Winter's Heart Page 187

Abruptly the light of saidar appeared around the woman, but the ready ball of fire streaked from Cyndane’s hand, small enough to escape detection she hoped, but enough to burn a hole through this woman who —

Just as it reached the woman, almost close enough to singe her garments, the web of Fire unraveled. The woman did not do anything; the net simply came apart! Cyndane had never heard of a ter’angreal that would break a web, but it must be that.

Then the woman struck back at her, and she suffered her second shock. She was stronger than Cyndane had been before the Aelfinn and the Eelfinn held her! That was impossible; no woman could be stronger. She must have an angreal, too. Shock lasted only the time it took her to slice the other woman’s flows. She did not know how to reverse them. Maybe that would be enough advantage. She would see Lews Therin die! The taller woman jerked as her cut flows snapped back into her, but even as she shifted her feet with the blow, she channeled again. Snarling, Cyndane fought back, and the earth heaved beneath their feet. She would see him die! She would!

The high hilltop was not very near to the access key, but even so the key shone so brightly in Moghedien’s head that she hungered for just a sip at that immense flow of saidar. To hold so much, the thousandth part of so much, would be ecstasy. She hungered, but this wooded vantage was as near as she intended going. Only the threat of Moridin’s hands caressing her cour’souvra had driven her to Travel here at all, and she had delayed coming, prayed that it would be over before she was forced to. Always she had worked in secrecy, but she had had to flee an attack as soon as she arrived, and in widely separated places in the forest spread out before her, lightnings and fires woven of saidar and others that must have been saidin flashed and flared beneath the mid-afternoon sun. Black smoke rose in plumes from burning clumps of trees, and thunderous explosions rolled through the air.

Who fought, who lived, who died were all matters of indifference to her. Except that it would be pleasant if Cyndane or Graendal perished. Or both. Moghedien would not, not thrashing about in the middle of a battle. And if that were not bad enough, there was what stood beyond the shining key, an immense flattened dome of black in the forest, as though night had turned to stone. She flinched as a ripple passed across the dark surface and the dome heaved perceptibly higher. Madness to go any closer to that, whatever it was. Moridin would not know what she did here, or did not do.

Retreating to the back of the hilltop, away from the shining key and the strange dome, she sat down to do what she had done so often in the past. Watch from the shadows, and survive.

Inside his head, Rand was screaming. He was sure that he was screaming, that Lews Therin was screaming, but he could not hear either voice in the roar. The foul ocean of the taint was flooding through him, howling with its speed. Tidal waves of vileness crashed over him. Raging gales of filth ripped at him. The only reason he knew that he still held the Power was the taint. Saidin could be shifting, flaring, about to kill him, and he would never know. That putrid flood overwhelmed everything else, and he hung on by his fingernails to keep from being swept away on it. The taint was moving. That was all that counted, now. He had to hold on!

“What can you tell me, Min?” Cadsuane kept her feet despite her weariness. Holding that shield through most of a day was enough to tire anyone.

There had not been an attack on the hilltop for some time, and in fact, it seemed the only active channeling she could sense was what Nynaeve and the boy were doing. Elza was pacing an endless circle around the crest of the hill, still linked to Merise and Jahar, but there was nothing for her to do at the moment except scan the hills around them. Jahar was sitting on a stone with Callandor shining faintly in the crook of his arm. Merise sat on the ground beside him with her head on his knee, and he was stroking her hair.

“Well, Min?” Cadsuane demanded.

The girl looked up angrily from the depression in the stony ground where Tomas and Moad had bundled her and Harine. At least the men had sense enough to accept that they could not fight any part of this fight. Harine wore a sullen scowl, and more than once it had been necessary for one of the men to restrain Min from going to young al’Thor. They had actually had to take her knives away, after she tried to use the blades on them.

“I know he’s alive,” the girl muttered, “and I think he’s hurting. Only, if I can feel enough to think he’s hurting, then he’s in agony. Let me go to him.”

“You would only get in the way now.”

Ignoring the girl’s frustrated groan, Cadsuane walked across the uneven ground to where Rand and Nynaeve sat, but for a moment she did not look at them. Even at a distance of miles, the black dome looked immense, rearing a thousand feet at its height. And it was swelling. The surface looked like black steel, though it did not sparkle in the afternoon sun. If anything, the light seemed to dim around it.

Rand was sitting as he had since the beginning, an unmoving, unseeing statue with sweat rolling down his face. If he was in agony as Min said, he showed no sign of it. And if he was, Cadsuane did not know what she could do, what she dared to do. Disturbing him now in any way might have dire consequences. Glancing at that rising dead-black dome, Cadsuane grunted. Having let him begin in the first place might have dire consequences, too.

With a moan, Nynaeve slipped from her stone seat to the ground. Her dress was sodden with sweat, and strands of hair clung to her slick face. Her eyelids fluttered weakly, and her breasts heaved as she gulped air desperately. “No more,” she whimpered. “I cannot stand anymore.”

Cadsuane hesitated, something she was not accustomed to doing. The girl could not leave the circle until young al’Thor released her, but unless these Choedan Kal were flawed in the same way as Callandor, she would be buffered against taking in enough of the Power to damage her. Except that she was acting as a conduit for far more of saidar than the entire White Tower could have handled using every angreal and sa’angreal the Tower possessed. After having that flow through her for hours, simple physical exhaustion might be killing her.

Kneeling beside the girl, Cadsuane laid the swallow on the ground beside her, took the girl’s head in her hands and lessened the amount of saidar she was putting into the shield. Her abilities with Healing were no more than average, but she could wash away some of the girl’s exhaustion at least without falling over herself. She was very conscious of the weakened shield over them, though, and she wasted no t

Prev Next