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Under Guard
<dt>Aileen Sedai of the Green Ajah</dt>
<dd> </dd>
Returning to the Black Tower always brought mixed feelings. Echoes from the past always seemed to want to mix with the present. Like shadows flickering just at the corners of your vision. Aileen almost felt as though she could hear them if she listened hard enough. Aileen looked across the yard and saw a crowd gathered. She couldn't hear above the din precisely what had drawn it, but given where she was standing, she could guess. Such gatherings had occurred often enough.

Aileen moved closer towards the crowd to see if she could get a better look at what was happening. Some of the men gathered there paid her little heed, others moved. A few gave her a nod of recognition. As a child, Aileen had spent a fair amount of time at the training grounds watching the men as the practiced. This area, though more dangerous than the others, was also the most exciting. Ifan always meant to keep his daughter from all of this, and she did her best to follow his instructions, but it was difficult to stay away. Aileen loved to watch the men practice the sword and often longed to join them. Even watching them channel didn't frighten her. She had a child's belief that all was right and she would always be safe in her home. Experience would teach her that this was not the case. Still, there was a comfort to being back among the men here.

Aileen's long dark hair was pulled back in a braid and she was wearing a dark green dress, with black vines embroidered on the sleeves and bodice, split for riding despite her discomfort with horses. It was less scandalous than the men's styled trousers she wore when she trained, but still gave her ease of movement. Now she was no longer one of the children who called the Black Tower home, she was Aes Sedai and the responsibilities of that weighed on her as she imagined it did all her Sisters.

As she grew closer she saw something that surprised her though nothing showed on her face. It took her a long time to school her face not to show what she was feeling and now the only thing that that gave away her surprise was a slight turn up of an eyebrow, barely noticeable. Lennox wearing Asha'man black? What else had she missed while fighting along the Blight borders? There was another man whose movements were slow and clumsy and yet he was trying to hold his own against him. The fight did not take much time. The other man was being pummeled mercilessly. Aileen did not know the reason for the beating and men often chose to prove themselves at the lease opportune times. None of the blows appeared to be permanently debilitating, which was good. The Tower could not afford to lose any men. Such deliberate coldness from Lennox Orander was surprising. This was not the man Aileen remembered from her early days at the White Tower.

Lennox left the area without as much as a backwards glance at the man on the ground and another Asha'man moved forward to help. She heard him tell the injured man that it was going to be cold and she realized that he was likely going to Heal the injured man. Not having much talent for Healing Aileen could offer little assistance, but she stayed in case there was some other help she could offer. Aileen had learned a few things from Yellows about more mundane methods of treating injuries and she'd learned a fair bit of battlefield medicine. Though she couldn't help everyone. She pushed the memory back as she waited for the Asha'man to tend to the injured man.
Adrenaline consumed, Jai wasn't feeling so great. He'd felt worse. He just couldn't recall any specific time when, though. The dribble down his windpipe continued. The lost molar not yet letting up the bloodstream. And every time his tongue wandered over to try and plug it, the empty prongs restoked the entire jaw's smoldering fire to a near unbearable blaze.

So he ended up tilting the corner of his mouth to the ground and let it ooze away. Didn't sores usually plug up by now? Maybe it just hadn't had enough time. There was no way to measure the seconds other than counting them, though it felt like an eternity passed. The epiphany flipped the ticker in one corner of his head and he remembered after all this, he still didn't get through those bloody forms. At this point, he'd take them with or without mistakes. His sliced hand numbly padded the ground within reach looking for the hilt he'd dropped. Again.

A shadow fell. Two shadows. The blue lurched then blacked out, and the features of a man in black overhead was far too obscured to know if it was the same Dedicated. Except he was frowning. So it had to be. The other guy? It was a guy. Yeah. Looked like he was talking. Looked. No sound reached Jai if he were. The sky hung heavy between them. It was so blasted bright! His lids smothered the glare and erratic trudging through smokey thoughts returned eventually to the need to complete the routine. Why do them?

He relived the feeling of perfect execution. A sword, silk cording criss-crossing the slender hilt, dug into his palms with the balanced blend of grip and reaction to every teasing twinge of muscle. From the first day to the morning of the last day he saw it, he struggled with Asad's decision to leave Malkier. To trade in duty for the devotion from which Jai was now descended. Of course, none of them would exist now had Asad chose the selfless path: Malkier was gone and living descendants were scattered to the four winds, endangered to the point of extinction.

The routine wasn't about finding joy in the forms. Though, with that sword in hand, it surged every thrust and sweeping arc with irreproducible life. Without it? It was just a means to contain his own insanity to acceptable levels. 'Count these instead.' The original man who'd given him a sword as a child finally bequeathed Asad's to him yesterday, claiming he earned it. Hours later, Jai let the steel drip through his fingers. Asad's noble legacy. Wasted.

One shadow left, the other knelt by him. He was speaking. Jai realized. Though the sounds were more obscured by the roaring in his own head than any deficiency in Araya's throat. It went well? Yeah. Just like he figured it would.
He had to push some room clear from his mouth, but he managed to get some gurgled words out:
"Nah. Wusffun."

He winced like a string of curses he couldn't say were flying through his head. The touch of Saidin was far more uncomfortable than the touch of saidar, and he had no chance at death-gripping the Power into his own hands to buffer it, either. No Healing came, thank the Light. Just the ripple of being delved and the looming threat exploding from another channeler's powers receded soon after.

With it over, he raised a hand to his eyes to shade the glare and look at the guy responsible. Pale. Paler than Nythadri even. Which was a feat to out pallor her porcelain, amazing skin. But Araya was fair haired where she was vixen dark. Smooth, high cheeks and a gentle jaw. Colors swirled from the neck down. Somewhere the whisper of paranoia gave him Araya's identity. The recognition crossed his expression, mouth up, at least. And he laid back in defeat. Too tired to think of a creative enough curse for the occasion: another anonymous body walking around Arad Doman suddenly conjured at his side. Again. Was he ever going to learn? There was always another plot.

He booted the knee that hadn't been kicked in against the ground and pushed with the propped leg to roll away, unbuttoned coat getting wedged under him in the process. The sword was there, still. Lennox hadn't so much as kicked it out of reach that time. Must have been satisfied with the defeat, then. Jai couldn't imagine why. He weakly tugged on the stuck coat, then grappled at the red-soaked leather wrappings. Needing to finish what he'd started. Still hadn't finished it.

Somebody, apparently, found this to be a bad idea. Araya hopped around and rather than reach for the hilt, Jai found his arm snaked around the other guy's neck and himself helped to his feet. The transition plummeted the blood from his head and he stumbled like he was going to pass out. Which wouldn't be so bad of a thing. Or at least vomit. No. His lips wouldn't open wide enough to let it out. And pushing acid out two narrow nose holes was never pleasant.

When it was safe to move, he took a step. Though it seemed Araya was the one to decide when that was. Jai just sort of followed the guy. He had no choice. The other Asha'man was holding him up.

Hope to finish the routine dribbled away about the same speed as what drained under his chin and behind his collar. It was still bleeding. Likely thinned out by the barrel of alcohol he'd bathed in the last twelve hours. Then the same breeze that kicked up dirt earlier fluttered the mismatched buttons on his shirt with air on wet skin, he realized he was drenched with enough sweat to worry a fever nurse. The sensation gave him only a moment's warning.

There was no stopping the rise in bile that time. He shoved Araya a step out of the way and sank to his knees to wretch. It wasn't the pretty, straight-forward expulsion of normal vomit. He had to hinge the unresponsive jaw open with a couple snaked in fingers over the lower teeth to get enough room to let the gruesome mess out. Then what came up was mostly the quart of blood he'd been swallowing, loose half of his jaw flapping in the current. Up and over his wrist, warming his skin with stink and color. Acid and alcohol swelled across his eyes , which were burning with the pain, and he ended up kneeling with his forehead inches from the ground feeling weak as a newborn kitten.

Until a ray of hope burst through. Stomach emptied, sitting back on his haunches some minutes later, he felt pretty confident he could refill it without too much trouble. Plans formed to acquire a fresh bottle of brandy until he recognized the sword left behind in the dirt. They must have only made it a few steps, then. Not the league Jai felt they must have walked. He sighed. The cheap sword felt heavy before. Now, his hands sank tired beside him just imagining holding it up.

He closed his eyes and fell into the sweet soothing pace ticking off in the back of his head. Compliant through someone pulling him up again. He even managed to hear his own voice muffling the count out loud every few numbers: the stream transitioning from measuring lung-filling, nerve-calming breaths to the steady focus of taking one step at a time. One step at a time.

Only darkness shows you the light.

<dt>Asha'man Tayigi</dt>
<dd> </dd>
Not every face frowned with disapproval, nor did every set of eyes gleam bloodthirsty thoughts. Tayigi watched without comment or wince to marr his stern face. Today, on the fields, nor had he yesterday during Jai's penance. He simply folded his arms before him and appeared no more interested than having to watch a scene unfold that happened to be in his line of sight.

Some calloused faces among them appeared bored. Others sickened. There were no shortage of expressions from every range of human reaction, but Tayigi was one man able to disassociate himself from the immediate and notice the effect rippling through the sea of his bretheren. What he saw, he did not like.

After Lennox left, he adjusted the bejeweled handle of the dagger thrust in his lime green sash and spoke to the man at his side. "It seems as if he has finally left the soft of dirt between his toes and joined a harder class of men."
The man beside him, having been one whose features marked the feelings of sympathy on his brow turned and met Tayigi's steady gaze. He appeared slightly older as though he began his channeling in the middle stages of life, although Ty's appearance was deceiving. He trusted not to such perceptions of eyesight. He carried himself well, straight-backed and without the round of fearful shoulders. However, the signs of softness were there, flickering whenever he glanced at the one among them who'd called the 'show over.'

"Who? Jai? He must be to take all that. Look at the man. He's still grappling at the sword."

Ty shook his head, and when he looked up, the Asha'man beside him was studying the upper rim of ink bars as could be seen around the lower edge of his bare scalp. His black coat had a collar like his fellow's, but it folded flat from a wide neck rather than stiff and raised around his throat. The pins gleamed on the lapel, but their permanent, black versions were pricked into the skin on his throat in the same place as his brother's were held there by more common means.

Ty nonchalantly rested his hand on the elaborate pommel, absently thumbing an emerald as he did. More tattooes could be made out on his chest, and more than one pair of eyes glanced at them, but Ty was used to curiosity by now. Else he would not wear a coat he kept buttoned only half way up, and held in place by the colorful sash around his waist. "Not him. Lennox. Few mainlanders are able to transition. The world is hard. The Last Battle comes and we cannot afford men whose sails will fold at the first gale. We must hold to the very end, or all will fall."

Ty knew he was fighting a losing battle and glanced around. A few closest to him were listening, but nobody outwardly agreed with him. The presence of an Aes Sedai won his study for a few moments, as though he were trying to decide if he knew her. And nodded a respectful degree if she noticed. But he found himself studying the retreating back of the relieved Dedicated the longest. "Light be with you, brother.."
They exchanged contemplative nods and Tayigi caught up with the young man.

He did not appear happy to be flagged down by the Atha'an Miere Asha'man. Especially having thought he'd escaped the wrath of failure so far, but Ty put his fears to rest quickly. His leniance only slightly widened by dealing with a boy not fully responsible for his ways yet. He clapped the Dedicated on the shoulder, "You cannot stop a wave which has already passed, Dedicated Gestian. The brother you were meant to oversee is a soul who will find his way back or he will not. But we cannot carry dead weight to fight. Look more to his opponent as a figure to emulate. We will be the better force for it."
Young Jindal nodded, face smoothing as they parted.

<dt>Aileen Sedai of the Green Ajah</dt>
<dd> </dd>
The man before her fared well enough through the Healing. The bitter, bone searing cold that came from being Healed by an Asha'man was jarring under the best of circumstances and in the condition the Asha'man was in, it did not surprise Aileen in the least that he reacted as he did. Light, knew she'd done much the same the first time she'd been Healed in that way. Aileen's dark eyes showed sympathy and a quick movement kept her out of the range of his.. leavings.

Aileen saw the Atha'an Miere Asha'man and returned his nod. She did not recognize the man, but Aileen felt that Asha'man were owed respect for what they learned and accomplished. The Black Tower did not coddle their trainees and learning to become an Asha'man was at times brutal. There were those who still feared Asha'man. Fear was one reaction but Aileen preferred a health respect. After all, these men were being trained as weapons against the Dark One. A healthy respect for weapons meant that you weren't hurt by one.

The Dedicated who seemed to have been in charge of the beaten man looked as though he was prepared for a penance of his own. Aileen found it kind that both of the Asah'man he encountered didn't seem to fault him for not being able to keep control over the man he'd been put in charge of. That showed compassion and logic. Some people needed to learn lessons in the most difficult manner possible, but Light willing, the lessons once learned would not be easily forgotten. Hopefully this man would mark this lesson well and remember it. Aileen followed them quietly as they were heading along in the same general direction.
Satisfied Jai was safely able to move, Araya interrupted his sluggish grab at the sword and hoisted him up. For a man he was a fair healer, but broken bones were beyond his remit; it was always that much harder to fix the things you could not see. Even isolating an injury was troublesome, though it was not often a problem when Healing someone; you usually wanted to repair everything. Such blanket Healing in this instance might do more harm than good, though. And assuming Jai wanted a jaw that worked, it wasn’t a risk Araya was prepared to take.

The imbalance of height was impractical, and Jai’s unsteady swaying laboured each step forward all the more. “Fun. Interesting definition you have there.”
Full marks for persistence, though; it was honestly surprising he could form words at all. He passed a conspiratorial glance at the Sister, the only of the crowd to have remained; part exasperated frown, part indulgent tolerance of an errant child. But they barely made it a yard before a frenzied lurch shoved Araya out the way and the delinquent Asha’man was back on the ground to retch up his insides.

Araya sighed. It would take them an Age to stumble in this fashion to the infirmary, and while it would be staffed with enough men to see to most serious ills, it was entirely possible there would be none there capable of mending snapped bones anyway. A sling and a warning to be more vigilant in future was as much as most men could expect of an infirmary almost entirely fuelled by conventional means. And Jai had already expended valuable resources once in recent days. Wrong as it often seemed to Araya, Black Tower lessons could be harsh; his own throat was testament enough to that.

Am I making a wasted journey? Staring unseeing at the gruesome upheaving into the dirt, he reassessed his reluctance to attempt Healing. Undecided, he looked up to find the Aes Sedai who had been tailing them stride away purposefully in another direction, and her departure sparked a trail of thought. What was there to stop a Brother making use of White Tower facilities? As inconsistent a truce as existed, they wouldn’t turn away a man in need. They might sniff and tut and frown, but they would Heal him regardless. The only problem was how Jai might react; not all the failings for true peace were down to Aes Sedai high-handed arrogance; there were plenty of Asha’man resistant to trust the hand that had quashed them for centuries. And Araya didn’t know which camp Jai fell into.

He was already picking the other man up, veins shuddering with the effort it took to wrench saidin to heel. The air shimmered and folded in on itself, and the Pattern burned to accommodate the path of the gateway. One step, two step, three; and then the Gate winked shut behind them.

[[Continued at Homeward Bound]]

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