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Flashback - The Glory of Tar Valon Casts Long Shadows

The anger that flashed through Karishyn at his words was white hot, but short lived. He had no discernable knowledge of Aes Sedai or the Power, beyond knowing something of their Oaths, and he certainly had no knowledge of Kari’s own personal background at the Tower. She had to remind herself of this after she caught a flicker of surprise in his face at the angry glare she landed on him after his statement. It was not his fault that she had no talent in Healing. He was not to blame for the fact that her dreams of becoming a Yellow had been abandoned in her second year of Novicehood. And he certainly had nothing to do with Bresha and her questionable talents in that particular area. So rather than letting her irritation get the best of her, she settled for a sharp snort.

Now that she was looking directly at him, she realized that he might be considered handsome if he did not look so…bitter. There was something far too severe and fierce about his air, as though the Pattern had some how cheated him out of all happiness, and now he was bent on repaying it for all his wrongs. Were it not for that certain edge, his grey eyes would look almost dead. His very tired grey eyes, she noticed. He may have been a hard-bitten soldier, but even so he could not hide all his fatigue.

Still holding saidar in her grasp, she began to form new Weaves, pure Spirit, in complete contrast to her earlier work that had been all Earth and Fire. She stretched out slim, dark hands toward his face, and he began to jerk back before she could lay a finger on him.

“Be still,” she nearly snapped. She was slightly surprised when he obeyed, and was unsure if he did so because she was Aes Sedai, or if it was because she was being rather temperamental. On second thought, it was probably both. Very few people had ever witnessed a moody Aes Sedai.

When she rested her hands on his head, she also settled the Weaves in place. It was almost satisfying when an astonished look passed over his face as he felt his exhaustion melt away. It was not a difficult thing to do with the Power, and was very handy for such situations.

“There,” she said as she dropped her hands back to her sides. “You will still sleep like a babe if you have the chance, but until then you should remain clear headed. You and your men will both need that if the town sees fighting before you have a chance to rest.”

He seemed slightly unsure of what to say, and after a moment settled for a simple “Thank you.”

She merely nodded in response and then said “Now if you would be so kind, Master Hawke, I would very much like to know some information.”

Half an hour later, Kari was examining a crude map drawn in the dirt. She knew well enough that Bresha was not keen on sharing anything that she did not have to share, and so she had not even entertained the idea of asking the other woman for details on where exactly they were and where the Aiel were at least rumored to be. While she had figured some basics simply from the trip from the Tower, there was still much she had been lacking. They were half a day’s ride south from the nearest bridge town at the Shining Walls. That was as much as she had known upon arrival. Now, however, she knew that the Aiel were positioned to move against Tar Valon on the west side of the river, but were wise enough to not make an all-out assault until they could do so from all directions. Their primary focus now seemed to be crossing the River Erinin so that they were positioned to lay siege from the east. Hence the need to protect the bridge towns. The next such town on the river was two days ride further south, so even if they held this bridge, there was still a strong chance the Aiel would cross. However, it was not for her to worry about every bridge along the river. Just this one.

Master Hawke—Captain, she had heard one of the men call him—stood back as she squatted next to his drawing, watching as she gathered her thoughts. Ultimately, this whole mission was pointless to her mind. The Aiel would cross at some point. They had already ravaged much of the land to the south, and so would have no problems backtracking further down river and taking some other bridge. The best they could do was delay them. Irritation bubbled again inside of her, but this time she stamped it down. Pointless or not, she was here now, and by the Light she was going to do what she could.

“Thank you, Captain Hawke. This information is very helpful to me.”

If he was surprised at how uninformed she was, he had not shown it when she had asked for details on their position. She suspected that their whole party was something of an anomaly to him, but he did an excellent job of masking whatever it was he truly felt. That was why she was surprised when emotion seemed to touch his face, however briefly, at her address—discomfort perhaps?—and then said, “You may simply call me Elijah, Aes Sedai.”

This brought a genuine smile to her face. She was unsure why it pleased her so, but it did nonetheless. She rose, brushing her skirts needlessly, and replied, “Then you may call me Karishyn, Elijah.” He gave her a look that she could not quite make out, and then nodded his head. “As you wish, Karishyn Sedai.”

The address honestly startled her. It was the first time anyone had ever coupled her name with the honorific “Sedai”. It sounded…odd. But even so, she preferred it to the stiff formality of being called “Aes Sedai” constantly. As though her mother had not given her a name as a child. She supposed it would do for now, though if they remained in company for long, she knew she would wind up asking him again so simply use her given name. But she somehow doubted that would be the case.

“If there is nothing more you require of me,” he continued, “I have duties to attend.”

When she told him that she did not require further assistance, he made a stiff salute, turned and walked away. She stood in place a moment longer, taking in the map one last time before kicking new dirt over it. It would not do to have Bresha come along and realize that Kari had been digging for information the older Aes Sedai seemed to prefer she did not have. The map sufficiently demolished, she turned and walked for the town walls. It crossed her mind to return to the infirmary, but she had a strong suspicion that Bresha would be there, and quite frankly the more time she could spend away from the woman, the better. Now that she and Bresha were separated, perhaps Galeana would not be so tight-lipped with the few questions that Kari had.

She was nearing the foot of one of the wall towers when Nathaniel, one of Galeana’s Gaidin, approached her. A bit less rough around the edges than the other two Warders, when he addressed her he did so respectfully.

“Your pardon, Karishyn Sedai. I have been asked to accompany you outside the western city walls. It appears there is a weak spot in the wall, and Bresha Sedai thought you would be the most capable of mending it. It seems that there is some concern that when the Aiel attack, they could break through.”

That brought her up short. They wanted her to go outside the walls? On the western side? If there was a problem with the walls, she could just as easily mend it from within the town as without, if she could mend it at all. And that was directly where the Aiel would land when they attacked. Surely such an assignment was not safe.

“I’m sorry, Nathaniel, but did you say they wish me to go outside the city walls on the western side? I thought the Aiel were near enough that they had sealed the gates?”

A look of apology played across his youthful features, truly the man did not look like he had yet seen thirty winters. “I’m afraid I don’t know any more than I’ve been told, Aes Sedai. Apparently the scouts have found the area to be clear, or else they would not send us out. Bresha Sedai did say that it was important that the matter be seen to immediately, so if you will just come with me, we can have this over with.”

With those words he turned and strode away from her, and she suppressed the urge to growl. She was growing very tired of being ordered about like a servant girl. There had been a time in her life when such treatment was expected, but she was Aes Sedai now, not a hired hand. But angry or not, she had nothing to do but follow the man who was now several paces ahead of her.

Once outside the town, it was much more difficult to move about due to the snow which piled along the walls. She had struggled several yards, hiking her skirts to nearly above her knee, before it occurred to her to melt a path using the Power. Nathaniel, trailing behind her, was kind enough not to laugh when the thought finally dawned on her. Dropping her skirts, she embraced saidar and wove Fire and Water to clear the way. She was not far yet from the gate, and was grateful that she had thought of it before someone in one of the guard towers—particularly Galeana or Bresha—had taken note of the Aes Sedai wading through the snow like a small child. She was drying her skirt and her shoes, preparing to continue forward, when an odd noise reached her ears. It sounded as though something was whizzing through the air. She was still trying to puzzle it out when suddenly an arrow embedded itself in the wall, inches from her nose.

It did not register immediately what that arrow meant. Panic flooded her as she whirled around, her back to the wall, and she felt all the blood drain out of her face at the sight which greeted her.

The bridge town was set on a hill, and so when the gates had opened to allow herself and Nathaniel outside access, she had not been able to see beyond the hill crest a short distance away. Whatever had been waiting at the foot of that hill had been a mystery to her, but one which she had paid no mind given the fact that Bresha had been the one who sent her out—and with one of Galeana’s Warders to boot. But now that mystery was revealed, and Kari was staring it in the face.

Black-veiled Aielmen were coming toward her at an alarming speed, already so close that she could make out individual weapons. Without thinking she wove a shield of Air as another arrow came toward her, and then began to spin another for Nathaniel when she made another horrifying realization.

He was not there.

She did not have time to process that information before she felt the arrow strike her shield. It ricocheted away, but she felt the shield weaken even as it did so. It would not be enough to take the defensive. For an instant she nearly turned her back and ran for the gate, which now seemed impossibly far away, but she knew that if she did so, she would fall dead within a few steps.

She had been set up. She knew it as certainly as if it had been written in the sky. It was why Nathaniel was not there. It was why she had been sent out, even when everyone on the walls would have known that the Aiel were so unimaginably close. There was no crack in the wall. She had been sent out to fight.

Rage flooded her as she drew deeply on saidar. The Oaths did nothing to stop her as she wove Earth and Fire together in huge amounts, causing the earth to erupt into fountains of flame beneath the feet of her attackers. Her life was most certainly in danger. But even so, she was not prepared for what happened as she worked.

Earth and Fire morphed into Spirit and Air, razor sharp as it sliced through Aiel flesh. Human flesh. The Power in her, she could see too clearly as men were cut down, flesh rending from flesh, lives ending at her own hand. Her rage took an edge of despair as she drew even more saidar into her.

There were so many of them.

Earth and Fire again. Then Fire, Spirit and Air to form bolts of lightening which fell from the sky. She had never handled so much of the Power before. But it was working. A thought which brought both hope and horror. Yet even as she kept cutting them down, they kept coming toward her, climbing over the bodies of their dead companions as though they were nothing more than mounds of dirt. One came so close that she noticed clear, green eyes before she took off his head with a flow of Air.

She thought they were slowing, not because they were easing their pace but simply because she was killing so many, but before she could truly internalize that thought, she felt the world shift around her. Still holding saidar she hit her knees in the deep snow. A distant portion of her mind registered hot tears running down her face, but she did not stop. Fire, then Earth followed by Air and Spirit. Then Fire and Air again. They were falling, but she was fading. She was wielding too much of the Power. If she stopped, she would die. If she continued, she would die anyway.

A choked sob emitted from her throat when saidar finally winked out of her grasp. The world was spinning around her, and she wanted nothing more than to close her eyes and sleep. But before she did, she saw a towering Aielman close the distance between her and his fallen companions at a startling rate. Spear drawn, he launched himself and landed directly in front of her. From her position in the snow, she looked up into vivid blue eyes and realized that she was going to die.

It was the last thought she had before the world went black.
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