The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt: Page 110

Boost me up, Loial."
The three of them moved close to the wall, and Loial made a stirrup with his hands for Rand's foot. The Ogier straightened easily with the weight, lifting Rand's head just high enough to see over the top of the wall.
The thin, waning moon gave little light, and most of the area was in shadow, but there did not seem to be any flowers or shrubs inside the walled square. Only a lone bench of pale marble, placed as if one man might sit on it to stare at what stood in the middle of the space like a huge upright stone slab.
the top of the wall and pulled himself up. Loial gave a low hsst and grabbed at his foot, but he jerked free and rolled over the wall, dropping inside. There was closecropped grass under his feet; he thought vaguely that Barthanes must let sheep in, at least. Staring at the shadowed stone slab, the Waygate, he was startled to hear boots thump to the ground beside him.
Hurin climbed to his feet, dusting himself off. "You should be careful doing that, Lord Rand. Could be anybody hiding in here. Or anything." He peered into the darkness within the walls, feeling at his belt as if for the short sword and swordbreaker he had had to leave at the inn; servants did not go armed in Cairhien. "Jump in a hole without looking, and there'll be a snake in it every time."
"You would smell them," Rand said.
"Maybe." The sniffer inhaled deeply. "But I can only smell what they've done, not what they intend."
There was a scraping sound from over Rand's head, and then Loial was letting himself down from the wall. The Ogier did not even have to straighten his arms completely before his boots touched the ground. "Rash," he muttered. "You humans are always so rash and hasty. And now you have me doing it. Elder Haman would speak to me severely, and my mother ..." The darkness hid his face, but Rand was sure his ears were twitching vigorously. "Rand, if you don't start being a little careful, you are going to get me in trouble."
Rand walked to the Waygate, walked all the way around it. Even close up it looked like nothing more than a thick square of stone, taller than he was. The back was smooth and cool to the touch - he only brushed his hand against it quickly - but the front had been carved by an artist's hands. Vines, leaves, and flowers covered it, each so finely done that in the dim moonlight they seemed almost real. He felt the ground in front of it; the grass had been scraped partly away in two arcs such as those ga

"Is that a Waygate?" Hurin asked uncertainly. "I've heard tell of them, of course, but ..." He sniffed the air. "The trail goes right to it and stops, Lord Rand. How are we going to follow them, now? I've heard if you go through a Waygate, you come out mad, if you come out at all."
"It can be done, Hurin. I've done it, and Loial, and Mat and Perrin." Rand never took his eyes from the tangles of leaves on the stone. There was one unlike any other carved there, he knew. The trefoil leaf of fabled Avendesora, the Tree of Life. He put his hand on it. "I'll bet you can smell their trail along the Ways. We can follow anywhere they can run." It would not hurt to prove to himself that he could make himself step through a Waygate. "I'll prove it to you." He heard Hurin groan. The leaf was worked in the stone just as the others were, but it came away in his hand. Loial groaned, too.
In an instant the illusion of living plants seemed suddenly real. Stone leaves appeared to stir with a breeze, flowers appeared to have color even in the dark. Down the center of the mass a line appeared, and the two halves of the slab swung slowly toward Rand. He stepped back to let them open. He did not find himself looking at the other side of the walled square, but neither did he see the dull silver reflection he remembered. The space between the opening gates was a black so dark it seemed to make the night around it lighter. The pitchblackness oozed out between the stillmoving gates.
Rand leaped back with a shout, dropping the Avendesora leaf in his haste, and Loial cried out, "Machin Shin. The Black Wind."
The sound of wind filled their ears; the grass stirred in ripples toward the walls, and dirt swirled up, sucked into the air. And in the wind a thousand insane voices seemed to cry, ten thousand, overlapping, drowning each other. Rand could make out some of them, though he tried not to.
... blood so sweet, so sweet to drink the blood, the blood that drips, drips, drops so red; pretty eyes, fine eyes, I have no eyes, pluck the eyes from out of your head; grind your bones, split your bones inside your flesh, suck your marrow while you scream; scream, scream, singing screams, sing your screams... And worst of all, a whispering thread through all the rest. Al'Thor. Al'Thor. Al'Thor.
Rand found the void around him and embraced it, never minding the tantalizing, sickening glow of saidin just out of his sight. Greatest of all the dangers along the Ways was the Black Wind that took the souls of those it killed, and drove mad those it let live, but Machin Shin was a part of the Ways; it could not leave them. Only it was flowing into the night, and the Black Wind called his name.
The Waygate was not yet fully open. If they could only put the Avendesora leaf back ... He saw Loial scrambling on his hands and knees, fumbling and searching the grass in the darkness.
Saidin filled him. He felt as if his bones were vibrating, felt the redhot, icecold flow of the One Power, felt truly alive as he never was without it, felt the oilslick taint ... No! And silently he screamed back at himself from beyond the emptiness, It's coming for you! It'll kill all of us! He hurled it all at the black bulge, standing out a full span from the Waygate, now. He did not know what it was that he hurled, or how, but in the heart of that darkness bloomed a coruscating fountain of light.
The Black Wind shrieked, ten thousand wordless howls of agony. Slowly, giving way inch by reluctant inch, the bulge lessened; slowly the oozing reversed, back into the stillopen Waygate.
The Power raced through Rand in a torrent. He could feel the link between himself and saidin, like a river in flood, between himself and the pure fire blazing in the heart of the Black Wind, a raging cataract. The heat inside him went to whiteheat, and beyond, to a shimmer that would have melted stone and vaporized steel and made the air burst into flame. The cold grew till the breath in his lungs should have frozen solid and hard as metal. He could feel it overwhelming him, feel life eroding like a soft clay riverbank, feel what was him wearing away.
Can't stop! If it gets out ... Have to kill it! I - can - not - stop!
Desperately he clung to fragments of himself. The One Power roared through him; he rode it like a chip of wood in rapids. The void began to melt and flow; the emptiness steamed with freezing cold.
The motion of the Waygate halted, and reversed.
Rand stared, sure, in the dim thoughts floating outside the void, that he was only seeing what he wanted to see.
The gates drifted closer together, pushing back Machin Shin as if the Black Wind had solid substance. The inferno still roared in its breast.
With a vague, distant wondering, Rand saw Loial, still on hands and knees, backing away from the closing gates.
The gap narrowed, vanished. The leaves and vines merged into a solid wall, and were stone.
Rand felt the link between him and the fire snap, the flow of Power through him cease. A moment more, and it would have swept him away completely. Shaking, he dropped to his knees. It was still there inside. Saidin. No longer flowing, but there, in a pool. He was a pool of the One Power. He trembled with it. He could smell the grass, the dirt beneath, the stone of the walls. Even in the darkness he could see each blade of grass, separate and whole, all of them at once. He could feel each minute stirring of the air on his face. His tongue curdled with the taste of the taint; his stomach knotted and spasmed.
Frantically he clawed his way out of the void; still on his knees, not moving, he fought free. And then all that was left was the fading foulness on his tongue, and the cramping in his stomach, and the memory. So - alive.
"You saved us, Builder." Hurin had his back pressed against the wall, and his voice was hoarse. "That thing - that was the Black Wind? - it was worse than - was it going to hurl that fire at us? Lord Rand! Did it harm you? Did it touch you?" He came running as Rand got to his feet, helping him the last bit. Loial was getting up, too, dusting his hands and his knees.
"We'll never follow Fain through that." Rand touched Loial's arm. "Thank you. You did save us." You saved me, at least. It was killing me. Killing me, and it felt - wonderful. He swallowed; a faint trace of the taste still coated his mouth. "I want something to drink."
"I only found the leaf and put it back," Loial said, shrugging. "It seemed that if we could not get the Waygate closed, it would kill us.

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