Where am I? How did I get here? She didn't know. The last few moments were a dizzying blur, and before then was nothing. Her memories seemed only to exist from this moment onwards although she knew who she was. I am Elia Darrow, Aes Sedai.
Something pressed against her neck. She felt a line of pain as the knife cut into the skin. If not for the imminent threat of death then she would have cried out. Instead, she visibly shook whilst trying to keep the dagger away from slicing up her throat. Or she tried, except that she found her hands and feet bound. Her bare knees kneeled on the cold stone floor and the air was freezing against her flesh.
"Do you wish to join the Black Ajah?"
Elia went bug-eyed. The question had been whispered in her ear, quite likely from the same woman who held the knife at her throat. Fear gripped her, twisted in her stomach and heart. The Light preserve me, she prayed. By her ear, the woman chuckled. "The Light won't save you, Elia."
A mirror appeared in front of her. Elia saw her reflection and the knife pressing against her knife. She saw the absolute look of terror in her eyes. Her nose was running even though she held back the tears.
"Yes," she lied. It was a lie, and she could lie. The Light preserve her, she had dodged around the Three Oaths. She was Aes Sedai, but she was not bound by the Three Oaths. The mirror and knife vanished. She gripped her throat and tried to breathe deeply at the same time. Turning her neck, she looked around the room at the four other figures assembled there. Four shapeless forms in black robes. Darkfriends, she wailed, Black Ajah!
One of them, possibly the woman who had whispered, pressed something firmly into her hand. It was a foot-long rod of white ivory. The Darkfriend closed Elia's fist around it and then started to channel into it. "Repeat after me. 'I foreswear all oaths that bind me.'"
"I... I foreswear all oaths that bind me."
Nothing happened. There were no oaths to unbind her from. The woman that gripped her hand seemed to hesitate for a second, then she added "Repeat after me. 'I shall obey all commands given by those placed above me in service to the Great Lord.'"
"I shall obey all commands given by those placed above me in service to the Great Lord." As her voice clicked shut, a jolt of something strange ran through her. Her skin felt tight around her as if her body was being stuffed into a bag that was too small to fit her.
"Repeat after me," the woman continued, "'I shall prepare for the day of the Great Lord's return.'"
Great Lord? Of course, they didn't refer to the Dark One as the Dark One. The hand around her own squeezed in a demand for compliance. "I shall prepare for the day of the Great Lord's return," Elia repeated.
"Repeat after me. 'I shall hold close the secrets of the Black Ajah, unto the hour of my death.'"
No! "No!" she cried. Elia rose swiftly, breaking free from contact with the Oath Rod. She spun around to strike at the woman but the robed figure moved too fast. She took a hold of Elia's right forearm in an iron grip, and placed her open palm against Elia's chest, preventing her from moving. Somehow Elia felt paralysed, incapable of doing anything other than being held in place by the woman in black.
Then there was the pain. A torrid rush of agony burnt its way through her veins. Her body felt like it was on fire, but she couldn't move. Wide green eyes struggled to look for salvation in any form, but the flames seemed to consume her soul. She could only scream within the confines of her own mind and it was a scream that should have shattered the world.
It ended after only a few seconds, the Darkfriend releasing Elia's arm. Looking down, the Shienaran gasped in horror. Her arm was blackened and withered like a corpse's. The limb seemed to belong to a creature of the Shadow, but it moved in concert with her thoughts. "No! No no no," she wailed.
Something clamped around her throat. She heard the click of a latch and felt the cool touch of metal. She reached up with both hands and felt a singular piece of metal around her neck. It only had one blemish, where a loop seemed to be attached to a chain. Elia tried to turn around to face the origin of the chain, but it was always behind her. After a few moments of wild thrashing to see who held it, the chain rose up, pulling the collar and Elia up from the ground. Her larynx was pincered between the metal collar and gravity. Elia tried desperately to break the chain or lift herself away from the collar, but nothing worked. Her legs kicked before up, seeking purchase on anything. There was no ground. The chain wouldn't break. I'm dying she thought as the air within her blood began to diminish. I am going to die.
Elia bolted upright. She gasped for air as she flailed to remove the a'dam from her neck. There was no a'dam, no collar. It took her several more panicked moments to realise that she was not a sul'dam's toy, nor trapped in a cage of Vaidulo, nor being forced to swear oaths to the Black Ajah in the basement of the Grey Tower. This was her bedroom, within the Indigo Ajah Hall. I am Elia Sedai, Aes Sedai. Fortunately, the nightmare did not start anew.
She was awake. There was no denying that sleep would fail to find her if she tried it again. That nightmare had replayed in her mind countless times, although the inclusion of the a'dam was new. Elia was well aware what the dreams meant. I made a mistake in trusting Mirin. That trust led me unwilling into the Black Ajah. The Black Ajah led me to other Darkfriends, and they led me to Seanchan. A singular failure in judgement transformed her into Deyeniye, the crippled and pregnant Darkfriend.
What had been woven in the Pattern could not be unwoven. I am Deyeniye. She could never change the decisions she had made, so the only course of action was to move on. Move or die. That was the philosophy when you made it to the Supreme Council of the Black Ajah: always forward, never backwards.
Swinging her legs over the side of the bed, Elia struggled up onto her feet. Her shift was sweat-slicken and stuck to her rotund form. She was only just over halfway through this struggle, and she would have paid a fortune to have it over. The Yellows had practically crooned over how easy a pregnancy she was having. The First Seeker had a few choice words to throw back in their unpleasant faces.
Elia stripped herself bare, then used a towel to soak up the worst of the sweat. After that, she pulled open one drawer from her cabinet and slipped into a new shift. It wasn't the nicest of feelings but she had no energy to do any more. Maybe she could bathe later. For now, being up and in a vague semblance of dress would have to suffice.
The Shienaran took a little bit more time getting into her dress. Today it was a dark green like her eyes, although the similarity was unintended. She struggled to get the buttons behind her back, and conceded with only half of them finished. That left her with loose shoulders and a drooping neckline, although neither was wholly inappropriate. Not that she cared. No-one looked at her in that way anymore. The rumours were about the father, and she wondered most than even the worst of the gossips.
The First Seeker entered the main room of her apartment and went straight to settling into her chaise longue. Her bump was quite noticeable, but it concealed her state of undress. It was also comfortable, which was a luxury. I am never sleeping with another man again if this is the result. Light, why couldn't she just give birth now?
Before her thoughts descended into further pitiful cries of self-despair, there was a familiar knock on the door. Her disquiet immediately vanished. "It's open," she called out.