The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.
The Shadow shall rise across the world, and darken every land, even to the smallest corner, and there shall be neither Light nor safety. And he who shall be born of the Dawn, born of the Maiden, according to Prophecy, he shall stretch forth his hands to catch the Shadow, and the world shall scream in the pain of salvation. All Glory be to the Creator, and to the Light, and to he who shall be born again. May the Light save us from him.
The Karaethon Cycle
The Fourth Age, the an Age anticipated to be golden and glorious in its peace and splendor, but emerged from the ashes of Tarmon Gai’don as something much different. The nations allied beneath the Dragon Banner frayed and tore apart at the seams. The Dark One’s defeat was anything but permanent. While His wounds were most grievous, his defeat at the hands of the Dragon weakened him for the coming generations, imprisoned within the deepest depths of the Pit of Doom. From His domain in the Blight and Blasted Lands, the Dark One continued his war against mortals and the Light. The Wheel of Time continues to turn, and the Age that had come and passed was coming once more. The World is on the precipice of chaos as all bonds of peace and fellowship start to thin across the Westlands, promises and oaths once taken are now cast asunder.
The World is changing; some might argue that the discord is the growing pains of the Fourth Age as the people adapt to the new and frightening technologies and social aspects. So many new things have sprouted up from Seanchan to Sharda, leaving time-tried tradition to grasp on with a grip of iron. Forces are on the move, armies and invisible powers are mustering in preparation for the coming storm.
Tar Valon - The White Tower
Duria Faraen, the Amyrlin Seat, sat at her desk with shoulders slumped in what some could interpret as defeat. Her eyes-and-ears had brought nothing but dire news to her desk and it was starting to wear quite thin. Civil war in Arad Doman between the Seanchan-established government and the bloody Children of the Light, claiming the realm to be theirs generations after their exodus. The Lord Captain Commander was surprising forth-coming with his reasoning, ‘The Children have been kept from what is truly theirs for too long. It is high time we take back what is rightfully ours.’ Duria knew the Children well enough to know that even in this Age, they were not to be taken at their word. They were hiding something as they maneuvered their own secret agendas. Cairhien was on the precipice of revolution, the high-born caste finding themselves outnumbered and surrounded by starving and disgruntled low-born. Caemlyn prepared to march against the Red Wolf banner and the Borderlands were in dire need of weapons and volunteers.
To make matters worse, a most disturbing report flew in from a Brown Sister who was away on assignment at the Stone of Tear. Darien touched the parchment and could almost feel the panic flow from the shakily-scrawled handwriting in to her fingertips. Sister Laeia was always a calm woman, calm enough to almost be considered a White if not for her obsession for the studious.
Upon my continued studies at Tear, I have done all that you have asked me to do on my assignment, but I no longer think I have the skills required nor the resolve sound enough to stay on without more Sisters here to assist me, preferably powerful ones. It is the Seal, mother. I inspected the Seal this month already, but after a terrible night-terror, I was compelled to check the Seal again. It was cracked, as if the Wolf King himself struck it with Mah'alleinir.
We both know this can only mean one thing, Mother, and unlike the Age past, we are not prepared. The Dark One is coming once more, which means that there is another... the Dragon walks amongst us once more.
~ Laeia Mar’genna
Deria closed her eyes and slumped her shoulders further until her head made a dull thunk against the desk. What was she to do? So many were calling upon the Aes Sedai as of late to help settle disputes of all kinds or attempt to salvage doomed crops or to heal those wounded in the path of war. There were not enough Sisters and Warders to send off all at once. There was plenty of new blood around the Tower, but could she trust ones so young and inexperienced with something so crucial? To find the Dragon and reel him in? How well did that turn out for the Tower in the last Age? Resigning to herself, Deria stood slowly on wobbly legs, fearing that too rapid of movement would cause her to sick up. Clearing her throat, Deria called out to her Keeper,
“Rhenna, could you come in here please?” The Amyrlin’s voice was steady and calm, but just like the sea, the turmoil beneath the surface was powerful enough to crush the finest of ships. The door to the Amyrlin’s study swung open and Rhenna stepped in, a slender woman of tall stature and hair the color of platinum. She was dressed in a green silk dress of Domani fashion, embroidered with golden vines. The deep-’v’ collar exposing and accentuating the woman’s cleavage just as much as her necklace of fire-drops did. Such a dress was surely a gift from one of her Warder-husbands, just as much as the matching necklace and earrings were. Despite her forward manner and carnal tendencies towards her several wed Warders, Rhenna was a very competent and capable Keeper, her kurt honesty keeping the generosity of Deria in check.
“What is it, Mother?” Rhenna’s voice was soft and feminine, but her tone was firm and the tightness in her eyes made each syllable hit like a blacksmith’s hammer. Deria collected herself internally, her physical self not stirring an inch.
“I have an assignment of paramount urgency, and I need one of the younger, newer Sisters to take care of it. Who would you suggest?” Deria unconsciously twirled the serpent ring on her finger as her green eyes watched Rhenna as if the Amyrlin could see the cogs in the woman’s mind turn.
“If the mission is so urgent, Mother, why not send one of the more experienced Sisters?” Rhenna’s reply was flat, but the skeleton of a smirk could be seen on the woman’s face. fortunately for Deria, Rhenna responded exactly as expected.
“Of what stock, Rhenna? The sad state of the Westlands has all our best Sisters out and occupied for three weeks at the earliest. We need more experienced Sisters, so what better way to make a Sister more experienced?” Deria allowed herself to smile, but Rhenna was quick to reply.
“What manner of mission is this, Mother?” Rhenna’s reply came back as quick as a bullet.
“A simple matter of investigation and retrieval. One of our Sisters has discovered a most interesting man, and I hope to know all the facts about him before making any brash moves. Now, I asked you for suggestions... Someone personable and who will not cut the man’s thread and be done with it.” Deria walked around her desk, crossing her arms over her breasts,
“So that eliminates the Red Ajah altogether...” Rhenna started, allowing the both of them to smile, “I would suggest Sister Dynora of the Blue-”
“Too argumentative, that one. We don’t need another war on our hands.” The Amyrlin interjected, much to the Keeper’s chagrin.
“So infatuated by her Warder she cannot think straight.”
“Doesn’t know the world outside her books.” The dialogue went on for the better part of an hour, Rhenna calmly listing all Sisters she though best suited for the task, but they were all getting shut down by the Amyrlin. Was this some sort of punishment for the Keeper for being so rigid? Finally, the Keeper huffed,
“Sister Şenay?” Rhenna was getting obviously agitated, just by the tightness in her voice. However, Deria was given pause by the mention of Şenay - a Seanchan and former damane who was potent enough in her channeling to be of notice to Rhenna. The only reason Rhenna had not considered her earlier was that she had yet to find a Warder to Bond.
“She would be acceptable. Fetch her.” Deria turned to return to her seat when Rhenna butted in with an objection,
“Mother, she is meek, and she doesn’t even have a Warder yet? Without a Warder, a girl like her will likely end up raped and killed and dumped in a road-side ditch.” The Keeper was quite firm on her status, and she was right. Deria stroked he narrow chin in thought, walking to one of the stained-glass windows of her study, looking down on the Tower Grounds. Down below, the Warders and the Younglings trained diligently. Even from this height, Deria could see the pride of the Drill Master’s students. Sai’car’mavron, he was called by the Drill Master, a greying Aielman.
“The Golden Eyed Watcher... bring him up as well.”
“The same. Make it so, Rhenna. Time is not our ally in this matter, and the two of us have already spent more than enough time on this than was needed.” With that, Deria took her seat as Rhenna send two Accepted to summon Şenay and Roraen.
* * * *
Down in the Tower Grounds, Roraer stood at the ready. He was naked above the belt, his steel-chord muscles rippling beneath his pale and scarred skin. The Malkieri’s physique was impressive, powerful and lithe with enough bulk to be intimidating without being a simple wall of meat. Roraen was what many women would find very attractive, even with the several scars from man, beast, and the grotesque things in-between - Trollocs. In his hand, Roraen held a single edged training sword carved from oak, the blade slightly curved to represent the kind of sword Roraen would be using when he entered the field. All around him were fellow Warders and Youngling observers, many dressed in the same manner he was - bare above the waste, sweat glistening on their chests from the toils of exercise and the heat. Many bore scrapes, scuffs, welts, and bruises - most of which were courtesy of Roraen. He was a fine swordsman, his posture reminiscent of a lion stalking in the tall grass, his attacks just as ferocious.
“Well, what are you waitin‘ for? Death will no wait for anybody.” One of the mentors barked, two Warders and a Youngling in to the circle. Battle Masters placed their wagers, as did several of the other Warders who had the Marks to spare.
“Ready...” the lead Battle Master, the Aiel, spoke in a voice like thunder. Roraen fell in to a deep combat stance, two hands on the grip of his weapon, raised over his head with the blade angled towards the ground and facing the enemy at forty-five degrees. The Malkieri’s golden eyes narrowed, focusing on his three targets, picking them apart by their visible weaknesses.
“Fight!” With that the clamor of battle began, but with the clank and thonk of wooden weapons smashing in to one another, not the clashing of steel on steel. Roraer moved with the grace of a dancer with his sword in hand - pirouetting, parrying, attacking, and countering. The first Warder fell with a split over his right eyebrow, wincing at the blood and sweat that now trickled in to his eyes. With a sharp jab to the solarplex, the second Warder crumbled as if he had no bones to hold him upright, lungs emptied of air. The Youngling trembled from the tip of his toes to the tip of his training sword, looking Roraen in the eyes, trying to read the Gold-eyed Watcher. Much to the dismay of the Youngling, Roraen was as expressive as stone, and in the blink of an eye, the Warder’s sword knocked the weapon from the boy’s sweaty palms. There was silence for a time, but then there was laughter, and the Youngling retreated with a face red as a beet.
With the fight concluded, Roraen found his way to one of the many fountains in the Tower Grounds, scooping up the crystal clear water in his hands and splashing it over his face and neck, wiping away the sweat and the blood - other people’s blood. The tap-tap-tap of slippers on stone reached Roraen, giving him pause. He could see, hear, and smell things better than any human or Aes Sedai without the Gift of the Wolf Brothers, making him a very crucial asset to the Aes Sedai and to the Borderland. More than once it was Roraen’s stellar senses that saved a settlement from a surprise attack in the dead of night.
Focusing on the footsteps and now the smells, Roraen quickly came to a conclusion. Female judging by the lightness of her footsteps and the light rustle of skirts, and her smell was that of lavender and rose oil, though it did not mask the smell of apprehension,
“Is there something you need, milady?” Roraen spoke first without looking up, soaking his long hair in the fountains falling streams before turning to face the woman who had approached him. Her dress was a virgin white with bands of color representing all the Ajah’s were embroidered in to the hems of her skirt.
“Um, the A-Amyrlin wishes to see you, ser.” The Accepted was of a dark complexion, but her cheeks were still rose-red with a blush. Roraen was fully aware that he was still topless and the effect it had on some women, so he took the blush as a wordless compliment and pulled on a white linen shirt.
“Very well, I am at her beck and call, and will be up shortly. You are dismissed, milady.” Roraen spoke as he laced up the collar of his shirt before donning his vest, coat, cloak, and bracers. Securing his color-shifting cloak with his Golden Crane brooch, the Malkieri made his way to the study of the Amyrlin at the top of the Tower.
* * * *
“Sister Şenay?” the airy voice of a Novice called out as she searched for the Yellow Sister all around the Tower, first the Yellow lodgings, then the Grounds. It was from a friendly Brown that the Novice was told to search the Tower Library. Struggling with the door, the Novice entered and started to silently search for Şenay.
“Sister Şenay? The Amyrlin has summoned you to her study. It is most urgent.” The Novice exclaimed when she finally found the Yellow Sister surrounded by ancient tomes and books. Waiting for Şenay to put down what she was doing, the Novice walked beside the Seanchan woman as she made her way to the Amyrlin’s Study.
* * * *
Cairhien - Capitol
Nestled against the River Alguenya, the topless towers of Cairhien City rose up like great fingers from within the walls. The golden dome of the Sun Palace glinting in the sunlight, giving all a bright and prosperous aura that belied the current status of the city and the nation of the same name. In the streets of High Town or from one of the many towers, life in Cairhien was plush and fabulous, feasting on the finest the farms had to offer in the form of food and drink. Clothes of silk and velvet and hands powdered with talcum to retain their softness. It was a pleasurable life so long as one remained on the right side of High Town.
The rest of the city was on the verge of collapse, those fortunate enough to eat every night have been reduced to bread and salt. Even the taverns and inns were pressed for decent food and stout drink. It was a sad time in the true Cairhien, the songs of the night more often than not, being the cries of the downtrodden rather than the soft tunes of a gleeman. All manner of man and beast lurked in the shadows of the Towers, brigands and desperate folk driven to crime to keep their family from starving. People go missing and people die every night in Cairhien, and the world could care less. Today in Cairhien, civil chaos stirs and churns stronger than it has in the past several decades, the people of Low Town and Mid Town raising their voices to their ‘betters’ in anger, throwing threats and promises of violent change. The city guard stands on the edge of a knife, given orders not to retreat and to not let any of the lower folk in to High Town, but these ‘lower folk’ were friends and family, and there were so many of them. One gentle push was all that was needed to push the mob in to a riot.
The presence of Aiel in the city also put a strain on already high tensions. Tales of the Dragon and is army of Aielman taking Cairhien and the Westlands by storm are still sung by hearthfires in taverns, and even with the abundance of Aiel acclimating to Westland society, Cairhien still holds a great prejudice against the tan-skinned warrior-folk. In this day and age, the Aiel have the same rights to land as any Westlander, though many would deny them such rights because of deeds done in the past.
* * * *
Saldaea - Maradon
The Borderlands were never an easy place to live. The Blight remains as dangerously close as ever, frequent Trolloc raids keeping tensions high and nerves frayed. In Saldaea, the capitol of Maradon has long since rebuilt it walls but still bears the scars of the Third Age. Life in the Borderlands is cold and harsh and can be quite short. The child-queen rules to the best of her abilities, but many of the greying veterans and the weary soldiers grow discontent with her rule. Hesitant and cautious decisions, being meek in the eyes of the other Borderlands and the whole of the Westlands.
In the heart of Maradon, in a tavern by the name of the Sword and Border, soldiers and civilians gather to wash away the ailments and worries of the Borderland lifestyle. Some occupy themselves with the flow of wine and song while others content themselves with games of cards or dice, wagering anything from coins of bronze, silver, and gold to blades of iron and steel.
To make matters worse, the Children of the Light have decided to investigate Saldaea, assuming that the political turmoil is the work of Darkfriends. The Children, in their usual manner, have taken to meddling with affairs that are not their own. The mere presence of the Children has upset the already tense air of Maradon.
In the Sword and Border tavern, the Children continued their search for Darkfriends, making a point in stick their fingers in to the lives of every man, woman, and child they came across. Strange occurrences have drawn the Children to this part of Saldaea, something more sinister than the political unrest or the Shadowspawn attacks. Odd things have been happening - supernatural anomalies that betray all laws of natures, threads of fate being tugged this way and that. Something, or someone, was amiss in Maradon.