Mystica  -  Posted 21 March 2009 - 09:22 PM


Carina sat cross legged on the floor of the library, cradling the heavy volume on ‘Nature’s Creatures’ in her lap. She came here often in her rare spare times. So often that the Brown sisters no longer looked up in surprise but instead had started to expect her. One day she had decided to go observe the training of the Tower Guard instead and a Brown sister had come to see if she was ok. Thinking her to be sick as she hadn’t been seen in the library for a full two weeks. Her sitting on the ground had stirred up some controverse at first, for surely future Aes Sedai didn’t do such a thing. Raeyn Sedai put a stop to the other sisters pestering the child about it though, as she seemed to understand it was the girl’s preferred position to learn. The Brown never spoke to her, had only glanced at her in passing, her face completely unreadable as always. She still gave Carina the shivers whenever she saw her.

“Now where did I see that section about the wolves….” Carina muttered to herself as she flipped rapidly through the pages. The rustling of the pages effectively muted the sound of approaching slippers and Carina literally jumped up at the sound of a pointed cough right behind her. Towering over her stood the Mistress of Novices, Larindhra Sedai. Carina’s breath caught as her eyes registered the red fringed shawl the sister was wearing. There were not many occasions where the Mistress of Novices wore her shawl and the only reason for doing so when approaching a novice was an occasion all novices both longed for and feared at the same time. Gulping visibly, Carina got to her feet and offered the sister a perfect curtsey. The volume completely forgotten, which was a clear sign of the girl’s distress and mental state, she followed as the Mistress of Novices turned and led the way out of the library and down the halls of the Tower. Down they went, through corridors Carina had never before seen, where time seemed to have stood still. A weight lay on the young woman’s shoulders that seemed to be growing heavier with each step. She almost felt the gaze of countless people throughout history upon her as they travelled ever down, into the deepest depths of the Tower. Feeling their gaze and wondering if they considered her worthy. The Light knew she didn’t feel she was! Not yet! There was still so much to learn! Calm yourself, woman. Carina berated herself in silence and automatically slipped into performing her novice exercises. She followed Larindhra to a huge double door that smoothly opened upon their approach and entered into a domed chamber. Carina gulped then, standing in front of the famed Ter’Angreal known to the novices as the ‘Arches’. The device that would test each of them towards becoming Accepted, the next step on the road to becoming Aes Sedai. She still couldn’t believe this was happening. The Accepted all seemed so much smarter and stronger than herself. They were, after all, only a very small step removed from sisterhood themselves. Would she shame herself today? Her mentor, who had so steadily broken down her fear of the Red Ajah and who had been a steadfast beacon throughout her years at the Tower? Her savior… Carina blinked then. Recalling the man who had died for her, to see her to the Tower safely. Who, three years ago, made the ultimate sacrifice so she could stand here today. As always, her resolve returned and her determination fastened. She would not fail them. When the Mistress of Novices spoke, Carina was ready. As ready as she would ever be. Looking around the chamber, the young woman’s appearance was that of utter calm and acceptance. Her eyes took it all in while her mind held fast to the image of the man who now symbolised her courage, her determination and her drive.

The ter’angreal known as ‘the Arches’ was made of three rounded silver arches, each just tall enough to walk under, sitting on a thick silver ring with their ends touching each other. Where arch touches ring, an Aes Sedai sat on the floor, concentrating on the silvery construction. There was a sister of the Gray, the White and the Yellow Ajah.A fourth Aes Sedai, this one of the Blue Ajah, stood beside a table on which sat three silvery chalices filled with clear water. All four Aes Sedai and the Mistress of Novices wore their shawls.

Larindhra Sedai stepped in front of Carina and spoke:  “two things shall I tell you now that no woman hears until she enters this room. Once you begin, you must continue to the end. Refuse to go on and, no matter your potential, you will be very kindly put out of the Tower with enough silver to support you a year, and you will never be allowed back. Second. To seek, to strive, is to know danger. You will know danger here. Some women have entered, and never come out. When the ter”angreal was allowed to grow quiet, they - were - not - there. And they were never seen again. If you will survive, you must be steadfast. Faltering leads to a failure.”

A pause in which Carina nodded her understanding of the rules and the Mistress of Novices continued.

“This is your last chance, child. You may turn back now, and you will have only one mark against you. Twice more will you be allowed to come here, and only at the third refusal will you be put out of the Tower. It is no shame to refuse. Many cannot do it their first time here. Now you may speak.”

Carina took one last deep breath and answered in a clear voice, “I am ready, Aes Sedai.”

Larindhra nodded and turned towards the Ter’Angreal which indicated the start of the canon as was done for each of these ceremonies.

The  blue sister beside the table spoke solemnly and clearly, “Whom do you bring with you, Sister?”
Larindhra answered, “One who comes as a candidate for Acceptance, Sister.”
“Is she ready?”
“She is ready to leave behind what she was, and, passing through her fears, gain Acceptance.”
“Does she know her fears?”
“She has never faced them, but now is willing.”
“Then let her face what she fears.”

Larindhra then turned back to the novice and instructed her to strip down to her skin. The young woman blinked once, as she had totally forgotten that part and blushed a bright red as she hurried to obey, putting her cloths neatly folded on the chair that was put there for that purpose. She thought she saw a glimpse of amusement in the Red’s eye before she led Carina towards the first Arch.

“The first time is for what was. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Carina stepped through the Arch and missed a step. “What in the Light….” She gasped as she noticed her full nakedness and hurried back into the house to put on some cloths. Her mother would skin her alive if she saw her like this in the open. Especially on a day like this! A few moments later, she stepped back out of the house, fully dressed and eager to get to the ceremony. It wasn’t often that the town paid for a celebration like this and she wasn’t about to miss a single second of it! Waving excitedly to FaFa, her father, Carina sprinted to the green, where the crowds were gathering to witness the union of two people. Not just any two people, though. A Malkieren Lady was marrying one of their very own! Carina didn’t know the why of it all, but she had seen the couple and they were most definitely happy with this arrangement. A whole throng of companions had joined the Lady Mallacay to stand witness to the occasion, including three Aes Sedai!! Sisters! In their little town!! Carina all but bounced from excitement and quickly joined her friend Lyra who was quite busy trying to grow a few extra inches to be able to see over the shoulders of those in front of her.

The ceremony started and through some form of magic, the words spoken all the way down there on the dias were clearly heard by all in the field. Both girls giggled as the newly weds exchanged their first kiss as a married couple and then the party started. This was what they had been waiting for and they raced each other to the long tables overflowing with all kinds of delicious foods. Carina was just about to put a scrumptious looking cupcake in her mouth when a shrill scream cut straight through her bones. She twirled around and suddenly found herself in the worst kind of nightmare. Overhead, big winged creatures were swooping over the assembled party. Their shrieks were enough to turn her blood to ice and she stood motionless as some of them landed elegantly right in front of a sister. Carina looked on in horror as each sister stepped willingly inside the arms of the creature, while their warders tried valiantly to reach their Aes Sedai, but were all cut down by monstrously looking creatures that were swarming the green.

“Carinaaaaaaaaa!!!”

Her head whipped around to see her mother being hauled off by one of those beastly creatures and her feet were running before she realised. An arch appeared to the left of her, opposite to were her mother was being dragged to and a voice rang in her head ‘the way back will come only once, be steadfast.’ Carina came to a halt, torn between rushing to save her mother and this nagging feeling of having to step through that arch.

“Carinaaaaaaaa help me!!!” Her mum’s voice went straight through her soul.

‘The way back will come only once, be steadfast.’ The voice intoned in her head.

“Forgive me mother!” Carina’s voice broke as tears started running down her cheeks and she sprinted towards the arch, feeling a thousand knives cutting through her heart at each step. “For…” she launched herself through the arch and landed on her knees in the domed chamber. “…give”. Panting heavily, Carina let the tears stream down her cheeks as the image of her mother being dragged away by a trolloc imprinted itself permanently into her mind. “Forgive me, please.” She sobbed on all fours. “Light, forgive me!”

Her breath caught as ice cold water came streaming down over her head. Carina heard the voice of the blue sister intone the next part of the canon.  “You are washed clean of what sin you may have done and of those done against you. You are washed clean of what crime you may have committed, and of those committed against you. You come to us washed clean and pure, in heart and soul.”

Larindhra gently pulled Carina on her feet and put her arm around her. “I left her” Carina stammered. “I should burn forever, the Light save me, I left her!”. She grabbed the sleeve of the Red sister’s gown. “Tell me! Is it real? Did I really leave her?”. Sympathetic eyes bore down on the pained girl and warmth such as she never heard from the Mistress of Novices filled her voice as she answered. “We do not know if it is real, child. Only that it must be endured, as all of us have in our time and all those that will be Aes Sedai will endure in times to come. To be Aes Sedai means that you must be willing to break free of all your other ties. No matter the cost. Come, only two arches are left.” Carina gulped at that, wondering if she could withstand two more such horrors, beginning to understand why some have failed their testing. With an effort she recalled the face of the man, and again he did not fail her. Slowly she felt her strength return, though the aching pain in her heart seemed to have taken up permanent residence there.

Larindhra stopped in front of the next arch and intoned,  “the second arch is for what is. The way will come but once. Be steadfast.”
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Carina took another deep breath and gingerly stepped through the arch.
She woke up early, wondering why she was naked but dismissed the thought quickly as her mind recalled what day it was today. Years she had labored to reach this day and now that it was here, she felt all queezy about it. It was the day of her testing. Today she would become a Ranger or leave as a Ranger Trainee. The second path was no option to her, really. She would not fail her test. She could not fail it! This is what she had lived for. The purpose of her life, the call of her heart and soul. To be a Malkieren Ranger. That was her ultimate goal and dream. Washing up and dressing quickly, she nipped her hair back with her pin and went to the dining tent for her breakfast. The test would be difficult. More difficult than anything she had encountered before. It would require all the skills they had taught her but that would not be enough. For the test also measured a person’s ability to act and react in situations that were new and unforeseen. Seven Rangers would do their best to make her fail, that was their task. Seven Rangers would she need to pass, to reach the ultimate test, the Master Ranger himself. The leader of all Malkieren Rangers. The ultimate rank within the Ranger community and the epithomy of what a Ranger can become. Needless to say that Carina was not a little intimidated by the prospect of having to face this person. And yet, she would have to face him. Face him and pass his test.

When she finished her breakfast she went outside and found Randric standing there. She had noticed that on several occasions he seemed to pop up wherever she was, seemingly at random, but always when she needed some sort of support or reassurance. Carina examined the handsome Ranger for a few moments as he observed the surroundings and the familiar tingling rose up once more. Great, she thought, just what I need today. As though I don’t have enough to deal with. Pushing away the butterflies in her stomach, Carina approached the Ranger and bid him good morning.

“Good morning, Carina” Randric replied with a ready smile. “Ready for your big test?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be, Ranger Randric” she answered, returning his smile inspite her intentions of holding to formality. She never could withstand that smile. If only….. But no, she couldn’t let childish fantasies overtake her. This man was way out of her league. Focus, ya’ chit! She berated herself yet again. “After today, I don’t want to hear you call me with my title again, Carina” Randric said. “Or I’ll have to start calling you with yours and where would that leave us?”. She couldn’t help herself as she burst out laughing. “Honestly, you shouldn’t be so familiar with the trainees, Ranger Randric. You’ll get them in trouble!”. His grin warmed her from top to bottom as he lowered his voice. “Only you, Carina. Only you.” She looked at him for a second, wondering what he meant by that but then decided that it probably meant that he didn’t do it with the others as he knew she didn’t take him too serious with it. She had built up a reputation for being able to keep her personal life and professional duties separated, so that was probably it. Though it would really help if he would stop looking at her like that with those big, penetrating eyes of his! “I better get going now, Ranger Randric. I wouldn’t want to be late to my own testing.” And with that she turned and ran towards the testing ground, where her first test would occur. The first Ranger she would have to pass.

It was a much different Carina that made her way to stand in front of Harod, the Master Ranger. Her hairpin had long since been lost and her hair was wildly arranged on her head. Her cloths were hanging on by threads and dirt had mingled itself with blood in various places of her body. Seven times she had passed a Ranger, seven times she had proven herself worthy and each time the test became more intense, more dangerous, more improbable to succeed. Through fields of traps and nests of wildlife, her path had led her. Poisonous plants and hungry animals she had encountered. Her knowledge of herbs, plantlife and management of wildlife had proven the difference between life and death in that last test. That last Ranger. And now here she was, facing her most dangerous opponent still. Beaten, hungry, tired, in pain and torn by insecurity and intimidated by what Harod represented. One more step removed from achieving her life’s goal. One more step to take, and survive, to becoming a Malkieren Ranger. One more step before she would be worthy of following in the footsteps of those that stood at the front line of the safety of Malkier since the breaking of the world. Carina felt her resolve form, ignored the pain and pushed down the tiredness in her bones. One more step. She would not fail!

Carina took one step forward, towards Harod, and heard a voice inside her head, ‘The way back will come only once, be steadfast.’ An arch appeared to the side of the path that led towards the Master Ranger. The path towards her becoming a Ranger. The path towards her life’s goal and dream. She blinked at the arch, suddenly realising she’s supposed to step through it. She looked at Harod, wondering if this was part of the test and stopped on the path at the level of the arch.

“One more test you are removed from becoming a Ranger, Carina. Will you falter now?” Harod’s voice was clear, without doubt. He knew she would not falter, for he knew well what was in her heart. “You must pass me, trainee, or give up being a Ranger for all time.”

Carina now knew that the arch was not part of her testing and she began to move forward towards Harod again. ‘The way back will come only once, be steadfast!’ the voice in her head intoned more intensely. She stopped again, torn between that which was her dream and desire and that which she knew she must do. Her mind drifted back to Randric, his eyes on her, and she knew he felt for her the same as she did for him. If she stepped through that arch, it would never be. She knew that for sure.

“Carina, you are my best student and this is where your heart lies. You know that. Will you give it up now? Now when you are so close? I can not believe it! Come forward!” Harod’s voice left no room for discussion.

‘The way back will come only once, be steadfast!!’ the voice intoned for the third time. Reverberating through her head, pounding on the walls of her skull. Carina looked one more time at Harod and ran towards the arch and through it, tears streaming down her cheeks. Harod’s look of utter disbelief forever imprinted on her mind.

She stood there, sobbing miserably as the chalice was emptied over her head and the cold water mingled with her tears. The voice of the sister rang out and filled her ears.

“You are washed clean of false pride. You are washed clean of false ambition. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul.”

Larindhra laid her arm around Carina’s shoulder and gently guided her towards the last arch. “Only one more, child. Hang in there.” They stopped and the Red continued in a solemn voice,  “The third time is for what will be. Be steadfast for the way back will come but once.”

Carina cast a look at the Mistress of Novice, a look that communicated all of her sorrow and pain, before stepping through the final arch.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
“My love, while I do not mind seeing you like this and would have you in this outfit all day if I could, it may be a bit much for the trainees to handle on their first day, don’t you think?” She could clearly hear the amusement in Randric’s voice, though wondered what in the blazing light he was talking about. Casting her husband one of her looks, she lowered her eyes to her body, ready to ask him what was wrong with how she looked and blinked. She was stark naked! His heartfelt laughter followed her into their tent as she launched herself inside before anyone else could notice. “I married a bloody comedian” She muttered as she dressed methodically while trying to battle the blood red blush that had overtaken her cheeks. How in the Light did she forget to get dressed?! Today of all days! “The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, but honestly, I didn’t know it had a flaming sense of humor!” Tugging her belt tight, she stepped outside again, this time properly attired in her Ranger’s outfit. Randric stood in front of their tent, his eyes gleaming with mischief, yet Carina couldn’t keep up her righteous anger facade for long. The love he had for her outshone all other feelings and she felt her blood warm as it always did when their eyes locked. “You’d do well to remember who you are today, Tracker” she told him matter of factly, “you wouldn’t want those trainees to think that they can get away with mischievous behavior, would you?”. He only laughed again and went so far as to give her a wink. “Of course not, Mistress Ranger. That is only reserved for my darling wife.” Carina burst into laughter at that herself and they both had a smile on their face as they set out towards the camping ground to begin their day. She still had to get used to her new position as the leader of the Rangers of Malkier. For the first time in history a woman had the lead of the famous Rangers and they had to change the official title of ‘Master Ranger’ to it’s female version. It had been a surprise to all, most of all herself, when the old Master pointed her as his successor instead of Randric. Apparently it had been Randric himself who had suggested it to Hardor, who was only hesitating in his choice because Carina was a woman. She was, however, the best Ranger in all aspects and had the necessary skills for this position. Randric had never developped the needed affection for the more administrative side of the job and so it was that he remained the second in command. In charge with the daily runnings of things and the training of the Ranger Trainees.

They arrived at the camp grounds where the other Rangers and the trainees were already assembled, waiting on their leadership for the start of their new life. For today a new group of trainees would be initiated and start their lives as future Rangers. Well, some of them would. As only ten procent of the trainees ever made it to full graduation. Some of them were destined for other positions and their training here was part of their overall education. Most of them, however, were looking at a Ranger’s life as a way to improve their position in life. Being a Ranger in Malkier was a high honor, which bestowed a great deal of respect from the lowest citizen all the way up to the crown. For it was the Rangers that made the difference in spotting potential danger in time or letting the kingdom be taken in by surprise attacks from the Blight. While only a few of them would succeed, even having trained with the Rangers is a sure way of improvement in life for most of these youngsters. For none leave here without having at least the basic Ranger skills and even those can be of great value to many merchants and travellers. Insuring a comfortable and respectfull life. It was always a great day when a new group of trainees were initiated and today even more so for Carina and Randric as their own son and daughter, twins, were among the initiates. The twins were in for a rough couple of years, though. For neither of their parents would dream of making their lives easier than that of the other trainees. On the contrary, their lives would be harder than most. Yet that didn’t change the fact that their mother and father both were shining with pride at their children’s next step in life. Thrilled as they were that both of them wanted to step into their footsteps.

As the ceremony of initiation went on and each potential was personally attired in their new uniform, their names entered in the book of trainees and assigned into their new family, Carina couldn’t help but let her mind wander towards that long ago day where she herself had stood where these youngsters now stood. Everything went smoothly, as was expected, and the celebration lasted long into the night. Today they celebrated the end of their childhood, tomorrow they would spend the day in contemplation of their life as adults and, for some, as Rangers, and then their training would begin in full. Long days of studying followed by short nights of rest.

The third day was scheduled for a trip into the forest, as part of their training on herbs and plantlife and Carina joined them on one of her, now, rare occasions where she had the time to do so. She took evey opportunity to go out in the wild, as most of the time she was chained to her desk, burried in paperwork. It was a lovely day, with just the right amount of sun and wind, and spirits were high. They had their dinner in a nice valley, where the trainees could have some fun in the nearby pond before setting off again on the trail of an animal they had found shortly before noon. Randric had used that trail to incorporate the first tracking lessons into the trainee’s curriculum of the day and Carina was more than happy to follow suit. The trail was that of a mountain wolf pack and didn’t pose much of a threat as wolves were known to stay well clear of big groups of people. With their twenty seven they were quite safe.

Huge was the surprise then, when suddenly the group was attacked while travelling through a narrow strip of land between two large hills, by not one but several packs of mountain wolves. Carina, Randric and the other Rangers formed a protective circle around the youngsters, as the animals closed in. She knew all too well that there was going to be blood spilled today and all she could hope for was that none of the youngsters would be killed. It was a vain hope, she knew. But she held to it stubbornly nevertheless. As the wolves approached, she could see their eyes were not normal. Instead of the natural yellow theirs were of a reddish color, foam dripping from their lips. These were no regular wolves and she instantly thought of shadowspawn. What in the Light were shadowspawn doing this side of the Blight without being spotted? The time for pondering was over as the first wolf leaped up and headed straight towards her.

‘The way back will come only once, be steadfast’, a voice rang in her ears and an arch appeared to her left, away from the group and the wolves. To reach it she would have to break formation, leaving a clear path to the youngens for the wolves, her own children standing right behind her being the first in line to be attacked if she moved. “NO!” Carina yelled, “Not now!” She kept fighting the wolves stubbornly as the voice rang again in her head, with more insistence. ‘The way back will come only once, be steadfast!’. Carina knew she had to go through that arch, she knew it without a shadow of a doubt, yet how could she leave all these people to their doom? Her children? Her beloved husband? With a cry that made the wolf now attacking her falter and step back hesitantly, she broke rank and sprinted towards the arch.

“Carina, where are you going???!!!!” Randric’s voice, dripping with disbelief and accusation found her, seeped into her and nestled itself into her soul. Ripping her up inside and cutting her heart to pieces. She didn’t look back, couldn’t look back, didn’t need to as the sound of the dying screaming followed her through the arch and stayed with her the rest of her life.

She stood in the doomed room, unmoving, unseeing, oblivious to her surroundings and so she didn’t notice that there were more Aes Sedai now in the chamber. Larindhra, understanding the state the girl was in, gently put her arm around her and guided her towards the Amyrlin Seat, who stood waiting. Seven striped stole around her shoulders and chalice in hand, the Mother looked down on the girl with genuin sympathy. A small push sent Carina to her knees in front of the Amyrlin Seat who upended the chalice over the girl’s head. “You are washed clean of Carina Al’Tara of Baerlon. You are washed clean of all ties that bind you to the world. You come to us washed clean in heart and soul. You are Carina Al’Tara, Accepted of the White Tower.” “You are sealed to us, now. Welcome, daughter,” says the Amyrlin Seat.

The Amyrlin Seat handed the chalice to one of the Aes Sedai and took out a Great Serpent ring. Slipping it over Carina’s third finger of her left hand, the Mother pulled the girl to her feet. “Welcome, Daughter” she said, kissing Carina on her cheek. And then the other cheek. “Welcome.”