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The Stormlight Archive: Oathbringer

Linked by Paul Ciano on February 1, 2018

He smiled, and suddenly thought himself foolish for idealizing her just earlier. Navani Kholin was not some timid, perfect ideal— she was a sour storm of a woman, set in her ways, stubborn as a boulder rolling down a mountain and increasingly impatient with things she considered foolish.

He loved her the most for that. For being open and genuine in a society that prided itself on secrets. She’d been breaking taboos, and hearts, since their youth. At times, the idea that she loved him back seemed as surreal as one of his visions.

He heard a moan. Soft, underneath the sounds of people talking, still he picked it out.

“There were wounded?” he asked, turning on his guard.

“Yeah,” the man said. “But—”

Kaladin ignored him and strode down the hallway, Syl flying along beside his head. Kaladin shoved past people, following the sounds of the tormented, and eventually stumbled into the doorway of the parlor. It had been transformed into a surgeon’s triage room, with mats laid out on the floor bearing wounded.

A figure knelt by one of the pallets carefully splinting a broken arm. Kaladin had known as soon as he’d heard those moans of pain where he’d find his father.

Lirin glanced at him. Storms. Kaladin’s father looked weathered, bags underneath his dark brown eyes. The hair was greyer than Kaladin remembered, the face gaunter. But he was the same. Balding, diminutive, thin, bespectacled … and amazing.

“They don’t fit, you know.”

“Don’t fit?”

“Ryshadium have stone hooves,” Renarin said, “stronger than ordinary horses’. Never need to be shod.”

“And that makes them not fit? I’d say that makes them fit better.…” Adolin eyed Renarin. “You mean ordinary horses, don’t you?”

Renarin blushed, then nodded. People had trouble following him sometimes, but that was merely because he tended to be so thoughtful. He’d be thinking about something deep, something brilliant, and then would only mention a part. It made him seem erratic, but once you got to know him, you realized he wasn’t trying to be esoteric. His lips just sometimes failed to keep up with his brain.

Unable to wait any longer, Shallan dug into her meal. Adolin settled down across from her and attacked his own food. For a time, Shallan ignored her pain and savored the moment— good food, good company, the setting sun casting ruby and topaz light across the mountains and into the room. She felt like drawing this scene, but knew it was the type of moment she couldn’t capture on a page. It wasn’t about content or composition, but the pleasure of living.

The trick to happiness wasn’t in freezing every momentary pleasure and clinging to each one, but in ensuring one’s life would produce many future moments to anticipate.

“Don’t throw out everything we’ve believed because of a few dreams, Dalinar,” Kadash said. “What of our society, what of tradition?”

“Tradition?” Dalinar said. “Kadash, did I ever tell you about my first sword trainer?”

“No,” Kadash said, frowning, glancing at the other ardents. “Was it Rembrinor?”

Dalinar shook his head. “Back when I was young, our branch of the Kholin family didn’t have grand monasteries and beautiful practice grounds. My father found a teacher for me from two towns over. His name was Harth. Young fellow, not a true swordmaster— but good enough.

“He was very focused on proper procedure, and wouldn’t let me train until I’d learned how to put on a takama the right way.” Dalinar gestured at the takama shirt he was wearing. “He wouldn’t have stood for me fighting like this. You put on the skirt, then the overshirt, then you wrap your cloth belt around yourself three times and tie it.

“I always found that annoying. The belt was too tight, wrapped three times— you had to pull it hard to get enough slack to tie the knot. The first time I went to duels at a neighboring town, I felt like an idiot. Everyone else had long drooping belt ends at the front of their takamas.

“I asked Harth why we did it differently. He said it was the right way, the true way. So, when my travels took me to Harth’s hometown, I searched out his master, a man who had trained with the ardents in Kholinar. He insisted that this was the right way to tie a takama, as he’d learned from his master.”

By now, they’d drawn an even larger crowd. Kadash frowned. “And the point?”

“I found my master’s master’s master in Kholinar after we captured it,” Dalinar said. “The ancient, wizened ardent was eating curry and flatbread, completely uncaring of who ruled the city. I asked him. Why tie your belt three times, when everyone else thinks you should do it twice?

“The old man laughed and stood up. I was shocked to see that he was terribly short. ‘If I only tie it twice,’ he exclaimed, ‘the ends hang down so low, I trip!’ ” The chamber fell silent. Nearby, one soldier chuckled, but quickly cut himself off— none of the ardents seemed amused.

“I love tradition,” Dalinar said to Kadash. “I’ve fought for tradition. I make my men follow the codes. I uphold Vorin virtues. But merely being tradition does not make something worthy, Kadash. We can’t just assume that because something is old it is right.”

“ ‘Freedom’ is a strange word, Sah,” Kaladin said softly, settling down. “These last few months, I’ve probably been more ‘free’ than at any time since my childhood. You want to know what I did with it? I stayed in the same place, serving another highlord. I wonder if men who use cords to bind are fools, since tradition, society, and momentum are going to tie us all down anyway.”

This is going to come to war. The Voidspren will drive the parshmen into an army, and rightly so, after what was done to them. Our kind will have to fight back or be destroyed.”

“Then find the middle ground.”

“Middle ground only comes in war after lots of people have died— and only after the important people are worried they might actually lose.

Kaladin settled with his back to the wall, feeling the storm rage outside. Strange, how he could hate the mild Weeping so much, yet feel a thrill when he heard thunder beyond these stones.

It had been a frustrating four days. Dalinar had increased patrols to almost ridiculous levels, but those soldiers weren’t watching the right way. They were too easily seen, too disruptive. Veil had set her men to a more targeted surveillance in the market.

So far, they’d found nothing. Her team was tired, as was Shallan, who suffered from the long nights as Veil. Fortunately, Shallan wasn’t doing anything particularly useful these days. Sword training with Adolin each day— more frolicking and flirting than useful swordplay— and the occasional meeting with Dalinar where she had nothing to add but a pretty map.

Veil though … Veil hunted the hunter. Dalinar acted like a soldier: increased patrols, strict rules. He asked his scribes to find him evidence of spren attacking people in historical records.

He needed more than vague explanations and abstract ideas— but those were the very soul of art. If you could explain something perfectly, then you’d never need art. That was the difference between a table and a beautiful woodcutting. You could explain the table: its purpose, its shape, its nature. The woodcutting you simply had to experience.

Jasnah claimed to always look at things from a logical perspective, but she had a flair for the dramatic to rival any storyteller. Shallan well remembered that night in Kharbranth when Jasnah had lured thieves in, then dealt with them in stunning— and brutal— fashion.

Jasnah didn’t want to merely prove her points. She wanted to drive them right into your skull, with a flourish and a pithy epigram.

Dalinar backed up, letting Fen rejoin the people and experience the end of the vision. As he folded his arms to watch, he noted a shimmering in the air beside him.

“We’ll want to send her more of these,” Dalinar said to the Stormfather. “We can only be served by more people knowing the truths the Almighty left behind. Can you bring in only one person per storm, or can we accelerate that somehow? And can you bring two people into two different visions at once?”

The Stormfather rumbled. I do not like to be ordered about.

“And you prefer the alternative? Letting Odium win? How far will your pride push you, Stormfather?”

It is not pride, the Stormfather said, sounding stubborn. I am not a man. I do not bend or cower. I do what is in my nature, and to defy that is pain.

Lunamor grunted in amusement and rounded his little cooking station toward Hobber, who he now remembered was peeling tubers by the side of the plateau. Lunamor slowed. Why was Kaladin kneeling before Hobber’s stool, holding out … a gemstone?

Ahhh … Lunamor thought.

“I had to breathe to draw it in,” Kaladin explained softly. “I’d been doing it unconsciously for weeks, maybe months, before Teft explained the truth to me.”

“Sir,” Hobber said, “I don’t know if … I mean, sir, I’m no Radiant. I was never that good with the spear. I’m barely a passable cook.”

Passable was a stretch. But he was earnest and helpful, so Lunamor was happy to have him. Besides, he needed a job he could do sitting. A month back, the Assassin in White had swept through the king’s palace at the warcamps, trying to kill Elhokar— and the attack had left Hobber with dead legs.

Kaladin folded the gemstone in Hobber’s fingers. “Just try,” the captain said softly. “Being a Radiant isn’t so much about your strength or skill, but about your heart. And yours is the best of all of us.”

The captain seemed intimidating to many outsiders. A perpetual storm for an expression, an intensity that made men wilt when it turned on them. But there was also an astonishing tenderness to this man. Kaladin gripped Hobber on the arm, and almost seemed to be tearing up.

Some days, it seemed you couldn’t break Kaladin Stormblessed with all the stones on Roshar. Then one of his men would get wounded, and you’d see him crack.

Two things went wrong. First, the other spearmen didn’t support him. Nobody filled in behind to protect him from being surrounded.

Second, the wild men didn’t flinch.

Dalinar had come to rely on the way soldiers pulled away when they saw him fighting. He depended on their discipline to fail— even when he hadn’t been a Shardbearer, he’d counted on his ferocity, his sheer momentum, to win fights.

Turned out, the momentum of one man— no matter how skilled or determined— amounted to little when running into a stone wall. The men before him didn’t bend, didn’t panic, didn’t so much as quiver as he killed four of them. They struck at him with increased ferocity. One even laughed.

In a flash, his arm was chopped by an axe he didn’t even see, then he was shoved over by the rush of the attackers. Dalinar hit the ground, stunned, looking with disbelief at the stump of his left forearm. The pain seemed a disconnected thing, distant. Only a single painspren, like a hand made of sinew, appeared by his knees.

Dalinar felt a shattering, humbling sense of his own mortality. Was this what every veteran felt, when he finally fell on the battlefield? This bizarre, surreal sense of both disbelief and long-buried resignation?

“Iron and steel then, but men wielding crude weapons here, of copper and bronze. As if they didn’t know how to Soulcast iron, or at least not how to forge it properly, despite it being a later date. Huh. That is odd.”

“This is confirmation of what we’ve been told, but which I could never quite believe. The Desolations were so terrible they destroyed learning and progress and left behind a broken people.”

“The orders of Radiants were supposed to stop that,” Dalinar said. “I learned it in another vision.”

“Yes, I read that one. All of them, actually.” She looked to him then, and smiled.

People were always surprised to see emotion from Jasnah, but Dalinar considered that unfair. She did smile— she merely reserved the expression for when it was most genuine.

Ahead of them, Navani had somehow bullied the Radiant into letting her look at the fabrial. The day was stretching toward late afternoon, the canyon falling into shadow. But this vision was a long one, and he was content to wait upon Navani. He settled down on a rock.

“I don’t deny God, Jasnah,” he said. “I simply believe that the being we call the Almighty was never actually God.”

“Which is the wise decision to make, considering the accounts of your visions.” Jasnah settled down beside him.

“You must be happy to hear me say that,” he said.

“I’m happy to have someone to talk to, and I’m certainly happy to see you on a journey of discovery. But am I happy to see you in pain? Am I happy to see you forced to abandon something you held dear?” She shook her head. “I don’t mind people believing what works for them, Uncle. That’s something nobody ever seems to understand— I have no stake in their beliefs. I don’t need company to be confident.”

“How do you suffer it, Jasnah?” Dalinar said. “The things people say about you? I see the lies in their eyes before they speak. Or they will tell me, with utter sincerity, things I have reportedly said— even though I deny them. They refuse my own word against the rumors about me!”

Jasnah stared out across the canyon. More men were gathering at the other end, a weak, beleaguered group who were only now discovering they were the victors in this contest. A large column of smoke rose in the distance, though he couldn’t see the source.

“I wish I had answers, Uncle,” Jasnah said softly. “Fighting makes you strong, but also callous. I worry I have learned too much of the latter and not enough of the former. But I can give you a warning.”

He looked toward her, raising his eyebrows.

“They will try,” Jasnah said, “to define you by something you are not. Don’t let them. I can be a scholar, a woman, a historian, a Radiant. People will still try to classify me by the thing that makes me an outsider. They want, ironically, the thing I don’t do or believe to be the prime marker of my identity. I have always rejected that, and will continue to do so.”

She reached over and put her freehand on his arm. “You are not a heretic, Dalinar Kholin. You are a king, a Radiant, and a father. You are a man with complicated beliefs, who does not accept everything you are told. You decide how you are defined. Don’t surrender that to them. They will gleefully take the chance to define you, if you allow it.”

“They just want to live better lives,” Kaladin said.

“I can believe,” Jasnah said, “that the common parshmen have such a simple motive. But their leaders? They will pursue our extinction.”

“Agreed,” Navani said. “They were born out of a twisted thirst to destroy humankind.”

“The parshmen are the key,” Jasnah said, shuffling through some pages of notes. “Looking over what you discovered, it seems that all parshmen can bond with ordinary spren as part of their natural life cycle. What we’ve been calling ‘Voidbringers’ are instead a combination of a parshman with some kind of hostile spren or spirit.”

“The Fused,” Dalinar said.

“Great,” Kaladin said. “Fine. Let’s fight them, then. Why do the common folk have to get crushed in the process?”

“Perhaps,” Jasnah said, “you should visit my uncle’s vision and see for yourself the consequences of a soft heart. Firsthand witness of a Desolation might change your perspective.”

“I’ve seen war, Brightness. I’m a soldier. Problem is, Ideals have expanded my focus. I can’t help but see the common men among the enemy. They’re not monsters.”

Dalinar raised a hand to stop Jasnah’s reply. “Your concern does you credit, Captain,” Dalinar said. “And your reports have been exceptionally timely. Do you honestly see a chance for an accommodation here?”

“I … I don’t know, sir. Even the common parshmen are furious at what was done to them.”

“I can’t afford to stay my hand from war,” Dalinar said. “Everything you say is right, but it is also nothing new. I have never gone to battle where some poor fools on either side— men who didn’t want to be there in the first place— weren’t going to bear the brunt of the pain.”

“Maybe,” Kaladin said, “that should make you reconsider those other wars, rather than using them to justify this one.”

It still daunted her to contemplate the size of the tower. How had anyone built a place this big? It could gobble up most cities Veil had seen without having to loosen its belt.

Well, best not to think about that. You needed to sneak low, beneath all the questions that distracted scribes and scholars. That was the only way to get anything useful done.

Instead she focused on the people. Their voices blended together, and collectively they became a faceless crowd. But the grand thing about people was that you could also choose to focus on particular faces, really see them, and find a wealth of stories. So many people with so many lives, each a separate little mystery. Infinite detail, like Pattern. Look close at his fractal lines, and you’d realize each little ridge had an entire architecture of its own. Look close at a given person, and you’d see their uniqueness— see that they didn’t quite match whatever broad category you’d first put them in.

“They tried to break me. Damnation, they did break me. But then he made me again, a new man.” Moash paused. “I threw it all away.”

“Sure, sure,” Guff said.

“I always do that,” Moash whispered. “Why must we always take something precious, Guff, and find ourselves hating it? As if by being pure, it reminds us of just how little we deserve it. I held the spear, and I stabbed myself with it.…”

The guard turned his attention to Moash, then flicked his eyes to Moash’s shoulder. “Deserter?”

Moash nodded. It was true in more ways than one.

“What’s this?” One of the men stood up, a tall fellow. Something about his silhouette, that bald head, that cut of clothing …

“Deserter, Brightlord,” the guard said.

“From the Shattered Plains,” Guff added.

The highlord, Moash realized. Paladar. Vamah’s kinsman and regent, a notoriously harsh man. In years past, he had nearly run the city to the ground, driving away many darkeyes who had the right of travel. Not a caravan had passed when someone hadn’t complained about Paladar’s greed and corruption.

“From the Shattered Plains, you say?” Paladar said. “Excellent. Tell me, deserter, what news is there from the highprinces? Do they know of my plight here? Can I expect aid soon?”

They put him in charge, Moash thought, spotting other lighteyes. They wore fine clothing— not silks of course, but well-trimmed uniforms. Exceptional boots. There was food aplenty set out at the side of this chamber, while those outside scrounged and did heavy labor.

He’d begun to hope … But of course that had been stupid. The arrival of the Voidbringers hadn’t cast the lighteyes down; the few Moash had seen outside were merely the sacrifices. The fawning darkeyes at the periphery confirmed this. Soldiers, guards, some favored merchants.

To Damnation with them! They’d been given a chance to escape from the lighteyes, and it had only made them more eager to be servants! In that moment— surrounded by the pettiness that was his own kind— Moash had a revelation.

He wasn’t broken. All of them were broken. Alethi society— lighteyed and dark. Maybe all of humankind.

“What do you think of Shallan?” she asked Ivory, shaking her head. “The person she’s become.”

Ivory frowned, lips drawing tight. His sharply chiseled features, too angular to be human, were like those of a roughed-out statue the sculptor had neglected to finish.

“She … is troubling,” he said.

“That much hasn’t changed.”

“She is not stable.”

“Ivory, you think all humans are unstable.”

“Not you,” he said, lifting his chin. “You are like a spren. You think by facts. You change not on simple whims. You are as you are.”

She gave him a flat stare.

“Mostly,” he added. “Mostly. But it is, Jasnah. Compared to other humans, you are practically a stone!”

“Brother?” Gavilar said.

Dalinar turned back and regarded Gavilar, who was bathed by the bleeding light of a fire reaching its end.

“Words are important,” Gavilar said. “Much more than you give them credit for being.”

“Perhaps,” Dalinar said. “But if they were all-powerful, you wouldn’t need my sword, would you?”

“Perhaps. I can’t help feeling words would be enough, if only I knew the right ones to say.”

“Jasnah!” Shallan said, suddenly tense. “The doorway. Look!”

Jasnah sucked in Stormlight at the girl’s tone and turned away from Renarin, toward the room’s doorway. There, a tall, square-jawed man had darkened the opening. He wore Sadeas’s colors, forest green and white. In fact, he was Sadeas now, at least its regent.

Jasnah would always know him as Meridas Amaram.

“What’s he doing here?” Shallan hissed.

“He’s a highprince,” Navani said. “The soldiers aren’t going to forbid him without a direct command.”

Amaram fixated on Jasnah with regal, light tan eyes. He strode toward her, exuding confidence, or was it conceit? “Jasnah,” he said when he drew close. “I was told I could find you here.”

“Remind me to find whoever told you,” Jasnah said, “and have them hanged.”

Amaram stiffened. “Could we speak together more privately, just for a moment?”

“I think not.”

“We need to discuss your uncle. The rift between our houses serves nobody. I wish to bridge that chasm, and Dalinar listens to you. Please, Jasnah. You can steer him properly.”

“My uncle knows his own mind on these matters, and doesn’t require me to ‘steer’ him.”

“As if you haven’t been doing so already, Jasnah. Everyone can see that he has started to share your religious beliefs.”

“Which would be incredible, since I don’t have religious beliefs.”

Amaram sighed, looking around. “Please,” he said. “Private?”

“Not a chance, Meridas. Go. Away.”

“We were close once.”

“My father wished us to be close. Do not mistake his fancies for fact.”

“Jasnah—” “You really should leave before somebody gets hurt.”

He ignored her suggestion, glancing at Navani and Shallan, then stepping closer. “We thought you were dead. I needed to see for myself that you are well.”

“You have seen. Now leave.”

Instead, he gripped her forearm. “Why, Jasnah? Why have you always denied me?”

“Other than the fact that you are a detestable buffoon who achieves only the lowest level of mediocrity, as it is the best your limited mind can imagine? I can’t possibly think of a reason.”

“Mediocre?” Amaram growled. “You insult my mother, Jasnah. You know how hard she worked to raise me to be the best soldier this kingdom has ever known.”

“Yes, from what I understand, she spent the seven months she was with child entertaining each and every military man she could find, in the hopes that something of them would stick to you.”

Meridas’s eyes widened, and his face flushed deeply. To their side, Shallan audibly gasped.

“You godless whore,” Amaram hissed, releasing her. “If you weren’t a woman…”

“If I weren’t a woman, I suspect we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Unless I were a pig. Then you’d be doubly interested.”

He thrust his hand to the side, stepping back, preparing to summon his Blade.

Jasnah smiled, holding her freehand toward him, letting Stormlight curl and rise from it. “Oh, please do, Meridas. Give me an excuse. I dare you.”

He stared at her hand. The entire room had gone silent, of course. He’d forced her to make a spectacle. His eyes flicked up to meet hers; then he spun and stalked from the room, shoulders hunched as if trying to shrug away the eyes— and the snickers— of the scholars.

He will be trouble, Jasnah thought. Even more than he has been.

Moash started to drop. He felt it in his clothes, which lost their power to fly first. He cried out, reaching toward the Fused woman, and she seized him by the wrist and injected him with more Voidlight. It surged across his body, and he hovered again. The violet darkness retreated, visible again only as faint periodic crackles on her skin.

“My companions spared you,” she said to him. “Brought you here, to these lands, as they thought I might wish personal vengeance once reborn. I did not. Why would I destroy that which had such passion? Instead I watched you, curious to see what you did. I saw you help the singers who were pulling the sledges.”

Moash took a deep breath. “Can you tell me, then, why you treat your own so poorly?”

“Poorly?” she said, sounding amused. “They are fed, clothed, and trained.”

“Not all of them,” Moash said. “You had those poor parshmen working as slaves, like humans. And now you’re going to throw them at the city walls.”

“Sacrifice,” she said. “Do you think an empire is built without sacrifice?” She swept her arm across the landscape before them.

Moash’s stomach turned over; he’d briefly been able to fixate only on her and forget exactly how high he was. Storms … this land was big. He could see extensive hills, plains, grass, trees, and stone in all directions.

And in the direction she gestured, a dark line on the horizon. Kholinar?

“I breathe again because of their sacrifices,” Leshwi said. “And this world will be ours, because of sacrifice. Those who fall will be sung of, but their blood is ours to demand. If they survive the assault, if they prove themselves, then they will be honored.” She looked to him again. “You fought for them during the trip here.”

“Honestly, I expected you to have me killed for that.”

“If you were not killed for striking down one of the Fused,” she said, “then why would you be killed for striking one of our lessers? In both cases, human, you proved your passion and earned your right to succeed. Then you bowed to authority when presented, and earned your right to continue to live. Tell me. Why did you protect those slaves?”

“Because you need to be unified,” Moash said. He swallowed. “My people don’t deserve this land. We’re broken, ruined. Incapable.”

She cocked her head. A cool wind played with her clothing. “And are you not angered that we took your Shards?”

“They were first given me by a man I betrayed. I … don’t deserve them.”

No. Not you. It’s not your fault.

“You aren’t angry that we conquer you?”

“No.”

“Then what does anger you? What is your passionate fury, Moash, the man with an ancient singer’s name?”

Yes, it was there. Still burning. Deep down.

Storm it, Kaladin had been protecting a murderer.

“Vengeance,” he whispered.

“Yes, I understand.”

There was a mesmerizing beauty to the storm’s churning patterns, and Kaladin had to forcibly keep his attention on his charges. There were six of those, which made their team nine in total, counting himself, Skar, and Drehy.

King Elhokar was at the front. They couldn’t bring their suits of Shardplate; Lashings didn’t work on those. Instead, the king wore thick clothing and a strange kind of glass-fronted mask to block the wind. Shallan had suggested those; they were apparently naval equipment. Adolin came next. Then two of Shallan’s soldiers— the sloppy deserters she’d collected like wounded axehound pups— and one maidservant. Kaladin didn’t understand why they’d brought those three, but the king had insisted.

Adolin and the others were bundled up as much as the king, which made Shallan look even more odd. She flew in only her blue havah— which she’d pinned to keep it from fluttering too much— with white leggings underneath. Stormlight surged from her skin, keeping her warm, sustaining her.

Her hair streamed behind her, a stark auburn red. She flew with arms outstretched and eyes closed, grinning. Kaladin had to keep adjusting her speed to keep her in line with the others, as she couldn’t resist reaching out to feel the wind between her freehand fingers, and waving to windspren as they passed.

How does she smile like that? Kaladin wondered. During their trip through the chasms together, he’d learned her secrets. The wounds she hid. And yet … she could simply ignore them somehow. Kaladin had never been able to do that. Even when he wasn’t feeling particularly grim, he felt weighed down by his duties or the people he needed to care for.

Her heedless joy made him want to show her how to really fly.

“I can’t help imagining something sliding off and dropping into it,” Shallan whispered. “Vanishing. Gone forever.” She glanced at Kaladin. “No wisecracks about missing boots?”

“I couldn’t think of anything funny.” He hesitated. “Though that hasn’t ever stopped you.”

Shallan grinned. “Have you ever considered, bridgeman, that bad art does more for the world than good art? Artists spend more of their lives making bad practice pieces than they do masterworks, particularly at the start. And even when an artist becomes a master, some pieces don’t work out. Still others are somehow just wrong until the last stroke.

“You learn more from bad art than you do from good art, as your mistakes are more important than your successes. Plus, good art usually evokes the same emotions in people— most good art is the same kind of good. But bad pieces can each be bad in their own unique way. So I’m glad we have bad art, and I’m sure the Almighty agrees.”

“All this,” Adolin said, amused, “to justify your sense of humor, Shallan?”

“My sense of humor? No, I’m merely trying to justify the creation of Captain Kaladin.”

“All right,” Shallan said, turning to Kaladin and Adolin. “You two will get new faces and clothing, making you into old men.”

“I don’t need a disguise,” Kaladin said. “I—”

“You spent time with those parshmen earlier in the month,” Shallan said. “Best to be safe. Besides, you scowl at everyone like an old man anyway. You’ll be a great fit.”

Kaladin glowered at her.

“Perfect! Keep it up.” Shallan stepped over and breathed out, and Stormlight wreathed him. He felt he should be able to take it in, use it— but it resisted him. It was a strange sensation, as if he’d found a glowing coal that gave off no heat.

The Stormlight vanished and he held up a hand, which now appeared wizened. His uniform coat had been changed to a homespun brown jacket. He touched his face, but didn’t feel anything different.

Adolin pointed at him. “Shallan, that is positively wretched. I’m impressed.”

“What?” Kaladin looked at his men. Drehy winced.

Shallan wrapped Adolin in Light. He resolved into a sturdy, handsome man in his sixties, with dark brown skin, white hair, and a lean figure. His clothing was no longer ornate, but in good repair. He looked like the kind of old rogue you’d find in a pub, with handy tales about the brilliant things he’d done in his youth. The kind of man that made women think they preferred older men, when in reality they just preferred him.

Adolin knocked again, looking worried. Kaladin stepped up beside him, then froze. On the door was a shiny steel plate with engraved numbers. In it, he could see his reflection.

“Almighty above,” Kaladin said, poking at the scars and bulges on his face, some with open sores. Fake teeth jutted from his mouth, and one eye was higher in his head than the other. His hair grew out in patches, and his nose was tiny. “What did you do to me, woman?”

“I’ve recently learned,” Shallan said, “that a good disguise can be memorable, so long as it makes you memorable for the wrong reason. You, Captain, have a way of sticking in people’s heads, and I worried you would do so no matter what face you wore. So I enveloped it with something even more memorable.”

Veil enjoyed being in a proper city again, even if it was half feral.

Most cities lived on the very edge of civilization. Everyone talked about towns and villages out in the middle of nowhere as if they were uncivilized, but she’d found people in those places pleasant, even-tempered, and comfortable with their quieter way of life.

Not in cities. Cities balanced on the edge of sustainability, always one step from starvation. When you pressed so many people together, their cultures, ideas, and stenches rubbed off on one another. The result wasn’t civilization. It was contained chaos, pressurized, bottled up so it couldn’t escape.

There was a tension to cities. You could breathe it, feel it in every step. Veil loved it.

This entire room— this entire city, really— was an exercise in ostentation. Metal leaf coated domes, the rickshaws, even large portions of the walls of this room. The Azish owned only a few Soulcasters, and famously one could make bronze.

The carpeting and couches displayed bright patterns of orange and red. The Alethi favored solid colors, perhaps some embroidery. The Azish preferred their decorations to look like the product of a painter having a sneezing fit.

In the middle of it all was this girl, who looked so simple. She swam through ostentation, but it didn’t stick to her.

“I…” Dalinar stammered. “Thank you!” It was actually happening! As they’d hoped, Azir was the linchpin.

“Well, your wife writes a good essay,” Noura said.

He started. “Navani’s essay was the one that convinced you? Not Jasnah’s?”

“Each of the three arguments were weighed favorably, and the reports from Thaylen City are encouraging,” Noura said. “That had no small part in our decision. But while Jasnah Kholin’s writing is every bit as impressive as her reputation suggests, there was something … more authentic about Lady Navani’s plea.”

“She is one of the most authentic people I know.” Dalinar smiled like a fool. “And she is good at getting what she wants.”

“No, Evi,” he said as he made another notation, “I doubt we will ever settle back in Kholinar again.”

He nodded to himself. That was the way to get the Rift. One of his mobile bands could round and secure the lake’s beach. He could move the entire army across it then, attacking far faster than the Rift expected.

Satisfied, he looked up. And found Evi crying.

The sight stunned him, and he dropped his pencil. She tried to hold it back, turning toward the fire and wrapping her arms around herself, but the sniffles sounded as distinct and disturbing as breaking bones.

Kelek’s breath … he could face soldiers and storms, falling boulders and dying friends, but nothing in his training had ever prepared him to deal with these soft tears.

“Seven years,” she whispered. “Seven years we’ve been out here, living in wagons and waystops. Seven years of murder, of chaos, of men crying to their wounds.”

“You married—”

“Yes, I married a soldier. It’s my fault for not being strong enough to deal with the consequences. Thank you, Dalinar. You’ve made that very clear.”

This was what it was like to feel helpless. “I …thought you were growing to like it. You now fit in with the other women.”

“The other women? Dalinar, they make me feel stupid.”

“But…”

“Conversation is a contest to them,” Evi said, throwing her hands up. “Everything has to be a contest to you Alethi, always trying to show up everyone else. For the women it’s this awful, unspoken game to prove how witty they each are. I’ve thought … maybe the only answer, to make you proud, is to go to the Nightwatcher and ask for the blessing of intelligence. The Old Magic can change a person. Make something great of them—”

“Evi,” Dalinar cut in. “Please, don’t speak of that place or that creature. It’s blasphemous.”

“You say that, Dalinar,” she said. “But no one actually cares about religion here. Oh, they make sure to point out how superior their beliefs are to mine. But who actually ever worries about the Heralds, other than to swear by their names? You bring ardents to battle merely to Soulcast rocks into grain. That way, you don’t have to stop killing each other long enough to find something to eat.”

Dalinar approached, then settled down into the other seat by the hearth. “It is … different in your homeland?”

She rubbed her eyes, and he wondered if she’d see through his attempt to change the subject. Talking about her people often smoothed over their arguments.

“Yes,” she said. “True, there are those who don’t care about the One or the Heralds. They say we shouldn’t accept Iriali or Vorin doctrines as our own. But Dalinar, many do care. Here … here you just pay some ardent to burn glyphwards for you and call it done.”

Dalinar took a deep breath and tried again. “Perhaps, after I’ve seen to the rebels, I can persuade Gavilar not to give me another assignment. We could travel. Go west, to your homeland.”

“So you could kill my people instead?”

“No! I wouldn’t—”

“They’d attack you, Dalinar. My brother and I are exiles, if you haven’t forgotten.”

He hadn’t seen Toh in a decade, ever since the man had gone to Herdaz. He reportedly liked it quite well, living on the coast, protected by Alethi bodyguards.

Evi sighed. “I’ll never see the sunken forests again. I’ve accepted that. I will live my life in this harsh land, so dominated by wind and cold.”

“Well, we could travel someplace warm. Up to the Steamwater. Just you and I. Time together. We could even bring Adolin.”

“And Renarin?” Evi asked. “Dalinar, you have two sons, in case you have forgotten. Do you even care about the child’s condition? Or is he nothing to you now that he can’t become a soldier?”

Dalinar grunted, feeling like he’d taken a mace to the head. He stood up, then walked toward the table.

“What?” Evi demanded.

“I’ve been in enough battles to know when I’ve found one I can’t win.”

“So you flee?” Evi said. “Like a coward?”

“The coward,” Dalinar said, gathering his maps, “is the man who delays a necessary retreat for fear of being mocked. We’ll go back to Kholinar after I deal with the rebellion at the Rift. I’ll promise you at least a year there.”

“Really?” Evi said, standing up.

“Yes. You’ve won this fight.”

“I … don’t feel like I’ve won.…”

“Welcome to war, Evi,” Dalinar said, heading toward the door. “There are no unequivocal wins. Just victories that leave fewer of your friends dead than others.”

“Are you one of them?” Shallan blurted out. “Are you a Herald, Wit?”

Pattern hummed softly.

“Heavens no,” Wit said. “I’m not stupid enough to get mixed up in religion again. The last seven times I tried it were all disasters. I believe there’s at least one god still worshipping me by accident.”

She eyed him. It was always hard to tell which of Wit’s exaggerations were supposed to mean something and which were confusing distractions. “Then what are you?”

“Some men, as they age, grow kinder. I am not one of those, for I have seen how the cosmere can mistreat the innocent— and that leaves me disinclined toward kindness. Some men, as they age, grow wiser. I am not one of those, for wisdom and I have always been at cross-purposes, and I have yet to learn the tongue in which she speaks. Some men, as they age, grow more cynical. I, fortunately, am not one of those. If I were, the very air would warp around me, sucking in all emotion, leaving only scorn.”

He tapped the table. “Other men … other men, as they age, merely grow stranger. I fear that I am one of those. I am the bones of a foreign species left drying on the plain that was once, long ago, a sea. A curiosity, perhaps a reminder, that all has not always been as it is now.”

Shallan hesitated. In an instant, whatever she seemed to have sensed in Wit was gone. She flopped back in her seat. “Why am I talking to you of all people?”

“Shallan!” he said, aghast. “If you were talking to someone else, they wouldn’t be me.”

“I happen to know plenty of people who aren’t you, Wit. I even like some of them.”

“Be careful. People who aren’t me are prone to spontaneous bouts of sincerity.”

“Which is bad?”

“Of course! ‘Sincerity’ is a word people use to justify their chronic dullness.”

“Well, I like sincere people,” Shallan said, raising her cup. “It’s delightful how surprised they look when you push them down the stairs.”

“There are two kinds of important men, Shallan. There are those who, when the boulder of time rolls toward them, stand up in front of it and hold out their hands. All their lives, they’ve been told how great they are. They assume the world itself will bend to their whims as their nurse did when fetching them a fresh cup of milk.”

“Those men end up squished.”

“Other men stand to the side when the boulder of time passes, but are quick to say, ‘See what I did! I made the boulder roll there. Don’t make me do it again!’”

“These men end up getting everyone else squished.”

“Is there not a third type of person?”

“There is, but they are oh so rare. These know they can’t stop the boulder. So they walk beside it, study it, and bide their time. Then they shove it— ever so slightly— to create a deviation in its path.”

“These are the men … well, these are the men who actually change the world. And they terrify me. For men never see as far as they think they do.”

Hedonism has never been enjoyment, Shallan, but the opposite. They take the wonderful things of life and indulge until they lose savor. It’s listening to beautiful music, performed so loud as to eliminate all subtlety— taking something beautiful and making it carnal.

Adolin immediately started joking with Skar and Drehy. Dalinar wouldn’t have liked to hear they’d gone out drinking. Not because of any specific prejudice, but there was a command structure to an army. Generals weren’t supposed to fraternize with the rank and file; it threw wrinkles into how armies worked.

Adolin could get away with things like that. As he listened, Kaladin found himself feeling ashamed of his earlier attitude. The truth was, he was feeling pretty good these days. Yes, there was a war, and yes, the city was seriously stressed— but ever since he’d found his parents alive and well, he’d been feeling better.

That wasn’t so uncommon a feeling for him. He felt good lots of days. Trouble was, on the bad days, that was hard to remember. At those times, for some reason, he felt like he had always been in darkness, and always would be.

Why was it so hard to remember? Did he have to keep slipping back down? Why couldn’t he stay up here in the sunlight, where everyone else lived?

Kaladin nodded. He was right. It was strange to look at Adolin in that bright outfit, stylish and glittering with golden thread, and hear him speak real battle sense.

When I was imprisoned for daring to accuse Amaram, he was the only lighteyes who stood up for me.

Adolin Kholin was simply a good person. Powder-blue clothing and all. You couldn’t hate a man like him; storms, you kind of had to like him.

Dalinar spent much of the trip passing through pungent smoke trails from the incense Evi burned in a small censer attached to the side of her carriage. A petition to the Heralds to bless her marriage.

He often heard her weeping inside the vehicle, though whenever she left it she was perfectly composed. She read letters, scribed his responses, and took notes at his meetings with generals. In every way, she was the perfect Alethi wife— and her unhappiness crushed his soul.

Everyone had always talked about the glories of the army and the fight on the Shattered Plains. And yet, once towns got done gawking, they transitioned to hostility with remarkable speed. An army was the sort of thing everyone wanted to have, so long as it was off doing important things elsewhere.

“Why?” Pattern asked.

“Why what?” Veil asked. “Why is the sky blue, the sun bright? Why do storms blow, or rains fall?”

“Mmmm … Why are you so happy about feeding so few?”

“Feeding these few is something we can do.”

“So is jumping from a building,” he said— frank, as if he didn’t understand the sarcasm he used. “But we do not do this. You lie, Shallan.”

“Veil.”

“Your lies wrap other lies. Mmm…” He sounded drowsy. Could spren get drowsy? “Remember your Ideal, the truth you spoke.”

She shoved hands in her pockets. Evening was coming, the sun slipping toward the western horizon. As if it were running from the Origin and the storms.

It was the individual touch, the light in the eyes of people she gave to, that really excited her. Feeding them felt so much more real than the rest of the plan to infiltrate the cult and investigate the Oathgate.

It’s too small, she thought. That was what Jasnah would say. I’m thinking too small.

Along the street, she passed people who whimpered and suffered. Far too many hungerspren in the air, and fearspren at nearly every corner. She had to do something to help.

Dalinar roared, standing, pushing toward the flames. However, the fire was too intense. Where he had once seen himself as an unstoppable force, he now had to admit exactly how small he was. Insignificant. Meaningless.

She felt her face changing as she walked, draining Stormlight from her satchel. It rose in her like a flaring flame, before dimming to an ember as she became the people from the sketches Adolin had seen.

The poor man who tried doggedly to keep the area around his little pallet clean, as if to try to maintain some control over an insane world.

The lighteyed girl who wondered what had happened to the joy of adolescence. Instead of her wearing her first havah to a ball, her family was forced to take in dozens of relatives from neighboring towns, and she spent the days locked away because the streets weren’t safe.

The mother with a child, sitting in darkness, looking toward the horizon and a hidden sun.

Face after face. Life after life. Overpowering, intoxicating, alive. Breathing, and crying, and laughing, and being. So many hopes, so many lives, so many dreams.

“It’s terrible,” Wit said, stepping up beside her, “to have been hurt. It’s unfair, and awful, and horrid. But Shallan … it’s okay to live on.”

She shook her head.

“Your other minds take over,” he whispered, “because they look so much more appealing. You’ll never control them until you’re confident in returning to the one who birthed them. Until you accept being you.”

“Then I’ll never control it.” She blinked tears.

“No,” Wit said. He nodded toward the version of her still standing up. “You will, Shallan. If you do not trust yourself, can you trust me? For in you, I see a woman more wonderful than any of the lies. I promise you, that woman is worth protecting. You are worth protecting.”

She nodded toward the illusion of herself still standing. “I can’t be her. She’s just another fabrication.”

Both illusions vanished. “I see only one woman here,” Wit said. “And it’s the one who is standing up. Shallan, that has always been you. You just have to admit it. Allow it.” He whispered to her. “It’s all right to hurt.”

He picked up his pack, then unfolded something from inside it. Veil’s hat. He pressed the hat into her palm.

Shockingly, morning light was shining in the doorway. Had she been here all night, huddled in this hole of a room?

“Wit?” she asked. “I … I can’t do it.”

He smiled. “There are certain things I know, Shallan. This is one of them. You can. Find the balance. Accept the pain, but don’t accept that you deserved it.”

Sadeas had carefully spun news of the Rift’s destruction to the king’s advantage. He’d called it regrettable that the Rifters had forced Kholin action by killing Dalinar’s wife, and named it unfortunate that the city had caught fire during the fighting. Gavilar had publicly censured Dalinar and Sadeas for “losing the city to flames,” but his denunciation of the Rifters had been far more biting.

The implication was clear. Gavilar didn’t want to unleash the Blackthorn. Even he couldn’t predict what kind of destruction Dalinar would bring. Obviously, such measures were a last resort— and these days, everyone was careful to give him plenty of other options.

So efficient. All it had cost was one city. And possibly Dalinar’s sanity.

“Don’t be ashamed,” Tukks continued. “We practice so you can freeze now, instead of when it will get you killed. You face down a squad, knowing they want to kill you even though they’ve never met you. And you hesitate, thinking it can’t possibly be true. You can’t possibly be here, preparing to fight, to bleed. Everyone feels that fear.”

“I wasn’t afraid of getting hurt,” Kal said softly.

“You won’t get far if you can’t admit to a little fear. Emotion is good. It’s what defines us, makes us—”

“I wasn’t afraid of getting hurt.” Kaladin took a deep breath. “I was afraid of making someone hurt.”

Tukks twisted the bark in his mouth, then nodded. “I see. Well, that’s another problem. Not unusual either, but a different matter indeed.”

For a time, the only sound in the large barrack was that of chisel on stone. “How do you do it?” Kal finally asked, not looking up. “How can you hurt people, Tukks? They’re just poor darkeyed slobs like us.”

“I think about my mates,” Tukks said. “I can’t let the lads down. My squad is my family now.”

“So you kill someone else’s family?”

“Eventually, we’ll be killing shellheads. But I know what you mean, Kal. It’s hard. You’d be surprised how many men look in the face of an enemy and find that they’re simply not capable of hurting another person.”

Kal closed his eyes, letting the chisel slip from his fingers.

“It’s good you aren’t so eager,” Tukks said. “Means you’re sane. I’ll take ten unskilled men with earnest hearts over one callous idiot who thinks this is all a game.”

The world doesn’t make sense, Kal thought. His father, the consummate surgeon, told him to avoid getting too wrapped up in his patients’ emotions. And here was a career killer, telling him to care?

Boots scraped on stone as Tukks stood up. He walked over and rested one hand on Kal’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about the war, or even the battle. Focus on your squadmates, Kal. Keep them alive. Be the man they need.” He grinned. “And get the rest of this floor scraped. I think when you come to dinner, you’ll find the rest of the squad more friendly. Just a hunch.”

That night, Kaladin discovered that Tukks was right. The rest of the men did seem more welcoming, now that he’d been disciplined. So Kal held his tongue, smiled, and enjoyed the companionship.

He never told Tukks the truth. When Kal had frozen on the practice field, it hadn’t been out of fear. He’d been very sure he could hurt someone. In fact, he’d realized that he could kill, if needed.

And that was what had terrified him.

Szeth dropped the man back into the water. He stepped onto the shore and sat down on a rock, breathing deeply. Not long ago, he had danced with a Windrunner at the front of a storm. Today, he fought in shallow water against a half-starved man.

Oh, how he missed the sky.

A hand fell on his shoulder. “Father?”

“Adolin, so help me—” Still kneeling, Dalinar turned, then cut off. It wasn’t Adolin, but the other one. Renarin had returned, timid as always, his spectacled eyes wide and his hand trembling. He held something out. A small bottle.

“I…” Renarin swallowed. “I got you one, with the spheres the king gave me. Because you always go through what you buy so quickly.”

Dalinar stared at that bottle of wine for an endless moment. “Gavilar hides the wine from me,” he mumbled. “That’s why none is left. I … couldn’t possibly … have drunk it all.…”

Renarin stepped in and hugged him. Dalinar flinched, bracing as if for a punch. The boy clung to him, not letting go.

“They talk about you,” Renarin said, “but they’re wrong. You just need to rest, after all the fighting you did. I know. And I miss her too.”

Dalinar licked his lips. “What did she tell you?” he said, voice ragged. “What did your mother say about me?”

“The only honest officer in the army,” Renarin said, “the honorable soldier. Noble, like the Heralds themselves. Our father. The greatest man in Alethkar.”

What stupid words. Yet Dalinar found himself weeping. Renarin let go, but Dalinar grabbed him, pulling him close.

Oh, Almighty. Oh God. Oh God, please … I’ve started to hate my sons. Why hadn’t the boys learned to hate him back? They should hate him. He deserved to be hated.

Please. Anything. I don’t know how to get free of this. Help me. Help me …

Dalinar wept and clung to that youth, that child, as if he were the only real thing left in a world of shadows.

Storms. Kaladin hated himself when he got like this. When he tried to empty his mind, he drifted toward the void of darkness. But when he instead let himself think, he started remembering what had happened in Kholinar. Men he loved, killing each other. Awful, terrifying perspective.

He could see too many sides. Parshmen angry at being enslaved for years, attempting to overthrow a corrupt government. Alethi protecting their homes from invading monsters. Elhokar trying to save his son. The palace guards trying to keep their oaths. Too many eyes to see through.

Too many emotions. Were these his only two options? Pain or oblivion?

He shot upward like an arrow, windspren joining and twisting around him. Zedzil followed, but when he tried to throw a pouch at Szeth, the wind was too great. The pouch fell backward immediately, striking Zedzil on his own shoulder.

Szeth dropped into a dive, and Zedzil followed until Szeth snatched a green bag from a pole and tossed it over his shoulder, hitting Zedzil again. The younger man cursed, then shot away to find easier prey.

Still, this combat proved to be a surprising challenge. Szeth had rarely fought in the air itself, and this contest felt similar to when he’d battled the Windrunner in the skies. He twisted among the poles, dodging pouches— even snatching one from the air before it hit him— and found he was enjoying himself.

The screams from the shadows seemed dim, less pressing. He wove between thrown pouches, dancing above a lake painted by the hues of a setting sun, and smiled.

Then immediately felt guilty. He had left tears, blood, and terror in his wake like a personal seal. He had destroyed monarchies, families— innocent and guilty alike. He could not be happy. He was only a tool of retribution. Not redemption, for he dared not believe in such.

If he was to be forced to keep living, it should not be a life that anyone would ever envy.

All Dalinar did was nod and ask the occasional question, but somehow he felt like he was accomplishing something. At the end, he entered a breezy tent near the city gates, where he met with a group of wounded soldiers. Each had survived when his entire platoon had fallen. Heroes, but not the conventional type. It took being a soldier to understand the heroism of simply being willing to continue after all your friends had died.

It seemed that Dalinar had been four people in his life. The bloodlusty warrior, who killed wherever he was pointed, and the consequences could go to Damnation.

The general, who had feigned distinguished civility— when secretly, he’d longed to get back on the battlefield so he could shed more blood.

Third, the broken man. The one who paid for the actions of the youth.

Then finally, the fourth man: most false of them all. The man who had given up his memories so he could pretend to be something better.

“They recognize you,” Kaladin said to Syl. “Even with the illusory skin color.”

“Uh … maybe…”

“Syl.”

She held to her hat with one hand, her other arm in his hand as he towed her through the street. “So … you know how I mentioned I snuck away from the other honorspren…”

“Yes.”

“So, there might have been an enormous reward for my return. Posted in basically every port in Shadesmar, with my description and some pictures. Um … yeah.”

“You’ve been forgiven,” Kaladin said. “The Stormfather has accepted your bond to me. Your siblings are watching Bridge Four, investigating potential bonds themselves!”

“That’s kind of recent, Kaladin. And I doubt I’ve been forgiven— the others on the Shattered Plains wouldn’t talk to me. As far as they’re concerned, I’m a disobedient child. There’s still an incredible reward in Stormlight to be given to the person that delivers me to the honorspren capital, Lasting Integrity.”

“And you didn’t think this was important to tell me?”

“Sure I did. Right now.”

They stopped to allow Adolin to catch up. The spren back at the food stall were still talking. Storms. This news would spread throughout Celebrant before long.

Kaladin glared at Syl, who pulled down into the oversized poncho she’d bought. “Azure is a bounty hunter,” she said in a small voice. “And I’m … I’m kind of like a spren lighteyes. I didn’t want you to know. In case you hated me, like you hate them.”

Kaladin sighed, taking her by the arm again and pulling her toward the docks.

“I should have known this disguise wouldn’t work,” she added. “I’m obviously too beautiful and interesting to hide.”

“This is not a time,” Hatham said softly, “when we can afford weak leadership. It is not a time when a would-be king can spend his days locked in his rooms. I’m sorry. We are not in rebellion, but we are very concerned.”

Navani drew in a breath. Hold it together.

Order was the very substance of rule. If things were organized, control could be asserted. She just had to give Dalinar time. Even if, deep down, a part of her was angry. Angry that his pain so overshadowed her growing fear for Elhokar and Adolin. Angry that he got to drink himself to oblivion, leaving her to pick up the pieces.

But she had learned that nobody was strong all the time, not even Dalinar Kholin. Love wasn’t about being right or wrong, but about standing up and helping when your partner’s back was bowed. He would likely do the same for her someday.

After the meeting broke, Navani walked off down the strata-lined hallway, trailed by her bridgeman guards, two of whom carried sapphire lanterns. “I do apologize,” she noted to them, “for how boring that must have been.”

“We like boring, Brightness,” Leyten— their leader today— said. He was a stocky man, with short, curly hair. “Hey, Hobber. Anyone try to kill you in there?”

The gap-toothed bridgeman grinned his reply. “Does Huio’s breath count?”

“See, Brightness?” Leyten said. “New recruits might get bored by guard duty, but you’ll never find a veteran complaining about a nice quiet afternoon full of not being stabbed.”

“I…” He pulled her tight again as the ship rocked. “Shallan, I killed Sadeas.”

She blinked, then pulled back and looked him in the eyes. “What?”

“I killed Sadeas,” Adolin whispered. “We met in the corridors of the tower. He started insulting Father, talking about the terrible things he was going to do to us. And … and I couldn’t listen anymore. Couldn’t stand there and look at his smug red face. So … I attacked him.”

“So all that time we were hunting a killer…”

“It was me. I’m the one the spren copied the first time. I kept thinking about how I was lying to you, to Father, and to everyone. The honorable Adolin Kholin, the consummate duelist. A murderer. And Shallan, I … I don’t think I’m sorry.

“Sadeas was a monster. He repeatedly tried to get us killed. His betrayal caused the deaths of many of my friends. When I formally challenged him to a duel, he wiggled out of it. He was smarter than me. Smarter than Father. He’d have won eventually. So I killed him.”

He pulled her to him and took a deep breath.

Shallan shivered, then whispered, “Good for you.”

“Shallan! You’re a Radiant. You’re not supposed to condone something like this!”

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I only know that the world is a better place for the death of Torol Sadeas.”

Odium sees that a vision has begun, the Stormfather warned Dalinar. The enemy is focusing on us. He comes.

“Can you hold him back?”

I am but a shadow of a god. His power vastly outstrips my own. He sounded smaller than Dalinar was accustomed to. Like the quintessential bully, the Stormfather didn’t know how to face someone stronger than himself.

Dalinar sank down on the steps.

I tried my best to hide this, the Stormfather said.

“So we could continue living a lie?”

It is, in my experience, the thing men do best.

He’d come far in the last half year. He seemed a man distant from the one who carried bridges against Parshendi arrows. That man had welcomed death, but now—even on the bad days, when everything was cast in greys—he defied death. It could not have him, for while life was painful, life was also sweet.

There she found him, sitting alone in the dim light, staring ahead sightlessly. Dark skin, even darker than hers, and a muscled physique. A king, for all the fact that he’d never worn a crown. He was the one of the ten who was never supposed to have borne their burden.

And he’d borne it the longest anyway.

Nearer to her, Dalinar Kholin—the man who had resisted—slumped forward, head bowed, holding one hand against his chest and trembling.

Odium stepped back, his appearance that of a parshman with golden carapace. “It is done,” he said, looking toward Venli and the gathered group of Fused. “You have a leader.”

“We must follow one of them?” Turash asked. “A human?”

Venli’s breath caught. There had been no respect in that tone.

Odium smiled. “You will follow me, Turash, or I will reclaim that which gives you persistent life. I care not for the shape of the tool. Only that it cuts.”

Syl looked up.

Kaladin turned to see what had drawn her attention. She looked past the Fused who had landed to attack. She was staring toward the ocean of beads, and the trembling lights of souls above it.

“Syl?”

She pulled him tight. “Maybe you don’t have to save anyone, Kaladin. Maybe it’s time for someone to save you.”

Szeth feared not pain, as no physical agony could rival the pain he already bore. He feared not death. That sweet reward had already been snatched from him. He feared only that he had made the wrong choice.

“Everything I’ve done,” Amaram said, blinking red eyes, “I’ve done for Alethkar. I’m a patriot!”

“If that is true,” Kaladin whispered, “why do you still hurt?

Amaram screamed, charging him.

Kaladin raised Syl, who became a Shardblade. “Today, what I do, I do for the men you killed. I am the man I’ve become because of them.”

“I made you! I forged you!” He leaped at Kaladin, propelling himself off the ground, hanging in the air.

And in so doing, he entered Kaladin’s domain.

Kaladin launched at Amaram. The highprince swung, but the winds themselves curled around Kaladin, and he anticipated the attack. He Lashed himself to the side, narrowly avoiding one Blade. Windspren streaked past him as he dodged the other by a hair’s width.

Syl became a spear in his grip, matching his motions perfectly. He spun and slammed her against the gemstone at Amaram’s heart. The amethyst cracked, and Amaram faltered in the air—then dropped.

Two Shardblades vanished to mist as the highprince fell some twenty feet to crash into the ground.

Kaladin floated downward toward him. “Ten spears go to battle,” he whispered, “and nine shatter. Did that war forge the one that remained? No, Amaram. All the war did was identify the spear that would not break.”

He’d once believed he had been four men in his life, but he now saw he’d grossly underestimated. He hadn’t lived as two, or four, or six men—he had lived as thousands, for each day he became someone slightly different.

He hadn’t changed in one giant leap, but across a million little steps.

Teft stood apart, glowing softly. Kaladin waved to the other men, then walked up to join Teft at the edge of the rooftop, staring out over the ocean beyond.

“Almost time to get the men back to work,” Teft noted. “King Taravangian wants us to fly wounded up from the triage stations to the Oathgate. The men wanted a break for food, not that they storming did much. You’d already won this battle when we got here, Kal.”

“I’d be dead if you hadn’t activated the Oathgate,” Kaladin said softly. “Somehow I knew that you would, Teft. I knew you’d come for me.”

“Knew better than I did, then.” Teft heaved a breath.

Kaladin rested his hand on Teft’s shoulder. “I know how it feels.”

“Aye,” Teft said. “I suppose you do. But isn’t it supposed to feel better? The longing for my moss is still storming there.”

“It doesn’t change us, Teft. We’re still who we are.”

“Damnation.”

Kaladin looked back at the others. Lopen was currently trying to impress Lyn and Laran with a story about how he lost his arm. It was the seventh rendition Kaladin had heard, each a little different.

Beard … Kaladin thought, feeling the loss like a stab to his side. He and Lopen would have gotten along well.

“It doesn’t get easier, Teft,” he said. “It gets harder, I think, the more you learn about the Words. Fortunately, you do get help. You were mine when I needed it. I’ll be yours.”

Teft nodded, but then pointed. “What about him?”

For the first time, Kaladin realized that Rock wasn’t with the rest of the team. The large Horneater was sitting—Stormlight extinguished—on the steps of one of the temples down below. Shardbow across his lap. Head bowed. He obviously considered what he’d done to be an oath broken, despite it having saved Kaladin’s life.

“We lift the bridge together, Teft,” Kaladin said. “And we carry it.”

Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

Paul Ciano

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