If you receive Brandon Sanderson’s newsletter then you were in for a treat this week, as a longer more polished version of the opening chapter of Stormlight Archive book 3 was included in the email!
Sanderson originally read a rough draft of this chapter at Salt Lake City’s FantasyCon in July. The most recent version is twice as long, and can be read below.
It’s a Kaladin chapter and Words of Radiance spoilers are immediately present. Proceed with caution!
Kaladin trudged through a field of quiet rockbuds, fully aware that he was too late to prevent the disaster. The knowledge slowed him, pressing against his shoulders with an almost physical sensation, like the weight of a bridge he was forced to carry all on his own.
The land around him should have felt familiar. Instead, it seemed wild, overgrown, alien. After so long in the stormlands—those eastern lands that bore the brunt of the storms—he had almost forgotten the sights of a more fertile landscape. Rockbuds grew almost as big as barrels, with vines as thick as his wrist spilling out and lapping water from the pools on the stone. Grass spread in fields and came up to his waist, dappled with glowing lifespren. The grass was vibrant green and slow to pull down into its burrows as he approached.
Kaladin shook his head; the grass back near the Shattered Plains had barely grown as high as his ankle, and had mostly come in yellowish patches on the leeward side of hills. Almost anything could be hiding in these fields. All you’d have to do was crouch down and wait for the grass to sneak back up around you, and you’d have a perfect ambush point. How had he never noticed that during his youth? He’d run through fields like this, playing catch-me with his brother, trying to see who was quick enough to grab handfuls of grass before it hid.
Something caught his eye, and he turned toward it, startling a patch of grass around himself. Kaladin felt drained. Used up. Like a . . . a mighty storm that had lost its fury, and was now just a soft breeze. His dramatic flight had begun with more Stormlight than he had thought he could hold, and a wealth more tucked into his pockets and pack, in the form of gemstones. It ended with this, a limping, exhausted trudge through fields. Perhaps he could have flown all the way to northwestern Alethkar from the Shattered Plains if he’d been more practiced with his powers. As it was—despite bearing a king’s wealth in gemstones—he’d run out of Stormlight somewhere in Aladar’s princedom.
He’d traveled hundreds of miles in half a day. And it still hadn’t been enough. This last bit—not thirty miles to walk—had been excruciating. So slow! He would have passed this distance in an eyeblink before, but he’d been walking for two days. He felt like a man who had been winning a footrace, only to trip and break his legs a handspan from the finish line.
He neared the object he’d seen earlier, and the grass obligingly pulled back before him, revealing a broken wooden churn. For turning sow’s milk into butter. Kaladin rested fingers on the splintered wood; only the wealthy had access to enough milk for this sort of thing, and a churn would have been locked up tight before a storm. He glanced to the side at another chunk of wood peeking out over the tops of the grass, like the hand of a drowning man reaching toward the sky.
Syl zipped down as ribbon of light, passing his head and spinning around the length of wood. He could sense an inquisitiveness to her motions, even though she hadn’t manifested a face yet. Was he mistaken, or was their bond growing stronger? His ability to read her emotions, and she his, improving?
Perhaps it was just familiarity. “It’s the side of a roof,” Kaladin said. “The lip that hangs down on the leeward side of a building.” Probably a storage shed, judging by the debris he’d spotted in the field.
Alethkar wasn’t in the stormlands, but neither was it some soft-skinned, stormless western land. Buildings here were built low and squat, particularly outside of big, sheltered cities. They’d be pointed eastward, toward the storms, and windows would only be on the leeward—the westward—side. Like the grass and the trees, mankind bowed before the storms. The alternative was to be ripped apart, for the Stormfather did not suffer the insolent.
But, then, these objects—ripped free in winds, deposited miles from their origins—had not come free in a highstorm. Another more fell wind had done this deed: a storm that blew the wrong direction.
The mere thought of that a panic rise inside of him, a feeling like he got when watching a hail of arrows fall on himself and his men. The everstorm, as it was called, was so wrong, so unnatural—like a baby born with no face. Some things just should not be.
And, the most troubling part was that the storm itself was not the worst of their problems.
He stood and left the debris behind, continuing on his way. He had changed uniforms before leaving—taking the Oathgate to the Shattered Plains, then streaking into the sky and rushing in desperation toward Alethkar. His old uniform had been bloodied and tattered, though this one wasn’t much better. A spare, generic Kholin uniform, not even of the old Cobalt Guard. It felt wrong to not bear the symbol of Bridge Four. But, then, a lot of things felt wrong to him these days.
I swear I recognize this place, he thought to himself, cresting a hill. A river broke the landscape to his right, but it was a small, impermanent one—it would flow only following a storm. Still, trees sprouted along its banks, hungry for the extra water, and they marked the route. Yes . . . That would be Hobble’s Brook. So if he looked directly west . . .
Hand shading his eyes, he spotted them. Cultivated hills; they stuck out like the balding crowns of elderly men. No grass, no rockbuds. They’d soon be slathered with seed-crem, and lavis polyps would start growing. That hadn’t started yet, most likely. This was supposed to be the Weeping. Rain should be falling right now in a constant, gentle stream.
The everstorm that had blown through early in the morning had swept the clouds along with it, stopping the rain. As much as he despised the Weeping, he was not happy to see those rains go. They should have lasted another seven days, but the wrong-way storm had apparently disrupted them. Another unnatural effect.
Kaladin had been forced to weather the thing in a hollow of rock, cut with his Shardblade. Storms, it had been even more eerie than a highstorm.
He crested a hill, inspecting the landscape. As he did, Syl zipped up in front of him, a ribbon of light. “Your eyes are brown again,” she noted.
It took a few hours without touching Stormlight or summoning his Shardblade. Once he did either thing, his eyes would bleed to a glassy light blue, almost glowing. A few hours later, they’d fade again. Syl found the variation fascinating; Kaladin still hadn’t decided how he felt about it.
“We’re close,” Kaladin said, pointing. “Those fields belong to Hobbleken. We’re maybe two hours from Hearthstone.”
“Then you’ll be home!” Syl said, her ribbon of light spiraling and taking the shape of a young woman in a flowing havah, tight and buttoning above the waist, with safehand covered.
Kaladin grunted, continuing down the slope.
“Do you like the new dress?” Syl asked, wagging her covered safehand.
“Looks strange on you.”
“I’ll have you know I put a ton of thought into it,” Syl said with a huff. “I spent positively hours thinking of just how— Oh! What’s that?” She zipped away, turning into a little stormcloud that came to rest over a lurg clinging to a stone. She inspected the fist-size amphibian on one side, then the other, before squealing in joy and turning into a perfect imitation—only pale white-blue. This startled the thing away, and she giggled, zipping back toward Kaladin as a ribbon of light.
“What were we saying?” she asked, forming into a young woman and resting on his shoulder.
“I’m sure I was scolding you,” Syl said, tapping his shoulder with her fingers in a pensive way. “Regardless, you’re home! Yay! Aren’t you excited?”
He shook his head. She didn’t see it—didn’t realize. Sometimes, for all her curiosity, she could be oblivious.
“But . . . it’s your home . . .” Syl said. She huddled down. “What’s wrong? Why are you feeling like this?”
“The everstorm, Syl,” Kaladin said. “We were supposed to beat it here.” He’d needed to beat it here.
Storms, why hadn’t he been faster? He’d spent much of the day before at a forced march, as fast as he could manage, not even stopping to sleep. Perhaps that was why he felt so drained, like even lifting his arm was a chore.
Being without Stormlight after holding so much was part of it too. He felt like a hogshide tube that had been squeezed and squeezed to get the last drops of antiseptic out, leaving only the husk. Was this what it would be like every time he used a lot of Stormlight, then ran dry?
The arrival of the everstorm in the morning had caused him to collapse, finally, and give in to his fatigue. That had been the ringing of the bell, the notice of failure.
He tried to avoid thinking of what he’d discover in Hearthstone. Surely, someone would have survived, right? The fury of the storm, and then the worse fury after? The murderous rampage of once-servants turned into monsters?
Oh, Stormfather. Why hadn’t he been faster?
He forced himself into a double march again, pack slung over his shoulder. The weight was still heavy, dreadfully so, but he found that he had to know. Had to see.
Someone had to witness what had happened to his home.
The rain started again about an hour out of Hearthstone, so at least the weather patterns hadn’t been completely ruined. Unfortunately, this meant he had to hike the rest of the way wet and accompanied by the constant patter of a light rainfall. Storms, but he hated the Weeping.
“It will be all right, Kaladin,” Syl promised from his shoulder. She’d created an umbrella for herself, and still wore the traditional dress, instead of her usual girlish skirt. “You’ll see.”
Her reassurance did little to budge his sense of dread. If anything, her optimism only highlighted his mood—like a piece of dung on a table surrounded by finery only made it look that much more nasty. It wouldn’t be “all right.” That was just not how his life went.
The sky had darkened by the time he finally crested the last lavis hill and looked down on Hearthstone. He braced himself for the destruction, but even still, it shocked him. Buildings without roofs. Debris strewn about. Some houses had even fallen. He couldn’t see the entire town from his vantage, not in the gloom of the Weeping, but the houses he could make out in the waning light were hollow and ruined.
He stood for a long time as night fell. He didn’t spot a glimmer of light in the town. The place was empty.
A piece of him scrunched up inside, huddling into a corner, tired of being whipped so often. He’d embraced his power, he’d taken the path he should. Why hadn’t it been enough?
His eyes immediately sought out his parents’ home near the center of town. But no. Even if he’d been able to see it in the rainy evening gloom, he didn’t want to go there. Not yet. Instead, he rounded toward the northwestern side, where a hill led up to the citylord’s manor. He would start his search here; this was where the parshmen had been kept. When the transformation had come upon them, here was where they would have begun their rampage. He was pretty certain he could run across Roshone’s corpse and not be too heartbroken.
He passed the hollow buildings, accompanied only by the sound of rain in the darkness. He went to fish out a sphere for light, but of course he’d used up all of those. They were dun now, and wouldn’t be refreshed until the next highstorm—weeks away, assuming normal weather patterns. Not something one could assume any longer.
He shivered in the chill and walked a little further out from the city, not wanting to feel the holes of those gaping homes upon him like eyes. Though Hearthstone had once seemed enormous to him—it was a town of some hundred buildings, far larger than the numerous tiny villages surrounding it—there was really nothing remarkable about the place. It was one of dozens of towns like it in Alethkar. The larger towns like this, though still very rural, served as a kind of hub to the farming communities spreading out from it.
And, because of that, it was cursed with the presence of a lighteyed ruler of some import. Citylord Roshone, in this case. A man whose greedy ways had ruined far more than one life.
Moash . . . Kaladin thought. He’d have to face what his friend had done at some point. Now, the betrayal was too fresh, and other wounds would need nurturing first. More immediate wounds.
Kaladin climbed up to Roshone’s manor, a very familiar path. Once, he’d come up this way almost daily. Back when they’d had a different citylord. That life was surreal to remember. A past that almost didn’t belong to him any longer.
“Wow,” Syl said. “Gloomspren.”
Kaladin looked up and noted an unusual spren whipping around him. Long, grey, like a large, tattered streamer of cloth in the wind, it wound around him, fluttering as if in a phantom wind. He’d only seen its like once or twice before.
“Why are they so rare?” Kaladin asked, continuing his hike. The manor was just ahead. “People feel gloomy all the time.”
“Who knows?” Syl said. “Some spren are common. Some are uncommon.” She tapped his shoulder. “I’m pretty sure one of my relatives liked to hunt these things.”
“Hunt them?” Kaladin asked. “Like, try to spot them?”
“No. Like you hunt greatshells. Can’t remember her name . . . Anyway, the hunts were grand things. Quite the endeavor.” Syl cocked her head, oblivious to the fact that rain was falling through her form. “What an odd memory.”
“More seems to be coming back to you.”
“The longer I’m with you,” she said with a nod, “the more it happens. Assuming you don’t try to kill me again.” She gave him a sideways look.
“How often are you going to make me apologize for that?”
“How many times have I done it so far?”
“At least fifty.”
“Liar,” Syl said. “Can’t be more than twenty.” She looked at him expectantly.
“I’m sorry.” He sighed. He needed to be on with it. No more delaying.
Wait. Was that light up ahead?
Kaladin stopped on the path. It was light, coming from the manor house. It flickered unevenly. Candles? Someone, it appeared, had survived. That was good, but also worrisome. What if it was the parshmen—or whatever one called them now that they’d transformed? Voidbringers would probably do.
They could have slaughtered the people of the town, then set up here in the manor. He needed to be careful, though as he approached, he found that he didn’t want to be. He wanted to be reckless, angry, destructive. If he found the creatures that had taken his home from him . . .
It was supposed to have been safe. Far from Kaladin, far from his new life of pain and lost friends. “Be ready,” he mumbled to Syl. She was his Shardblade now, his weapon, like the spren companions of the Knights of old.
“He stepped off the pathway, which was kept free of grass or other plants, and crept through the night toward the lights. The manor was occupied. The light he’d spotted earlier shone from windows that had been shattered in the everstorm, which would have come upon the city not only from the wrong direction, but at a completely unexpected time. No Stormwarden could have predicted this. The shutters would not have been put on windows, and people wouldn’t have known to stay indoors.
The rain muted sound and made it difficult to spot much about the manor other than the broken porch, ruined windows, and shifting light. Someone, or something, was inside, though. Shadows moved in front of the lights. Kaladin reached the side of the building, heart thumping, then rounded toward the northern side. The servants’ entrance would be here, along with the quarters for the parshmen.
The rain muted sounds, making it difficult to pick out specifics, but he did hear an unusual amount of noise coming from inside the manor house. Thumping. Motion. Each sound put him further on edge.
It was now fully night, and he had to feel his way through the gardens up to the building’s side. Fortunately, he remembered this place well. He’d spent much of his youth up at the manor, playing with Laral, the old citylord’s daughter. The parshmen had been housed in a small construction at the side of the manor, built in its shadow, with a single open chamber with shelflike benches inside for sleeping. Kaladin reached it by touch and Syl zipped up in front of him, giving off some miniscule light—enough for him to make out a gaping hole in the side of the building.
Well, that wasn’t a good sign. Kaladin felt around it, rain patting his shoulders and head. The entire side of the building had been ripped out, and the inside was apparently empty. He left it, scouting through the gardens—full of chest-high ridges of cultivated shalebark—looking for some sign of what had happened.
Sounds from behind.
Kaladin spun with a curse as the back entrance of the manor opened. Too far from the parshmen quarters to seek cover there, he dove for a shalebark mound, but it was pitifully small. Light bathed him, cutting through the rain. A lantern.
Kaladin raised one hand—no use hiding—and stretched the other to the side, prepared to summon Syl. Then he hesitated. The person who had stepped from the manor was human, a guardsman in an old helm with spots of rust on it.
The man held up his lantern, pale in the face at having seen Kaladin. “Here now.” The guardsman fumbled with the mace on his belt. “Here now! You there!” He pulled free the weapon and held it out in a quivering hand. “What are you? Deserter? Come here into the light and let me see you.”
Kaladin stood up warily, still tense. Someone, at least, seemed to have survived the Voidbringer assault. Either that, or this was a group investigating the aftermath.
Still, it was the first hopeful sign he’d seen since arriving. He held his hands to the side—he was unarmed save for Syl—and let the guard bully him into the building.