After leaving Moridin in the kitchen, Ariella returned to her chambers to think. Her Sisters had gone back out into the world to further their ends, and Darkhound... well, he was off being Darkhound. She spared a brief smile for him; there were things about him that no one but she knew, and she planned to keep it that way. Never hurt to have an ace in the hole.
The encounter with Moridin had left her shaking, though she had been careful to conceal any trace. It had been a very long time since she’d been around a man who didn’t just fall at her feet, and she was beginning to remember just how intriguing that was. But as pleasant a diversion as that might be, she had no time to indulge herself now. Her brother had extended the olive branch; it was time she went home.
The slightest trickle of her power was all she needed to step through reality to where she wished to go. The last few traces of snow clung to the highest crags of Shayol Ghul, but she gave them no more than a glance. Casually, she strolled toward the Pit of Doom. The stone fangs lining the cavern dropped down to just brush the top of her head; she looked up at them inquiringly, and they immediately retracted to a more reasonable height. "Really, Shai’itan, is that anyway to welcome your twin sister home?" she asked. Receiving no reply, indeed having expected none, she continued on. At last she came to the Pit itself, and knelt beside it. After while, she dipped her hand into the liquid flames, almost a caress. "Shai’itan. I have returned, my brother. It has been too long..."
SHAI’ARIEL. MY SISTER. AT LAST YOU COME BACK TO ME.
The Great Lord’s voice washed over her, through her. Although he was her twin, he had always been the more dominant of the two, the elder by moments. All through eternity, she had struggled for an identity apart from him, and yet, even now, the urge to prostrate herself before him was strong. She mastered it, but barely. She’d forgotten just how overwhelming his presence truly was. "I go by Ariella now. And you made your invitation impossible to resist, even to the point of sending Moridin to me as bait. So now that I am here, what is it you wish of me?" She removed her hand from the lake of fire; it was as pale and perfect as ever.
LISTEN, AND ALL WILL BE MADE CLEAR, MY SISTER. LISTEN, SHAI’ARIEL, AND LEARN WHO SHALL LIVE, AND WHO MUST DIE...
As her brother’s thought came crashing home in her mind, Ariella knelt by the Pit of Doom, eyes closed, head thrown back as in ecstasy. It was a bold gambit, the plan he revealed to her, but if it succeeded, it would hand them -- everything. When at last the tide of his thought ceased, Ariella rose slowly to her feet. "As you have shown it, so it will be, my brother. I shall serve, as shall my Sisters, though to the world we shall yet appear at odds. And when it is done..."
WHEN IT IS DONE, YOU SHALL HAVE ALL THAT YOU WISH, MY SISTER.
"And the man?" she inquired.
HE SHALL BE YOURS, IF HE IS NOT ALREADY.
At that, Ariella smiled in satisfaction. "Then if you don’t mind, I think I’ll pay yet one more social call while I am here." She opened yet one more hole in reality, and stepped through it into a richly appointed bedchamber. The man to whom it belong turned in shock at her entrance and regarded her with unearthly blue eyes. "Hello again, Moridin. I was in the neighborhood on business, so I thought I’d drop by. Hope I haven’t caught you at a bad time?"
Ariella, the Great Mistress of the Dark
His meeting with Ariella that morning burned through his mind, eliminating any chance at all of channeling that day. He felt what she was, what she could do, and yet he managed to stay standing before her, an amazing feat for anyone except for possibly Shaidar Haran. And her kiss... Moridin shook his head. Even the Great Lord's sister may be important to this plan, best to keep the relationship purely business. If that was at all possible, now...
"Hello again, Moridin. I was in the neighborhood on business, so I thought I’d drop by. Hope I haven’t caught you at a bad time?"
He hadn't felt any trace of either Power, but he knew. That voice, pure sweetness with a hint of anger. That voice, that shook his soul to its roots... He turned slowly toward her, trying to maintain any kind of self-control, but that hope slipped away quickly. "Good day, Great Mistress." There. Plain and simple. Possibly enough to-
She smiled softly, but her eyes told him a different tale. "Moridin..." She took slow strides toward the High Servant, her smile seeming to deepen with every step, her hips swaying in time to some unheard melody forming in his mind. "Why do you resist? I promise not to hurt you...much." A memory stirred in his mind, of something that happened eons ago, but it was burned away by the figure of radiance before him. "Come..." He never noticed how she got so close, so quickly, but the next thing he knew, she was right before him, her hand on his cheek.
Moridin tried in vain to get away. "Ari... This isn't ri-"
"Don't...say...another...word." Her smile all but vanished. "I'll tell you what is right and what isn't, Moridin. And don't forget that." She laughed, and his world began to waver. The final thing he remembered was her lips nearing his...
Moridin, High Servant of the Great Lord
Darkhound padded softly through the shadows, keeping a watchful eye on the intriguing shape of Egwene2. She didn't seem fazed by the fact that Mat had escaped his collar. In fact, she didn't seem fazed by anthing. She had the confident aura of a Dark Sister, but also a confidence of her own, stemming from personal wisdom, secure in the knowledge that everything comes to she who waits....
Well, thought Darkhound, the waiting is over. He toyed with shape shifting in front of her, then thought better of it. She didn't connect the blue eyed, dark haired man with the blue eyed, dark haired hound, and it suited him for the moment. Concentrating, he flowed into his man form and strode out before her. She stopped, surprised, but unafraid. Gracefullym he went to one knee before her. "Greetings, Ma'am. I was but passing, and mine eye was captured by a form of such fairness that it seemeth unto me mine heart would surely fail. Thou art that fine beauty, and mine eyes are blinded by thine radiance. Mayhaps I might do thee some small service of protection, for I here it said that here be dangerous beasts such as Darkhounds and Demandreds and Evals, and it would injure mine heart further to consider thine grace and perfection lost to this world." The man bowed low before her, and let his gaze drink in the sight of her as he arose. "Nice whip and boots, by the way, my lady." he said with a roguish grin......
Tam finally found his sister, Egwene. He hoped she would not be mad for following her. Tam just had to make sure she was safe. He was about to talk to her when a strange dark haired man stepped next to her. Who was this? Tam got closer. He then saw that Ewgene had a leash of some sort. What was that for? Tam realized that it had been a good idea to follw her. There were strange things lurking about these days. He decided not to reveal himself yet. But he would still follow his sister. There was something about this man he didn't like. Tam had no fear though. He knew he could handle any man with his blade. And woe to whom who does even think to harm his sister.
Shuddering, Smoke Gated back into her rooms, fresh from a visit with Sundara. Her younger sister of the darker Brown persuasion had been doing well, and Smoke was glad of it. At least Sundara hadn't had bad news to report; the sickening self-righteousness of Elaida, which Smoke had had to endure for the course of a formal dinner (under the disguise of a Ghealdan noblewoman) would not have been tolerated if Sundara had given her disastrous information.
Quickly pulling her clothes off, Smoke bounded into the shower room, anxious to wipe the stench of the Light off her skin. Vigorously, she weilded soap and sponge, and felt relieved as a sense of well-being, the sense of being a Dark Sister, returned to her. Stepping out of the shower, she wandered contentedly back to her rooms to dress (she had previously closed the picture window to Thakan'dar- those stone things were the worst peeping Toms in the world, with Thakan'dar-wrought binoculars and all). So wrapped up in new plans and the excitement of them was she that she didn't notice Demandred standing in the corner.
When she did, her mind and heart stopped for a second, long enough for her awareness to scream that she had no clothes on. When she got her brain and heart jump-started, she merely crossed her arms over her breasts and stared at him. "You could have knocked," she addressed him. For a wonder, he actually was caught offguard- apparently expecting her to shriek and leap for a robe. He paused, gaped, and shoved a hand through his hair. "Ummm... yeah. Uh...sorry. Yeah. Sorry," he mumbled. In reply, she coolly arched an eyebrow and sniffed slightly. "Forgiven, this once. Although don't do it again." He nodded, eyes fixed on the floor like a boy caught spying, his mind filled with mortification. Well, she wasn't going to let his momentary abashedness get to her head. Calmly, she reached for her robe and pulled it over her body. "Now what did you want to see me for?"
"Well, Ariella said that this is a family reunion post and I thought we should have a...um- that is...," he trailed off. Smoke's eyebrow arched even more. "Reunion?" He turned bright red- by the True Power, the man blushed!- and nodded, shifting his feet. "Oh, what's the sudden shyness for?" Smoke pulled her hair back into a ponytail. "It's not like you haven't seen me before or anything." "That's true, but... I also want to apologize." "Whatever for?" Smoke stared at him, wondering what he had done. "Umm... you'll find out about it when you read a few more threads above this," he muttered. "I'm sorry! I really am! How can I make it up to you?" Smoke's gaze shifted, became teasing and predatory. "I already knew about that." "You did?" She nodded. "Yes." Her smile became a grin, and one that made him stare at her suspiciously as the emotions he felt churned and became different. Loosening her robe, she stepped towards him. "You can still make it up to me, though..."
Smoke "Wrote a story much like this for her narration class..." Ashalen
Egwene2 was finding it difficult to keep her composure. The handsome stranger had such compelling eyes. The whip trailed limply from her hand, forgotten for the moment. What had he just said? Giving herself a mental shake, she smoothed her brilliant green dress over her hips. "My boots and whip? Oh they're just part of the Dark Sister uniform. Much less effort to frighten the servants when you need to."
Egwene2 stopped, shocked by how much she had just revealed to a perfect stranger. Ariella would not be pleased. "But what are you doing in these private corridors, sir? The public areas of the building are on the lower levels."
Gently Egwene2 probbed with a thin tendril of saidar looking for the crack in his facade she know exactly how to find. Unexpectedly reaching a block of some sort, she wondered how a man could resist her compulsion weave. Did he have some sort of protection? But this thought flew right out of her head with his next words. "Ariella? Pray, do not concern thyself, verily, the Great Mistress and I have known one another for many ages."
Egwene barely managed to hide her shock. How the h*ll did he read her mind?
"Mayhaps we might discourse upon this in a more convivial locale? Perhaps with a small dram to whet our parched throats? Mine ears have heard the Queen's Blessing has a most entertaining gleeman performing at this very moment. An it pleases thee?" He offered his arm to Egwene and bemused, she took it. They passed through the hallway never seeing the shadow that slipped from doorway to doorway.
Slumber slowly retreated from the Chosen, but he refused to let his eyes open, refused in vain to face what had happened. He was Demandred, the most feared of the Chosen, if not the most powerful now, the bearer of the name that mothers used to scare their children, more widely used than perhaps Ishamael. And Lews Therin Kinslayer, the man still beat him after his death. And now... His wits were gone, replaced with feelings he never knew he had, for a woman he barely even knows. What had happened?
Still dazed, he rolled over toward the center of her bed, taking the blankets and half the sheets with him. Perhaps trying to bury himself from her, he thought. No one else had ever made him act the way she did, no one ever had that power. On the other hand, Smoke Ashalen was a Dark Sister, one of the followers of the Great Mistress. Reason enough for any sane man to stay away... Or stay with them forever, if they caught you, he realized with a second groan. Nothing had gone right of this alliance...
The mattress tilted slightly. "Never again what, my Chosen?" a silken voice replied. Definitely Smoke's. "If you mean..." Amused laughter filled his ears, and instinctively he pulled the pillow closer over his head. "Demandred..." A chill passed through him, as all the bed coverings rose from the bed, leaving him completely unprotected. "You know you never could escape me."
"Smoke, I..." His shadowed eyes met her misty eyes for a moment, but then he almost leaped out of the bed in shock. She never bothered to put any clothes back on, not even a robe. "Smoke, for one moment you want me nowhere near you, then...this." A smile almost appeared on his lips, but a brief head shake removed it. "Why?"
That smile of hers, half triumphant, half satisfied, appeared on her lips again. "Demandred," she sighed. "Perhaps one day..." She said nothing more as she climbed to Demandred, but her eyes spoke for her...
Perhaps there is a good side to this, after all.
Tam was not able to understand what he saw. Egwene looked confused for a while and then went off with the stranger. Tam followed closer hoping to hear their conversation. This was not like the sister he knew before, Egwene had always been careful around men before but she just took off with this stranger to light knows where. Tam would follow Egwene anywhere to keep her safe; he would even sell his soul to the dark if it would keep her safe. He had to be quiet now in order to hear them talk....
Hidden in the deepest shadows available, the Myrddraal watched as the one known as al'Thor.
Ariella woke from deep slumber feeling slightly disoriented. The elegantly furnished room was somehow familiar, and yet, she could not place it. Then her eyes fell on the bare, sleekly muscled back of the man standing before the tall window, seemingly in deep thought. At the sight, the last haze of sleep cleared from her mind, replaced by memory. Mmmm, yes, Moridin...
Only the whiteness of his knuckles as they gripped the windowsill betrayed his tension. Ariella let her gaze linger on the clean, strong lines of his back for a moment longer, then slipped from his bed and padded silently across the thick rugs. Coming to stand just behind him, she twined her arms about his waist and leaned against him. "Greetings of the day, Moridin."
The phrasing of her greeting tugged at some ancient memory deep within him, but he had no time to worry about it. "You should go, Ari," he said quietly, not moving so much as a muscle. "Go?" she repeated. "Why should I go? Am I no longer welcome here?"
He gently broke her embrace and turned to face her. "A man cannot serve two masters, Ari, not and keep his sanity. You should go." At his words, an ironic smile curved her lips. "And how many times have I heard *that*, I wonder?" she said, more to herself than to him. "Moridin, I have not asked you to serve me. I have servants, minions, and followers in abundance, and I would not test the fragile strength of my new truce with my brother by seeking to poach his High Servant. It is true that a man may not serve two masters, but he can serve his Master and yet have a Mistress. So long as you carry out my brother's instructions by day, he will not mind if I claim a few of your nights..."
"What did you mean, 'How many times have I heard that'?" Moridin asked, puzzled. She returned his gaze steadily, clearly expecting him to understand. "Do you remember nothing, Elan Morin? Once, you had nearly solved the riddle that is the Wheel, had gained enlightenment into your own place in the fabric of time. Was all that lost in your madness?"
At her use of his ancient name, flashes of memory came back, cloudy images from a life long gone. He had been a philosopher, then, constantly seeking to understand the truths of reality. One image came clearer than all the others -- an image of Ariella, rising from his bed, saying, "Greetings of the day, Elan Morin!", laughing as she ran to him for kisses. With that image, came a thousand others, of lives come and gone, Ages past, Ages perhaps yet to be, with only a few constants: himself, the Dragon, the Great Lord, and her. Always, her.
She watched his face change, saw the confusion shift to shock and then to comprehension. He had remembered. "And so, you see, there is no need for me to go, Moridin. And did you really want me to, anyway?" The Great Lord help him, he had not. She turned her face up to his, and he took her in his arms, conceding this battle to her. She allowed him a single kiss, then stepped away, leaving him feeling strangely bereft. "Later, Moridin," she said. "Now, we must get dressed. My sisters will be coming to visit very soon..."
Ariella, past, present, and future Great Mistress of the Dark
Moridin felt the breeze of Ariella's exiting his chambers, rather than watching her leave. It was a great suprise to him that someone of this Age knew who what he was before Mierin's little "mistake," before the War of Power and the Strike, but that retreated to the recesses of his mind. Foremost, he knew what he said about two masters to her, but apparently she failed to see. A master of the soul, and a master of the heart... A soft sigh escaped his lips, still tingling with her kiss, as he headed to his clothes closet. No matter what Age, a woman always seems to distracts a man like this, even if that man was Nae'blis or Dragon.
A blizzard of black specks passed before his eyes as he ripped a hole in the air. A sickly glow shined on his black coat, lined with pure golden lace, but it paled before the morning sun at Ariella's palace courtyard, shrouded in mist in the tear. He stepped through, hoping he made it for at least breakfast. Strength would be of the essence this day...
"Good day, Master Moridin." A voice like honey spoke from behind him. "The Great Mistress said you would arrive soon... Should I show you to your new chambers?" A servant girl, barely past childhood, stood before him. She was attractive enough, in her low-cut white silk dress the servants mostly wore, but her eyes... More dead than he was, the eyes of a doll. Still, it didn't strike him as strangely as did her message.
Moridin grew a little uneasy. "That's...fine, I don't think I will have any difficulty finding them myself." Ari wanted him to move HERE, to her palace? "Could you tell me, though... Where is she, or any of the Sisters?"
"Smoke and Sundara are...occupied, right now," she said, bowing slightly - was she trying to stifle laughter? - but she regained herself quickly. "Egwene is in the garden, though, and Tam was heading there a few moments ago... But if you want to see the Great Mistress, I'm afraid I-"
"It's alright." The Bond indicated Egwene was closer, anyway. Not that he could ever miss Ari if she was nearby. Besides, a walk in the garden may help him clear his mind.
He couldn't help notice, though, that strange feeling over the Bond, as if Egwebe was associating with Shaidar Haran or one of the like. He prayed for Darkhound; why would the Hand of the Great Lord need to come here now?
Moridin, High Servant of the Great Lord
"Stop being difficult."
Smoke spun on her heel, forgetting about the Light-forsaken dress she
was wearing for her visit to the Great Mistress. She also forgot that the
dress was half-buttoned. Narrowing her eyes, she stared murder at Demandred.
"I told you, I can't reach the buttons. Now button them, or I'll make you
wish for Shai'tan to toss you into the lava of Shayol Ghul itself!" Imperiously,
she turned to face the mirror again. Demandred hung back, until she tossed
a look over her shoulder, a look that spoke eloquently of murder should
he not comply. "I'll make you wish Ariella got her hands on you before
I did... and maybe Aran'gar, too."
Suppressing a yelp, Demandred leapt to her, and began to fumble with the buttons. "Y'know," he murmured, voice distant in concentration, "You could've just buttoned these by weaving Air to fasten them."
Through the bond, Demandred felt a rush of satisfaction and victory, emotions hidden by irritation and imperiousness. "You're a dirty player, Smoke," he muttered. She smiled, reaching over her shoulder to touch his cheek affectionately. "We both are, I suppose." Frowning, she channeled a bit of dust off of the elegant thread-of-gold scrollwork embroidering the tight bodice of her dress.
Demandred sighed and wrapped his arms around her slender form. "I wonder what the Great Mistress wants now?"
Almost carelessly, Smoke leaned back into his embrace. "I don't know... perhaps she wants to appraise us of some new deal, some new plan." She glanced into the mirror, but her own quick blue gaze was held by the quiet force in Demandred's dark eyes. Turning, she pressed a kiss to his lips, murmuring, "Maybe you shouldn't have bothered with those buttons after all..."
Tam still followed Egwene2 and the darkhaired stranger; he still wasn't close enough to hear their conversation.Tam still couldn't figure out where they were going. Suddenly but quietly Tam turned around and drew his blade. He was sure he felt eyes on him. But he couldn't see or hear anyone. Egwene was getting farther away. For the love of light he would not let her out of his sight until he was sure she would be safe. Maybe I am being paranoid he thought to himself. Tam made one more check then turned swiftly and started following his sister again.
Tam Al'thor, blademaster
Sundara stepped through the gateway, followed by Eval. Ignoring his offered arm, she crossed to the balcony and, leaning against the rail, looked down.
From the turret in Ariella's palace that housed her own rooms, she could see for miles around. Far below in the gardens, Egwene and Darkhound stood talking, with Tam in the shadows nearby. And - she leaned farther out to see - yes, that was Moridin coming through the gates now. What he was doing here, Sundara had no idea.
A soft knock on the door heralded the arrival of one of Ari's servants, a young girl all in white. "The Great Mistress sent me to find you, Lady Sundara," the girl said in her soft sweet voice, curtsying with a grace no novice or Accepted could hope to match. "She wishes you, and your sisters and...companions, to meet her at Thakan'dar in an hour." She waited quietly for an answer.
Sundara kept her face smooth, although her thoughts were whirling. No point in asking the serving girl more: if she knew, she would not answer. "Then tell my sister I will be there."
As the girl left, closing the door noiselessly behind her, Sundara pressed a finger to her lips in thought. Another piece of the puzzle, yet it seemed no clearer than before. One message sent from Shai'tan by Eval, and the identical message from Ariella. "Do you know anything about this?" she asked Eval, who shook his head. The confusion in his eyes mirrored her own.
With a sigh, she sat down at her dressing table, picking up a silver brush. She might as well get ready for their meeting, and the repetitious activity was soothing. Pulling the brush slowly through her dark hair, Sundara considered. Two messages, virtually identical, from Shai'tan and Ariella, who had opposed each other for all eternity. In the mirror, she saw Eval pacing the floor in frustration; small consolation that he understood no more than she. Why - The last piece of the puzzle suddenly clicked into place. Moridin's visit. Of course.
"I can only surmise," she said aloud, "that they have a truce." In the mirror, she saw Eval's jaw drop, and smiled.
Eval stopped in midstride as Sundara's words hit him. "I can only surmise that they have a truce."
A truce? He might know less about his Lord than Sundara about her sister, but the idea of peace between the two was inconceivable. Perhaps a temporary agreement, as they had had earlier, but an actual truce as she had suggested...The very idea was absurd. Ariella and Shai'tan had opposed each other for almost as long as both had opposed the Creator. And yet, it did seem that that was the case.
"A truce." he said finally. "And you believe that is what they have brought us here to learn?"
Sundara drew the brush through her hair once more before turning to face him. "I can think of no other reason." Setting down the brush, she rose gracefully and came to stand beside him. "Can you?"
"Not with you so close," Eval told her wryly, and meant it. She was standing so close he could smell her perfume, a sweet, sharp, spicy scent that should have been banned. And the nearness of her body in that thin silk gown was reminding him very clearly that Chosen or not, he was still human.
She laughed and took a step away from him. "Now can you?"
He gathered his thoughts and tried to think of another possibility. There was none. "No," he admitted, then realised something. "If they have a truce - they must plan to strike against the Light. Why else would they make peace after so long?"
Those dark eyes widened in shock. It was only a moment before shock changed to comprehension, but Eval felt a flash of satisfaction. At least there was one thing she had not guessed first.
Eval Ramman, Lord of Darkness
Tam got close to Ewgene2. He heard a noise behind him. He turned and then everything went black.
When Tam came to he was in a cell of some sort. His hand went to his
side but he knew his sword wouldn't be there. He a door creak then a woman
of great beauty appeared. She eyed him for a moment. Tam was growing impatient.
"I demand that you release me now."
Lady: You are not in a position to make demands, Tam Al'thor."
Tam: How do you know my name?
Lady: That is not important right now. The only reason you are still living is because I want to know who sent you to follow my "friend" Ewgene2.
Tam: No one sent me. I was following her to keep her safe.
Lady: Then why were you creeping so far behind ?
Tam: Well if I am going to die I might as well tell you that she is my sister. I was about to tell her where I was when this dark haired man appeared. I thought he may be a threat to her so I thought I could follow behind and find out his intentions.
Lady: A very amusing story. I never said I would kill you. Now Tam, your loyalty to your sister is quite fascinating. You are very protective of her.
Tam: That I am.
Lady: I will offer you a chance to live. If you swear to me that you will serve me before your sister then I will let you live.
Tam: How do I know that you are not trying to kill her.
Lady: You don't. I tell you what swear, that you will serve Ariella, the Great Mistress of the Dark before all others so long as your sister lives. Would that work?
Tam: The Dark. My sister works for the dark???
Lady: Yes, now swear and live and be with you sister or deny my offer and die.
Tam: I swear.
Lady: Good, you will get your sword back and one of my servants will lead you to the garden.
Tam rhought deeply while he went through the hallway. It had all happened too quickly, and now he was what he hated most, a Darkfriend. Then a new thought gnawed at his brain. If Egwene2 worked for the Dark then she would really be in danger; and now that Tam had to serve this Ariella person he couldn't protect Egwene 24 hours aday. Hmm, he thought, father always told me to fulfill my oaths to the fullest, so if I am to serve the dark I will be the most loyal servant anyone has ever seen. And who knows? Maybe if I serve enough then I will like my work (sudden shudders shaked Tam's body at the thought).
The servant Tam was following opened a door. This must be the garden Tam thought. Hope Egwene isn't made that I followed her. Well time to face the music and also meet my "comrads" in arms.