The hellish imagery intensifies in this chapter: the air smells of smoke and sulphur (fire and brimstone), there is steam in the corners of the rooms, smoke from blood and smoke from the fireworks blasts. The steam shies back from the sparks of flame as though it fears the light.
Mat angrily refers to the Aelfinn as a “nest of vipers”. Besides being venomous, vipers were regarded as outcasts from god, treasonous and treacherous.
Thom is despairing that they can’t win the game even if they cheat. This spurs Noal to bravely sacrifice himself. As he says, the place—an Underworld as much as an Otherworld—demands a price. Mat’s eye paid for Moiraine, and Noal’s life buys their escape. Which means that the Eelfinn will have Noal’s memories.
At which point Mat despairs. He curses the Finns (which is pretty powerful, because he is an analogue of the King of the Underworld, or King of the Dead), then becomes defiant as hope dies. In a way, Mat has fully embraced the role, since he now thinks dying with honour is worthwhile. He is more idealistic than he once was, just as Perrin is now ready to use anybody to win the Last Battle. They are both mentally prepared for Tarmon Gaidon.
The men carry Moiraine, who stirs just as they see that the Tairen redstone doorway has been smashed (by Moridin?) and then wakes because she hears Thom’s voice. In keeping with her Sleeping Beauty role in the Tower of Ghenjei, she does not try to channel or give advice in the crisis; she is passive. Which is quite atypical of her. Mind you, channelling could be dangerous in this world since it has different laws:
Robert Jordan: When Moiraine and Lanfear went through the ter'angreal, it burned in part because both were channeling, and the world on the other side of the doorway has a radically different set of natural laws. The odd optical effects witnessed in that other world are not artificially produced artifacts.In this scene there are many references to the myth of Orpheus in the Underworld, including when Mat hesitated, looking back, at Noal after he admits to being Jain Farstrider.
Moiraine would be Orpheus' beloved Eurydice, one of the daughters of the solar god Apollo, who drove the chariot of the sun. When out walking, she was attacked by a satyr and fell into a nest of vipers, where she received a fatal bite. Orpheus grieved for Eurydice and played such mournful songs that even the gods wept. On their advice, he travelled to the underworld to see if his music would soften the hearts of Hades and Persephone. It did so (the only time they relented) and they allowed her to return to the land of the living with him on condition that he walk in front of her and not look back until they both reached the upper world. But the moment he arrived above ground he did look back and she vanished forever.
Mat refers to the “nest of vipers” that are the Aelfinn. Moiraine was a princess of the Sun Throne who fell through to the underworld of the *Finns—the foxes, though, rather than the snakes, though both are treacherous, and so fit the symbolism--taking Lanfear, another viper, with her. Thom plays as Orpheus did—whispers of tomorrow, of another day of life—a dirge played for Moiraine because the rescue has failed. However, the King of the Dead, Mat, is with them, and was able to effect their escape. After looking back at the doomed Noal, Mat also “looks back” through his memories and realises that the ashandarei was given as a way out--in such a way that he would not know what it was for.
In this scene Mat relied on thought as well as memory. His memories don’t fade--quite the reverse, he’s keeping alive the memories of those long dead. Thought is the arrow of time—crosses times, negates the effect of time.
The hole Mat cuts in the Tower appears to heal up though, after. It is more a portal than a hole. Mat crows defiantly to the *Finns that he won their game and that they gave him the key. Note that the *Finns hadn’t cheated, neither this time nor the previous times.