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Blood of the Tower
Tue Nov 7, 2006 10:35 (XFF:

A hardened heart knows no wounds.

Such were the words that Jasper had come to understand in the year since she had left - on far better terms than her previous 'abandonment' - the Black Tower behind, spending the better half of it in the ranks of the Seanchan military. A military now camped in the Illian Marshes along the coast, crowded into the scarce patches of solid, dry land that could be found. Their tents were pitched but empty, save for the bug-like helmets and master-crafted armor of the Deathwatch Guard - the men were collected around a dozen different campfires, passing the time with talk of war while their officers met in the Captain's tent, seated around a heavy wooden table that had been transported by damane means.

At the head of that table, Jasper sat in frigid silence, listening as one man spoke solemnly about their minor losses as they passed through Altara. Shiam Lavore was not the most brilliant of men, but he was perhaps the grittiest that Jasper had ever met. With a body twice as old as any average soldier and a face carved of stone and scars, he had all the appearance of a seasoned warrior. His hair was long and black, well groomed and thinning on top. He covered it with a black and red strip of cloth - it was against Seanchan custom to display even the slightest baldness in public.

"We should not have lost them, regardless." He said, fingering the tip of the pin that marked the scene of the battle - the map in which it resided was only one of many spread out on the table, along with an assortment of commands and weathered responses, letters of half-hearted commendation and half-written replies of false gratitude. The pin nestled snugly between the border of Altara and Illian, where the battalion - on its way to provide reinforcements near Tear - had come across on of the Black Tower's scouting groups.

With only a single set of damane at their disposal, the fight would have been a losing battle had Jasper not severed the only double-pinned member amongst the group - though not before he severed the collared one. The woman had burst into uncontrollable sobs, shaking violently as saidar was ripped from her grasp. Even severed channelers did not regain humanity in the Seanchan world - the loss of the One Power meant the loss of all usefulness. They were archers without a bow, dogs that could not bite, and both damane and sul'dam alike were put to death for the loss.

Jasper could have bridged that gap. She could have kept them both from death - but only at the expense of her cover. Only at the risk of dropping the weaves which concealed her connection to saidar from other channelers and kept her safe from the damane's collar. Their lives, however much of a loss they had been to the battalion, were not worth that. She'd been to Seandar and back, stilled for the purposes of seeking the Heron's mark, and Healed only by Byran's kindness and hatred of Poettre.

The name struck a chord, but was quickly put down. Poettre was gone - only the faintest presence in the back of her mind. A hardened heart knows no wounds.

"Their deaths were a necessary price," Jasper spoke up, fixing cold grey eyes upon Shiam's hardened face. "You forget that I hail from the Black Tower, and a damane hadn't a chance against their channelers. Vula severed herself to sever him, and in doing so saved the better half of this battalion from being taken prisoner. They have the means to move an army across the world at a moment's notice - do not think because they are of inferior heritage that they are of inferior power, sir. Losing Vula was a great loss, but she can and she will be replaced by another damane soon enough."

"I don't care about a damane," Shiam spat, provoking nods and utterances of agreement from the men around him, "I care about the entire squad burnt to death by molten rock."

"Earthfire," Jasper corrected, shoving no consideration for the men who had lost their lives to it. "If you are going to fight in this war, Commander, you had better learn that what these men do is not a far cry from the power of our damane. They are not magicians, they are channelers. And unless you learn how to fight them, a single one could wipe out far more than a squad without breaking a sweat." Murmurs arose around the table - men did not channel in Seandar. They were put to death before the madness could overtake them.

She was fortunate in their stupidity - their lack of knowledge of the One Power made it all the easier to conceal herself.

"I will ride back to Ebou Dar myself and report our progress. Take the battalion and push forward towards Tear at dawn, Commander Lavore. I will return within a fortnight with Vula's replacement."

As the meeting broke and the officers filtered out of her tent, Jasper was left to her thoughts. And when the flap closed behind the last man out, she lifted a hand to her head and rubbed at her eyes - she was exhausted, both mentally and physically, but no rest would be found tonight. There was blood on her hands, blood of the Black Tower and Seandar alike, and payment would be due on behalf of both.

Jasper rose, smoothing the black and green fabric of her high-collared tunic. Even here, in the midst of war, she was an image of perfection. Blonde hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail. Her features, though matured beyond the girlish good looks of her early twenties, were smooth and beautiful. Were it not for slightly tilted, cold grey eyes, she might not at all have looked the part of an Asha'man. She was the trademark of beauty, a picturesque frame of royal heritage and breeding - but a cold, calculating mind and a hand too quick to kill laid the foundation for her greatest fault.

She knelt beside her cot, pulling from beneath it a simple wooden box. It bore no carvings, no decorations - only a smooth oak surface and a simple bronze latch. The cover lifted silently, and Jasper pulled a single slip of paper from amidst a collection of parchment scraps and carefully folded and sealed letters. Things slipped into her palm in dark alleys, delivered by carrier birds in the early hours of the morning - correspondences with her vast network of personal informants.

M'Hael Ronan stepped down. Lysander T'hoth raised.

Perhaps now was the time to return to Andor.

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