Almost sobbing, he managed to inhale at last, just as he got the sword out of its sheath. Cautiously, he got to his feet, wondering which of his friends had given that scream. Perrin looked back at him wideeyed from across the room, crouched and holding his axe back as if about to chop down a tree. Mat peered around the side of a treasure pile, clutching a dagger snatched from the trove.
Something moved in the deepest part of the shadows left by the torches, and they all jumped. It was Mordeth, clutching his knees to his chest and huddled as deep into the furthest corner as he could get.
“He tricked us,” Mat panted. “It was some kind of trick.”
Mordeth threw back his head and wailed; dust sifted down as the walls trembled. “You are all dead!” he cried. “All dead!” And he leaped up, diving across the room.
Rand's jaw dropped, and he almost dropped the sword as well. As Mordeth dove through the air, he stretched out and thinned, like a tendril of smoke. As thin as a finger he struck a crack in the wall tiles and vanished into it. A last cry hung in the room as he vanished, fading slowly away after he was gone.
“You are all dead!”
“Let's get out of here,” Perrin said faintly, firming his grip on his axe while he tried to face every direction at once. Gold ornaments and gems scattered unnoticed under his feet.
“But the treasure,” Mat protested. “We can't just leave it now.”
“I don't want anything of his,” Perrin said, still turning one way after another. He raised his voice and shouted at the walls. “It's your treasure, you hear? We are not taking any of it!”
Rand stared angrily at Mat. “Do you want him coming after us? Or are you going to wait here stuffing your pockets until he comes back with ten more like him?”
Mat just gestured to all the gold and jewels. Before he could say anything, though, Rand seized one of his arms and Perrin grabbed the other. They hustled him out of the room, Mat struggling and shouting about the treasure.
Before they had gone ten steps down the hall, the already dim light behind them began to fail. The torches in the treasure room were going out. Mat stopped shouting. They hastened their steps. The first torch outside the room winked out, then the next. By the time they reached the winding stairs there was no need to drag Mat any longer. They were all running, with the dark closing in behind them. Even the pitchblack of the stairs only made them hesitate an instant, then they sped upwards, shouting at the top of their lungs. Shouting to scare anything that might be waiting; shouting to remind themselves they were still alive.
They burst out into the hall above, sliding and falling on the dusty marble, scrambling out through the columns, to tumble down the stairs and land in a bruised heap in the street.
Rand untangled himself and picked Tam's sword up from the pavement, looking around uneasily. Less than half of the sun still showed above the rooftops. Shadows reached out like dark hands, made blacker by the remaining light, nearly filling the street. He shivered. The shadows looked like Mordeth, reaching.
“At least we're out of it. ” Mat got up from the bottom of the pile, dusting himself off in a shaky imitation of his usual manner. “And at least I —”
“Are we?” Perrin said.
Rand knew it was not his imagination this time. The back of his neck prickled. Something was watching them from the darkness in the columns. He spun around, staring at the buildings across the way. He could feel eyes on him from there, too. His grip tightened on his sword hilt, though he wondered what good it would be. Watching eyes seemed to be everywhere. The others looked around warily; he knew they could feel it, too.
“We stay in the middle of the street,” he said hoarsely. They met his eyes; they looked as frightened as he felt. He swallowed hard. “We stay in the middle of the street, keep out of shadows as much as we can, and walk fast. ”
“Walk very fast,” Mat agreed fervently.
The watchers followed them. Or else there were lots of watchers, lots of eyes staring out of almost every building. Rand could not see anything move, hard as he tried, but he could feel the eyes, eager, hungry. He did not know which would be worse. Thousands of eyes, or just a few, following them.
In the stretches where the sun still reached them, they slowed, just a little, squinting nervously into the darkness that always seemed to lay ahead. None of them was eager to enter the shadows; no one was really sure something might not be waiting. The watchers' anticipation was a palpable thing whenever shadows stretched across the street, barring their way. They ran through those dark places shouting. Rand thought he could hear dry, rustling laughter...
At last, with twilight falling, they came in sight of the white stone building they had left what seemed like days ago. Suddenly the watching eyes departed. Between one step and the next, they vanished in a blink. Without a word Rand broke into a trot, followed by his friends, then a full run that only ended when they hared through the doorway and collapsed, panting.
A small fire burned in the middle of the tile floor, the smoke vanishing through a hole in the ceiling in a way that reminded Rand unpleasantly of Mordeth. Everyone except Lan was there, gathered around the flames, and their reactions varied considerably. Egwene, warming her hands at the fire, gave a start as the three burst into the room, clutching her hands to her throat; when she saw who it was, a relieved sigh spoiled her attempt at a withering look. Thom merely muttered something around his pipestem, but Rand caught the word “fools” before the gleeman went back to poking the flames with a stick.
“You woolheaded witlings!” the Wisdom snapped. She bristled from head to foot; her eyes glittered, and bright spots of red burned on her cheeks. “Why under the Light did you run off like that? Are you all right? Have you no sense at all? Lan is out looking for you now, and you'll be luckier than you deserve if he does not pound some sense into the lot of you when he gets back.”
The Aes Sedai's face betrayed no agitation at all, but her hands had loosed a whiteknuckled grip on her dress at the sight of them. Whatever Nynaeve had given her must have helped, for she was on her feet. “You should not have done what you did,” she said in a voice as clear and serene as a Waterwood pond. “We will speak of it later. Something happened out there, or you would not be falling all over one another like this. Tell me.”
“You said it was safe,” Mat complained, scrambling to his feet. “You said Aridhol was an ally of Manetheren, and Trollocs wouldn't come into the city, and —”
Moiraine stepped forward so suddenly that Mat cut off with his mouth open, and Rand and Perrin paused in getting up, halfway crouched or on their knees. “Trollocs? Did you see Trollocs inside the walls?”
Rand swallowed. “Not Trollocs,” he said, and all three began talking excitedly, all at the same time.
Everyone began in a different place. Mat started with finding the treasure, sounding almost as if he had done it alone, while Perrin began explaining why they had gone off in the first place without telling anyone. Rand jumped right to what he thought was important, meeting the stranger among the columns. But they were all so excited that nobody told anything in the order it happened; whenever one of them thought of something, he blurted it out with no regard for what came before or after, or for who was saying what. The watchers. They all babbled about the watchers.
It made the whole tale close to incoherent, but their fear came through. Egwene began casting uneasy glances at the empty windows fronting the street. Out there the last remnants of twilight were fading; the fire seemed very small and dim. Thom took his pipe from between his teeth and listened with his head cocked, frowning. Moiraine's eyes showed concern, but not an undue amount. Until...
Suddenly the Aes Sedai hissed, and grabbed Rand's elbow in a tight grip. “Mordeth! Are you sure of that name? Be very sure, all of you. Mordeth?”
They murmured a chorused “Yes,” taken aback by the Aes Sedai's intensity.
“Did he touch you?” she asked them all. “Did he give you anything, or did you do anything for him? I must know.”
“No,” Rand said. “None of us. None of those things.”
Perrin nodded agreement, and added, “All he did was try to kill us. Isn't that enough? He swelled up until he filled half the room, shouted that we were all dead men, then vanished.” He moved his hand to demonstrate. “Like smoke.” Egwene gave a squeak.
Mat twisted away petulantly. “Safe, you said. All that talk about Trollocs not coming here. What were we supposed to think?”
“Apparently you did not think at all,” she said, coolly composed once more. “Anyone who thinks would be wary of a place that Trollocs are afraid to enter.”
“Mat's doing,” Nynaeve said, certainty in her voice. “He's always talking some mischief or other, and the others lose the little wits they were born with when they're around him.”
Moiraine nodded briefly, but her eyes remained on Rand and his two friends. “Late in the Trolloc Wars, an army camped within these ruins — Trollocs, Darkfriends, Myrddraal, Dreadlords, thousands in all. When they did not come out, scouts were sent inside the walls. The scouts found weapons, bits of armor, and blood splattered everywhere. And messages scratched on walls in the Trolloc tongue, calling on the Dark One to aid them in their last hour. Men who came later found no trace of the blood or the messages. They had been scoured away. Halfmen and Trollocs remember still. That is what keeps them