In Crossroads of Twilight we see that the Wild Hunt is on, the Darkhounds coursing with the Dark One’s purpose driving them, even though he is not among them physically. They make a circuit of Perrin’s camp but he is not their quarry. As far as we know, no one has died of Darkhound wounds in the last three books, and the Wild Hunt is still ongoing.
The hounds make their first appearance onscreen in The Dragon Reborn when Rand balefired one. Soon after, a pack was apparently sent by Sammael to hunt Perrin and perhaps Moiraine in Illian. Darkhounds are black dogs as big as small ponies with eyes and teeth that shine like metal in the dark. We have never seen them in full daylight. They smell of brimstone (burned sulphur) – a whiff of hell – and typically come in packs of ten to twelve.
Apart from avoiding daylight, they also dislike running or falling water:
“Darkhounds like clear, moonlit nights best, blacksmith, rain the least. A good thunderstorm can keep them away completely.”They run faster than horses and for longer.
- The Dragon Reborn, Hunted
“You can never outrun the Darkhounds, blacksmith,” Lan said, “not on the fastest horse. Always, you must face them and defeat them, or they will pull you down.”According to Lan:
- The Dragon Reborn, Hunted
They left no print on even the softest dirt, only on stone, and they would not stop until you faced and defeated them or put running water between you. Crossroads [or graveyards, Crossroads of Twilight, The Scent of a Dream] were supposed to be particularly dangerous places to meet them, and the time just after sunset or just before sunrise.
- The Shadow Rising, Gateways
“There hasn’t been a Darkhound seen south of the Mountains of Dhoom since the Trolloc Wars.”Hopper’s assertion that the wolves have not seen Darkhounds in a long time (The Dragon Reborn, Shadowbrothers) is consistent with this. Yet later Masuri said she had managed to cross the trails of seven different packs before Crossroads of Twilight, and presumably these were not all in the Blight.
- The Dragon Reborn, Shadowbrothers
Lan says that Darkhounds are almost as dangerous as Myrddraal, and harder to kill (The Dragon Reborn, Shadowbrothers). The danger of Darkhounds is in their lethally venomous bite, saliva and blood. Moiraine could Heal a minor quantity of Darkhound saliva on a victim, but doubts she could Heal an actual bite (The Shadow Rising, Gateways). Darkhounds are quite capable of biting through wood or metal.
In The Dragon Reborn, one Darkhound was killed by an arrow and the other nine were balefired. By The Shadow Rising, Darkhounds became much harder to kill, being able to reconstitute if killed simply.
Slowly, the dead dogs and their heads were melting, settling into pools of liquid shadow that quivered slightly, as if alive. Their blood, fanned across the floor, trembled. Suddenly the smaller pools flowed across the floor in viscous streams to merge with the larger, which oozed away from the mosaic to mound higher and higher, until the three huge black dogs stood there once more, slavering and snarling as they gathered massive haunches under them… The Darkhounds had oozed away from that sign before re-forming. Under this sign will he conquer.Possible explanations are that they were either warded by the Forsaken who sent them, or, perhaps more likely, the Dark One’s increasing access to the world enabled him to augment the Darkhounds’ powers or protection. Balefire is necessary to completely kill them.
- The Shadow Rising, Gateways
The ancient Aes Sedai sign is symbolic of the One Power of the Creator and of the two halves and genders working together to make balance, so the Darkhounds’ ‘reaction’ to the sign may have been real. As with other constructs of the Shadow, the True Power they contain is antithetical to the One Power.
Rand speculates that Darkhounds may not breathe since he could hear the heartbeats of the ones that attacked him in Rhuidean, but not their breath (The Shadow Rising, Gateways).
After The Shadow Rising, there is no further evidence of Darkhounds until Crossroads of Twilight when they are sensed near Perrin’s camp.
Masuri, one of the Aes Sedai with Perrin, ‘happens’ to know a great deal about Darkhounds. Why does Perrin ‘need’ a Darkhound expert with him? Two experts really, since Elyas provided information from a wolves’ point of view. Considering what Masuri divulged, she is probably not Black Ajah. Masuri quotes ancient books that refer to large numbers of Darkhound packs. She has studied Darkhounds and says each pack is identifiable, having its own scent. Masuri has personally encountered eight now. Is this why she is important to Perrin?
Like all Shadowsworn, Darkhounds are contentious among themselves and two packs will attack each other if they meet rather than their quarry (The Dragon Reborn, Hunted). Perhaps this feature could be turned to advantage. When large numbers of packs were around during the Trolloc Wars and the War of Power, they must have been controlled in some way to prevent them rending each other – by Forsaken? (Myrddraal are required to make Trollocs effective fighters.)
The scent of Darkhounds, even the thought of them, induces true horror and terror in wolves and makes even Perrin’s skin crawl. This is because Darkhounds have the corrupted souls of wolves and wolves are especially vulnerable to them:
“They were wolves, once. The souls of wolves, anyway, caught and twisted by the Shadow. That was the core used to make Darkhounds, the Shadowbrothers. I think that’s why the wolves have to be at the Last Battle. Or maybe Darkhounds were made because wolves will be there, to fight them…Perhaps Masuri will work out a way to kill Darkhounds or protect wolves (and Perrin and Elyas) from them. Currently only balefire can kill Darkhounds and not many channellers know that weave or are willing to use it. A single channeller has to be very strong, almost as strong as Moiraine to make it work, although they can link, of course. However it is a destructive, or even sinful, weave with terrible consequences for the Pattern and Creation, so an alternative way of killing Darkhounds would be a good idea. Since Masuri is a Borderlander, she should know that wolves fight Shadowspawn and work to protect them.
They avoid talking about Darkhounds, though, and they avoid Darkhounds, too. A hundred wolves could die trying to kill one Shadowbrother. Worse, if they fail, the Darkhound can eat the souls of those that aren’t quite dead yet, and in a year or so, there’d be a new pack of Shadowbrothers that didn’t remember ever being wolves. I hope they don’t remember, anyway.” Perrin reined in, though he itched to keep moving. Shadowbrothers. The wolves’ name for Darkhounds had taken on a new grimness. “Can they eat a man’s soul, Elyas? Say a man who can talk to wolves?” Elyas shrugged.
- Crossroads of Twilight, Whirlpools of Colour
Perrin and Masuri both deduced the Darkhounds checked out the camp to report on Perrin to the Shadow.
The pack that circled Perrin’s camp is unusually large – perhaps as many as fifty and extremely impatient with their hunt. Their quarry has apparently been eluding them for some time.
The Darkhounds went on in a southerly direction (Crossroads of Twilight, The Scent of a Dream), although they may not be coursing in the right direction, since we have no further news of the Hunt being successful. (Or of someone dying of Darkhound-induced wounds).
If their quarry is eluding the Darkhounds, it either Travels (or is moved by someone else's Travelling weave), or moves by boat (and thus over running water), or has side-stepped the Pattern and is almost outside it (like Fain/Mordeth has).
So who are the Hounds hunting?
- Someone not of the big Three (whose ta'veren influence can be sensed in the Pattern by some Forsaken and shouldn't need hunting as such - and anyway the Darkhounds did not attack Perrin);
- someone who doesn’t know balefire;
- someone who is hard to find, get near and survive; and
- someone the Shadow wants dead.
I think I’ll put my money on Fain/Mordeth. The Darkhounds on the Wild Hunt hunting a wild card and ex Hound of the Dark One. It seems appropriate.
The real world myths and legends behind the Darkhounds and the Wild Hunt are discussed in the Darkhounds essay originally written for the Wotmania FAQ and now released in the Reference Library.