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A Memory of Light (Page 173)

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"Those aren’t wolves", Mat said grimly. The Wild Hunt had come to Thakan’dar.

Maybe they and Mashadar would destroy one another? Was that too much to hope for? With the dice tumbling in his head, Mat was not going to bet on it. Rand’s forces—what was left of the Aiel, Domani, Dragon-sworn and Tairen soldiers who had come here—would be crushed by the Darkhounds. If they survived, Mashadar would take them. They could not fight either one.

That voice in there . . . It wasn’t just Mashadar, the mindless mist. Fain was here somewhere, too. And the dagger.

Shayol Ghul loomed above. High in the air, clouds churned. Surprisingly, some white thunderheads had rolled in from the south, colliding with the black as they spun together. Actually, those two together looked an awful lot like the—

The to’raken turned and winged about, then swooped down lower, maybe only a hundred feet off the ground.

"Be careful!" Mat hollered, holding on to his hat. "Are you bloody trying to kill us!"

"Apologies, my Prince", the woman yelled back. "I just need to find a safe place to put you down".

"A safe place?" Mat said. "Good luck on that".

"It’s going to be difficult. Dhana is strong, but I—"

A black-fletched arrow grazed the side of Sulaan’s head, loosed from somewhere down below, along with a flight of a dozen others that zipped around Mat, one hitting the wing of the to’raken.

Mat cursed, dropping his hat and reaching for Sulaan as Olver cried out in shock. Sulaan went limp, dropping the reins. Below, a group of red-veiled Aiel prepared another volley.

Mat undid his straps. He leaped—well, more crawled—over Olver and the unconscious woman and grabbed the reins of the panicked to’raken. This could not be too much harder than riding a horse, could it? He pulled as he had seen Sulaan do, turning the to’raken as arrows cut the air behind them, several taking the beast in the wings.

They veered straight toward the rock wall, and Mat found himself on his feet, standing on the saddle and gripping the reins tightly as he tried to keep the wounded beast from bloody killing them all. That turn nearly tossed him free, but he held himself in place with feet wedged and holding the reins even tighter.

The rush of air as they turned caught up Olver’s next words. The creature’s badly wounded wings beat wildly and it screeched wretchedly. Mat was not certain either of them were in control as the beast twisted toward the ground.

They hit the floor of the valley in a heap. Bones cracked—Light, Mat hoped they belonged to the to’raken—and he found himself tumbling end over end across the broken ground.

He finally came to a rest, flopping over.

He breathed in and out, stunned by it all. "That", he finally groaned, "is the bloody worst idea I’ve ever had". He hesitated. "Maybe the second worst". He had decided to kidnap Tuon, after all.

He stumbled to his feet, and his legs still seemed to work. He did not limp too badly as he ran to the twitching to’raken. "Olver? Olver!"

He found the boy still tied in the saddle, blinking and shaking his head to clear it. "Mat", Olver said, "next time I think you should let me fly it. I don’t think you did a very good job".

"If there is a next time", Mat said, "I’ll eat a whole bag of Tar Valon gold". He yanked free the ties holding his ashandarei and Olver’s Horn, then handed the instrument to the boy. He reached for the pack with Rand’s banner, which he’d carried tied at his waist, but it was gone.

Panicked, Mat looked about. "The banner! I dropped the bloody banner!"

Olver smiled, looking up at the sign made by the swirling clouds. "It will be fine—we’re beneath his banner already", he said, then lifted the Horn and blew a beautiful note.

CHAPTER 46

To Awaken

Rand broke free from the darkness and entered the Pattern fully again.

From his watching of the Pattern, he knew that although only minutes had passed here since he’d entered, in the valley outside this cavern, days had passed, and farther out into the world, it had been much longer.

Rand threw Moridin back from the position they’d held during those tense minutes with blades locked. Still full of the One Power, so sweet, Rand whipped the blade of Callandor at his old friend.

Moridin got his sword up in time to block, but only barely. He growled, pulling a knife from his belt and stepping back into a knife-and-sword stance.

"You don’t matter any longer, Elan", Rand said, the torrent of saidin raging within him. "Let us finish this!"

"I don’t?" Moridin laughed.

Then he spun and threw the knife at Alanna.

Nynaeve watched in horror as the knife spun through the air. The winds didn’t touch it for some reason.

No! After she had coaxed the woman back to life. I cannot lose her now! Nynaeve tried to catch the knife or block it, but she moved just a hair too slowly.

The knife buried itself in Alanna’s breast.

Nynaeve looked at it, horrified. This was not a wound that sewing and herbs could heal. That blade hit the heart.

"Rand! I need the One Power!" Nynaeve cried.

"Its . . . all right . . ". Alanna whispered.

Nynaeve looked at the woman’s eyes. She was lucid. The andilay, Nynaeve realized, remembering the herb she’d used to give the woman strength. It brought her out of her stupor. It awakened her.

"I can . . " Alanna said. "I can release him . . ".

The light faded from her eyes.

Nynaeve looked at Moridin and Rand. Rand glanced at the dead woman with pity and sorrow, but Nynaeve saw no rage in his eyes. Alanna had released the bond before Rand could feel the effects of her death.

Moridin turned back to Rand, another knife in his left hand. Rand raised Callandor to strike Moridin down.

Moridin dropped his sword, and stabbed his own right hand with the knife. Rand twitched suddenly, and Callandor dropped from his grip as if his hand somehow hurt from Moridin’s attack.

The glow emanating from the blade winked out, and the crystalline blade rang as it hit the ground.

Perrin did not hold back in the fight with Slayer.

He did not try to distinguish between wolf and man. He finally let everything out, every bit of rage at Slayer, every bit of pain at the deaths of his family—pressures which had been growing inside him unnoticed for months.

He let it out. Light, he let it out. As he had on that terrible night when he’d killed those Whitecloaks. Ever since then, he’d clamped a firm grip on himself and his emotions. Just as Master Luhhan had said.

He could see it now, in a frozen moment. Gentle Perrin, always afraid of hurting someone. A blacksmith who had learned control. He had rarely let himself strike with all of his strength.

This day, he took the leash off the wolf. It had never belonged there anyway.

The storm conformed to his rage. Perrin didn’t try to keep it back. Why would he? It matched his emotions perfectly. The fall of his hammer was like claps of thunder, the flashing of his eyes like lightning bolts. Wolves howled alongside the wind.

Slayer tried to fight back. He jumped, he shifted, he stabbed. Each time, Perrin was there. Jumping at him as a wolf, swinging at him as a man, buffeting him like the tempest itself. Slayer got a wild look in his eyes. He raised a shield, trying to put it between himself and Perrin.

Perrin attacked. Without thought, now, he became instinct only. Perrin roared, smashing his hammer into that shield time and time again. Driving Slayer before him. Beating the shield like a stubborn length of iron. Pounding away his anger, his fury.

His last blow threw Slayer back and flung the shield from the man’s hands, sending it spinning a hundred feet in the air. Slayer hit the valley floor and rolled, gasping. He came to rest in the middle of the battlefield, shadowy figures rising all around him and dying as they fought in the real world. He looked at Perrin with panic, then vanished.

Perrin sent himself into the waking world to follow. He appeared amid the battle, Aiel against Trollocs in a furious fight. The winds were surprisingly strong on this side, and black clouds spun above Shayol Ghul, which rose like a crooked finger into the sky.

The nearby Aiel barely took time to notice him. The bodies of Trollocs and humans lay in heaps across the battlefield, and the place stank of death. The ground had once been dusty here, but now it churned with mud made from the blood of the fallen.

Slayer pushed through a group of Aiel nearby, growling, slashing with his long knife. He didn’t look back—and it didn’t seem that he knew Perrin had followed him into the real world.

A new wave of Shadowspawn pushed in off the slope, out of a silvery white mist. Their skin looked strange, pocked with holes, their eyes milky white. Perrin ignored these and barreled after Slayer.

Young Bull! Wolves. The Shadowbrothers are here! We fight!

Darkhounds. Wolves hated all Shadowspawn; an entire pack would die pulling down a Myrddraal. But Darkhounds they feared.

Perrin looked around to spot the creatures. Ordinary men could not fight Darkhounds, whose mere saliva was death. Nearby, the human forces broke before a tide of black wolves the size of horses. The Wild Hunt.

Light! Those Darkhounds were enormous. Scores of the jet black, corrupted wolves ripped through the defensive lines, throwing Tairen and Domani soldiers about as if they were rag dolls. Wolves attacked the Darkhounds, but in vain. They screamed and howled and died.

Perrin raised his voice alongside their cries of death, a ragged yell of rage. For the moment, he could not help. His instincts and passions drove him. Slayer. He had to defeat Slayer. If Perrin did not stop Slayer, the man would shift to the World of Dreams and kill Rand.

Perrin turned and ran through the fighting armies, chasing after the distant figure ahead. Slayer had gained a lead by Perrin’s distraction, but the man had slowed a little. He had not yet realized that Perrin could leave the World of Dreams.

Ahead, Slayer stopped and inspected the battlefield. He glanced back and saw Perrin—then his eyes widened. Perrin couldn’t hear his words over the din, but could read Slayer’s lips as he whispered, "No. No, it can’t be".

Yes, Perrin thought. I can follow you now, wherever you run. This is a hunt. You, finally, are the prey.

Slayer vanished, and Perrin shifted into the wolf dream after him. The people fighting around him became patterns in the dust, exploding and reforming. Slayer yelled in fright at seeing him, then shifted back into the waking world.

Perrin did likewise. He could smell Slayer’s trail. Slick with sweat, panicked. To the dream, then to the waking world again. In the dream, Perrin ran on four legs, as Young Bull. In the waking world, he was Perrin, hammer held aloft.

He shifted back and forth between the two as frequently as he blinked, chasing Slayer. When he hit a patch of fighting bodies, he would jump into the wolf dream and crash through the figures made of sand and blown dust, then shift back into the waking world to keep on the trail. The shifting started to happen so quickly, he flickered between the two with each heartbeat.

Thump. Perrin raised his hammer, leaping off a small ridge after the scrambling form ahead.

Thump. Young Bull howled, summoning the pack.

Thump. Perrin was close now. Only a few steps behind. Slayer’s odor was pungent.

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