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A Memory of Light (Page 174)

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Thump. The spirits of wolves appeared around Young Bull, howling their thirst for the hunt. Never had a prey deserved it more. Never had a prey done more damage to the packs. Never had a man been more feared.

Thump. Slayer stumbled. He twisted as he fell, sending himself to the wolf dream by reflex.

Thump. Perrin swung Mah’alleinir; emblazoned with the leaping wolf. He who soars.

Thump. Young Bull leaped for the throat of the killer of his brothers. Slayer fled.

The hammer connected.

Something about this place, this moment, sent Perrin and Slayer into a spiraling series of flickers between worlds. Back and forth, back and forth, flashes of moments and thoughts. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker.

Men died around them. Some of dust, some of flesh. Their world, alongside shadows of other worlds. Men in strange clothing and armor, fighting beasts of all shapes and sizes. Moments where the Aiel became Seanchan, who became something between the two, with spears and light eyes but helmets shaped like monstrous insects.

In all of those moments, in all of those places, Perrin’s hammer struck and Young Bull’s fangs grabbed Slayer by the neck. He tasted the salty warmth of Slayer’s blood in his mouth. He felt the hammer vibrate as it hit, and he heard bones crack. The worlds flashed like bolts of lightning.

Everything crashed, shook, then pulled together.

Perrin stood on the rocks in the valley of Thakan’dar, and Slayer’s body crumpled in front of him, head crushed. Perrin panted, the thrill of the hunt clinging to him. It was over.

He turned, surprised to find that he was surrounded by Aiel. He frowned at them. "What are you doing?"

One of the Maidens laughed. "You looked like you were running to a great dance, Perrin Aybara. One learns to watch for warriors like you on the battlefield and follow. They often have the most fun".

He smiled grimly, surveying the battlefield. It was not going well for his side. The Darkhounds ripped apart the defenders in a ruthless frenzy. The way up to Rand was completely exposed.

"Who commands this battle?" Perrin asked.

"Nobody, now", the Maiden said. He did not know her name. "Rodel Ituralde did first. Then Darlin Sisnera led—but his command post fell to Draghkar. I have not seen any Aes Sedai or clan chiefs in hours".

Her voice was grim. Even the stalwart Aiel were flagging. A quick scan of the battlefield showed Perrin that the remaining Aiel fought wherever they were, often in small groups, doing as much harm as they could before being cut down. The wolves who had fought here in packs were broken, their sendings those of pain and fear. And Perrin didn’t know what those Shadowspawn with the pocked faces meant.

The battle was finished, and the side of Light had lost.

The Darkhounds broke through the line of Dragonsworn nearby, the last group who held falling before them. A few tried to flee, but one of the Darkhounds leapt on them, pushing several to the ground and gnawing one. Frothing saliva sprayed across the others, and they dropped, twitching.

Perrin lowered his hammer, then knelt, pulling off Slayer’s cloak and wrapping the cloth around his hands as he picked up his hammer again. "Don’t let their spittle touch your skin. It is deadly".

The Aiel nodded, those with bare hands wrapping them. They smelled of determination, but also resignation. Aiel would run toward death if it was the only option, and would laugh while doing so. Wetlanders thought them mad, but Perrin could smell the truth on them. They were not mad. They did not fear death, but they did not welcome it.

"Touch me, all of you", Perrin said.

The Aiel did so. He shifted them to the wolf dream—taking so many was a strain, like bending a bar of steel—but he managed it. He immediately shifted them to the path up to the Pit of Doom. The spirits of wolves had gathered here, silent. Hundreds of them.

Perrin brought the Aiel back to the waking world, his shift placing him and his small force between Rand and the Darkhounds. The Wild Hunt looked up, corrupted eyes shining like silver as they fixed on Perrin.

"We will hold here", Perrin said to his Aiel, "and hope that some others aid us".

"We will stand", one of the Aiel said, a tall man wearing one of those headbands marked with Rand’s symbol.

"And if we do not", another said, "and wake instead, then we will at least water the earth with our blood and let our bodies nourish the plants that will now grow here". Perrin had barely noticed the plants growing, incongruously, green and vibrant in the valley. Small, but strong. A manifestation of the fact that Rand still fought.

The Darkhounds slunk toward them, tails down, ears back, fangs exposed, gleaming like bloodstained metal. What was that he heard over the wind? Something very soft, very distant. It seemed so soft that he shouldn’t have noticed it. But it pierced through the clamor of war. Faintly familiar . . .

"I know that sound", Perrin said.

"Sound?" the Aiel Maiden said. "What sound? The calls of the wolves?"

"No", Perrin said as the Darkhounds began to lope up the path. "The Horn of Valere".

The heroes would come. But upon which battlefield would they fight? Perrin could expect no relief here. Except . . .

Lead us, Young Bull.

Why must the heroes all be human?

A howl rose in the same pitch as that of the sounded Horn. He looked upon a field suddenly filled with a multitude of glowing wolves. They were great pale beasts, the size of Darkhounds. The spirits of those wolves who had died, then gathered here, waiting for the sign, waiting for the chance to fight.

The Horn had called them.

Perrin let loose a yell of his own, a howl of pleasure, then charged forward to meet the Darkhounds.

The Last Hunt had finally, truly arrived.

Mat left Olver with the heroes again. The boy looked like a prince, riding in front of Noal as they attacked the Trollocs and prevented anyone from climbing that path to kill Rand.

Mat borrowed a horse from one of the defenders who still had one, then galloped over to find Perrin. His friend would be among those wolves, of course. Mat did not know how those hundreds of big glowing wolves had entered the battlefield, but he was not going to complain. They met the Wild Hunt head-on, snarling and savaging the Darkhounds. Howls from both sides flooded Mat’s ears.

He passed some Aiel fighting a Darkhound, but the people did not stand a chance. They tripped the beast, hacking at it, but it pulled back together as if it were made of darkness and not flesh—then ripped into them. Blood and bloody ashes! Those Aiel weapons did not even seem to scratch, it. Mat continued galloping, avoiding the tendrils of silvery mist making their way across the whole valley.

Light! That mist was approaching the path up to Rand. It was picking up speed, rolling over Aiel, Trollocs and Darkhounds alike.

There, Mat thought, picking out a man fool enough to fight Darkhounds. Perrin slammed his hammer down on a Darkhounds head, cracking it and forcing it into the ground. When he raised his hammer, it trailed smoke behind it. The Darkhound, amazingly, remained dead.

Perrin turned, then stared. "Mat!" he called. "What are you doing here?"

"Coming to help!" Mat said. "Against my bloody better judgment!"

"You can’t fight Darkhounds, Mat", Perrin said as Mat rode up beside him. "I can, and so can the Last Hunt". He cocked his head, then looked toward the sound of the Horn.

"No", Mat said, "I didn’t sound it. That bloody burden has passed to someone who actually seems to enjoy it".

"It’s not that, Mat". Perrin stepped up, reaching and taking him by the arm as he sat mounted. "My wife, Mat. Please. She had the Horn".

Mat looked down, feeling grim. "The lad said . . . Light, Perrin. Faile was at Merrilor, and led the Trollocs away from Olver so he could escape with the Horn".

"Then she could still be alive", Perrin said.

"Yes. Of course she could", Mat said. What else could he say? "Perrin, you need to know something else. Fain is here on this battlefield".

"Fain?" Perrin growled. "Where?"

"He’s in that mist! Perrin, he’s brought Mashadar, somehow. Don’t let it touch you".

"I was in Shadar Logoth too, Mat", Perrin said. "I have a debt to settle with Fain".

"And I don’t?" Mat said. "I—"

Perrin’s eyes opened wide. He stared at Mat’s chest.

There, a small white ribbon of silvery mist—Mashadar’s mist—had speared Mat from behind through the chest. Mat looked at it, jerked once, then tumbled off his horse.

CHAPTER 47

Watching the Flow Writhe

Aviendha struggled on the slopes of the valley of Thakan’dar, trying to avoid the shield of Spirit Graendal was attempting to slip into place. A weave, like lace, defying her attempts to reach for the One Power. Her feet ruined, she could not stand. She lay, in pain, barely able to move.

She fought it off, but barely.

The Forsaken leaned against the rocks of the ledge, as she had been doing for a short time, muttering to herself. Her side bled bright red blood. Below them, in the valley, the battle raged. A silvery white mist was rolling across the dead and some of the living.

Aviendha tried to crawl toward her gateway. That lay open still, and through it she could see the valley floor. Something must have drawn Cadsuane and the others away—either that, or Aviendha had made the gateway to the wrong place.

The glow of saidar surrounded Graendal again. More weaves; Aviendha broke them, but they delayed her progress toward the gateway.

Graendal groaned, then pulled herself upright. She staggered in Aviendha’s direction, though the woman looked dazed by her blood loss.

Aviendha could do little to defend herself, weak as she was from blood loss. She was helpless.

Except . . .The Cave for her gateway, the one she had tied off. It still hung there holding the portal open. Ribbons of lace.

Carefully hesitant but desperate, Aviendha reached out mentally and pulled one of the threads loose in the gateway. She could do it. The flow shivered and vanished.

It was something the Aiel did, but something Aes Sedai thought terribly dangerous The results could be unpredictable. An explosion, a small shower of sparks . . . Aviendha could end up stilled. Or maybe nothing at all would happen. When Elayne had tried it, it had caused a devastating explosion

That would be fine with her. If she brought down one of the Forsaken alongside her, that would be a wonderful death.

She had to try.

Graendal stopped near Aviendha and grumbled to herself, eyes closed.

When the woman opened her eyes and began crafting another weave. Compulsion.

Aviendha picked faster, pulling two, three, half a dozen threads free of the gateway. Almost, almost . . .

What are you doing? Graendal demanded.

Aviendha picked faster, and in her haste, picked at the wrong thread. She froze, watching the flow writhe, setting off the others near it.

Graendal hissed, and began to set the Compulsion on Aviendha.

The gateway exploded in a flash of light and heat.

Shaisam seized the battlefield, his mist shoving through those wolves and men who thought to bar his way to al’Thor.

Yes, al’Thor. The one he would kill, destroy, feast upon. Yes, al’Thor!

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