The Great Hunt


The Great Hunt: Page 80



I must make Moiraine pay for what she has done to us. I must. "I am ready."
Sheriam started slowly into the chamber. Nynaeve went beside her.
As if that were a signal, the Red sister spoke in loud, formal tones. "Whom do you bring with you, Sister?" The three Aes Sedai around the ter'angreal continued their attentions to it.
"One who comes as a candidate for Acceptance, Sister," Sheriam replied just as formally.
"Is she ready?"
"She is ready to leave behind what she was, and, passing through her fears, gain Acceptance."
"Does she know her fears?"
"She has never faced them, but now is willing."
"Then let her face what she fears."
Sheriam stopped, two spans from the arches, and Nynaeve stopped with her. "Your dress," Sheriam whispered, not looking at her.
Nynaeve's cheeks colored at forgetting already what Sheriam had told her on the way down from her room. Hastily she removed her clothes, her shoes and stockings. For a moment she could almost forget the arches in folding her garments and putting them neatly to one side. She tucked Lan's ring carefully under her dress; she did not want anyone staring at that. Then she was done, and the ter'angreal was still there, still waiting.
The stone felt cold under her bare feet, and she broke out all over in goose bumps, but she stood straight and breathed slowly. She would not let any of them see she was afraid.
"The first time," Sheriam said, "is for what was. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast."
Nynaeve hesitated. Then she stepped forward, through the arch and into the glow. It surrounded her, as if the air itself were shining, as if she were drowning in light. The light was everywhere. The light was everything.
Nynaeve gave a start when she realized she was naked, then stared in amazement. A stone wall stood to either side of her, twice as tall as she was and smooth, as if carved. Her toes wriggled on dusty, uneven stone paving. The sky above seemed flat and leaden, for all the lack of clouds, and the sun hung overhead swollen and red. In both directions were openings in the wall, gateways marked by short, square columns. The walls narrowed her field of view, but the ground sloped down from where she stood, both in front and behind. Through the gateways she could see more thick walls, and passages between. She was in a gigantic maze.
s? How did I come here? Like a different voice, another thought came. The way out will come but once.
She shook her head. "If there's only one way out, I'll not find it standing here." At least the air was warm and dry. "I hope I find some clothes before I find people," she muttered.
Dimly, she remembered playing mazes on paper as a child; there had been a trick to finding your way out, but she could not bring it to mind. Everything in the past seemed vague, as if it had happened to someone else. Trailing a hand along the wall, she started out, dust rising in pu

At the first opening in the wall, she found herself peering down another passage that seemed indistinguishable from the one she was in already. Taking a deep breath, she went on straight, through more passages that all looked exactly alike. Presently she came to something different. The way forked. She took the left turning, and eventually it forked again. Once more she went left. At the third fork, left brought her to a blank wall.
Grimly she walked back to the last fork and went right. This time it took four turnings right to bring her to a dead end. For a moment, she stood glaring at it. "How did I get here?" she demanded loudly. "Where is this place?" The way out will come but once.
Once more she turned back. She was sure there had to be a trick to the maze. At the last fork, she went left, then right at the next. Determined, she kept on. Left, then right. Straight until she came to a fork. Left, then right.
It seemed to her to be working. At least, she had gone past a dozen forkings this time without finding an end. She came to another.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a flicker of motion. When she turned to look, there was only the dusty passage between smooth stone walls. She started to take the left fork ... and spun around at another glimpse of movement. There was nothing there, but this time she was sure. There had been someone behind her. Was someone. She broke into a nervous trot in the opposite direction.
Again and again, now, just at the edge of vision down this side passage or that, she saw something move, too quick to make out, gone before she could turn her head to see it plainly. She broke into a run. Few boys had been able to outrun her when she was a girl in the Two Rivers. The Two Rivers? What is that?
A man stepped out from an opening ahead of her. His dark clothes had a musty, halfrotted look, and he was old. Older than old. Skin like crazed parchment covered his skull too tightly, as if there were no flesh beneath. Wispy tufts of brittle hair covered a scabbed scalp, and his eyes were so sunken they seemed to peer out of two caves.
She skidded to a stop, the uneven paving stones rough under her feet.
"I am Aginor," he said, smiling, "and I have come for you."
Her heart tried to leap out of her chest. One of the Forsaken. "No. No, it cannot be!"
"You are a pretty one, girl. I will enjoy you."
Suddenly Nynaeve remembered she wore not a stitch. With a yelp and a face red only partly from anger, she darted away down the nearest crossing passage. Cackling laughter pursued her, and the sound of a shuffling run that seemed to match her best speed, and breathy promises of what he would do when he caught her, promises that curdled her stomach even only half heard.
Desperately she searched for a way out, peering frantically as she ran with fists clenched. The way out will come but once. Be steadfast. There was nothing, only more of the endless maze. As hard as she could run, his filthy words came always right behind her. Slowly, fear turned completely to anger.
"Burn him!" she sobbed. "The Light burn him! He has no right!" Within her she felt a flowering, an opening up, an unfolding to light.
Teeth bared, she turned to face her pursuer just as Aginor appeared, laughing, in a lurching gallop.
"You have no right!" She flung her fist toward him, fingers opening as if she were throwing something. She was only half surprised to see a ball of fire leave her hand.
It exploded against Aginor's chest, knocking him to the ground. For only an instant he sprawled there, then rose, staggering. He seemed unaware of the smoldering front of his coat. "You dare? You dare!" He quivered, and spittle leaked down his chin.
Abruptly there were clouds in the sky, threatening billows of gray and black. Lightning leaped from the cloud, straight for Nynaeve's heart.
It seemed to her, just for a heartbeat, as if time had suddenly slowed, as though that heartbeat took forever. She felt the flow inside her - saidar, came a distant thought - felt the answering flow in the lightning. And she altered the direction of the flow. Time leaped forward.
With a crash, the bolt shattered stone above Aginor's head. The Forsaken's sunken eyes widened, and he tottered back. "You cannot! It cannot be!" He leaped away as lightning struck where he had stood, stone erupting in a fountain of shards.
Grimly Nynaeve started toward him. And Aginor fled.
Saidar was a torrent racing through her. She could feel the rocks around her, and the air, feel the tiny, flowing bits of the One Power that suffused them, and made them. And she could feel Aginor doing... something, as well. Dimly she felt it, and far distant, as if it were something she could never truly know, but around her she saw the effects and knew them for what they were.
The ground rumbled and heaved under her feet. Walls toppled in front of her, piles of stone to block her way. She scrambled over them, uncaring if sharp rock cut hands and feet, always keeping Aginor in sight. A wind rose, howling down the passages against her, raging till it flattened her cheeks and made her eyes water, trying to knock her down; she changed the flow, and Aginor tumbled along the passageway like an uprooted bush. She touched the flow in the ground, redirected it, and stone walls collapsed around Aginor, sealing him in. Lightning fell with her glare, striking around him, stone exploding ever closer and closer. She could feel him fighting to push it back at her, but foot by foot the dazzling bolts moved toward the Forsaken.
eamed off to her right, something uncovered by the collapsing walls.
Nynaeve could feel Aginor weakening, feel his efforts to strike at her grow more feeble and more frantic. Yet somehow she knew he had not given up. If she let him go now, he would chase after her as strongly as before, convinced she was too weak to defeat him after all, too weak to stop him from doing with her as he wished.
A silver arch stood where stone had been, an arch filled with soft silver radiance. The way back...
She knew when the Forsaken abandoned his attack, the moment when all his efforts were given over to staving her off.

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