandoned. She gave it a cursory glance before hastening after Madeline.

They exited the library, and Rayel shivered in the marginally colder air. Still she said no word, and nor did her companion. As she and Madeline descended through several floors, they saw less and less other people. The familiar feeling of anticipation, of being just a speck in a fathomless universe and yet having the brightest floodlights suddenly fix on you, returned. She was reminded of the day she had descended into the bowels of the White Tower, with Madeline leading the way, to be tested for the ring. The feeling was somewhat amplified now, and her chest felt a little tighter…and yet the calm veil that had sheltered her earlier was still hovering just above. With every step she took it came closer, and eventually she felt it rest gently on her. A feeling of calmness, and her sense of steely determination, rippled through her from head to toe, smoothing away the goose bumps that had been coming and going since the descent began, scouring away her doubts. And then they were there.

A pair of white stone doors loomed before them, gleaming dully in the shadows. In the centre was a beautifully engraved Great Serpent, symbolising the greatest power this age had known, and its beauty and meaning overwhelmed Rayel. She drew a deep breath and watched Madeline’s arm extend. The softest touch on the Great Serpent sent the doors swinging open silently, smoothly, revealing the chamber that lay beyond.

It was softly lit and seemed to welcome Rayel, allowing her to keep her invisible veil of faith in herself. Do not be too self-assured, woman, a small inner voice reprimanded, as if anticipating the possibility of some cataclysm that could result of overconfidence. This the most dangerous thing you have ever faced. And yet no one looked harsh or scary. These women were Aes Sedai, most of whom she’d related to in some way for years now. They were not out to get her; they wanted her to succeed as much as she wanted herself to. As long as she remembered to be strong, surely everything would be all right.

As she and Madeline drew closer to the single arch that resided in the centre of the room, Rayel glanced about, noting the presence of the seven torches. She noted the liquid patterns that swam across the walls, in shades of burnished copper, white and ordinary gold, silver, and all possible shades in between. She felt for a moment as if she had entered a chamber full of liquid metal, cool against her skin instead of hot enough to slough the skin off her bones. She felt briefly uplifted as she imagined that she and the other women here were the only ones who could breathe the liquid in.

Then there was the arch, a seven-foot high structure made of wood. Rayel studied the strange symbols that decorated it, coming to the rapid conclusion that they were there for more than decoration alone. What did they mean? She supposed that for those who chose the Brown Ajah, such questions would be more than just passing ponderings. She was not sure what Ajah she would choose, but she was fairly certain that, in spite of her love for certain areas of research, she would not be requesting permission to don the brown-fringed shawl. Her path lay elsewhere…though precisely where she could not yet say.

The Amyrlin Seat appeared before her and Madeline, and thoughts of Ajah choices winked out in her mind instantly. Very few times had Rayel met with this woman face-to-face, and she had never got used to it. She assumed it took years after passing this final test to be able to stand before Ariana Sedai and fail to be overawed. Beside her was Deiree Sedai, and on either side of them Zhareen and Briar Rose. Rayel met Zhareen’s eyes briefly but the woman gave no outward sign of what she thought. She was not precisely cold, but rather chose to keep herself distance. They all did, it seemed to Rayel as she met each gaze one by one.

Then Madeline was speaking to her, and she knew it had truly begun. “Accepted Rayel Markhin, today you will be tested for the shawl. You must pass through this ter’angreal, and if you come back to us, you will be known as Rayel Markhin Aes Sedai, you will don the shawl of whichever Ajah you choose. You will know danger in this Testing, and you must rely on your heart and wits to see that you remain calm and act wisely. If you fail, you will not survive. You must use all that you know of the One Power; all that you have learned in these years if you hope to return to us.”

She paused to let those first comments sink in, and then continued. “You may not refuse this Test. If you do refuse, you will leave the Tower at once, and you will never be Aes Sedai. Knowing this, do you wish to continue?

Rayel nodded resolutely, feeling thankful when a faint glimmer of fear melted away once more. “I will continue, if it pleases the Light,” she said.

With the initial formality over, Madeline turned to the row of Sisters who had been observing the sequence so far. Deiree Sedai stepped forward, the Keeper’s staff held forth.

“Who comes before us?” she inquired, her voice seeming to ring with authority throughout the chamber.

“One who seeks to be Aes Sedai,” Madeline replied. “She has been deemed worthy, and will stand to be Tested.”

“Has she completed her training in full?”

“She has, and stands ready. She is ready in mind, body and spirit. She wields the One Power with skill, and she seeks to lend her strength to the White Tower.”

Now it was Rayel’s turn. Deiree turned to face her directly, tapping the staff on the floor. “Do you seek to serve the Light, daughter? Do you seek to be Servant of All? Do you seek to be Aes Sedai?”

Rayel smiled very faintly. “I will serve, as it pleases the Light, Aes Sedai.”

Deiree nodded. “As one who serves the Light, you must be clad in the Light.”

And there it was; the signal. Rayel undressed, folding her garments as they came off her and setting them on the ground by her side. There was nothing for it now but to go forth into the Arch. Madeline began moving toward it, and Rayel’s legs moved automatically. Another glimmer of fear surged – or tried to surge – within her, but she quashed it ruthlessly. One of those voices reappeared inside, suggesting that it was a bad sign if she had to force herself to calmness. She ignored it and fixed her gaze on Madeline, who had been there through so much of her White Tower experience.

“May the Creator guide and protect you,” the woman said. “The way back will come but once. Remember your heart, remember your wits, and at all costs, be steadfast.”

Be steadfast. The words echoed in her head briefly, and she looked to the Arch. She hesitated for the hair of a second before stepping forward, immersing herself into the light. Her surroundings melted into the light and soon enough everything was white. That whiteness divided her millions of ways and swept her away. Back in the chamber the Aes Sedai waited.

Rayel Markhin
Heroism Is For Fools
Mon Aug 12 10:53:08 2002

When she looked in the mirror this day, all she saw was shadows. She could move this way or that and the shadows would shift, melting into different parts of her face and neck, then sliding back, the colours constantly altering. The shadows defined her almost plain features and transformed them, making her look like someone else entirely; someone other than the person she knew herself to be. Perhaps that was fitting, though. She was already certain she would have to become someone very different in the coming days. The state of affairs in Tar Valon had seen to that.

Only four days since the revelation, and already the Tower was in chaos. Every time Rayel contemplated that fact, she felt the panic rise in her along with the bile. For that reason, she tried not to think about it for too long at any time. It was all too much.

And yet it was hers to contemplate, and hers alone. Who could she trust, after what had happened? She did not know of a single person who would for a certainty stick by her through thick and thin. If she let them close, they could sell her down the Erinen in an instant if it meant saving their own skins, and she wouldn’t be surprised. For it was so that madness had consumed the Tower, madness that had created rifts too great to be repaired. Rayel saw herself as one of the few Aes Sedai who remained sane – that being the main reason she was on the market, so likely to be betrayed by her former brethren if she chose to give them the chance.

Her heart told her not to write off the other members of the Tower still remaining, and yet her head insisted it wasn’t worth the risk of blind faith. She could not afford to take any more gambles than it was necessary to take.

She inhaled deeply, physically unable to stop until her lungs felt on the verge of bursting. She kept her eyes on the mirror, but when she shifted slightly, the shadows did too, swarming about on her face. For a moment it seemed that her skin was covered in spirit-sucking creatures waiting for the right moment to move in for the kill. They would let her exist as long as she entertained them, and when that period of time had expired they would converge on her nose and mouth, perhaps even covering her eyes too, and would suffocate her. She was the prisoner of shadows, here in her personal quarters where she had hidden for the past three days. She was a prisoner in her own home, and if she stayed here too long she would never escape.

The shadows lost their menacing quality, but she was still sure about one thing: she would not go down willingly. She had made the decision a few hours earlier, after considering numerous options. Most of them had seemed viable at first glance, but upon further examination had come to look more like forms of suicide than anything. So she had finally settled on two possible ways of proceeding from here, each equally safe insofar as any option could be considered safe. All that remained was for her to choose which one was best suited. It was this final decision that was threatening to overwhelm her, to make her hesitate too long.

She did not feel entirely alone, of course, and that was not a good thing. She could usually hear some form of activity in the hallways outside, even if it were just a soft murmur of voices or the ginger padding of feet along the carpets. She had stayed in these rooms hoping she would be missed, everyone else assuming she had fled the Tower already like so many others. But she could not rely on that slim hope forever, she knew. Nor could she accurately gauge the amount of time she had left before her luck would run out. Something told her, with impressive conviction, that time was increasingly scarce.

And yet she did not move yet. She had too much on her mind. The fact that the White Tower, in its symbolic capacity, was falling down around her ears was the foremost of these. The fabric of this age-old institution had begun fraying at the edges long ago, but now it had finally begun to crumble completely. What made her hesitate in taking action was the perhaps foolish notion that she could somehow act to salvage some vestige of what was on the brink of being lost forever. Logic told her she was useless here, but her sentimentality, her sense of duty and honour, threatened to override that virtue so praised by those who had chosen the White.

Her choices, in the end, were these. She could step boldly out into the viper’s den she had once called home, and eventually go down in flames, not without a fight. She could aim at taking as many of the enemy with her when she expired from this world. Alternately, she could creep out of this room with her tail between her legs, hiding every step of the way in a manner entirely unsuited to the woman she had believed herself to be. She could hope to preserve her own life that way, and when she had travelled out into the world, far from the Tower, she could hope to encounter other exiled Sisters, and with them share the misery of the fundamental institutional downfall she had witnessed with her own eyes.

Wishful thinking, perhaps, but it was all she had to cling to. She was not ready to die yet.

Looking at her shadowed self in the mirror, head and shoulders draped in darkness, she understood that the decision was made. She would never see herself the same again, and if after the fact others learned of the actions she had taken, they would not either. It was very difficult to come to terms with what she was about to do. In fact it made her head hurt, although no outward sign of discomfort showed on her reflection’s face. Sighing softly one last time, she stood up in front of her sparsely patterned dresser, knowing that the time to act was now.

She went to her bed where her satchel waited. She had packed earlier, while sorting through the options available to her, and by the time she had narrowed the list down to two, she had been three-fourths of the way through. She had paused momentarily, holding a pair of folded shifts in the air over the open bag for a moment while she let reality sink in. Then she had forced herself to continue, in order to complete the task at hand. Here and now she would have to force herself to act again, and this time it would be far more difficult to maintain her resolve.

Packing a bag was not life threatening. Fleeing from the White Tower with no intention of ever returning, on the other hand, was about as dangerous as one could get, particularly in these uncertain times. It was a pity she really had no choice.

She picked up the bag and started for the door, pausing only once more to glance back. She caught a fainter version of her reflection in the dully-gleaming mirror, and hated what she saw there. I will do what is necessary, she thought, but she wondered then whether anything could justify what she was about to do.

Her hand closed over the doorknob.

Rayel Markhin
Perhaps a rethink is in order
Fri Aug 16 02:00:50 2002

Before she departed she cracked the door open an inch and a half and peered out. She managed to hold utterly still as a Green-shawled Sister swept by, seemingly so consumed by her own worries that she would not have noticed if a Trolloc leapt out of Rayel’s room, let alone Rayel herself. The presence of a Green Sister in these quarters might have surprised Rayel once, but no longer.

As the Green passed, Rayel’s heart rate gradually returned to normal, and she inhaled softly. Then she turned around again, so that she was facing her dresser. There was one more task she must complete before leaving this room for good, and the key in the next few moments was to strike a perfect balance between haste and care. Rayel had to believe she was up to the task; if she did not she would dissolve into a gibbering mess here and now.

Knowing she could not let that happen, she licked her lips and prepared to embrace saidar. Once she had done so she would have to work very quickly, for every other channeller in the vicinity would detect her activities instantly.

The way back will come but once…

The thought caught her off guard, particularly as she had no idea where it had come from. Was that not what one heard during one’s Accepted test? Rayel was certain she was not so crazed that she was imagining all of this – she was not in actuality taking her test for the ring at this moment. But then, she had been unaware of the reality during that test, had she not? She still clearly recalled the events that had transpired in the ter’angreal arches all those years ago; recalled what she had believed was happening at the time, and the way she had emerged from each Arch to a full realisation of reality. Perhaps she was actually in her Arches now? Perhaps all of what had happened in the past decades was imagined?

What will it matter, then, if I die here? What will it matter if I do not return? I will never know, will I? I will never know if I have failed. I will only know if I achieve success.

And yet she could not leave it at that, making it seem so simple. Even if she was imagining all of this, she was still being tested. Whatever her reality was, she did not want to let herself fail whatever test she was undergoing. It was a test either way, after all: in this reality or in some other existance she did not currently remember. Either way, she would do her best to pass.

“Light,” she muttered as she realised she had just wasted precious seconds contemplating matters that did not bear thinking about. She had no time to sit and think. Woman, get moving, she reprimanded herself.

This enhanced sense of urgency would do her no favours while she attempted to create a weave of great complexity with saidar. She must calm herself down before attempting the task she had set herself. She went to work soothing her nerves, trying to forget the warning that had echoed in her mind about the way back coming only once, focusing her thoughts on two things: one, keeping an ear out for what went on in the corridor – she had kept the door open an inch or so for a reason – and two, embracing saidar.

When the warmth of saidar flooded through her she was instantly infused with a deep knowledge of all the world’s beauty. As usual she strove to keep control of her wits while under the Power’s sweet influence. She began by making a simple weave she had learned what felt like aeons ago while still an Accepted. She draped the weave over her dresser, and then moved on to part two of the weave: the embellishment.

Even though she was risking her life in engaging in this time-consuming operation now, she would not have it any other way: some things must be protected at all costs, and Rayel had never been one to scrimp on things that really mattered. She might be fleeing the Tower, but she did not want to leave it entirely to its own fate. She would do what she could, as long as she wasn’t directly endangering herself.

The weave she began to create, a variation of the base weave, was incredibly intricate, and a novice or Accepted might assume that Rayel wove it with ease. In fact it was quite the opposite. Rayel had to concentrate with every ounce of her being, to such an extent that a thin film of sweat soon appeared on her brow – something that had not happened to her in decades.

Nor did things run entirely smoothly. At one point she was gripped by the certainty that all was lost as the threads of her near-finished weave trembled, apparently on the verge of unravelling completely. If this weave takes on a life of it’s own… She left the thought unfinished, as it was too unpleasant to dwell on. She was playing with fire here, even if the Element of Fire was not directly involved, and she had to stay on her toes.

She sighed heavily as she completed the now completed weave. Thank the Light, she muttered inwardly, watching as the weave sank into the dresser, warding it against prying eyes and fingers. And weaves, for that matter. Whoever tried to discover what lay within that dresser, if anyone bothered, would have the time of his or her life fighting off her ward.

Rayel was about to head for the door again when she had second thoughts. Studying the warded dresser she suddenly doubted that a single precaution was enough. She began to sift through her memory banks, frantically trying to find another weave with which she could back up the first one. The problem was that she would risk set off her own weave by trying to rest another one on top of it. Finally she decided she had done all she could. She ignored the wave of despair that washed through her as she reached the door and peered out into the hall again. It was deserted.

She whispered a quick goodbye to the room that had been hers for so many years, and then slipped out into the hall. There. She had done it. There would be no turning back now.
* * * *
With every step she glanced this way and that, acutely aware that she had alerted the entire Tower to her presence. She could still hope that she would be missed, since during the past few days there had been rarely a moment when there hadn’t been anyone else channelling in the Tower’s vicinity. Although she had avoided channelling completely since shutting herself away in her room, she had always known she couldn’t stay away from saidar forever. Because she had never intended on staying in that room longer than a few days, she had known she would have to channel eventually.

Now she had made her presence known, and if they felt like investigating the cause of the disturbance she had made, they would do so. She just had to hope they would give her enough time to slip out of the Tower. Otherwise she would have to avoid detection for as long as she could, achieve what she could, before being destroyed.

She had turned left after exiting her room and now continued along the hallway, keeping close to the wall and hesitating each time she approached the next doorway. She could recite the names of each woman and man who had inhabited these rooms as easily as she could recite the numbers from one to twenty, and she did just that in her mind, mourning times that were now long gone, longing for the days of ease when she had been able to take certain things for granted. In those days her foundations had remained solid and dependable. But those days were gone, and she now knew a different reality, one far more disturbing than anything she had imagined back then.

Finally she exited the Ajah quarters and headed straight for the nearest staircase, one hidden deeply in shadow. Why is it so deserted? she wondered guardedly. There were people running up and down the hall the entire day. Why then are the halls suddenly so void of life?

Something wasn’t right, and Rayel was walking blind. At least she knew she could not stay in one spot. If she had to choose between that and staying on the move, she would choose the latter.

So she padded down the staircase on quiet feet, her flimsy silken slippers failing to ward against the cold of the marble beneath her feet. Goosebumps rippled over her skin, appearing here as they faded there, and vice versa, constantly moving. She shivered uncontrollably despite the confined and somewhat stuffy space in which she moved. She felt as if she had never concentrated as intently as she was now. Her head hurt, particularly when she contemplated the likelihood that, in fact, her ordeal was only just beginning.

The way back will come but once…

The thought came again, gripping her with such tenacity that she had to stop in her tracks.

Be steadfast. “Be steadfast,” she mouthed into the darkness, wishing she could embrace the Source and light her way, but knowing that would amount to another kind of suicide. She would be steadfast without help from saidar. She would deal with matters as they stood now, rather than standing around wishing for better days or more options. She would keep walking, making her steady way towards one of the Tower’s many exits.

I will not lose control, she thought as she started moving again, hoping suddenly that the Three Oaths also prevented Aes Sedai from lying to themselves.

Rayel Markhin
Guydin Raventhal
Sat Aug 17 23:27:54 2002

OOC: Guydin = GOOY-din.

As Rayel neared the bottom of the staircase she heard voices further down, swelling and fading as their tones changed. She froze on the spot, then pressed herself against the wall, having the presence of mind to make gentle movements. She pursed her lips, carefully avoiding embracing saidar for comfort’s sake, and strained to judge the distance between herself and the speakers. The Power would’ve told her whether they were channellers or not, but she couldn’t risk detection herself. All she could do was hope that they were not holding the Source. She saw none of saidar’s glow further down, so she took that as a good sign.

While she could not identify the speakers as channellers, she might as well assume, for safety’s sake, that they had the ability. From the sounds of their voices they were standing stationary, probably a few meters beyond the base of the staircase ahead. If Rayel moved quietly she could make her way down and get a better look at them. Perhaps she could even slip by them and escape notice. It would require that she be on her guard as never before.

Be steadfast…

She took the strange echoing sentiment in stride, deciding that under extreme stress she had been reduced to recalling what had guided her through her test to become Accepted. She didn’t see how doing so could do her any harm. In fact it brought her comfort, making her feel that somehow she was not alone. Some other entity was giving her direction, even if it was just some private part of her consciousness urging her on. With this in mind she found the strength to push away from the wall and take her first step downwards. The murmurs were still audible in the distance, though unintelligible.

Her first step preceded a second, and then a third, and so on until she had reached the base of the stairwell. There in the pools of darkness she paused once more, hairs standing on end all over her body. Goosebumps rippled over her again, for the voices were clearer than ever now, and at least one of them was familiar. It was Guydin Sedai, and she was speaking with another deep-voiced woman Rayel couldn’t identify. Rayel had thought that Guydin fled along with some of the earliest deserters, but now she saw she’d been wrong.

The hallway ahead was empty as far as she could see, so she assumed the speakers were standing in one of the alcoves or corridors that led off from it. They were near, she knew, and their voices were characterised by a furtiveness all too common in the White Tower these days. Everybody had learned to be cautious; nobody trusted anybody else, at least when they could manage without doing so.

Rayel edged forward, and within moments she had pinpointed where the speakers stood. As she’d suspected, they had tucked themselves into one of the alcoves just beyond the bottom of the staircase. Rayel wanted to lean closer to the edge of the alcove and peer around it at Guydin and the other woman, but for now it would do just to listen in to the conversation, and learn what she could. She pricked up her ears and forced the rest of her body to relax, not wanting the tension of the moment to betray her.

“…Not many left,” Guydin was saying. “Sometimes… It’s just… I would never have done so… Things make me wonder.”

The other woman had been murmuring now and then but Rayel had found it impossible to make any of her words out. Now she raised her voice slightly in response to Guydin.

“I understand, my dear. It is far from simple.” There was a pause and then she added, “But you know it. There are certain things…that must be done.”

Rayel could almost picture the troubled look on Guydin’s face. The other woman’s words had carried such palpable foreboding. She and Guydin were not talking about taking novices on a picnic. The subject of their discussion was far more serious.

“I know,” Guydin said finally, her voice suddenly full of conviction. “And I will do what I must.” For a moment her voice sank into mere inaudible whispers, and then Rayel heard her old associate say, “I can give you several.”



One of them sighed heavily, releasing a breath that had clearly been held for some time. There was another long silence, full of silent contemplation, in which Rayel herself tried not to breathe too loudly. Then Guydin said, “I could lead you straight to them.”

Is she talking about the Black Ajah? Rayel wondered, fear gripping her strongly once more. It would make sense, since from the start of the troubles the Blacks had been at the heart of everything. The more important question was probably this: how could Guydin know several names of members of the Black Ajah, if that was what she referred to?

“That will not be necessary,” the other woman said finally. “It is as easy as this. You give me the names and I–”

There was a sudden silence then that brought goose bumps back to Rayel’s skin. She heard Guydin murmur a single word that sounded like a question, and then heard a subtle shifting from within the alcove. And she knew then that she had been too careless.

She had been detected.

Rayel Markhin
Tue Aug 20 11:11:08 2002

Her nerves screamed at her to shuffle backwards, even to turn and flee, but she was frozen on the spot as if held by iron shackles. Long, torturous moments passed before she heard movement again. Guydin and her companion were emerging from their hiding spot. The former appeared first, looking incredibly forbidding draped in shadows as she was. She had always been tall but now she made Rayel feel miniscule, seemingly towering over her as never before. The woman’s black hair was pulled back with an ivory, diamond-studded hair clasp. She looked as elegant and strange as ever in her silken dress, gloves and slippers. If not for the rumpled appearance of the garments, and the few minor tears Rayel saw in various places, Guydin Raventhal would’ve looked as refined as ever.

Her companion followed soon after, a shorter woman of very slender build, with pale hair and shining blue eyes. Her garb was more intact and less expensive-looking than Guydin’s, but neither woman looked less in control than the other. Both stared at Rayel expressionlessly, making it impossible for her to decide whether or not she should be worried.

“Guydin,” she managed to say smoothly, clasping her hands before her measuredly. “It is…good to see you.”

Guydin’s gaze sharpened. “Rayel Markhin, in the flesh. I was under the impression you had left days ago.”

Rayel nodded. “Indeed. I did intend it to seem that way.”

She felt out of control, as if she couldn’t judge when it would be best to stop talking and to start running instead. Even if she could trust Guydin not to betray her, she could never be sure about the woman who was with her. She and Rayel had never met face to face before, something she always insisted upon before trusting a person to any degree. Besides, even a trustworthy individual could still ruin everything for Rayel, accidentally. Rayel had seen it happen to others too often to risk it happening to her.

“Do you…know what is going on?” Rayel asked, praying she was not taking the wrong path. “Things have been so out of hand latey.”

Guydin’s eyes bored into her, and then she exchanged an apparently blank glance with her diminutive companion.

Rayel was surprised when the stranger, and not Guydin, spoke. “Everyone is confused. You can never be sure who is going to flee next. All discipline has dissolved. No one plays by the rules anymore.”

What was Rayel supposed to make of that? She studied the petite woman closely while trying to appear as if she were not. There were no chinks in her Aes Sedai armour, no fine cracks appearing anywhere. Her bright blue gaze might have been full of fire on another occasion, but now it was intensely cold. It chilled Rayel to the bone, though she could not quite explain why.

“Rayel,” Guydin said eventually, crossing her arms. “If I might ask…where were you heading just now, when you…stumbled upon us?”

The way she said the last three words made the fine hairs on the back of Rayel’s neck stand up. The goose bumps returned in a fine wave and retreated just as quickly. She did not feel safe here, even in the presence of Guydin whom she had known for years.

“I was…I am…taking a look around the place.” She’d changed her mind at the last moment about what she would say. Confiding in anyone was, plain and simply, a bad idea. That was a motto she planned to live and breathe from now on. “I am merely trying to judge where I stand in all of this.”

Guydin nodded, eyes flickering briefly to the woman beside her. “Indeed. That is just what we were doing.”

She wants to know how much I heard before they found me, Rayel realised, standing absolutely still. She is testing me, to see what my reaction will be. I must play my cards perfectly here.

“Well, then,” she said a moment later, knowing that hesitating could well damn her. “I had better leave the two of you to it. I will be on my way now.”

No one said anything for a long, drawn out moment, and Rayel decided to take that as a sign of their acceptance. She bowed her head slightly, showing common courtesy, and walked towards them. As she moved to Guydin’s left, stepping around the imposing woman, she did not falter, moving with the grace of any experienced Aes Sedai. She resisted the overwhelming urge to look over her shoulder when she had passed Guydin, telling herself that the two behind her might be watching her even now, for signs of uncertainty. Then again, they might be doing as she was doing: resisting the urge to take a peek. For all Rayel knew, they felt exactly about her as she did about them: unsure, cautious, and necessarily suspicious.

She had gone perhaps twenty metres when she sensed channelling behind her. In an instant she had formed the flower bud in her mind and was opening herself to the Source, but she had reacted too late. She gasped in horror and jerked backwards as a shield slid between her and saidar, cutting off her ability to channel. Moments later thick bands of Air enclosed her, stopping her entirely in her tracks. The bands tightened around her, slowly crushing her. She whimpered as it became harder to breathe. I was too late, she wailed inwardly. Light, I was too late!

She stood in the middle of the walkway, unable even to shiver due to the bands of Air that restricted her, and unable to channel, or even embrace saidar. Behind her, measured footsteps sounded on the smooth marble, signifying the approach of her captors. All she could do was hang suspended in the moment, waiting for what would come.

The way back will come but once, a distant voice whispered in the back of her mind, and it seemed to Rayel that she were being cruelly mocked.

“I am sorry,” Guydin spoke from close behind her, out of her line of vision, “that it has come to this.”

Rayel Markhin
Fri Aug 23 11:26:24 2002

Guydin’s words had pierced her, and in the silence that followed she edged closer to the brink of madness. Cut off from the Source, she was nevertheless painfully aware of its presence, just out of reach. The fuzzy wall between her and it was not designed to conceal but to effectively sever. Despite its gauzy appearance, the wall was hard as stone when Rayel tentatively pressed up against it. She managed, amazingly, to limit the force with which she strained against her new bonds, testing their strength. She did not want to appear as desperate as she really was, not to Guydin or this strange woman in her company.

She caught a glimpse of movement to her left as the first of her captors came into sight. It was the small, nameless Sister, Guydin’s companion and evidently also her co-conspirator. Who isn’t a conspirator these days? Rayel thought sourly to herself, watching as the woman, bathed in saidar’s glow, moved around to stand directly in front of her. Seeing that she was channelling somehow infuriated Rayel. Even under the woman’s disturbing gaze Rayel continued out of habit to probe gently at the shield, working almost absent-mindedly. Soon enough Guydin too appeared, also embracing the Source. She came to a halt beside the shield-maker, towering over both her and Rayel.

They each held themselves with impeccable poise, regarding Rayel with varying expressions of coolness. She looked back at them with wide eyes, unable to control her palpitating heart or the irregular breathing that persisted even as she continued to probe gently at the shield from multiple angles. She was gaining a better understanding of the shield-maker’s strengths and weaknesses, hoping to find some loophole she could slip through and orchestrate her escape.

At the same time she was frantic, not really believing herself capable of breaking free. Panic had nearly overtaken her. Light, oh Light, why did I not embrace the Source as I walked away from them, just in case? She knew it was pointless asking such questions now, but she couldn’t help herself. She was consumed with despair and anger, the two emotions using her mind as a battlefield. Hindsight told her that the risk of embracing saidar would have been well worth it. By the time she had brought up a precautionary ward around herself, any attack that came from behind would’ve slid right off her. What a pity she hadn’t thought of all this a little earlier. Now all she could do was rail against the injustice that had been done to her, and probe uselessly at the tight-knit, professional-looking weave that imprisoned her.

All through this, one thought stuck with her: she had let herself be captured, and in retrospect she felt like the most incredible fool.

Be steadfast, a voice told Rayel, a little stronger than last time. While spoken only once, the words echoed repeatedly in her mind. She saw them as an encouragement to keep exploring her captor’s weave, even if deep down inside she believed it a pointless exercise. In the end, she could never bring herself to give up.

Guydin spoke again, dragging Rayel out of her grim thoughts, but not away from her explorations of the shield. She managed to listen with half an ear to Guydin at the same time as working away at the weaves that bound her.

“Despite whatever you might be thinking at this moment,” Gudyin began, “I never wanted this. You have always been fair to me, Rayel.” The woman frowned slightly, cocking her head, and went on to try and justify herself, even if Rayel was certain she didn’t feel an obligation to. “Yet in these times, it is necessary that we take precautions.” Her gaze suddenly drilled into Rayel, hard where it had just been almost gentle. “You, as one of the more sensible individuals in this land, know as much.”

Briefly, Rayel was on the brink of hysteria. Her explorations ceased as her mind struggled to process the reality of her situation. For a moment it seemed like it might fail to cope. In the end, though, her ability to perceive that she was near breaking point was what saved her from taking the long final tumble. After a few precarious moments balanced on the knife-edge, she stumbled back, coming to the abrupt realisation that there was no point giving up. Until the moment she died, there was still hope.

A thin film of sweat had appeared on her forehead, the result of extreme stress, and she felt a sudden resolve to make it disappear – permanently. She stared right at Guydin.

“Why are you doing this?” she croaked, surprised and dismayed that her voice sounded so weak. “What are you hoping to gain?”

Unexpectedly, the stranger was the one to answer, as if she felt she had a right to address Rayel in a similar way to how Guydin would address her.

“Rayel, Rayel. Surely you must have a clue by now.” Her voice was chastising, the expression on her face slightly mocking. “You are neither ally nor foe, as yet. But were you a foe, at least we would know where you stood. You favour neutrality instead. That is perhaps the worst crime you could commit, and the most cowardly. The least convenient for us, certainly.”

You call me cowardly? Rayel muttered silently in amazement, running “fingers” over the weave that bound her at the same time as staring at the petite woman whose voice had harboured such quiet vehemence. You have to shield me and bind me before confronting me, Rayel told her silently. Of the two of us, who is more cowardly? Aloud she said, “How can I declare myself friend or foe when I do not know if you two are friend or foe to me? I am no more foolhardy than you.”

The two other women exchanged glances, and Guydin looked vaguely taken aback. “An interesting point, and well worth making,” she murmured, eyeing Rayel. “And yet it demonstrates the dilemma we three find ourselves in. It is somewhat of a vicious circle. You cannot trust us, and we cannot trust you.”

“Well, then,” the smaller woman sighed. “What are we to do?” The way she said it, it sounded more like a rhetorical question: Rayel felt a chill climbing up her spine, finally exploding over her scalp and making it tingle.

“I would like an answer to that,” Rayel interjected.

Guydin’s sharp gaze fixed on her again, and it suddenly felt hard to breathe. “And you will have it,” she said simply. “In just a little while. You will come with us now, to a place where you may be safely monitored.”

Rayel’s heart sank to her feet as Guydin stepped forward and gripped a part of her forearm that was not hidden by thick bands of Air.

Rayel Markhin
Prison Inside A Prison
Thu Aug 29 11:45:18 2002

They marched Rayel down numerous halls until she lost track of where she was. How is it that I am an Aes Sedai and I am still subjected to this? I am supposed to be the one making others dizzy in the hallways of the Tower. I’ve earned my rights to that privilege by now, surely?

They rounded corner after corner after corner, went up and down numerous staircases and into and out of countless rooms, Rayel’s head becoming increasingly scrambled as the moments passed. She wished to ask where they were going, but she would not be like one of those foolish victims in the storybooks; she was going to keep her silly questions to herself, and she was going to act like she was in control. These women would not get the better of her.

At one stage she glanced to her left, down a side passage, and glimpsed something she had never thought to see again, something that caused strong feelings of self-doubt to rise within her. It was a silvery arch, like the ones she had seen in her Accepted’s test, the kind of arch that she had always known would never fade from her memory, not when the arches experience had become such a large part of who she was. Again she wondered if she could be in the Arches right now, taking her Accepted’s test. Perhaps somehow she had imagined her entire past? She did not have the strength of mind at this time to sufficiently comprehend how such a thing could be so, but she did have enough strength to crane her neck until the hallway, and the arch itself, were lost from view.

It can’t be, she told herself, over and over, trying to calm down. She had enough trouble at the moment; she did not need to become a gibbering mess of incompetence as well. She needed to retain her wits. She needed to be as strong as she had ever been…and twice again as strong.

Long after she had caught that brief glimpse of gleaming white, they brought her to a halt in front of a door that looked the same as any other she had seen for the past hour or so. Guydin stepped forward and slid a key into the lock. Twisting it and the door handle simultaneously she then pushed and the door opened inward. She stepped inside and moved away to allow the nameless Aes Sedai to herd Rayel through the doorway. The room she entered was dark, and she could only make out vague shapes in the shadows. Where on earth am I? she thought frantically, trying once more to keep herself calm. Panicking would help no one, least of all herself.

“This will be your home until we decide what else to do with you,” Guydin said in a matter-of-fact tone. “There are wards around the room that will detect any move you try to make. Any such move will result in more than mere detection: you will feel pain. If I were you I would not risk it. But it is entirely your choice.”

My choice? When have you given me a choice in any of this? Rayel’s fear was nearly overtaken by her anger in that instant, but she kept it all inside, concealed behind her Aes Sedai mask. She doubted she could keep it from shining in her eyes though; that was one thing she had never been good at.

Guydin and the other woman moved to the door again and made as if to leave. Rayel was confused. “Where are you going? I thought you had to monitor me?”

Guydin turned back to her. “We do not have to look at you with our own eyes, my friend. The wards on this room are quite sufficient for our purposes.”

And they left her, alone there in the dark. She stared at the spot where she had last seen them, the spot now concealed by the shut – and, she was sure, locked – door. She was alone in a cold, dark room, cut off from the Source and apparently trapped by deadly wards of some kind. She was not about to assume it couldn’t get worse; she wouldn’t make that mistake again.

She turned in a full, slow circle, her arms, torso and thighs still restrained by the bands of Air. At least she could move at all. That was something to be thankful for. But she couldn’t see – although her eyes were rapidly adjusting to her surroundings – and couldn’t wield saidar. Perhaps most importantly at this moment, she could not get out of the room without risking triggering possibly deadly traps. She could always run – or at least shuffle – out of the Tower if she could get out into the corridors again. But could she really assume that would be possible? If those two women were confident enough to leave her here alone, surely that meant their weaves were powerful indeed.

“Who are you?” someone said from somewhere behind her, giving her another fright of a lifetime. So she was not alone after all.

OOC: I feel the need to rush this to a conclusion; so don’t be surprised if some of my next posts are rather crap. I think I’ve posted enough “okay” stuff already right? *loL*

Rayel Markhin
Working, Working, Working Away
Thu Aug 29 11:58:56 2002

The deep female voice would have made Rayel jump if she had not been thoroughly restrained by Air. It came from somewhere behind her, dashing all beliefs that she was the only one in the room. That was only a bad thing if the speaker was on her captors’ side.

“I’m over here.”

Rayel turned slightly to her left, peering into the lumpy darkness where she could faintly make out a slightly hunched figure, though no features were discernable.

“Can you channel?” she asked immediately, knowing it was foolish to risk this but finding that her desire to escape was overwhelming her.

She heard a light sigh. “I can. Under ordinary circumstances.”

The meaning of the words sunk in, as Rayel’s heart sank in her chest. “Light. They have you shielded too?”

“Not them. Others. But this is where I’m kept.”

“Who are you?”

“I asked first.”

The voice reflected that the speaker was sure of herself. And determined. I know that things could get worse, but could they really be so bad that telling this person my name will create a landslide?

“I am Rayel.”

“Ah. Yes. I know you. Rayel Markhin, am I correct?” There was an almost contemplative pause, and then the voice sounded again. “Well, well. I suppose there are worse people I could’ve been trapped in a room with.”

“Well, thank you,” Rayel responded to the shadows, not quite sure how to take that. “Now, who are you?”

“I am not an enemy, nor am I a friend. I’m just an innocent bystander, caught up in this silly mess.”

“I do not buy that,” Rayel protested wryly. “In this place innocent bystanders do not sound as sure of themselves as you do. And most of them cannot channel either.”

“You have me there. Very well. I am not an innocent bystander. We have that established, I am glad to see. But what I should like to see far more is my own escape from this room. Got any ideas?”

“Yes, I do. Break through this Light-forsaken shield and then blast my way out of here swathed in a wreath of Fire.”

She was startled to hear a laugh from the shadowed stranger. “Ah, the enthusiasm of youth.”

“Youth? How old are you, if I might ask.”

“A lot older than you. Let us leave it at that.”

Rayel frowned. “And you know my age how?”

She almost imagined the stranger shrugging. “I have seen you around; I have heard a little about you. Satisfied?”

“I suppose that I am.” Rayel felt grumpy, but she would not let this opportunity slip through her fingers. “But I am not satisfied to stay like this any longer. I am looking forward to getting my hands on Guydin Raventhal.”

She was speaking like a drunkard, bragging too much, boasting dangerously. Soon enough she would start making promises she could never keep, she supposed. I must get out of here! she thought frantically, hating being separated from the Source with every minute that passed. But what about those wards? She decided she’d deal with those later. For now she had work to do.

She could see a little more clearly now, enough at least to find her way to a clear spot on the ground and make it her seat.

“What are you doing?” the stranger asked, shifting slightly in the same spot she had inhabited all this time.

“I am sitting down.”

“Do not play games with me. I am not in the mood.”

“My apologies,” Rayel said, her heart not in it. “I am sitting down and I am ‘securing my escape’, at least from one of my prisons.”

“The ward.”

“What else?”

“Good luck.”

“I’ll need it. Why don’t you stop talking and begin remedying your own predicament?”

Silence descended again, and lasted for a long moment before Rayel heard the stranger moving about. By then she was far too absorbed in working at the shield that trapped her, feeling out the chinks in the weave. She had found a few already, but she hadn’t yet found a way of using them to her advantage. Only time would provide her with the solution. She wasn’t sure how much she had.
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Re: 2002 - The Final Test (Attn: Rayel!) (Madeline, Rayel, Ariana, Ava)

Post by TayaJai »

Rayel Markhin
Victory, Yet A Mere Skirmish
Thu Aug 29 12:26:25 2002

OOC: Too lazy / tired to proof read it; apologies in advance for any stupid errors.

She worked for what seemed like hours, but was probably only twenty or so minutes, becoming incredibly intimate with the weave that bound her powers. She suspected it took so long because it was some of the most intensive work she had ever undertaken in her entire career as Aes Sedai. Not only had her need for precision never been this great (she was in many was an untried and untested Sister, youthful in the experiences that characterised her fellows) but she had never felt this pressed. She hoped the pressure helped to hone her precision rather than skew it.

She became aware of a dripping sound somewhere in the distance, and thought perhaps she was imagining it. Perhaps her subconscious was throwing up obstacles with which to test her.

The way back will come but once, the voice sounded in her head, not even phasing her this time. She was too ensconced in the task at hand.

She thought she heard the stranger talk at one stage, but she could not make out the words, and nor did she try. She could not mess this up, not now. She was increasingly sure that time was fleeting. Be steadfast.

She had the sudden strong desire to look over her shoulder, the unflappable belief that if she did so her salvation would appear to her. Ridiculous, she told herself, suspecting her subconscious of another of those attempts at distracting her. You are no believer in miracles. Stick to the task at hand. Your life depends on it.

She was vaguely aware of how tensely she held herself, held almost stock still in concentration. She would need a long, hot bath after getting free of these bonds, a bath to melt away the tension in her muscles. That was a luxury she might not enjoy for a long time to come. Nevertheless it was a nice thought, and she smiled vaguely even as she kept working.

She was getting closer, closer, closer now, but she was also finding it increasingly difficult to maintain the level of precision that was required. She had developed a headache long ago from how closely she had had to concentrate. She wondered how long it would be before she collapsed from dizziness. Light, just hang on, she told herself. Take that voice’s advice and be steadfast. Just be steadfast.

Ah! There it was! Or there was what she thought would result in the weave’s undoing. She prayed that she was not getting her hopes up for nothing. Come on, come on, she muttered inwardly, tensing even more if that was possible. She worked her way into the deepest chink she had found so far, driving what she saw as a wedge into the natural fault in the weave that held her, driving it further and further in. She was trying to exploit the weakness that had been built into the trap by its very maker.

She felt herself teetering on the brink of breakthrough, and for a moment she thought she would fall onto the wrong side, dousing herself in failure. It was a terrible, precarious moment in which her entire future flashed before her, the two main possibilities presented to her by her overactive imagination in harsh detail: she knew which way she wanted to go, and it did not involve her remaining trapped by this shield.

Finally, she tipped the balance, driving the wedge home with a loud, shuddery sigh of triumph. The shield shattered around her and she slumped forward, all of her strength sapped. “Oh, Light,” she murmured hoarsely, finding she was unable to open her eyes. Her head hurt like it never had before. She was hardly aware of the rest of her body. She had never endured anything like that in her entire life. She could hardly believe she’d made it this far. When her mind cleared momentarily, enough to allow more than mere abstract thoughts in, she had the presence of mind to feel a certain pride in herself. She had defied the odds in a way that Guydin and the other woman had never thought possible…in a way that even she had not thought possible. She had done what could not be done.

“You did it, didn’t you?” a tired voice came from somewhere to her left. The stranger was still with her. But of course; where else would the woman have gone?

“I did it,” Rayel whispered, finding that was all she had the strength to do.

“That is good news indeed.”

The sound in the voice, one of soft resignation and not as much determination as before, told Rayel that where she had just succeeded, the stranger had failed. She will need my help, she realised, and nearly burst into tears at the idea. Oh Light, lend me strength.

“I will…help you,” she said finally, still exhausted. “But you must…give me a minute.”

“Of course,” the stranger said, sounding a little more uplifted. Rayel knew she could do what was needed, at least where the other woman’s shield was concerned, but only if she built up her strength again. What a pity there was no one else in here to Heal her before she began.

Be steadfast, the echoing voice sounded in the back of her mind, somehow comforting to her. And remember… The way back will come but once. Do not falter. Be steadfast.

It was the first time the mysterious messages had diverted from their normal path. She was too tired to sort out the implications of the departure from tradition. All she could do was rest her head on the wall behind her and close her eyes, snatching what small amount of rest she could before getting back to work.

She never lost sight of the fact that her captors were still out there somewhere; in fact, she would be surprised if Guydin’s companion had not sensed the breach of her weave. That left Rayel very little time to act on her fellow prisoner’s behalf.

Rayel Markhin
In A Tight Spot, One Might Say
Sat Aug 31 08:38:52 2002

OOC: And it continues…

“Perhaps Guydin made this one,” Rayel murmured as she ran thin feelers of saidar over the offending shield. She felt a drop of sweat trickle from the side of her forehead down her cheek and neck.

Her subject, whose features were now illuminated by a Power-generated light sphere, gave an almost imperceptible shrug. Rayel took it as a sign that the other woman did not want to chat. That suited Rayel fine, for even if she did want to, she couldn’t. Too much was at stake here.

“Hold very…very…still…” she said as she began working her way around her companion’s shield. “Light, it seems a lot simpler this time.”

“You are holding saidar,” the woman said stiffly, her rather angular face stiff with what bordered on fear. She sounded sour and her green eyes flashed with impatience. “That would make it a bit simpler.”

“Of course.” Right. No talking. Just working. No talking. Rayel pursed her lips and leaned in, frowning in concentration. Hurry, hurry! You have no time! No time to spare!

Almost immediately she found it, the snag in the weave that shielded her subject, the spot where, she assumed, the weave had been tied. “You have it?” the woman said, evidently seeing something suggestive in Rayel’s eyes. She didn’t answer, too intent upon her goal.

Although the work she was doing was just as complex as it had been the last time, it seemed far easier now. It did seem to work far more quickly than it had when she had been working on her own shield. Perhaps she was getting used to this process of unshielding people. Let us hope I never have another reason to unshield myself, she thought. She licked her lips as she slipped the finest filament of saidar she could hope to handle into a nearly sealed breach in the shield.

“There!” she exclaimed in satisfaction, and watched in alarm as the shield unravelled instantly, becoming a mess of small threads of the Power which quickly lost substance and dissolved into the air. The freed woman gasped loudly as she gained her freedom, and slumped forward, her face grey with relief. “Thank the Lord…”

Rayel had to smile at her. Then she remembered their predicament. “Hurry! We must leave this place. We haven’t much time.”

The other woman regarded her momentarily, a look of mild concern fast fading, and then nodded firmly. “Yes. Yes, let us leave.”

It was only as Rayel reached the door that the oddness of something her companion had said struck her. She pulled up short, the door slightly ajar, and frowned.

“What is it?” the woman said from behind her. Rayel could sense that she was very close. She was also as tall, if not taller, than Guydin. An imposing figure. Statuesque. Unfamiliar…

The freed woman gasped loudly and slumped forward, her face grey with relief. “Thank the Lord…”

The Lord?

“Are we going or not? You yourself said we haven’t any time to waste.”

Rayel’s heart was in her throat. She had to force herself to open the door the rest of the way, and found that it wouldn’t move any more. All the time she was remembering each and every rare occasion in the past when she had heard people refer to “the Lord” rather than the Creator. The Lord. The Great Lord.

“You could try stepping out of the way,” the woman said dryly. “You cannot open a door if you are blocking its path.”

Rayel blinked. “Oh.”

Another moment passed in which Rayel tried desperately to make herself move.

“Are you certain you are well?”

The woman sounded puzzled, but there was something else in her voice that raised Rayel’s hackles. Some new hint of alertness, something that suggested she had been tipped off on Rayel’s thoughts. If Rayel was going to restore the situation she had to act fast.

“Uh, yes…I am sorry. I felt faint for a moment there.”

No, no, no! Aes Sedai do not apologise to strangers! Even if that stranger is another Aes Sedai! Fool!

She stepped into the shadowed hallway and moved to the far wall, turning slowly. She tried to make it seem as if she were surveying the length of the hall in either direction, when in actual fact she was overwhelmed by the urge to study the woman whom she had just set free.

That woman stepped out of the room they had both been in, once again shrouded in shadows now that Rayel had let her light sphere dissipate.

“Is everything in order out here, Rayel?”

The woman spoke carefully, deliberately, placing both hands on the front of her dress and smoothing the skirts almost absent-mindedly. There was something disturbing in the calm movement, something that kept Rayel on a razor’s edge, planted tensely on the spot.

“The hallway…appears to be clear.”

She saw the woman’s mouth open, saw something in those green eyes that chilled her, and heard a sound to the left that told her she’d been mistaken after all. Before she had the chance to investigate the sound, she saw the woman opposite her do so, swivelling her gaze to Rayel’s left.

“On the contrary,” she said, almost so softly Rayel could not hear, “I believe we have company.”

Out of the shadows stepped Guydin and her petite cohort, each wearing a mask of stone.

Rayel Markhin
A Distant Silver Glow
Sat Oct 19 21:25:10 2002

OOC: I’m going to call Guydin’s companion Blue (because she’s dressed in blue and has blue eyes). Can’t be bothered writing “Guydin’s companion” every time. *S*

IC: Rayel followed the woman’s gaze, unable to decide which could represent the greatest threat: the woman she had just liberated or the “company” now joining them. She decided that it must be a contest of two evils, and what remained to be seen was which was the greater.

Guydin and her companion, Blue, remained stone-faced. Guydin opened her mouth to speak, and Rayel embraced saidar. On some strange impulse she made a fireball and sent it flying right at Guydin. She was dismayed to see the fire spread and crackle against a shield that the target or her companion had erected just in time.

I know who my enemy is, but do I have any friends here? Rayel thought frantically, throwing another fireball from her fingertips and darting sideways. She had no time to think, though. She had to act.

Be steadfast. The words came to her over space and time, sounding as calm as they ever had. It was fitting that a mysterious “voice” telling her to be steadfast would sound steadfast itself. The way back will come but once.

She blinked at what she saw next. Beyond Guydin and Blue there was a silvery glow, but she could not see the source of it. She remembered seeing an arch earlier, remembered feeling almost compelled to go towards it, but she could see no arch now – only sense that she had to get past these women, had to in order to save herself. She had no idea how she could possibly know any of this…but deep down, she just knew.

“Fool!” she heard someone cry. “Do not let down your guard!”

Rayel blinked as a breeze ruffled a few loose strands of her hair. The breeze was what had assaulted her instead of the deadly barrage of ice arrows that had just been deflected from its path towards Rayel – and she saw the woman she had freed turning away from her, turning on Guydin and loosing some strange, deadly-looking weave of her own. That woman saved me, Rayel realised. She saved me, and yet earlier… Earlier, she thanked the Lord for her good fortune. The Great Lord.

Blue had clearly set her sights on Rayel, assuming for some reason that Guydin could take care of herself. The latter and Rayel’s former cellmate were now locked in a fierce battle with saidar. To any ordinary observer it would seem like they were merely standing opposite one another, engaged in an intense struggle of wills, assaulting each other with nothing but hard stares.

Now Rayel had her own fight on her hands. She managed to duck out of the way just in time to avoid a strange series of fiery splinters showered at her from Blue’s hands. For the briefest moment she struggled to think of what she should do. For a very short moment she had what felt like her very own block, and in that moment she thought that her mind might burst and crumple under the pressure. But then bit-by-bit it came flooding back – the knowledge she had accumulated over the years, knowledge of every single deadly or semi-deadly weave she had ever been taught. Seizing on the first one she stumbled across, she prepared to enter into the battle of her lifetime. She knew it would be a fight to the death.

She channelled heavily with Fire and Spirit, weaving a small pattern that transformed itself into something far greater – as the caterpillar becomes the butterfly. An immensely beautiful Fire Flower, a magnificent plume of reds and golds and yellows, exploded into the dark hallway with a strange lack of noise. She saw Blue’s face as the plume unfolded before her, saw the woman’s eyes widen, her mouth becoming a wide ‘O’ of surprise. She felt a rush of elation at the expression saw there – she was winning!

But wait; it was hardly over. Blue was the furthest thing from incompetent. She had, somewhat predictably, prepared her own defence, perhaps having anticipated Rayel’s actions, or perhaps merely taking advantage of incredibly honed reflexes. Rayel’s Fire Flower was enveloped in a miniature tidal wave of moisture, a tidal wave suspended there in the middle of the hallway and flowing from Blue’s fingertips. The fire she had generated crackled, hissed and dulled until it no longer existed.

Rayel knew the woman would begin channelling immediately, coming up with some other weave to throw at her. She had to get there first, but she had to do something unpredictable, and buy herself some time. Clearly she could not hope to defeat the woman with strength alone – she must be on her toes constantly if she was to have any hope of countering Blue’s greatest strength – the fluidity with which she channelled, and the agility of her thought processes.

She began to construct two weaves at once, being very careful not to let the two of them come into contact with one another. The first was a fireball, far quicker to make than the second. When she had completed the first weave she held it there, suspended, trying to keep a close eye on Blue’s own movements at the same time as paying adequate attention to her own. She could feel her strength draining from her already, but refused to let it get to her. Too much was at stake here, in this battle of a lifetime.

Be steadfast, the voice murmured. The way back will come but once.

Rayel Markhin
Darkness Swoops In
Fri Nov 8 19:36:38 2002

Blue smirked at one point, clearly focusing mostly on the fireball that Rayel was gradually making. She probably things she has me defeated already, Rayel thought as she tried to shield her other activities by making the fireball. But Blue was not completely naïve. She caught on to Rayel’s intentions soon enough, yet Rayel was at least one step ahead of her. Just as she loosed the fireball she completed her other weave and put all her strength behind releasing it into the air before her.

As her shards of earth and fire sprinkled down from above, a scream ripped through the hallway, but it was not Blue’s or Guydin’s. Nor was it Rayel’s. Something had clearly happened to the woman Rayel had freed from the shield earlier. She wanted nothing more than to stop what she was doing and look around, to find out what had happened, but she forced herself to concentrate on her own situation. A moment’s hesitation could well be the end of her here.

She began immediately to weave some protection around herself as her weave began to do its work. The shards of hot fire and sharp earth began to swirl around Blue, and some of them found their target, burning and slicing at the woman’s skin and further damaging her beautiful silks. The woman grit her teeth against the pain but, impressively, never once called out in pain. She did call Guydin’s name once or twice, and that was when Rayel, who was trying to weave a protective shield around her to ward against fire weaves, realised that the other Black Sister had been inactive for quite some time. She made the mistake of giving in to her curiosity this time and craning her neck in search of Guydin even as she continued to work on her weave. She did see Guydin slumped against a wall a small distance away – whatever had brought Rayel’s companion down had evidently drained Guydin of strength also – but at the same time she lost control of her weave.

She had made too many hasty moves in a row, demonstrating the depth of her exhaustion. The effort she had expended throughout this day in channelling had steadily worn her down. She could hardly believe that she was still standing considering all that she had done and was still doing. But she supposed that she continued to fight because she had no choice, or none that she was willing to take. She kept fighting to stay in control, and somehow she succeeded for a long time.

Finally she had set a fire shield in place, knowing that she was still open to every other kind of attack that Blue could throw at her. She suddenly realised that Blue didn’t seem to use Fire all that much. In fact, her favourite types of weave seemed to be anything but Fire ones. I should’ve made a different shield, she thought miserably, wanting to sit down and start crying but finding that she was incapable of doing so. Light, what was I thinking?

And then she was hit, at last having been caught by surprise in her exhausted state. Blue was nearly falling over by this stage as well, and it seemed the two of them had worn each other down at an approximately equal rate, but although her weave was slightly off target, it did strike Rayel’s shoulder. A sharp triangular shard of ice, about ten centimetres thick at the base, dug its way into the flesh of her shoulder, piercing her skin and flesh until the tip came to rest against her bone. It began to melt immediately, for Blue clearly did not have the strength to maintain the weave. The woman stood there in the middle of the hallway, wavering, trying to keep her eyes open, as Rayel screamed in agony.

The chip of ice was sending the coldest chill through her body, and that chill came to rest in the very heart of her marrow, chilling her to the core. Her teeth began to chatter and she fell to her knees, and then slumped onto her side, unable to close her eyes while, further down the hall, Blue was unable to keep hers open. Both women were on the floor now. Rayel was unaware of very little besides the pain that was gradually being numbed by a deep chill that settled into her, and the sight of the floor tiles mere centimetres from her face. Then darkness swooped in and for a while, at least, she knew nothing but a voice telling her to be steadfast and reminding her in a rather panicked voice that the way back indeed only came once.

Rayel Markhin
Decisions, Decisions
Fri Nov 8 20:25:50 2002

OOC: Going to call the woman Rayel freed from the shield Shadow, even though that’s not her real name.

Gradually she became aware of herself, of the fact that she existed. The darkness began to fade, only to swoop back in, and then fade again. It rose and fell like a petulant tide, unable to decide where it wanted to be. Finally it began to recede further and further, and she realised that she was moving. Not by choice, of course, but she was being moved nonetheless. The next realisation told her that she was being dragged somewhere. A pair or two of rough, angry hands maintained weak but apparently determined grips on her arms, while letting the rest of her trail behind.

When she opened her eyes and tried to focus, the first thing that became clear was the ceiling far above her. The second was that she was in a lot of physical pain, and that the rough handling by the hands on her arms wasn’t helping. Her shoulder, which had been pinned by the triangle of ice earlier, throbbed unbearably. Letting her head loll to the side – not really having any other choice in her current weakened state – Rayel saw that she was being dragged along one of the Tower hallways, and that the person dragging her was out of her line of vision, behind her.

Her head heart. Oh, how her head hurt. Then she remembered it all. Remembered how her head had come to hurt. Not only had that chip of ice chilled her to he core, but she had been using so much of saidar for so long that she had nearly ruined herself. She probably needed water and food to replenish her body’s resources. But she was hardly in the position currently to go and get herself some. She was too busy being dragged against her will.

For a moment the darkness began to impede on her vision again, and strangely, she expected to be enveloped by a bright glow that would divide her into millions of pieces and then reform her again. But her vision strengthened again, and she kept her eyes closed as she tried to think of what to do.

The way back will come but once. When the voice came this time it seemed far more distant than it had in previous instances. It also seemed resigned, as if it wasn’t really motivated to bring her the message, but had to anyway, because that was its function. Be steadfast, it said then, but it seemed to Rayel that it was rather saying, I tried; do what you want. It did not seem angry or hurt, just sad and tired. Don’t leave me, she thought in despair, wanting again to cry and, also again, finding that she could not. Please don’t leave.

“I…can’t…do this anymore,” someone gasped, and as it was a mere whisper, Rayel couldn’t recognise the voice. “I just…am…so…so tired.”

“Shut-up,” Guydin snapped from a distance, grunting somewhat – it seemed she was struggling with some physical burden too, if it wasn’t just her injuries from the earlier battle. Rayel’s foggy mind slowly figured that, if that person farther away was Guydin, then the person dragging her must be Blue, now recovered – somewhat at least – from their altercation. Of course, other friends could have joined Guydin, and one of those could be the one dragging Rayel now. Rayel had no way of knowing while she was being treated like a sack of potatoes.

“How…dare you… I…am Melarintha…Zeznanie…Anjell…Verdis…Langes…”

“I know-what your-name is, fool,” Guydin grunted harshly. Rayel still could not see anything but the ceiling and, when she tucked her chin in, the receding hallway, but she wondered if Guydin was dragging Shadow, the woman Rayel had freed from the shield earlier. “But you do not seem to realise that I do not care.”

Melarintha? Could that be Blue’s name?

“Where…are we…going…?” Melarintha gasped, clearly not doing too well physically. Her progress along the hallway had seemingly slowed, for she now dragged Rayel with more jerky and slow movements.

“We are going straight to Leilan!” Guydin yelled, and it seemed like she’d stopped in the middle of the hallway. Melarintha went on for a few moments more, in a zombie-like state, before stopping too. A deep silence filled the hallway before Guydin continued, in a somewhat calmer voice. “We are going to Leilan’s room, and we are going to leave that fool there while we take care of…of this one.”


“Yes, yes, Agnene. What is your point?”

More silence, and slowly Melarintha began to loosen her grip on Rayel’s arms. “I…don’t want to deal…with that.”

“Well, that is a pity indeed,” Guydin said angrily. “Because we have no choice but to deal with it. She is here. She…is a traitor.”

“She is still…on our side…to a…degree…”

Guydin’s eyes flared. “How can you say that?! She is a traitor, nothing more, nothing less! And you had better recover soon, because I’ll need your help with her.”

Rayel wondered if that meant that, at the moment, Melarintha could not channel, being too exhausted. Her mind began to work with all the pieces of information she had gathered.

“I…won’t…kill…a fellow…” Melarintha said tiredly, seeming to become more exhausted with every passing moment.

Guydin’s eyes narrowed and she hissed, “Even one who killed your precious Elsen?!”

The silence this time was briefly infinite. Seemingly in despair, Melarintha released Rayel completely, letting her slump down onto the ground. She grunted out loud, involuntarily, and Guydin’s eyes flew to her. She closed her eyes again but too late – Guydin had seen her. She was sure of it.

After a bit of shuffling, she heard the woman moving closer to her. She opened her eyes again, hastily embracing saidar and forming a simple but deadly weave. It only took two or three relatively thick threads of Fire to make it, and a few tiny strands of Spirit to bind it together with a strength that it would otherwise have lacked. Although Guydin embraced saidar as soon as she realised the danger, she left it too late. Rayel loosed her weave and watched as it flew at Guydin, a brightly burning dagger of fire whose edges were as sharp as any ordinary metal blade, and whose heat was especially good at eating through flesh.

She did not allow herself to be sick as the fire dagger cut through Guydin’s face at the same time as she began to loose her own hastily prepared weave. Guydin dropped to the ground instantly and lay there twitching, her ruined face a horror to look upon. Her just-prepared weave flew from her fingers as she fell, but became too warped and muddled to end up what she had intended it to be. It was some kind of fire weave that died in mid air, but nonetheless sent a small wave of heat at Rayel and probably at her former captor behind her also. Guydin hadn’t even had the chance to scream before death claimed her. Rayel did feel nauseous, but she managed to keep her stomach sufficiently quelled.

She knew who Leilan Sedai was: who Leilan Sedai really was, besides a Green Sister. She knew, and she never wanted to meet the woman again, knowing what might happen to her. For that reason, she had struck out at Guydin, her one-time friend, without thinking. She couldn’t allow herself to think now either, at least not about the horrible death she had just caused another human being. She had to take care of herself. She had to.

It is alright to take care of oneself at times, she told herself, hoping she could come to believe it, to eradicate the guilt that had begun to eat away at her. It is alright to be self-centred sometimes…particularly when one’s life is in danger. Isn’t it?

She began to struggle to her feet, and as she twisted around she noticed two things: one, Guydin had indeed been dragging Shadow – or Agnene, anyway – along; and two, her own captor had indeed been Blue, or Melarintha. As she stared up into that now terrified face, she decided that somehow the name did suit her. It suited her noble appearance, if not her utterly ignoble spirit.

“Please, please, please, no, no, no, no, no, no,” Melarintha ranted, backing away from Rayel. She looked absolutely terrified, and it seemed odd to Rayel that she should be the one inspiring the fear in her. She was after all on her hands and knees, nearly as exhausted as she had been when she passed out earlier, and barely able to hold herself upright even to this degree. How could she be a frightening figure in Melarintha’s woman’s eyes?

“You are Black Ajah,” Rayel said tiredly, clenching her jaw and then finding that it took too much energy. “You…and her. Her. I used to know her reasonably well. We used to…have conversations.”

“I do not want to die, I don’t, I don’t, please, please,” Melarintha hissed, eyes round and quite insane now that Rayel thought about it.

“You are Black Ajah.” Rayel’s voice gradually transformed, being injected with a degree of coldness that surpassed the weariness it had formerly contained. “You…are the traitor here. You…”

“Do you know about Agnene?” Melarintha asked suddenly, reversing her movement to hasten forward towards Rayel, crouching in an odd way with her hands upturned and her arms outstretched, seeming like she was pleading for her life at the same time as promising to tell lots of deep, dark secrets in return for mercy. “She is Black Ajah also. She serves the Great Lord. But she is not our friend. Oh, no. She killed one of our own. She has turned renegade, you see.”

Black Ajah… Rayel felt inexorably exhausted, thinking of Shadow, or Agnene, as Black Ajah also. I freed her from the shield, she thought with a shudder, but then remembered how Agnene had saved her from Guydin’s deadly weave a while ago. Perhaps she didn’t save me. Perhaps she only saved me in order to save herself.

“We hate her. But we do not hate you. Oh, if only–”

“You recall,” Rayel said coldly, “how Guydin told me how sorry she was that things had come to this?” Melarintha nodded, wide-eyed and expectant. “Well, I might as well say the same thing now. To you. Here.”

Rayel Markhin
Recovery and Loss
Fri Nov 8 21:13:00 2002

Rayel’s words perplexed Melarintha, but she knew they didn’t bode well for her. “Wh-what…?” she murmured, lower lip trembling.

Rayel said, “You would be killing me now if you had your strength. That doesn’t make it all right for me to kill you back. But all of your other crimes – most of which I have not heard about – justify it. At least in my mind.”

“Oh, no, no, no, please, please, please…”

Rayel suddenly saw the glow in the distance, the glow she had expected to see earlier but that she had missed. Be steadfast, the voice told her, for The way back will come but once. Rayel thought, it seems like it’s come numerous times today, but knew that she could not waste more time. She had to go. But should she get rid of Melarintha first?

“I have to go,” she said slowly, frowning in indecision.

Melarintha looked suddenly bright-eyed, as if she had suddenly thought of some plan to get herself to safety. “Do you know about Agnene?” she asked.

“You already told me about Agnene,” Rayel said, confused. “I do not need to hear about her again. I need to go. But…but first…”

“You don’t know everything,” Melarintha interrupted. The sureness in her voice unsettled Rayel, and she considered killing the woman right here and now, on the spot. “You didn’t…recognise her. Because, well, she has…”

It appeared that Melarintha had regained quite a lot of her strength in the moments that had passed since Guydin’s death. That told Rayel that she should not hesitate. She glanced once at Agnene, and then made a quick, difficult decision. She would have to leave the woman there, not ever knowing what could have come of their relationship. She was absolutely sure that Agnene would never have been her friend, because she could never befriend a member of the Black Ajah. But she would certainly never have been an outright, hated enemy either. Not in the way that Guydin had been in the end. Or in the way that Melarintha was now. Do not forget what she is, Rayel warned herself, and began to step around the petite woman.

Melarintha looked almost disappointed, and turned on the spot to watch as Rayel slowly moved away, towards the now flickering glow that shone from around the nearest corner in the hallway. Rayel glanced back and saw that the look of disappointment was slowly fading. Melarintha was sure that, although she wouldn’t get the chance to tell what she claimed to know about Agnene, she would at least escape harm. The fact that the woman looked so suddenly relieved and content unsettled Rayel. In fact, it made her think twice about her decision.

Be steadfast, the voice called. The way back will come but once. The voice had gained strength of conviction in the last little while, clearly thinking that perhaps there was hope for Rayel after all. The glow continued to flicker, suggesting that it was not as strongly present as it had been in the past. Rayel found herself in quite a predicament, but she kept moving and kept her eyes on Melarintha, giving herself time to think.

As the petite woman watched her moving backwards, she embraced saidar and saw a look of doubt flicker onto the other’s face. “Tell me what you know of Agnene,” Rayel said, still moving backwards, “or I’ll kill you horribly.”

It sounded like such a typical thing to say to a villain, and it reminded Rayel of all the adventure stories she had read in her past. She was no hero, yet here she was talking like one. And she knew that Melarintha was not stupid enough to assume that she was bluffing. Rayel knew, and had made it clear that she did know, that Melarintha was not yet strong enough to channel. She had almost burnt herself out in the earlier confrontation, and was still recovering. For that reason, Rayel could kill her if she wanted, even though she was walking away from her bit by bit. Knowing all this, Melarintha took a brief moment to consider her options, and then shrugged almost imperceptibly and began to move forward again.

“Agnene Villareja is her name,” she said, clasping her hands together and cocking her head as if settling down to tell a story out of ancient folklore.

Be steadfast, the voice said, sounding slightly worried again. It seemed to want Rayel to know that the way back definitely only came once, and that this was her chance. If she wasted it, she would be stuck in the hallway with Melarintha. She took bigger steps backwards and finally came to the corner, which she rounded. She glanced briefly sideways and saw the arch in the distance. She turned the corner and Melarintha came with her, seemingly happy to divulge the story of Agnene if it meant she could have her life in return. Rayel did not want to kill the woman at this moment, in spite of the fact that she was Black Ajah. She had had enough killing for one day.

“She was a wonderful Blue Sister,” Melarintha continued, “and her fellow Blues aspired to be like her. Although when she joined the Ajah she was very young, she set a good example from the beginning. She was said to have been one of those Blues who was more like a mixture of Blue and Green. She was not afraid to fight. To kill, when necessary.”

“And what is the point?” Rayel asked impatiently, still moving backwards, edging closer to the archway. She had just received another warning about the way back coming only once, and she had sensed the growing concern in the voice. The arch behind her began to flicker more violently, and sometimes it even disappeared all together. For some reason, whenever Rayel glanced back and saw the arch flicker out of existence, she was struck by a strong sense of despair and fear. She felt like running towards the light, but she could not tear herself away from Melarintha’s story either.

“Let me continue,” Melarintha had said right after Rayel’s interruption, and now she did so, explaining a little bit about the life of the apparently great Agnene. Rayel thought as she listened that it was odd she had never heard of Agnene. She surely would have if the Blue had been so important, wouldn’t she? Perhaps not, considering Rayel had spent much of her time at the Tower tucked away in private study rooms trying to learn all that she could about various crucial subjects, or in her room, alone, thinking.

“Agnene was a very mysterious figure,” Melarintha said softly, smiling slightly. “When she arrived at the Tower, she was…well…practised. She did not have a smooth face, but she had used the Power before, and it almost seemed as if she had been taught by some of our own Sisters. For example, she had somehow acquired many habits similar to Serene Sedai’s when it came to weaving with Fire. Also, she nearly perfected Lanas Sedai’s Ring of Earth weave on her second day of trying. She had…experiences under her belt.”

The way back will come but once! Be steadfast. Rayel was standing on the threshold, and she kept alternating between glancing back at the light that nearly touched her skin and forward at the Black Ajah member who was speaking to her in a hypnotic, story-telling tone.

“In time it was discovered that she had in fact been at the Tower before as a student. She had had a close friend or two, but none compared to the relationship she had with one girl in particular. The two had met each other on their way to the Tower, and had become fast friends. They had…strange things in common.”

Rayel felt her hackles rising, and she wasn’t even sure why. Her scalp began to tingle as Melarintha continued to talk.

“On their first day in the Tower they met the Amyrlin Seat, and one of them fainted right there in her office.”

Rayel’s skin was clammy with suddenly cold sweat. Her heart seemed to slow as it was squeezed in a painful vice. She winced and struggled to breathe rhythmically. On Melarintha’s face was a look of something close to triumph.

“The two of them shared some kind of link: a psychic bond, not like when a Sister takes a Warder, but something along those lines. They could actually read one another’s thoughts. No one knew how it had happened. There has been speculation in past years that they were related, somehow, were blood kin who had through pure chance located one another on the way to the Tower. Yet they did not look very much alike, and they had come from completely different areas of the land. There were numerous other notions, too, including the perhaps not so absurd suggestion that they had both been reborn into new bodies but had retained their old spirits. In the end, no clear determination was made. These deliberations went on after Agnene’s disappearance, of course. The truth about her and that…friend…of hers was only revealed when she returned to the Tower under her new guise.”

The way back will come but once, the voice said, and behind Rayel the archway flickered out and stayed gone for almost eight seconds. Rayel could tell because when it was gone Melarintha’s face and torso were bathed in shadow. When it returned her skin lit up again in the soft glow of light.

“In any case, when Agnene appeared, she wasn’t content to go on as she had been earlier in life. She was…unhappy. She was so very angry that the old times had been stolen from her. And she wanted revenge. But more than that, she wanted to try something new. She wanted to see if the other side would fail her in the way that her old one had. So she joined the ranks of the Black Ajah, and oh how she shone!”

Rayel’s heart had turned to stone, even as she tried to reason with herself. What Melarintha was saying was that back there, in the hallway they’d exited, slumped on the ground where Guydin had dropped her, was Marana al’Jade, now known as Agnene, a Black Ajah version of her former self. Marana, the woman that Rayel had had an intensely close and inexplicable link with; who had affected her life both positively and negatively for decades now; and who once upon a time she had thought she could never live without. How was it fair that here and now, decades after the initial loss, and years after she had finally come to accept reality as it was, she should be reminded of all that had been lost in such a dreadful way? How was it fair that the pain should all resurface in this overpowering wave?

“Black Ajah?” Rayel said bluntly, wanting to vomit right then and there. The way back will come back but once, the voice repeated almost shrilly, and the arch winked out of existence. It seemed permanent this time, for at all other times it merely flickered and died. This time it had literally disappeared in an instant. Rayel’s emotional agony was suddenly consumed by her sheer panic. Come back, come back, come back! she yelled inwardly, no longer facing Melarintha. The woman continued to speak in spite of being momentarily ignored.

“Agnene Sedai did some of our best work, Rayel,” the woman said, perhaps attempting to completely shatter the heart that in Rayel’s chest had already been severely fractured moments earlier. “She was one of our true stars, the one we all looked up to. Not only did she shine in the ranks of the Blue, but she consumed everyone else in the ranks of the Black with her brightness.”

“What became of…Agnene?” Rayel asked dully, alternating between longing for the return of the arch and longing for someone to knock her unconscious. She didn’t think she could count on even Melarintha for that – the woman was enjoying having her awake too much.

“Oh, Agnene made a few wrong moves, and finally got herself exiled. Killing our fellow Sister was only the first in a series of dastardly misdeeds.” Melarintha shrugged, raising her eyebrows. “Nevertheless, she will endure as one of the most renowned Sisters in Black Ajah history. And besides, she is still a Blue, even if she has sunk below the heights she used to stare down from.”

The arch winked into existence and Rayel turned on her heel, preparing to launch herself forward into it.

Melarintha’s voice stopped her. “She remembers that friend of hers, though. Rayel Markhin. She remembers, and it consumes her. I believe that, deep down inside somewhere, she still holds you in high regard.”

She turned slowly to face Melarintha as the voice whispered inside her to be steadfast, and in the light of the arch it seemed that the petite woman’s face had taken on a new expression. To Rayel’s eyes she looked purely evil, and the sight of her sent chills down her spine, and into her very core, much like the triangle of ice that had sent literal waves of cold into her earlier. Goosebumps sprang up all over her skin.

“I believe now it has come for us to say goodbye,” Melarintha said, quirking her eyebrows. “It has been…educational.”

She reached forward suddenly to shove Rayel backwards – into the Arch. Rayel’s mouth opened in a wide circle of shock, and at the last moment she embraced saidar, knowing with a sudden sharp certainty that if she did not kill Melarintha, many others would die at the woman’s hand. Perhaps even Marana, a small voice said inside her as she loosed a deadly weave that formed a horizontal scythe. She had intended to cut off Melarintha’s head but she fell backwards into the light before she could see if her plan had succeeded.

Her last thought before being impossibly divided by the light was that she would never have the chance to talk to Marana again. Now, knowing that the woman was still alive, the thought caused Rayel the most intense emotional pain she had ever known, and as the light consumed her she wished for it to be a permanent arrangement. She did not want to exist anymore.

Rayel Markhin
Awakening (The End)
Fri Nov 8 21:25:43 2002

Unlike last time, she hadn’t lost consciousness by sinking into darkness. Instead it had been the light that mesmerised her, divided her, consumed her, obliterated her. Now she was fading in again, coming out of the light and finding herself lying face down on a cold floor, with sweat dripping off her and tears streaming down her face. She cried yet she was silent. Her face was smooth as the tears rolled down incessantly.

She turned her head and found that she was in the same room from which she had entered the arch what seemed a lifetime ago. Reality did not sink in until she caught sight of the Amyrlin Seat. Only then did she realise what she had achieved. Unlike the time that she had exited the arches following her test for Accepted, she was not consumed by a hatred of everything Aes Sedai for putting her through such an intolerable ordeal. Rather she recognised the reality of the situation: Marana was gone, at least in the existence she led, and what had happened in the arch, although horrific, had been her imagination. That was what she preferred to tell herself, anyway.

She got to her feet and tried to keep her balance, knowing that in spite of her resolve to handle this as best she could, she was going to have to do a lot of thinking about what had taken place in the arch at a later date. For the moment all she could manage was to stand upright. She watched the Amyrlin approach her, and felt a fierce pride blossom on her heart.

OOC: FINALLY! :p Is this ok for an ending? Anything I forgot to do? If not then yeah, bring it on :)

Ariana Sedai, Amyrlin Seat
Rayel Markhin Aes Sedai
Thu Nov 14 19:21:45 2002

Rayel’s pride, the swelling of her chest marked her triumph as she returned from the Arch whole and stronger for her ordeal. Ariana was proud of her newest Daughter. “You have returned to us, Daughter, pure of heart and mind, strong in body and the Power.” She dipped her thumb in a small dish of oil and annointed Rayel’s forehead with a circle. “So the Wheel weaves, you are now Rayel Markhin Aes Sedai of the White Tower.” Ariana took Rayel’s arm by the elbow and led the new Aes Sedai toward the dais where the Oath Rod was sitting. It as burning with a brilliant light, illuminated by weaves of Air and Water. As they stood at the dais, the other eleven Aes Sedai formed a half circle and embraced saidar through a link, focused by Madeline. Ariana took the Oath Rod from it’s perch and handed the fluted wand to Rayel, fingers enclosing over the Rod quickly.

Through Maddie, the eleven Aes Sedai and Ariana herself all channeled threads of Spirit into the Oath Rod. The burst of light that appeared from the rod was initially blinding, but when it softened, the swirls of colors that ran up and down the length of the rod were beautiful, such was a kaleidoscope. Small pieces of words that Ariana did not recognize as even Old Tongue floated within the light. “Rayel Markhin Aes Sedai, do you swear to speak no word that is not true?”

“By the Light, I swear to speak no word that is not true.” Rayel replied.

Rayel Markhin Aes Sedai, do you swear to make no weapon with which one man may kill another?”

“By the Light, I swear to make no weapon with which one man may kill another.”

Rayel Markhin Aes Sedai, do you swear to never use the One Power as a weapon except against Shadowspawn, or in the last extreme of a defense of your own life, or that of your Warder or another Aes Sedai?”

“By the Light, I swear to never use the One Power as a weapon except against Shadowspawn, or in the last extreme of a defense of my own life, or that of my Warder or another Aes Sedai.”

“At this time, you have been given time to think upon the Ajah you believe you would most benefit. Which Ajah do you choose Daughter?”

OOC: LOL, it’s about damned time, you!!!! :-) Congrats, Daughter!

Rayel Markhin
Ajah Time (Something New? Yes, Something Blue!)
Fri Nov 15 02:59:01 2002

She was breathless as the Amyrlin Seat approached, though this was unlike any experience she had had in her life so far, even compared to numerous other encounters with the leader of the Aes Sedai. She could hardly grasp the fact that she had just completed her final test, had utilised all the skills that she had learned over the long years in the ultimate battle, emerging victorious. It was a dizzying realisation, but she stood steady before the Amyrlin, her pride in her achievements sustaining her.

“You have returned to us, Daughter,” Ariana Sedai began, “pure of heart and mind, strong in body and the Power.”

Rayel waited as the woman dipped her thumb in a small dish of oil and moved it over her subject’s forehead in a circular motion. She then listened as Ariana said, “So the Wheel weaves, you are now Rayel Markhin Aes Sedai of the White Tower.”

How many times had she been utterly convinced that she would never hear those words? How many times had she railed in despair against the numerous perceived injustices? All those complaints seemed absurd now, and she realised how much she had grown. She realised also that she was no longer Accepted, a young woman struggling determinedly towards some higher goal. She had attained that goal. It was not over yet, of course. She had yet to swear the Oaths and choose her Ajah. Oddly, although she was not quite decided on the latter, she felt no sense of panic. She believed that the final answer would come to her when it was time.

She and Ariana approached the dais that housed the Oath Rod, a magnificent creation that took her breath away. After the initial blinding flare of light the Rod settled into a continuously melting and changing colours covering the entire spectrum of the rainbow. It almost seemed as if the rod sometimes invented colours, for some of them were certainly hard to describe. Perhaps that was only due to Rayel’s current state of mind, however.

Rayel watched as all twelve Aes Sedai, including the Amyrlin Seat, continued to channel into the Rod. The first Oath came to her ears as if over infinite space and time, and yet they rang clearly throughout her mind and settled into her marrow.

Rayel Markhin Aes Sedai, do you swear to speak no word that is not true?”

She answered without hesitation, her awe and euphoria increasing by the moment. “By the Light, I swear to speak no word that is not true,” she said firmly.

Rayel Markhin Aes Sedai, do you swear to make no weapon with which one man may kill another?”

“By the Light, I swear to make no weapon with which one man may kill another.”

Having spoken that Oath, she found that she had also made her decision. She felt a sense of incredible peace steal over her, the calm before the storm undoubtedly: peace born out of a certainty about where she was meant to be and what she was meant to do. Her heart flared with fierce pride as she listened to the next question.

Rayel Markhin Aes Sedai, do you swear to never use the One Power as a weapon except against Shadowspawn, or in the last extreme of a defence of your own life, or that of your Warder or another Aes Sedai?”

“By the Light, I swear to never use the One Power as a weapon except against Shadowspawn, or in the last extreme of a defence of my own life, or that of my Warder or another Aes Sedai.”

She could not believe it. It was done! The Oaths had been sworn, and there was only one step left. Now came the moment of truth.

The Amyrlin said, “At this time, you have been given time to think upon the Ajah you believe you would most benefit. Which Ajah do you choose Daughter?”

Rayel felt that she was bathed in all shades of blue. When she thought of her future she thought in blue tones. When she briefly closed her eyes she imagined the blue sky, its reflection in the water, and rather absurdly, a pair of blue silk slippers.

She opened her eyes wide and said in a clear, strong voice, “I choose the Blue Ajah, in the hopes that they are willing to welcome me, that I may serve amongst them to the utmost of my ability, giving my all.”

She did not quite know where all the words had come from, but they felt right as they flowed off her tongue. For the first time in many years she felt certain of something, at least. She waited expectantly, not even considering the possibility that her suddenly surging hopes could be dashed.

Ava Jeen al’Lesel Aes Sedai, Blue Sitter
With Open Arms and a Glad Heart
Sun Nov 17 18:00:12 2002

The Wheel turned, spinning out the age lace day by day, step by step, rotation by rotation. Invisible hands spun it, invisible hands turned it. But they aren’t invisible, Ava told herself as she studied her own hands, because each of us helps to turn that Wheel, and in thus doing so, our hands are the hands that weave the Pattern.

Her mind wandered along the Bond that was shared between herself and Jeral, out to the Training Grounds, where he was vigorously practising the forms in the crisp air. She was glad to have someone to share her Bond with, and at last she felt whole, calm, peaceful. She didn’t mind the work she had to do as a Sitter and as Ajah Head, and her stomach pains didn’t get any worse—in fact, they had just gotten better. Her eyes were slowly declining, but spectacles perched on her nose helped to fix that. Jeral kept her awake and alive and at peace.

So it was with pleasure that she had made her way down into the depths of the Tower today, to watch as another Accepted traversed the final bridge to Aes Sedai. Even with the population explosion in the Tower, raisings to Aes Sedai were rare enough that everyone wanted to attend. The Hall usually made it out in full force. Madeline, Zhareen, and their younger counterpart, Briar, were all there, as well as Ariana and Deiree. All eyes in the room were fastened upon the youngest woman, the one who was taking her final steps as an Accepted and passing over the threshold to Aes Sedai. All Aes Sedai in the room were remembering back to their time on that floor, with the twenty five women watching them with serene and composed faces. Ava remembered it from different perspectives—as an Accepted, as a Sitter, as one of the Assistant Mistress of Novices, and as the Amyrlin Seat. She decided that she liked her perspective now more than the others.

One by one, Rayel bespoke the Oaths that lay deep into the bones of every man and woman in the room. She shivered as they settled over her, binding her forever.

“At this time,” Ariana said, “you have been given time to think upon the Ajah you believe you would most benefit. Which Ajah do you choose, Daughter?”

Rayel’s eyes closed briefly, but then opened her eyes wide and said in a clear, strong voice, “I choose the Blue Ajah, in the hopes that they are willing to welcome me, that I may serve amongst them to the utmost of my ability, giving my all.”

Pride in her own Ajah swelled within Ava as she moved forward to select the blue-fringed shawl from the table. Solemnly and carefully, she placed it around Rayel’s shoulders, lifting her to her feet.

“By the Light, the Blue Ajah accepts and finds her worthy. We welcome Rayel Markhin Aes Sedai to the Blue Ajah. May she serve us long and well.” She kissed both of Rayel’s cheeks, and then gave her a hug. “Welcome, Sister.”

OOC: You know what, I just got a flashback to our RP a billion years ago where Evelyn found you and Marana out in the woods around Tar Valon. And now you’re Aes Sedai, and I’m raising you! Woot! *hugs* Congrats, Patricia! *bounces off to announce this & update everything she can*


Rayel Markhin
A Blue Sister
Tue Nov 19 02:36:09 2002

She felt exhilaration sweep through her as Ava Sedai, her teacher in many things, stepped forward and selected one of the shawls – the blue-fringed one – from the table nearby. She moved over to Rayel and carefully draped the shawl around the new Sister’s shoulders. Rayel stood up straight as the shawl settled down upon her shoulders, shivering almost imperceptibly at the feeling of the unfamiliar fabric coming to rest. It felt far lighter than she would have expected.

For one very brief moment she felt dizzy with anxiety about the path that lay ahead. She was a full Sister now, and with that rank came unfathomable responsibility. How long would it take her to settle into her new role – if she ever found it possible to settle in at all? But as soon as the dizziness had claimed her, it left again. She was surefooted and strong, elated and awed, but not cowardly. Never that.

She ignored the little voice somewhere deep inside that suggested she was trying to kid herself, that every woman was cowardly at one point or another, and focused instead on the words Ava Sedai now spoke.

“By the Light, the Blue Ajah accepts and finds her worthy. We welcome Rayel Markhin Aes Sedai to the Blue Ajah. May she serve us long and well.”

It is done, Rayel thought in amazement as Ava leaned forward to plant a soft kiss on each of her cheeks. The Aes Sedai then hugged her, and she realised that they were, although definitely not equals, on a far more even footing than they had been previously. She knew then that it would take some time for her to adjust to her newfound status.

“Welcome, Sister,” Ava said, stressing the last word undoubtedly mainly for Rayel’s benefit, to get the message through.

“Thank you,” she whispered back, not only remembering days of old when this woman had instructed her in the ways of saidar but also thinking of future days and what they might hold. “Thank you.”

OOC: Cannot believe it, it sure took a while eh? *lol*

I remember that RP too, and still have it saved to my computer and also have it on a web page somewhere :). I have a feeling that if Marana were still around we would both have been raised some time ago, as I would’ve been around this place more. But alas, that cannot be.

Thank you Joni for your help *g* I have to tell you it required an intense inner battle to get me away from the Green Ajah. In the end I did what was right for Rayel, not me *lol*. Besides, the Blue Ajah rocks!! Hehe.
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