Melinda looked down the hallway. It was about halfway done and already her back ached. Her fingers were wrinkled and were numb from the hours of polishing the
white marble floor. She sighed and sat down on it. It would make stains on her white novice's dress, but she didn't mind. The only thing she wanted was to sleep for the rest of her life. Never before in her life had she been so exhausted. A woman with a red stole around her shoulders come around the corner. Melinda got up as fast as she could and got to scrubbing the floor again. Aes Sedai were never mild if they caught a novice resting when she was supposed to be working. Fortunately the red passed without giving her as much as a glance. When she was out of sight Melinda immediately stopped again. Before she got to the White Tower she never had to do this and she hated it. The mistress of novices knew this all to well and made her do this every time she was sent to her office. As she massaged her back, Melinda thought of when she had first come to the White Tower. She had thought herself pretty hardened. Being raised without a mother and with six older brothers wasn't easy at all, but the Aes Sedai had proven her wrong. She had stared in awe at the magnificent city and the White Tower itself had amazed her even more, but once she got inside things had gone wrong rapidly. She had demanded to know arrogantly to the first Aes Sedai that she had encountered where to go if she wanted to get tested. How was she to know that it was one of the sitters of the hall? After the test she had been greatly displeased about the white dresses. A nobleman's daughter shouldn't wear such ordinary things. The mistress of novices had sent her to the kitchens immediately.
"Tell the cook you will be working until everybody else has stopped and not a moment shorter," she had said. "We do not put up with such foolishness." Melinda's eyes had almost popped out of her head in indignation. How foolish had she been to think that Aes Sedai would care about her having royal blood.
"What do you think you are doing?"
Melinda looked up and stared right into the face of Shania, an Aes Sedai of the white ajah. She didn't look pleased. No, not pleased at all.
"I'm taking a rest from my work, Shania Sedai," she said as meekly as she could. She knew her answer would not be satisfying, but all the other possible answers were even worse.
"And were you given permission to rest before you finished your chores?"
"No, Shania Sedai."
"Then get to it, girl!" the Aes Sedai snapped. "Or do I have to notify the mistress of novices?"
"Please don't do that?" Melinda begged. "Please, Shania Sedai. She'll make me work forever!"
Shania sniffed loud and walked on muttering about these novices nowadays. Melinda sighed again and grabbed the piece of cloth. She would not get any sleep for a long time.
Alviarin walked down the empty hallways with big strides. She was in no good mood. She had worked late to try and convince Elaida of her plans, but to no avail. That foolish Elaida was going to wreck all her careful plans if she wouldn't do as she was told soon. She rounded a corner and bumped into someone. Alviarin opened her mouth to give the person the rough side of her tong, but then she realized who it was. She bowed deeply trying not to show her fear. She only managed it partially; her hands were shaking.
"How can I serve you, Great Mistress?" she said.
"Have you talked to Elaida yet?" the women asked with as soft but dangerous voice. Alviarin didn't look up to her. She would see no face anyway. The Chosen only revealed what they wanted to reveal and she was only a little insect. One that could be easily crushed beneath the boot of higher placed people.
"She still refuses, Great Mistress," Alviarin said concentrating on keeping her hands still.
"For your sake, I do hope this problem will be dealt with quickly," the Forsaken said. "This does not please me and I can become very unpleasant when I'm displeased."
Alviarin mouth went dry.
"As soon as possible, Mistress. Elaida will have no choice but excepting next time."
"Good. Serve the dark faithfully, my child, and you might be rewarded, but don't fail me again."
Suddenly a bright horizontal slash appeared that set the hallways in a cold blue light just for a second. Then it opened into a gateway and the Chosen stepped through. For a moment the gateway flickered, then it winked out of existence. Alviarin let her breath out slowly in relief and got up, to stare right in the face of young dark-haired novice. Her white dress was stained and the skin on her fingers was wrinkled. A novice going to bed after doing her chores, Alviarin thought. A novice with bad luck. Alviarin opened herself to the True Source and life filled her. The novice, who had stood staring at her pale-faced and shocked, suddenly dropped the cloth and bucket she was carrying and turned around. Quickly Alviarin tried to weave a flow of air to detain her, but within moments the girl was out of sight.
"Flaming wrench!" she cursed loud and went after her. There was to be no evidence of a Chosen being inside the Tower.
Melinda ran as fast as her feet could carry her. Alviarin was Black Ajah! She had spoken with one of the Forsaken! Here in the White Tower itself! The words kept
banging through her head so hard she could think of nothing else. She did not know where she was headed nor what she would do there. After a while she stopped running. Her hard still pounded and she sweated bucketloads, but she could simply not run any further. Gasping for breath she sat down on the first step of a stairs going down to the basement. She looked around in wonder. She was in a part of the Tower she had never been before. It looked like the servant's rooms, but Melinda wasn't sure. Suddenly she heard footsteps and she jumped up, ready to run at the first sight of Alviarin. But the footsteps didn't even come near her. The sound died away in seconds and Melinda sat down again. Alviarin would kill her the moment they met. Melinda was sure of that. She had seen pure hatred in the eyes of the Keeper. Hatred she didn't understand, but that cold look in Alviarin's eyes had made her shiver. Still made her shiver, she realized as she watched her hands. They were trembling from terror and exhaustion. She yawned. She wanted to go to her bed. A bed she had found so hard when she first arrived here, but now it seemed the best one in the world. Yet she didn't dare to go there. It was the first place Alviarin would look for her. Melinda closed her eyes to keep the tears away. She was only a hair away from crying. What could she do against the Keeper of Chronicles? She was only a novice. Nobody would believe her. Melinda could already hear the Aes Sedai's voices: "Do you realize what you're saying, Novice? Do you want to spend the rest of you live doing chores? What nonsense are you talking, girl? We will not put up with this foolishness."
Melinda yawned again and lay her head against the wall. Soon she dozed off, dreaming of huge Aes Sedai following her through endlessly long hallways, shouting at her to come back.
She awakened when somebody lay a hand on her shoulder. She gave a start and her heart stopped beating for a few moments. But it was not Alviarin, not even an Aes Sedai who had touched her. It had been the hand of an old man. The only hair on his head was a little grey goatee that he touched with his left hand continually.
He wore simple clothes and old worn out boots. On the floor stood a bucket with a cloth in it. Just a servant, Melinda thought relieved.
"Are you all right, girl?" the man asked. He had a voice that didn't sound unfriendly. Melinda blinked a few times. How long had she been asleep? She looked around. There was nobody else and it was still dark so it couldn't have been more than two hours. She stood.
"I'm fine," she said.
"You look like you can use a hot cup of tea," the man said. "I was just about to go to my room and make some. Do you want to have some?"
Melinda nodded gratefully. She felt like she could use some tea indeed. She followed the man to a little cramped room with only a bed, a small table and a chair in it. The old man made her some tea and gave her a cup. She sat down on the chair.
"Thank you," Melinda said and took a sip. She felt the hot tea glide down to her stomach, warming her body. The old man sat on his bed.
"Now can you tell me what a novice is dong here in the middle of the night?"
Melinda froze. It was the only question she did not want to answer. The only question she had feared him to ask.
But the man lay a finger on her lips. His eyes twinkled.
"Don't say it. You were looking for the Door right?" the old man said with a mischievous smile. He put an emphasis on the word Door that could not be missed.
"The Door? What do you mean?" Melinda asked. She had never heard of anything as the Door. The old man chuckled.
"Of course you don't know anything about the little door that leads out of the Tower in the room adjoining this one," the man said ironically. "Don't try to fool me, girl. I have seen tons of novices leaving and entering through that door to have a wild night in the city."
"There is a door that isn't guarded?" Melinda said in disbelief.
The old man nodded still smiling.
"You better go now," he said. "Or it will be too late."
Melinda rose from the chair.
"Thank you again for the tea," she said and left. She opened the door to the next room. It was a small dark room filled with all kinds of stuff. At the back of the room she could make out a dark door-like shape. She pushed away the box filled with books that stood in front of it. She pushed down the handle and tried to open it. It went open without difficulty. As if it was used every day. Or every night if that old man spoke the truth, Melinda thought. She looked through the opening. He had told the truth. She looked straight into one of the alleys that lay around the White Tower. Melinda smiled and stepped through. She turned around to close the door, but before she could even touch it, it slammed shut even though there was hardly any wind. Strange, Melinda thought, but she didn't really care. She was out of the Tower. How hard could leaving the city be in comparison to that? With hope in her heart she walked towards the center of the city where the lights of the taverns shone brightly. Alviarin would never find her now. She was free.
Inside the Tower an old man chuckled as his face began to change. The wrinkles in his face disappeared and so did his goatee. Long hair came out of his scull and fell down to his shoulders. His body changed from an old man's body into something more feminine. The woman smiled. This was going to be great fun.
Melinda walked through the streets of Tar Valon and shivered. It was cold outside and she hadn't thought about taking anything with her. The only thing she possessed was her white dress and that was pretty much the only she didn't want to have. It would mark her as a runaway. The cold wind made her shiver again and she wished for a coat for the hundredth time. But it had all happened too fast. Her coincidental meeting with Alviarin had been only a few hours ago. She had had no time to realize what was happening. Not until now anyway. She felt safer here, but she had to get out of her dress and out of the city as soon as possible. They would notice her absence and search the city when they would not find her in the White Tower itself. Melinda passed an inn where lights still shone and she could here laughter coming out of the large room. She hesitated. Would she go in? It would be warm there, but there might be people who would recognize her as a novice from the Aes Sedai. Then the smell of grilled beef penetrated her nose. She put away her hesitation and stepped inside. Immediately she wished she hadn't, although it was a lot warmer inside than on the streets. The door fall shut behind her and all the heads in the inn went her way. She had chosen the wrong kind of inn, she realized. This was the rougher sort. The ones where people came that didn't care too much for the law, as Melinda's mother had always said. Don't go there, her
mother had also said. They are not suited for girls. But she didn't want to leave. It would make her stand out even more than she had already. She walked to a lonely table and sat down. All the looks followed her through the room. She shrugged uncomfortably when she noticed three men looking at her with smiles that gave her goosebumps. A young woman approached her and bent over. She was showing more of her bosom than Melinda would ever dare. "If you don't want to drink anything, I advise you to leave as soon as you can, girl. You might regret it if you don't."
Melinda looked the woman straight in the eyes. The look in them was not unfriendly, compassionate almost. She nodded.
"I just needed a place to warm myself," she said helplessly. "This was not what I had in mind."
The woman laughed softly.
"I can imagine that," she said. "Come with me."
Uncertain what to think of it Melinda followed the woman to a room in the back of the inn. The woman opened a closet and took out a thick woolen coat. She handed it to Melinda.
"Here," she said. "Now go. You were never here, you understand? That's all I'll say to the Aes Sedai when they come here, but you must go now."
Melinda gave the woman a grateful look and threw the coat around her body. Then she turned around and left the inn with big strides. The wind still blew strong, but Melinda smiled. She felt better now that she had left. She set foot for the Alindaer gate. It would not be open at this time of night, but she wanted to leave as quickly as possible. Suddenly she heard footsteps behind her. She looked over her shoulder and saw three men. The three men from the inn, she realized nervously. She quickened her pace, but the three men kept up. She could hear them talk, too soft to understand. She walked to the next corner, suddenly jumped into the side street and started running. A few moments passed, but then she heard the quick footsteps of the men's boots following after her. With a hart that pounded loudly she ran and rounded the next corner. She bumped into someone that grabbed her by the wrists. It was one of the three, she saw. He had walked around to intercept her here. Melinda struggled to break free, but the man would not let go. The other two men joined the first.
"Nice catch, Meander," one of them said smiling.
"She's a cute little one, isn't she?" the man that held Melinda answered.
What are you doing, girl? Melinda thought. You can handle this. Use the Source. Melinda closed her eyes and concentrated. The voices of the three men were pushed to the background. She could feel the One Power tantalizing and she opened herself to it. Power flooded into her, but at that moment the man that held her let go of one wrist and tore open her dress. Melinda opened her eyes and lost her concentration. The power dissipated. What is he going to do? Melinda thought in panic. She tried to push the man away, but her forced herself onto her. His free hand moved all over her, touching her hip, her breasts. Melinda opened her mouth to scream as loud as she could, but at that moment a voice came from behind the three men.
"You are not really gallant to that young lady, are you?"
The man that held Melinda looked up. A tall man in a blue coat stood leaning casually against the wall. He had blond hair and eyes that looked like two sapphires. Quite handsome, Melinda had to admit.
"Go away," one of the three rapists said, touching the sword strapped to his back.
The tall man raised his left eyebrow.
"Maybe you should go away and leave her alone," the blond man said with a nod to Melinda. "I advise you to do so, I don't want to hurt you."
The three men laughed loud.
"Don't say I didn't warn you," the blond man said and reached inside his coat. He took out a dagger and before any of the three could react, it had left his hand. It hit Meander in the side and he let go of Melinda. He took two steps in the blond man's direction, but then fell straight on his face. Melinda stepped back, filled with horror, until she hit the wall. Her knees were week and she sat down on the cold tiles. Tears were rolling down her face. It was just too much. The other two men had drawn their swords and walked towards the tall man cautiously. He had also bared his blade and did not hesitate. He jumped towards the first rapist and struck.
The man parried, but the next blow had already landed and the man went down with blood flowing from his leg. The last man looked down to his companions, turned around and ran. The tall man calmly wiped the blood from his sword before he sheathed it. Then he turned to Melinda. He knelt beside her and lifted her up. His arms felt comfortably strong. Melinda could not think clearly, but she felt safe in those arms.
"We have to get you to someplace warm," the man said. "But let me introduce myself first. I am Ken. Ken Tarasind."
"Melinda," Melinda whispered, then she passed out.
Alviarin bowed deeply before Mesaana. She didn't look angry, but Alviarin had learned that meant nothing among the forsaken. They never showed any of their emotions if they did not want to.
"I have sent a party of three Aes Sedai and ten Tower guards to apprehend the girl, Great Mistress," she said, trying to keep her voice steady. "I took care of that first this morning. They will probably find her within a day or two."
"You have what?" the chosen said with a hiss in her voice.
Mesaana's face looked angry now. Alviarin swallowed. Her throat went dry and she spoke with difficulty.
"I have sent three Aes Sedai for that Melinda, Mistress. I thought you would want her back here as quick as possible. She has seen you."
Mesaana shook her head with a tired look on her face. She muttered something about children. Then she looked up and spoke to Alviarin.
"Did you discuss this decision with me, my child?" she asked with a calm voice that betrayed nothing.
Alviarin swallowed again and shook her head.
"Do you know anything of what I would do in this kind of situation? Do you, my child?"
"No, mistress," Alviarin said softly. She took a step backwards, not knowing what to do.
"Then why did you do this?" Suddenly anger flashed on the forsaken's face. "It interferes with the plans I have for the girl. I do not want her back in the White Tower. She is to go to the rebels."
"I'm sorry, Mistress," Alviarin started. She realized she was panicking. Sweat rolled down her face and she shook visibly. "I did not know…"
"Of course you didn't," Mesaana said with a smile that had appeared as suddenly as her anger had gone. Alviarin sighed in relief.
"But that doesn't change a thing about the fact that you disappointed me."
Mesaana reached out for the source and lashed out. Alviarin staggered back and reached for her stomach. Blood was flowing from a cut. A superficial one, Alviarin thought, but it made the message clear.
"Do not disappoint me again."
Melinda listened to the sound of horse hooves stepping on wood and smiled. In her back the sun shone on the city she did not want to see anymore in her whole life.
That morning she had woken up in a bed that made her old bed at the White Tower look like a rock. Ken had sat beside it and watched her.
"Feeling any better?" Ken had asked.
"Much better," she had answered.
"Here are some new clothes for you. I threw that old dress away."
Melinda had suddenly realized she was only covered by the thin sheet of the bed. Her cheeks had reddened. Had he undressed her? She had not known what to think of that. Ken had seemed to notice her embarrassment.
"I'll be downstairs," he had said. "Just come down whenever you're ready."
Hardly an hour later they had left the inn. Ken was travelling west. A thing Melinda had no objection to at all.
"I only have one horse. Is that a problem to you?" Ken had asked with a warming smile. Melinda had only shaken her head.
Now they rode over the bridge that led to Alindaer. The guards had not even noticed them. The horror of last night seemed far away already. Melinda relaxed and leaned back against Ken's chest, hoping he wouldn't mind. She could feel his arms around her, holding the reigns in a strong grip and she smiled again, since she knew she was safe in his hands.
That night they checked in at an inn called the Black Unicorn. The journey had been long, but pleasant. They had chatted about no particular thing at the beginning, but as the sun had risen higher, the talks had become more intimate. At one point Melinda realized she was telling stories about her youth she had not even told her best friends about. But it all seemed so…right. As if they had known each other for a long time. And she knew he felt the same way. Every time she looked at him he smiled at her. When he touched her, it was always just a little bit too long. That night, after a diner with little words and a lot of meaningful glances, Melinda fell asleep with a weird feeling in her stomach.
Rodan tried to keep his eyes open, but every five minutes he caught himself dozing of: not a healthy thing when riding a horse. But Rodan didn't want to stop now.
He was only a few hours away from the next the village. A village with an inn. Rodan had been on the road so long that he could not recall the time he had slept in a real house, in a real bed. He was exhausted and so was Lendis, the horse that had faithfully carried him this far. Yet they went on, for the little luxury that waited for them in the next village.
Rodan smiled travelling in the direction of Tar Valon had been the smartest idea he had ever had. Those witches would never suspect he would hide inside their own hold. He had seen right through their trick of the Dragon's amnesty. That was only a trap to lure all men that could channel into. There was no Black Tower. Those Aes Sedai were behind it. He raised his fist and shouted: "You will never catch me, Aes Sedai! Never!"
The next morning, when they were about to mount up, Melinda looked at her companion.
"Ken?" she said.
Melinda smiled. She loved it when he said her name. But her smile quickly faded. She had to tell this.
"I…I have to tell you something. I am a novice. In the White Tower. The Aes Sedai are probably already after me."
She looked at the tall man. How would he take this? Ken started to laugh. A tuneful sound that made her warm inside. He laid his hands on her shoulder.
"You thought I didn't know?"
He laughed again. This time Melinda laughed with him, in relief.
"I have known since the first time I saw you, but I don't care."
Melinda threw her arms around Ken's neck and kissed him. A long passionate kiss. It was something she had wanted to do since they had left Tar Valon.
Rodan reigned in and dismounted his horse. He wanted to sit down right there in the middle of the road, but he was sure he would fall asleep within a second if he
did that. Instead he knocked on the door if the inn. It was dark and quiet and Rodan had to knock three times before anyone reacted. A fat man opened the door
with a sleepy look on his face.
"I'd like a room," Rodan said. "And a place for my horse."
"Well, why not? I'm already awake anyway," the innkeeper said with a sigh. "Lead your horse around the back. There's plenty of room for him there."
Rodan stabled his horse and went in. The fat man was lighting the fire in the fireplace.
"Might as well do some chores," he said. "I don't feel like sleeping anymore."
Rodan grinned and nodded. He knew what it was like.
"Can I get you anything else, sir?" the innkeeper asked. "Or will you go to your room immediately?"
Rodan thought about it.
"Do you think I can get something to eat?"
"Henea, it's time to stop. The horses are exhausted and I can't say I am at my best right now."
Henea Sedai turned to face the woman that had spoken to her.
"Alviarin said it was of outmost importance we caught her as fast as possible," she said to Jelian. "If we stop now we might loose hours on her."
"We will make that up quick enough, Henea. She can't be far away. But we can't go on like this. Look at them."
Henea took a look at the men and horses. She had to admit they looked like they could use some rest.
"At least there's an inn here," Cyura, the third Aes Sedai, said. "So we won't have to sleep out in the open."
"You're right. Dismount men! We will spend the night here."
Henea entered the inn and noticed that the keeper was still up. He was cleaning the floor of the common room. There was nobody else except for a man enjoying a late meal. The innkeeper, a short fat man, put away his broom and bowed. People here knew an Aes Sedai when they saw one.
"What can I do for you, mistress?" he asked. "I need rooms for me and two of my sisters. And ten of my men."
"Of course," the fat man said. "Follow me, Aes Sedai. I will show them immediately."
Henea smiled. Fast service indeed. Something she liked very well. They went up the stairs in the back of the room to the second floor.
"Say, have you perhaps seen a girl travelling by?" Henea asked the man. "Dark-haired, about five feet six? We are looking for her."
The innkeeper though a second about it, then shook his head.
"No, I'm afraid I haven't seen her."
He opened the door to a room. Henea inspected it and nodded approvingly.
"These will do just fine," she said. "The guards will put our belongings in. Give us something of what that man downstairs was having in the meantime."
Melinda opened the door of her room. It was late, but nature called and she could hold it in no longer. She had lain awake all night, not able to think of anything else but Ken. She could no longer deny it. She was hopelessly in love. Silently she walked to the end of the hallway and went down the stairs. To her surprise she heard voices coming from the common room. She looked into it as she past the doorway. There were three women sitting around the table, talking softly to one another.
As Melinda passed, one of them looked up and met Melinda's gaze. Her mouth went dry and her heart began pounding loudly. The face of that woman! It could not be mistaken for anything else but the ageless face of an Aes Sedai. Melinda turned around and ran back up to her and Ken's room. There was no time to loose. She knocked on Ken's door. She had proposed to take only one, even making herself blush at it, but Ken had refused with a smile. Melinda knocked again when the first knock got no reply.
"Come," said Ken's voice.
Melinda opened the door. Ken was sitting on his bed with his clothes on. He didn't look like he had had any sleep.
"Quick," Melinda gasped. "There are Aes Sedai downstairs and one of them has seen me."
"Did she recognize you?" Ken asked as he jumped up and began to gather his stuff. Melinda shrugged. She realized she was sweating. She did not want to go back to Tar Valon. She wanted to stay with Ken.
"I don't know. I just…"
Ken lay a hand on her shoulder.
"Easy now," he said. "It will be alright. We will just walk out of here and we'll be miles away within the hour."
Melinda relaxed and breathed deeply.
"You're right," she said. "Let's go."
"That girl," Cyura said, nodding to the doorway of the common room. "She looks like the description you gave me."
Henea and Jelian looked around.
"What girl?" Henea asked.
"She passed already, but she looked remarkably like that Melinda."
"Jelian shook her head.
"Don't go seeing ghosts now, Cyura. She's probably still quite some miles ahead of us."
Henea nodded in agreement.
"You're probably right," Cyura said, and got to her dinner again.
Rodan had frozen as soon as the three women had entered the inn. They were Aes Sedai without a doubt. He needed no ageless face to prove him this. The way
they acted was enough. He knew Aes Sedai. This close to Tar Valon it could be coincidence, but Rodan didn't believe in that. They were here for him.
Keep on eating as if nothing happened, he thought. Wait until they are distracted.
He forced himself to take another bite from the chicken, but his stomach was tied into a knot. He chewed the bit of meat endlessly before he swallowed it; he was not hungry anymore. Suspiciously he investigated the three witches. They seemed not to notice him, but he wasn't fooled by that. Suddenly a man and a young woman entered the common room. They were all dressed up for travelling and carried their bags with them. Rodan frowned.
Leaving in the middle of the night?
The two walked towards the door with big strides. When they were right between him and the Aes Sedai, one of the Aes Sedai spoke up.
"You there. Come here!" she said commanding.
The pair stopped dead in their tracks, but Rodan jumped up. He knew the Aes Sedai weren't interested in the man and the girl, but in him.
Melinda walked through the common room with big steps. She didn't look at the Aes Sedai, but she could feel their gazes on them. When one of them spoke, she
almost stumbled over her own feet, but Ken's hand on her shoulder kept her up. They stopped.
"Go outside," Ken said. "I will handle this."
Melinda started to walk again, but suddenly there was a sound from the other side of the room. Melinda turned around, just as Ken did and saw a man that had been enjoying a late dinner. But now his face was torn in anger and he lifted his hand.
"You will never get me, you witches!" he shouted and lightning streaked from his fingers at the Aes Sedai. But between them, right in the middle, stood Ken.
"No!" Melinda shouted, sure that he would be dead in moments, but the lightning simply disappeared a few feet in front of the tall, blond man. Melinda stared at him.
Not because he had survived, but because he had channeled. What he had channeled to be exact. It had been saidar. The glow of the female Source still surrounded him. She opened her mouth to speak, but Ken turned towards her and what she saw paralyzed her tongue. His face was changing, his hair became longer and his body shifted into a feminine shape. Melinda stepped back in horror.
"You are…you are…"
"Mesaana?" the woman said with a grin. "Yes, I'm afraid Ken has kept a little secret."
Melinda felt tears welling up in her eyes. This could not be true. This wasn't happening.
"And I'd love to chat a little while longer, but there are some people here that want to ask questions."
The Aes Sedai were surrounded by the glow of saidar, Melinda noticed and the man that had channeled was also still there. Mesaana lifted her hands in a dramatic gesture. A Gateway opened and trollocs started pouring out. One of the Aes Sedai shouted and a fireball exploded in the middle of them.
Mesaana turned to Melinda again.
"So, that will keep them busy for a while. As for you, my dear. I'm afraid there is only one solution. Death."
Melinda still could not conceive what was happening. From one moment on to the other her world had changed into a nightmare. Her mind still refusing to work, she saw Mesaana slowly lifting up her hand, fingers stretched towards her. She saw the glow around the forsaken growing more intense.
"Goodbye," Mesaana said. Each letter was stretched out, as if time itself had slowed down.
She's going to kill me, Melinda thought and with a shock her mind started up again. The Power filled her and she channeled, not knowing what she wove. A deafening explosion tore through the inn, blowing tables to bits, shadowspawn to bloody parts. Mesaana was blown through the air and knocked against the wall. She didn't move for moment, but then got up again.
"Very good," she said. "But not good enough."
Mesaana channeled again.
Again Melinda channeled without knowing what. She was surprised to see a Gateway opening in front of her. She didn't know where it led, but she jumped in, right when Mesaana's fireball hit her.
"Try again," Ferin said, but Melinda shook her head. It was no use. She had been here for three weeks now. The Gateway had lead to Salidar. To the rebel Aes Sedai. It had been pure coincidence that the Gateway had led here and it had been her salvation. The fireball would have been deadly, but the Aes Sedai had healed her so it had not even left a scar. No physical scars anyway. The Gateway had been the last thing she had been able to channel. A block, the Aes Sedai had called it and set Ferin to work with her. To break it down again, but Melinda wasn't sure she could. Every time she tried, the image of Ken's face rose in her mind and the door to the One Power was slammed shut. Melinda sighed and pushed back her tears. She wasn't sure if she even wanted to be able to channel again.