Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson: Chapters 13-15

Start reading Oathbringer, the new volume of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive epic, right now. For free!

Tor.com is serializing the much-awaited third volume in the Stormlight Archive series every Tuesday until the novel’s November 14, 2017 release date.

Every installment is collected here in the Oathbringer index.

Need a refresher on the Stormlight Archive before beginning Oathbringer? Here’s a summary of what happened in Book 1: The Way of Kings and Book 2: Words of Radiance.

Spoiler warning: Comments will contain spoilers for previous Stormlight books, other works that take place in Sanderson’s cosmere (Elantris, Mistborn, Warbreaker, etc.), and the available chapters of Oathbringer, along with speculation regarding the chapters yet to come.

 

Chapter 13
Chaperone

I ask only that you read or listen to these words.

—From Oathbringer, preface

 

Shallan breathed out Stormlight and stepped through it, feeling it envelop her, transform her.

She’d been moved, upon request, to Sebarial’s section of Urithiru, in part because he’d promised her a room with a balcony. Fresh air and a view of the mountain peaks. If she couldn’t be completely free of this building’s shadowed depths, then at least she could have a home on the borders.

She pulled at her hair, pleased to see it had turned black. She had become Veil, a disguise she’d been working on for some time.

Shallan held up hands that were callused and worked—even the safehand. Not that Veil was unfeminine. She kept her nails filed, and liked to dress nicely, keep her hair brushed. She simply didn’t have time for frivolities. A good sturdy coat and trousers suited Veil better than a flowing havah. And she had no time for an extended sleeve covering her safehand. She’d wear a glove, thank you very much.

At the moment she was dressed in her nightgown; she’d change later, once she was ready to sneak out into Urithiru’s halls. She needed some practice first. Though she felt bad about the use of Stormlight when everyone else was scrimping, Dalinar had told her to train with her powers.

She strode through her chamber, adopting Veil’s gait—confident and sturdy, never prim. You couldn’t balance a book on Veil’s head as she walked, but she’d happily balance one on your face after she knocked you unconscious.

She circled the room several times, crossing the patch of evening light from the window. Her room was ornamented by bright circular patterns of strata on the walls. The stone was smooth to the touch, and a knife couldn’t scratch it.

There wasn’t much furniture, though Shallan was hopeful that the latest scavenging expeditions to the warcamps would return with something she could appropriate from Sebarial. For now she did what she could with some blankets, a single stool, and—blessedly—a hand mirror. She’d hung it on the wall, tied to a stone knob that she assumed was for hanging pictures.

She checked her face in the mirror. She wanted to get to the point where she could become Veil at a moment’s notice, without needing to review sketches. She prodded at her features, but of course as the more angular nose and pronounced forehead were a result of Lightweaving, she couldn’t feel them.

When she frowned, Veil’s face mimicked the motion perfectly. “Something to drink, please,” she said. No, rougher. “Drink. Now.” Too strong?

“Mmm,” Pattern said. “The voice becomes a good lie.”

“Thank you. I’ve been working on sounds.” Veil’s voice was deeper than Shallan’s, rougher. She’d started to wonder, how far could she go in changing how things sounded?

For now, she wasn’t sure she’d gotten the lips right in the illusion. She sauntered over to her art supplies and flipped open her sketchbook, looking for renditions of Veil she’d drawn instead of going to dinner with Sebarial and Palona.

The first page of the sketchbook was of the corridor with the twisting strata she’d passed through the other day: lines of madness curling toward darkness. She flipped to the next, a picture of one of the tower’s budding markets. Thousands of merchants, washwomen, prostitutes, innkeepers, and craftsmen of all varieties were setting up in Urithiru. Shallan knew well how many—she’d been the one to bring them all through the Oathgate.

In her sketch, the black upper reaches of the large market cavern loomed over tiny figures scurrying between tents, holding fragile lights. The next was another tunnel into darkness. And the next. Then a room where the strata coiled about one another in a mesmerizing manner. She hadn’t realized she’d done so many. She flipped twenty pages before she found her sketches of Veil.

Yes, the lips were right. The build was wrong, however. Veil had a lean strength, and that wasn’t coming through in the nightgown. It looked too much like Shallan’s figure beneath.

Someone knocked on the wooden plate hung outside her rooms. She had just a cloth draping the doorway right now. Many of the tower’s doors had warped over the years; hers had been ripped out, and she was still waiting on a replacement.

The one knocking would be Palona, who had once again noticed that Shallan had skipped dinner. Shallan sucked in a breath, destroying the image of Veil, recovering some of the Stormlight from her Lightweaving. “Come,” she said. Honestly, it didn’t seem to matter to Palona that Shallan was a storming Knight Radiant now, she’d still mother her all the—

Adolin stepped in, carrying a large plate of food in one hand, some books under the other arm. He saw her and stumbled, nearly dropping it all.

Shallan froze, then yelped and tucked her bare safehand behind her back. Adolin didn’t even have the decency to blush at finding her practically naked. He balanced the food in his hand, recovering from his stumble, and then grinned.

“Out!” Shallan said, waving her freehand at him. “Out, out, out!”

He backed away awkwardly, through the draped cloth over the doorway. Stormfather! Shallan’s blush was probably so bright they could have used her as a signal to send the army to war. She pulled on a glove, then wrapped that in a safepouch, then threw on the blue dress she had draped over the back of her chair and did up the sleeve. She didn’t have the presence of mind to pull on her bodice vest first, not that she really needed one anyway. She kicked it under a blanket instead.

“In my defense,” Adolin said from outside, “you did invite me in.”

“I thought you were Palona!” Shallan said, doing up the buttons on the side of her dress—which proved difficult, with three layers covering her safehand.

“You know, you could check to see who is at your door.”

“Don’t make this my fault,” Shallan said. “You’re the one slipping into young ladies’ bedrooms practically unannounced.”

“I knocked!”

“The knock was feminine.”

“It was… Shallan!”

“Did you knock with one hand or two?”

“I’m carrying a storming platter of food—for you, by the way. Of course the knock was one-handed. And seriously, who knocks with two?”

“It was quite feminine, then. I’d have thought that imitating a woman to catch a glimpse of a young lady in her undergarments was beneath you, Adolin Kholin.”

“Oh, for Damnation’s sake, Shallan. Can I come in now? And just so we’re clear, I’m a man and your betrothed, my name is Adolin Kholin, I was born under the sign of the nine, I have a birthmark on the back of my left thigh, and I had crab curry for breakfast. Anything else you need to know?”

She poked her head out, pulling the cloth tight around her neck. “Back of your left thigh, eh? What’s a girl got to do to sneak a glimpse of that?”

“Knock like a man, apparently.”

She gave him a grin. “Just a sec. This dress is being a pain.” She ducked back into the room.

“Yes, yes. Take your time. I’m not standing out here holding a heavy platter of food, smelling it after having skipped dinner so I could dine with you.”

“It’s good for you,” Shallan said. “Builds strength, or something. Isn’t that the sort of thing you do? Strangle rocks, stand on your head, throw boulders around.”

“Yes, I have quite my share of murdered rocks stuffed under my bed.” Shallan grabbed her dress with her teeth at the neck to pull it tight, helping with the buttons. Maybe.

“What is it with women and their undergarments anyway?” Adolin said, the platter clinking as some of the plates slid against one another. “I mean, that shift covers basically the same parts as a formal dress.”

“It’s the decency of it,” Shallan said around a mouthful of fabric. “Besides, certain things have a tendency to poke out through a shift.”

“Still seems arbitrary to me.”

“Oh, and men aren’t arbitrary about clothing? A uniform is basically the same as any other coat, right? Besides, aren’t you the one who spends his afternoons searching through fashion folios?”

He chuckled and started a reply, but Shallan, finally dressed, swept back the sheet on her doorway. Adolin stood up from leaning against the wall of the corridor and took her in—frazzled hair, dress that she had missed two buttons on, cheeks flushed. Then he grinned a dopey grin.

Ash’s eyes… he actually thought she was pretty. This wonderful, princely man actually liked being with her. She’d traveled to the ancient city of the Knights Radiant, but compared to Adolin’s affection, all the sights of Urithiru were dun spheres.

He liked her. And he brought her food.

Do not find a way to screw this up, Shallan thought to herself as she took the books from under his arm. She stepped aside, letting him enter and set the platter on the floor. “Palona said you hadn’t eaten,” he said, “and then she found out I’d skipped dinner. So, uh…”

“So she sent you with a lot,” Shallan said, inspecting the platter piled high with dishes, flatbreads, and shellfood.

“Yeah,” Adolin said, standing and scratching at his head. “I think it’s a Herdazian thing.”

Shallan hadn’t realized how hungry she was. She’d been intending to get something at one of the taverns later tonight while prowling about wearing Veil’s face. Those taverns had set up in the main market, despite Navani’s attempts to send them elsewhere, and Sebarial’s merchants had quite the stock to sell.

Now that this was all before her… well, she didn’t worry much about decorum as she settled down on the ground and started to spoon herself up a thin, watery curry with vegetables.

Adolin remained standing. He did look sharp in that blue uniform,

though admittedly she’d never really seen him in anything else. Birthmark on the thigh, eh…

“You’ll have to sit on the ground,” Shallan said. “No chairs yet.” “I just realized,” he said, “this is your bedroom.”

“And my drawing room, and my sitting room, and my dining room, and my ‘Adolin says obvious things’ room. It’s quite versatile, this room— singular—of mine. Why?”

“I’m just wondering if it’s proper,” he said, then actually blushed— which was adorable. “For us to be in here alone.”

Now you’re worried about propriety?”

“Well, I did recently get lectured about it.”

“That wasn’t a lecture,” Shallan said, taking a bite of food. The succulent tastes overwhelmed her mouth, bringing on that delightful sharp pain and mixing of flavor that you only got from the first bite of something sweet. She closed her eyes and smiled, savoring it.

“So… not a lecture?” Adolin said. “Was there to be more to that quip?”

“Sorry,” she said, opening her eyes. “It wasn’t a lecture, it was a creative application of my tongue to keep you distracted.” Looking at his lips, she could think of some other creative applications for her tongue.…

Right. She took a deep breath.

“It would be inappropriate,” Shallan said, “if we were alone. Fortunately, we are not.”

“Your ego doesn’t count as a separate individual, Shallan.”

“Ha! Wait. You think I have an ego?”

“It just sounded good—I don’t mean… Not that… Why are you grinning?”

“Sorry,” Shallan said, making two fists before herself and shivering in glee. She’d spent so long feeling timid, it was so satisfying to hear a reference to her confidence. It was working! Jasnah’s teaching about practicing and acting like she was in control. It was working.

Well, except for that whole part about having to admit to herself that she’d killed her mother. As soon as she thought of it, she instinctively tried to shove the memory away, but it wouldn’t budge. She’d spoken it to Pattern as a truth—which were the odd Ideals of the Lightweavers.

It was stuck in her mind, and every time she thought about it, the gaping wound flared up with pain again. Shallan had killed her mother. Her father had covered it up, pretended he’d murdered his wife, and the event had destroyed his life—driving him to anger and destruction.

Until eventually Shallan had killed him too.

“Shallan?” Adolin asked. “Are you well?”

No.

“Sure. Fine. Anyway, we aren’t alone. Pattern, come here please.” She held out her hand, palm up.

He reluctantly moved down from the wall where he’d been watching. As always, he made a ripple in whatever he crossed, be it cloth or stone—like there was something under the surface. His complex, fluctuating pattern of lines was always changing, melding, vaguely circular but with surprising tangents.

He crossed up her dress and onto her hand, then split out from beneath her skin and rose into the air, expanding fully into three dimensions. He hovered there, a black, eye-bending network of shifting lines—some patterns shrinking while others expanded, rippling across his surface like a field of moving grass.

She would not hate him. She could hate the sword she’d used to kill her mother, but not him. She managed to push aside the pain for now—not forgetting it, but hopefully not letting it spoil her time with Adolin.

“Prince Adolin,” Shallan said, “I believe you’ve heard my spren’s voice before. Let me introduce you formally. This is Pattern.”

Adolin knelt, reverent, and stared at the mesmerizing geometries. Shallan didn’t blame him; she’d lost herself more than once in that network of lines and shapes that almost seemed to repeat, but never quite did.

“Your spren,” Adolin said. “A Shallanspren.” Pattern sniffed in annoyance at that.

“He’s called a Cryptic,” she said. “Every order of Radiant bonds a different variety of spren, and that bond lets me do what I do.”

“Craft illusions,” Adolin said softly. “Like that one with the map the other day.”

Shallan smiled and—realizing she had just a smidge of Stormlight left from her illusion earlier—was unable to resist showing off. She raised her sleeved safehand and breathed out, sending a shimmering patch of Stormlight above the blue cloth. It formed into a small image of Adolin from her sketches of him in his Shardplate. This one remained frozen, Shardblade on his shoulder, faceplate up—like a little doll.

“This is an incredible talent, Shallan,” Adolin said, poking at the version of himself—which fuzzed, offering no resistance. He paused, then poked at Pattern, who shied back. “Why do you insist on hiding this, pretending that you’re a different order than you are?”

“Well,” she said, thinking fast and closing her hand, dismissing the image of Adolin. “I just think it might give us an edge. Sometimes secrets are important.”

Adolin nodded slowly. “Yeah. Yeah, they are.”

“Anyway,” Shallan said. “Pattern, you’re to be our chaperone tonight.”

“What,” Pattern said with a hum, “is a chaperone?”

“That is someone who watches two young people when they are together, to make certain they don’t do anything inappropriate.”

“Inappropriate?” Pattern said. “Such as… dividing by zero?”

“What?” Shallan asked, looking to Adolin, who shrugged. “Look, just keep an eye on us. It will be all right.”

Pattern hummed, melting down into his two-dimensional form and taking up residence on the side of a bowl. He seemed content there, like a cremling snuggled into its crack.

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.

Adolin—after finishing an entire plate of stranna haspers steamed in the shell—picked out a few chunks of pork from a creamy red curry, then put them on a plate and handed them in her direction. “Wanna try a bite?”

Shallan made a gagging noise.

“Come on,” he said, wagging the plate. “It’s delicious.”

“It would burn my lips off, Adolin Kholin,” Shallan said. “Don’t think I didn’t notice you picking the absolute spiciest concoction Palona sent. Men’s food is dreadful. How can you taste anything beneath all that spice?”

“Keeps it from being bland,” Adolin said, stabbing one of the chunks and popping it in his mouth. “There’s nobody here but us. You can try it.”

She eyed it, remembering the times as a child when she’d sneaked tastes of men’s food—though not this specific dish.

Pattern buzzed. “Is this the inappropriate thing I’m supposed to stop you from doing?”

“No,” Shallan said, and Pattern settled back down. Perhaps a chaperone, she thought, who believes basically everything I tell him isn’t going to be the most effective.

Still, with a sigh, she grabbed a chunk of the pork in some flatbread.

She had left Jah Keved hunting new experiences, after all.

She tried a bite, and was given immediate reason to regret her decisions in life.

Eyes brimming with tears, she scrambled for the cup of water Adolin, insufferably, had picked up to hand toward her. She gulped that down, though it didn’t seem to do anything. She followed it by wiping her tongue with a napkin—in the most feminine way possible, of course.

“I hate you,” she said, drinking his water next. Adolin chuckled.

“Oh!” Pattern said suddenly, bursting up from the bowl to hover in the air. “You were talking about mating! I’m to make sure you don’t accidentally mate, as mating is forbidden by human society until you have first performed appropriate rituals! Yes, yes. Mmmm. Dictates of custom require following certain patterns before you copulate. I’ve been studying this!”

“Oh, Stormfather,” Shallan said, covering her eyes with her freehand. A few shamespren even peeked in for a glimpse before vanishing. Twice in one week.

“Very well, you two,” Pattern said. “No mating. NO MATING.” He hummed to himself, as if pleased, then sank down onto a plate.

“Well, that was humiliating,” Shallan said. “Can we maybe talk about those books you brought? Or ancient Vorin theology, or strategies for counting grains of sand? Anything other than what just happened? Please?”

Adolin chuckled, then reached for a slim notebook that was on top of the pile. “May Aladar sent teams to question Vedekar Perel’s family and friends. They discovered where he was before he died, who last saw him, and wrote down anything suspicious. I thought we could read the report.”

“And the rest of the books?”

“You seemed lost when Father asked you about Makabaki politics,” Adolin said, pouring some wine, merely a soft yellow. “So I asked around, and it seems that some of the ardents hauled their entire libraries out here. I was able to get a servant to locate you a few books I’d enjoyed on the Makabaki.”

“Books?” Shallan said. “You?”

“I don’t spend all my time hitting people with swords, Shallan,” Adolin said. “Jasnah and Aunt Navani made very certain that my youth was filled with interminable periods spent listening to ardents lecture me on politics and trade. Some of it stuck in my brain, against my natural inclinations. Those three books are the best of the ones I remember having read to me, though the last one is an updated version. I thought it might help.”

“That’s thoughtful,” she said. “Really, Adolin. Thank you.”

“I figured, you know, if we’re going to move forward with the betrothal…”

“Why wouldn’t we?” Shallan said, suddenly panicked.

“I don’t know. You’re a Radiant, Shallan. Some kind of half-divine being from mythology. And all along I was thinking we were giving you a favorable match.” He stood up and started pacing. “Damnation. I didn’t mean to say it like that. I’m sorry. I just… I keep worrying that I’m going to screw this up somehow.”

“You worry you’re going to screw it up?” Shallan said, feeling a warmth inside that wasn’t completely due to the wine.

“I’m not good with relationships, Shallan.”

“Is there anyone who actually is? I mean, is there really someone out there who looks at relationships and thinks, ‘You know what, I’ve got this’? Personally, I rather think we’re all collectively idiots about it.”

“It’s worse for me.”

“Adolin, dear, the last man I had a romantic interest in was not only an ardent—forbidden to court me in the first place—but also turned out to be an assassin who was merely trying to obtain my favor so he could get close to Jasnah. I think you overestimate everyone else’s capability in this regard.”

He stopped pacing. “An assassin.”

“Seriously,” Shallan said. “He almost killed me with a loaf of poisoned bread.”

“Wow. I have to hear this story.”

“Fortunately, I just told it to you. His name was Kabsal, and he was so incredibly sweet to me that I can almost forgive him for trying to kill me.”

Adolin grinned. “Well, it’s nice to hear that I don’t have a high bar to jump—all I have to do is not poison you. Though you shouldn’t be telling me about past lovers. You’ll make me jealous.”

“Please,” Shallan said, dipping her bread in some leftover sweet curry. Her tongue still hadn’t recovered. “You’ve courted, like, half the warcamps.”

“It’s not that bad.”

“Isn’t it? From what I hear, I’d have to go to Herdaz to find an eligible woman you haven’t pursued.” She held out her hand to him, to help her to her feet.

“Are you mocking my failings?”

“No, I’m lauding them,” she said, standing up beside him. “You see, Adolin dear, if you hadn’t wrecked all those other relationships, you wouldn’t be here. With me.” She pulled close. “And so, in reality, you’re the greatest at relationships there ever was. You ruined only the wrong ones, you see.”

He leaned down. His breath smelled of spices, his uniform of the crisp, clean starch Dalinar required. His lips touched hers, and her heart fluttered. So warm.

“No mating!”

She started, pulling out of the kiss to find Pattern hovering beside them, pulsing quickly through shapes.

Adolin bellowed a laugh, and Shallan couldn’t help joining in at the ridiculousness of it. She stepped back from him, but kept hold on his hand. “Neither of us is going to mess this up,” she said to him, squeezing his hand. “Despite what might at times seem like our best efforts otherwise.”

“Promise?” he asked.

“I promise. Let’s look at this notebook of yours and see what it says about our murderer.”

 


 

Chapter 14
Squires Can’t Capture

In this record, I hold nothing back. I will try not to shy away from difficult topics, or paint myself in a dishonestly heroic light.

—From Oathbringer, preface

 

Kaladin crept through the rains, sidling in a wet uniform across the rocks until he was able to peek through the trees at the Voidbringers. Monstrous terrors from the mythological past, enemies of all that was right and good. Destroyers who had laid waste to civilization countless times.

They were playing cards.

What in Damnation’s depths? Kaladin thought. The Voidbringers had posted a single guard, but the creature had simply been sitting on a tree stump, easy to avoid. A decoy, Kaladin had assumed, figuring he would find the true guard watching from the heights of the trees.

If there was a hidden guard though, Kaladin had missed spotting them— and they’d missed Kaladin in equal measure. The dim light served him well, as he was able to settle between some bushes right at the edge of the Voidbringer camp. Between trees they had stretched tarps, which leaked horribly. In one place they’d made a proper tent, fully enclosed with walls— and he couldn’t see what was inside.

There wasn’t enough shelter, so many sat out in the rain. Kaladin spent a torturous few minutes expecting to be spotted. All they had to do was notice that these bushes had drawn in their leaves at his touch.

Nobody looked, fortunately. The leaves timidly peeked back out, obscuring him. Syl landed on his arm, hands on her hips as she surveyed the Voidbringers. One of them had a set of wooden Herdazian cards, and he sat at the edge of the camp—directly before Kaladin—using a flat surface of stone as a table. A female sat opposite him.

They looked different from what he expected. For one thing, their skin was a diff rent shade—many parshmen here in Alethkar had marbled white and red skin, rather than the deep red on black like Rlain from Bridge Four. They didn’t wear warform, though neither did they wear some terrible, powerful form. Though they were squat and bulky, their only carapace ran along the sides of their forearms and jutted out at their temples, leaving them with full heads of hair.

They still wore their simple slave smocks, tied at the waists with strings. No red eyes. Did that change, perhaps, like his own eyes?

The male—distinguished by a dark red beard, the hairs each unnaturally thick—finally placed a card on the rock next to several others.

“Can you do that?” the female asked.

“I think so.”

“You said squires can’t capture.”

“Unless another card of mine is touching yours,” the male said. He scratched at his beard. “I think?”

Kaladin felt cold, like the rainwater was seeping in through his skin, penetrating all the way to his blood and washing through him. They spoke like Alethi. Not a hint of an accent. With his eyes closed, he wouldn’t have been able to tell these voices from those of common darkeyed villagers from Hearthstone, save for the fact that the female had a deeper voice than most human women.

“So…” the female said. “You’re saying you don’t know how to play the game after all.”

The male began gathering up the cards. “I should know, Khen. How many times did I watch them play? Standing there with my tray of drinks. I should be an expert at this, shouldn’t I?”

“Apparently not.”

The female stood and walked over to another group, who were trying to build a fire under a tarp without much success. It took a special kind of luck to be able to get flames going outside during the Weeping. Kaladin, like most in the military, had learned to live with the constant dampness.

They had the stolen sacks of grain—Kaladin could see them piled underneath one of the tarps. The grain had swollen, splitting several of the sacks. Several were eating soggy handfuls, since they had no bowls.

Kaladin wished he didn’t immediately taste the mushy, awful stuff in his own mouth. He’d been given unspiced, boiled tallew on many occasions. Often he’d considered it a blessing.

The male who’d been speaking continued to sit on his rock, holding up a wooden card. They were a lacquered set, durable. Kaladin had occasionally seen their like in the military. Men would save for months to get a set like this, that wouldn’t warp in the rain.

The parshman looked so forlorn, staring down at his card, shoulders slumped.

“This is wrong,” Kaladin whispered to Syl. “We’ve been so wrong.…” Where were the destroyers? What had happened to the beasts with the red eyes that had tried to crush Dalinar’s army? The terrible, haunting figures that Bridge Four had described to him?

We thought we understood what was going to happen, Kaladin thought. I was so sure.…

“Alarm!” a sudden, shrill voice called. “Alarm! You fools!”

Something zipped through the air, a glowing yellow ribbon, a streak of light in the dim afternoon shade.

“He’s there,” the shrill voice said. “You’re being watched! Beneath those shrubs!”

Kaladin burst up through the underbrush, ready to suck in Stormlight and be away. Though fewer towns had any now, as it was running out again, he had a little left.

The parshmen seized cudgels made from branches or the handles of brooms. They bunched together and held the sticks like frightened villagers, no stance, no control.

Kaladin hesitated. I could take them all in a fight even without Stormlight.

He’d seen men hold weapons like that many times before. Most recently, he’d seen it inside the chasms, when training the bridgemen.

These were no warriors.

Syl flitted up to him, prepared to become a Blade. “No,” Kaladin whispered to her. Then he held his hands to the sides, speaking more loudly. “I surrender.”

 


 

Chapter 15
Brightness Radiant

I will express only direct, even brutal, truth. You must know what I have done, and what those actions cost me.

—From Oathbringer, preface

 

Brightlord Perel’s body was found in the same area as Sadeas’s,” Shallan said, pacing back and forth in her room as she flipped through pages of the report. “That can’t be a coincidence. This tower is far too big. So we know where the murderer is prowling.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” Adolin said. He lounged with his back against the wall, coat unbuttoned while tossing a small leather ball filled with dried grain into the air and catching it again. “I just think the murders could have been done by two different people.”

“Same exact method of murder,” Shallan said. “Body positioned the same way.”

“Nothing else connecting them,” Adolin said. “Sadeas was slime, widely hated, and usually accompanied by guards. Perel was quiet, well-liked, and known for his administrative prowess. He was less a soldier than a manager.”

The sun had fully set by now, and they’d set out spheres on the floor for light. The remnants of their meal had been carted away by a servant, and Pattern hummed happily on the wall near Adolin’s head. Adolin glanced at him occasionally, looking uncomfortable, which she fully understood. She’d grown used to Pattern, but his lines were strange.

Wait until Adolin sees a Cryptic in Shadesmar form, she thought, with a full body but twisting shapes for his head.

Adolin tossed the little stitched ball into the air and caught it with his right hand—the one that Renarin, amazingly, had healed. She wasn’t the only one practicing with her powers. She was especially glad someone else had a Shardblade now. When the highstorms returned, and they began working the Oathgate in earnest, she’d have help.

“These reports,” Shallan said, tapping the notebook against her hand, “are both informative and useless. Nothing connects Perel and Sadeas save their both being lighteyes—that and the part of the tower they were in. Perhaps mere opportunity drove the killer’s choice of victims.”

“You’re saying someone happened to kill a highprince,” Adolin said, “by accident? Like… a back-alley murder outside a pub?”

“Maybe. Brightness Aladar suggests in here that your father lay down some rules on people moving alone through empty parts of the tower.”

“I still think there might be two murderers,” Adolin said. “You know… like someone saw Sadeas dead, and figured they could get away with killing someone else, blaming it on the first fellow.”

Oh, Adolin, Shallan thought. He’d arrived at a theory he liked, and now wouldn’t let it go. It was a common mistake warned of in her scientific books.

Adolin did have one point—a highprince being murdered was unlikely to be random chance. There were no signs of Sadeas’s Shardblade, Oathbringer, being used by anyone, not even a rumor of it.

Maybe the second death is a kind of decoy? Shallan thought, riffling through the report again. An attempt to make it seem like random attacks? No, that was too convoluted—and she had no more evidence for it than Adolin had for his theory.

That did leave her thinking. Maybe everyone was paying attention to these two deaths because they’d happened to important lighteyes. Could there be other deaths they hadn’t noticed because they’d happened to less prominent individuals? If a beggar had been found in Adolin’s proverbial back alley behind a pub, would anyone have remarked upon it—even if he’d been stabbed through the eye?

I need to get out there among them and see what I can find. She opened her mouth to tell him she should probably turn in, but he was already standing, stretching.

“I think we’ve done what we can with that,” he said, nodding toward the report. “At least for tonight.”

“Yeah,” Shallan said, feigning a yawn. “Probably.”

“So…” Adolin said, then took a deep breath. “There’s… something else.”

Shallan frowned. Something else? Why did he suddenly look like he was preparing to do something difficult?

He’s going to break off our betrothal! a part of her mind thought, though she pounced on that emotion and shoved it back behind the curtains where it belonged.

“Okay, this isn’t easy,” Adolin said. “I don’t want to offend, Shallan. But… you know how I had you eat that man’s food?”

“Um, yes. If my tongue is particularly spicy in the coming days, I blame you.”

“Shallan, there’s something similar that we need to talk about. Something about you we can’t just ignore.”

“I…” I killed my parents. I stabbed my mother through the chest and I strangled my father while singing to him.

“You,” Adolin said, “have a Shardblade.”

I didn’t want to kill her. I had to. I had to.

Adolin grabbed her by the shoulders and she started, focusing on him. He was… grinning?

“You have a Shardblade, Shallan! A new one. That’s incredible. I dreamed for years of earning my Blade! So many men spend their lives with that very dream and never see it fulfilled. And here you have one!”

“And that’s a good thing, right?” she said, held in his grip with arms pulled tight against her body.

“Of course it is!” Adolin said, letting go of her. “But, I mean, you’re a woman.”

“Was it the makeup that tipped you off, or the dress? Oh, it was the breasts, wasn’t it? Always giving us away.”

“Shallan, this is serious.”

“I know,” she said, calming her nerves. “Yes, Pattern can become a Shardblade, Adolin. I don’t see what this has to do with anything. I can’t give it away.… Stormfather. You want to teach me how to use it, don’t you?”

He grinned. “You said that Jasnah was a Radiant too. Women, gaining Shardblades. It’s weird, but it’s not like we can ignore it. What about Plate? Do you have that hidden somewhere too?”

“Not that I know of,” she said. Her heart was beating quickly, her skin growing cold, her muscles tense. She fought against the sensation. “I don’t know where Plate comes from.”

“I know it’s not feminine, but who cares? You’ve got a sword; you should know how to use it, and custom can go to Damnation. There, I said it.” He took a deep breath. “I mean, the bridgeboy can have one, and he’s darkeyed. Well, he was. Anyway, it’s not so different from that.”

Thank you, Shallan thought, for ranking all women as something equivalent to peasants. But she held her tongue. This was obviously an important moment for Adolin, and he was trying to be broad-minded.

But… thinking of what she’d done pained her. Holding the weapon would be worse. So much worse.

She wanted to hide. But she couldn’t. This truth refused to budge from her mind. Could she explain? “So, you’re right, but—”

“Great!” Adolin said. “Great. I brought the Blade guards so we won’t hurt each other. I stashed them back at the guard post. I’ll go fetch them.”

He was out the door a moment later. Shallan stood with her hand stretched toward him, objections dying on her lips. She curled her fingers up and brought her hand to her breast, her heart thundering within.

“Mmmm,” Pattern said. “This is good. This needs to be done.”

Shallan scrambled through the room to the small mirror she’d hung from the wall. She stared at herself, eyes wide, hair an utter mess. She’d started breathing in sharp, quick gasps. “I can’t—” she said. “I can’t be this person, Pattern. I can’t just wield the sword. Some brilliant knight on a tower, pretending she should be followed.”

Pattern hummed softly a tone she’d come to recognize as confusion. The bewilderment of one species trying to comprehend the mind of another.

Sweat trickled down Shallan’s face, running beside her eye as she stared at herself. What did she expect to see? The thought of breaking down in front of Adolin heightened her tension. Her every muscle grew taut, and the corners of her vision started to darken. She could see only before herself, and she wanted to run, go somewhere. Be away.

No. No, just be someone else.

Hands shaking, she scrambled over and dug out her drawing pad. She ripped pages, flinging them out of the way to reach an empty one, then seized her charcoal pencil.

Pattern moved over to her, a floating ball of shifting lines, buzzing in concern. “Shallan? Please. What is wrong?”

I can hide, Shallan thought, drawing at a frenzied pace. Shallan can flee and leave someone in her place.

“It’s because you hate me,” Pattern said softly. “I can die, Shallan. I can go. They will send you another to bond.”

A high-pitched whine started to rise in the room, one Shallan didn’t immediately recognize as coming from the back of her own throat. Pattern’s words were like knives to her side. No, please. Just draw.

Veil. Veil would be fine holding a sword. She didn’t have Shallan’s broken soul, and hadn’t killed her parents. She’d be able to do this.

No. No, what would Adolin do if he returned and found a completely different woman in the room? He couldn’t know of Veil. The lines she sketched, ragged and unrefined from the shaking pencil, quickly took the shape of her own face. But hair in a bun. A poised woman, not as flighty as Shallan, not as unintentionally silly.

A woman who hadn’t been sheltered. A woman hard enough, strong enough, to wield this sword. A woman like… like Jasnah.

Yes, Jasnah’s subtle smile, composure, and self-confidence. Shallan outlined her own face with these ideals, creating a harder version of it. Could… could she be this woman?

I have to be, Shallan thought, drawing in Stormlight from her satchel, then breathing it out in a puff around her. She stood up as the change took hold. Her heartbeat slowed, and she wiped the sweat from her brow, then calmly undid her safehand sleeve, tossed aside the foolish extra pouch she’d tied around her hand inside, then rolled the sleeve back to expose her still-gloved hand.

Good enough. Adolin couldn’t possibly expect her to put on sparring clothing. She pulled her hair back into a bun and fixed it in place with hairspikes from her satchel.

When Adolin returned to the room a moment later, he found a poised, calm woman who wasn’t quite Shallan Davar. Brightness Radiant is her name, she thought. She will go only by title.

Adolin carried two long, thin pieces of metal that somehow could meld to the front of Shardblades and make them less dangerous for use in sparring. Radiant inspected them with a critical eye, then held her hand to the side, summoning Pattern. The Blade formed—a long, thin weapon nearly as tall as she was.

“Pattern,” she said, “can modulate his shape, and will dull his edge to safe levels. I shan’t need such a clunky device.” Indeed, Pattern’s edge rippled, dulling.

“Storms, that’s handy. I’ll still need one though.” Adolin summoned his own Blade, a process that took him ten heartbeats—during which he turned his head, looking at her.

Shallan glanced down, realizing that she’d enhanced her bust in this guise. Not for him, of course. She’d just been making herself look more like Jasnah.

Adolin’s sword finally appeared, with a thicker blade than her own, sinuous along the sharp edge, with delicate crystalline ridges along the back. He put one of the guards on the sword’s edge.

Radiant put one foot forward, Blade lifted high in two hands beside her head.

“Hey,” Adolin said. “That’s not bad.”

“Shallan did spend quite a lot of time drawing you all.”

Adolin nodded thoughtfully. He approached and reached toward her with a thumb and two fingers. She thought he was going to adjust her grip, but instead he pressed his fingers against her collarbone and shoved lightly.

Radiant stumbled backward, almost tripping.

“A stance,” Adolin said, “is about more than just looking great on the battlefield. It’s about footing, center of balance, and control of the fight.”

“Noted. So how do I make it better?”

“I’m trying to decide. Everyone I’ve worked with before had been using a sword since their youth. I’m wondering how Zahel would have changed my training if I’d never even picked up a weapon.”

“From what I’ve heard of him,” Radiant said, “it will depend on where there are any convenient rooftops nearby to jump off.”

“That’s how he trained with Plate,” Adolin said. “This is Blade. Should I teach you dueling? Or should I teach you how to fight in an army?”

“I shall settle,” Radiant said, “for knowing how to avoid cutting off any of my own appendages, Brightlord Kholin.”

“Brightlord Kholin?”

Too formal. Right. That was how Radiant would act, of course—but she could allow herself some familiarity. Jasnah had done that.

“I was merely,” Radiant said, “attempting to show the respect due a master from his humble pupil.”

Adolin chuckled. “Please. We don’t need that. But here, let’s see what we can do about that stance.…”

Over the next hour, Adolin positioned her hands, her feet, and her arms a dozen times over. He picked a basic stance for her that she could eventually adapt into several of the formal stances—the ones like Windstance, which Adolin said wouldn’t rely on strength or reach as much as mobility and skill.

She wasn’t certain why he’d bothered fetching the metal sparring sleeves, as the two of them didn’t exchange any blows. Other than correcting her stance ten thousand times, he spoke about the art of the duel. How to treat your Shardblade, how to think of an opponent, how to show respect to the institutions and traditions of the duel itself.

Some of it was very practical. Shardblades were dangerous weapons, which explained the demonstrations on how to hold hers, how to walk with it, how to take care not to slice people or things while casually turning.

Other parts of his monologue were more… mystical.

“The Blade is part of you,” Adolin said. “The Blade is more than your tool; it is your life. Respect it. It will not fail you—if you are bested, it is because you failed the sword.”

Radiant stood in what felt like a very stiff pose, Blade held before herself in two hands. She’d only scraped Pattern on the ceiling two or three times; fortunately, most of the rooms in Urithiru had high ceilings.

Adolin gestured for her to perform a simple strike, as they’d been practicing. Radiant raised both arms, tilting the sword, then took a step forward while bringing it down. The entire angle of movement couldn’t have been more than ninety degrees—barely a strike at all.

Adolin smiled. “You’re catching it. A few thousand more of those, and it will start to feel natural. We’ll have to work on your breathing though.”

“My breathing?”

He nodded absently.

“Adolin,” Radiant said, “I assure you, I have been breathing—without fail—my entire life.”

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s why you’re going to have to unlearn it.”

“How I stand, how I think, how I breathe. I have trouble distinguishing what is actually relevant, and what is part of the subculture and superstition of swordsmen.”

“It’s all relevant,” Adolin said.

“Eating chicken before a match?”

Adolin grinned. “Well, maybe some things are personal quirks. But the swords are part of us.”

“I know mine is part of me,” Radiant said, resting the Blade at her side and setting her gloved safehand on it. “I’ve bonded it. I suspect this is the origin of the tradition among Shardbearers.”

“So academic,” Adolin said, shaking his head. “You need to feel this, Shallan. Live it.”

That would not have been a difficult task for Shallan. Radiant, however, preferred not to feel things she hadn’t considered in depth beforehand.

“Have you considered,” she said, “that your Shardblade was once a living spren, wielded by one of the Knights Radiant? Doesn’t that change how you look at it?”

Adolin glanced toward his Blade, which he’d left summoned, strapped with the sheath and set across her blankets. “I’ve always kind of known. Not that it was alive. That’s silly. Swords aren’t alive. I mean… I’ve always known there was something special about them. It’s part of being a duelist, I think. We all know it.”

She let the matter drop. Swordsmen, from what she’d seen, were superstitious. As were sailors. As were… well, basically everyone but scholars like Radiant and Jasnah. It was curious to her how much of Adolin’s rhetoric about Blades and dueling reminded her of religion.

How strange that these Alethi often treated their actual religion so flippantly. In Jah Keved, Shallan had spent hours painting lengthy passages from the Arguments. You’d speak the words out loud over and over, committing them to memory while kneeling or bowing, before finally burning the paper. The Alethi instead preferred to let the ardents deal with the Almighty, like he was some annoying parlor guest who could be safely distracted by servants offering a particularly tasty tea.

Adolin let her do some more strikes, perhaps sensing that she was growing tired of having her stance constantly adjusted. As she was swinging, he grabbed his own Blade and fell in beside her, modeling the stance and the strikes.

After a short time of that she dismissed her Blade, then picked up her sketchbook. She quickly flipped past the drawing of Radiant, and started to sketch Adolin in his stance. She was forced to let some of Radiant bleed away.

“No, stand there,” Shallan said, pointing at Adolin with her charcoal. “Yes, like that.”

She sketched out the stance, then nodded. “Now strike, and hold the last position.”

He did so. By now he’d removed his jacket, standing in only shirt and trousers. She did like how that tight shirt fit him. Even Radiant would admire that. She wasn’t dead, just pragmatic.

She looked over the two sketches, then resummoned Pattern and fell into position.

“Hey, nice,” Adolin said as Radiant performed the next few strikes. “Yeah, you’ve got it.”

He again fell in beside her. The simple attack he’d taught her was obviously a poor test of his skills, but he executed it with precision nonetheless, then grinned and started talking about the first few lessons he’d had with Zahel long ago.

His blue eyes were alight, and Shallan loved seeing that glow from him. Almost like Stormlight. She knew that passion—she’d felt what it was to be alive with interest, to be consumed by something so fully that you lost yourself in the wonder of it. For her it was art, but watching him, she thought that the two of them weren’t so different.

Sharing these moments with him and drinking of his excitement felt special. Intimate. Even more so than their closeness had been earlier in the evening. She let herself be Shallan in some of the moments, but whenever the pain of holding the sword started to spike—whenever she really thought about what she was doing—she was able to become Radiant and avoid it.

She was genuinely reluctant to see the time end, so she let it stretch into the late evening, well past when she should have called a halt. At long last, Shallan bade a tired, sweaty farewell to Adolin and watched him trot down the strata-lined hallway outside, a spring to his step, a lamp in his hands, blade guards held on his shoulder.

Shallan would have to wait another night to visit taverns and hunt for answers. She trailed back into her room—strangely contented for all that the world might be in the middle of ending. That night she slept, for once, in peace.

 

Oathbringer: The Stormlight Archive Book 3 copyright © 2017 Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC

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