The Etymology of White Pass

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The Etymology of White Pass

Post by Erulisse » Sat Sep 09, 2023 3:55 pm

In the east the sky burned. It was no poetic flourish, no clever gleeman’s metaphor. Fire blazed in the sky, casting the Black Hills in baleful orange. Saidar roiled like a great cauldron in the sky, lashing the unseen field of Maighande with flame and death. Rashima still stood, the Warrior Amyrlin, searing her way into legend one way or the other.

Lyria Paeron, The Silver Sword of Tar Valon, The Lily of the White Walls, The Shield of South and the First Light of the White Ajah stood upon the Black Mountain. Her armor, fine steel chased with silver, was battered and scuffed, her winter blue eyes tired and pained, her fine silver blond hair fluttering in the hot breeze. Below her, in the Kirstan Pass, an army of trollocs surged against the thin line of steel that was all that remained of the army of Alegar. It was like the bad old days come again, when men had met the shadowspawn armies head on, dying where they stood as the black waves washed over them. This time it would be to a purpose. It had to be. Lyria’s eyes had seen such things before, she had seen much in her nearly four centuries, too much. She had watched Barasine burn, seen the wreck of Jaramide, marched the Long Retreat from Aramelle, starved under the Crystal Dome at the siege of Shaemal, stood with Aemon on the banks of the Tarendelle for two days before the fall. She had stood on the Shining Walls when all hope had seemed lost. She had raised her voice for Rashima in the Hall, spoken the tired refrain of attack for the thousandth time. She had rallied Alegar and led them north to Sabat Ford after the Bitter Night, to the Sorelle Steppe, to the great field at Maighande. One of her warders was dead in pass below, the wrenching pain gouging troughs in her iron soul.

There would be time for grief later. Maybe there would be time.

The trollocs brayed as they surged forward, hammering the small force back step by bloody step. When they broke through, they would sweep across the low hills and plunge into Rashima’s flank like a dagger to the heart. It could not be allowed. Not after they had risked so much and sacrificed so many. Not after three centuries of fire and loss. It could not be allowed. Was there anything left of the girl who had once wanted only to learn about the world, to read books and explore the wilds. Did it matter?

“Sisters,” she said, “attend me.” Only one of her companions was a true Sister, Bryila, the ancient Brown who had never left the library in anyone’s memory before Rashima had called every sister to the banner. Three of them were Accepted, strong enough to have answered the call. The last was a novice by the name of Golwyn Nayma, who had escaped the Tower and disguised herself as a serving girl to join the march west. Lyria had left instructions that, when she returned to the Tower, Golwyn was to be switched to within an inch of her life and then a shawl was to be draped around her shoulders. It was what the girl was owed. The light of Saidar sprang up around them. Lyria embraced it also, reaching out to the others and binding them in her circle. In the east she could see the flows as Rashima and the others lashed the field. Great bands of fire as thick as a city gate, torrents of air that could tear trees from deep and stubborn earth. There was Balefire in the air, its queasy unreality heavy on the back of the throat. Nature itself screamed as the One Power was unleashed in all the primal fury that women could contrive. The White Tower going to war.

Lyria drew in Saidar greedily, filling herself with it like a sailor long adrift who suddenly found the water fresh. There were dreadlords in the army below. They lashed out at her with knives of Spirit as her embrace haloed her against the mountain side. She swatted them aside with the contempt of a blademaster for the strokes of mewling children. There would be time for them. There would be time for them all. Flows of Earth and Fire as thick as her arm poured from her, plunging down into the mountain in an intricate lattice a half a mile wide. One of the Accepted was mewling from the strain but Lyria was the head of this circle, she knew what each woman could give. What was worse, she knew how much she would take. Still the dreadlords attacked, and still she brushed them aside, a part of her mind deputized for the task. The trollocs howled and brayed as they met the thinning line of spears, dying in their hundreds for each step they advanced into the pass, but advance they did. To her Saidar enhanced senses the air stank of blood and steel, of leather and woodsmoke, of burning flesh and hair. The lattice of power grew more complex, as Water coiled around the great fingers of Earth and Fire. On any other day in this Age it would have been the greatest work of Saidar ever witnessed. The Accepted was sobbing on the ground, all of them were shaking like leaves, all of them except for Lyria and Golwyn. The White Sister stood, luminous with the Power she was drawing, the Novice like a statue, jaw clenched and eyes bright. Lyria could hear her teeth cracking with the force of the bite. She drew deeper, deeper than she ever had in her long life, weaving the flows with infinite care and terrible power borne of desperation and utter mathematical precision. She tasted her own blood.

Lyria raised her hands. She closed her eyes. She killed the Mountain.

It was a very White murder. Cold, logical, precise. The Fire became Air, the Water she had worked into the mountain froze to ice in a heartbeat, blossoming outward with the force of a glacier. It ripped the spine of the mountain appart like a wishbone at Beltine. The sound alone knocked every soldier and trolloc in the pass from their feet. The granite screamed as it came apart, each thousand tons ripping the next free of the mountain like the wedding veil of an Essnian bride. Dust exploded upwards, instantly fluorescing with heat lightning that lit the night like strobing beacon, a silver white counterpoint to the red of the distant battlefield. The earth itself shook like a whipped horse. The endless seconds stretched out as the mountainside tore itself apart, uncounted of tons of rock and earth falling in an avalanche that a million years of erosion could never have achieved. Small hillocks and ridges seemed to slump and melt like wax candles, or burst from within as the stresses Lyria had exploited grew untenable. As the vast wall of earth and rock gathered speed Lyria poured flows of water into the colossal wreck, turning a million tons of dirt into as many tons of mud. It ripped ancient pines from the slope by the roots, some of the snapping trunks so loud they were audible over the scream of falling rock. It bore its victims along in front of it, a thrashing palisade of destroyed timber. The Accepted pounded on the quaking earth with her fists, the white flesh already bloody. The wall of mud and rock hit the trollocs and the few surviving Algari alike. Flesh and bone and steel were as nothing. They died in their thousands, entombed forever by the corpse of the murdered mountain. It swept the valley clear in a long heartbeat that would rename the place the White Pass for the next thousand years. Lyria released Saidar. To a woman, the circle collapsed, Golwyn with a rapturous smile on her insensate lips, Bryila never to rise again.

Lyria stood alone on the precipice she had ripped out of the Black Mountain. The remaining half would stand for a century or two, before wind and rain rotted the exposed face into slumping ruin like a diseased tooth, reducing it to one of the innumerable Black Hills. Lyria sank to her knees above the holocaust she had wrought, the ruins of men and trollocs alike. She placed her palms on the still trembling earth, fixed her eyes on the burning sky, and wept.