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A Memory of Light (Page 172)

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"Mat?" Olver said. "I think I need to go with you, don’t I? To the Blight? Won’t the heroes be needed to fight there?"

That was a piece of it. The tugging was insufferable. Bloody ashes, Rand. Leave me alone, you—

Mat stopped himself, a thought occurring to him. Scout camps. "One of those Seanchan patrol camps, you mean?"

"Yes", Grady said. "They’ve been sending us status reports on the battle up there, now that the gateways are unreliable".

"Well, don’t just sit there looking stupid", Mat said. "Get a gateway open! Come on, Olver. We have some more work to do".

"Ahhhh . . ". Shaisam rolled onto the battlefield at Thakan’dar. So perfect. So pleasurable. His enemies were killing one another. And he . . . he had grown vast.

His mind was in every tendril of mist that rolled down the side of the valley. The souls of Trollocs were . . . well, unsatisfying. Still, simple grain could be filling in plentitude. And Shaisam had consumed quite a number of them.

His drones stumbled down the hillside, cloaked in mists. Trollocs with their skin pocked, as if it had boiled. Dead white eyes. He hardly needed them any longer, as their souls had given him fuel to rebuild himself. His madness had retreated. Mostly. Well, not mostly. Enough.

He walked at the center of the bank of mist. He was not reborn yet, not completely. He would need to find a place to infest, a place where the barriers between worlds was thin. There, he could seep his self into the very stones and embed his awareness into that location. The process would take years, but once it happened, he would become more difficult to kill.

Right now, Shaisam was frail. This mortal form that walked at the center of his mind . . . he was bound to it. Fain, it had been. Padan Fain.

Still, he was vast. Those souls had given rise to much mist, and it—in turn—found others to feed upon. Men fought Shadowspawn before him. All would give him strength.

His drones stumbled onto the battlefield, and immediately, both sides took to fighting them. Shaisam quivered in joy. They did not see. They did not understand. The drones weren’t there to fight.

They were there to distract.

As the battle proceeded, he trailed his essence down in misty tendrils, then began stabbing it through the bodies of fighting men and Trollocs. He took Myrddraal. Converted them. Used them.

Soon, this entire army would be his.

He needed that strength in case his ancient enemy . . . his dear friend decided to attack him.

Those two friends—those two enemies—were occupied with one another. Excellent. Shaisam continued his attack, striking down enemies on both sides and consuming them. Some tried to attack him by running into his mists, his embrace. Of course, that killed them. This was his true self. He had tried to create this mist before, as Fain, but he had not been mature enough.

They could not reach him. No living thing could withstand his mist. Once, it had been a mindless thing. It had not been him. But it had been trapped with him, inside of a seed carried away, and that death—that wonderful death—had been given fertile ground in the flesh of a man.

The three entwined within him. Mist. Man. Master. That wonderful dagger—his physical form carried it now—had grown something delightful and new and ancient all at once.

So, the mist was him, but the mist was also not him. Mindless, but it was his body, and it carried his mind. Wonderfully, with those clouds in the sky he did not have to worry about the sun burning him away.

So nice of his old enemy to welcome him so! His physical form laughed at the heart of the creeping mists, while his mind—the mists themselves—gloried in how perfect everything was.

This place would become his. But only after he had feasted upon Rand al’Thor, the strongest soul of them all.

What a wonderful celebration!

Gaul clung to the rocks outside the Pit of Doom. The winds ripped at him, driving sand and chips of rock against his body, slicing gashes in his skin. He laughed at the vortex of blackness above.

"Do your worst!" he shouted upward. "I have lived in the Three-fold Land. I had heard the Last Battle would be grand, not a stroll to my mothers roof picking simblossoms!"

The winds blew harder, as if in retribution, but Gaul flattened himself against the stone, giving the winds no purchase on him. He’d lost his shoufa—it had blown free—so he had tied part of his shirt over his lower face. He held one spear. The others were gone, broken or pulled away.

He crawled toward the opening to the cavern, which lay exposed, a thin veil of purple barring the way forward. A figure in dark leather appeared in front of the opening. Near this man, the winds stilled.

Eyes squinting against the storm, Gaul crawled silently up behind the man and thrust his spear forward.

Slayer spun with a curse, turning aside the spear with an arm suddenly as strong as steel. "Burn you!" he shouted at Gaul. "Stay still for once!"

Gaul jumped back, and Slayer came for him, but then the wolves arrived. Gaul withdrew and faded into the rocks. Slayer was very powerful here, but what he could not see, he could not kill.

The wolves harried Slayer until he vanished. There were hundreds of them here in this valley, roving through the winds. Slayer had killed dozens; Gaul whispered a farewell to another who had fallen in this attack. He could not speak to them as Perrin Aybara did, but they were spear brothers.

Gaul crawled slowly, carefully. His clothing and skin matched the color of the rocks—it felt right for them to be that way, so they were. The wolves and he could probably not defeat this Slayer; but they could try. Try hard.

How long had it been since Perrin Aybara had left? Two hours, perhaps?

If the Shadow has claimed you, my friend, he thought, I pray you spat in Sightblinder’s eye before you awoke.

Slayer appeared on the rocks again, but Gaul did not crawl forward. The man had sent decoys before made only of rock. This figure did not move. Gaul looked about—carefully, slowly—as several wolves appeared near the decoy. They sniffed it.

It started killing them.

Gaul cursed, breaking out of his hiding place. This, apparently, was what Slayer had been wanting. Slayer launched a spear—one of Gaul’s own. It hit Gaul in the side. Gaul grunted, falling to his knees.

Slayer laughed, then raised his hands. A jet of air blew out from him, flinging wolves away. Gaul could barely hear the whimpers over the rushing wind.

"Here", Slayer screamed into the tempest, "I am a king! Here, I am more than the Forsaken. This place is mine, and I will . . ".

Perhaps the pain of Gauls wound was addling him; he thought that the winds were starting to die down.

"Here, I will . . ".

The winds stopped.

The entire valley grew silent. Slayer stiffened, then turned worried eyes toward the cavern beyond. Nothing there seemed to have changed.

"You are not a king", a soft voice said.

Gaul twisted about. A figure stood on a rocky protrusion behind him, wearing the greens and browns of a Two Rivers woodsman. His deep green cloak rippled faintly from the stilling winds. Perrin stood with his eyes closed, chin raised at a slight angle, as if toward the sun above—though, if there was one, it was blocked by clouds.

"This place belongs to the wolves", Perrin said. "Not to you, not to me, not to any man. You cannot be a king here, Slayer. You have no subjects, and you never will".

"Insolent pup", Slayer snarled. "How many times must I kill you?"

Perrin drew in a deep breath.

"I laughed when I found that Fain had killed your family", Slayer yelled. "I laughed. I was supposed to kill him, you know. The Shadow thinks him wild and rogue, but he’s the first one who has managed to do something meaningful to bring you pain".

Perrin said nothing.

"Luc wanted to be part of something important", Slayer shouted. "In that, we’re the same, though I sought the ability to channel. The Dark One cannot grant that, but he found something different for us, something better. Something that requires a soul to be melded with something else. Like what happened with you, Aybara. Like you".

"We are nothing alike, Slayer", Perrin said softly.

"But we are! That’s why I laughed. And you know, there’s a prophecy about Luc? That he’ll be important to the Last Battle. That’s why we’re here. We’ll kill you; then we’ll kill al’Thor. Just like we killed that wolf of yours".

Standing on the rocky protrusion, Perrin opened his eyes. Gaul pulled back. Those golden eyes glowed like beacons.

The storm started again. And yet, that tempest seemed mild compared to the one Gaul saw in Perrin’s eyes. Gaul felt a pressure from his friend. Like the pressure of the sun at noon after four days without having any water to drink.

Gaul stared up at Perrin for a few moments, then held a hand against his wound and ran.

The wind whipped at Mat as he clung to the saddle of a winged beast hundreds of feet in the air.

"Oh, blood and bloody ashes!" Mat yelled, one hand on his hat, the other clutching the saddle. He was tied in with some straps. Two little leather straps. Far too thin. Could they not have used more? Maybe ten or twenty? He would have been fine with a hundred!

Morat’to’raken were bloody insane. Every one of them! They did this every day! What was wrong with them?

Tied into the saddle in front of Mat, Olver laughed with glee.

Poor lad\ Mat thought. He’s so frightened he’s going mad. The lack of air up here is getting to him.

"There it is, my Prince!" the morat’to’raken, Sulaan, called to him from her place at the front of the flying beast. She was a pretty thing. Completely insane, too. "We’ve reached the valley. Are you sure you want to set down in there?"

"No!" Mat shouted.

"Good answer!" The woman made her beast swoop.

"Blood and bloody—"

Olver laughed.

The to’raken brought them down over a long valley clogged with a frenzied battle. Mat tried to let his attention settle on the fighting, rather than on the fact that he was in the air flying on a lizard with two bloody lunatics.

Heaps of Trolloc bodies told that story as well as any map could have. The Trollocs had burst through defenses at the valley mouth behind Mat. He flew over that, toward the mountain of Shayol Ghul ahead, valley walls to his right and left.

It was mayhem below. Roving bands of Aiel and Trollocs moved through the valley, striking at each other here and there. Some soldiers, not Aiel, defended the way up to the Pit of Doom, but that was the only organized formation Mat could see.

Along the side of the valley a deep mist had begun to flood down onto its floor. At first, Mat was confused, thinking it had come from the heroes of the Horn. But no, the Horn was strapped to the saddle beside Mat’s ashandarei. And this mist was too . . . silvery. If that was the right word. He thought he’d seen that mist before.

Then, Mat felt something. From that mist. A prickling cold sensation, followed by what he swore was whispering in his mind. He knew immediately what it was.

Oh, Light!

"Mat, look!" Olver called, pointing. "Wolves!"

A group of jet black animals, almost as large as horses, were assaulting the soldiers defending the path up to Shayol Ghul. The wolves were making quick work of the men. Light! As if things had not been difficult enough.

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