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The Hunt

It was tempting to shut out the world then forget it was waiting for their return when Nythadri’s face loomed so close. Little nuances were enhanced: the displeased tug of her lips was magnified, the resolution to her breathing louder, the caution washed clearly and so waiting for the next motion threatened Jai’s already divided attention. Which was a hard enough task for a man accustomed to devoting obsessive levels of focus to one task at a time.

Ledgers, the sword, channeling, people; every ounce of his being funneled to what was directly beneath eyes blind to nothing else. Thus he labored to devote sincere attention to the creature who now understood more about him in an hour than with those he'd worked side by side for years and while still keeping a bird’s eye perspective on everyone else's behavior. Light! The monument of the task doubled now that he realized just how much she guessed about his motives; likely more about him than he knew himself. For that, he was anxious to absorb what she would say next.

Surely he was not the first man to be haunted..? Asha'man by career held hands with the monster inside they trained to find pleasure in gore. No matter the target. Once a line of Asha'man were done, there was no identifying what those weeping mounds of pink were before anyway. Asha’man: recalling his identity washed his tongue with the flavor of guilt like a dry wine for such weakness. Saidin's addicting nature, another monster to control, rose to the surface defiantly in response. Take more, it called. Tighten the grip, it whispered. Bend it at will. The temptation tightened his will to live up to the uniform he never went without. An acute awareness of the cool silver pins resting against the flesh did their job. It took conscious effort: closing his eyes for too long to be an innocent blink, smoothing the lines of thought from his brow, drawing on the peace of the Oneness; but he maintained something as simple as a ward without the forces ripping apart. Or maybe it would be him which ripped. Was there a difference? It didn’t matter. The world held, for now.

The other half was gravely aware of that world he could face without fear. Nythadri spoke of the Blight. How long had it been since Jai breathed its rot? The scent of decay only intensified once the Blight's innards were dumped on the mangy ground. What a morbid stench to long for it now. He could return to the Black Tower and ask to be assigned a post north? Malkier's quiet voice in his head encouraged him to do so. But would he remember how to meld the symphony of orchestrated death shoulder to shoulder with his brothers? Absolutely. The quick answer glowed faint within. But to go would be running again. He was fiercely aware how well that worked out the last time.

His check of the room needed to be brief. It would undermine their previous efforts to peer suspiciously out into the crowd now. And he knew how he would react if by coincidence his eyes landed on Nisele for instance: unable to contain the spiraling hatred within; not for her personally, but only because she would assume he was using Nythadri as Nisele had used Jai. Jai would not do that. He hoped. Or was he already doing it? Blasted games.

As though incited by Nythadri's description of Daryen's rise to power, his search for the man was unsuccessful. Moved on to converse with others elsewhere? He glanced at the far entrance to an outdoor patio. Surely the king would not sojourn to a more private retreat this early in the day..? He stabbed a swell of possessiveness. As though Nythadri read his mind, with her next comment, he jerked back at her quip regarding questionable behavior. Jai looked quickly elsewhere, choosing the moment to finally check for the glow of eyes circling the darkness. He was never a master at deception, and so feared the tension from her comment would give him away. Only with himself could he truly fool. With that power he could talk the Dark One out of the war.

He found the world carried on without them. Swirls of slick fabric flowed on the air. Women bantered and laughed insincerely. A few heads leaned together over informal negotiations over something that would never come to pass. Servants ducked, the bodies moved, and the faces blurred.

What was seen on the surface was never real though. A squinting of an elder lady’s eyes showed disapproval at youthful affections. The lips of two courtly sisters wishing they were in Nythadri's seat flapped repeatedly. Even the clean-cheeked lad bringing the docile bits of food flicked his eyes back and forth between the unexpected displays of intimacy.

The room had noticed. From both the defensive looks marring the painted beauty from the women's faces, some of whom had little to lose, and the hat-tipping from the younger lordlings, then the room noticed correctly. Jai relaxed. A little. Saidin still raged as the ward held, but he returned from the edge. Back to Nythadri.

Her lids had fallen while he looked. But the tilt of epiphany was clear. When they lifted, she saw a slow nod from Jai supported her conclusion. She might have stopped there and called laying these early foundations of trust a success, but she didn’t. Time did not freeze as Jai would have appreciated. If only for a few more moments to absorb the tilt to her jaw. In it, he could practically see the steps of dissociation forming a logic in her mind. It was similar to his single-minded obsessions. If it weren’t out of context, he might have thought she was ticking off mental beads to balance the books. Calculating, something. Although, it occurred to him there were other things to calculate besides lines in ledgers.

Fearing the dissolution of their illusion, jai reacted as if Nythadri spoke of things to inspire a hungry smile rather than the scowl of conspiracy. of course, not all that hunger was faked.

“I guess that makes us even. Because I don’t think you trust me either.”

She would have been a fool to do so, but trust was an unnecessary trait in conspirators. In fact, Jai could attest that knowing exactly who not to trust was the more reliable investment.

The hunger cloaking Jai’s expression only intensified the playful way he threw out the obvious. “But I’ll wait until you do before asking just what you did to be deemed a Lady only in title.”
The jest conveniently danced aside the comments on duty. It was enough Jai tipped a nod toward honor. He didn’t have to talk about it.

But Nythadri deflated, leaned away, and shrugged with the weight of her own mysterious duty. Consistent with denying the presence of such responsibilities, he would not ask whether it was the weight of Tar Valon or Caemlyn which gave her so much conflict. Being of the city himself, he understood what white marble fountains and gold serpent rings did to lives, but Jai was quick to correct anyone who titled him as noble. Both realms were distant and foreign anyway: Tar Valon and nobility.

Her retraction ended the ward as much as Jai, who found it both a sorrow and relief as the strain of Saidin quickened his pulse. But the vulnerability of its absence manifested with his free hand automatically coming to rest against the sword encased quietly at his leg.

Nythadri spoke the words, but Jai reacted. First in rising into a tall stretch for the back, then to offer her a hand up. Including a patient grin for a reward. Both for her and their audience. There was no need to straighten the uniform beyond a curt tug of the sleeves. The soft blend fell without wrinkle quietly to his knees.

He needed to be social and she needed air; this seemed the best time to do it. Besides, he wouldn’t miss an opportunity to give people a topic to whisper. If she let him, which he did not think she would fight it, he kissed the back of her hand goodbye as Nisele had forced on him earlier, then disappeared on a turn.

While roaming there were no shortage of faces to greet and arms to clasp. Although there was not the air of reunion to it as he’d experienced these past few days. Jai’s smile was sincere for the most part. In fact, his smile made it so far as to escape the main room altogether. He took a set of stairs two steps at a time to fly past the mason marks lining the rail but managed to emerge onto the second floor space overlooking the gala below without incident. Especially since a particular young Lady half his size nearly ran into him on her way down.

Taken aback at first, he quickly recovered with a flourishing, and foreign, bow where one hand moved back from the slender hilt at his side and the other lowered from his heart. They met one another in formal grasps behind his back.

“My Lady Sachi, you are looking more wizened and older by the day.”

He was pleased to see the young lady smile at the strange compliment. Young women of such mirthful youth would move mountains to gain any advancement in seeming older than they were. Whatever plans she had for descent, they were good as abandoned when she snaked her arm under his elbow like a little sister.

“Tell me, how is your mother?”

He looked down at her playfully.

Young Sachi's chocolate eyes swirled with liquid connivance. A defiant testament to their innocence. “Lady Fatima is as we speak renegotiating with the Sea Folk.”

“Based on some new projections in the market, I presume? That would not have been your brilliant suggestion, was it?”

Jai's innocent question fell on ameable ears.

“Oh yes. It was very fortunate we discovered such forecasting. Mother was quite pleased with the discovery. I even get to lead the bartering for the next contract.”

Sachi beamed with pride. So did Jai. She earned it. She did all the work after all, once her aim was set true. Jai pat the girl on the shoulder.

“I look forward to hearing of your long and illustrious career making knees tremble. And of all the money you will make, of course.”

He winked expectedly. “When you do, I could use some new cording.”
He pat the silk strands balancing the sword to his low belt. Her eyes lit incorigably when she realized he meant the sword. “And remember.”
He clasped her shoulders and leaned the long way down to her face dramatically. “I am fond of gray.”
Just before she left, he felt her shoulders giggle under his hands. But before he made two steps farther, a pair of heavy boots fell in step warning of company.

“Perhaps we should all be looking to the north?”

“You’re a man of dramatic greetings, Captain.”

Jai’s smirk was insincere, but his companion did not seem to take the comment badly. However, the longer Jai watched, there seemed to be more frown than usual behind Antony Sadiq’s stare-straight squint. While the Captain’s question naively fell too close to Nythadri’s for comfort, he placated Jai’s suspicions before they rose too far to call back down without repercussions. As the coordinator for countless raids together, the Captain was aware how many tormented days such obsessions might cost the Asha’man. A scene nobody liked to watch.

“Your Lady friend? I take it she is a guest of the Aes Sedai’s, though?”

“Ah yes, her. Well, i’m not exactly sure who’s guest she is.”

His eyes darted the tops of heads in search for dark curls below. “Did you know Daryen has a sister that’s Aes Sedai?”
The brow curving question was out of idle interest, but he shrugged it off. It seemed all Domani were as aware of that fact as they were of which way to saddle a horse. Well, Jai didn’t exactly know his way around a tack room.

As though by summons, the Aes Sedai below them seemed to shift on the couch. The uniformed officer beside him went typically quiet, probably feeling for strings around his neck, though he did not fidget if he did, for the few minutes before pulling Jai out of waiting for the prickle of a woman channeling. His shocking statement worked.

“Fine meat today. What a shame to see it go underseasoned.”

The Aes Sedai vanished from his thoughts. “That was you? I thought..?”

Antony’s rare glimpse of a smile was his answer. “His Highness has more important matters on his mind besides the kitchen.”

Jai lent his laughter to the railing, “Yes, I suppose he does,”
clapped the man on the shoulder appreciatively. “So what do you know about this hunt?”

The two faded from sight shortly after.

Only darkness shows you the light.

She accepted the hand up and the kiss, though her instincts told her it was foolish to allow. There was no point looking to Lirida, like a child checking misbehaviour went unnoticed; plenty of eyes watched, Nythadri did not need to sweep the room to know it, so the Aes Sedai did not need to watch to know every movement she made. Probably, she had just confirmed every rumour of licentiousness that had ever found her its victim, but the damage had been done a long time ago. At this rate, they’re going to have to bundle me up in Green or cast me out altogether.

“You’ll be waiting a long time, you know.”
For the trust, and for the story – which, given the suggestive glint in his eye, she did not doubt he would find disappointing. She smiled though; reigniting a sly humour dampened by talk of Seanchan and conspiracy, enjoying the gentle warmth of his touch, and of his lips. For a moment after, she watched him walk away.

Outside it wasn’t exactly cool, but it provided peace from the viper-pit within and she could suffer the sun if she could do it in solitude. She wandered an area of marble patio until the hum of conversation died, coming to rest against an exquisitely wrought railing. When she leant on it, it was hot to the touch, pushing spikes of unbearable heat through the fabric of her sleeves. She straightened, drumming her fingertips against it instead, making a game of the short sharp scalds, so that it almost felt like music.

All it took were these few moments of silence and privacy to bring her back to herself.

She thought of Farune, and of a nameless gaidin holding out a white orchid. Jai snaked like dark mist through these memories; the whisper of his breath against her ear, the warmth of his hand on her own. Abandoning her game, she traced where he had touched her neck, curling the hair around her fingers and staring out over Daryen’s expansive gardens. His face had branded in her mind, the haunting in his eyes, and the earnestness in an appeal of a man laying himself bare. And what exactly does he expect from me?

“What a wicked game.”
And one she was more and more fed up with playing by the minute. She could retreat – it was always an option. But it would be like standing still in the middle of a battle while the crash of steel rang in your ears. Eventually you would find yourself a casualty of someone else’s swing. She longed for a permanent balance, but she had yet to find it.

Thoughts beginning to drift, she was startled by the clink of a glass on the railing beside her, marking an end to the brevity of her respite – which had contained little peace, anyhow. Her cautious gaze drew down, discovering water, not wine. And the man that had put it there was Imaad Suaya.

“Water is difficult to come by at these functions if you don’t ask for it. The wine’s popularity is on account of its uncanny ability to help soften the company of insufferable fools. So it’s a necessary evil.”
She noticed that Imaad’s glass held neither wine or water, but an amber liquid that suggested it was far more potent. Clearly, he suffered the company of fools more than most.

“Thank you.”
She accepted the drink with something of a droll smile, appreciating the coolness against her palm. Water. Nisele works quickly, she thought wryly, but she could not imagine the woman having not flown Jai’s company to make subtle enquiries about Nythadri’s unanticipated appearance, and then blanketing opinion of her as a sweet youthful ignorant, vacant like a little doll. By Imaad’s tone, though, he was apparently resolved to make up his own mind about her. He didn’t treat her like a child, and the sly glint of his expression did not suggest he would go easy on her.

He watched her take a sip, expression ever so slightly on the edge of amusement. “A daughter of the Tower in our midst. What a dubious pleasure.”
The comment was so unexpected and unscrupulously barbed that she actually laughed, pleasantly surprised to find a diversion from the usual painted courteousness. Stifling a cough, she replaced the glass on the railing, and regarded his caustic face with an open smile.

“And I take it I am experiencing the 'dubious' pleasure of introductions with Imaad Suaya – though perhaps dubious is really the wrong word. If I had to dance one more courtly dance I think I might scream. You are more refreshing than your brother.”

“Of course. He may have gotten the pretty looks, but he didn’t get the intellect.”
His smile curved sinister, but appraising the man’s rectangular face and narrow eyes she found that she liked him immediately – despite the danger that lurked quietly like a predator under placid waters. His was not the wit and sarcasm of a good-hearted rogue, it was the ruthless insubordination of a man accustom to getting exactly what he wanted without playing nice to get there. The risk made it interesting. Accepted Nythadri.”
He toyed with the sound of her title as he toyed with the contents of his glass. “It’s not often the Aes Sedai lets your lot out of their gilded cages.”

Her fingers played with the stem of the glass. “Gilded, is it? It seems gossip travels as quickly as the wine, if you think you think you know the inner-workings of the Tower.”
Gilded indeed.

“Undeniably. After all, it’s an unusual occasion. No surprise that the gossip this morning is… a little crazy.”
Another flicker of a smile, like the licking of flame. His pose was expectant, mocking. It was meant to draw her attention, and it did, but she did not dignify him with a reaction. She brought the water to her lips again, stalling away the moments before he would pursue his point; he’d all but just admitted the discrediting gossip about Jai was down to him, answering every doubt about her certainty. At least he is direct. She could appreciate that, if his sardonic jeering was becoming less like an amusing diversion and more like the cold steel of teeth about her neck.

“You seem very cosy with the Asha’man.”

“Do you think I had a choice? He’s a natural flirt. He seems to think no woman should be able to resist.”
She thought it the right comment to fit an approximation of the image Imaad wished to purvey of the Asha’man, with enough casual disinterest to mark her as a neutral party. Pale eyes sought the merchant’s face to discover his reaction, but she could detect little beyond his sarcastic laugh, narrow eyes creased with the mirth of another’s misfortune.

“You didn’t look particularly resistant to me, my dear.”

His tone was beginning to grate. “You already noted the bands on my dress. I’m no easy quarry, Imaad,”
she said scathingly. “And he has plenty of women to choose from.”

“A man like that chases the unattainable like a dog chases its tail.”

She rolled her eyes dismissively. “Your very genuine concern is touching, but--”

He turned in towards her, leaning an elbow on the railing and swirling with the liquid in his glass round and round. “And if he sullies your reputation in his persistence? They say Aes Sedai have eyes in the back of their head, that they see everything. Now, I am no expert,”
he touched his other hand to his leather-clad chest, “in the ways of the White Tower, but an Accepted could stand to lose a lot if she found herself in a position with an Asha’man that spun out of her control. Especially when that Asha’man is as unstable as Jai Kojima.”
He raised his drink, a cynical smile pressing around the lip of the glass as he sipped. There was a disturbing glint to his eye, a consummate amusement that bordered on unsettling.

It gave her pause. She couldn’t decide if he was trying to warn her away from Jai as Tamal had done, or if he danced a plan she could only catch in glimmers. Why do you want this Seanchan treaty so badly? “What does it matter to you if my reputation gleams or lies in tatters?”

He laughed, and it wasn’t the pleasant laugh of shared jollity. He laughed at her. “It doesn’t matter to me. But surely it should matter to you.”

How wrong you are. Gossip had always followed Nythadri, and she had always let it spiral. Harlot. Murderer. It would have been an easy thing to reverse once, but she had never bothered; not denials, not confirmation, just pure ignorance. Even the Tower held whispers, but with no fuel to fire them they became simple facts. She liked the simplicity and solitude the isolation brought, and that expectations of her were lower than dirt. No, it was not her reputation she coveted, but the naked threat in his words did strike a chord; perhaps not the one he had intended, but a chord all the same. For an Accepted who had already spent time at the Farm, she balanced on a very thin line. It would only take a very small push to fall. Imaad seemed prepared to push.

When she did not speak, he grinned. “If you don’t play, Nythadri, you become a pawn instead. Dance with me, or I’ll tie strings round your wrists and make you dance. Either way, you dance.”

He seemed to have found the measure of her quickly, stirring her frustrations into a fury with the most nonchalant of words. Make me dance? Anger rose, tingling her skin like raging fire, denied an outlet. Like most things with Nythadri, it ran cold and sharp when it rolled off her tongue. “Are these threats, merchant?”
She did not play with words or wrap them up in pretty bows; she would not play this game.

It only seemed to make him laugh. “Be kinder to an old man, and maybe I’ll even sing you the tune.”

Thoughts of the Game distilled from her mind. Rare to anger but quick to act on it, she stepped into his personal space. “If you cross me, Imaad Suaya, do not think I will forget your name when I wear the shawl.”

Imaad raised his glass, tilting is head down to her in a mocking bow. “That,”
he said, “is more like it.”

As she glared into his faintly amused face, she realised that he had been poking for an emotional response. The fact she’d given it to him only made her fury storm. Her grip on the glass of water intensified, so that she almost feared its delicacy would smash into a thousand pieces before she eased the pressure and abandoned the glass on the railing instead. There were no goodbyes, just the whip of banded robes as she passed, and the hum of Imaad Suaya’s laughter ghosting after her.

The fall of boots slowly replaced the hum of gatherings fading behind them. For a country estate, the halls were surprisingly long. Jai was unfamiliar with their layout, sizing up what was revealed with every turn, but Antony strolled with a soldier's casual stride straight to a courtyard as if he knew it was there all along. Outside, while all there was to hear was the dripping of an out of sight fountain and the conversation, neither man spoke too freely. Of the hunt to come for some time, including the hunters. Liridia Sedai's apparent tameness, seemingly uninterested in the King unless he read a book to her. The sunset pepper which won him the chance for a Razor. Antony seemed rather amused by Jai's bout of blindness at that point in the tale. "And you say she Healed your eyes only?"
He chuckled in new light, [/color]"Finally get a Razor and you'll have a pillow in the saddle." [/color]Jai quickly defended how a man can't help what he does in his sleep. At least the story did not incite invasive questions about just how a man runs into an Aes Sedai willing to bet on Razors.

The archways lining the modest space were bolstered by smooth cylinders too narrow to obscure a profile any larger than a child's, but Jai was fiercely aware that noble estates were littered with ears; privacy was not a luxury of nobility. For the moment at least he was satisfied in their apparent isolation. The way Antony's eyes circled the perimeter, it seemed the captain was as well.

"Let's speak freely. I'll know if someone channels. Whatever happened to eavesdropping the old-fashioned way?"

His remark fell without reply. Jai planted himself as though bracing for the non-existant gust of wind and continued to ensure their privacy. It almost wasn't necessary. The palpable humidity walled them in as securely. Antony's wiping the dislodged drips from his brow spoke to it's oppression.

"Forgive me, Jai. Not that you'll be offended. But I thought you were gone for good."

He was instantly drawn to the flash of paper produced from the captain's unbuttoned jacket. Jai accepted the note smoothly, but did not expect the apology which accompanied it. His prediction of the parchment's contents proved accurate moments later when his eyes darted across plainly written script within. As Antony continued, Jai lifted from the markings only long enough to hold the paper against the blazing sun overhead. "I've worked at it for two days,"
Antony added with a measure of frustration, "but i've gotten no where. I've some suspicions as to its intended drop, but.."

Jai finally lowered from his stare into the brightness diffused only slightly by the paper. "This is the original?"
A precise crease and Jai folded it into a pocket upon Antony's confirmation.

"Its not an amateur's, that's for sure. You think this has to do with today?"

Jai frowned at the puzzling shapes he'd so quickly memorized. They soon formed a new foreground across the flagstones as he tried to fit them into those initial quadratics he could mentally test - the kind that he could work without pen and paper. Until he realized the long moments of unanswered silence. Antony's faded shape coalesced suddenly again and greeted him with the question of anticipation. Jai shook his head in answer, and Antony retracted the hope of so swift a success as a response.

"How long do you think we have until we leave?"

Jai needed a more concrete answer than the previous. This time, it was Antony who seemed to recede thoughtfully, but his introspection lasted mere seconds.

"Its a two hour ride to good grazing land."

He started, absently looking through the gallery toward the western sky. "Antelope turn most active in the hours before dusk. So.."
He seemed to go back and forth, considering the appropriate calculations. "An hour, maybe two until we leave."

Jai took no such time. "Then give me an hour. And make sure nobody interrupts me."
He turned with newness of purpose in his stride.

For this task, an open view was the opposite of what he needed. A small room. Windowless, preferably, with an unadorned table and chair. Well, unadorned after an arm swiped all the contents to the floor. As Jai locked himself in there, the last thing he noticed of the world beyond this condensed universe was Antony pulling a pipe from a pocket as he had the note; a simple gentleman seeking solitude from the noise of socializing.

He sat in the chair stiffly, although it was not a fault of the seat, but as he would were this his desk in Tar Valon where he corrected the Golden Fox's finances. Straight-backed and forward-leaning to start with, but such a posture was not sustainable, as he well knew. Many a dawn, the Captain discovered the shell of a man curled low and unresponsive except to a sea of incomprehensible papers, but the ritual was necessary.

No such deterioration would happen in an hour, two or three days, perhaps; not that Jai usually needed so much time. The basic statistics finished in the short time in the courtyard determined this was not an amateur's code, but a moderate level cipher; an hour should suffice. Small as the note was, the margin of error on language transformation was narrow enough to make such a call. He quickly settled into the methodical clarity found in such beloved isolation to work the more complicated equations.

A thrill flushed beneath the black with the first warmth he noticed all afternoon as his wrist inked precise columns across the page; the animation was inhumanly fluid against so statuesque a figure. A multitude of rows matched the columns above, with each beginning with the next letter of the alphabet. Separating every stroke from its neighbors with perfect distance began to freeze his knuckles, but he lacked the option to ease their ache for fear of stopping now would collapse the pyramid of integers built so painstakingly in his mind. As Jai answered line after line of statistic, he smirked at the ineptitude he uncovered. Strict subtitution was amateur; transposition was amateur, but whoever wrote this cipher foolishly believed the combination of both doubled the security. It didn't.

It was only when the final message was rewrote, in his own hand, did Jai find his face pulled tight with thought. Unwrenching it was a task as much as pulling out the wedges shoved in every tense joint. But it was a satisfying chore to grip success. The aftermath of his hour rushed to the foreground, then. With only the one page to work with, it was nearly black with script. A new layer of ink laid down atop the old and useless ones before. To see it now it was practically incomprehensible even to its author. But here and there he saw the circle of a beautifully balanced equation hidden behind a checklist of letters.

It was at his creation, the deciphered message written in his own hand, that he stared sickly. The delay in understanding born from the frenzied isolation of a single-track mind only now free to comprehend.

'Proceed. The banker has gone back to Tar Valon.'

The heat of putrid bile bubbled up; as hot and choking as the fountain of blood when Tomdry's Fade split him open. But there was no heroic scene to slowly escort him to death, no rush of defiance filling his ears, no atonement to die on the battlefield.

The order of the last hour was replaced with chaos flying as fast through his thoughts as did the air in his lungs. Two days ago, Antony's men intercepted this note. Jai swallowed dryly. Someone knew he left. Someone knew where he went. He had to tear hot eyes away from reading the words obsessively, as though they might change with each new skimming. He had to leave, but a frantic look around the room boxed him in. Cohesive thoughts of logic, to escape by channeling, or walking out, were nowhere to be found. Instead, he vaguely heard his own chair clatter backwards as he stood too quickly. It was soon followed by the sound of the door opening.

He looked hesitantly.

Antony shut the door behind him. The slow look of worry creased his brow. "What? Did you decipher it?"
His eyes flickered to the table where the usual sea of papers were transformed into a single sheet. Jai watched Antony search without guidance. It was only by the negative shake of his head that Jai knew he'd found it. "The banker? I don't know who it's about."
To the point, as usual. He looked to Jai for insight.

Jai's rasp finally broke from his constricted chest. "Me."
Antony turned grave as though he'd been given a glimpse of a horrifying portrait without seeing the entire picture.

He wracked his brain for an explanation. The words flooded from his mind. "Intercepted two days ago."
Antony's nod agreed. "I am a banker by training. Accountant, essentially."
His chest heaved painfully. He'd told only one person in Arad Doman about that existance. Antony absorbed the information without reaction. "I went home."
No, that didn't make sense. He heard himself say it. He was pacing now. But the room was too small to pace. "I went home. I'm from Tar Valon, I went home. It's where I grew up. Two days ago. Somebody knew. How? Its impossible."
He clenched his hands to hide them shaking. And repeated it all again.

And again.

A sudden weight steadied his shoulder, and the vibrations in the world came to stillness.


It was enough. Jai knew as he was doing what he was doing. But the pacing, the counting, the clencing, the breathing; it helped. He had to do something to find a foothold in the avalanche. Every other day he suspected someone was warring against him, but in the end the cool logic of analysis set his thoughts true. Now it was so unnerving to discover a conspiracy not fabricated in his own head, but one that actually existed. If not for Antony's intervention, he could only guess what derivitive of a man might have later been found.

"Alright, lad. The hunt's been called. Let's think while we walk to the stables. I'd wager a guess what might be able to proceed with you gone."

On the threshold of leaving, Jai grit his teeth as the cold flame of saidin twisted the parchment to cinders. He could wager the same guess.
Only darkness shows you the light.

She didn’t know where she was going; she didn’t even know where she was in this maze of courtyards and gardens, the heat blazing down her brow like fire. The desire to escape was palpable, all the more gripping for its impossibility. It had been a long while since she had felt the rise of such tangible emotion; that fierce anger at the world, at the Tower, at Caemlyn, her family. At Farune. She’d grown adept at blanketing it beneath the ice. She could disregard the direst of insults, turn a cheek at the most brazen of rumours, but somehow that man had crawled under her skin. I’ll make you dance.

Fury. Pure fury. The suggestion of control, the threat of it; and all because Imaad could. The aggressive pace of her steps was eating up the ground. She didn’t know who she looked for. Jai? Yui? Even Daryen? The King could put an end to such a farcical charade, if she could convince him of the conspiracy. Or maybe he already knew; perhaps this treaty was more important than the proposed ruination of his friend, and he turned a blind eye. And Fate? Where did Fate stand in all this?


Rage so vicious rarely sustained itself long; she was too controlled to let it, once the object that stirred her emotions was left behind. Cold flooded back, stilling her to something that seethed. Walking through the sun-drenched gardens, blind to the beauty, she suddenly pinpointed the crux of her reaction. Helplessness. Weak to the Game that drew her in despite every protest or promise she made. Recognition pushed her into darkness. As even seething anger plummeted to hopelessness, old wounds split: she missed Farune all over again; not just the physicality of him, but the stalwart companionship, the patient ear, that balance of calm and peace she’d never managed to attain for herself outside of her instruments - and even that reliant on an outlet so often denied her. How quickly the hate burned away, after a year of obliterating every happy memory. Light burn me for a fool.

“Nythadri, slow your pace, child.”

Nythadri sunk into herself, the anger and frustration tied in knots to keep it controlled, to keep it distant. Something terse and placid took its place as she did as bid, recognising without needing to look who had caught up with her: “Aes Sedai.”
In a strange way it was a comfort. It occurred to her she had spent so many years closeted by the Tower that she had forgotten the real world, that it was a thing of such vastly sweeping consequence it was almost overwhelming. It has overwhelmed me. Confessing it, even in her own mind, made her ashamed. Once she had been so worldly, and free, and in control.

Liridia was a petite woman, her delicate features unassuming in a pleasant way – agreeable to look at but easy to forget. Her hair was pinned and plaited in a complicated but functional halo about her head, the southern sun alighting gold amongst the inoffensive brown, and her dress, fit snug and divided for riding, was practical with a nod to modern fashion. A step behind walked a man she presumed to be the Brown’s warder, who nodded greeting when he felt her gaze on him. She had not noticed him before now, but clearly he had been lurking; the swirl of his cloak made her nauseous, and she looked away.

Liridia tucked the thin volume she had been reading into her skirts, and appeared to for a moment appreciate the warm caress of the sun on her face. “Oh, how wonderful to stretch my legs – I’m stiff as an oak. You should have roused me, Keren. Mind you, these precursors can be so tiresomely long, so perhaps it was for the best. How are you finding Arad Doman, Nythadri? Different, no?”

“Oh, the Domani have been very accommodating. I have been given plenty of friendly advice.”
A look in the woman’s direction sought indication of understanding, but she should have known better than to expect to find such answers from a Sister. The woman smiled indulgently, like Nythadri had made some inane comment about the weather. Typical Brown. No hope of understanding Fate’s intentions or Lirida’s opinions on the reception’s undercurrent. From the pocket the book had been secured in, the Aes Sedai pulled a pair of short riding gloves and proceeded to pull them on, wiggling her fingers into the leather.

“That’s good, dear. One should always consider the advice of others, just as much as she should learn to recognise when it comes from the mouths of fools. And even the wisest of us can be fools.”

Nythadri almost missed a step, grasping at that hand-hold like a drowning man sucks air. Relief swelled in her chest at the guidance. “And the Tower doesn’t suffer fools.”
Said as a statement, meant as a tenuous question.

“The Tower guides fools, like mothers guide errant children.”

Nythadri nodded, absorbing the cryptic as easily as if Liridia had spoken plainly. What she discovered quickened her heart, and finally made some sort of sense of her presence. But why send a Brown and an Accepted, not a Blue or a Gray? Because this is not an official gathering; Daryen is testing the waters, garnering his support. The guiding touch of the Tower must be light, especially with an Asha’man. Liridia is not here to force decisions, she is here to watch the ripples of their progression, and to gently steer them when necessary. A faint frown. So perhaps it didn’t explain why Fate had sent Nythadri through the Gate, but it was something to grasp at least; some end goal upon which to focus. She could live with that; it cemented her foundations, steeled her strength.

“It might pay to watch for snakes, Aes Sedai. I don’t want to fall from my horse in the Domani countryside.”

But Liridia only laughed. “Oh child, when doesn’t it pay to watch for snakes?”

The Aes Sedai had been driving their direction, and Nythadri paying only cursory attention. What had descended to a pit of darkness and confusion had finally reignited to light and air; the security of it was like a blanket, and with it Nythadri was back on an even keel - where she intended to stay. The excited baying of hounds pricked her ears after a time, growing closer with each step. The scent of horseflesh and hay was next, as they soon descended on the stables. Outside, people had already begun to gather; servants fussing horses, the ring of laughter and an expectant air flourished with with the anticipated thrill of the hunt. Her gaze drew to Imaad in his furs, standing by his brother who assessed a horse in a thoroughly excited manner. He smirked at her across the distance, but she only gave him a genial nod in return. He would not be getting the pleasure of manipulating her so easily to high emotion twice.

Taking in the scene as it came nearer, she realised she had given little to no thought to the hunt ahead. It had been years since she had ridden, and even in Caemlyn it had not been a pastime she had particularly pursued. She’d always been a city-dweller; market streets, the press of crowded roofs and fire-lit taverns, not open grasses and endless sky. What was music that had no audience but birds and insects? Her Lord father had indulged in the hunt from time to time, but House Vanditera's standing had never been so high as to make the occasions gratuitous. And Nythadri had never attended, or had conveniently been absent despite her most honest promised word. The closest she had ever gotten to the sanctity of nature was with Farune, and only because it was among the foremost of his loves. She had enjoyed the privacy of Andor's lakes and forests, but only because he was here to enjoy them with her.

“I hope you’re not expecting me to ride one of those.”
Aware that her tone sounded petulant, she turned her gaze to the Aes Sedai. “I mean it seriously, not disrespectfully. As soon as the hunt picks up pace, I’ll end up leagues away.”

"I look ridiciulous."

He murmured to himself. Luckily, no one was around to hear the escaped thought. A beauty mark on a Domani man's chin made more sense compared to the way Jai felt he pranced with the Razor. "Not exactly a killer, are you?"
Riding a peacock on a hunt seemed a fitting retribution for delivering an old uniform to Fate rather than doffing the current one then and there. He reconsidered the mistake of not giving her what she really wanted. Burn it all. The stallion stomped back at Jai's nervous laughter.

"Rodel Ituralde rode a Razor."

Distracted by the conversation and attempts to feel dominating, he hadn't noticed Antony leading his mount into ear shot. It would not have been disturbing for a man a whole head shorter to quietly cross the hay-softened dirt, but to do so with a full sized horse of his own was unsettling. The apprehension curling Jai's brows slowly seeped into antipathy.

"Yeah? Well, not for stealth."

The rankle of amusement broke the captain's veneer as he disappeared from the stables.

Jai could hear the rustle of preparations out there, blinded into obscurity by the pour of sunlight's direction. A good spotlight was always appreciated, but the black and white stripes beneath him were as good a target as if he'd painted one on his back. The nobles without would certainly raise a few brows at seeing a foreigner confiscating something so prized. In that regard, Jai could grin at the lot of them, hold his arms out, and canter into their midst as a conquering hero. Considering the aim of one or two out there, they probably would not need the target on his back to hit him then; well, try and hit him. Metaphorical targets might be poetic justice, but he could imagine a leathery Raken circling him like a buzzard all the way to the Dragonwall with such an easy target to track.

A longing glance at the passing stalls of quarterhorses revealed his preference. Black, when given the choice; for obvious reasons. He could channel that sense of foreboding power as a rider cloaked in omninous night on a black stallion. Seen speeding forward by only the gleam of pins, flash of steel and white globes of horse eyes. The sword, the horse, the uniform. Jai knew it was all marketing; as clear an illusion as filling a hall with coerced busyness to draw in a real crowd. Brilliantly planned on the part of the Black Tower and fully supported by Jai. His brothers were just as deadly with or without looking like animated death, but people clung to symbols; grasping hard, ironically, at the hand that would bring them swift demise if they thought it would buy them a few more minutes before falling to the darkness below.

Today was not about that; not entirely. Jai owned no such animal of his own. A man who lived in tents rode the Legion's stock; a man who stalked palace halls borrowed whatever was waiting around. And horses were only a rewarding investment if one owned the land to stud them. Neither were ventures he cared to pursue; the thrill of investing was not about making money after all.


The Stallion snorted, assuming the suggestion was meant for him as though used to more confident riders than Jai. Or commanding ones, perhaps? This was Daryen's parade horse, after all, Fate's breeder; two of the world's great powers could certainly be described as commanding. A boy raised in immaculate city streets had little need for horse work. His own two feet sufficed. When the occassion called for cleaner boots, the Kojima men stepped from carriages rather than swung from a saddle. Off the island, long distance travel was essentially eliminated when one's constant company consisted of channelers. It left Jai with only a working man's skill at riding. Enough to not get bucked, know how to steer, and keep a wary eye for snakes.

He was determined to look confident; even if he wasn't. Which is why he took his time stepping into that spotlight. Gathering the swirl of expertise behind his eyes like he danced with the familiarity of equations was not an instant facade. But when it came, his smirk was for a mistress nobody else could conquer. When War Cry finally steadied, Jai knew the charade was a success. Winning over the stallion's respect was the final task to check off. It wasn't about the Razor, though. Not entirely. The stallion's tentative respect would be lost if it knew it were being used as Lady Nisele's entwining fingers had been when they tried to clutch at Jai: as a message.

A click of the tongue and they rode from stableshade and into sight of the group that would spit on a drowning man as soon as spot him. In the momentary burn of sudden brightness, Jai heard a gasp. An amused lick of a smile briefed his lips in response. It was about that.

He swayed in the saddle's graceful rocking, foreign on the Razor as an inlander in an ocean dingy. The reigns were loosely draped through his ungloved fingers casually rest on the black pommel. At least the saddle he'd acquired was classically colored. Jai needed every image he could to remind the lot out to keep the spit in their mouths. Perhaps it was being superior, riding forth as he did, unturning toward the whispers that followed him like hungry dogs. But there was no denying an Asha'man's dias above the rest; those vultures might not walk the wounded to safety, but Jai rode with the potential to give the vulture something to eat in the first place.

He walked War Cry straight as an arrow through the murmurings rising up to meet him.

'The King's mount?' one reached his ears. In answer, Jai flashed the anonymous questioner an affirming nod. Yes, it said; do not question again. He rode the same animal as was used to show off the nation's ruler. Only rather than parading Daryen around in Arad Doman's crown jewels, War Cry had the pleasure of prancing with a new brother of death.

Another question broke the barricade of indistinguisable buzz. 'A bet, I heard.' Then, the judgemental accusation: 'Gambler.' To those, he did not respond. Which was as good as confirmation as if he'd chucked a pair of dice into their face. Antony did his job it seemed, spreading enough of the tale with his time in the company of the horse's owner to initiate the appropriate momentum. Now, it was up to Jai to exponentiate the message.

He noted, that in general as people seemed to put the finishing touches on their travel supplies. The younger Suaya brother seethed with mocking pleasantries when Jai caught his eye, then went back to securing his buckler of arrows, eyes flashing to the weapon at Jai's hip, the blade obviously not condusive to shooting down animal flesh.

"What are you going to do, Kojima? Hack the deer to death?"

Jai quenched the younger man's mocking laughter with a suggestive laugh of his own. Asha'man did not need such lesser tools; effectively unsettling Tamal more with a disturbing laugh than any other comeback might have accomplished.

He kicked forward, past Nisele's seductive smile. Though Jai thought it dulled when she saw the leather and fur-clad Imaad raise a silvery flask to theatrically greet the passing Asha'man, a move more cleverly delivered than Tamal's attempts had been.

He was drawn toward the only other soldier in their midst; not that Jai particularly thought of himself in the same league. Soldiers were heroes, after all. Antony still wore vestiges of his uniform but was now transformed into more functional attire rather than the stern look of formality during the reception beforehand: buttons loosened at his neck, the stiff jacket shed, sleeves rolled to the elbows. The man was deep in discussion about terrain with a seasoned huntmaster by the look of the newcomer's lithe attire and assortment of projectile instruments scattered within arm's reach. A pre-strung shortbow at his left, fletchings of arrows sticking high above the opposite shoulder. A paring knife for splitting skin strapped to his thigh, a sheathed butcher's saw secured to the saddle. Riding up earned a split second pause in their planning as the man glanced curiously at the Razor, sword, and finally Jai.

It earned him a more healthy nod in greeting than Jai had given to the others; hiding his wonder at just which faction bought the hunter's allegiance. The griseled woodsman did not seem so fine an actor to Jai as to portray being until-now unaware of one of the party including a nameless man of the Black Tower. Perhaps his allegiance was still up for purchase, then?

Their conversation resumed, but Jai paid little attention to the details. He cared little for what pastures lay between the hills ahead, only surviving long enough to get there; hillsides could be moved anyway.

He caught the warder's eye next as one herald of death respecting the territory of another. He had no intention of crossing so expertly trained a man, especially one littered with the minute bulges of blades marring the slopes of his elaborate cloak. His weapons were not for hunting either, Jai noticed, but for blazing a path to safety. His sword was positioned the same as Jai's, though was not so fine a weapon. It's shape of none of the borderlands, and certainly not curved with the same beauty as his own; Jai ignored the inherent bias in such a thought. Yet the warder seemed less possessive of it, tied to the saddle while Jai maintained his belted.

It didn't take a warder-trained man to notice being sized up. It seemed to magnify the tension, though. While it wasn't his intent to signal hostility, the man bristled further when Jai dismissed the blades, and man who carried them, as only minor threats.

His eyes slid to the Aes Sedai in the gaidin's shadow. Now she was a threat. Without a way to know her strength, Jai was forced to assume she could snuff the Power from his grasp with the lifting of a finger, although it would take an exceptional woman to do so if he already seized Saidin. Her Ajah hadn't escaped his notice either. With the color of her dress she might as well have been shawled in Brown. The woman who engineered his path herewas of the same Ajah. Her Sitter in fact. He studied Liridia with the question of wondering how much she knew, and waiting for her half of the Power shredding his skin in ice enhanced the anticipation tightening his jaw.

Antony's cipher might easily have come from her faction as any other person in sight. Imaad's sly smirk seemed amused at the inherent threat between Asha'man and Aes Sedai; perhaps he was the mole to give Jai away? Nisele's clicking forward of her mare jerked Jai's attention her direction only to see her back ghosting forward, silken hair bouncing on the propulsion; Jai believed her as capable of striking a man's life inconsequential as the Aes Sedai. And likely just as resourceful at gathering information. Foreigner, she liked to tease him. He searched his memory for evidence if she'd ever hinted at knowing his past.

When his eyes finally absorbed Nythadri, her chill was frozen further by the events of the last hour. He swallowed the sick suspicion threatening the tentative trust constructed when last they were together. She was of the White Tower, he reminded himself. Therefore belonging with the likes of Fate and Liridia. But things were different now. It dug inward like gravel in an open wound, but rather than face such doubts, he pulled the reigns and steered War Cry around to put her out of sight. Hoping with a spur forward she did not see the incertaintude likely to have crimped the edges of his eyes.

The first of the party spurred forward, but with a general understanding of readiness rather than some official proclamation. Jai ignored the lingering eyes he passed on the way to catching up with those in the lead. He didn't interrupt Daryen's turn with the hunter now, but a brief meeting of their eyes and he had not the excuse of riding away to conceal suspicion as he had with Nythadri. This man was the only one Jai knew about that had the potential to have betrayed his trust. A silent question passed between them. How much did the other one know?

Behind them, other eyes were asking themselves the same question. The hunt began.
Only darkness shows you the light.

A hand on her shoulder, soft as butterfly wings. But the voice that accompanied it was more akin to the sting of a scorpion, and Nythadri’s heart sunk. “Dearest Nythadri.”
Nisele’s smile was genuine, but it was a glee that dripped the poison of an unexpected advantage over an enemy. “Am I to understand you are not quite the equestrian? Allow me to assist. Aes Sedai, if I may? I know the horses here, I’ll find her one soft as butter...”

Within the soft shadows of the stables, Nisele’s perfume mingled sickeningly with the scent of hay and manure. The woman fluttered mindless pleasantries as they walked, but beneath the civility her tongue was a sharp as a blade. Light burn Liridia for nodding so blandly to the Lady’s offer! Perhaps all that talk of snakes had been utterly literal after all, if the Brown so readily handed her off into such hostile company. There had to be a way to talk her way out of accepting Nisele’s help, but already they had come to pause by a stall, the horse within whickering softly at the women who came to stand in audience. Nythadri’s eyes flickered the briefest of appraisals – what did she even kid herself she was even looking for?! - and came to settle on the animal’s disagreeably intelligent eyes.

“The gentlest of horses. You’ll hardly know he is beneath you.”
Nisele stroked the beast’s long red nose as it leaned out over its stable, laughing as the animal snuffled into her neck. A slender gold finger heralded one of the hands, a young boy with something questionable smeared on one unknowing cheek who came as though the domani had whistled a dog. “This one for the Accepted.”
Her smile was sweet, and accompanied by another falsely fond touch of the arm. Nythadri began to regret the foundations she had laid, now that they turned on her. “No need to thank me.”
Something flashed darkly, and the Lady was gone.

Nythadri watched mistrustfully as the stable-hand readied her mount, observing every casual toss of its head like she expected it would suddenly buck control. She could not fault the horse, but she did not trust Nisele’s sugary sweetness. Or her own amateur eye. “Tell me,”
she said to the boy. “Is this really a good horse?”

Bu any reply was stunted by heavy footsteps and a smooth masculine tone.

“A word, Accepted.”

She didn’t know him, aside from having seen him amongst the other nobles during the reception, but he introduced himself with a courteous bow of the head. “Antony Sadiq.”
Nythadri nodded, watching as he made a gesture and the stable-hand led the horse outside. He waited until both were out of sight before he spoke. “Forgive this distasteful manner of subterfuge, but needs must. I’ve a favour to ask, if you’ll hear it.”

I have a choice? She nodded, faintly wearied.

“It concerns Asha’man Kojima, in that I am concerned for him. The lad is…”
he paused, clearly deciding the best way to phrase whatever it was he wished to impart.

“Delusional? Unstable? Paranoid? This isn’t going to be some friendly advice, is it?”
She interrupted his thoughtful silence drolly, wary of mistaking his stern and decorous manner for wisdom. The most dangerous players were often the ones who garnered a sense of trust, and she half suspected he had come to warn her away from Jai out of a sense of chivalrous duty.

A frown. “On the contrary, Accepted. Asha’man Kojima has valid reason to be suspicious. There was a message intercepted by my men a few days ago, suggesting that his presence here today is undesirable. You must understand that I am somewhat hesitant to give detail, but I suspect thought of a conspiracy will be… troubling for him, at best.”

“With all respect, I don’t know what you expect me to do…”

“If there were a way to distract him. A way to inject some rationality.”

His gaze suggested purpose, but he appeared reluctant to speak – rather waiting for her to understand his almost uncomfortable pause. Their performance at the reception. He thinks we’re lovers. She paused herself for a moment, considering. She owed Jai nothing, but neither did she wish him ill. Imaad, on the other hand. “He doesn’t trust me. I fear you’re building hopes on sand. But I’ll try.”

He nodded, and turned. It was on impulse she decided to share her own information, saidar burning bright in the few moments it took to make sure the words calling after him were for his ears only.

“It’s Imaad. Your snake in the grass. I’d wager anything on it.”

The stable-hand was waiting patiently outside, the horse gleaming scarlet like fire in the streaming sunshine. She approached them both warily. I have no idea what I’m doing,”
she hissed, but the boy’s only reaction was to kneel in the dirt and cup his hands to aid her mount. Oh, Light preserve me! Somewhere Nisele’s liquid dark eyes watched gleefully, she knew it, but Nythadri pulled herself up onto the horse anyway, praying one did not forget such things as riding. To its credit the creature did not move despite her tentative touch. Once safely astride, her fingers tangled in the reins, it danced a little in reaction to her nerves, but seemed suspiciously as compliant as Nisele had suggested. She pressed her palm against its neck, warm as the colour suggested in the summer sun. “We’re going to be friends, right? Sugar lumps, apples – name your poison, so long as you don’t throw me off.”

When she straightened there was a commotion of whispers emanating from the stable’s entrance, and Jai emerged at is centre. A razor? He had mentioned a bet, and Fate had mentioned a ride, but she had not guessed at this. If she was more gracious she might have tried to hide the amused smile, but the image of the austere Asha’man on such a pompous beast tickled her humour so that she almost outright laughed. Until she caught that look, and her stomach sunk as fast as lead. Her gaze followed him as he rode off, and she was not the only one. Imaad raised his flask.

“I’d bank on this being a fortuitous hunt. Care to take a wager on it, Tamal? Jai]?”
He smirked, calling after the Asha’man as he passed, and laughing when the man ignored him.
She rode with Lirida and Keren for a while, mindlessly absorbing the Aes Sedai’s observations of the behaviour and anatomy of antelope. But her attention centred upon Imaad riding ahead, deep in mirthful conversation with Nisele. What the woman said was lost to the faint breeze, but Imaad spoke loudly. The level of his voice might have suggested he felt the influence of the golden liquid he carried in his flask, but there was a vicious awareness that denied that possibility. Whatever his pretences, he was aware of every word.

“… golden in beauty, but sly as a fox – or so she thought. Not everyone needs a man to oversee every balance sheet!”
Imaad said nothing of consequence, at least not insofar as Nythadri could detect, but he glanced often at Jai with the slyest tilt of the head. It was a goad that should have been easy for Jai to ignore, but the nuances of his reactions did not indicate a man turning his back on provocation. Wrapped in himself, the world beyond an enemy, he looked just as he had in the White Tower’s hall. She blinked, on the edge of an epiphany ignited by Antony’s request. Though he gave no outward sign of it, she could almost hear him counting. "The lad is..." Antony had never even finished his sentence, but the quiet deliberation of his words spoke volumes. She suddenly realised how wrong she had been about the anomaly she had dubbed a gift. At the time it had seemed that way – a man who saw mathematical poetry as quickly and effortlessly as she composed music. Now it seemed sinisterly obsessive.

She spurred her horse on cautiously, testing her control of beast she was loath to trust despite their deal, until she grew level with the Asha’man; conveniently blocking view the merchant behind, if not the ostentatious volume of his voice.

“I hope you’re going to crack a smile, Jai. This whole ordeal has been tortuous enough already - don’t make it worse by leaving it to me to be the only one with a bloody sense of humour.”
Despite the joking mockery of her words, she did not smile herself. If anything her gaze was intense. People often found it hard to resist that stare; whether it made them uncomfortable, drew them like a moth to flame, or even made them irritable that she should be so bold. There was the faintest hint of demand to her – as well there should be towards a man who presented tentative steps of trust one moment and cast suspicious glances the next. Beside the point that she knew what had disturbed him.

She waited until she had his attention – or enough of it at least – before the stillness of her face lapsed to a devilish smirk. “Are you sulking because you look ridiculous? Because you do look ridiculous, you know. Not that I don’t appreciate the finer point, but…”

Behind she could hear wafts of Imaad’s voice. Tar Valon. The words caught her own ears, and soon so did the voicing of her own name.

“Tell us, Nythadri, are the streets of Tar Valon paved in gold? Are its people all as rich as bankers?”

She threw an acidic answer over her shoulder, but did not turn. “I’m sure a merchant of such repute and wealth as you knows plenty enough about the Shining City.”

I'll make you dance. Now more than ever the threat crawled under her skin.

“Light-blasted man. How do I make this thing go faster?”
Murmured to herself, tone laced with exasperation as she looked to the heavens. But she daren’t push the horse yet; not until she could be more certain of its temperament. In the end she settled for sidestepping closer to the razor, to distance those conversations behind. But the scarlet beast did not take to this kindly, tossing its head and flattening its ears. Light! She jerked the reins but her red had already taken a swiping bite in the razor’s direction. Its feet were stamping, its breath snorting, but it seemed content to move away. A moment of wide-eyed consternation later, she realised how she had been outmanoeuvred. Behind her sounded the silvery laugh of a domani lady, and she did not think it was Imaad who had cracked the joke. She looked to Jai. “Nisele. Light burn the woman, she chose my bloody horse.”
War Cry fought staying so far in the lead, so when his steps defiantly slowed, his rider did not resist falling back. Jai was tired of tempering his emotions anyway where disgust smouldered just below the surface. He couldn’t stand to feel the crush of Daryen’s charming grin one more time. The way the man laughed and carried on with his captain of the Guard, it was like the only taint to the day was the humidity. At least Jai could manage pace with Daryen’s focus enough to keep sweat from erupting rivers down his back. Trailing as he was, it was obvious his fellow asha’man would not allow something so mundane as weather to disrupt the ripples to his silken shirt.

In solitude, Jai could more easily make out the double thud of War Cry’s shoes pounding down the grasses. The rhythm was soothing, steady; and Jai was soon as lost to it as he was multiples of four to keep their count. Some understanding filtered through the blanket of ritual then: the appeal to a Razor’s gait. He pat War Cry’s neck in appreciation of the tentative respect bridging their differences to which he was met with a flexing of the stallion’s potential power through the reins. The animal was more well suited than originally believed for Daryen’s parades it seemed. The two were more alike than Jai had realized: hiding their power beneath a flashy exterior. The horse was growing on him, and burn it all, but he couldn’t resist that kind of style for long.

Then it started. His imagination, at first, getting the best of him, reason hoped quietly. Except for the small voice reminding him no imagination conjured that note. He choked back the ache still gnawing his wrist from penning his own fate and tried to ignore the imbeciles further back in the line. War Cry’s ears flipped as though it were the one being goaded, but Jai felt their target as sure as nails digging into his back. The animosity of it pulled the bit in War Cry's teeth. It blackened both of their moods.

Suaya's story showed his ignorance. Going on as he did about outmaneuvering his competition with some creative accounting. Sure, he was undiscovered so far perhaps, but laughably ignorant. Not that Jai was laughing. He would put a bag of gold down that young Lady Sachi could outperform the cocky bastard on pen and paper. At least, she could now, and Jai wouldn't mind watching it be done.

He would put his entire inheritance down, though, that Suaya was the coward who’d dug up the bones buried in Jai’s grave. The level of cipher certainly matched the man's level of intelligence, and dumb enough to not know his own note was a counterfeit to keep up being so obvious. How many times had the man blatantly talked about him in front of his face without Jai realizing it? Ripping his identity to shreds while his accomplices laughed on. Most such times went black with memories half-buried in wine; he couldn’t remember. Multiples of four.

A question floated to the top of that sweet barrel. Proceed with what?

''...golden... fox.''

Jai twisted toward Imaad with fire in his veins. The merchant stared back, and lifted his flask with the taunt.

"Next time I'll bring a cask for you, Kojima. I can always tell a man needing a good drink."

Tamal mouthed something to Nisele. It made her lift a brow and study Jai's menace anew.

War Cry stomped at the sudden tension in the reins as Jai straightened out his stride. Digging around in a man’s personal affairs was bothersome, but the thought of Imaad Suaya’s hot breath drinking in the tavern’s call-sign or his eyes glazing across the names of its guardians, conjured images of his taunts reaching past Jai just to grope the very mirage funneling the hope to continue. And crush it. Just to see Jai writhe with fury.

And he did. It pulsed hot and active as Saidin in the midst of battle. It was there, calling him to retaliate. When next Jai looked back, Imaad no longer played the fool. He knew all that separated him from extinction was the thinning control unraveling quickly from the Asha’man’s grip. What burned most, was he seemed to be asking for it.

“I hope you’re going to crack a smile, Jai.”

He whipped toward the voice, and for a moment saw nothing but interruption. Until Nythadri’s white dress slowly permeated the darkness. Her mirage simmered in fury’s dry heat, staring back with an intensity to match his own. She had an arrow perched at her lip, but the cold sting of reason kept his eyes on her. Only, the Light help her if she had it pointed at Jai’s back too.

His attention was effectively captured for the next few moments. Tight as a raken circling above, witnessing the firefight between Nythadri and the others below. It was the horses, though, which pulled Jai back to reality. Dancing back and forth, the Razor and her Red yipped at one another, acting out the powerplay between their riders. Ominous as was his mood, it was easy to summon the command to steer the stallion back into compliance. When he did, it was as if that was the display of dominance the stallion had been waiting for the entire time and soon went back to ignoring the Red’s intrusion.

”Burn them all.”

Jai grit through his teeth. And he meant it.

”Nythadri? Are you quite well my dear? Butter must not be allowed to run just anywhere else you’ll make a mess.”
Robust laughter joined Nisele’s silvery timbre.

Jai stared only forward. Noting the huntmaster’s shape on the return gallop some distance off. Back from scouting. He'd be there in a few minutes. Daryen and Antony seemed the only ones to care for the actual hunt. Today’s other hunt. Jai swallowed the burn of acid. Was the king that ignorant of his own court!

More voices from behind. ”..tonight’s smell of roasted flesh. I could eat the entire beast myself!”
The slap of Imaad's hungry pats followed.

“Don’t get your hopes up, brother. Kojima there may not have the legs to run down a deer so he can hack at it with that pretty sword of his.”

“Ah! But there you show your foolery! What a sight t’would be! Man and beast. One momentous swipe brings down the creature in a single blow. Slime of hot guts pouring out into the dirt as it writhes, helpless but wait to taste the relief of death. A fatal blow, would you not agree, Kojima?”

Jai went sick with shock. And his hand went to his stomach. He could feel the pucker of a scarline beneath his coat.

His trade. Tar Valon. His friends. How the hell did Imaad find out about that?!

He whispered. And remembered. Raelyn Sedai’s companion. A gaidin, who acted more a soldier, but looked more a civilian. What had been his name? He better look to the Light for protection should they ever cross paths again.

He drew on the memory of battle: when he witnessed the heroism in mankind and found the will to keep fighting for it. The battalion, Lieutenant Tomdry, their sacrifice was the infusion of he needed to survive so awful a Healing. Jai did not survive so to endure listening to scum hijacking their memory for some ploy in their game. Sickness transformed to seething fury.

”...maybe I should shoot down a fowl as back up. Could you roast the bird and float it along with us, Asha’man?
Tamal rolled. More laughter.

Nythadri scathed a response. ”Don’t waste an arrow, Tamal.”
Jai managed to look low at her wisdom. The birds darkening the horizon were indeed too far, and Tamal was no master. But one graceful pull and the younger Suaya loosed a quiet arrow, and smugly watched it soar.

Saidin rushed in. An avalanche broken from the slopes at the drop of a pin, or the twang of a bow. And Jai spun it. Hard. At every single winged shape he could see. That got Daryen’s attention. He noticed the man glance back, but the channeling continued. Tamal’s arrow hit, straight and true. But no black chunk of bird fell from the sky. It hit a spray of soft pink. Globs frozen in the air soundlessly at their sudden combustion. Then began to fall from their floating orbs like soft rain. It looked a little like cherry blossoms. So sweet an image smoothed the menace of channeling for a moment.

It didn’t last.

His leg suddenly caught fire. A burning grate like skidding across rough stone, ripping the flesh beneath to shreds.

Jai hitched War Cry into a tight circle and there saw the arrow sticking from the ground that had grazed his thigh. It ended with him facing Tamal’s smug threat.

”An accident."
His grin went dark.

“And so is this.”

Jai ignored the commotion which followed. There was only Saidin.

Saidin and Tamal. Only, there would be no more Tamal in a few more moments. He called the weaves.

The next moment fire erupted inside but a skin of ice kept it from escaping. And the ground rushed up to meet him.

Grass. He ripped it out at the root with his pained clutchings. The blow should have shattered the tension, but instead, it fueled a force rising through the pain to make him come up to one knee. Blocked, his mind pounded on the shield barring him from Saidin. He looked between the three channelers. An obsessed hand loosened the hilt of his sword. Now Nythadri’s caged animal showed itself.

“Which of you did it?”

He asked. Roaring with calm. His eyes flickered across the dismounted bodies to Daryen who wagered him with an answer. Shielding a man already channeling would be an extraordinary feat for the women. He was he only one strong enough.

“Doesn’t matter.”

The sword flew into his hands.

He met the warder half way to Tamal. And cleanly rid himself of the obstacle.

Then the world went dark.

Only darkness shows you the light.


Edited by Jay Carpenter, Sep 22 2016, 09:43 AM.
Only darkness shows you the light.

It was like trying to push back a sleepwalker intent on striding off a cliff. He was unresponsive, wrapped in a blanket of black, like his passage of perception circumvented reality altogether. No smile, barely a murmur at all. Perhaps it was his way of coping with whatever internal conflict he struggled against, and Antony’s concerns were superfluous; she could hope as much, because there was no chance she could navigate such a fortress when the gates were locked and barred. Jai was as good as on his own. Selfishly, she lamented the lack of distraction for herself. It was left to her to war with Imaad alone, but it was like fighting in the dark when she didn’t know which comments were barbed and which were decoys.

The merchant maintained an air of snide jollity, like he was pleasantly merry on spirits and perhaps a little too free with the acid on his tongue. The conversations might be thorny beneath the surface, but it was to be expected amongst such gatherings; there was nothing said that was more than mildly insulting, nothing that should drag a man down to the Dark One’s pit and pluck his very soul from him. She began to hope that Imaad’s games had hit a wall; that he was as locked outside the gates of Jai’s mind as she.


A single word, and she began to worry. Had the red tolerated it she might have moved closer, grabbed his wrist and dug her nails in until the pain gifted sense. It never paid to be so enveloped in oneself that all beyond decayed to dust. She thought she recognised the glazed indication of swelling memories; a sickening deluge by the expression on his face and the hand that went to his stomach. She knew how tight the fist of guilt-regret-horror could be. Her brother’s face flashed. The red began to dance in reaction to the way her body went preemptively cold.

“Channeling’s not a game. Don’t waste an arrow, Tamal.”
The words accompanied a piercing glare as she turned full round on her mount, hand balanced on the back of the saddle. If he heard anything of her warning he did not listen. The arrow soared over her head, but she only watched until it looked like it would hit; she had no desire to watch the bird’s wings jam before it plummeted. Her first indication of the skyward fireworks was the drifting petals of red and pink.

She flinched, sickened.

It was strangely empty to feel nothing, to be privy only to consequence. Daryen looked back. She tried to catch Antony’s eye. If either were such a friend to the Asha’man, it was high time they tried to talk him back from the edge before he jumped. But it was too late; a keening whistling whizzed past her senses, and fear prickled her skin. Jai thrust the razor around amidst the buzz of confrontation. Her gaze drew to the flush of blood and an arrow dug into the ground.Blood and Ashes!

Then Jai crashed from the razor like he had been struck, and she slid ungracefully from the red in the same instant, ankle jarring on the ground in her haste. For a moment it looked like she was going to gather him up – she certainly had a few words of warning to hiss in his ear. But fear stalled her movement, sent her backward into the warm flesh of her horse.

“Which of you did it?”

She was caught in the craze of that stare, the desperate plea of a man clutching the cliff-edge of sanity before he plunged. And then he fell.

“Doesn’t matter.”

He lunged, and instinct urged her after him until rationality stopped her dead. Keren met him half way in a spark and clash of steel. Light flooded Liridia’s aspect, weaving a blunt block of air that felled the Asha’man like a great black tree. Bonds snaked his legs and arms, so that even when he woke he would be unable to move his face from the dirt. Blood spilled in the grass, staining it darkest red.

Ahead, Tamal’s face was white, the hands that held his bow trembling. He shared a silent glance with Imaad as he dismounted, letting the weapon tumble to the ground. “He was going to kill me. Light, he was going to kill me.”
As it sunk in, rage bloomed in the young man. He rushed at Jai’s body, but the warder dragged him back after a few blows to the stomach. Blood streamed down Keren’s face, where the hilt of Jai’s sword had sent him sprawling. “That is enough, boy.”

Breath returned to Nythadri’s lungs. As fear scattered, anger took its place. Imaad’s eyes burned like brands, smug in victory. He regarded the black-shrouded body like it were the true spoil of the hunt, the faint crease of his smile freezing the blood in her veins. Walk away. It was Daryen’s problem to deal with. She’d done what Antony had asked, to the best of her ability at least. Only, plain truth told, she had not done it for Jai. She had done it to frustrate Imaad, and his arrogant satisfaction burned what was left of her desire to follow the path that left her most unscathed.

“You poked him like a wild animal in a cage, you intended for him to snap.”

At the sound of her cool words, he looked at her like a tree had spoken, then incredulously at Nisele and the others. "Banter of the hunt, girl. If such tame repartee was enough to send him into a blind rage, I fear for the man's regular company. Next time it might not be my brother."
He gazed pointedly in the direction of his King, gathering Nisele into that gaze too and reaping all the efforts of Tamal's slandering. Doubts as to Jai's stability swelled; Nytahdri felt it too, but resisted the urge to look at Jai bleeding unconscious on the ground. Hatred for Imaad was stronger than fear of the man she defended.

"I assume you realise that Tamal shot him."

"A stray arrow is the least of the hunt's dangers. There is no excuse."
Returned fast as lightening, Imaad growing weary of her interference. She felt him glance over her head, summoning the Aes Sedai so that he might turn his attentions to Daryen, to pull on the king's sense of duty and tighten the strings of control.

"He’s an Asha’man,"
she hissed. "Do you have any idea what that means?"
Men carved to be weapons; men built to bleed first, die first. Imaad cut off her sermon, words low.

"That I fear the Last Battle if this is the calibre of man at our defense. Better to cull the rot before it poisons the rest, eh?”

Anger seethed, contained behind the rigid lines of her expression. Such conceit. "Did Tamal have any idea of the danger you put him in? Or do you have him dancing too?"
Just loud enough to carry to the shaking man staring at the felled Asha'man who had nearly ended his life; thinking, clearly, of the splatters of bird that had rained from the sky.

“Are you suggesting this is my fault? That I had my brother shoot the Asha’man?”
he laughed derisively, but there was an incline to his posture that suggested a snake angling for the killing blow. Tormenting her had been a pleasurable diversion, but she was nothing in his schemes now but a nuisance. I'll make you dance.

“I’m not suggesting.”

Dark eyes met ice-blue in piercing contest. He leaned in, whispered something obscene; then, louder, the curve of his lips ominous: “The girl is clearly infatuated.”

Good judgement evaporated, attempts at planting seeds of doubt in Tamal's mind fled, and she slapped him. Her hand tingled, but the blossoming red mark brought her a grim satisfaction despite the penance that would follow. I’m steeped in trouble to my eyeballs anyway. A sneer curled his lip as he recovered, but by then the Aes Sedai intervened.

“Step back, child.”
Liridia’s touch pulled her away.

“She’s had too much to drink,”
Nisele’s voice intoned, though she did not sound triumphant so much as disturbed. Liridia’s grip about her arm, Nythadri searched for Daryen.

Edited by Natalie Grey, Sep 26 2016, 03:50 AM.

<dt>Daryen Daimon- Asha'man king of Arad Doman</dt>
<dd> </dd>

The Accepted did not have to search far. Daryen had felt the sharp, punctuated pops of saidin that felled the birds- felt Tamal's impending doom building in Jai as lava prepares to burst through a mountain. Daryen had seen the shadows of death in Jai's eyes before, but only fleetingly. Ghosts, they danced in the dark depths of his eyes whenever a certain song or word or smell stirred memories of the horrors to which every Asha'man worth his pins bore witness. Daryen understood, having rent enough human flesh from the bodies of strangers to clothe the bones of every one of his citizens. But Daryen's monster lay quiet, sleeping, sated by the heavy hand of discipline and the soothing beat of a heart that loved well.

When Daryen turned in the saddle to view the commotion unfolding, he faced Jai's monster for the first time. He almost wished he had not drawn on the Power out of instinct when Jai first lashed out; with his enhanced sight, he may as well have been staring into that monster's eyes. Without thought he wove the shield, and the lack of hesitation may well have spared Tamal his life. And Daryen had every reason to hesitate. He knew Jai Asad Kojima well. Not his past - out of a strange sort of mutual respect they had never traded more than trivial details about their all-too-long and brutal histories - but the man. For all the rumors and all his obsessive tendencies, Kojima was a soldier. He fought hard, drank deeply, and above all else followed orders without fail. Even in his most questionable moments, Jai's occasional mania had never compromised his discipline.

But Daryen had seen men fall into the darkness before- darkness that had nothing to do with the taint. Hesitation had killed far too many good soldiers. Besides, if Daryen was worried about insulting Jai, he would not be preparing to entertain the enemy.

His horse was a thick-muscled creature, bred for hurdling obstacles at a dead sprint and a coat that gleamed white as the walls of Tar Valon at midday. Daryen's boots dug into the animal's sleek sides as he pulled the beast's head around sharply, though the easy lope at which they arrived on the scene was hardly so dramatic. Those that had gathered for the spectacle moved aside at his approach, unsure what to make of his expression.

Daryen was the sort of king bards dream about. His white-gold hair glittered in the sun, flowing around a chiseled face that denied the half century of wisdom with which he had earned his throne. His eyes, sparkling sapphires above a flashing white smile that charmed the coldest of hearts. He was Arad Doman's darling- the dashing golden prince who saved them in their darkest hour. The epics written in his honor described a very romantic story indeed.

Just as they would describe this event- the King bursting onto the scene, leaping his fallen friend to defend his honor from the cruelties that had driven him to madness. But the reality of it was not so, just as it had not been so the night Arad Doman was freed from the Seanchan. The facade of a gallant prince suited him, flashy and light-hearted as he was. But freeing Arad Doman, becoming her King... The reality of it was gore and hatred and discipline. An order from the Dragon Reborn to tear the Seanchan free and chase them back into the sea with such brutality that they dare not return. When Daryen reached the palace he had killed the governing Blood himself, in front of the man's adolescent son. The child at least he had sent back to what remained of their fleeing ships, the messenger of his father's cruel death.

The violence of saidin did not lend itself to honor. There were no valiant heroes chasing villains through the streets with swords of fire.The truth of it was that on a moonless night an elite group of Asha'man stepped through a gateway and turned the sleeping city of Bandar Eban into a dying ground. And heady with their returned freedom, the people of Arad Doman rejoiced in the handsome noble who stepped from the palace to proclaim victory, never mind the blood flowing in the streets. But Daryen had bathed in it, and he remembered long after they forgot.

Perhaps it was time he remind them.

There was no rage in him. His horse stopped behind where Jai lay pinned to the ground without any obvious cues from its master, who watched curiously as the Accepted confronted the obnoxious merchant. There were very few people whom Daryen truly hated, and somehow Imaad was not one of them. But the man was like an open wound on the face of his court, festering and bitter. How he held so much power Daryen would never fully understand, but hopefully that was about to change.

The Accepted would find his eyes dancing merrily when she sought them out. Imaad found him as well, and the King recognized the smug look of victory that began crawling across the merchant's face. At Nisele's remark the King laughed and Imaad laughed with him. For a moment, at least. Then the merchant realized the laughter was warped, tainted by a cruelty one could only understand after having taken pleasure in the death of another. Imaad was a cheating, caniving politician, but he was not a killer.

For Asha'man, it was a profession.

"Tell me Imaad,"
Daryen's laughter trailed as he dismounted, striding casually onto the seen like a performer taking center stage, "what has been the worst moment of your life so far?"

The merchant's face had fallen slightly at his King's odd laughter but he recovered quickly. The death of a cousin in a childhood fall was on his lips immediately, in a tone meant to incur sympathy while simultaneously pointing out how personal and inappropriate a question it was. Daryen was not unmoved, his expressive face taking on a moment of understanding. "That is a terrible experience friend, endured at so tender an age."

Abruptly, a smile bloomed across his features. "Now!"
He spread his hands dramatically, pivoting away from the merchant as if to take the whole of the gathered crowd within his arms. "Let me tell you mine."

The story was not long, but Daryen was a gifted speaker. He had an infectious sort of energy, a way of drawing people in so that his emotions reflected in them. He could make people want what he wanted, and it was what made him so effective as a leader.

He was a Dedicated at the time, on an extended mission to the borderlands to earn his pins. A few of the horses shifted their weight, tossed their heads at a sudden tightening of the reigns. Seems they truly had begun to forget, if the reminder that he was in fact Asha'man made his subjects so uneasy.

"I was to be a father,"
shock rippled beneath the surface of the crowd at the unexpected admission. Nisele's deep, dark eyes narrowed, more from concentration than jealousy. Given Daryen's charisma and kingship, rumors of illegitimate children were a favorite. But no matter how hard they searched, none had ever been uncovered. Many of his subjects wanted nothing more than for him to marry and have children; the nobles because it gave them a whole new set of players for their game, and the people because perhaps the only thing more romantic than a darling bachelor King was a darling royal family.

But Daryen had never shown any interest- until now. His gorgeous eyes sparkled with pride, and it was clear that he loved the child. Whoever it was.

"Quite by accident, I may add. But you all know how that goes,"
his wolfish smile settled on Tamal, who tried desperately not to look suspicious. He failed quite miserably, off balance as he was from the attack, but he was lucky. For the moment, caught up as they were in the story they cared little for where Tamal's seed had taken root. But there were times that they would care, and Tamal clearly got the hint.

The story continued, and it became clear why the child had never been found out. Whether girl or boy, it had not made it to birth, stolen with the mother's soul to the kiss of a winged shadowspawn in the lull after battle. Daryen had nearly burnt himself out defending the fortress from the raid, and been wounded besides. He watched it happen, and there was nothing he could do.

"I earned the right to wear the Dragon pin a year later. And I can tell you I have met other Asha'man with far more terrible moments than that. Men who have lost whole families before their eyes and watched cities burn. Men who have seen their own entrails laid out before them by an enemies blade."
Daryen took Jai by the shoulders and Liridia released his bonds. The King pulled Jai to his feet, but kept a hard grip on one of his friend's shoulders. Just in case. Pinned in the dirt as he'd been, Jai's shirt stuck to his chest for a moment before falling back into place. Just long enough for a glance at the huge, pale scar bisecting his abdomen.

"You would do well to remember that we as Asha'man are all just as human as you, but we bear the burdens of monsters. And from now on you will show respect to my Brothers and our Sisters."
There was no trace of the usual playfulness in Daryen now, his face hard as polished stone, barring more of his past from surfacing in his eyes. Far from the jovial prince, here was the man who lead his brothers into battle knowing well he may never see them again.

Barely veiled scorn surfaced on the faces of the other members of the court who were privileged to attend, select members of both lowborn and high alike, directed at the merchant and his cohorts. As if Daryen naming Jai his Brother had actually adopted the man, and they had drunkenly teased the brother of the King to a murderous rage. Even those who had participated on the edges of their little group frowned at them sideways, trying to distance themselves from the building disgrace.

Daryen did not know if Imaad would fold in the face of dishonor or try to regain control of the situation, but Tamal and Nisele at least seemed subdued. Yui appeared then, leading Jai's recovered mount past Liridia and Nythadri. Daryen turned towards her and upon seeing the proud War Cry threw out his arms in joyful relief.

"War Cry!"
Just like that he was smiling again, energetic and beautiful as the sun breaking through a storm cloud. "Thank the Light you're unharmed. The awful things my sister would have done to me if you'd been hurt. Really Tamal, you must be more careful. I'd have had to string you up by your toes if you'd injured Fate's horse,"
a few of the surrounding nobles chuckled, but the lordling's coppery skin paled at the seemingly innocent threat.

Daryen gave the showy razor a final solid pat before striding for his own mount. He passed Nythadri as he did and smiled down at her one of those radiantly charming smiles. Tall as he was his hair shielded his eyes momentarily from the dispersing crowd, but she would be able to see the quick, conspiratorial wink. Then he was passed, enthusiastically praising his own glowing mount for its patience.

Only darkness shows you the light.


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