Altered Destiny: The Will of the Wheel

by Big D

Prologue: A Shifting of the Pattern

AN: This is based on Shezza's fantastic story "Altered Destiny", which he unfortunately decided to abandon. I called dibs on re-rewriting it, and he agreed... but I think that anyone who's followed my stories knows that I'll probably abandon it, too.

Poor baby... everyone loves him, but no one loves him enough.

One thing that should be stated up front is that I intend this to be a much more Rand-centric story than Robert Jordan's. Having one hero, rather than three, simplifies things for me, and I'm always in favor of that. That isn't to say that Mat and Perrin won't play a role, it will just be less of a central one, and probably not for some time yet. If you don't like it, find another story to read.

(The Two Rivers)

"You're not nearly as funny as you think you are, Rand al'Thor," Egwene huffed as she stared up at him.

"You don't have to be funny when you're tall," Rand grinned back, swinging his feet playfully from his perch in the huge oak tree near the edge of the Winespring Water. He had managed to clamber his way up there easily enough, but it was far too high for Egwene. She had, of course, demanded that he immediately help her up as well, but he was having far too much fun teasing her to be bothered with it.

"Fifteen years old, and still just an overgrown boy," she sniped at him, fists on her hips. It was a pose that her mother, Mistress al'Vere, struck often, but the effect wasn't nearly as imposing on a girl two years younger than him as it was on her formidable mother.

"It's the Feast of Thanksgiving," Rand pointed out smugly. "Perhaps if you were to point out how thankful you'd be if I pulled you up, I might be convinced."

Egwene sniffed loudly and distastefully. "I'd sooner sheer a dead sheep than give thanks to you," she groused, then lifted her chin proudly. "If you're going to be a goose, then I'll just go back to the village."

Rand muttered an oath of annoyance as she turned to walk away. "Egwene... wait," he said in surrender, bracing himself against the trunk of the tree and leaning down to offer her a hand. "Come on, I'll pull you up."

She turned, a self-satisfied look in her eye. Mercifully, she didn't dig the knife in any deeper, although there was a part of Rand that was discomfited by that. It was far too much like she had known that he would give in. Reaching up, Egwene grabbed his hand and allowed him to pull her up alongside him. Settling her skirts around her carefully, she reached for his hand again and leaned slightly into his shoulder, her cheeks going pink.

Egwene's hand felt tiny and amazingly soft inside his much larger, work-roughened paws, and Rand swallowed a sudden burst of nervousness as he looked down at her. Behind them, the sun was beginning to dip past the horizon, and the fitful light touched her long, dark hair in wavy streaks, making it look very much like the gently rippling water of the Winespring itself. Her thumb lightly stroked the back of his knuckles and she glanced up at him, blushing deeply now, her wide brown eyes filling his vision behind a few lazy strands of midnight.

Rand's heart thumped lightly in his throat as he dipped his head down to touch her lips with his. He half expected her to push him away, but she just smiled against his mouth and squeezed his hand even tighter. His heart leapt as they broke the short kiss–his first, and her's too, he was certain–and she smiled up at him again, then pressed her forehead shyly into his shoulder.

"Egwene," he whispered questioningly.

She shook her head slightly, her face still pressed against him, and chuckled wryly.

"Don't say a word, Rand al'Thor," she murmured into his arm. "You'll just ruin it."

He opened his mouth to tell her that she was wrong (and thus prove her right), when a high, booming voice rang out from somewhere in the distance, off to the side.

"EGWENE ALVERE, WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING WITH THAT BOY!!!"

Egwene suddenly jerked as she heard the voice, pulling away from Rand and losing her balance on the wide branch. Rand grabbed for her as she toppled over, but caught nothing but air. With a short, shrill shriek, Egwene fell backwards off the tree branch, doing an awkward half-somersault and landing with an ugly, wet-sounding snap almost directly on the back of her neck. She collapsed in a heap on the dusty ground, twitched once, then went horribly still.

Rand vaulted off the branch, nearly breaking his leg in his haste, and scrambled on his hands and knees to Egwene's side.

"Egwene... Egwene, can you hear me," he questioned frantically, then glanced around. He expected to see Mistress alVere rushing down the hill that hid the village from the small valley, but instead saw two boys his age running towards them, horrified expressions on their faces.

"Oh, Light," Mat breathed, staring at Egwene. Perrin stood next to him, his face ashen.

"IDIOT!!!" Rand screamed at his friends as he knelt over Egwene. "WHAT WERE YOU THINKING!!!"

"It was just a joke," Mat said quietly. "I didn't–"

"GO FETCH THE WISDOM!!!" Rand roared at them.

Mat and Perrin stared at him blankly for a moment, then broke into a dead run towards the village.

Not knowing what else to do, Rand took one of her hands in his and pressed the palm of his other hand against her cheek, then touched her lips with the tips of his fingers.

"HELP!!!" he screamed towards the village, finding no breath there. "SOMEONE HELP HER!!!"

He let go of her hand and took her head in his hands, tears flowing freely down his cheeks. "Egwene... please..." He looked up at the sky in desperation. "Oh, Light... please do something. Please, Light... DON'T LET HER DIE..."

He howled as a sudden wave of... something... rocked his body, filling him with an angry storm of fire and ice that seemed as if it would sear his bones to ash, while at the same time freezing them solid. The world around him sharpened like a knife and assaulted his senses with unnatural fury. He could smell the fresh growth of the new spring in the air, taste the wood smoke drifting from the hearths of Emond's Field. Beneath his fingers, he could just barely feel Egwene's heartbeat through her skin, the pulses growing farther apart with every passing moment as she drifted into death.

Not knowing how, or even understanding what was happening, he grabbed that raging torrent of flame and biting cold, bending and shaping it forcibly to his will, and sent it into Egwene. Dark eyes flew open, wider than they had ever gone before, until he thought that they might burst free from her skull as her body convulsed beneath his touch. She clutched at his arms with raw, maddened strength, and beat at his chest, but he held to her on with pure Two Rivers stubbornness, continuing to feed that ocean of swirling power into her.

Something about that thought tugged at his mind, and he quickly realized what it was.

Swirling power.

Power.

The One Power.

Saidin.

Only now did he notice something beneath the sensations of ferocious heat and biting cold, beyond the thrilling, almost intoxicating struggle to bend them to his command. A foul, rancid undertone to the bliss, like biting into your dinner, only to discover that it had begun to rot in your mouth.

The Dark One's taint.

He flung himself away from Egwene, and at the same time tried to push the Power away from him. It bucked and writhed through his mind and body, fighting him like a living thing, demanding to be used. Above him, dark, angry clouds began to form, lightning and thunder appearing at their edges. With a final burst of will, Rand forced the raging mass of saidin away from him and closed himself off to it. How, he couldn't say... and didn't care, so long as it was gone.

He lay there in the grass, panting as if he had just run a mile, his mind racing over the realization of what he'd done. He felt unclean, filthy on the inside, just at the thought of having touched saidin. His belly boiled, and he rolled on his side just in time to empty his stomach onto the ground in revulsion. Scrubbing his mouth with his sleeve he spat out the bitter tang of his own bile. His hands were shaking, and he dry-washed them over and over again uncontrollably.

He tried to focus on something, anything other than the fact that he had just channeled the One Power, and found himself instinctively seeking the void, wishing for the empty solace that it normally brought. With a deep breath, he took hold of the emotions that wracked his body and fed them into a bright blue flame at the center of his being, just as his father had taught him. Hate and anger, mostly with himself, went first, followed by the sickly, gnawing sense of disgust that was crawling through his body, and finally, the massive, almost immeasurable ball of sheer terror that made him want to curl up and weep for days. The flame sputtered and flickered, nearly expiring under the strain, but eventually took it all, leaving him surrounded by an infinite emptiness that steadied and buoyed him like the anchor of a boat.

His mind clear, he was finally able to focus on the moment. Egwene. He scrambled back over to her and pressed his first two fingers against her throat. The void nearly shattered with relief when he felt her heartbeat, regular and strong. He moved his fingers to her lips and felt warm breath move across them. Tenderly, he checked her head and neck, but couldn't find so much as a mark anywhere.

His body wanted to shake with relief, but the void held him steady. He gathered her up in his arms and began making his way towards Emond's Field. He was just starting up the hill when a dark-haired girl appeared at the summit and began streaking down to meet them.

Nynaeve al'Meara was only a few years older than Rand, hardly old enough to braid her hair, but made it a point to project an air of reserved dignity that made her seem more like an aged grandmother, albeit one with a perpetual sore tooth. All of that was forgotten for the moment, as the Wisdom's apprentice had her skirts hiked up well above her knees and was bounding down the hill fast enough to outpace Mat and Perrin, both of whom were puffing hard at her heels.

"PUT HER DOWN, YOU IDIOTIC BOY!!!" she shrieked as soon as she spotted them.

Rand laid Egwene gently down in the grass just as Nynaeve reached them. She angrily swung her heavy leather bag at his head as he stepped away, and he ducked to the side to avoid it.

"Never move someone who's fallen on their head like that," she snarled at him. "By the Light, if you've crippled her..." She broke off into muttering whispers, and Rand caught several words like "addle-brained" and "wool-headed men".

The storm continued to grow above them as a few droplets of rain began to fall. Rand felt an unsteady hand grip his shoulder.

"Is she going to be alright?" Mat's normally loud voice was down to a breathy whisper. Rand glanced at him and could see the fear and guilt etched into his face and eyes. Perrin stood on his other side, watching intently as Nynaeve checked Egwene over. The boy's huge hands flexed at his sides, as if he itched to do something useful, but there was nothing but to stand there and wait.

Rand was a little surprised to hear himself answer Mat. "She'll be fine," he said. His voice was flat and distant from inside the void, and Mat stared at him for a moment before turning back to Nynaeve and Egwene.

"Are you sure that she fell," Nynaeve asked in confusion, looking up at Rand. He nodded at her, Mat and Perrin quickly adding their agreements. "Well, if she did, I don't see any signs." She reached into her bag and produced a small packet of twisted paper, holding it under Egwene's nose and crushing it with her thumb.

Egwene suddenly coughed and sputtered, her eyes flying open, then flinching away immediately as a few drops of rain splattered across her face.

"Wh–what? Rand? What happened," she asked in confusion. "Did my mother catch us?"

Mat and Perrin both let out sudden, uncontrollable snorts of laughter, as much in relief as at Rand's expense. On another day, Rand might have laughed as well, but right now he wasn't sure he ever would again. Light, he could channel! Now that he knew that Egwene was going to be alright, the thought tore at him anew. The edges of the void shook and quivered beneath the pressure of that knowledge–and worse–he suddenly realized that he could still feel it, there inside the void with him, like a flickering candle off in the distance, as tempting as clean water to a man drowning of thirst. He wanted to push the emptiness away, but wasn't sure if he could even stand without it.

Nynaeve glanced wryly up at him, the tiniest bit of humor creeping into her pale, pretty face now that she knew that Egwene was going to be alright. "No," she said to Egwene, "but don't worry. Your mother will be the first one I tell, just as soon as we get back to the village."

Egwene blinked the last of the fog out of her eyes and stared up at Nynaeve in horror.

Rand couldn't stand it anymore. Saidin sang out to him inside the void and he ran from it, ran from Egwene, ran from himself. He sprinted up the hill, ignoring the surprised voices behind him, and didn't stop until he found himself outside The Winespring Inn, where Egwene and her family lived. His father was inside... Tam would know what to do.

He stopped with a foot on the bottom step. Only, Tam wouldn't know what to do. His father couldn't do anything about him channeling... no one could.

Rand's eyes fell on the long boar spear that his father had carried with him from the farm, standing propped against the wall near the front door of the inn. That was one thing he could do... one way to keep himself from hurting anyone. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed overhead, the skies suddenly opening up into a deluge that soaked him instantly. He ignored it, still staring at the spear. All he had to do was go somewhere where no one would find him. It could all be over within the hour.

Rand grabbed the spear and slipped around the side of the inn.

He stopped near the barn, leaning against the shaft of the spear, rain falling in sheets all around him. The void trembled, filling with heat haze, tottering on the edge of destruction. Rand's lungs felt like they couldn't take in enough air to keep him standing. He glanced up at the tip of the spear, his eyes focused on the long, steel head. He had seen wild pigs die on the end of that spear, watched them thrash and kick as their hearts gave way and their blood was poisoned by openings in the gut. It was an ugly way to die.

But better that than the alternative.

He found, somewhat to his surprise, that he wasn't afraid to die. Especially if it meant that he wouldn't go mad and harm the people he cared about. But killing himself felt far too much like quitting for his comfort, and that was something that no Two Rivers man would do easily. Two Rivers folk were known for their stubbornness, and Rand was no exception.

There had to be another way.

He could run, maybe. Run far away, somewhere he couldn't hurt anyone if–when–he finally lost control of himself. His father had once told him that there were vast stretches of land in the world, places where no men lived and no king ruled. If he could find a place like that, then there was no way that he could harm anyone.

But he would still go mad. He would still rot from the inside. The Dark One's taint would find him wherever he went... unless he refused to channel the Power.

Or unless he couldn't channel it.

Rand blinked in sudden realization. He couldn't run from the Power, but there were those who could take it from him. The Aes Sedai... those half-mythical remnants from the Age of Legends. Women who could channel the One Power safely, who twitched the strings that connected to kings and queens, making the world dance to their tune. Who hunted men who could channel–men like him–and stripped the Power away from them to make the world safe.

But there was a price to be paid. All the stories said that men who had been gentled died soon afterwards. But it wasn't the gentling that killed them... bereft of the Power, they simply gave up the will to live. Thinking back to that rush of sensation that filled him as he healed Egwene, he could almost understand why. Even now, saidin beckoned to him in the void, sang to him, tempted him.

All he had to do was reach out to it.

Snarling to himself over his weakness, he stepped into the barn and fetched a hatchet from a peg near the door. A few quick hacks at the shaft of the boar spear and he was left with something much smaller, more manageable. The spear was now just over four feet long, nearly a foot of that being just the long steel head. His mind was made up. He would travel to Tar Valon, where the Aes Sedai ruled from the White Tower, and get them to take this Light-cursed Power away from him. He would not allow himself to be ruled by his weakness, and he wouldn't quit either.

Fashioning a strap from a length of rawhide cord found near the saddle mounts, he slung the spear across his back, point up. He would need a weapon out in the world, and this would do as well as any sword. His unstrung bow was still laying in the back of his father's wagon on the other side of the barn, and he ducked out to collect it and his quiver, checking his pockets as he went to make sure that he had everything he would need to live off the land until he reached the great city. His sling and tinderbox were in good order, as well as his belt knife and whetstone. His father had always taught him to be prepared for anything when he left the farm, and he had learned his lessons well. He glanced at the stabled horses, but discarded the idea with a disdainful grimace. He may have been cursed by the Light, but he was no horse thief. His feet had carried him the length and breadth of the Two Rivers, and they could carry him to Tar Valon just as well.

It was time.

The sun dipped down past the horizon as he stepped out of the barn for the final time, turning his eyes towards the Winespring Inn as he did. The rain beat down on him like a wall of water, soaking him through, but he could see warm, cheerful lights burning inside. Even through the rain, the scent of Mistress alVere's fresh honeycakes drifted out into the early evening. Only once every four years did the Feast of Thanksgiving come along, and all of Emond's Field was celebrating with good food and cheer, no matter the weather.

His father was in there, and no doubt Mat, Perrin, and Egwene would be along soon. He felt a pang of regret, for not saying goodbye to them, for running away and leaving them to slog through the rain without him.

Then he shivered, remembering exactly why it was raining in the first place.

He closed his eyes as he turned away from the inn, breaking into a trot that led around the far side of the village, never allowing himself to look back even once. The rain pounded him and the wind pushed at him, but he never slowed his pace as he turned north and began to make his way towards Taren Ferry, the only way out of the Two Rivers. With any luck, the storm would wash away his tracks. He didn't doubt that his father would come searching for him, once he realized that he was missing, but with a little luck, he would be able to avoid even Tam alThor's tracking skills.

Rand only had a vague idea of where Tar Valon was, but it would have to be enough. East until he reached the River Erinin, then north to the city itself. It certainly seemed a shorter distance on a map than it did at the moment, but now that the journey had begun, he wasn't going to let anything stop him.

As he ran parallel to the North Road, just far enough away to avoid the notice of anyone who happened to be traveling it, but close enough so that he wouldn't get lost, he tried to think of anything except the fact that he was leaving behind everything he had ever known. Images of happy times with his father, of pranks and games with Perrin and Mat flashed through his mind's eye, thankfully muffled and distant from inside the void. He clung to that emptiness, using it as a shield against the building despair inside him.

And if the void happened to waver a few times, and if some of the wetness on his cheeks came from somewhere other than the rain... well, at least there was no one there to see.