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The Wheel of Time: Chronicles of the Fifth Age

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The Wheel of Time 

Chronicles of the Fifth Age


 

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Fifth Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose at the top of Drago's Mountain. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.

 

~     *  *  *     ~

 

Pushed down the slopes by heavy, dark thunderclouds, the hot wind flew through the foothills to the east where the Aes Sedai had made their final proclamation over a thousand years ago. The cool current of the twin rivers Mella and Sella coaxed the wind to turn north, in among steam-powered ferries and river barges that plodded slowly towards the great city of Verl'lion. The wind followed the rivers until they split again, and again, and again, into over a dozen streams that washed from a white-sand delta forming the southernmost tip of the island city. 

 
Over the Maker's Chain and around the Stepping Stones it blew, leaping the ruined remains of a once-great wall into the city proper. The wind danced among tall buildings, some ten stories tall, between carts and horses and women and men, around children playing or hawking wares, through the bustling markets that seemed to crop up in every open city space. Through streets it wound towards a tall, gleaming white tower, taller than anyone cold fathom, twice again as tall as the spire atop the Great College of Karen. The wind blew through an open window on the first floor of a squat, wide building connected on one side to the tower.
 
A gentle breeze, warm and humid with a promise of rain, accosted Katerlyin as she attempted to balance on one slippered foot with a white ceramic baking dish insulated with dish rags held in both hands. Oh, she could've wrapped the things up in weaves of air and simply floated it behind her, but that was entirely too practical for the Living Sciences student to have considered. And the warm fragrances of fresh pastry and cinnamon and something not-quite-citrus, not-really-pear that wafted from something looking quite like an apple cobbler (if the baker had been drunk and blind) wafted so much better when she carried it the "old fashioned" way. Not to mention that using the One Power so flippantly could attract unwanted attention and jealousy, especially in the men's quarters of Verl'lion college. 
 
Her skirts, originally light ivory linen but obviously having suffered some great amount of mud-staining at the hem to be more of a brown-to-ivory fade, swished gently and threatened to trip her. And to make things worse, Katerlyin was slowly realizing, she hadn't quite distributed the dishrags evenly and one spot on her left hand was getting uncomfortably hot. She shifted her grip, awkwardly pressing one side of the dish into her bodice just below her bosom, and raised her right foot.
 
THWAP! THWAP! THWAP!
 
Three not-so-sharp raps from her foot were delivered to the heavy wooden door in front of her, bearing a door marker with Lukaeus Carpenter  embossed into the leather. She stepped back and whipped her head, trying to remove an errant strand of hair from her vision. When the gesture failed she began blowing at it, finally resorting to embracing the source and weaving a slight thread of air to discourage the stubborn tress. With saidar filling her the lovely smell of pastry intensified tenfold and she shut her eyes and inhaled deeply.
 
When Lukaeus finally opened the door he was greeted by a view of Katerlyin nearly huffing the pastry; she looked up in embarrassment and shoved the bundle towards him expectantly. "Try it, try it! I promise, its better than it looks! I can't manage pastry dough to save my life but the filling, it's all about the filling!" She exclaimed excitedly, barreling past her friend and into his quarters. Technically she wasn't ever supposed to be in there - men's and women's private dormitories were off-limits to the other sex without explicit permission from the Master of Student Housing - but the rule was ancient and seldom mentioned unless other problems arose. 
 
"Er, you do have utensils, right? I mean, you're always carving something, surely you have some forks... oh, I should've pinched some from the dining commons, shouldn't I have?" She rambled straight on, giving Lukaeus no time to get a word in edge-wise. "Oh, but, I guess once its cool enough it doesn't matter - it should be cool soon - oh, yes, will you just try it already? And serve me a slice, too, and be glad I didn't serve any of my other batches on you. As I said, I'm terrible with pastry. Oh, don't make that face!" Finding the first clear surface in the room and checking twice for any unseen creations in her path, Katerlyin plopped herself down and folded her hands under her bosom with a clear look of mock-disapproval. 

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Lukaeus sat at his desk, curtains shut to block out most of the daylight, staring at the large box he was working on. More specifically, he was staring at his weaves of saidin as they touched the box, testing the long tunnel and the lever that led from the teeth and metal disc to fill the bottom half of the box. Not all of it was possible to see: some of it had to be felt from this angle, and feeling with the One Power was much more difficult than seeing what you were doing. But his Talent made it easier for this particular weave, even if he couldn't quite figure out how to make the shifting chambers react properly. The more he worked on Katerlyin's present, the more he wondered if Making it was the best choice. Physics science probably offered an alternative to create a loudness lever for the music box.

 

The One Power let him hear footsteps in the hallway outside his door, but the knock came as a surprise, and he abruptly released saidin. He sighed, both in agitation at being interrupted and at the loss of the One Power flowing through him. When no voice followed, he knew who was there. He quickly threw a cover over the music box before opening his door.

 

A part of him wanted to protest, wanted to remind Kat that he was busy, but the smell of the pastry and her refusal to let him get a word in edgewise resulted in her setting the dish down at his open table and asking about utensils. Sometimes he wondered if all women were like Kat, providing unrequested favors that weren't necessarily wanted. He wondered just how he was going to have to pay for this later. But the pastry certainly did smell good, even if it looked like it had fallen on the floor.

 

He fumbled through his tools searching for a clean knife and fork. The knife he found wasn't completely clean, but it would do, and the fork was the one he had used for his breakfast. Where was his other one? “Make sure to snag some next time,” Luk said without thinking, immediately regretting his word choice. Next time? Encouraging Kat to bake was a terrible idea, his nose be burned for thinking otherwise.

 

At least he had clean plates. He quickly served up two slices, wondering what to do about the missing fork, and lifted a bite to his mouth. His hesitation lasted a moment before he ate it. Kat was right: the crust did taste terrible. It was a combination of overly dry and burnt without appearing burnt. The filling, however, wasn't bad. Looking down at the rest of his slice, he wondered if he could safely get away with scooping out the filling and leaving the crust. “The filling's all right,” he said, passing her the fork.

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Kat took the plate with a grateful nod but her interest remained fixed on Luk, bright green eyes wide in anticipation... or fear? No, anticipation for sure, because her right foot had begun to tap without her noticing, a dull sssp sssp sssp of slipper on hardwood. She glanced briefly at her right hand, ensuring that nothing too foul coated or stained her skin, and then plunged her fingers into her own serving to pull out a crescent-shaped slice of yellow-orange fruit. The inner edge had a darker red coloring and a slightly rough texture, though, as she noted, cooking had significantly reduced the structural integrity of the flesh. She squeezed the slice a few times to be sure, before popping it into her mouth for a more direct study. All the while her eyes remained glued on Luk.

 

When Luk finished his sampling and commented, her mouth split into a wide grin. A slight flush had entered her cheeks and she tried not to start giggling. The offered fork was refused with a shake of her head and a display of her sticky fingers wriggled in front of her face. For additional effect she picked up another bit of filling and popped in her mouth, carefully avoiding the outer pastry shell. It really wasn't awful, just bad, but... well, perhaps it was awful. The experiment hadn't been about the crust anyway.

 

"Can you guess what it is?" Kat finally asked after eating a few more bites, gesturing at her half-empty plate. "The filling, I mean." The grin was back, though she made a poor attempt at hiding her excitement by leaning back and lazily crossing one leg over the other, removing the tapping foot from the floor. She forced her eyes to wander around Luk's dorm, reminding herself that staring was both rude and bad for experimental procedure. She glanced over the closed curtains, the scattered tools, the blanket-covered lump on the desk...

 

"Oh, goodness, did I interrupt something?!" Her tone was not of curiosity but of genuine concern. It was very much like Kat to simply forget that her friends and coworkers were (usually) fellow students, and impressing her recent work on those around her was an act equally likely to come at any hour of the day or night. Especially upon poor Luk. That she hadn't realized he was likely busy before she'd come bustling over honestly hadn't occurred to the woman, and she shrank a little in embarrassment. 

 

I really wish there was a way to tell when a man is holding the One Power. The academic part of her thought. Goodness knows it'd prevent me from being such a bother all of the time!

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A quiet knock preceded the door cracking open slowly and a young woman peeking her face in. 

 

"Hi Kat. I wondered if that was your work I smelled." Aliana smiled softly. She was always uncomfortable around students she hadn't interacted with much. They so often treated her with scorn for her rural background. While she'd met the young man whose chambers they were now in, she couldn't even remember his name. But she was hungry, so she'd knocked anyways. Stepping barely into the room, Ali stood with her back leaning against the door frame and looked around. Her simple green dress was designed for comfort and movement, but looked natural in the relaxed setting of the dorm halls.

 

"I missed the dinner hour because I was down at the kennels. Is this one edible?"

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"Aliana!" Kat exclaimed, all embarrassment about interrupting Luk forgotten in a flash of insight. "Oh, this is perfect! You know, now that I think of it, I should've found you earlier." She set her plate down as she stood, porcelain clattering on wood and just barely failing to spill pastry and filling all about. The fork that Luk had offered was promptly snatched from him, inspected, and then wiped clean between pinched folds of her skirt. She rotated the utensil to offer it handle-side-out to Ali, then bending at the waist to grab the rag-swaddled casserole dish with her other hand. Her wrist trembled with the effort as she offered both fork and dish to the newcomer.

 

"Right, yes, well, I'm not going to say anything in defense of the crust, but the filling, its very much edible!" A vigorous nod punctuated her sentence and Ali could catch the distinct scent of accomplishment coming off of the woman in waves. Anxiety, too, but of a subdued sort in comparison. "Yes, and um, the other attempts, let's not talk about those. Luk doesn't--"

 

She turned around to look at Luk, then turned back to Ali, and then looked at Luk again. 

 

"Ah, I... have no idea if you two have ever been formally introduced! Well, uh, Luk, this is Aliana; she was helping me with some of my animal studies about six turns ago, I think she's helping out... um, what's his name, uh, Dresdon, I think? Dresdon, with his domestication/undomestication studies. Anyway,"

 

Her attention returned to Ali.

 

"Ali, this is Lukaeus, he's a Creative Studies student who I've known for a very long time, sort of an adopted brother, so-to-speak, though my parents are river-bent on seeing us married." She rolled her eyes at the thought before continuing, "he's a Maker, uh, he makes things. But not just normal things, things like, uh, like the music box I have! The one that doesn't need winding. Anyway, we're in his room now, but I think if he minds he'll kick us out promptly." She shot a pitiful look at Luk with the remark.

 

"But, yes, cobbler. This one's good to eat, nothing like the ones I've been dumping in the compost pile!" She smiled and rubbed the back of her head sheepishly. It wasn't exactly easy to be secretive in the kitchens; Kat stuck out like a goat among ewes with the scullery maids and urchins and chefs. Not to mention that her failures had often involved a lot of smoke and a lot of very creative swearing. But she'd still tried, and that she'd tried to be so secretative about a pastry was, even for Kat, somewhat unusual. Then again, any sort of baking or cooking was unusual for the woman, and so this was another layer of odd

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Luk barely had a moment to consider Kat's question when Aliana entered his room. The flavor was a mixture of mild tart and sweetness, not an apple or a pear or an orange, though he was reminded of each of them. Perhaps it was something exotic, but then how had Kat managed to acquire enough for multiple attempts?

Mention of Kat's music box made Luk glance at the larger model that lay covered just behind him. With it closed and covered, there was no need to worry about light, so he stood up and pulled the curtain open.

 

He squinted as sunlight poured into his room, and he gave a double-take at Aliana's eyes. Gold flecks hung over the hazel iris, a unique coloration that Luk had never seen before. He quickly regained his composure, giving a nod of greeting. Animal studies and domestication. It was another field he knew little about, nor did he expect that he'd ever get the chance to.

 

I didn't realize my room had become a mess hall,” Luk said in jest. “The crust takes some effort to get down, but the filling tastes fine. But if Kat wasn't eating some herself, I'd swear it was poison with how excited she is about it.”

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Ali nodded at Luk as she wolfed down the filling, piling the crust in the corner of the dish. When Kat had first started baking, Ali had attempted to teach the other woman her mother's recipe for pie crusts. The lesson had gone poorly and it was clear that Kat hadn't made further effort in improving.

 

The filling on the other hand was always something exciting to Aliana. Even when it tasted bad (as the last few attempts she'd sampled had), the newness of the flavor constantly surprised Ali and made up for any immediate distaste. As long as the food didn't make her sick, she always wanted at least a sample. With the relative success of this filling, Ali ate enough to quiet her stomach before setting the rest aside.

 

"It's much better than last time, Kat. I wouldn't eat much if I wasn't hungry, but a vast improvement. Completely acceptable for a hungry stomach. Assuming it doesn't make us sick now." Returning to the doorway after giving Kat her dish, Ali looked up at the man who's room she'd invaded. "Sorry for barging in. It's a pleasure to meet you."

 

Observation was always the best way to approach a new person, in Aliana's opinion. She watched as Luk glanced around his room before opening the curtain. He smelled of secrecy and mild frustration. His cloth covered desk explained the first. She assumed her own presence explained the second. Perhaps Kat's as well, based on the way he was standing. Humans were so like animals in that way: everything from their posture to the sound of their breathing could tell you what they were thinking. Ali was no more expert in deciphering the signs in humans than in any other animal, but she used what she could. Her assessment in this moment gave her frustratingly little to go on.

 

I'll just watch for a bit longer. He seems nice and Kat hasn't been friends with anyone yet who hates me. But don't ruffle feathers. Not yet.

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The previous attempts - even with Ali's guidance - had gone poorly. Then again, those had been with more standard ingredients; mixes of oranges, pears, and even the occasional strawberry in an attempt to emulate her goal flavor while her crop ripened. But she'd hoped to have gotten the crust at least a little  better by now... cooking wasn't her strong suit. Nobody could excel at everything, she supposed. Best to keep her focuses on the academic. And to be fair, this project was academic, even if her test subjects weren't quite aware they were being used as such.

 

"It's not poison!" Kat protested at Luk, responding just a bit more animately than she'd intended to. She bit the inside of her lip to prevent herself from saying more, and looked to the other woman. 

 

As Ali her portion down Kat took mental notes (and tried to avoid making terrible puns in her head); the wolfsister gave no indication that anything was amiss. Which was good, very good - Kat's nose hadn't found any hints of bitter almond in this (or the last few) batch(es) but she trusted Ali's nose much further. She took the dish back when offered and set it aside, folding her hands on her lap and practically quivering in excitement.

 

"I have some rolls and some hard sausage back in my room, but, the cobbler, It's really not bad?" She squeaked, grinning broadly. "But anyway, yes, the filling, its not the same mixture as before. That was sort of, um, a beta test, while I waited for the crop to come in. Hold on--" Kat bounced onto her feet and reached down into one of the pockets of her skirts, coming up with a fruit again half the size of her fist. The skin was a mix of yellow and red, with a slightly fuzzy texture. She rubbed it on her skirt to remove any nonexistent dirt, and passed it to Luk for him to examine.

 

"As far as I can telllllllllll..." she drawled, trying not to sound too giddy, "we three are the first individuals to enjoy a lovely peach cobbler in over three thousand years. Even if, um, my baking skills are sort of terrible." She stepped back slightly and opened herself to saidar, anticipating one or both of her friends to try to kill her on the spot. These peaches were not poisonous, as she'd so obviously demonstrated (seeing as none of them were dead or dying now), but she suspected that just perhaps the two of them wouldn't be as immediately rational as she would've liked.

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Aliana sunk to the floor and hugged her knees. A sudden rush of emotions overwhelmed her desire to appear polite and refined. Breathing deeply as she tried to calm herself, Ali suppressed the deep growl that she felt humming in her chest.

 

Shock was the first wave to hit. Mind-numbing shock. No questions, no thoughts, no reactions could express themselves until the lack of emotion passed. All she could manage was sitting rather than collapsing. 

 

After that came the anger. Anger at being deceived, at not being given a choice in whether she wanted to try this potentially fatal food or not. She had watched Kat work and may have tried it anyways, but that was by no means certain. Not being asked. Not being informed. The indignation and rage at that rudeness threatened her ability to maintain a semi-calm demeanor. 

 

The hurt came as well. Kat knew that Ali hated being an experiment. Kat had been the first student to want to learn about Ali's connection to the wolves and she'd seen the pain it caused when she didn't tell Aliana what she was doing, when she just assumed she had the right to learn everything for herself. It had been quite some time since those projects, but Ali thought that their continuing conversations, bordering possibly on friendship at times, would have been enough to keep that memory sharp for her former classmate.

 

Overlying it all was a vague sense of hilarity. If this didn't kill her, it would be a funny situation. She wasn't yet calm enough to laugh, but she could nonetheless feel desire to do so. She briefly wondered if this was insanity. Perhaps insanity sparked by poison?

 

From the tangle of feelings only one harsh word escaped: "Why?!"

 

She continued to stare under Luk's bed, holding her breath against a growl, as she waited for an answer to the many questions trapped in that single syllable. 

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Ali was hurt? That was the expression Kat could easily read from the other woman, but... why? She should be excited! Its not every day someone brings back a lost culinary art from the goodness-forskaen second age! Or earlier! If I were her I'd be excited. She frowned, mulling over her actions. Perhaps they had been hasty. To be honest, she'd only intended to surprise Luk; she hadn't expected to run into Ali. Thinking in hindsight, she would've probably at least asked the other woman, rather than foist it on her. But she'd been so excited that she'd forgotten her manners! At least, that was how she chose to see it.

 

"Um..." Kat started, uncertain. Maybe Ali wasn't feeling well? She'd tested the fruits again and again on her animal subjects; no furred nor feathered beast had shown any signs of ill effect. Not even the rats - and they were, at most, 1/50th of Ali's mass! Sure, she lacked any canine or lupine models, but everything Kat knew about Ali indicated that her physiology most strongly resembled that of a human, eyes notwithstanding.

 

"I thought you'd be exited." She muttered, her own mood thoroughly killed. "I didn't think you'd be mad. Somewhere between a practical joke and a present, I mean, we're making history here! Even if that history is both burnt and undercooked at the same time." Kat tried to inject some humor back into the situation but she could feel her own words falling flat.

 

"You're both mad at me, aren't you? Goodness, I should've thought this through more. But they are safe, I've tested them extensively. The only real experiment here was the test of my cooking skills, and my pastries may be bad but they're barely harmful." She gathered up the tray and the rags, moving to depart before she shoved her foot any farther into her mouth. 

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Luk took the fruit, dumbstruck. The color and the mildly fuzzy texture was unmistakable, and Kat's confirmation sent goosebumps across his arms. Worse, she prattled on about how long it had been since peaches had been safe to eat, as if such a time had ever existed! No one knew. Not really. “Not even the raven,” Luk recited quietly. “'Not I,' he said. Not even the raven dared to eat the peach.”

 

Far too late, he spat out the flavor that still filled his mouth. He could force himself to vomit. Surely there was still time for that. But he had seen Kat eat some of the cobbler herself. Had she gone insane and decided to kill them all? The thought made him sick. Or was it the peaches making him nauseous?

 

Only you would want to eat poison,” Luk said bitterly. “What were you thinking?” She had already answered the question. Of course she would have tested them extensively. Of course she would have been certain. Knowing that brought no comfort.

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Luk's voice broke through the fog that seemed to encase Ali's mind. She saw Kat's hurried preparations to flee, and glancing up she saw a fraction of her own hurt reflected in the face above her. "Don't leave." Voice still firm but no longer harsh, she stared at the other woman. Light from the windows reflected in her eyes unnervingly. "That was a stupid move. Now don't you dare leave until you explain yourself. If we're going to all die, you'd better be here with us. And if we live, we deserve answers."

 

Anger still raged in her mind, but Ali reminded herself that she was human; being human meant that emotions didn't control her. She was powerful, she was strong, she would restrain the anger. The hurt she allowed to still show. The hurt was deep and it could teach them both a good lesson. But right now anger would only prevent her hearing the answers she desperately needed. She forced her hands to relax. Even while sitting, she could tell that her legs weren't yet steady. If she could simply will her body into a more relaxed pose, she would recover faster. 

 

Taking a deep breath, Ali attempted to exert some control over the situation, an effort significantly more taxing than gaining control of her own body. "My first question: why didn't I smell them? I ate it. I didn't panic, I didn't gag, I didn't choke. When I smell peaches, I have trouble breathing because I can sense the danger. You tested that with me months ago. Why didn't that happen today? Did you hide the scent?" Hints of a growl accented her words, but it was no longer clear enough that Luk should be able to tell. Kat might, but she had studied Ali and was aware of her more canine traits.

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Kat looked from Ali to Luk, uncertain. She still didn't understand why they were so angry - she hadn't put them in any danger (beyond choking on a piece of overcooked crust). They were acting like she'd deliberately tried to poison them! Which was hardly the case. Goodness knows I've eaten enough of the things to warrant more than a few extra trips to the privy, she thought sourly. The last effect wasn't a matter of toxicity, but the same effect from overeating any specie of fruit. But they were far better than prunes. I wonder how they'd taste dried?

 

As much as she wanted to crawl inside her own head and die from the embarrassment, Ali's words brought Kat back to reality.

 

"They're not poisonous...!" She repeated, sounding frustrated. "I've eaten probably the better part of a forsaken bushel, and that was over a week ago. I've been working on this in private for... a while. I was going to show it to High Master Lugrod next week. Once I got the pastry a bit better." Her voice dropped back into a disappointed mutter - that plan was obviously off the table.

 

She quieted as Ali paused to take effort to restrain herself. Kat was familiar with Ali's... temper. And the unique dangers it posed. Between knowing Ali and working so long with all variety of animals she caught the subtle growl and restrained, yet angry, body language that indicated that her temper was not as contained as she let on. A few years ago, she would've embraced The Source preemptively, to have weaves ready to wrap Ali up in air if she'd grown unruly. But she trusted the other woman to keep herself in check now. 

 

"I... I'm not sure. I think it has to do with the cooking process. That, or, the... yeah." She nodded to herself as ideas came together in her head. That actually verified another hypothesis of hers; she'd have to note it down later. "So, the same poison that permeates the pips of apples and the pits of plums is the one in peaches, except, its not just in the pit, its in the flesh. I think that's what you were smelling; you described it like bitter almonds. These peaches don't make the compound, so... there's nothing to smell." She finished, smiling slightly. "You didn't smell it because they're safe!"

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Glancing at Luk, Ali held her tongue. Better to go slow and let the man ask his questions while she processed Kat's answers. 

 

She looked back at Kat and took a deep breath. Sorting the smells in the room she still caught no hint of the reek that always alerted her to dangerous food. Burnt crust, wood, lots of man smell: those were the dominant scents of the dorm. And that slightly sweet fragrance from the peaches themselves. If Kat's claim that the "danger" smell came directly from the poison was true - and it made sense - then these peaches may really be clean. It was likely that there were poisons she couldn't smell, but peach had always caused a reaction in the past.

 

Next Ali sorted the emotions she could see and smell. She didn't know Luk well, but she could smell betrayal and fear and shock. She wondered if he would progress from there to anger as well. His posture was defensive still, not aggressive, but that could change in the blink of an eye. Kat smelled sad and embarrassed, the excitement of moments before dampened by the gravity of her test subjects' reactions. Mixed in was a deep-seated fear that Ali was certain stemmed from her own tense posture. Kat had been there the first few times students here in Verl'lion teased Ali regarding her condition. The instincts Ali had displayed in self defense had in fact been what triggered the studies Kat embarked on in the ensuing weeks. 

 

If I knew this man enough to call him friend she would be right to fear. I'm glad I don't. It's much easier to calm down when I'm the only one in danger.

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Hearing that Kat had already consumed so many came as a relief, or as much relief as Luk could feel at the moment. The idea that Aliana could smell the poison seemed ridiculous, but it made for an interesting suggestion. Trying to clear his mind, Luk pictured the flame. However, try as he might, he failed to grab hold of the source. He would need to try again later, if he lived long enough to get the chance.

 

Do you... do you even know how you supposedly removed the poison?” Luk said, uncertain about the exchange between the two women. Aliana had mentioned symptoms from eating a peach, but were they right? All Luk could think of was the fact that everyone knew that peaches were poison, as surely as Drago's Mountain was the tallest mountain on this side of the Anvil. He certainly didn't know how long a person had to live after eating a peach. The thought made him wonder just how many peaches had gone into the cobbler.

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Kat looked again from Ali, to Luk, and then back to Ali. Whether they were going to kill her (or at least, string her up by her bodice laces!) was still uncertain, but what she did know was that she wasn't leaving the room until both of their curiosities had been soundly answered. Ali's rage she trusted to be more in-check - the woman had learned that control by necessity. But she could still tear her throat out with minimal force; whether Kat could win in a game of speed in weaves vs lunging she wasn't sure. Luk, while less harmful, was possibly more impulsive. He had wrapped her up in air more than once when she'd pushed his temper too far. Kat hadn't been the... kindest of step-siblings, at times.

 

"How? I mean, I could try to explain the weaves, um..." She paused, anxiety disappearing into the distant sort of look she adopted while thinking deeply. "How to explain it best... well, I, uh... I asked it." Kat didn't sound as certain of herself as she would've liked; it was a pathetically un-scientific answer. "Well, that's not quite accurate; its not the same way I ask a lab animal to do something, nor is it as temporary. That's how I got the idea, though; remember when I had that slash-viper producing nonvenomous... venom? But that only lasted as long as the weave, and I wondered why that had to be, and, well, hmmm..." She paused again, trying to figure out how to explain the next part. 

 

"Have either of you met Gergio? He's another Living Sciences student; a few years older than me and focused on plants. He's been growing different colors of corn, and he says there's some sort of... internal blueprint any living thing carries around. And that blueprint can be divided into parts, that control specific traits, and when two things mate, you don't just average the traits; you pick a trait from one of the parents with... some sort of chance, I forget which."

 

"Anyway, I coaxed one of the ornamental peach trees in the gardens to make fruits with a different blueprint, and then planted those over in an area I'd cleared out in the Origeer Wood, and asked them to grow faster. And then I bred those, to make sure the trait bred true, and it did! And then I've just sort of been... repeating that experiment, out in the Wood, for the past six months." As Kat had gone on her sadness and embarrassment had slowly evaporated, replaced by the near-boundless enthusiasm and excitement scientific work brought to her. By the end she was grinning broadly again.

 

"Its a brand new cultivar, I think!" And then she looked at her friends and immediately wilted. They still seemed furious. "But, uh, that's how I made them..." She said in a much quieter and more subdued tone. 

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Once Aliana was sure she wouldn't reach for her knife no matter how Katerlyin responded, she voiced her next question. "And why didn't you tell us what we were eating? Especially with your theory about the scent, you know I would have helped you test it more safely. Did anyone eat these before us, here, today? Or were we your first experiment?" 

 

Lukaeus seemed in control of himself. Calm was the wrong word. He looked rather like Ali felt: fighting for control in the face of probable death. Kat was conflicted. Excitement shone through her discomfort in the face of her friends' anger. The confidence of knowing how each person in the room felt settled Ali's nerves. She gathered herself and rose to her feet, the attendant mobility increasing her security further.

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"I... well, to be honest, Aliana," Katerlyin started, choosing the formal full-name rather than the nickname Ali sometimes used. The situation seemed to warrant the formality. "I didn't expect you to show up here." She shrugged. "I was bringing it to Lukaeus because he makes some wonderful..." she paused, searching for the right word, realizing it wasn't necessarily her place to divulge Luk's secrets, "...toys and the like, and has surprised me with them in the past. I was going to consult you on the whole issue of scent later, but you were here, and I thought you'd like it..." Kat trailed off, voice becoming thick and eyes looking just a bit watery.

 

She took a moment to inhale deeply and regain her composure. Grown women didn't cry, and especially not Master's students. It was unbecoming.

 

"As I said, I've eaten a few dozen. And I've done extensive studies on my animal models. It took some convincing with the cats, they don't like fruit, but Fivetoes and Sedge both could be talked into it," what Kat meant by 'talked into it' was less a matter of speaking and more a matter of weaving, as both Ali and Luk knew, "and you know cats have very weak nephrous systems. And from the looks of the Wood, some of the local fauna have been partaking of the fallen fruit, and there's a distinct lack of dead fauna..." 

 

The poison of a typical peach was infamous in its killing power and speed. In powdered form the pit was so toxic as to be used as a weapon coating; the whole fruit would cause death in a matter of minutes, with the first sign being sudden weakness, followed by unconsciousness. Eating as much of the fruit as each of them had, they'd all have been out cold on the floor, dying, if the poison had been present. The Wood would've been similarly populated; that any of the native creatures even worried at the fallen fruit was a telling sign. Wolves were not the only creatures that could smell the danger in a peach. 

 

"I would not have risked either of you, myself, or possibly all of the kitchen staff preparing and eating this if I'd thought it presented any danger." She implored, hoping to convince them. It had to be enough. What else did they expect? She'd been... in error, to be secretive about it, but would they have even tried it if she'd been up front? No, they wouldn't have.

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Ali nodded sharply. Her nerves were still on edge, but the anger had dulled to almost nothing. Kat's declaration - both that she would never have experimented on her friends and that she had run non-human experiments - felt right to Aliana. The emotions in the woman's voice were genuine. Her posture showed her remorse and sorrow. This was not a betrayal. A stupid move, but something that was worth forgiving. 

 

Her voice back to normal, she looked directly into Kat's eyes. "Ok."

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