A Memory of Light Page 256

Ogier, he realized, blinking. Those aren’t Trollocs. They're Ogier. Trollocs wouldn’t carry torches as these beings did.

"Glory to the Builders!" Lan called up to them. "So you were part of the army Cauthon sent to attack the Sharans’ flank. Where is he? I would have words with him!"

One of the Ogier let out a rumbling laugh. "You are not the only one, Dai Shan! Cauthon moves about like a squirrel hunting nuts in the underbrush. One moment here, another moment gone. I am to tell you that we must hold back this Sharan advance, at all cost".

More light flashed from the distant side of the Heights. The Aes Sedai and Sharans fought there. Cauthon was trying to box the Shadow’s forces in. Arganda shoved aside his pain, trying to think.

What of Demandred? Arganda could now see another swath of destruction launched from the Forsaken. It burned through defenders across the river. The pike formations had begun to shatter, each burst of light killing hundreds.

"Sharan channelers in the distance on one side", Arganda mumbled, "and one of the Forsaken on the other! Light! I didn’t realize how many Trollocs there were. They’re endless.’’ He could see them now, confronting Elayne’s troops; blasts of the One Power showed thousands of them in the distance below. "We’re finished, aren’t we?"

Lan’s face reflected torchlight. Eyes like slate, a face of granite. He did not correct Arganda.

"What will we do?" Arganda said. "To win . . . Light, to win we’d need to break these Sharans, rescue the pikemen—they will soon be surrounded by the Trollocs—and each man of ours would need to kill at least five of those beasts! That’s not even counting Demandred".

No reply from Lan.

"We’re doomed", Arganda said.

"If so", Lan said, "we stand atop the high ground, and we fight until we die, Ghealdanin. You surrender when you’re dead. Many a man has been given less".

The threads of possibility resisted Rand as he wove them together into the world he imagined. He did not know what that meant. Perhaps what he demanded was highly unlikely. This thing he did, using threads to show what could be, was more than simple illusion. It involved looking to worlds that had been before, worlds that could be again. Mirrors of the reality he lived in.

He didn’t create these worlds. He merely . . . manifested them. He forced the threads to open the reality he demanded, and finally they obeyed. One last time, the darkness became light, and the nothing became something.

He stepped into a world that did not know the Dark One.

He chose Caemlyn as a point of entry. Perhaps because the Dark One had used the place in his last creation, and Rand wanted to prove to himself that the terrible vision was not inevitable. He needed to see the city again, but untainted.

He walked on the road before the palace, taking a deep breath. The butterchain trees were in bloom, the bright yellow blossoms spilling out of the gardens and hanging over the courtyard walls. Children played in them, throwing the petals into the air.

Not a cloud marred the brilliant sky. Rand looked up, raising his arms, and stepped out from beneath the blossoming branches into the deep warming sunlight. No guards stood at the way into the palace, only a kindly servant who answered questions for some visitors.

Rand strode forward, feet leaving tracks in golden petals as he approached the entrance. A child came toward him, and Rand stopped, smiling at her.

She stepped up, reaching to touch the sword at Rand’s waist. The child seemed confused. "What is it?" she asked, looking up with wide eyes.

"A relic", Rand whispered.

Laughter from the other children turned the girl’s head, and she left him, giggling as one of the children threw an armful of petals into the air.

Rand walked on.

IS THIS PERFECTION FOR YOU? The Dark One's voice felt distant. He could pierce this reality to speak to Rand, but he could not appear here as he had in the other visions. This place was his antithesis.

For this was the world that would exist if Rand killed him in the Last Battle.

"Come and see", Rand said to him, smiling.

No reply. If the Dark One allowed himself to be drawn too fully into this reality, he would cease to exist. In this place, he had died.

All things turned and came again. That was the meaning of the Wheel of Time. What was the point of winning a single battle against the Dark One, only to know that he would return? Rand could do more. He could do this.

"I would like to see the Queen", Rand asked of the servant at the Palace doors. "Is she in?"

"You should find her in the gardens, young man", the guide said. He looked at Rand’s sword, but out of curiosity, not worry. In this world, men could not conceive that one would want to hurt another. It didn’t happen.

"Thank you", Rand said, walking into the Palace. The hallways were familiar, yet different. Caemlyn had nearly been razed during the Last Battle, the Palace burned. The reconstruction resembled what had been there before, but not completely.

Rand strolled the hallways. Something worried him, a discomfort from the back of his mind. What was it . . .

Do not be caught here, he realized. Do not be complacent. This world was not real, not completely. Not yet.

Could this have been a plan of the Dark One? To trick Rand into creating paradise for himself, only to enter it and be trapped while the Last Battle raged? People were dying as they fought.

He had to remember that. He could not let this fancy consume him. That was difficult to remember as he entered the gallery—a long hallway, lined with what appeared to be windows. Only, those windows did not look out at Caemlyn. These new glass portals allowed one to see other places, like a gateway always in place.

Rand passed one that looked out into a submerged bay, colorful fish darting this way and that. Another gave a view of a peaceful meadow high in the Mountains of Mist. Red flowers pushed up through the green, like specks of paint scattered on the floor following a painter’s daily work.

On the other wall, the windows looked at the great cities of the world. Rand passed Tear, where the Stone was now a museum to the days of the Third Age, with the Defenders as its curators. None of this generation had ever carried a weapon, and were baffled by the stories of their grandparents having fought. Another showed the Seven Towers of Malkier, built strong again—but as a monument, not a fortification. The Blight had vanished upon the Dark One’s death, and the Shadowspawn had fallen dead immediately. As if the Dark One had been linked to them all, like a Fade le

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