Winds buffeted him, whipping his brown cloak and his fine Tairen trousers. But his words carried, echoing across the broken rocks of Dragonmount. It was cold and crisp, the air new. His weave kept him warm enough to survive, but it did not stop the chill. He hadn't wanted it to.
"What if I think it's all meaningless?" he demanded with the loud voice of a king. "What if I don't want it to keep turning? We live our lives by the blood of others! And those others become forgotten. What good is it if everything we know will fade? Great deeds or great tragedies, neither means anything! They will become legends, then those legends will be forgotten, then it will start all over again!"
The access key began to glow in his hands. The clouds above seemed to grow darker.
Rand's anger beat in rhythm with his heart, demanding to be set free.
"What if he is right?" Rand bellowed. "What if it's better for this all to end? What if the Light was a lie all along, and this is all just a punishment? We live again and again, growing feeble, dying, trapped forever. We are to be tortured for all time!"
Power flooded into rand like surging waves filling a new ocean. He came to life, glorifying in saidin, not caring that the display must be brilliantly visible to men everywhere who could channel. He felt himself alight with the Power, like a sun to the world below.
"NONE OF THIS MATTERS!"
He closed his eyes, drawing in more and more power, feeling as he had only twice before. Once when he had cleansed saidin. Once when he had created this mountain.
Then he drew in more.
He knew that much power would destroy him. He had stopped caring. Fury that had been building in him for two years finally boiled free, unleashed at long last. He spread his arms out wide, access key in his hand. Lews Therin had been right to kill himself and create Dragonmount. Only he hadn't gone far enough.
Rand could remember that day. The smoke, the rumbling, the sharp pains of a Healing bringing him back to lucidity as he lay in a broken palace. But those pains had paled compared with the agony of realization. Agony from seeing the beautiful walls scarred and broken. From seeing the piles of familiar corpses, tossed to the floor like discarded rags.
From seeing Ilyena a short distance away, her golden hair spread out in the ground around her.
He could feel the palace around him shaking from the earth's own sobs. Or was that Dragonmount, throbbing from the immense power he had drawn into himself?
He could smell the air thick with blood and soot and death and pain. Or was that just the scent of a dying world, spread before him?
The winds began to whip at him, spinning, enormous clouds above twisting upon themselves, like ancient leviathans passing in the profound black deep.
Lees Therin had made a mistake. He had died, but had left the world alive, wounded, limping forward. He'd let the Wheel of Time keep turning, rotating, rotting and bringing him back around again. He could not escape it. Not without ending everything.
"Why?" Rand whispered to the twisting winds around him. The Power coming to him through the access key was greater than he'd held when cleansing saidin. Perhaps greater than any man had ever held. Great enough to unravel the Pattern itself and bring final peace.
"Why do we have to do this again?" he whispered. "I have already failed. She is dead by my hand. Why must you make me live it again?"
Lightening cracked above, thunder buffeting him. Rand closed his eyes, perched above a drop that plummeted thousands of feet downward, in the middle of s tempest of icy wind. Through his eyelids, he could sense the blazing light of the access key. The Power he held inside dwarfed that light. He was the sun. He was fire. He was life and death.
Why? Why must they do this over and over? The world could give him no answer.
Rand raised his arms high, a conduit of power and energy. An incarnation of death and destruction. He would end it. End it all and let men rest, finally, from their suffering.
Stop them from having to live over and over again. Why? Why had the Creator done this to them? Why?
Why do we live again? Lews Therin asked, suddenly. His voice was crisp and distinct.
Yes, Rand said, pleading. Tell me. Why?
Maybe... Lews Therin said, shockingly lucid, not a hint of madness to him. He spoke softly, reverently. Why? Could it be... Maybe it's so that we can have a second chance.
Rand froze. The winds blew against him, but he could not be moved by them. The Power hesitated inside him, like the headsman's axe, held quivering above the criminal's neck. You may not have a choice about which duties are given you, Tam's voice, just a memory, said in his mind. But you can choose why you fulfill them.
Why, Rand? Why do you go to battle? What is the point?
All was still. Even with the tempest, the winds, the crashes of thunder. All was still.
Why? Rand thought with wonder. Because each time we live, we get to love again.
That was the answer. It all swept over him, lives lived, mistakes made, love changing everything. He saw the entire world in his mind's eye, lit by the glow in his hand. He remembered lives, hundreds of them, thousands of them, stretching to infinity. He remembered love, and peace, and joy, and hope.
Within that moment, suddenly something amazing occurred to him. If I live again, then she might as well!
That's why he fought. That's why he lived again, and that was the answer to Tam's question. I fight because last time, I failed. I fight because I want to fix what I did wrong.
I want to do it right this time.
The power within him reached a crescendo, and he turned it upon itself, drove it through the access key. The ter'angreal to the south, built to stop the Dark One. Too powerful, some had said. Too powerful ever to use. Too frightening.
Rand used its own power upon it, crushing the distant globe, shattering it as if in the grip of a giant's hands.
The Choedan Kal exploded.
The Power winked out.
The tempest ended.
And Rand opened his eyes for the first time in a very long while. He knew - somehow - that he would never again hear Lews Therin's voice in his head. For they were not two men, and had never been.
He regarded the world beneath him. The clouds above had finally broken, if only just above him. The gloom dispersed, allowing him to see the sun hanging just above.
Rand looked up at it. Then he smiled. Finally, he let out a deep-throated laugh, true and pure.
It had been far too long.
Egwene finally saw what Silviana had brought her to see.
After all this time, the clouds had finally broken. They had pulled back in a ring around Dragonmount. The sun shone down, radiant, lighting the distant, snowcapped crag. The broken maw and uppermost peak of the blasted mountainside were bathed in light. It was the first time Egwene could remember seeing direct sunlight in weeks. Perhaps longer.
"Some novices noticed it first, Mother," Silviana said, stepping up beside her. "And news spread quickly. Who would have thought that a little ring of sunlight would cause such a stir? It's such a simple thing, really. Nothing we haven't seen before. But..."
There was something beautiful about it. The light streaming down in a column, strong and pure. Distant, yet striking. It was like something forgotten, but somehow still familiar, shining forth from a distant memory to bring warmth again.
"What does it mean?" Silviana asked.
"I don't know," Egwene said. "But I welcome the sight of it." She hesitated. "That opening in the clouds is too even to be natural. Mark this day on the calendars, Silviana. Something has happened. Perhaps, eventually, we shall know the truth of it."
"Yes, Mother," Silviana said, looking out through the gap again.
Egwene stood with her, rather than returning to her study immediately. It felt relaxing to stare out at that distant light, so welcoming and noble. "Storms will soon come," it seemed to say. "But for now, I am here."
I am here.
The end of the twelfth book of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson