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Collecting on a wager
#1
There was nothing for it. The White Tower it was. As long strides carried him across the marble tiles, Jai could think of one or two better things to do with the morning than tour the front hall, or counting how many steps it took to carry him inside, but it was a sacrifice he was willing to make. The feel of a Razor's gait waited. No artist could paint it and no story could recreate it. In living form, a seasoned rider sitting on the back of a razor had such grace that all else was lost to it. And that was something an Asha'man could appreciate. Losing oneself to the rhythm. Besides, he won that bet fair and square.

He took up a place and waited, waving off what Novice and Accepted sparked the courage to approach a man leanly cut in head-to-toe fine, Asha’man black, offering each a modest smile for doing so. Perhaps a tad less modest for one or two lingering women who kept glancing his way. Figuring it must be the sword, he tapped the balanced scabbard at his side and flashed an encouraging smile their way this time around. There was no point being unfriendly after all.

That he was a few minutes early spoke some measure toward anticipation, but there was no outward unease to his wait. He was a man raised to be right on time, where a few minutes late was the same discretion as a few minutes early. It all goes back to the numbers. And probability. And with today's dawn, they were stacked in his favor. So far.


***


It didn’t take a man in the habit of counting the seconds between steady breaths to know more than a few minutes had elapsed. He tried not to think about the punctuality of this particular situation. His own breech in coming a few minutes early or the Aes Sedai’s for arriving a few too late. Instead, he funneled his thoughts into keeping his fingers from drumming the lacquered sheathe corded to his belt: an antique, curved blade otherwise lost against the sea of silky black wool. Standing as he was with hands clasped behind his back and studying a mural of sparkling glass tile, there was little outward evidence of what he was doing. Indeed, Jai was absolutely not counting those glass tiles. Just because he didn’t realize his lips were moving in pace with his eyes. He wasn’t counting.



***



Okay, he was counting. He couldn't be any more bloody obvious than if he had a sliderule and was flicking beads up and down the wires like some master bard plucking harp cords. Not that he needed such an amateur's tool to keep track of numbers. By now his neck was craned back to a goodly angle as ever-fascinated eyes climbed the colored border while fingers behind his back moved in a rhythm mimicking the arithmetic filling out his head. At least this time the compulsion to count led to something useful besides relief.

The mosaic itself was the pinnacle of artistry any Tar Valoner living in the world of sculpture and ogier mastery would appreciate. Including Jai. But the mosaic was not the art which held his interest. Indeed, it was a nice piece of art. That was all. The mastery, he came to realize, was in the tiny glass squares framing the border from floor to lofty ceiling.

A simple repeat of five white squares, one square, and a space. Five-one-one. It added to seven. Repeated over and over. A hollow smile started to glaze his expression. He kept counting. He knew what would happen when repeated numbers were divided by the perfect primes. Without ceasing to study, he asked anyone who was around. Likely nobody was paying attention to a lone Asha'man fascinated with nothing like some relic of the tainted days when their kind were gripped in the throes of madness; maybe some still were, but that was beside the point. He'd be surprised if anyone answered. It was worth a shot.

"Anyone know exactly how high the ceiling is?"
Considering the importance of the number seven to the White Tower, he'd wager a guess down to the fraction of an inch.

He squinted. Repetitive numbers such as 511,511 were always divisible by the perfect primes: 3, 7, 11, 13 and resulted in beautiful numbers. Such as 73,073. If the pattern was repeated 730.73 times, then the height of the ceiling would be 23.9740814 feet (23 feet 11 & 11⁄16 inches).


Only darkness shows you the light.


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#2
There was plenty to keep one occupied in the Tower's grand foyer, and there were worse jobs than ferrying the never-ceasing myriad of petitioners to their destinations. The endless repetition made it a recipe for tedium if one was not careful, but it was for the most part mechanical work and, considering the furious schedule of an Accepted, was something of a breather. For Nythadri, it was also the closest she got to the city, never mind the world beyond, and she was content to let her thoughts doze to mindless consideration of fashion or the flash of a man’s smile. It was also fascinating to observe the way foreigners decided to interpret the bands of her dress and the ring on her finger.

She greeted and directed on rote, but today her point of interest was the black-clad man standing idle in the great hall. And she was not the only one who watched him, either subtly or directly. Asha’man were not uncommon in Tar Valon, but they were still unusual; especially to those who had no business interacting with them. There seemed no true consensus on the Black Tower and its denizens, despite the official word. Too many Aes Sedai stoked either fear or superiority among the initiates, and she supposed they had every right to feel threatened. Men were stronger in the Power, and a woman had no natural sense of when one seized saidin to him. Or however they do it.

Nythadri felt only curiosity towards something she could never fully understand. To learn to be Aes Sedai was to nurture an arrogant sense of supremacy and invulnerability, and perhaps that had been deserved when men had been driven mad by their gift. That a sister would keep him waiting, and she had no doubt that it was an Aes Sedai he waited for, piqued her attention; she was curious to see who the woman would be, and if the reason for her lateness would become apparent on arrival; a slight, or an accident? The Asha’man had waved away the attentions of the attending initiates, but time had trickled passed and he was still waiting. She had not approached him only to be rebuffed herself, but neither strayed far from his niche of the hall. Her pale eyes roamed his form occasionally, making no secret of her interest.

There was little intentionally seductive in her gaze, though he cut a fine form (and truly, there were few men who were not enhanced by the clean lines of an Asha’man’s attire) and was handsome enough to warrant it. Rather, she was used to men seeing the white and rainbow of her uniform before the womanly body beneath, and the austere cut did nothing to enrich her curves. Beauty meant nothing when one was incarcerated in white, and what man was fool enough to show an interest? Yes, he was attractive enough, but it was not the source of her interest.

She was close enough to hear the words uttered from his lips, if barely, and perhaps only because she had been paying him mind. She directed a novice to escort a young nobleman, who wavered between treating her like she was one step below Aes Sedai to one step above servant, along with his retinue to the sister he sought, and turned her attention.

“You tell me. I should think you have been standing long enough to count all the tiles from floor to ceiling, Asha’man.”
She supposed he might take offence to her dry humour, not everyone understood the cynicism she sometimes offered in friendship, but she was only offering a diversion while he waited. If he were stiff and crotchety enough to spit an unwelcome retort, he would not make for good banter anyway.
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#3
She was right. There weren't many of his kind whom the black disserviced. Not that Jai thought he was lacking before, but he was rather attached to the look now that it was thrust on him. Whatever extra perks came with it? He took them too. He needed every bloody perk he could wring out of the remainder of his days.

Literal counting subsided and was predictably replaced with line after line of numbers behind that steely upward-focused gaze. Those tiles faded from his sight anyway. He didn't need to finish counting to know the answer. He had no doubt. It had to be. It was so obvious. Why else would the design be so beautiful?

"Seven hundred thirty and seventy-three hundredth inches."
For quite the specific number it rolled from lips caught in the awe of labyrinthine coincidence. The Law of Parsimony would disagree with his assessment. He tried not to think about its dissent. Simplest explanations were usually the most plausible. Bloody burn the Law of Economy. Such perspectives kept him alive this long.

Complexities were everywhere. If one were inclined to look. He usually wasn't so easily caught in their tangles but for a thread otherwise filled with violence, he clung to soothing repetition wherever he could find it. More now that he was so reminded by what normalcy should be and it kicked otherwise controlled equilibrium far off balance.

With the easy math finished in his head, self-satisfaction accompanied his explanation. As did his scanning the mosaic, seeking some message sure to be hidden inside their shapes as well. Still not yet checking to see who it was he addressed.

"It's repeated. Divide by seven. The result is another repeat."


Something about vocalizing the revelation kicked away the remainder of fraying control. Like some bloody grinding wheel furrowing down a blade that just would never be sharp enough. He couldn't think the number fast enough. That beautiful. Soothing. Compulsory number. His lids slid down as heartbeat sped up. There was nothing but the repetition. Like running on the surface of the sun. It burned, but was glorious to chase. So much so, a line of sweat beaded beneath that upturned collar of the Dragon's black legion. Until he realized that heat was not from the disabling intrusion of the number's perfection. It was Saidin. Peace!

He exhaled and threw the Power from this death-grip. He'd near to summoned the very brink of his limit and searched the index of recent memories for the instant he'd taken hold. Fearfully, Jai found no such memory. It'd been years; Years! since he lost it like that. The shock of it blinked wan normalcy back to his face. He was not the most subtle of channelers. Who knew how he must have looked?

The past day had been a tumultuous coup on his life. That flickering hope of Jasline's beautiful face carried him through many a dark hour. She was good as gone now. Or worse, married over elsewhere. With bloody adorable children. Duty. Parents. Jon. Cobbler. Tomdry. None of it mattered. Not for himself. He'd accepted mortality ages ago. Yes?

Through the torrent of these few minutes, he remembered a feminine voice at his side. He turned toward it now. If it was still there. And when he settled on her hollowed eyes, pale as the morning light, coveted breath caught in his lungs. He blinked.

"Wow."
Awe just slipped out, quietly.

Wrenching away, he looked further down. Great, just bloody great. An Accepted. A light-forsaken, stunning Accepted. Did she have to be stunning? At least Fate Sedai had been an equal, their terms greatly different. This was the White Tower itself, not a place to drown reality in golden ale as it had been in the tavern. The Creator's great joke on his life just never quite ended.

Quickly, he corrected his stolen breath with an intake of breath and bowed slightly, touching hilt then heart. Not even Zakar could have bowed any better. A Malkieri custom, long dead in the north, but not for the Kojima family. No matching accent accompanied his greeting, however.

"Forgive, Accepted."
Meeting a woman's eyes as he had was beyond rude. Let alone bloody fawning all over her. He had no choice but to cast off the shame and reach for the comfort of ko'di. Hoping Fate would hurry so he could get the bloody well out of here. Even a Razor may not be worth this.
Only darkness shows you the light.


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#4
The answer was very precise. Nythadri had assumed the question was the boredom of a man weary with waiting rather than an actual question with an actual answer. Her eyes travelled the height of the ceiling, craning her neck only a little before abandoning the effort and returning her gaze to him - which, of the two views, she found far more appealing. It was easy to watch when he paid her no mind, and Nythadri had never been shy in any case. He was beautifully tall, and broad… though honestly, these days she could find a point of attraction in most men. It was the assiduousness of the words that caught most of her attention. She didn’t really care how high the ceiling was, but she found it fascinating that he could find – or even thought to look for – mathematical harmony in something so mundane.

When his lids then slipped over his eyes, concern narrowed her expression – particularly when the seconds trickled to minutes. The crisp black of his uniform stayed the hand that itched to place itself on his shoulder. She didn’t quite trust the base instinct to comfort with touch, lest it worsen whatever fragile composure had suddenly shattered – and for what reason she could not really determine.

Was he channeling, or pulling the Power to him?

She couldn’t honestly say, she just knew that – judgemental or not – the Asha’man were not so removed from the taint that their build of power was as air-tight as the Aes Sedai. The White Tower had had generations upon generations to perfect control over saidar, and the female half was pliant by nature. The Black Tower had barely had a lifetime, and everything Nythadri had ever learnt of saidin suggested it raged like a storm. If he was struggling with something internal, whatever its source, it was best to withhold from interference and remain vigilant.

She swept a precautionary gaze across the hall, seeking allies should the situation deteriorate, but felt no stab of true fear. Perhaps because all her senses truly saw was a man with his eyes closed, a strange expression on his face and sweat beginning to bead on his skin. Or, she considered wryly, maybe she trusted to the safety of the Tower’s walls more than she’d previously thought.

To be Accepted was to be patient, either through design of person or through sufferance. So she waited.

He seemed to return to consciousness eventually, though she thought there was something pale and wearied in his expression. It almost stoked a kinship, except that it was based on assumption and maybe the desire to discover someone as disenchanted with Tower life as she. The surprised flicker of a smile warmed her lips at the apparent slip; compliments like that were not everyday occurrences, assuming he meant her and not the architecture, but otherwise she ignored the error since it appeared to embarrass him. His light brown eyes dipped almost as soon as she’d had time to note their hue, and his demeanour went from almost boyish charm to the shield of formality.

Hilt then heart. It was a Borderland gesture, and she supposed his height and innocuous colouring might place him there. But his accent didn’t. The thought shrugged itself off; Tar Valon was a melting pot of culture, and Nythadri herself hardly represented the archetypal Andoran, with her raven hair and ice-pale eyes. Even her attitude was contrary to her upbringing, and most of the time the Tower only exacerbated her urges to rebel against certain forms of conformity. Like now.

Nythadri revelled in shucking the chains of formality when they were tightest, and ordinarily she would have chosen to do so now. A quirked eyebrow, the ghost of a smile, and a retorted ‘forgive what?’ would have been her habitual response. What was he apologising for? Some men had strange senses of honour, and northern men were particularly renowned for it. Usually she would not shy from offending those honourable sensibilities, but given his fractious performance in the great hall she could appreciate the comfort of ritual. He actually got something of a formal curtsy, which she certainly wouldn’t have usually offered unless it was clear she would be punished for its absence. Not that he would know enough about her to appreciate the rarity.

“Forgiven.”
The words were soft and without judgement, despite the rather sarcastic addition of obviously she kept within the confines of her thoughts. She didn’t relish this kind of prescribed interaction, but it was a part she was expected to play because of the ring on her finger and the rainbow hem that swirled about her ankles. Her fingers itched for the comfort of her bow and the soothing harmony of strings. Her soul ached for the freedom of music and taverns and anonymity. For normality. She remembered a white orchid. The feeling faded. There was little point taking frustration at her own predicament out on him. Accepted were supposed to be happy with their situation, striving towards the goal of Aes Sedai. As though that were the only true and right life a channeler could lead.

She took a step closer; not so much that her neck ached to look at him – she was moderately tall herself, but he could rival an Aiel – and nor did she stand inappropriately close. That was more for the public situation than modesty on her part, though should it coax a little less reserve she would certainly not complain. In any case the ultimate intention was that it made it clear to the other petitioners that she was occupied. Though she doubted he would appreciate her next question and she would be back to her mindless duties soon enough. “Are you okay?”
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#5
So much of what the Accepted did and thought was spot on. If she had trusted to instinct rather than the decorum her white ironed authority laid down, she might have been in for a surprise. To have met a match, that is. It wasn’t every day two threads wearily disenchanted with their respective institutions crossed paths.

It wasn’t a great leap to string together the evidence Jai hadn’t been so keen to abandon everything, be caught up in a war that barely felt relevant, and hope to slaughter enough before falling himself to make life worth the sacrifice. He stayed with it, though: year in, year out. The same weaves, a new target. The same regulations, a new assignment. The same uniform, actually, he rather liked how the uniform segregated you from normal society. It’s easier to forget when reminders are out of sight and mind, replaced by drill and orders. Either out of some birthright sense of honor or the call of ancestral blood to join a brethren to serve some great, abstract purpose he’d return again and again. Take a new post. Go and kill something. Move on.

As seductive was the desire to waste remaining days thinking about on alternate existences, he would never walk completely away. Even if to do so meant trading in everything else that could have been. The Power was too addicting. For his kind, there was no other option. To channel meant a man belonged to the Black Tower. No other choice existed. It didn’t mean duty compelled him to love a banner that meant little personally, never mind its mesmerizing ripple of golden scarlet scales or the man it represented. It also didn’t mean he did not enjoy rending shadowspawn into red fountains any less than those more enamored with the Dragon.

Looking back at her; Light, did he want to look back, he noticed her height without fighting the urge to compare her presence to the women of most recent interaction. Jaslene was a head below this one. Jai had to crouch to bury his cheek against her curls in their hug. Fate was closer to meeting him eye to eye but still fell plenty lower. Most people were; many borderlanders were tall, even if Jai wasn’t exactly a borderlander, he had the blood. All legs and neck she was, and he appreciated her immensely for that. Jas was a lost cause to chase; no more well-turned ankles to imagine and hair to scent. Fate a competition to win; a transparent slip to slide from her shoulders. This girl; woman, he reminded himself, though studying her found no guess for her age beyond the symbolism of her Light-blessed figure. This was no willful child but something else entirely; about as inviting as a borderland snow in the thick of winter, freezing to the point of bursting the sap within, but unusually tempting for its irony: playfully alluring, but sarcastically dangerous.

To the Oneness those thoughts went; that eager state absorbing the desire. It seemed there was more she wanted to say. He couldn't help but wonder what it was. She should have voiced some of that cynicism. Perhaps she had found the only person in a league who could appreciate it. Her remaining instinct proved insightful, however. Keeping a still hand from his shoulder had been quite wise. In great likelihood, Jai would not have noticed its weight. Or, as was also possible, an interruption while so obsessed with satisfying the unquenchable, and he might have split the intrusion of that sacred cycle with flesh-searing flames without calculating the consequence. Not that that was a strong possibility, he quietly thought the lie. It also going to the Oneness.

He had some control. No man, no matter how fast the training, won both pins without demonstrating control. And Jai trained fast. Lifting sights beyond these representative walls, he realized now coming home to Tar Valon had been a poor decision. Though he had to get away from Arad Doman and its light-infuriating king. Here, some sort of catalyst dissolved the restraints he tightened down long ago. Or had thought he had. His skin itched to do something with the sudden comprehension. Anything. Count all the window panes maybe. Recount the people in the hall without looking at their faces. Memorize the exits but move toward none of them. Duplicate a sword form over and over. How his boyhood trainers misunderstood the simple necessary their drills had been. Repeat the form. Count the steps. Steady your breath. In the end he dismissed the attractive lull. He had the control enough now to pull away from windows without focusing on each one in order, to not draw of that curved thing of lacquered beauty balanced so symmetrically at the hip. He gripped hands more firmly behind him in response to the sirens beckoning and fed the itches to the Oneness as well. That bloody boxed off compartment in his head was getting full. Might as well toss that realization in there and watch it burn with everything else.

He matched her step with a small pivot away from that conspiratorial wall. They faced one another a bit better; for a new comer, there was nothing to suggest anything less than the usual visitor-attender relationship. Which was the Light’s honest truth between them. He was absolutely not wanting to use her sculptural presence as any sort of distraction like some memorialized piece of existential art. Though had he known her musical inclinations, he would have freely admitted to being so selfish. Nobody bothered them and as his mind continued clearing out, he knew faces were watching. Faces he cast charming smiles at before. Faces he did not care to remember now. Most of them, at least.

“I only lie to myself. So best not answer that question.”
A good old-fashioned jaded grin accompanied his answer. Hardly suited to a borderlander, he smirked; whatever culture filtered down the Kojima name, it obviously landed on this son in more a manifestation of ritual than identity. What troubling road to the Last Battle he walked, he saw little on that path which would interest a woman.

Her less than enthusiastic study of the hall won some interest from him, however.

“Riveting post you have.” He knew a thing or two about mindless chores. Dig a hole with the Power, fill it with the Power. Brick up a wall with the Power, tear it down with the Power. Set a blaze with the Power, quench the blaze with the Power. The rhythm was nice, but at the end of the day, too far beyond exhaustion to sleep, the monotony of it all could be oppressive.

“Jai.”


He offered a handshake if she’d take it but refused any further bowing or curtsying. Once was enough for all that. Neither of them were nobles for Light’s sake.


Edited by Jay Carpenter, Sep 6 2016, 02:26 PM.
Only darkness shows you the light.


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#6
If he had been more than a stranger, the answer might have concerned her given the implications. But he was an Asha’man she was hardly likely to ever see again, and his problems were his own. Just as hers belonged to her. Interesting answer. A hum of laughter left her throat. She appreciated the black tone even though it pointed at pain; a surprising turn from the ritualistic greeting, which she supposed confirmed it had been just that. Outside of friendship Nytahdri was not the most sympathetic of creatures. She did not feel tugged towards every broken soul; perhaps because she still nursed her own. It interested her, though, just because it was different. Diversion was the remedy to monotony.

A sardonic lilt to her lips banished whatever pretences at restraint she had thus far presented. "Am I not the envy of all? What girl doesn’t dream of attending all and sundry in the grand hall of the White Tower? Repayment for my sins, no doubt."
And Nythadri’s record was hardly unblemished, though in terms of her attendance in the hall she supposed it was her ‘dithering’ at choosing an Ajah (which was not dithering so much as lack of interest). It worked on rota, but it was unspoken tradition that those without affiliation won the most menial tasks most often; perhaps it was meant to encourage girls to bow before the Ajah that squabbled hardest for them. A path she was slowly funnelled toward but, as ever, failed to fully reach.

It begged the question of why she was still here; no-one forced you through the Arches after all, and she had accepted first time. Granted, the majority of her disillusionment had occurred after she had tied herself to the Tower, but even Accepted who failed to meet the ascendance to Aes Sedai could stray a myriad of paths in the world beyond. The thing was that you could never fully walk away from the Tower once it touched you. If it was a choice between Aes Sedai and failure, she chose the path of Aes Sedai. The single thing all channelers had in common was their desire to draw the One Power. Their addiction. To be Aes Sedai granted her the greatest protection to that addiction.

“Jai.”
She repeated his name at the same time she accepted the handshake, showing no apparent regard for whatever hierarchical bridges it crossed. Nythadri liked the beauty of hands. Farune had had beautiful hands, and he had always laughed at the way she studied them – holding them out to stream dawn light through his fingers, entwining them with her own, smoothing the callouses, kissing his leathered fingertips. The only thing that spoke truer of a person was their eyes.

She considered that these hands were weapons. That they had probably killed, and perhaps not only Shadowspawn. The thought wasn’t repulsive, even if it should have been; she was even curious to know the things these hands had done. Asha'man were weapons, and the texture of his palm confirmed he was a soldier even if his black uniform and the ease with which he carried his sword at his hip had not already. His grip was firm, not crushing. She had already begun to build an image of a man who valued precision, from the moment he had calculated the height of the ceiling and why, to his observance of ritual. Men bloomed to saidin later than women to saidar. Nythadri had been discovered later than most, already living an adult's existence and reluctant to relinquish her independence. She had found it difficult. She imagined men found it difficult too, to be pulled from their lives as young adults; bakers, farmers, lords, all trussed in black and labelled weapons regardless of morals or inclination. Who had he been before? Architect? Accountant? Scholar? Something that required precision, she was willing to bet. Not nobility, though; that glove didn't fit.

Her own hands were not as soft as one might expect of an Accepted, those of her rank being excused from any chore that was not necessary to looking after themselves. The Farm-callouses had long since healed, but her recent return to music had begun to re-toughen the tips of some fingers, which he would perhaps feel when she slipped her hand free.

“Nythadri.”


No surname, and not only because he had not offered his. It was one of few Tower rituals she had adhered to naturally, that casting off of past life. Wherein family was concerned, anyway. They had stopped sending letters by now, and she had little idea how either her family or House fared. Nor, in her coldest moments, did she care. Those were not the strings tying her to past dreams that could never fully be realised, and leashed her from moving forward to embrace the kind of freedoms she could have if she opened her eyes beyond looking back on “what ifs.”

She imagined plenty of people were watching the exchange, but if the prospect worried her she showed no sign. Gossip was an inevitable part of binding so many women to one place, and of the rumours she had heard circling herself, there was not much worse that could be said.
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#7
[[For those who don't already know, this is an old thread from another forum. Inevitably there are a few characters who will crop up who either were not reborn in the 1st Age or have writers that don't write here at all (yet...). Those characters will be denoted in quote boxes as follows. Fate Sedai's writer doesn't currently write at FA.]]

Quote:<dl>
<dt>Fate Sedai</dt>
<dd> </dd>
</dl>

[Image: FateBanner-525x210.jpg]
Within the Tower Fate's arrival was not the startling entrance it could sometimes be- that being, not every single head turned. Many of the people milling about worked either in the Tower proper or nearby, with a few of the usual tourists gawking at the glorious architecture as if not another person in the world existed. To those few her appearance may well have been heralded by trumpets, and even those who did not turn to appreciate her passage smirked to see the gaping mouths of those who did.

Today a sheer silk riding gown wrapped the Domani's enthralling figure. The rich brown material suited her golden complection well, though it was hard to imagine a color that would not look good draped on her tall, well-prportioned frame. The slit in the front of the gown revealed soft deerskin breeches stretched comfortably over the slender musculature of her endless legs, not altogether different than those she usually wore to train warhorses. She might have preferred her usual blouse, but given the game she may as well play. And of course, she did not want to appear inappropriate among her brother's court. And appropriate for a Domani court meant an ensemble that would shame a woman who carried herself with anything less than complete and utter confidence.

Fate was a woman of such confidence, evidenced by the hanging jaws and stumbling feet of the Tower visitors in her wake. Not that she expected as much from her charmingly cynical prey.

If Fate was aware that eleven precisely had come and gone, or surprised at the company the Asha'man had taken in waiting, neither showed. The scent lingering on her skin was an intoxicating combination of lavendar and spice, underscoring the sensual warmth she radiated without being strong enough to overpower it. The scent wafted out before her to greet the pair as her swaying stride slowed to a halt, punctuated by the flash of brilliance that was Fate's smile.

"Jai Kojima,"
his name from her lips was laced in a fond amusement she did not bother to hide from the Accepted. This particular initiate spawned rumors almost as bawdy as the Brown sitter herself, and many sisters held that against the girl. An Accepted should be even busier than a novice, striving to be Aes Sedai so hard that there was no time to inspire fantasy. But Fate understood more than most Aes Sedai how easily rumors took wing, and did not blame her.

Despite that, Fate's brows still rose as she addressed the Accepted. "Nythadri,"
her tone was disingenuously curious, mimicking that which Fate's own mother had used when she caught her flirting with a stablehand. She suspected a show of authority would not be very endearing to Jai, but Fate was a sitter and responsible for addressing such situations. Any other Accepted and there would be no situation, but Nythadri had a history of running off with boys.
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#8
If such toils were the payment for sins, Jai was someday going find himself in trouble.

She slipped boney fingers out of his palm. An ordinary gesture, except perhaps too lingering with their grazing away. Or perhaps his imagination added to an otherwise normal effect. But since when were Jai and Nythadri creatures of normalcy? The skin was soft, yes, and shades paler than his own. His healthy tan yet another perk of ritual, soaking up life beneath the sun while cannonizing the holiest of sword forms over and over again. Soaking up the sun from the waist up, at least; except for the colorless scar puckering up and across his torso in one elegant slash; that thing absorbed nothing, like the flesh of its father was sewn in for a permanent reminder for the failure of pride. Baked waist up in an Arad Doman summer. Asha'man or not, Daryen was not so keen on finding a man full on lost in a forms routine within his sunny chambers. Less so that same man be in not but his own skin, even if said man was rather spectacular to watch, on more than one level.

He barked a short laugh for Nythadri's payment for her sins. The same sarcasm capping it from being funny in a more wholesome way. That same laugh was his response to Daryen's rather forceful chucking of pants at his face also. For all the other man's faults, Jai wouldn't give over the sense of his explanation: a king's chambers are never truly private. Perhaps, but one would think a king could bloody well do what he wanted. But who knew with nobles? They were all a strange stock. And he had a point. They were his chambers. Suppose he had to give the guy something. Hence the sun kissing from waist up only. The only evidence was the hand that released Nythadri's for its color and a healthy face to match those shining pins on otherwise melodramatic black collar. A face that nodded an appreciative expression for sharing her name. Nythadri. For all his ire toward nobles, Jai did have a tendency to fall in with their looks. It may be unadorned black cloth, but silken wool threads were never overlooked. That scabbard may be old, but it gleamed under well-loved care. His only fault around so judgemental a crowd was for being too quick to smirk. Or glare. The whole of the Royal Palace was aware of Asha'man Kojima's opposition to the king's position on the Seanchan, for instance. Creatures he'd hunted for years. Creatures, so named because it was all too hard a task to replace the faces of those girls with humanity, girls as devoid of life as their grey smocks, then doing everything in his power to cut them down as fast as possible. Not to spare them excess pain, shamefully, but so he could check off the task completed and be gone from the memory of corpses. If there were corpses. There usually were none.

Girls that looked like teenagers haunted his dreams. Younger with their forever-youthful hatred stalked him in nightmare. Woken from slumber to an arsen their leashes condemned them to burning alive, he could hear their terror from outside. He could hear it just as clear in memory as he had sitting outside, waiting attenatively for any who thought to escape. Someone had to wait around to collect blackened metal, sometimes still wrapped around the dust of former bones. No bore through the Pattern could carry him far enough to outrun their final sounds. Best to not think of it.

"I know something of sins as well. I hope I get off as easy."
Another smirk and shrug off. Into the Oneness they went; where, ironically, were burnt away for a second; and third; and fourth, and fifth time.

Her hand, soft and cool and pale, grazed fingertips across his palm and suddenly an ordinary gesture meant so much more. Unpersued, unwon touch. It was reassuring. And sparked the kind of questions normal people pondered when meeting one another. Was she Cairhienin? Too tall for one, but the rest of her, down to those piercing eyes fit that nation firmly. Where was she from? Her trade? Married? Children? Hobbies? The remaining questions were left unasked. She, like himself, could only answer a few.

He could guess the answer to one question, though not so confidently as the height of these walls There was nothing to calculate in her fingers except how many there were, how many places those fingers could trail at one time. But there was little Jai did without some measure of confidence

"You play from memory or do they let you keep sheet music here?"


A hand with callouses on the finger tips grazed so distinctly from a hand calloused by a hilt. Jai would know.

For all the hope of it, normalcy dissolved, about as swift as it came. The dulcet sound of his own name. Only a handful of times did he regret such audibles parting beautiful lips. If it weren't for the striking sensuality which accompanied the sound this time, this loss of anonymity would have joined such situations. What a loss it was. Undoubtedly the names of the city's influential would be known to those educated by the White Tower itself. Kojima were known in Tar Valon; a family of powerful bankers. His smile was grim for their loss. It had been nice while it lasted.

A strong pivot brought the ungowned Sitter into full view. Ungowned in that the flimsy thing of yesterday at the tavern was replaced with a cut more suited to long riding. At least, it better be long. Hardly be worth taking the time if it weren't.

"Ah Fate."
There you are. Words turned quickly around, gone was the cynicism of reality, back was this game of distraction.

Perhaps, though, the Accepted could be sent away with something for herself. Repayment for the woman whose company carried him across sanity's threshold a few moments ago by thrusting some jab at the Sitter's already questionable reputation.

"Much longer and my tongue was about to forget you."
Overly innocent in all this, obviously. Jai opened an arm for her to lead the way, stifling the painful memory of the wager that brought him here in the first place. The dare to eat an entire ghost pepper; the one that ended up with him blind and in agony. "Shall we?"



Edited by Jay Carpenter, Sep 6 2016, 02:26 PM.
Only darkness shows you the light.


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#9
She sometimes wished her intuition for the Great Game was not so strong or so instinctive, and that she didn’t sense the underlying blackness to his words. It wasn’t really her business if he’d sinned enough to earn a chair next to the Dark One himself, but the dry laugh preceding his words at least meant he was not after pity. He wouldn’t have got it from her anyway.

“Sins can be redeemed.”
Said not quite with the confidence of one who believed it implicitly, but with the tinge of one who wished to believe it. Maybe even needed to. But unless he lent an ear to rumour, that was about as close as he was getting to any misdeeds of hers. She imagined his sins eclipsed her own anyway, just by virtue of that black uniform and its shining pins. And those soldier’s hands. Her own hand slipped away slowly, maybe too slowly. It was pathetic to covet the warmth of such incidental touch, but she did. If he minded, he showed no sign.

There wasn’t a great deal that could take Nythadri by surprise, but that question did. A measure of that surprise flooded her face. “Memory.”
Strange the things you thought to take when you were pushed from your home, and the things you forgot. Her rooms in Andor had been filled with the trappings of both a music-lover and a musician, but the only thing she had taken with her was her violin. It was the only thing she could not bear to part with. Sheet music was replaceable, and Nythadri had a startling memory; inherited maybe, or learned through years entertaining in Caemlyn’s inns and taverns. She might have said more, after the wonder of that astute observation abated, but the golden glow of Fate Sedai entered her periphery. And now it was clear who Jai was waiting for.

She was too well trained to let her brow rise in dry amusement, and the Asha’man had already turned to address the beautiful Brown. Kojima Excluding the day she had arrived at Tar Valon in Karina Sedai’s carriage, Nythadri had only been in the city once, and that had earned her the penance that even now seemed to shadow her life. But she recognised his name, and not only from her Tower education. The Vanditera’s House had been ailing even before Nythadri had left for the Tower – that fact itself had been a contributing factor to her brother’s murder – and her father had spent years trying to buoy his sinking fortunes. Initially he had been keen to marry her off, but that notion proved… difficult. It wasn’t that she was opposed to the arrangement, not at first, just that she was too engrossed in her own selfish needs to consider how it might have saved her family before they plummeted from the precipice. And then, of course, she had met Farune – a tavern boy with dreams of running away with the Tuatha’an. Marriage to a noble had come off the table completely, then.

The Kojima name rang bells from a time a year or so before the Tower. Nythadri’s reputation, by then, had dissuaded even the most ardent suitor swayed by her beauty, and her sisters were still too young. Her father began to talk of financial aid. He wanted the best, and the best lay in Tar Valon. But, as everything of quality, it came with a price. The name only lingered in her memory because her father had wanted her to sell her harp. Full-sized, beautifully sculpted, and of exquisite sound. Even melted down it would have raised a goodly sum, and as a simple instrument of beauty it was invaluable. She had refused, of course. Vehemently. And then, only a year later, she had abandoned it along with the rest of the beautiful things she had kept. And what a cruel daughter I was.

The memories ghosted her mind, but provoked no outward reaction. The Tower was bursting with the wealthy, the powerful, the legendary. When it came down to it, name meant nothing; only the person themselves could earn respect, and that had to be of their own merit. It changed nothing of her demeanour, or the opinion she had formed of him; the only thing it had confirmed was how close she had come with her guesswork. Maybe we never truly leave our old lives behind.

She was not so cold that she did not feel a stab of jealously at the golden Domani’s presence, but she would not act foolishly on such whims. She was just an Accepted, and within the confines of the Tower that would always define her identity. An initiate, a child. No sooner out of sight than out of mind. Resigning herself to that fact was always a wrench, but it was a truth she could live with. This had been a pleasant distraction, while it lasted, and many days passed without such valuable gems.

Many women would be intimidated by Fate’s beauty; any woman who claimed otherwise was either lying or the rare exception to the rule, but while Nythadri appreciated the almost painful perfection of the woman’s stunning exterior, the threat she felt was minimal in a situation like this, with the bridge of rank negating any perceived rivalry moot. Nythadri was more than comfortable with her own skin anyway; there had been no tugging or smoothing at the dress that sat so unflatteringly against her curves. Black hair fell in waves more tousled than manicured. She was beautiful, but it was not the kind of beauty that took hours of maintenance. Nythadri appreciated the aesthetic, but that did not extend to over-vanity. Particularly when there was no point to it.

So it stoked her ire, that incline to Fate’s tone, which suggested she had been caught in wrong-doing. Mostly the coarse rumours that found her ears from time to time were met with a shrug. She couldn’t care less if people thought ill of her, even when it came to womanly virtues. But an Aes Sedai should know better. And an Aes Sedai with a reputation as glorious as Fate’s should certainly know better. She had shaken his hand, which he had proffered in the first place. It was hardly seduction. And it was dangerous to point the finger at Nythadri; it only inclined her to do something to make the accusation deserved. But right now all she offered was a measured curtsy; the appropriate amount of deference and no more. “Fate Sedai.”


There were sharp words on the end of her tongue; words that coolly pointed out that she was late, and the Asha’man had been waiting, thus she was tending to her duty. But Fate would hardly take kindly to that, and she was aware how stupid it would be to provoke a sister of Fate’s power and standing. She could suffer the sting of it, and the acid of swallowing back her retort. Pick her battles wisely. And Jai had already opened his mouth; presumably to embarrass the Brown, though Nythadri doubted it would even gloss the surface. The effort was appreciated, but the smirk contained. The Accepted’s face was suitably blank.


Edited by Natalie Grey, Sep 5 2016, 02:17 PM.
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#10
Quote:<dl>
<dt>Fate Sedai</dt>
<dd> </dd>
</dl>

[Image: FateBanner-525x210.jpg]
Fate's laughter was a soft, musical note. If one listened closely there was a hum to it- a distant vibration reminiscent of a plucked harp string. A product of her Voicing that was indistinguishable unless she or the listener were holding the One Power, or the laughter was genuine. An annoying tell for those who knew her well, but the Talent was so rare few knew to pick up on it.

"Hard as you wept on that pepper, I'm impressed you can taste anything,"
the words were laced with amusement but held no sting. If he wanted to play wits in front of the Accepted, she was not an easy target. The trick to shaming someone was they had to feel some vestige of shame, and Fate was not a woman to harbor self-deprecation. With the persona she chose to ply, it was not even an option. That is not to suggest she thought herself beyond improvement. There was always more to learn.

Fate lay her palm on his presented forearm. The touch was misleadingly familiar, but not entirely accepting of his escort. Her hands were as soft and unblemished as all her skin, a true measure of her knowledge as a Domani and her resourcefulness as an Aes Sedai. Given her work with the horses it was perhaps the only facet of her aesthetics she had to regularly maintain, but given her work with people it was necessary.

"Actually, I'm afraid I've unexpected business that needs attending to. But don't worry, you'll get your ride."


Without waiting to see Jai's expression, the Brown sitter looked back to Nythadri. Her molten gaze went tepid- hardly Valadhiel's icy stare, but unusually cool for Fate. "Accepted, you still have yet to choose an aspirancy, but have nothing better to do than tend the front hall?"
She shook her head as though she did not know the girl had orders to be there, and had expected more from her. "Escort the Asha'man to the Traveling courtyard. I've arranged for a gateway to be opened at half past the hour and if you are late I will hold you accountable."
Jai could speak out on her behalf, but it would not change her orders and it was never a good idea to trifle with Tower hierarchy. The trek was short, and Fate not so late that they would need more than an easy walk to make it. He was an Asha'man after all, it would be rude to expect him to rush to his prize.

Her torso twisted slightly as she regarded the Asha'man once more. The small motion provided a good look at the shape of her breasts beneath that blessedly sheer fabric and turned her just enough that the Accepted would not see the wink she gave him. There was a sparkle to it, as if she held the knowledge of some great conspiracy he was not privy to.

And with that, she was gone.
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