“The girl?” Ba’alzamon laughed. His mouth turned to flame. His burns were all but healed, leaving only a few pink scars that were already fading. He looked like a handsome man of middle years. Except for his mouth, and his eyes. “Which one, Lews Therin? You will not have anyone to help you this time. You are mine, or you are dead. In which case, you are mine anyway.”
“Liar!” Rand snarled. He struck at Ba’alzamon, but the staff of charred wood turned his blade in a shower of sparks. “Father of Lies!”
“Fool! Did those other fools you summoned not tell you who you are?” The fires of Ba’alzamon’s face roared with laughter.
Even floating in emptiness, Rand felt a chill. Would they have lied? I don’t want to be the Dragon Reborn. He firmed his grip on his sword. Parting the Silk, but Ba’alzamon beat every cut aside; sparks flew as from a blacksmith’s forge and hammer. “I have business in Falme, and none with you. Never with you,” Rand said. I have to hold his attention until they can free Egwene. In that odd way, he could see the battle rage among the fog-shrouded wagon yards and horse lots.
“You pitiful wretch. You have sounded the Horn of Valere. You are linked to it, now. Do you think the worms of the White Tower will ever release you, now? They will put chains around your neck so heavy you will never cut them.”
Rand was so surprised he felt it inside the void. He doesn’t know everything. He doesn’t know! He was sure it must show on his face. To cover it, he rushed at Ba’alzamon. Hummingbird Kisses the Honeyrose. The Moon on the Water. The Swallow Rides the Air. Lightning arched between sword and staff. Coruscating glitter showered the fog. Yet Ba’alzamon fell back, his eyes blazing in furious furnaces.
At the edge of his awareness, Rand saw the Seanchan falling back in the streets of Falme, fighting desperately. Damane tore the earth with the One Power, but it could not harm Artur Hawkwing, nor the other heroes of the Horn.
“Will you remain a slug beneath a rock?” Ba’alzamon snarled. The darkness behind him boiled and stirred. “You kill yourself while we stand here. The Power rages in you. It burns you. It is killing you! I alone in all the world can teach you how to control it. Serve me, and live. Serve me, or die!”
“Never!” Have to hold him long enough. Hurry, Hawkwing. Hurry! He launched himself at Ba’alzamon again. The Dove Takes Flight. The Falling Leaf.
This time it was he who was driven back. Dimly, he saw the Seanchan fighting their way back in among the stables. He redoubled his efforts. The Kingfisher Takes a Silverback. The Seanchan gave way to a charge, Artur Hawkwing and Perrin side by side in the van. Bundling Straw. Ba’alzamon caught his blow in a fountain like crimson fireflies, and he had to leap away before the staff split his head; the wind of the blow ruffled his hair. The Seanchan surged forward. Striking the Spark. Sparks flew like hail, Ba’alzamon jumped from his stroke, and the Seanchan were driven back to the cobblestone streets.
Rand wanted to howl aloud. Suddenly he knew that the two battles were linked. When he advanced, the heroes called by the Horn drove the Seanchan back; when he fell back, the Seanchan rose up.
“They will not save you,” Ba’alzamon said. “Those who might save you will be carried far across the Aryth Ocean. If ever you see them again, they will be collared slaves, and they will destroy you for their new masters.”
Egwene. I can’t let them do that to her.
Ba’alzamon’s voice rode over his thoughts. “You have only one salvation, Rand al’Thor. Lews Therin Kinslayer. I am your only salvation. Serve me, and I will give you the world. Resist, and I will destroy you as I have so often before. But this time I will destroy you to your very soul, destroy you utterly and forever.”
I have won again, Lews Therin. The thought was beyond the void, yet it took an effort to ignore it, not to think of all the lives where he had heard it. He shifted his sword, and Ba’alzamon readied his staff.
For the first time Rand realized that Ba’alzamon acted as if the heron-mark blade could harm him. Steel can’t hurt the Dark One. But Ba’alzamon watched the sword warily. Rand was one with the sword. He could feel every particle of it, tiny bits a thousand times too small to be seen with the eye. And he could feel the Power that suffused him running into the sword, as well, threading through the intricate matrices wrought by Aes Sedai during the War of Power.
It was another voice he heard then. Lan’s voice. There will come a time when you want something more than you want life. Ingtar’s voice. It is every man’s right to choose when to Sheathe the Sword. The picture formed of Egwene, collared, living her life as a damane. Threads of my life in danger. Egwene. If Hawkwing gets into Falme, he can save her. Before he knew it, he had taken the first position of Heron Wading in the Rushes, balanced on one foot, sword raised high, open and defenseless. Death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain.
Ba’alzamon stared at him. “Why are you grinning like an idiot, fool? Do you not know I can destroy you utterly?”
Rand felt a calmness beyond that of the void. “I will never serve you, Father of Lies. In a thousand lives, I never have. I know that. I’m sure of it. Come. It is time to die.”
Ba’alzamon’s eyes widened; for an instant they were furnaces that put sweat on Rand’s face. The blackness behind Ba’alzamon boiled up around him, and his face hardened. “Then die, worm!” He struck with the staff, as with a spear.
Rand screamed as he felt it pierce his side, burning like a white-hot poker. The void trembled, but he held on with the last of his strength, and drove the heron-mark blade into Ba’alzamon’s heart. Ba’alzamon screamed, and the dark behind him screamed. The world exploded in fire.
Min struggled up the cobblestone street, pushing through crowds that stood white-faced and staring, those who were not screaming hysterically. A few ran, seemingly without any idea of where they were running, but most moved like poorly handled puppets, more afraid to go than to stay. She searched the faces, hoping to find Egwene, or Elayne, or Nynaeve, but all she saw were Falmen. And there was something drawing her on, as surely as if she had a string tied to her.
Once she turned to look back. Seanchan ships burned in the harbor, and she could see more in flames off the harbor mouth. Many squarish vessels were already small against the setting sun, sailing west as fast as damane could make the winds drive them, and one small ship was beating away from the harbor, tilting to catch a wind to take it along the coast. Spray. She did not blame Bayle Domon for not waiting longer, not after what she had seen; she thought it a wonder he had remained so long.
There was one Seanchan vessel in the harbor not burning, though its towers were black from fires already extinguished. As the tall ship crept toward the harbor mouth, a figure on horseback suddenly appeared around the cliffs skirting the harbor. Riding across the water. Min’s mouth fell open. Silver glittered as the figure raised a bow; a streak of silver lanced to the boxy ship, a gleaming line connecting bow and ship. With a roar she could hear even at that distance, fire engulfed the foretower anew, and sailors rushed about the deck.
Min blinked, and when she looked again, the mounted figure was gone. The ship still slowly made way toward the ocean, the crew fighting the flames.
She gave herself a shake and started to climb the street again. She had seen too much that day for someone riding a horse across water to be more than a momentary distraction. Even if it really was Birgitte and her bow. And Artur Hawkwing. I did see him. I did.
In front of one of the tall stone buildings, she stopped uncertainly, ignoring the people who brushed past her as if stunned. It was in there, somewhere, that she had to go. She rushed up the stairs and pushed open the door.