A/N: Okay, this took a bit longer than I'd have liked. (Although I know that a bit over a week between chapters is still not long, exactly, but still.) Thanks everyone for sticking with the story and, as always, reviews make my day. And... I guess I should say that I'll definitely try to get the next chapter out faster. For... reasons. *grin*


Chapter Ten


The world was on fire. Everywhere he looked, flames roared high up to the sky, and the sky itself was black with smoke and thunderclouds. No, he realised; not just clouds and smoke but ravens, in vast masses that blackened the horizon. He shuddered as he walked amidst the flames - they were impossible to avoid completely, but somehow they didn't seem to touch him eve when he passed right through them. He could only find mild astonishment for the way the flames behaved, he felt somehow detached from the scene, as if he was watching it all happen to someone else. It was someone else walking that barren, rocky inferno landscape, someone else wearing the black coat with blue-and-gold dragons embroidered around the sleeves, someone else being drawn inexorably towards the looming shadow barely visible beyond the flames somewhere ahead.

A part of him realised that it wasn't real. The same part that also realised that it had all happened before, that he had been there before, dream or not, but he couldn't recall how the scene would end. No, he just had to go on, and-

Remember.

The word startled him and he staggered. He whirled around, but there was nobody he could see, he was alone on the burning plain. He shook his head, trying to dismiss the voice as simple product of his imagination. But he couldn't. It had been real, as much as anything in this place was real. He continued towards the towering shadow ahead, knowing that the dream wouldn't end before he went and faced what waited for him there…


"Mazrim?"

The voice penetrated through the dream, waking him. He sat up to see Erin in the doorway. She had never done this before, interrupting his sleep. "What time is it?" he asked, trying to sound more awake than he was. The dream was already fading from his mind, as if it had never been. He shook his head, trying to hold on to the feeling that this time, something had been different. Remember. The word echoed in his mind with the weight of a prophecy.

"Jut past midday," Erin replied.

"Midday," Taim repeated blandly. "Flinn is going to kill me." If only he could shake the feeling that Erin had interrupted something important… He swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up, looking around. He was sure he'd left his clothes on the stool… Frowning, he opened the wardrobe. The first thing he noticed was that there were a whole lot more clothes than he remembered. And as he looked closer he saw that the clothes were far finer than anything he had owned since his… new life. The half a dozen coats were elegantly cut in the fashion of Saldaean nobility - without any House emblems of course, - in dark, dignified colours. On some of them he even spotted embroidery! Not that he minded, but he hadn't thought Erin… Oh. "A clown in a fancy coat…" he muttered under his breath, recalling the scene at the training grounds the previous day. Well, this certainly explained Erin's reaction.

"You… don't like them?"

He spun around to see Erin still in the doorway; he had forgotten that she was there, which was an achievement in itself with the bond in place. He directed a thin almost-smile at the Aes Sedai. "They're passable," he said. Then he frowned; he was standing there in his smallclothes, with Erin ogling away in a distracted fashion. "…Would you mind?"

The Aes Sedai blinked. "Oh." She seemed to realise the same, her eyes widened and colour rushed to her cheeks. "Of course!" she gasped and hastily backed out of the room, drawing the door shut after her. Taim shook his head at the rather exaggerated reaction, but, once again, he wasn't going to ask. He had a feeling he wasn't going to like the discussion if one ever took place…

He got quickly dressed and headed out to the training grounds. For once, Erin didn't follow; she barely looked up from the book she was reading - or more likely pretending to read, not that he could be sure - when he passed through the sitting room. He thought briefly of checking whether Flinn was in the apartment he shared with Corele - it was well past the time they usually had their sword practice session and he didn't expect to find the Asha'man at the training grounds anymore - but decided against it. He could find someone else to spar with if Flinn wasn't there. He thought Corele already resented him for taking up so much of her Warder's time; he wasn't going to show up at her door to give her more reason to.

Flinn wasn't at the training grounds, but someone else was. Alinsar Zarac, the Warder of Sarielle Teorin, seemed to be supervising a group of young men as they practised their forms. Taim almost turned around and walked back the way he came - he had no desire to put himself in the way of the Warder who seemed to hate him at least as much as his Aes Sedai did - but before he could do so, Alinsar noticed him.

"I'm surprised Erin Sedai lets you wander around," the Warder remarked. His eyes flickered to the sword at Taim's hip and his eyebrows arched in an expression of disbelief mixed with contempt. "Carrying that thing, no less. From what I've heard you can barely avoid stabbing yourself with it."

Taim knew he should ignore the man and be on his way. He could have; he hadn't survived as long as he had by letting his temper get the best of him - the thought covered more than his new life, although he couldn't tell whether it was an actual memory or something that made sense and had to be true. But right now he wanted the distraction. He flashed a brief almost-smile. "I can manage that, most of the time." Without conscious decision, his hand went to the hilt of his sword.

Alinsar stared. "Very well then, if you think you're ready to spar with real Warders…" He barked an order for the recruits to carry on with their exercise, then drew his sword and assumed a ready stance. Taim did the same, and then the Warder came at him.

In some small, detached part of his mind Taim was surprised at how well he was holding his own against the other man who, most likely, had decades of training behind him. He matched the Warder blow for blow, flowing from one form to another, countering attacks that would have been little short of fatal had they landed. Alinsar wouldn't purposefully attempt to kill him - he was bonded to an Aes Sedai, after all, and there would have been dire consequences for a Warder who killed another - but Taim doubted that the man would take much care to avoid wounding him. Even though there were Aes Sedai in attendance near the training grounds in case of an accident, Taim didn't fancy going through any more Healing than he had already in the past weeks if it wasn't absolutely necessary.

But before the fight had gone on for more than a few minutes, it was interrupted by sudden shouts from the group of young recruits. Taim halted his attack as Alinsar whirled around to see what his young charges were up to. One of the youths, a slight thing with almost white hair, had was just picking himself up off the ground, with some of the others gathered around him. None of them seemed to notice that they had attracted Alinsar's attention; they continued to shout and laugh amongst themselves, heedless of the trouble that was inevitably coming their way. One of them made as if to kick the white-haired boy-

Alinsar surged towards the scene, shouting, "What do you flaming idiots think you're-?"

The bully was flung into the air as the ground erupted under his feet. Screams and shouts ensued. Dirt and small rocks rained down upon Taim, Alinsar and the boys scrambling away from the scene as fast as they could. Alinsar froze for a second, torn between seeing to the white-haired boy still on his knees on the ground, staring wide-eyed at everything through the slowly settling dust, or the one who had taken the unfortunate flight and lay in a crumbled heap several yards away. Seeing two Aes Sedai already heading towards the latter, the Warder picked the former.

"Light, lad, what do you think you-" He cut off, shaking his head. Clearly he realised that it wasn't the best possible approach. "Are you alright?" he eventually asked.

Taim had followed right behind Alinsar, sword still in hand, but now he sheathed it and crossed his arms across his chest. "The boy has just survived what I must assume was his first touch of saidin," he said coolly. "He should be shaken. Anything could have happened."

Alinsar threw him a flat look. "I thought you weren't supposed to know much about the channelling stuff anymore."

Taim shrugged slightly. "I may be lacking my memories, but my wits are mostly intact, thank you very much," he replied. "And it doesn't take extensive knowledge of channelling to know what I just told you. What else do you possibly think it could have been?" The Warder seemed to accept the point, but his attention was already back on the poor kid. Taim was just as glad that nobody was paying him much attention in the middle of the rather chaotic scene; he was fighting to not show how shaken he was himself. He had only told Alinsar half the truth; it was fairly obvious even to a non-channeller that the boy must have channelled. But that wasn't all of it. He had felt it. He had felt saidin being channelled, and he had known what it was, and he was certain that he had never once felt anything of the sort even though Flinn and others had been channelling around him several times. No, this was new.

One of the two Aes Sedai - Yellow, Taim thought; he had seen her in the Yellow Ajah quarters even though he didn't know her name - was marching towards them with a sour expression. She barely spared Taim a glance, her attention was on Alinsar and the white-haired boy. "I was under the impression that you were supposed to keep the recruits from doing anything stupid, yes?" she said, a hint of a Taraboner accent to her voice. "The boy, is he alright?"

Taim didn't stay to listen further. He needed to figure out what under the Light was happening. He was almost running by the time he reached the Yellow Ajah quarters. He could feel Erin at the back of his head, a mix of agitation and frustration, but she was still in her apartment and didn't seem to be going anywhere. That was just as well; it was not her he sought. But when he stopped at the door of Corele Sedai's apartment, he suddenly hesitated. What was he going to say to Flinn? Am I supposed to be able to sense people channelling saidin all of a sudden? Not likely. What made him think Flinn would have answers, anyway? A small voice tried to suggest that he wasn't going to Flinn because he thought the old Asha'man would have answers for him but because he was a friend. He silenced the voice. Even if Flinn could be considered a friend, there was no telling how the Asha'man would react if he thought Taim was potentially regaining his ability to channel. Because with the ability - he didn't know why he was so sure but he was - would come the lost memories, everything that had made him the hated M'Hael. No; on the second thought he didn't dare go to Flinn after all.

He was just about to turn away when the door opened and Corele Hovian nearly walked into him. The Aes Sedai blinked and took a step back, then frowned. "What is it? Is Erin-?"

Taim shook his head. "No, Erin is fine," he said quickly. "I just…" He scrambled for a plausible reason to be standing outside her door. "Flinn," he eventually managed. "There was an incident at the training grounds. A recruit channelling by accident. I only know of two Asha'man in the White Tower and…"

Thankfully, she seemed to buy it, even if she gave him a hard look that told him she suspected he wasn't telling everything. "Damer," she called out, but Flinn was already coming up behind her, pulling on his black coat.

"I heard," the Asha'man said. "Lead on."


Erin was still staring at the same page she had been on when Taim had left, when the bond suddenly carried a sense of alarm and then confusion. She set the book aside and was halfway to the door before she even realised she had moved. She made herself stop; Taim was not in danger, and considering his mood earlier he probably wouldn't appreciate her rushing to his side at the first sign of… whatever it was. She judged the distance and direction and concluded that he was probably in the training grounds. It made sense; he had been training with Flinn every day for the past while. And if Flinn was with him, everything was fine. She took a deep breath and deliberately sat down again. But she didn't pick the book up again. There was no point in pretending to read when nobody was watching; she wasn't quite that good at fooling herself.

Soon she felt Taim coming closer. The bond still carried agitation and confusion, but it was more controlled now. But instead of coming to Erin, he walked straight past the door and further along the hallway. Erin frowned at the book on the table before her. Where was he going? He had stopped now, and after a few moments he started back the way he'd come, again straight past Erin's apartment. Erin shook her head; she was going to find out what the blazes was going on with her Warder. She followed, not quite running, but walking very fast.

She caught up with Taim - and Flinn and Corele - just outside the Yellow Ajah quarters. "What is going on, Mazrim?" she asked, trying not to sound like she half expected him to refuse to answer. She probably wasn't very successful, judging by the look Corele gave her.

Flinn answered for Taim, "A channelling accident at the training grounds."

Erin very nearly missed a step. "What-?"

"Not me, obviously," Taim replied before she could form a question. He didn't look at her, but the bond flooded with annoyance. "A recruit."

"Oh." Erin lowered her gaze to hide her embarrassment, not that it hid anything from the bond. "Of course. Was… was someone hurt?" she asked.

"Probably," Taim said. "One of the other recruits at least. But there were Aes Sedai taking care of him already before I left. I thought it best to get an Asha'man to check on the one who did the channelling." The bond felt… evasive, and Erin got the feeling that he wasn't telling the whole truth, but then again, channelling - of the saidin variety - was something of a sore spot for him, even though he wouldn't have admitted as much. The look Flinn gave Taim said that the Asha'man had noticed the same.

The first thing Erin saw when they reached the training grounds was Sarielle, resplendent as always in blue silks which made her fiery hair stand out all the more. She was standing with Alinsar, talking to the Warder in a low voice. Judging by the Warder's expression, he didn't much like what he was hearing, but he wasn't arguing. Well, he wouldn't; Sarielle kept as tight a leash on her Warder as any Green. Erin approached the two cautiously; she didn't want to get caught in the crossfire if Sarielle was lecturing her Warder, but she was curious. A bit further away, a group of young recruits were standing looking like they'd rather be somewhere else but leaving wasn't an option. And off to one side, two Aes Sedai - Erin recognised them as Tilde Jennin of her own Ajah and Lisandre Saravin of the Green Ajah - seemed to be questioning another recruit, a short youth with very light blond hair. Two Warders, both of them presumably Lisandre's as Tilde didn't have one, were positioned near the Aes Sedai, watching everything with sharp eyes. In the middle of it all, there was a hole in the ground that looked like something had exploded there.

"That's the one," Taim said and nodded in the direction of the blond boy. Flinn started that way, Corele following at his heels. Taim watched them go, something vaguely like relief briefly tinging the bond. The tension remained, however, and the relief - if it had been that - was gone so quickly that Erin couldn't be sure that she hadn't imagined it.

Erin didn't have a chance to ask about it, though, as that was when Sarielle noticed her. "Erin," the Blue sister said, somehow managing to make the single word - her name - sound like a greeting and an admonishment and perhaps a question, too, all at once.

"Sarielle," Erin replied mildly.

The Blue sister fixed her with a level stare. "In case you're interested, Marle confessed earlier this morning and was convicted for the assault on you and kidnapping of Avari Sedai. She was found, mostly unharmed, after he told Logain where he had left her."

Erin let out a breath she hadn't realised she had been holding. "Thank the Light," she muttered. "Are you only just back from the Black Tower?"

Sarielle shook her head. "No," she said. A small grimace twisted the corners of her mouth before she caught herself. "I was visiting a seamstress out in the city while Alinsar was supposed to be supervising a group of recruits." The frosty look she threw at her Warder indicated that she was convinced that whatever had gone wrong on Alinsar's watch could have been avoided.

"The boy would have channelled anyway, sooner or later." To Erin's shock it was Taim who spoke up. Sarielle and even the stone-faced Alinsar both looked equally astonished. Taim went on, "Perhaps it was better that it should happen with Aes Sedai and Gaidin at hand to intervene and… repair the damage." For a confused moment Erin thought he meant the hole in the middle of the training grounds, but then she realised he must be talking about the recruit who had been injured in the incident.

Sarielle looked like she was about to protest, but Alinsar spoke first. "He's right, Sarielle," the Warder said, with a quick glare at Taim just for good measure. "Anyway, there's nothing to be done about it now but send the boy off to the Black Tower. Pity, though, I'm fairly sure that girl who got raised last week, what was her name again, already had her eye on him. He's not half bad with the sword despite his… stature."

Sarielle nodded with only a trace of reluctance. "You mean Nissa. Well, he might still end up bonded to her if she's determined enough," she mused. "It's not like it's unheard of anymore. By the Light, I'm not sure it's even particularly frowned upon, anymore."

Erin arched an eyebrow; surely the old attitudes couldn't have changed that much yet? But they were changing. Not too long ago, a recruit who started channelling would have been sent to the Traitor's Court, not to the Black Tower. There wouldn't have been a Black Tower, not too long ago.

Then Corele walked up to the small group, a fierce frown marring her face. "Damer is taking the boy to the Black Tower," she said. "I half suspect Lisandre wanted to bond him on the spot! All of a sudden he's more interesting than the other recruits…" Disapproval rang clear in her voice and she cast a fiery look in the direction of the Green sister. Erin thought of what Sarielle had just said, and what Suana Dragand had said some time ago, even if the First Weaver's comment had been meant to criticise Erin's choice more than to praise Corele's. Attitudes really were changing.


Taim walked along the meandering path through the garden, one of the many beautiful gardens in the White Tower grounds. A group of young women in white dresses, giggling amongst themselves, scurried out of his way but he paid them no mind. He had felt confined in Erin's apartment, under the Aes Sedai's watchful eyes. He knew Erin meant well, but her concern grated on his nerves, and as for her… other feelings for him… No.

A woman in a white dress with the seven stripes in the hem - an Accepted - arched her eyebrows at him as she walked past; he had spoken the last word out loud. He met her stare with one of his own. Her eyes widened a fraction and her imperious look faltered. She quickened her steps. Taim continued in the other direction. Perhaps the gardens hadn't been such a good idea, not if they were as crowded everywhere. But as he wandered further, he finally found a secluded corner and sat down under a tree. He leaned his head back against the tree trunk and closed his eyes. He felt Erin at the back of his head, a knot of sensations that had already become so familiar, if never quite comfortable, exactly. He couldn't imagine that he would ever be completely comfortable with having another person inside his head. Especially one that… He grimaced; deny it as he might, it didn't change the facts. Erin liked him far more than she should, and it was… something he couldn't understand. Not something he particularly cared to understand, either, except that he feared he might have to try, if he was to remain with Erin as her Warder. He wondered if she would still release the bond if he asked her to. Surely it would be kinder to remove himself from her life than to stay when he was never going to return her feelings?

But of course it wasn't up to Erin anymore, to release him. Neither the White nor the Black Tower would just let him walk away. The whole trail of thought was nothing but useless speculation and he would only drive himself crazy if he kept at it.

He wasn't sure how long he sat there; he lost track of time, letting his mind wander. Suddenly he just realised that the sun had begun to set and the air was getting cooler… And that Erin was coming closer. He saw her as soon as he had thought that; she was approaching cautiously, almost hesitantly, but she picked up the pace as she realised he had noticed her. She sat down on the grass next to him, spent a good while arranging her skirts before looking up at him.

"A beautiful evening," she said quietly.

"So it is," he replied.

She took a deep breath. "Mazrim…" she began. The bond was aflame with anxiety, but on the surface she was calm and collected. "You're not stupid. I know you know…" She trailed off and seemed to focus on the scrollwork embroidery on her left sleeve. Without looking at him she went on, "And I know you don't… feel the same. I… understand. I just… wanted you to know that I don't expect anything."

Taim wasn't sure what to say. It was like she'd read his mind - the bond didn't, thankfully, enable quite that much - and her concern was not for her own happiness but his. He didn't understand. But she seemed sincere - Aes Sedai or no, he didn't believe she could deceive him that well - and he couldn't deny that it was a relief in a way. He had dreaded this discussion because he had been half expecting awkward confessions and having to crush her hopes… But she was an intelligent, perceptive woman and of course he should have known that she would be as aware of his feelings as he was of hers.

"Don't feel the need to say anything," she said after a while of silence. She looked at him and smiled a bit. "It's fine. Come, let's go inside, it's colder out here than you realise."

He shrugged and stood up, then extended a hand to help her up. She nodded graciously, and then she started back along the garden path, walking lightly, feeling almost… happy. He didn't understand, but he followed her regardless.


The world was on fire. Everywhere he looked, flames roared high up to the sky, and the sky itself was black with smoke and thunderclouds. No, he realised; not just clouds and smoke but ravens, in vast masses that blackened the horizon. He shuddered as he walked amidst the flames - they were impossible to avoid completely, but somehow they didn't seem to touch him eve when he passed right through them. He could only find mild astonishment for the way the flames behaved, he felt somehow detached from the scene, as if he was watching it all happen to someone else. It was someone else walking that barren, rocky inferno landscape, someone else wearing the black coat with blue-and-gold dragons embroidered around the sleeves, someone else being drawn inexorably towards the looming shadow barely visible beyond the flames somewhere ahead.

A part of him realised that it wasn't real. The same part that also realised that it had all happened before, that he had been there before, dream or not, but he couldn't recall how the scene would end. No, he just had to go on, and-

Remember.

The word startled him and he staggered. He whirled around, but there was nobody he could see, he was alone on the burning plain. He shook his head, trying to dismiss the voice as simple product of his imagination. But he couldn't. It had been real, as much as anything in this place was real. He continued towards the towering shadow ahead, knowing that the dream wouldn't end before he went and faced what waited for him there…

Suddenly there was a door before him. He touched the handle - and let out a hiss of pain as the hot metal seared into his palm. He jerked his hand away, but the door opened anyway, revealing…

Darkness.

He tried to peer into the room beyond the doorway, but couldn't see a thing. He took a hesitant step inside… And heard the door slam shut behind him. In complete darkness now, he fought the urge to turn around and try to find the door again; he knew it would do no good. The darkness felt alive around him, caressing him, smothering… Suddenly he could barely breathe. He thought he could almost see things, but he couldn't be sure if the visions were real or just hallucinations conjured by his mind that couldn't process the complete darkness.

Remember.

He gasped and whirled around, but of course there was nothing to see there, or at least no light to see by. A vision - something he was fairly sure was just a hallucination - swam before his eyes. He thought it was a face, but it was gone so quickly that he couldn't be sure. He shook his head and brought a hand up to his face. Even holding it mere inches before his eyes he couldn't see it.

Remember.

He staggered as the blackness spun around him.

Remember.

He fell to his knees, clutching his head with both hands…

Remember!


He came awake with a start, breathing hard, blood pounding in his ears. He was holding saidin, filled with it, as much as he could safely hold and more, ready to release a tide of destruction, trembling with the need to channel the raw power he was holding.

And he remembered.