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Soldier Laila
Prelude: Old Enmities Revived
Tue Jun 13, 2006 19:51 (XFF:

Snow drifted gently from the sky—a very strange occurrence in the middle of the summer. Laila took shelter beneath the Traitor’s Tree to watch the flakes fall slowly to the ground. “It’s not supposed to snow right now,” she remarked crossly to the Tree.

“Very odd, very odd,” agreed one of the heads on the Tree, “Can’t be helped, though—pity all around. The ground began to rumble beneath her feet. Laila stumbled to keep her balance. “Watch out for the hedgehogs,” the head continued serenely, “Bloody things always like to watch the snow.” The thumping grew louder—and louder—and LOUDER—and—

“Get up, fool girl, what are you lying in bed for?” a Dedicated bellowed into her ear. Laila sat up in bed, rubbing sleep from her eyes. “All recruits have been ordered to assemble in the classrooms. What are you waiting for? UP!” The Dedicated’s palm cracked against her jaw before the woman moved on to harass the next girl. Wearily Laila got up and stretched before stumbling in the direction of her cubbyhole where she kept her clothes.

The Women’s Barrack’s seethed with chaos, girls hurrying to and fro in various states of undress. The pounding of hundreds of feet against the wooden floor made the ground vibrate slightly, and it was almost impossible to move without bumping into someone. Laila had only rarely seen so many occupants up and about at one time. Girls usually came and went at different times, some rising early for private lessons, some staying late for a quiet tryst. Now it seemed as if the entire Barracks was up and about at one time. It made Laila feel claustrophobic. Hurriedly she laced up her breeches, pulled on her shirt and, swinging her black coat over her shoulders, shoved her way out of the building.

A stream of girls spilled out into the still-dark skies, shadowy figures looming in the starlight. A current pulled them down towards the classrooms, just south of the Barracks. All were strangely subdued, even for recruits of the Black Tower (a notably unflappable lot). Worried whispers floated through the night skies—“What’s going on? What’s happened?” Had the M’hael ever summoned the lower ranks of the Tower like this? Never, never. Something had happened—a disaster, a few muttered to themselves. Fool M’hael doesn’t know how to run the Tower—done something foolish, undoubtedly. Laila ignored those murmurs—Lysander was young, yes, but she knew him to be a canny person. And surely Lady Ronan would not hand over the reins of leadership to an incapable candidate. But this early-morning summons spelt bad news—very bad news. Laila’s feeling of dread grew when she sighted a second stream flowing towards the classrooms, this one of boys--So the men have been woken, too. It’s the whole Tower, then, not just the women. She scanned the men for her friends—Ty, Fheivir—blood and ashes, even Karen or Zander would do right now, just for someone to talk to.

A hand clamped around her arm, and she gasped with surprise. Laila whirled—to find herself staring into Izmere’s dark eyes. The Domani girl squeezed her arm for comfort as they passed through the doors into the classroom. “Let’s stick together, okay?” Laila nodded, seizing the proffered hand.

The low muttering grew louder as recruits crammed the classroom, more, more, pouring in through the doors, filling every crevice. Someone had taken away the desks and chairs for greater room, but recruits dangled their legs from the windowsills, making the tiny ledges larger with hardened Air. A few arguments broke out as someone pushed another a bit too hard, to quickly simmer down, stifled by the surrounding pressure. Stuffed to the brim with recruits, the room seemed a sea of black. Clenching each other, a certain pair of female Soldiers forced their way through the mass of human bodies to a corner where, gasping and sweating, they slumped against the wall, still holding each others’ hands. Here, in the corner, there was a little more breathing space. A little. Laila wiped sweat from her forehead, feeling the cool of the wall against her back. The huge number of bodies perceptibly raised the temperature—walking into the room, she had felt a wave of heat sweep forth into the similarly crowded hallway. Mentally she ran through the exercise Ty had taught her—floating in the Void, ignoring all emotions, ignoring the heat and the cold.

The murmurs quickly quieted as a single man made his way to the front of the room, golden Dragon gleaming on his collar. He eyed them for a moment, face unreadable. For once, all recruits stared back, intent on an answer to the mysterious summons. A palpable silence lay thick across the room.

Laila chewed her lip nervously.

“I have been assigned to inform you all of a very important event: the Ever Victorious Army is again attempting to invade Illian.”

An iron fist clenched in Laila’s stomach. She could feel Izmere’s grip tighten—without looking, she knew the other girl was staring at her worriedly. She swallowed hard, the iron fist slowly loosening. So. The bloody bastards have finally crept out of Altara to fool with us again. The fist began to melt away, replaced by a growing fire in her heart. Seanchan! Bloody Seanchan! The rest of the man’s words poured over her head, passing by her ears barely heard. Here and there she caught a few words—

“—approximately 12,000—”

“—western Altara—”

“—Molvaine Gap—”

“—Seanchan animals and damane—”

“—captured eight Asha’man—”

“—shielded by damane—”

Damane. Damane. Damane. Laila closed her eyes and ran through the calming exercise again. But old memories pounded on the Void, demanded entrance—

“—have no past, I’ve told you that before. What are you now, Laly?

Damane, mistress.”

“What kind of
damane, Laly?”

“An obedient one, mistress.”

“And what does an obedient
damane do?”

“She serves the Empire faithfully, mistress.”

“So what is a
damane at heart?”

“A tool of the Empress, wielded by her

“Then what is the basic truth of the

“She can never be complete without her

“That’s right. You’ve learned your lessons well, Laly. Have a cookie, I’m proud of you!”

Damane. Which meant sul’dam. Distantly, Laila found herself surprised at the vehemence of her hatred.

“Laila? Are you okay?” A worried voice, lingering in her ear.

Laila opened her eyes. And smiled. “Of course I’m okay. Don’t you know what this means?”

“We’ll be in our first battle?”

“We’re going to be killing sul’dam, Izmere.” The smile widened into a predator’s grin.

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