View Full Version : The Flame to Cairhien, Part 2

11-05-2009, 02:22 AM
It was hard working testing the limits of this Asha'man, but Gnarled had to know what he was capable of, if he was to use him. And to avoid being used by him and his mistress Frenzy.

By now the Asha'man knew as much about Gnarled as Gnarled knew about him, insofar as any soldier can know about his commander, and a commander about a soldier. Endless hours of drills under great duress were not what the marath'damane had in mind when he was assigned to Gnarled, but he now understood how the Ever-Victorious Army broke in its soldiers.

The channeler would do pretty much anything he was asked to do in simple training, but what was needed now was some mental stress to add to the fatigue.

"When you hold the Power, what do you see on yonder hill?"

"A horse, and a man sleeping under some bushes. I think it is one of the Isai we saw blundering about yesterday."

"Yes. His name is Ambrok," Gnarled said. He hadn't yet trapped the Asha'man in a lie, which was to the good. But the day would come when he would have to choose between Frenzy and Gnarled. The Ogier figured all this drilling would earn him one single time when his order would be followed without question, and then a split-second later, Santomere would fry him with power-wrought flames. But so far, the more he pressed the Asha'man, the more Santomere tried to show his allegiance was to Gnarled, and not Frenzy.

Time to test that limit again.

"Can you set fire to the bush Ambrok is sleeping beneath?"

"I can combust the man himself if you like," Santomere countered. His face showed no emotion. Gnarled thought he WOULD do it, if asked, and to the Pit of Doom with any consequences for cooking an Isai in his skin.

"No. The bush is fine. Test his reflexes. If he's slow, let him roast. If not, he'll want to talk with us."

Santomere squinted at the bushes on the far hillside and raised his hand.


Ambrok rolled over, trying to shield himself in the shade from the amazingly hot sun. What was that crackling sound? Rolling over onto his back, he opened his eyes, squinting against the brightness of the... fire!

He scooted out from under the bush, scraping his elbows as he pushed them across the rough ground. Staring at the bush that had just moments ago been his shelter, Ambrok pushed himself to his feet. He felt Kelriq's nose nudge his shoulder, in an oddly human gesture of concern, but ignored it.

How odd that the bush should light like that...

At least it seemed like he'd gotten some sleep, the sun was lower now than it had been.

Turning, he untied Kelriq and resaddled him, and looked out at the road behind him. Many people were still travelling, but there were two standing still. Well, not two people - One was an Ogier. Odd that they were stopped in the middle of the road... Wait, Ambrok recognized the Ogier he'd spoken with the night before. What was going on?

He made up his mind to go find out, and Kelriq and he made their way down the hill. As he approached the Ogier, he hailed him in greeting, quickly noticing his companion’s predisposition towards black clothing.

The Ogier spoke first, "Ambrok. How good to see you again. I trust our training didn't harm you? Good." Gnarled’s saucer-sized eyes seemed to take him in, “Going somewhere? Shouldn't you be in Isai training?"

"Ah... Training... heh. We're dismissed for the day, and I'm... going to Cairhien. I have something to address." His eyes flickered ever so slightly towards the man with the deformed Ogier, blatantly eavesdropping on the conversation. "This is something much more important than those children. What about you? What are you up to?" His eyes flickered towards the man again.

Gnarled surprised him by addressing the man, "Santomere! I want to know how fast you can run to the pine atop yon hill. I want to see a light flash atop your head every time your left foot hits the ground. And levitate this rock three paces in front of you. Go!"

This Santomere took off at a run, in pursuit of the stone floating before him. A blue ball blinked on and off above his head as he ran. The man was clearly marath’damane.

Gnarled pulled Ambrok thirty paces to the right, out of Santomere's line of sight, but where Gnarled could see the light blinking above his head.

Gnarled pulled Ambrok over to the side of the road. "What troubles you, Ambrok. Speak freely. Are you in trouble? Do you require aid?"

"No, I'm not in trouble..." he paused before continuing. "She is. I must go to Cairhien, for the Storm Leader holds the Crystal Throne in his hand. I received this note," he handed it over, "this afternoon, after I played Isai. It awaited my return."

Watching the Ogier peruse the note, Ambrok fidgeted. This entire crusade had started to sound ridiculous to him now... but he'd be damned if he was going to let his homeland be ruled by the Dark One, even in rumor.

"I can't help you directly. Not yet.” The Ogier shook his massive head to strengthen his words

Ambrok nods. "Of course you can't." The marath’damane was coming back now, and Ambrok climbed astride Kelriq.

“But I can take you where you need to go. My marath’damane can Travel. We can go as soon as you are ready. Is there any other small thing I can help you with?"

“No, friend. Travelling will be a great enough help.”

Santomere ran up, barely breathing difficultly. Frowning, Gnarled snapped at him, "Tell me what you know of Frenzy's relations with This Sinistrum and this Tsorovan'm'hael."

The marath’damane began listing off a series of facts on the two leaders of the Darkfriend tower, none of which had not been included in Ambrok’s own briefing before he’d left for the Valley. After he was done, Ambrok turned once again to Gnarled.

"Will you meet me tonight? Where this road meets the town of Edmond's Field?" There were preparations to be made. Kartael would have to be placed in charge of their current mission, and thus made known of their associates within the Valley’s walls.

"No, I was thinking about leaving right now. If you're leaving the Isai, it may be wiser to do so sooner than later."

There was truth to that - he risked discovery by the leaders of the Valley by returning, both as a potentially escaping Isai and a Seanchan agent. The less he spoke of any of his intentions where others might here, the better. “Perhaps you are right. It is best to leave quickly.”

He’d be in Cairhien by the end of the day. They were going to Travel. Leap great distances using the One Power. It was one of the more useful things that could be done with the marath'damane's abnormality.

Ambrok paused, trying to remember his Westland geography. "Try to land us in a wooded area, if it's possible." He didn't know, it very well might be. He thought about asking for Cor Sinistrum's bedchamber while he was at it, but was stopped short when a vertical bar of light appeared in front of them.

Santomere showed no surprise or emotion when Gnarled ordered him to make a Gateway to the place Ambrok described. Ambrok’s mouth went dry as the bar of light flattened itself before them, showing a thickly wooded area on the other side. Kelriq took a hundred mile step, and Ambrok, Gnarled, and the marath'damane found themselves in another part of the world.

"Stop! Who goes there?" A voice shouted as the bar of light disappeared.

As she stepped from the trees, Ambrok's eyes were drawn to the woman who spoke. She wore a pair of black pants, and a sleeveless tunic of blue which revealed an almost familiar tattoo. Her dark curls tumbled around her face, restrained by a black headband, centered by a dazzlingly blue gem. Her shocking blue eyes flashed over Gnarled, the marath'damane, and himself as she spoke.

"Identify yourselves, or be killed," she said in an icy voice, depressing the button at the center of her staff so a blade slid into view, glittering wickedly in the light.

Ambrok paused a little at the interesting weapon. His eyes ran along it, studying its surface, trying to devise how it worked. The woman's feet shifted, and he was brought back.

He thought quickly, "My name is Ambrok." He turned to Gnarled and the marath'damane, "The Ogier is my childhood bodyguard, but," he pointed to the scar along the Ogier's mouth, "he was muted when I was young. The last man is an Asha'man, who owes me quite a lot of money."

Ambrok hoped the presence of an Asha'man would encourage the men to release them on their path. If not, he'd been taught to lie - make sure there was truth somewhere in your story. His was obvious, and his facial expression was stone, the soldier in him itching for his saber.

He returned his steady gaze to the woman, whose blue eyes had not followed his gestures towards Gnarled and Santomere.

"An Asha'man?" The woman murmured. "Then I assume you are from - that place?"

She made a slight gesture and a Lance of soldiers emerged from the surrounding woods surrounding all of them. "Of all people, those at the Towers should know they are not welcome in this place," the woman said icily. "Capture them."

Ambrok felt his arms tied to his sides by nothing, and cursed the woman who’d given the orders for letting them touch him with their Power, "Blood and ashes... I'd heard the Cairhienin weren't friendly, but this???" He paused. These folk might work for Cor Sinistrum. He should find out.

"Who do you work for? I've come to stop Cor Sinistrum."

Ambrok realized his ploy was desperate, yet that was his only chance. It wasn‘t likely they did work for the Dark Lieutenant, and so they may let him go if he showed like intentions. If not - he trusted Kelriq to keep him alive. If he was brought to Sinistrum, he'd escape, and the dark Lieutenant would tell him all he wanted to know.

The things you learn from Sharans.

"Cairhien?" The woman’s laugh was more musical than he would have expected, given her harsh tone. “I think that your compass is a bit far off, perhaps you should talk to your Asha'man about opening Gates properly."

Another hand signal, and soldiers strode forward with ropes at the ready, binding Ambrok and Santomere even as two others forced a canteen of some liquid down Santomere’s throat. Adding a finality to their imprisonment, Ambrok felt them tie a blindfold around his face. He was alone to his thoughts and the sounds around him.

The woman’s voice issued another order, “Release the Builder.”

A short pause, before she continued. "If you would please bind your eyes, we do not wish the layout of our camps to be known," she said quietly. "There will be no harm to you nor any of your party until we reach our destination."

Ambrok felt himself get pulled from Kelriq, and heard Kelriq rear in protest. The horse's hooves stamped the ground, and something which grunted in pain, but he stayed by his master. Ambrok whistled at the horse, and he calmed down, still snorting. Ambrok felt himself begin to get marched along the ground, and tried to make sense of the situation.

They weren't in Cairhien, the girl's voice had told him that much. The marath'damane had botched his channeling. But where are we? The last surprised him - he'd said it aloud.

Not expecting his captors to answer, he didn't hear if any of them did. He thought back to his lessons in Shara, from the swordsman prisoner he'd come to know. In your mind, create a fire. Feed everything to this fire, make it grow. Focus on the emptiness. You are the emptiness. You live in the emptiness. The man's odd meditation technique had served Ambrok ever since, just as much as the flowing sword style he’d taught him had.

Thinking of his sword, Ambrok noticed that it still hung at his waist. No matter, he couldn't move anything but his legs - and they would wield no sword. Sword wielding reminded him of the sparring session with the Illianer that morning. A smile split his face... feed everything to the flame. Ambrok had to maintain focus. He'd need his wits around him.

"What have we done, exactly, that we must be led like this?"

A harsh male voice responded from directly behind him, “All who enter these lands are treated like this, you are not an exception, you are the rule. Now walk and be silent if you wish to keep your tongue."

They walked for a long while, stopping only to have water forced down his throat before they continued their marching. After what must have been the remaining daylight had long since expired, Ambrok began hearing the bustle of life.

"The Builder is to be given one of the rooms that we have free and watched carefully," the woman ordered his captors, "The other two go to the dungeons. See that the channeler is continually dosed with forkroot and shielded, we do not need him running amok."

Ambrok was led away - clearly inside, and clearly well below the ground. His sword belt was lifted free of his hips. "Watch them," the woman whispered quietly. "Do not let them speak to each other. We will question them later--be on your guard though. They are from Towers."

Ambrok lost the Void as he was dumped into a prison cell, his blindfold removed. The room was incredibly barren, he imagined even the cells in the Tower of Ravens would look luxurious compared to this.

Where had he been taken? More importantly, how was he going to get out? - he had to find Cor Sinistrum!

He turned to study the room, finding only one door, which he had been flung through.

Blood and Ashes... I have to get OUT!

Ambrok went up to the door and peeked out.

Outside of the dungeon, four visible guards were standing, their faces like stone, and their eyes held something akin to hatred as they glared at the prisoners. These men were from the Towers, the one of the greatest evils in the land as far as they were concerned short only of the Dark One himself or the Chaotic One.

They were well-armored and their weapons were well-made even if they weren't Power-wrought. Most bore signs of previous battles and one wore a patch over one eye where a puckered red scar spread from is forehead through the eyes and down his cheek. The one-eyed man seemed to be the leader and hanging from a chain around his neck were the keys to the cells.

He was talking quietly with another man, this one a very young-appearing man with long black hair caught in a braid and cold blue eyes that held more years than his appearance said he should have, if it was possible he was glaring with even more hatred at the prisoners than the other four combined.

A few cells down from the two new captives chains rattled, but no other sound broke the subterranean silence.

Ambrok turned away from the door, cursing. His situation was much worse than it seemed. He didn't expect to be liked by the guards, but outright hatred shone in their eyes.

Ambrok strode to the middle of the room with a sigh. The heavily tattooed face of his Sharan mentor materialized in the front of his mind - a reminder to keep calm.

Most important was remaining calm, he'd done nothing wrong. He strode to the corner of the barren room, and leaned against the wall, waiting for someone to come.