The Great Hunt: Page 64
Nothing could come close without him seeing. He swung down from his saddle and unlimbered his longbow. Loial and Hurin joined him on the ground, the Ogier hefting his huge quarterstaff, the sniffer with his short sword in his fist. Neither quarterstaff nor sword would be of much use if the grolm closed with them. I won't let them get close.
"This risk is not necessary," Selene said. She barely looked toward the grolm, bending from her saddle to concentrate on Rand. "We can easily reach the Portal Stone ahead of them."
"I will stop them." Hastily Rand counted the arrows remaining in his quiver. Eighteen, each as long as his arm, ten of them with points like chisels, designed to drive through Trolloc armor. They would do as well for grolm as for Trollocs. He stuck four of those upright in the ground in front of him; a fifth he nocked to the bow. "Loial, Hurin, you can do no good down here. Mount and be ready to take Selene to the Stone if any get through." He wondered whether he could kill one of the things with his sword, if it came to that. You are mad! Even the Po
Loial said something, but he did not hear; he was already seeking the void, as much to escape his own thoughts as for need. You know what's waiting. But this way I don't have to touch it. The glow was there, the light just out of sight. It seemed to flow toward him, but the emptiness was all. Thoughts darted across the surface of the void, visible in that tainted light. Saidin. The Power. Madness. Death. Extraneous thoughts. He was one with the bow, with the arrow, with the things topping the next rise.
The grolm came on, overreaching one another in their leaps, five great, leathery shapes, tripleeyed, with horny maws gaping. Their grunting calls rebounded from the void, barely heard.
Rand was not aware of raising his bow, or drawing the fletching against his cheek, to his ear. He was one with the beasts, one with the center eye of the first. Then the arrow was gone. The first grolm died; one of its companions leaped on it as it fell, beak of a mouth ripping gobbets of flesh. It snarled at the others, and they circled wide. But they came on, and as if compelled, it abandoned its meal and leaped after them, its horny maw already bloody.
Rand worked smoothly, unconsciously, nock and release. Nock and release.
The fifth arrow left his bow, and he lowered it, still deep in the void, as the fourth grolm fell like a huge puppet with its strings cut. Though the final arrow still flew, somehow he knew there was no need for another shot. The last beast collapsed as if its bones had melted, a feathered shaft jutting from its center eye. Always the center eye.
"Magnificent, Lord Rand," Hurin said. "I ... I've never seen shooting like that."
The void held Rand. The light called to him, and he ... reached ... toward it. It surrounded him, filled him.
"Lord Rand?" Hurin touched his arm, and Rand gave a start, the emptiness filling up with what was around him. "Are you all right, my Lord?"
Rand brushed his forehead with fingertips. It was dry; he felt as if it should have been covered with sweat. "I ... I'm fine, Hurin."
"It grows easier each time you do it, I've heard," Selene said. "The more you live in the Oneness, the easier."
Rand glanced at her. "Well, I won't need it again, not for a while." What happened? I wanted to ... He still wanted to, he realized with horror. He wanted to go back into the void, wanted to feel that light filling him again. It had seemed as if he were truly alive then, sickliness and all, and now was only an imitation. No, worse. He had been almost alive, knowing what "alive" would be like. All he had to do was reach out to saidin ...
"Not again," he muttered. He gazed off at the dead grolm, five monstrous shapes lying on the ground. Not dangerous anymore. "Now we can be on our -"
A coughing bark, all too familiar, sounded beyond the dead grolm, beyond the next hill, and others answered it. Still more came, from the east, from the west.
Rand half raised his bow.
"How many arrows do you have left?" Selene demanded. "Can you kill twenty grolm? Thirty? A hundred? We must go to the Portal Stone."
"She is right, Rand," Loial said slowly. "You do not have any choice now." Hurin was watching Rand anxiously. The grolm called, a score of barks overlapping.
"The Stone," Rand agreed reluctantly. Angrily he threw himself back into his saddle, slung the bow on his back. "Lead us to this Stone, Selene."
With a nod she turned her mare and heeled it to a trot. Rand and the others followed, they eagerly, he holding back. The barks of grolm pursued them, hundreds it seemed. It sounded as if the grolm were ranged in a semicircle around them, closing in from every direction but the front.
Swiftly and surely Selene led them through the hills. The land rose in the beginning of mountains, slopes steepening so the horses scrambled over washedout looking rocky outcrops and the sparse, fadedlooking brush that clung to them. The way became harder, the land slanting more and more upward.
We're not going to make it, Rand thought, the fifth time Red slipped and slid backwards in a shower of stone. Loial threw his quarterstaff aside; it would be of no use against grolm, and it only slowed him. The Ogier had given up riding; he used one hand to haul himself up, and pulled his tall horse behind him with the other. The hairyfetlocked animal made heavy going, but easier than with Loial on its back. Grolm barked behind them, closer now.
Then Selene drew rein and pointed to a hollow nestled below them in the granite. It was all there, the seven wide, colored stairs around a pale floor, and the tall stone column in the middle.
She dismounted and led her mare into the hollow, down the stairs to the column. It loomed over her. She turned to look back up at Rand and the others. The grolm gave their grunting barks, scores of them, loud. Near. "They will be on us soon," she said. "You must use the Stone, Rand. Or else find a way to kill all the grolm."
With a sigh, Rand got down from his saddle and led Red into the hollow. Loial and Hurin followed hastily. He stared at the symbolcovered column, the Portal Stone, uneasily. She must be able to channel, even if she doesn't know it, or it couldn't have brought her here. The Power doesn't harm women. "If this brought you here," he began, but she interrupted him.
w what it is," she said firmly, "but I do not know how to use it. You must do what must be done." She traced one symbol, a little larger than the others, with a finger. A triangle standing on its point inside a circle. "This stands for the true world, our world. I believe it will help if you hold it in your mind while you ... " She spread her hands as if unsure exactly what it was he was supposed to do.
"Uh ... my Lord?" Hurin said diffidently. "There isn't much time." He glanced over his shoulder at the rim of the hollow. The barking was louder. "Those things will be here in minutes, now." Loial nodded.
Drawing a deep breath, Rand put his hand on the symbol Selene had pointed out. He looked at her to see if he was doing it right, but she merely watched, not even the slightest frown of worry wrinkling her pale forehead. She's confident you can save her. You have to. The scent of her filled his nostrils.
"Uh ... my Lord?"
Rand swallowed, and sought the void. It came easily, springing up around him without effort. Emptiness. Emptiness except for the light, wavering in a way that turned his stomach. Emptiness except for saidin. But even the queasiness was distant. He was one with the Portal Stone. The column felt smooth and slightly oily under his hand, but the triangleandcircle seemed warm against the brand on his palm. Have to get them to safety. Have to get them home. The light drifted toward him, it seemed, surrounded him, a
Light filled him. Heat filled him. He could see the Stone, see the others watching him - Loial and Hurin anxiously, Selene showing no doubt that he could save her - but they might as well not have been there. The light was all. The heat and the light, suffusing his limbs like water sinking into dry sand, filling him. The symbol burned against his flesh. He tried to suck it all in, all the heat, all the light. All. The symbol...
Suddenly, as if the sun had gone out for the blink of an eye, the world flickered. And again. The symbol was a live coal under his hand; he drank in the light. The world flickered. Flickered. It made him sick, that light; it was water to a man dying of thirst. Flicker. He sucked at it. It made him want to vomit; he wanted it all. Flicker. The triangleandcircle seared him; he could feel it charring his hand. Flicker. He wanted it all! He screamed, howling with pain, howling with wanting.
Flicker ... flicker ... flickerflickerflicker ...
Hands pulled at him; he was only vaguely aware of them. He staggered back; the void was slipping away, the light, and the sickness that twisted at him. The light. He watched it go regretfully.
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