Towers of Midnight (Page 116)

The woman’s eyes glazed over, and her mouth opened. Thought was faster than weaves. Egwene hesitated. Now what? Kill her, while defenseless? Her stomach turned at that thought. I could take her captive. Go and—

Someone appeared in the room with her. The newcomer wore black, a magnificent gown with silver trim. Darkness swirled about her, made of spinning ribbons of cloth, her skirt rippling. The effect was unnatural and impressive; possible only here in Tel’aran’rhiod.

Egwene looked into the woman’s eyes. Large and blue, set in an angular face with chin-length black hair. There was a power to those eyes, and Egwene immediately knew what she was facing. Why fight? She couldn’t—

Egwene felt her mind change, become accepting. She fought it with a burst of panic, and in a moment of clarity, she sent herself away.

Egwene appeared in her rooms, then raised her hand to her head, sitting down on the bed. Light, but that woman had been strong.

Something sounded behind her; someone appearing in the room. Egwene leaped to her feet, preparing weaves. Nynaeve stood there, eyes wide with fury. The woman thrust her hands forward, weaves forming, but she froze.

“To the gardens,” Egwene said, not trusting her quarters. She shouldn’t have come here; Mesaana would know this place.

Nynaeve nodded, and Egwene vanished, appearing in the lower Tower garden. The strange violet dome extended above. What was that, and how had Mesaana brought it here? Nynaeve appeared a moment later.

“They’re still up there,” Nynaeve whispered. “I just saw Alviarin.”

“I saw Mesaana,” Egwene said. “She nearly took me.”

“Light! Are you all right?”

Egwene nodded. “Mestra is dead. I saw Evanellein, too.”

“It’s black as a tomb up there,” Nynaeve whispered. “I think they made it that way. They shouldn’t be able to channel this well with those imperfect copies. Siuan and Leane are all right; I saw them a little bit ago, sticking together. Just before that, I managed to hit Notori with a blast of fire. She’s dead.”

“Good. The Black Ajah stole nineteen ter’angreal. That might give us an estimate of how many Black Ajah we have to contend with. Or since they’re able to channel so strongly, perhaps not.” She, Siuan, Nynaeve, Leane and the three Wise Ones were outnumbered—but the Black Ajah didn’t seem to have much experience with Tel’aran’rhiod.

“Have you seen the Wise Ones?”

“They’re up there.” Nynaeve grimaced. “They seem to be enjoying this.”

“They would,” Egwene said. “I want you and me to go together. We will appear in intersections, back to back, and quickly scan for light or people. If you see a Black, strike. If someone sees you, say ‘Go’ and we’ll jump back here.”

Nynaeve nodded.

“First intersection is the one outside my room,” Egwene said. “Hallway on the south side. I’ll flood it with light; you be ready. From there, we’ll jump down one hallway, by the door into the servants’ ramp. Then on down the line.”

Nynaeve nodded sharply.

The world winked around Egwene. She appeared in the hallway, and immediately thought of the place lit, imposing her will upon it. Light flooded the entire space. A round-faced woman crouched near the side of the wall, wearing white. Sedore, one of the Black sisters.

Sedore spun, looking angry, weaves springing up around her. Egwene worked faster, creating a column of fire right before Sedore would have released her own. No weaves on Egwene’s part. Just the fire.

Egwene saw the Black’s eyes open wider as the fire roared around her. Sedore screeched, but that cut off as the heat consumed her. Her burned corpse collapsed to the floor, smoldering.

Egwene let out a relieved breath. “Anyone on your side?”

“No,” Nynaeve said. “Who was that you hit?”

“Sedore.”

“Really?” Nynaeve said, turning. She had been a Sitter for the Yellow.

Egwene smiled. “Next hallway.”

They jumped, and repeated their strategy, flooding the hallway with light. There was nobody there, so they moved on. The next two hallways were empty. Egwene was about to leave when a voice hissed, “Foolish child! Your pattern is obvious.”

Egwene spun. “Where…”

She cut off as she saw Bair. The aged Wise One had changed her clothing and even her skin itself to match the white walls and floor tiles. She was practically invisible, crouching in an alcove.

“You shouldn’t—” Bair began.

A wall beside them exploded outward, throwing up chunks of rock. Six women stood beyond, and they released weaves of Fire.

It appeared that the time for sneaking had ended.

Perrin crested the wall surrounding the White Tower grounds, coming down with a thump. The strangeness of the wolf dream continued; he now not only smelled odd scents, but heard odd sounds as well. Rumblings from inside the Tower.

He leaped after Slayer, who crossed the grounds, then ran up the outside of the Tower itself. Perrin followed, running up into the air. Slayer stayed just ahead, ter’angreal pouch tied at his waist.

Perrin created a longbow. He pulled it back, freezing in place, standing on the side of the Tower. He loosed, but the wolf-killer leaped up, then fell into the Tower through a window. The arrow passed overhead.

Perrin leaped to the window, then ducked inside, Hopper leaping in after him, leaving a blur behind. They entered a bedroom hung with brocades of blue. The door slammed, and Perrin charged after Slayer. He didn’t bother to open the door; he smashed it with his hammer.

Slayer charged down a hallway.

Follow, Perrin sent to Hopper. I’ll cut him off.

The wolf raced forward, after Slayer. Perrin ran to the right, then cut down a hallway. He moved quickly, the walls speeding past.

He passed a hallway that appeared to be full of people. He was so surprised that he froze, the hall lurching around him.

They were Aes Sedai, and they were fighting. The hallway was alight, trails of fire flying from one end to the other. The sounds he’d heard before hadn’t been phantoms. And, he thought, yes…

“Egwene?” Perrin asked.

She stood pressed against the wall nearby, intently looking down the hallway. When he spoke, she spun on him, hands going up. He felt something grab him. His mind instantly reacted, however, pushing the air away.

Egwene started as she failed to snatch him.

He stepped forward. “Egwene, you shouldn’t be here. This place is dangerous.”

“Perrin?”

“I don’t know how you got here,” Perrin said. “But you need to go. Please.”

“How did you stop me?” she demanded. “What are you doing here? Have you been with Rand? Tell me where he is.”

She spoke with such authority now. She almost seemed a different person, decades older than the girl he’d known. Perrin opened his mouth to reply, but Egwene cut him off.

“I don’t have time for this,” she said. “I’m sorry, Perrin. I’ll be back for you.” She raised a hand, and he felt things change around him. Ropes appeared, binding him.

He looked down, amused. The ropes slipped free the moment he thought of them being too loose.

Egwene blinked, watching them drop to the ground. “How—”

Someone burst out of a room nearby, a tall, slender-necked woman with raven hair, wearing a sleek white dress. She smiled, raising her hands, and a light appeared before her.

Perrin didn’t need to know what she was doing. He was a wolf; he was the ruler of this place. Weaves were meaningless. He imagined the woman’s attack missing him; he knew it would be so.

A bar of white-hot light shot from the woman. Perrin raised a hand before himself and Egwene. The light vanished, as if stopped by his palm.

Egwene turned, and the wall above the woman burst, rock showering down. A chunk smashed the woman on the head brutally, knocking her to the ground. Light, she was probably dead, after a blow like that.

Egwene smelled amazed. She spun on him. “Balefire? You stopped balefire? Nothing should be able to do that.”

“It’s just a weave,” Perrin said, reaching out for Hopper. Where was Slayer?

“It’s not just a weave, Perrin, it’s—”

“I’m sorry, Egwene,” he said. “I will speak to you later. Be careful in this place. You probably already know that you need to be, but still. It’s more dangerous than you know.”

He turned and ran, leaving Egwene sputtering. It seemed she’d managed to become an Aes Sedai. That was good; she deserved it.

Hopper? he sent. Where are you?

His only reply was a sudden, terrifying, sending of pain.

Gawyn fought for his life against three living shadows of darkness and steel.

They pressed him to the utmost of his ability, leaving him bloodied half a dozen times over on arms and legs. He used The Cyclone Rages, and it defended his vitals. Barely.

Drops of his blood stained the gauze draping Egwene’s bed. If his opponents had already killed Egwene, then they made a good show of continuing to threaten her.

He was growing weak and tired. His boots left bloody prints when he stepped. He couldn’t feel the pain. His parries were becoming sluggish. They’d have him in another moment or two.

No help came, although his voice was hoarse from yelling. Fool! he thought. You need to spend more time thinking and less time running straight into danger! He should have alerted the entire Tower.

The only reason he was alive was because the three were being careful, wearing him down. Once he fell, that sul’dam had indicated they would go on a rampage through the White Tower. It would take the Aes Sedai completely by surprise. This night could be a disaster greater than the original Seanchan strike had been.

The three moved forward.

No! Gawyn thought as one of them tried The River Undercuts the Bank. He leaped forward, dodging between two blades, swinging his weapon. Amazingly, he actually struck, and a voice cried out in the room. Blood sprayed across the ground, one shadowy form falling.

The two others muttered curses, and all pretense of wearing him down vanished. They struck at him, weapons flashing amid dark mist. Exhausted, Gawyn took another hit on the shoulder, blood trickling down his arm beneath his coat.

Shadows. How could a man be expected to fight against shadows? It was impossible!

Where there is light, there must be shadow…

A last, desperate thought occurred to him. With a cry, he leaped to the side and yanked a pillow from Egwene’s bed. Blades cut the air around him as he spun and slammed the pillow on the lantern, smothering it.

Plunging the room into darkness. No light. No shadows.

Equality.

The darkness evened out everything, and in the night, you couldn’t see color. He couldn’t see the blood on his arms, couldn’t see the black shadows of his enemies or the whiteness of Egwene’s bed. But he could hear the men move.

He raised his blade for a desperate strike, using Hummingbird Kisses the Honeyrose, predicting where the Bloodknives would move. He was no longer distracted by their misted figures, and his strike hit true, sinking into flesh.

He twisted, yanking his blade free. The room fell silent save for the fall of the man he’d hit. Gawyn held his breath, heartbeat thumping in his ears. Where was the last assassin?

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