Sitting cross-legged on her bed, Rendra hummed quietly to herself as she honed her daggers. It was a nightly ritual for her, and it brought great comfort to know that her steel was sharp, and ready to serve her another day. One blade already lay next to her, glimmering in the lamplight, and the other was almost complete. Giving a few last strokes with the whetstone, she switched the stone for a cloth and gave the blade a final wipe-down. Smiling in satisfaction, she stood and began to transfer her tools into her wardrobe.
As she was shutting the wardrobe door, a knock suddenly boomed through the door. Before she could so much as move to grab the daggers off her bed, Arcon swaggered in. Narrowing her eyes at the annoying Cairhienien, she opened her mouth to speak, only for him to cut her off, “Adept Rendra Harella,” he started, speaking languidly, precisely, “You are to be tested for the rank of Dreadlady this day. I assume you’re bright enough to know the rules from the last test, yes?”
She glowered, but nodded sullenly. Taking a moment to sheathe her daggers, she stiffened as the older man laughed, ”So I can surmise that my blades will do me little good in this test, whatever it may be… but at least I will have the mild comfort of cold steel by my side,” Rendra thought, stepping out the open door past her guide.
As they made their way to… wherever, Rendra tried to suppress her nervousness. She had no idea what to expect on this test – how much worse could it be than the maze that had brought her from Acolyte to Adept? And yet, even as she asked herself this, she knew within herself that it would probably be a lot worse than anything she could envision. As the Myrdraal in one of her classes had said in the past – they had to succeed, or die trying… and no matter how hard she had worked these previous years, she wasn’t sure if she would succeed.
The time for thinking was short, however, as Arcon quickly delivered her to a large room. Smirking, he nudged her into the chamber, and shut the door behind them. Before her, she recognized one or two of the people sitting before her – Mae’shadars, the elite of the Dreadlords, and there were five of them staring down dispassionately at her. To the side, four male Dreadlords waited, “What…” she started to think, only to have her thoughts interrupted as one of the Mae’shadar gestured her to step forward.
“Adept Rendra,” the woman spoke, “You have been deemed ready to test for the privilege of becoming a full Dreadlady. All you have to do… is survive.” The woman finished with a bit of bite, and smiled darkly. As she finished her sentence, the Dreadlords stepped forward…
Her thoughts were immediately interrupted as one of the men raised his hands. With a twist, a fireball suddenly hurtled through the air. Training took over as she opened herself up to Saidar and deftly wove a shield of Air, blocking the projectile. ”Why couldn’t this be bare-handed fighting?!” her mind protested as she jumped to the side in attempt to avoid an earthen elemental blade. The blade brushed her arm as she dived, and the Taraboner woman gasped in pain as a slow welling of blood greeted the air where the blade had grazed her.
Time seemed to blur as she fought off attack after attack. The very ground shook, and her legs and dress were cut and torn from the very earth under her feet rising up against her. Rendra was very much on the defense; she was not a very strong channeler, and only the dexterity of her weaving kept her from death itself. Oh, she managed to get off a few attacks of her own – one of her opponent was quite damp, but her limited successes only seemed to spur them on further. Her body and mind were quite exhausted, and only the growing heat of her anger spurred her onward.
When her opponents suddenly stopped, Rendra fell to her knees gasping. All in the room eyed her solemnly, and with great effort, she levered herself back to standing. Once again, she tried to speak…
Only to be cut off as a wall of fire began to sped towards her. Shrieking, she drew deeply upon Saidar and wove a shield of Air as strongly as she could around herself. Where before some of the Dreadlords had only wove things that seemed designed to keep her off-balance, the room now seemed to be filled with Fire and Earth, all aimed directly at her. Spirit brushed her link to the One Power, and she shoved back as hard as she could against that which would deny her life.
Biting her lip, she continued to dodge as best she could to keep all her opponents in sight. Her dress was all but rags now, but life was more important than modesty. Her entire body felt decidedly singed from all the close encounters, but all she could do was cut the weaves she could see, and block the others at this point. She attempted to slice at her opponents, only to almost lose her head to a fireball. She tried to weave shields to block her opponents, only to have them slashed to tatters, and her almost as well during the recoil. Her anger burned dimly in her mind; she must not lose Saidar! She had to live, to kill, to seek revenge!
Once again, there was a sudden cessation in the onslaught. Gasping for breath, she held on as tightly to Saidar and her anger as she could. What was the meaning of this? Was she not worthy, had she not studied hard, had she not trained well? Glaring defiantly, she straightened as best she could in her wounded state, and offered a prayer to the Great Lord that this was the end of it, that she would live to serve.
The Mae’shadar before her glanced at each other before the one in the center spoke, “Release Saidar. Release the Power now, or else!” Reluctantly, Rendra let life and color pour out of her, and gasped as tiredness crashed out. Sheer stubbornness kept her upright as significant glances continued to be exchanged on the dais. Perhaps she was too tired to miss the infinitesimal nods, but after what seemed an eternity, the woman in the center spoke, “If has been decided that you have tested truly, and on the morrow, you will be taken to the Bore to swear your oaths to the Great Lord. Rest for now.”
Dismissed. To sleep, to dream; life followed an odd path to bring her here, but this was her way in things. Rendra, between random bursts of inner glee and almost-complete exhaustion, was even able to ignore Arcon as he followed her back to her chamber. Smirking, she slammed the door in his face, and tied off the sash behind her.
Hobbling to her table, she picked up her small mirror and inspected the damage. Her braids were a frightful mess of loose and singed-off hairs. Her face had picked up a few new gashes, and it was readily apparent to anyone that could see her (if anyone had been peeking into her room) that she was in a pretty beaten up state. Sighing, she removed the remnants of her ruined garments, and began to carefully wash herself as best as she could with what was on hand.
The next day found her dressed in the finest of red silks, and with her hair back in a proper state of repair. There was little she could do for the dark circles under her eyes, and even with Healing, she was still feeling slow and weak, ”Knowing my luck, last night wasn’t actually the test, and they’re going to try something to me again in this weakened state.”
Thankfully, her fear was unfounded. She made her way into the wan light that surrounded the Fortress with her guide (thankfully, not Arcon –this- time!), and stepped through their gateway onto a strange and barren landscape. “This is Shayol Ghul itself,” her guide spoke, gesturing to the mountain and surrounding landscape, “To channel here is death. Remember this always.” Nodding, Rendra gingerly followed her guide forward.
Up the mountain and around the vents, the pair finally entered through a vent that was indistinguishable from all the others except for one minor factor – it wasn’t belching smoke, steam or fire. Stopping just inside the entrance, her guide gestured forward, “Step forth and swear your oath. I will wait just outside for you.” Nodding grimly, Rendra picked her way forward.
Ducking her head slightly, she made her way carefully around jagged stalactites that seemed to get lower and lower the deeper she progressed into the cave. Before long, she was picking up her dress and trying to scoot around, hoping that she might make it through to swear her oaths looking better than she had the night before. The Great Lord must have been listening, in this place that was nearest to his home, for she found herself at the end of the route. A ledge jutted out over a pit of writhing flames, and above her… “Better to not look up,” she decided firmly as her knees collapsed under her. Of course, that could have also been the overwhelming presence she felt all around her…
Suddenly, all thought was washed aside as pure force exploded into her mind, “WHAT DO YOU COME TO OFFER ME, CHILD?”
“My heart, my body, my soul, Great Lord!” she cried out, shivering slightly at the sensation in her mind.
“YOU WOULD BE MINE, RENDRA? THEN SWEAR IT TO ME, FOR NOW AND FOR ALWAYS!”
“I am yours, Great Lord, for now and for always!” she screamed, feeling like no more substantial than a vibration as the pressure in her mind increased.
“GO NOW, AND DO MY WORK IN THE WORLD!”
“I swear it, Great Lord, I swear it,” Rendra whispered as she felt the pressure suddenly vanish from her head.
Pushing herself upwards, she backed away a few steps before turning to exit. There was work to be done.