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Homeward Bound
A noise disrupted their peaceful snowfall. The three men turned sharp attentions its way, but it was Jai who broke the stillness.
"Let's go."

The others agreed. They made good time back to the main street after that. The footprints would be a track, but the three Dru leveled wouldn't follow. Not after the truth of who was hunting whom punched them in the head. They'd never own to being ambushed and downed by one homeless vagrant. Not three to one.

"You were waiting for them? What's going on?"
Jai said. He and Araya shared curious looks about the time they hit the main thoroughfare. There were a few other travelers out and about. Shapes of hooded men on horseback journeyed south. Dark lines unfilled yet with snow crisscrossed the road: tracks from recent wheels. There were still some lights overhead, but Jai didn't need rows of dark windows to know it was getting late. He stifled a yawn, pumped some blood through his hands, and ignored the hunger curling his stomach. He needed to stay clear headed to keep the map in his head of where they were. It was force of habit more than anything, but the counting of their footfalls dulled to a vague noise in the back of his head as they turned north. It was a lot to juggle at once, and he wasn't exactly at his sharpest.

Andreu replied. Snowflakes were collecting in his brother's beard. He didn't look over, but he seemed to consider his next words carefully. "Look, Jai. Something's going on with the company. Something big. We have a leech, someone sucking fumes off the accounts and selling the information. I've spent the last month looking for them."

Jai felt his entire body go numb, but he managed to keep his face calm. Yet Andreu still sensed his brother's tension and went on before Jai interrupted. Those two dark eyes may be rimmed by hair, but they struck a man's center when they wanted to. Right then, one look was all it took to manage Jai's silence.

Andreu went on, explaining quietly, yet not too concerned if Araya overheard. In fact, he glanced at the quiet Asha'man every few words as though he were included in the conversation.
"Best way to find the leech is to find the buyer. This last month has been hottest. It started when we found one of our off-duty guards with a slit throat. I'm told it was quite the pay off to cover that up."

Jai frowned. Their guards were mercenaries, paid as well as they were trained. Arman Kojima's philosophy was an investment in quality was an investment in the future, but Zakar believed differently than their father: that the fear of the Light was the better motive. Yet his version of the Light tended to be bent harder than most would agree was the accurate reflection of moral fortitude.

"Then we find a forgery in our records. Someone made a copy, and two days later, the original files are returned. So what happened to the copy?"
Dru asked.

Jai's chest tightened. "The records. They were White Tower account-holders weren't they?"
He'd held those papers in his hands. Not two weeks ago, from the stash hidden in Winther's false floorboards. Ellis was the man in Caemlyn pimping the sells, but he never found out the accomplice in Tar Valon. Even with an Asha'man turning the spotlight - a literal flesh-sizzling sort of light - on the man, Ellis maintained his silence. Whoever it was, he was too frightened of them to betray them, more so than he feared torture from an Asha'man, which was quite a lot. But by Andreu's account, the list of possibilities was short. Few men wielded the keys to those strongrooms.

Andreu suddenly looked over, nodding. "Yes. Days later, a Darkfriend cobbles some waif of an Accepted around the corner from our building, and he's led off to the White Tower in shackles. I checked him out, Jai. The guy's a real winner, and has a name for himself out here. And often muttered in the same breath as one of our clerks as a decent tag team. Turns out, they've pulled jobs together before. Both were ran out of Cairhien and Arad Doman after nearly being caught."

This sounded painfully familiar. Yet Jai kept walking. The snow kept sticking to his coat and the droplets hit his cheeks. He stared straight ahead, thinking, sorting through the mess of men he couldn't calculate as easily as every other pattern. Someone on the inside was selling off account information. That the mugger, Graham, had a buddy working the bank would be a fortunate coincidence, as Zakar alleged, and easy to pinpoint as the traitor. Yet the mastermind had to be someone higher up than a generic clerk. Which explained Zakar's accusations against Jai. The day Zakar summoned a row of crossbolts to stare down his piehole. The idiot.

Andreu went on. "Both men disappear. I figure Zakar reached the same conclusion I did, and while there were still discrepancies, I was about to drop it all. Until I hear Zak spends an hour speaking with an Accepted of the White Tower in his office. An Accepted with a sudden fortune opening a new account,"
Andreu said, thoughtful.

The disappearances sounded right. In fact, when Jai left Ellis tied up in the lobby, he was counting on it. Zakar took care of business when it needed tended, and everyone involved was best to not inquire after the details. But as Jai was processing everything as Andreu continued, the rest of it finally sank in. Slow as sand. Sure as time, Jai felt like he was choking on every single grain. Nythadri. The Accepted with a sudden new fortune. A new fortune that Jai forced Ellis to donate to her family.

She went to Zak?

Why? The fortune. She deposited her end of Ellis' donation with Zak. He spent an hour with her, alone, in his office. That looked bad. She met him. She knew his family. She saw the portraits. That was it then. Everything Jai wanted to drown, to keep beneath the surface, she was swimming in it.

A pit in his stomach formed. Not just from the lack of food. It was hearing the draw of a bow right behind your back and the hollow feeling of knowing who held it. He fell quiet. Thoughtless. The clop of horsehooves sounded in the distance. The whisper of snowfall hit his shoulders, and Jai realized they were gathering on his eyelashes. Yet on he stared. Unmoving but for the slow rise and fall of his chest, the appearance and disappearance of cold mist in front of his face as he breathed.

"You've been gone a month. How did you know all this has happened?"
Jai asked quietly. He couldn't bring himself to look his brother in the eye.

"Zakar isn't the only one to keep tabs on everyone else, Jai."
Dru said. Intent, wary.

His insides twisted, and he rubbed exhausted eyes.

Zak accused Jai. Andreu suspected Zak.

And Andreu was right. It was Zakar all along. He was setting up others to take the fall so he could continue feeding Caemlyn illegal documents. He was the accomplice. Ellis was Zakar's bloody prodigy!

It all made sense, except why. If why even mattered.

He set his jaw, and swallowed the lump in his throat. Andreu was watching closely. Araya looked concerned. His family was about to tear itself apart. If Dru learned the truth, he would destroy Zakar. Who in turn had his ruthless retaliation at the ready: Jai, who wouldn't be around to defend himself. The crossfire would destroy their father. Their mother wouldn't understand why the half-finished portrait of her youngest son was banished from the wall. They would fare no better if Andreu succeeded in discovering the truth. Zakar had kids. Adorable ones. His youngest sat on Jai's knee that first night at dinner. The company would suffer. The Board would vote no confidence in ownership and the entire family's legacy, everything Asad built from the ruins of his soiled honor sacrificed in the name of love and the security of their future in Tar Valon would fall to ashes. Their name was going to rot as sure as a body in the field.

"It wasn't Zakar. You can stop the witchhunt."
Jai said. He drew his shoulders back and stared his older brother dead in the eye. "It was me."

Jai pulled his hands from his pockets and took a step forward. Dru took one step away. And Jai went on. "Zak figured it out and came for me, but the idiot really did forget what this means."
He held out his arms, showing himself off. A vessel, a man who could channel. That was all which remained behind Jai's numb eyes.

"You're lying kid. You've been gone. Why are you trying to protect him, and where is that bloody sword?"
Dru held his ground as the asha'man advanced, but he was growing wary.

"Go back, Andreu. Last week you'll learn Aharon Ellis showed up inside the lobby while the doors were guarded. That was an Asha'man's doing."
The words stuck in his throat as Dru's disbelief slowly turned into horror. He was buying it.

"I really can channel Dru."
Jai hesitated likely long enough for Araya to pick up on it. "And I really am different."
Channeling was a risk at that moment, but he had to prove something. The one thing he avoided like the plague, to channel in front of his family. 'What does an Asha'man actually do anyway?'

The flakes of snow around the three men suddenly began to slow their fall. They swirled first lopsided, like a pendulum, then in random directions, up and down like a child puffing at bubbles. Yet the air continued to grow wilder, and the hem of his coat began to stir in the breeze. Dru glanced around him, but Jai was not done finishing his point. The disturbance in the air grew warmer then, and the dust on their clothes melted first, accelerated by body heat. Then the flakes themselves curled and sizzled, water flicked into a fire. It was draining, holding one easy vial of saidin. Like holding himself upside down as his arms turned to liquid, but he held onto it, and pulled on more of the Power.

Then the flakes stopped and the air itself cracked. An invisible ripple of heat quaked around them. In the sudden blast a dome of snowless space vaporized the crystals first to water then to steam then nothing at all. The white blanketing the street turned dry as stone, Jai at its epicenter. The warm radius circled around him. It wasn't dangerous, but it was dramatic. The warmth could have continued to grow, that dome might have been more. It was a demonstration of potential, of what he could do, that touched on men's fears far more impressive than actually forcing their flesh into a furnace. The globes of Jai's eyes turned toward Araya. Warning him to remain silent as the snow returned to its normal freefall once more.

Breathing nearly tore out his lungs as he released the Power, and he was a little relieved he'd survived. An hour ago moving around furniture nearly ripped him apart.

Andreu was staring, but quiet. "Go back Dru. Go hug your wife and sleep in your own bed tonight. The company's in good hands now I'm done with it."

He turned away from the brother he loved, and closed his eyes. They were hot with emotion, but the Oneness kept the ache from his throat. "I am done with everyone. I melted the sword myself. Now none of us can have it. And you won't be seeing me again."

Andreu said. Horror, disgust. The sounds in his brother's voice made him want to collapse. But it was the disbelief that most shook his conviction yet onto it he held. If the Black Tower did anything, it reminded him that he was Asha'man only. Nothing else mattered.

Andreu touched him on the shoulder, but Jai spun with a ready fist and his brother fell to the ground, face bleeding, looking shocked. This time, as Jai walked away Andreu didn't follow.

He paused by Araya. "Do yourself a favor. Stop trying to help me."
The image of Araya hefting him to his feet hit. Araya had done so much, Jai would never be able to repay him. The aid Jai didn't request did something, though. It gave him the ability to save what he cared for most. Though Araya knew the truth, of the punishment, of the sword, of his guilt, if there was one last favor Araya could grant, it would be to let Jai save his family's innocence. He was already damned anyway. For that chance, Jai would beg if he had to.

He left them alone. The snowflakes soothed his knuckles as he strode toward the pillar looming in the north. The White Tower. There was one more person to save.

Only darkness shows you the light.


Messages In This Thread
[No subject] - by Raffe - 01-20-2018, 05:46 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Jay Carpenter - 08-10-2018, 04:18 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Valeriya - 08-11-2018, 02:56 AM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Jay Carpenter - 08-12-2018, 08:20 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Valeriya - 08-19-2018, 02:32 AM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Jay Carpenter - 08-19-2018, 09:12 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Natalie Grey - 08-28-2018, 08:18 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Rune - 09-05-2018, 12:28 AM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Natalie Grey - 09-05-2018, 08:46 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Valeriya - 09-07-2018, 10:52 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Jay Carpenter - 09-13-2018, 07:34 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Natalie Grey - 09-15-2018, 06:04 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Jay Carpenter - 09-18-2018, 12:08 AM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Natalie Grey - 09-20-2018, 01:28 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Jay Carpenter - 09-25-2018, 05:01 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Natalie Grey - 10-03-2018, 09:34 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Jay Carpenter - 11-05-2018, 11:04 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Natalie Grey - 02-14-2019, 11:39 AM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Jay Carpenter - 02-16-2019, 09:30 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Natalie Grey - 03-16-2019, 05:08 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Jay Carpenter - 04-05-2019, 02:49 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Natalie Grey - 04-26-2019, 05:05 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Jay Carpenter - 04-27-2019, 11:40 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Natalie Grey - 05-04-2019, 08:39 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Jay Carpenter - 05-15-2019, 06:57 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Natalie Grey - 07-11-2019, 07:41 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Jay Carpenter - 08-15-2019, 11:46 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Natalie Grey - 09-22-2019, 06:48 PM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Jay Carpenter - 10-23-2019, 01:18 AM
RE: Homeward Bound - by Natalie Grey - 10-23-2019, 09:55 PM
[No subject] - by Jay Carpenter - 01-21-2018, 02:17 PM
[No subject] - by Raffe - 01-23-2018, 03:24 PM
[No subject] - by Jay Carpenter - 01-23-2018, 10:01 PM
[No subject] - by Raffe - 01-25-2018, 01:58 PM
[No subject] - by Jay Carpenter - 01-29-2018, 03:03 PM
[No subject] - by Raffe - 02-01-2018, 04:49 AM
[No subject] - by Jay Carpenter - 02-06-2018, 08:39 PM
[No subject] - by Raffe - 02-11-2018, 02:36 PM
[No subject] - by Jay Carpenter - 02-13-2018, 09:25 PM
[No subject] - by Raffe - 02-21-2018, 06:58 AM
[No subject] - by Jay Carpenter - 04-08-2018, 03:16 PM
[No subject] - by Raffe - 04-11-2018, 03:00 PM
[No subject] - by Jay Carpenter - 04-12-2018, 12:30 PM
[No subject] - by Raffe - 04-13-2018, 04:06 PM
[No subject] - by Jay Carpenter - 04-15-2018, 12:12 PM
[No subject] - by Raffe - 06-07-2018, 03:47 AM
[No subject] - by Jay Carpenter - 06-08-2018, 11:24 AM
[No subject] - by Jay Carpenter - 07-18-2018, 03:19 PM
[No subject] - by Jay Carpenter - 07-19-2018, 01:36 PM
[No subject] - by Jay Carpenter - 07-20-2018, 02:43 PM
[No subject] - by Raffe - 07-27-2018, 04:32 PM

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