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1.6.4: What's up with Darkhounds? Who are the big pack in COT hunting?

[Leigh Butler, Rajiv Mote]

What do we know about Darkhounds?

From [TDR: 43, Shadowbrothers, 423-426] and [TDR: 44, Hunted, 432-433]:

From [TFOH: 6, Gateways, 113-115]: From [COT: 6, The Scent of a Dream, 194] and [COT: 8, Whirlpools of Color, 225]: Elyas's information about how the Shadow goes about collecting wolf souls to make Darkhounds seems to imply that only a Darkhound can do it, but several people have pointed out a different connection between wolves and Darkhounds: Slayer.

His favorite hobby is killing wolves in T'A'R, after all - that's where he got his nickname. And then there is the Dark Prophecy that appears in [TGH: 7, Blood Calls Blood, 89]:

Luc came to the Mountains of Dhoom.
Isam waited in the high passes.
The hunt is now begun. The Shadow's hounds now course, and kill.
One did live, and one did die, but both are.
The Time of Change has come.
The first and last two lines of the stanza are concerned solely with Slayer, but why else would that middle line about Darkhounds be in there unless there was a connection of some kind? It's been suggested, therefore, that Slayer may also participate in wolf-soul collecting. (Looney theory: Slayer is the Shadow's equivalent of a Wolfbrother.)

Then again, there are a couple of problems with this theory. For one thing, Slayer is not immune to poison [WH: 22, Out of Thin Air, 448], which would seem to be a problem when dealing with Darkhounds. For another, if Slayer can make Darkhounds why doesn't he ever have any with him? Wouldn't they come in handy? There's also the question of whether you could collect a wolf's soul in T'A'R, which is where Slayer does his wolf-killin'. Hopper tells Perrin that when wolves die in the Dreamworld, they die for good [TSR: 28, To the Tower of Ghenjei, 323], which seems to preclude the possibility of being "harvested" to be a Darkhound.

What about the big pack of Darkhounds in COT?

The pack that circled Perrin's camp is huge - about fifty Hounds - and Masuri (who studied Darkhounds) tells Perrin that she's never heard of such a large pack. Masuri has a couple of other observations as well:
"There is always a feel of urgency about Darkhounds' trails, but it varies according to a number of factors [...] This one has an intense admixture of... I suppose you would call it impatience. That really isn't strong enough, by far - as well call a stabwound a pinprick - but it will do. I would say their hunt has been going on for some time, and their prey is eluding them somehow."
[COT: 7, Blacksmith's Puzzle, 209]
So, who could they be hunting?

Well, obviously it's not Perrin, since they passed him right by. It's also probably not the Whitecloaks, because they seem to have passed that camp by, too; the nasty and suddenly-cut-off stench Valda smells [COT: Prologue, Glimmers of the Pattern, 27] could well have been a Gateway opening from the Blight to send the Darkhounds through. This makes sense because Perrin observes that the Darkhounds were traveling from north to south, and the Whitecloaks' camp was north of Perrin's at that point.

So, presumably they're looking for someone south of Perrin. Suggested candidates are Mat, Jain Farstrider (aka Noal), or Fain (who could be in the south by now for all we know, and has proven himself quite good at eluding those who seek him). Tom York suggests Semirhage is calling on them to locate Tuon for her, but this is contradicted by Masuri's assertion that the Darkhounds have been hunting their prey for a long time (though "some time" could mean anything from days to months, really). Another possibility is Rand, who is now in Tear; since he had spent quite some time bouncing all over the place using Gateways, that probably would be quite frustrating to a pack hunting him.

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