The First Age
Collecting on a wager - Printable Version

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- Natalie Grey - 09-06-2016

Nythadri was not eager to find herself tangled in or witness to the games of an Asha'man and Aes Sedai, and was well versed enough in feigning ignorance to show no interest at all in their banter. The ice of her stare never left Fate's beautiful face, waiting for a dismissal that never came. Words eerily similar to Kekura's left the Brown's lips instead... but then, it was not unusual for Aes Sedai to single out her lack of aspiration and focus their disappointment upon it like keening claws against a sharpening block. It was as if they thought she did not realise she had no official affiliation among the Ajahs and must be reminded like a child, or perhaps there was some joint cognition among the Sisters that dousing her in shame would somehow rob of her of her wilfulness. Certainly, the accusation would have shamed many other Accepted. It was, after all, a rather dramatic failure for one who had worn the ring more than a year. But still Nythadri persisted in the pointless charade of refusal.

"Of course, Aes Sedai."
Words of rote that left her mouth without thought. It did not escape her, that hanging threat of hypocrisy; that she should be held accountable for tardiness, when the Aes Sedai herself had been late in the first place. But neither did it offend her. Sisters often set such tasks, and Nythadri had long since resigned herself to the intricacies of Tower hierarchy - and life here in general. Fairness did not enter into it. And in any case, the journey was short. The threat was not empty, exactly, just a reminder of where the power lay. Though to send her off with a man? Light, what might she get up to? Some of the empty docility in her gaze gave way to the spark of flame; though it was self-deprecating in nature, rather than predatory; acceptance of her heavily embellished reputation? Or something closer to amusement.

Attending the hall or escorting an Asha'man to the Travelling Grounds; it made no difference to Nythadri. Though there were worse things than a few extra moments in a man's company - even if that man was already inflamed by the charms of the Domani Sitter. Conversation that did not centre the Tower would be pleasant, at least. If he could form coherent words beyond anticipation of this... ride. Light she wished she could laugh; the hilarity tickled her, this odd predicament caught between the dance of her two superiors.

It wasn't until the Brown had left that Nythadri looked at Jai. A fine, dark brow rose to accompany the sudden smirk. "Fate Dark?"
She sounded amused, and looked it to. Not that it was her business to pry, but Nythadri was hardly the model of serenity when she did not need to be. And he had already side-stepped enough convention to make her comfortable shirking the expectations that came with the ring and dress. She waved vaguely in the direction they would take, and after a few backwards steps during which that smirk did not cease its dark amusement, she pivoted and led the way with the assumption he would follow. Because if they were late, and she was punished for it, he would pay.

- Jay Carpenter - 09-06-2016

Fate's sultry laughter was the embodiment of saidar itself. Or so Jai imagined it would be. All the more typical was his in return: a grin ever slightly more sophisticated than his ordinary smirk. As much sarcasm as he threw her way, some was returned. It was a nice game to play and a far cry from the inexplicable honesty Fate walked up on. And interrupted.

Thankfully, as Fate hoped, taste had returned. Slowly, yes. But over the course of the previous evening the flavor of lamb transitioned from tender and bland to succulent and roasted. The wine from smooth and dull to creamy and rich. Jaslene's cobbler held up to its promise, blending gooey warmth between flakey pastry served at the end of the meal. The table-company was as welcome a distraction as the home-cooking. If not more so. The clapping of shoulders of long-separated friends not at all thinking too highly of themselves to share a tight hug reunited a trio of lads that grew up together. Each now set in their life's purpose and providing successfully for a family. At least, for two out of the three.

Mikel having come from shift in the Tower, ate the meal in the remnants of the Guard uniform. And he did have a sword. Jai couldn't believe his eyes when he saw the former scrap of a boyhood friend walk in like he knew how to use it. Though Jai looked elsewhere when Mike was welcomed home by his wife. Jon, whose books were now rearranged thanks to Jai’s scrupulous eye, was going to find himself in much better straights as a business owner. It was his voice bellowing above his sister's who explained the interesting ingredients punctuating every dish as they came from the kitchen. Children bearing a variety of surnames roamed in and out of the presence of various levels of supervision. Adults lingering at the table, leaning on elbows and swapping stories, pitched jokes that became all the more tender-hearted and hilarious as empty bottles of wine accumulated among the group. Their sizeable party went through a case of rather expensive wine procured from a dusty rack and unlikely to be missed from the Kojima's collection. Jai would have given up ten times the cost of that case if it meant buying a few hours to feel normal again.

And like everything else, the respite had an end. One of his brothers finally posing the question everyone wanted to ask but none drudged up the courage to utter until a mountain of pulled corks displaced the table's centerpiece. Evidence of lowered inhibitions. So Jai? Are you going crazy?” Like puncturing a water skein. The night quickly deflated. And as these things tend to do, once the dam was broken, a flood of brave questions followed too fast and from too many directions for him to really answer any of them. No, he wasn't going crazy. At least, he didn't think so.

'Where in the Light have you been?' Everywhere.

'What does an Asha'man actually do, anyway?' Whatever he's ordered to do.

'What is it like to channel?' Can't describe it. 'Will you try?' No.

'Do you know the Dragon Reborn?' Seen him, never talked to him. Don't want to talk to him.

But Jaslene's tender voice was the final stab in the throat.
'Have you ever killed someone?'

When he didn't answer either way, Jai knew everyone knew. It was all honorable and noble to kill Darkspawn, human and inhuman alike. But to kill another person because they are your political enemy and not at all allied to the Dark One was a concept unknown to borderlanders and these good people of the neutral Tar Valon: his friends and family. The Foxes, the Basinthes, the Kojimas. Friends knit as tightly as any family and half intermarried already. When he left that night, he knew they all saw him differently. Like he walked in some shadow as constant as the uniform he wouldn't relinquish. He could see it in their eyes when he buckled that beautiful sword back to his waist. Upon final leavetakings, he felt their focus sink to the Black Tower's gifts at the collar like some inescapable scarlet branding.

And alone in city-cast, dim light of their front door, Jaslene's hug felt nearly like it had the day he left her; the day he should have asked for her hand. There was a final hint of resistance when they pressed on one another. Jai hoped it was due to a married conscious and not disgust. Either way, the embrace felt like a final goodbye and it had taken every scrap remaining from an already eroded judgement to not do something stupid. Like stroke her cheek and kiss her affectionately. If he had, and she returned it, to part again would likely sting more than if she slapped instead. It may wane at times, but Jai had some control.

Now, following that warm and fuzzy, happy memory, he found himself slapping stones with someone who could handle the game. An Aes Sedai of such high caliber he should be blushing and bowing not jabbing and smirking. Yet, for some reason, he preferred the latter.

"I won't deny it,"
expression of the Light's honest truth lit him, "There was weeping."
He nodded slowly, impressing upon the nearby Accepted the staggering extent of Fate's demonic manipulations.

"She blinded me too. You'd think a blindfold would have been easier?"
Stone flicked, he winked Fate's way without fear of retaliation. In fact, it would be welcomed.

But her news was met with a dose of reality. Responsibility and work, all that an Aes Sedai was required to accomplish. Well, Asha'man had the same restrictions. It turned a curious leaf. Without Fate as escort, he doubted her land-handlers would be pleased with random visitors waltzing in asking for a Razor.

Speaking of escorts, it seemed he was going to have the pleasure of Nythadri's company for some time longer. And it would be a pleasure. As such, he symbolically stepped out of the line of fire glaring between the two women. Fate's superiority demonstrated. Nythadri's? Glancing her way, there wasn't much to read. Then again, her slate wasn't a major departure from the last few minutes. That was, pretty blank. She'll fit in with the Sisters when she gets there. Which, according to Fate's treatment, was a while off if anything a man of the Black Tower could extrapolate.

Fate left and like most things in life, Jai found himself walking a path he never expected. This time, the company was decidedly nicer, and came with a few jabs of her own. He didn't mind. In fact, Nythadri was ironically animating.

"You think I'm going to turn that down?"
He was human. A living, breathing, heart-beating human after all. And it wasn't like he could court just anyone. That was just a bad idea, courting some down to earth girl. Not one Jai was eager to pursue one.

He was eager, however, to see what waited at these so-called traveling grounds and strolled with confident purpose toward it. Specifically toward whoever waited and where ever their gate would take him today. No anxiety accompanied them. He was in control of his own two feet, could go or not go. And was never defenseless. Alone yes, but not defenseless. He glanced at the woman beside him, confident coolness radiating from her as strong as if she were embracing the Source. They were by most judgement about as opposite as a pair could come. One, a figure of white and color, capped by the harshness of a beautiful winter, natural yes, but still brutal. The other, shadow and legendary drama draped his shoulders like a billowing cloak, flashing a friendly smile at those feminine faces lingering on his they passed on the way. Few stuck around long enough to find the desire for a second glance though. Nythadri and Jai were more alike than even they realized.

Setting fascination with her aside, and he was fascinated, he still walked alone. He made no effort to hide lingering looks of his own when Fate was around. It'd probably be a bad idea to level eyes on an Accepted for too long. Even if she was more intriguing. So he watched where they were going instead.

But if he had to bear her judgement over his selection in women, she should get to enjoy the fun.

"Wavering are we?"
Perhaps the ajahs were not appealing? It wasn't his business, but if she wanted to abandon this life, Tower strings might remain, but she had freedoms he didn't. Besides, Jai was not the golden teacher of noble dedications. If she asked his opinion, he'd tell her to leave if she so wanted and live it up out there.

But he didn't want an answer. Just to demonstrate a point. There were stronger curiosities.

"Didn't learn with Tumenn Darthane, did you?"
A well-known, Cairhienin-born bard with Nythadri's coloring; wavy dark hair, light eyes, pale skin; was taken out of circulation by a pair of Black Tower 'recruits' some time ago to be forever preserved by the slowing of channelers. Now he was one where the black turned staggering good looks and into a figure of sheer flawlessness. On top of that, the guy added some much needed life to many a quiet campfire with his stories set to music. At least, they did until he took a crossbow to the throat. Legion camps were never quite the same after his pyre cooled.

Any skilled player with callouses built up from memory after a noviate's delay might have learned from the hand of one used to High Chant and silver fingers. Like most, it was a long-shot, but coincidences seemed to be building up lately. Might as well see how far they go.

- Natalie Grey - 09-07-2016

“On the contrary, I think you would be a fool to turn that down.”
And she meant it. Find pleasure where you may find it, as far as she was concerned. Her amusement stemmed more from her silent observation that he was like an unknowing fly caught in a web than in judgement over the calibre of his choice of prize. And what man didn’t think he could handle a beautiful woman? Good luck to him. He might in fact need it. Or perhaps Fate would finally meet her match; either way, Nythadri would hardly be privy to the outcome of that teasing banter – or even what lay beyond the Travelling Gate – so she did not overly dwell on it. Curiosity was natural, but she did not care much for another’s personal business.

The question had the air of a repaid jab. He didn’t pause for an answer, but he got one. “No.”
She smiled as she said it, but there was no wavering, no uncertainty in either her answer or her lack of an ajah. Just stubborn pride. The Ajahs were nothing but political constructs – and ones that, as far as Nythadri was concerned, were outdated. She had heard of women carrying the mantel of one Ajah into the Test, to emerge with the colour of another draped around her shoulders. That was proof enough as to the pointlessness of declaration, even if the consequences for her as an Accepted were unpleasant. She would have to choose eventually, of course. Nythadri’s back might not bend easily, but the Tower never gave up. If she wished to belong to this institution and the freedoms it offered, she would have to capitulate. She knew that, she accepted that.

Though her answer was short, her tone was not offended. Poking at her commitment would do little to garner a rise, for whatever apathetic face Nythadri presented to the world, she did not lack dedication – and like most things she felt confident about, someone casting doubt on her neither fazed her nor provoked a defensive attitude. It was a predictably common question, and she rarely felt the need to qualify her reasons for remaining loyal to the Tower despite her obvious dislike of it as an institution. As frustrating an initiate as she must be to her superiors, she didn’t lack ambition. Of the options open to her, she chose the path of Aes Sedai. Make no mistake.

Her pace was not brisk, but neither leisurely. Jai kept what she assumed he considered an appropriate distance, so she kept to half a pace ahead; he hovered like black mist in her periphery, the details of his masculine form banished to the edge of her vision. Her pale gaze seemed rather lackadaisical about their surroundings; the architecture she had seen a thousand times, and pretty much the same went for the people – whether she recognised them or not. Most faces passed in a blur of indifference, punctuated by those rare splashes of colour that required some acknowledgement of deference. Her thoughts wandered with no particular aim or focus, separated from the menial, unskilled nature of the task.

He returned to the subject of music. It somewhat surprised her that he bothered to make conversation; he did not owe it to her to make the journey interesting, and she would have been neither surprised nor offended by silence. Let alone to ask something beyond polite pleasantries. She was an Accepted; it was usually the first and last thing any outsider understood of the banded hems; but then he was not quite outsider.

Nythadri brushed her thumb across the toughened skin of her fingertips, contemplating an answer. Before the revelation of his… contact with Fate Sedai, she would have spoken without hesitation. But the Brown Sitter was a powerful woman, and Nythadri wasn’t careless when it came to things she loved. To talk about her violin and her passion for music to a man who had an Aes Sedai’s ear… well, it carried risks for an Accepted like her. All it would take was a passing comment and her regular sojourns to a world in which she found actual peace might be a thing of the past, taken away as punishment for her complacency. She had a hard enough time reconciling the person she had become with the person she wished to be without the one thing that brokered a sense of balance between the two torn away. So it gave her pause.

she admitted after a moment – three or four paces of measured silence. “I’m not trained, not professionally. My father hired tutors for a time”
– pandering to the whims of his daughter, as he always had, until the money ran out. “But mostly I am… self-taught.”
She laughed, and there was nothing dark in it; just genuine amusement in reflection of her past - of the books she had trawled, the tunes she had learned simply through recalling melodies in the quiet of her rooms. Listening and copying and reading and practising, until her fingers bled and her muscles ached. Music among ladies was encouraged as a pastime, a point of interest to embellish otherwise vapid personalities, but entertaining beyond after-dinner frivolity was not. Women did not play in court, and ladies did not play in taverns. Thus Nythadri had stopped being a lady (in a manner of speaking) and in that innocent transgression spawned a wealth of rumour and mystery. What did the Lady Nythadri do with her time? Why was she so often absent from court parties? So often missing in the evening time, else spotted returning to her home in the early hours?

“One has to find pleasure where and when they can. I’m sure you agree.”
Her smile devolved to a smirk, though she truly meant the sentiment. “Considering which, I’ll spare you the boring detail of my musical aspirations. Bring attention to something you love, and the Tower will find some way to use that fact to their advantage.”
Not quite subtle, but she wanted to be sure he understood. He had no reason to want to cause her trouble of course, and she trusted to the general good-heartedness of people, but better he knew categorically that those callouses on her fingers should not really be there. "You have a marvellous eye for detail, Jai. You can tell a lot of someone by their hands, but not many care to notice the nuance of something so every day."
Another smirk, this one thrown in a sideways glance, but she did not pause for eye-contact. If she had any evaluations of his own hands, she did not share them unless asked. She doubted her assumptions would be as astute as his anyway.

A turn took them to a corridor with wide arching windows, the views outside of beautiful cultivated gardens and courtyards, some capped with snow, others untouched by the caress of winter. They would branch out soon, and the Travelling Grounds could be accessed not far beyond. She imagined they would have minutes to spare, though not many. "Do you know what she has planned? I envy you the journey, at least. It's been a long time since I even saw the city."

- Jay Carpenter - 09-07-2016

He had a ready retort on the tip of the tongue, prepared to fling back any number of possible girlish reactions. Jai was a man who appreciated the broad spectrum of women: from the dainty things who liked to blush giggles hidden behind their laced fans to the witty banter tossed back and forth from two playfully creative minds. When Nythadri responded simply, he checked her profile with an uplifted brow, surprised that nothing more followed. He never missed a step, but not often did people surprise him. Yet her cool answers shocked him half way to the Pit of Doom.

The evolution of her soon to follow smile-to-smirk tempered some of his worry, that either he had misread her from the beginning or he'd lost some of his touch. Highly unlikely. Then again, he was filling up today's quota for unexpected turns of events. Wasn't even midday.

Indeed half a step behind, as naturally he was not privy to the twists and turns they were taking to reach their destination, she may or may not see the settling of his amused gaze down to the ring and dress. Subtle, but not necessarily trying to hide it, he might just be a man of the Black studying the uniforms of the White. Though, given the particular model, likely the uniform was not the only reason to study her.

The amused facade cracked with an agreeing nod upon her suggestion that the Tower would use the objects of one's affections against them. There may be some base differences between conduct of the White and Black, but he would not put anything past the glorious power of Aes Sedai machinations. That she enjoyed her rituals, her secret was safe. The day he pinned on the dragon, he asked leave to visit Tar Valon once more. He was ordered to report to Tear. Bloody predictible.

"Haven't a clue what we'll find. Not too keen on getting tossed back in Arad Doman so soon, but a bet is a bet."
He'd leave the intrigue at that. Unless she asked for more. He didn't mind missing out on a bite if he could watch the catch circle.

"Thanks, but it’s not detail. It was a lucky break I happen to know the feel of a callous."
How to demonstrate? The glaze of darting eyes over a page written across by his mind interrupted their conversation.

"Since leaving we've taken four hundred, twenty-seven steps."
He looked down at her. Tall for a woman, but not quite at his shoulder. "I have, at least."
This time, when he looked her over, it was for another reason. "You're probably ninety percent my height."
No pause to do that easy calculation. "I'd guess three hundred eighty-four steps for you."
He shrugged and looked elsewhere.

He'd hardly call it a talent. More like bolts coming loose. The numbers had gripped his mind since childhood, but a certain major life event clenched their claws tighter around his skull ever since. The day he first touched saidin and vomited at the filth tainting it. "But you say that like a fellow captive of nuances. Have you some insight on mine?"
Lifted brows lined his curious grin. Absolutely innocent. Not at all a fisherman out on the water just for the sport. No, he kind of liked this fish.

- Natalie Grey - 09-08-2016

A bet with an Aes Sedai; it got more interesting. Brave, or foolish, or seeking a diversion? (a diversion from what, though?) Most at the White Tower had a general understanding of life at the Black; they were supposed allies after all. She had often heard the Asha’man spoken of as not much more than a great army of channelers, and that life there was not far removed from any soldier’s existence. But generalities like that were not much to go on. If she gave any thought on it, it was only to consider it potentially ill-fated to funnel every Asha’man down the path of war. The Dark One’s taint on saidin was not the only thing that could drive a man mad.

He wasn’t very forthcoming, but she supposed she should have expected that. Tossed back in Arad Doman? A strange way of putting it. She could only assume that it was not a bad experience with a woman, else why chase Fate? (not that she was aesthetically typical of her country) Which meant it was something else. It crossed her mind to ask; he had phrased it in such a way as incited questions, but perhaps he only meant the intrigue to nag at her. She was curious, but not so much as to start digging for the sake of it. A surprising amount could be learned by simply waiting, and watching.

"That’s an unusual gift."
Though it partly explained his earlier display in the front hall. "In your head, all the time?"
Nythadri knew what it was like to be dogged by thoughts that banished sleep, but nothing as persistent or distracting as that. Clearly he was able to live with it, but it was a fascinating thing to comprehend. A White would have a field day, and she seriously considered warning him against sharing such an oddity with people here. But she imagined he knew how to take care of himself, and the Black Tower would afford some protection if he was negligent enough to come to an Aes Sedai’s attention for more than sport.

His question made her laugh – which was perhaps an unkind thing to do since he was suddenly so composed of boyish innocence and charm. She half turned, and saw him looking at his hands like they weren’t a part of him at all, else trying to see them from another’s perspective. "I’m not so sure you would like the candidness of my answer."
Pretty as winter is to look at, it’s also brutal. Which was perhaps why Nythadri did not offer such observations up without first being asked; one who jumped into a lake of their own volition could not then complain that the water was freezing. "That sword at your hip isn’t just for show, not that I would expect anything less of an Asha’man. You have soldier’s hands."
She could have said killer; there was little distinction to her, but she imagined there would be to him. It wasn’t her intention to offend him, just to make wry jest of the uniforms that boxed both of them in. The sardonic tilt of her mouth as she spoke said as much, and the heated tease in her gaze suggested she might have said something more complimentary. But she wasn’t going to.

Because it wouldn’t exactly be appropriate to add that it was the duplicity of hands she found attractive. Hands that crushed but chose to caress. Hands roughened by hard labour that also expressed tenderness. Soldiers hands that... well, anyway. She might have also added that she envied Fate, and that such sentiment only grew the longer she talked with him. But she said nothing. Not because she was an Accepted who certainly shouldn’t be saying such things to any man, let alone an Asha’man, but because she didn’t think a man like him lacked ego, or those eager to stroke it. A brief hand gesture indicated a change in direction; crossing over Jai's path to a door that led outside. She went through first and held it open for him. Pale eyes watched him pass with the ghost of a smile.

"It isn't far, now."
The courtyard was, of necessity, clearly marked. They wouldn't simply stumble upon it while passing through the various gardens and groves that comprised the Tower's exterior.

"How long are you staying in Tar Valon?"

- Jay Carpenter - 09-08-2016

Many, including the Whites, could have a field day with Jai laid out on their coach. A good number had, in fact, though none of them were Whites. And likely not for sessions a White would sanction. Point was, he was probably screwed up enough to fascinate all of them.

It didn't take the Light's holy, revealing truth to know Jai was half way screwed up. Though really, these days who wasn't? The interesting part: he had no reason to be. Mikel now, his father used to wail on him on a regular basis as a kid. Yet he turned out alright: the sword-wielding Guardsman married to just about the greatest woman alive and raising their own curly-haired hoodlums. Well-liked, honorable, and earning deserved promotions. Jon's life long best mate ended up choosing his sister over him then took off with neither one invited along for the ride. Now, he was just as married as Mikel. And fertile apparently, given the gaggle of youngsters knocking on the grown-ups' knees the night before.

Jai, though? The guy had no excuse. He had the pleasure of loving, honorable parents. Education. Provisions. A name to be proud of and a sword to inherit, or kind of inherit. As a half-grown lad, Jai was the one doing the heart-breaking rather than the other way around. Yet for some reason, here he was, strolling confidently toward the rewards of a wildly entertaining bet against who could arguably be one of the most powerful and beautiful women in the world and enjoying the company of another equally stunning, witty woman. And he counted every step of the way. And the number of people they had passed. Divided into male and females. Subdivided into uniformed and civilian. And not from paranoia, though some might attribute it to the nature of his profession. No, just for the obsessive pleasure of counting. Though the nature of his profession did not help. All the while rearranging what was gathered to calculate patterns of predictability on the off chance it revealed some unlikely conspiracy.

By calling it a gift, Nythadri once more miscalculated him as something else. It won a downplaying smirk. He could measure return on a risk easily enough and Nythadri was unlikely to assign him the wholesome task of patterning statistics any time soon. To run up the battle movements of her enemies so to find the most likely time where one blow could do the greatest amount of damage. Tsorovan was right, it was useful; but not that difficult: finding the balance of maximum return for minimal risk. That was all. Nothing a great accountant couldn't do. Fortunately, out of those currently walking in the Black, it was work nobody else could do in real time. Figure as it happened. Watch, wait, calculate. Watch some more, wait for the right moment, go for it. Get the job done, leave, go to the next one. Try and find a game of cards between.

"No, not all the time."
He didn't look at her when he said it. It wasn't a curse. The answer was reserved, but he wasn't looking for sympathy. There was nothing to sympathize anyway. If there had been, he would not have sought it. He had a knack for numbers. Obsessing over them was probably a natural progression anyway. Akin to the way a master of the blade might imagine every mundane movement as the initiation of a killing blow.

When she answered, he smoothed down the black sleeves, landing on a pair of hands nimble enough to script neatly in ledgers, strong enough to wilt their leather bindings, though Jai would never want to. The study affirmed the reality he wanted to deny. Channelers had little need for a soldier's rough skin, and it wasn't the habit of moving camps, gripping the hilt, or life in a tent that thickened his hide. Had she chosen alternate phrasing, there would have been little in the nod to follow to reveal how deep the word might sting. If at all. However, neither would she have been wrong in her choice description. After all, that Eyeless left its mark on him, but only after he charged it. Ripping through Darkspawn with a sword was not a problem. Sought out, actually. Other sins, however? She was more optimistic than he concerning redemption. Theirs were more likely the agent of thickening which delved deep below the hide and not just of hands.

As soon as he did it, he belatedly wrote the sigh off as a smirk. It was all the better Nythadri assumed the frustration evolved from the change of methodical pace as an accountant to the haste of Dragonsworn anyway. She held the door open for him, but after passing by, he assumed its weight on his fingertips above her head so she might proceed first. And him gain some ground back in repayment for her service. He may not be so rigid as a native born Borderlander, but he could open a door for a woman. Clearly, White Tower second rank or not, she was not his inferior.
"After you, Nythadri."
Playfully, he tacked on her name at the end. Just to hear the sound of it. The accompanying grin was meant to smooth over some of those previous pessimistic hints. But not too much, there was no point severing the only bond between them. That is, inconsolable misanthrope.

They strolled. Jai tucked his hands back to where they were. Out of sight and mind. Far from easy reach to the corded hilt. Evidence of its necessity to an Asha'man though not of its value.

"I could ask the same of you?"
Teasing jaunts aside, he wouldn't make her answer, nor tempt her with the opportunity to join him. Someday, perhaps. When she had the same measure of freedoms he enjoyed. Perhaps for a game of cards. Not that Accepted were banned from card playing. He wasn't gifted with cards either; but very good at keeping count.

"My mother believes for a few more days. Don't know how she got the idea."
Because her son had nothing of his own packed for a journey. Of course, neither had he arrived with more than one bag either. A sidelong glance put Nythadri back in his view. "But given our destination, it seems I've only minutes left."
He shrugged, just a guy along for a ride.

- Natalie Grey - 09-08-2016

Perhaps it had been cruel to remind him of the uniform that dictated his life; it seemed to suck him back into that black shell, like the sun had hidden behind clouds. He might have lived a lifetime of regret by the tone of that sigh, drawn in by a smirk or not. It seemed quite probable that she had offended him. If she had, she didn’t feel much guilt; just a small measure of disappointment that she might have misinterpreted him. She wondered if there was enough time left to make an attempt at remedying the situation worthwhile, or if it might be better to simply shrug it off and let Fate improve his mood. As with most things, she eventually ended up skirting the line of acceptability, not really sure if what she said would be well received or not. Because quite suddenly he had hooked this fish - not necessarily for the reasons he had intended, but hooked all the same.

He put his arm over the door, and for the briefest of moments she was in his shadow. “It bothers you.”
Said with something of an accusatory tone, the ‘it’ not quite defined even in her own mind. It was hard to miss that brooding sense of dissatisfaction (although it would probably be more polite to ignore it) and although she didn’t know where it stemmed from, once she saw it – it was like looking in a mirror. Or a future. And that was not the most hopeful of feelings. She wished she had some insight as to the thoughts running through his head; not necessarily to console, but to truly glean if they were as alike as she was beginning to think. Or if there was some other reason for his broken attitude.

“You could?”
Playful sarcasm, but it was only half-hearted. There was much in this life that made her restless, but she was growing to accept that her path was fettered to the Tower - best to make the best of it. Her attitude towards that acceptance changed daily, but she was no intended run-away. Too prideful for that. Bending the rules, pushing boundaries; that was about the only thing that kept her motivated to grasping at optimism. And her violin. But she was not thinking about her own situation, she was thinking about his.

He had not imparted much, but (as much as she hated to admit it) daes dae’mar was in her blood. He didn’t need to say much for her to extrapolate a number of possible truths. She had no way of knowing how long he had worn the pins, unless she asked, but between duties he still came to visit his family, his home. Not for long though; unsettled, outsider. No sooner here than on another senseless journey, blown with the wind like he had no roots. Had something dissatisfied him in his homecoming? Or was this just ritual; periodically returning to observe a life he could never have?

“You don’t think a channeler can ever live a normal life?”
Or, approximation of normal. It was clear by the tone that the question meant a great deal to the asker; she made no efforts to hide that, whatever it may reveal about the person beneath the ice and derision. Though she didn’t make it explicit, she intended channeler to mean the Towers - Windfinders led normal lives, Wise Women led normal lives; by the definition of their culture, at least – but tower-trained were something else; something unnatural. She might have made the question more specific, but it was a subject that cut close to the bone, and she was not quite sure of how much of her vested interest she wanted to share with a man that would be half-way across the world in another few minutes. At least he had the option of escape, which was what she began to suspect he was doing; like a drowning man gasping lungfuls of air whenever he could puncture the surface. But how long could a person really live like that? How long before the fractured pieces were too irreconcilable, so that they no longer belonged together at all? What nature of person did it leave?

It was troubling.

The walls of the Travelling courtyard were already in sight; she doubted he would give her a satisfactory answer – maybe not even much of an answer at all, and she would resent him for it. Not that it was his fault; these were just the kind of subjects that clouded her head at night, and chased sleep into oblivion.

Edited by Natalie Grey, Sep 8 2016, 05:37 PM.

- Jay Carpenter - 09-08-2016

<dt>Daryen Daimon</dt>
<dd> Asha’man King of Arad Doman</dd>

The battle was long. Daryen was renowned for his prowess but his opponent was equally cunning. For every move forward more of his forces were lost or captured. The king was growing tired but he persevered, waiting. Waiting, for that perfect moment. Finally there it was, the opening he was waiting for. "Aha! Got you old man!"
Daryen's triumphant roar punctuated the swift placement of his black stone, the last in a complex move to trap a large group of their white cohorts.

His father chuckled good naturedly. "So you have. Maybe next time you can try to best your mother?" Sheik Daimon was the carrier of the recessive trait that painted several of his children pale, but the only hint was the sapphire blue of his eyes. His skin might once have been light but was stained as darkly as any of his countrymen by long hours spent in the sun. He was aging but handsome, with a square jaw and broad shoulders to match. The once rich brown of his hair was steadily giving way to gray, which he kept cropped short despite the trends among his countrymen. He had married into nobility after earning status for turning what started as little more than a mounted militia into Arad Doman's only true military force in a century. He still preferred the company of soldiers and horses to nobles. Except for his family, of course.

Daryen hesitated at the idea of facing his mother in stones. His father was a brilliant military strategist, but his mother pulled the strings of a good many of her fellows on the Council of Merchants and had waded the turbulent seas of court since she could walk. Daryen had faced her before and come away hurting and more than a few favors in debt each time. The very first time he nearly got himself engaged to one of her associate's daughters. A pretty girl, but marriage always put a bad taste in Daryen's mouth. He'd had to take over the duties of an exceptionally pregnant maid for three months to work his way out of that one.

The two men looked simultaneously towards the balcony where the woman in question sat straight-backed before her easel. Where age ravaged some women, Roseleattes beauty only ripened with time. Even sitting she was willowy and elegant, with coppery skin and straight black hair that fell well past her waist. Though the flower of her youth was long faded the core of it remained, sleek and stronger for it.

Roseleatte's brush paused as her eyes shifted to the men she would always see as grinning boys. She smirked, daring her cocky son to try his luck. Beside her, Kiaralil grinned behind her hand. The youngest child of the Daimon family was well into her early twenties but barely looked the part. She was slender and coppery as her mother but shared more of her father's face, giving her wide eyes, round cheeks and a beaming grin that would forever mark her with youth. She also received a full dose of his curls, which kinked like thick, swirling chocolate down her back.

Before an excuse could form on Daryen's own lips a movement at the edge of his vision snapped his gaze towards the entrance of the hall. "Yui! How lovely you are my dear, I could just kiss you,"
he threw his arms open extravagantly towards his astonishingly tall serving woman. She gave him a small, reserved smile, and beckoned for him to follow.

"Come, your highness. It would hardly do to greet your guests in the family sitting room." Were any other than family present she would not have spoken to him so, but she was a hard woman who knew precisely her place, and his, and that of every member of her staff and his court. A remarkable woman, and one of few he trusted with his life.

As usual she was right, and Daryen bid his family goodbye and set off with his serving woman to the house stables. Given the family's close ties to horses, the Daimon estate consisted of a moderate but lovely manor and acres upon acres of pastureland, along with three large stables and an arena. The most valuable stock were always kept closest to the house, so the walk was not long.

The courtyard before the private stable was grassy and lined with flowers and decorative trees not afforded to the more active training stables. It was here that Daryen stopped, wrenching saidin into his grasp, boring a hole through reality to a place he knew well. The Travelling courtyard of the White Tower, nestled in the heart of Tar Valon.

Daryen couldn't imagine the man Fate was going to allow onto the back of her most prized Razor. The eldest son of the Daimon household had never shared the fondness for horses his father and sister had built into an empire, but he appreciated beauty in all its forms. Warcry was an exceptional specimen. The only reason he remained in Arad Doman and not under Fate's watchful eyes was because he'd earned a glorious life out to stud. Except for the occasional parade where Daryen needed to look as kingly as possible and the regular workouts that kept him in fighting condition, the two-toned stallion courted his heard of mares and stuffed himself with grass and grain.

A silver point of light grew into a line and expanded, revealing the shining white architecture of Tar Valon in all its glory. Daryen did not need the contrastingly dark uniform to tell him the masculine face the gateway revealed belonged to an Asha'man. It was a face he knew all too well.

Thankfully Yui was the one to step forward and greet him. The elderly maid had always been fond of Kojima, though Daryen could not think of a woman who was not. The steel gray bun at the back of her head then swung heavily as Yui's dark eyes went to the Accepted, whom Daryen thought looked to be awaiting dismissal.

"You must be the indecisive one, Nythadri is it? Well don't dally child, come along."

- Jay Carpenter - 09-09-2016

If it were cruel to remind Jai of his uniform, then the cruelty was ironic. Asha'man of the Black Tower tended to live in two camps: M'Hael or Dragon; uniformed or civilian; married or alone. Like showing off that scarlet stamp on their heads, those uniformed proudly stood apart from the rest of the world, encroaching upon their lives like some shadow of an unwanted but necessary blemish. An Aes Sedai might take off her ring, but her face could not be swapped out so easily. In their vein, that second camp made the effort. To swap out the black, unfasten the pins, and set them aside all for the chance at a Sunday coat. To each their own. But Jai preferred to keep his pair.

He sighed at the simplicity of the door brushing fingertips away with a lingering, eye-roaming stare at those flat planks for half a moment until separating steps caught him up with Nythadri. And the door slowly returned to its place. Regime or soothing habit for the Power swung it shut, not for show. Had Jai wanted to show off for the Accepted, he would have done something far flashier. But that was not his style.

She called him something he was not. More than once. And it dulled her, somewhat: like a woman's outline dimmed on the banks of riverfog. She had not struck him as one prone to aimless flattery; if so, it was disappointing. Unless. . . Like seeking the horizon on a viewglass, he glanced down at her with a searching study.

No, conclusion reached. That could not have been what she meant. Except in their short minutes together, topics delved to a level he had not anticipated. Nor wanted to find. Perhaps then, she had meant it the way he took it. In which case, his rule floated to the surface.

"Best not answer that one, either."
No longing, but neither was there gusto in the answer likely to disappoint her in turn. At least it was better to suppress an answer of this magnitude than to entertain the idea that she was buttering up someone with a good opportunity to make her life a living hell. He liked to think she was too strong-willed and independent for that. Denial, after all, was a construct of the stubborn.

He might answer, someday. If circumstances ever brought them into a place of peace. Best they not hold their breaths though. For now, he had another answer.
"Even undeserved, if we found a way to escape our destinies, would I want to?"
The shift from the collective pronoun to the solitary was an accident, but one far more telling of a nature long abandoned.

Initially, it sounded like the sacrifice of an honorable man. There was one, down in there. That good man stayed his hand from stroking Jaslene's cheek. It lived with regret for every stolen life, no matter the heinous atrocities those lives represented. That good man was equally as good at his post and grimly accepted the attached accolades: toasts from nobles and recently revealed honorable mentions by Tomdry's remaining regiment. Yet for all the good there were flaws, deep ones. Selfishly, he could not stand to carry out a simple order from a superior Asha'man, one gravely misunderstood. If barely, but still, respected. Instead, he abandoned the entire post and walked away completely.

The shift was not one of noble sacrifice, however. It was gratification. Masochistic impulse. He kept the black, stayed apart, and watched through the window of his life what might have been to practice the discipline of containing the building resentment. It was playing with flames in a silo for the thrill of the practice, to beat back the boredom, to focus a mind on something constantly seeking a new edge. That great-mother's self-denial of generations past emerged in this Kojima's blood like a sorry inheritance, apparently. Or ironically. It didn’t matter which.

That edge, there was no honest way to explain where it lie. Because the only ones who knew where it was, were the ones who had gone over. Those others, the living, remain so only because they pushed themselves as far as they cared to and for some reason pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever was needed when it came time to decide between life or death. Now or later. Because for all, that edge was still out there. Waiting. And so was death. Only once did he charge that edge, toed it and looked off the cliff, but was pulled violently back. Dirt and guts stuffed back inside. Sewn up by the needle of the Power. He was not willing to repeat the search yet. Someday, though. That inevitable second would tick by and the flaws might be buried by a man who would charge once more.

But not with a family on his arm. Their beloved faces and silent devotion would ground him from that duty. Just not strong enough; and he knew it. There was conviction in his answer. But not depression. No philosophy. Just his interpretation of what was right and knowing his own limits at fulfilling it.

"And what would normal life look like?"
The rhetoric of a man curious in Nythadri's answer continued without satisfaction, unless she had the chance to respond before this mysterious and surprising channeler opened their gate among the grounds now within sight. A cordoned off Traveling yard that for now earned only casual glances on his periphery.
"Courting? Wedding ribbons? A garden? A farm? Sheep and corn? And when your family ages and dies in front of you, how long do we wait before starting another? Or am I filled with too much shame and guilt to even consider it? Or stay with the future generations, slowly fading into the backdrop. A prisoner's vacation for however many years we all exist. Unless the Last Battle spares our family the burden, of course."
Falling there sounded tragic. Or fortunate. Depending on the field of one's life left behind. A man with a reason to live might hold something back. Jai would not.

Too late? Maybe. Plucked young, unlike many previously established brothers taking the black, he found himself in the backwoods of an Andoran forest with no baggage to tie him down. Just a conscious, if one wavering back and forth across sanity's wide clearing. That valley's end still blurred from view. Like that edge.

Jai was soon wrenched from the affliction of these claustrophobic thoughts thanks to a force which pulled him toward the deceptive serenity of empty space in the Yard. There was a thunder there, one only he could sense. It clenched his jaw, that menace that crept up unexpectedly. And like that distant rumble, he quietly explained for Nythadri's behalf.


He waited the split second as one prepared to defend. Fate's words ringing in his ears. She arranged for a Gate to open; he hadn’t expected it to be opened by a man. He stared, cold and ready, as the line of Saidin punctured the pattern, ripping it apart like fingers gripping apart the buttons on a shirt. Had Fate discovered the vacation of this deserter? Was this her clever way to send him to Arad Doman with his tail between his legs? Punishment for his dereliction to see him escorted back to his Tower in front of Nythadri?

It was relief that stilled his judgement, when that parting line framed a man's face like a portrait of light. It dropped his jaw open.

Shock, certainly. It was his fellow Asha'man's thumb on the Power which fed the Gate's life. A superior Asha'man. The one to whom Jai reported in Arad Doman. And its bloody king. And like his fellow's recognition of him, he needed not look down to know the man would not be in the Black. One of those from another camp. Anger and angst suddenly surfaced all over again. And he ripped his gaze from the man responsible when a nearly as familiar face stepped forward to burst the rising pressure.

A portal to another camp, Nythadri was also invited? He looked between the women, but knew how to best protect his stones. Where Yui and the White Tower were concerned, it was bloody hot. Best stay out of the line of fire. A break in these dark clouds would be Nythadri's joining them if she could. And hoped for. But where Fate was pulling the strings, however, Jai had a feeling she didn't have a choice. Perhaps he could still get that game of cards out of this.

Women dealing among themselves, he addressed the one he knew he could take on. And had done before. His gaze fell to the sapphire blue eyes of a bloody royal, a cold smirk chilling his grin "So you're the prized Razor I get to ride?"
That suppressed animosity clouded his usual sarcasm with a shade of seriousness. Long strides carried him closer to said prize fearlessly and with familiarity. Not to be tossed back into the thick of Arad Doman by a bloody Aes Sedai with her fingers in the Black Tower. No. Jai would bloody walk there.

- Natalie Grey - 09-10-2016

She wasn’t surprised he brushed her accusatory question off, or didn’t want to share the answer he did have, or maybe didn’t even get what she meant. Nythadri was used to being misunderstood – whether that elevated her to undeserved mystery, or relegated her to simple rudeness. Best for whom, though? For him, or for her? She let it drop as quickly as it had captivated her, and if it disappointed her she did not show it. It wasn’t often Nythadri attempted to create bridges on any but a superficial level, and she was accustom to being rebuffed. Or being wrong.

He made her second question personal in a way she had not; and there was a reason she had not. She listened quietly at first. Like most she had ever encountered, he separated destiny and duty from freedom and choice. There was no middle ground. His answer couldn’t have been more contrary to the gaidin she had met in the gardens, and she wondered if that was an insight of saidin or just a difference of personality. She couldn’t attest to the life of an Asha’man, so she didn’t really know.

And then he had to go and drive the point too hard.

She realised that he was talking about himself; that for all his disinclination to answer earlier personal questions, he had now said more than he should have. Usually she was uncannily adept at detachment; she could face the offensive and shrug, like nothing could truly touch her core. But not with this. An emotional response was already rising, cooling her limbs in icy fury. She didn’t like being spoken to like that; to have his opinions cast on her like she was hopelessly naïve and whimsical. Like she didn’t realise the consequences of her own longevity, the duties that would always separate her from the life she may have otherwise chosen.

He stuffed the word normal back in her mouth and formed either what he imagined her vision of normal to be, or revealed his own. It wasn’t often she found herself in the unusual position of being the optimistic one – not through design, but through perseverance. He seemed to have fallen into the void that unsettled her to sleeplessness – not pessimism, but cold unyielding realism. His resignation was not even that of depression, it was stony worldview. It was him. And she could accept that, if only it did not feel like he disparaged her clinging idealisms in the process of expression.

Her instinct was to stick the knife in, or try to with what she knew of him. For all his scorn, he had come home; against his own apparent advice, he was watching his loved ones decay, knowing that unless his thread was severed prematurely, he would outlive them all. But she didn’t. A nail driven hard into her palm eased the urge to return the perceived assassination, but she couldn’t quite hold herself to silence either.

“Everybody dies, Asha’man. I was not aware it was a valid reason for not living. Thank you for enlightening what is clearly an ignorance in me.”
He would find fault with that, she imagined. Opinions didn’t change just because they met resistance, and her tone had not been friendly so much as chill, clipped. For the second time that day she found herself having to guard her tongue, but this time it was assisted by his murmur of ‘saidin’ and the gate that opened before them.

It was strange to see the very air split and not feel any sense of the power that caused such a feat, but she was too riled to appreciate the anomaly fully; her thoughts were more occupied with excusing herself as soon as the opportunity presented, as opposed to curiously regarding the scene revealed before her. It wasn’t until she heard her own name that her attention snapped to the woman who spoke. Domani, by her colouring. Not young, but possessed of a silvered, willowy beauty. Nythadri had never seen her before.

Accepted Nythadri.”
It wasn’t often at all that she found the need to emphasise her rank before her identity. Clearly this tall woman knew exactly who she was. But that was no Aes Sedai face beckoning her to break Tower doctrine, and though the puppeteer of this Gate – if not the one who had sparked it to being – was Fate, her feet found themselves firmly rooted on Tower soil. I don’t want to go? No, it was not rejection of the opportunity that dug her heels in. It was the manipulation, the lack of choice. “I’m not permitted to leave Tower grounds.”
Tower grounds; not even allowed to the city since her mishap. Though she had never gone to the Mistress of Novices to ask. Had never had a reason to. She showed little inclination to move, though she realised she had little choice. Once backed in a corner, though, Nythadri never failed to fight.

Edited by Natalie Grey, Sep 10 2016, 03:30 PM.