Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Read Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson: Chapters Four and Five

On November 17, 2020, The Stormlight Archive saga continues in Rhythm of War, the eagerly awaited fourth volume in Brandon Sanderson’s #1 New York Times bestselling fantasy series.

Tor.com is serializing the new book from now until release date! A new installment will go live every Tuesday at 9 AM ET.

Every installment is collected here in the Rhythm of War index.

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Want to catch up on The Stormlight Archive? Check out our Explaining The Stormlight Archive series!


 

Chapter 4
Architects of the Future

To draw Stormlight out of a gemstone, I use the Arnist Method. Several large empty gemstones are brought close to the infused one while the spren is inspecting it. Stormlight is slowly absorbed from a small gemstone by a very large gemstone of the same type—and several together can draw the Light out quickly. The method’s limitation is, of course, the fact that you need not merely acquire one gemstone for your fabrial, but several larger ones to withdraw the Stormlight.

Other methods must exist, as proven by the extremely large gemstone fabrials created by the Vriztl Guild out of Thaylenah. If Her Majesty would please repeat my request to the guild, this secret is of vital importance to the war effort.

—Lecture on fabrial mechanics presented by Navani Kholin to the coalition of monarchs, Urithiru, Jesevan, 1175

 

When they awoke, Radiant immediately took charge and assessed the situation. She had a sack over her head, so nobody saw her disorientation, and she was careful not to move and warn her captors. Shallan had fortunately attached her Lightweaving in such a way that it would keep up their illusory face even while they were unconscious.

Radiant didn’t appear to be bound, though she was being carried over someone’s shoulder. He smelled of chulls. Or maybe it was the sack.

Her body had activated her powers, healed her, and let her wake sooner than she would have otherwise. Radiant didn’t like sneaking about or pretending, but she trusted that Veil and Shallan knew what they were doing. She instead did her part: judging the danger of the current situation.

She seemed to be fine, though uncomfortable. Her head kept bouncing into the man’s back, pressing the sack against her face with each step. Deep down, she felt satisfaction from Veil. They’d nearly given up on this mission. It was nice to know that all their work hadn’t been in vain.

Now, where were they taking her? That had proven one of the biggest mysteries: where the Sons of Honor held their little meetings. Shallan’s team had managed to get one person into the group months ago, but he hadn’t been important enough to be given the information they needed. A lighteyes had been required.

They suspected Ialai had taken over the cult, now that Amaram was dead. Her faction was planning to seize the Oathgate at the center of the Shattered Plains. Unfortunately, Radiant didn’t have proof of these facts, and she would not move against Ialai without solid proof. Dalinar agreed with her, particularly after what Adolin had done to Ialai’s husband.

Too bad he didn’t find a way to finish off the pair of them, Veil thought.

That would not have been right, Radiant thought back. Ialai was no threat to him then.

Shallan didn’t agree, and naturally Veil didn’t either, so Radiant let the matter drop. Hopefully Pattern was still following at a distance as instructed. Once the group stopped and began initiating Radiant, the spren would fetch Adolin and the soldiers in case she needed extraction.

Eventually her captors halted, and rough hands hauled her off the shoulder. She closed her eyes and forced herself to remain limp as they set her on the ground. Wet and slimy rock, someplace cool. The sack came off, and she smelled something pungent. When she didn’t stir fast enough, someone dumped water on her head.

It was time for Veil to take over. She gasped “awake,” shoving aside her first instinct, which was to grab a knife and make short work of whoever had drenched her. Veil wiped her eyes with her safehand sleeve, and found herself someplace dank and humid. Plants on the stone walls had pulled in at the ruckus, and the sky was a distant crack high in the air. Lifespren bobbed around many thick plants and vines.

She was in one of the chasms. Kelek’s breath! How had they carried her down into the chasms without anyone seeing?

A group of people in black robes stood around her, each holding a brightly shining diamond broam in one palm. She blinked at the sharp light. Their hoods looked a fair bit more comfortable than her sack. Each robe was embroidered with the Double Eye of the Almighty, and Shallan had a fleeting thought, wondering at the seamstress they’d hired to do all this work. What had they told her? “Yes, we want twenty identical, mysterious robes, sewn with ancient arcane symbols. They’re for… parties.”

Forcing herself to stay in character, Veil gazed up with wonder and confusion, then shied back against the chasm wall, startling a cremling with dark purple colorings.

A figure at the front spoke first, his voice deep and resonant. “Chanasha Hasareh, you have a fine and reputable name. After the legacy of Chanaranach’Elin, Herald of the Common Man. Do you truly wish for their return?”

“I…” Veil raised her hand before the light of the spheres. “What is this? What is happening?” And which one of you is Ialai Sadeas?

“We are the Sons of Honor,” another figure said. Female this time, but not Ialai. “It is our sworn and sacred duty to usher in the return of the Heralds, the return of storms, and the return of our god—the Almighty.”

“I…” Veil licked her lips. “I don’t understand.”

“You will,” the first voice said. “We’ve been watching you, and we find your passion to be worthy. You wish to oust the false king, the Blackthorn, and see the kingdom rightfully returned to the highprinces? You wish the justice of the Almighty to fall upon the wicked?”

“Of course,” Veil said.

“Excellent,” the woman said. “Our faith in you is well placed.” Veil was pretty sure that was Ulina, a member of Ialai’s inner circle. She’d initially been an unimportant lighteyed scribe, but was rapidly climbing the social ladder in the new power dynamic of the warcamps.

Unfortunately, if Ulina was here, Ialai probably was not. The highprincess often sent Ulina to do things she did not wish to do herself. That indicated Veil had failed in at least one of her goals: she hadn’t made “Chanasha” seem important enough to deserve special attention.

“We guided the return of the Radiants,” the man said. “Have you wondered why they appeared? Why all of this—the Everstorm, the awakening of the parshmen—is happening? We orchestrated it. We are the grand architects of the future of Roshar.”

Pattern would have enjoyed that lie. Veil found it wanting. A good lie, the delicious kind, hinted at hidden grandeur or further secrets. This was instead the lie of a drunken has-been at the bar, trying to drum up enough pity to get a free drink. It was more pathetic than interesting.

Mraize had explained about this group and their efforts to bring back the Heralds—who had actually never been gone. Gavilar had led them along, used their resources—and their hearts—to further his own goals. During that time, they’d briefly been important movers in the world.

Much of that glory had faded when the old king had fallen, and Amaram had squandered the rest of it. These scattered remnants weren’t architects of the future. They were a loose end, and even Radiant agreed that this task—given them by both Dalinar and secretly Mraize—was worthy. It was time to end the Sons of Honor once and for all.

Veil looked up at the cultists, walking a careful line between appearing cautious and fawning. “The Radiants. You’re Radiant?”

“We are something greater,” the man said. “But before we say more, you must be initiated.”

“I welcome any chance to serve,” Veil said, “but… this is quite sudden. How can I be sure you’re not agents of the false king seeking to trap people like me?”

“All will be made clear in time,” the woman said.

“And if I insist on proof?” Veil said.

The figures glanced at one another. Veil got the feeling they hadn’t encountered much resistance during their previous recruitments.

“We serve the rightful queen of Alethkar,” the woman finally said.

“Ialai?” Veil breathed. “Is she here?”

“Initiation first,” the man said, gesturing to two others. They approached Veil—including a tall one whose robes came down only to midcalf. He was notably rough as he grabbed her by the arms and hauled her upward, then repositioned her on her knees.

Remember that one, she thought as the other figure removed a glowing device from a black sack. The fabrial was set with two bright garnets, and had a series of intricate wire loops.

Shallan was particularly proud of that design. And although Veil had initially found it showy, she now recognized that was good for this group. They seemed to trust it implicitly as they held it up to her and pressed some buttons. The garnets went dark, and the figure proclaimed, “She bears no illusions.”

Selling them that device had been delicious fun. Wearing the guise of a mystic, Veil had used the device to “expose” one of her Lightweavers in a carefully planned scheme. Afterward Veil had charged them double what Shallan had wanted—and the extravagant price had seemed only to make the Sons believe in its power more. Almighty bless them.

“Your initiation!” the man said. “Swear to seek to restore the Heralds, the church, and the Almighty.”

“I swear it,” Veil said.

“Swear to serve the Sons of Honor and uphold their sacred work.”

“I swear it.”

“Swear to the true queen of Alethkar, Ialai Sadeas.”

“I swear it.”

“Swear you do not serve the false spren who bow before Dalinar Kholin.”

“I swear it.”

“See,” the woman said, looking to one of her companions. “If she’d been a Radiant, she couldn’t have sworn a false oath.”

Oh, you sweet soft breeze, Veil thought. Bless you for being so naive. We’re not all Bondsmiths or their ilk. The Windrunners or Skybreakers might have had trouble being so glib with a broken promise, but Shallan’s order was founded on the idea that all people lied, especially to themselves.

She couldn’t break an oath to her spren without consequences. But this group of human debris? She wouldn’t think twice about it—though Radiant did express some discontent.

“Rise, Daughter of Honor,” the man said. “Now, we must replace your hood and return you. But fear not; one of us will soon contact you with further instructions and training.”

“Wait,” Veil said. “Queen Ialai. I need to see her to prove to myself whom I’m serving.”

“Perhaps you will earn this privilege,” the woman said, sounding smug. “Serve us well, and eventually you will receive greater rewards.”

Great. Veil braced herself for what that meant: more time in these warcamps pretending to be a fussy lighteyed woman, carefully worming her way up through the ranks. It sounded dreadful.

Unfortunately, Dalinar was genuinely concerned about Ialai’s growing influence. This little cult here might be gaudy and overacted, but it would be unwise to let a martial presence grow unchecked. They couldn’t risk another incident like Amaram’s betrayal, which had cost thousands of lives.

Besides, Mraize considered Ialai to be dangerous. That was recommendation enough for Veil to see the woman brought down. So she’d have to keep working on this—and they’d therefore also have to find more ways to sneak Adolin out to spend time with Shallan. The girl wilted if not given proper loving attention.

In her name, Veil tried again. “I don’t know if waiting is wise,” she said to the others as the tall man prepared to replace her sack. “You should know, I have connections to Dalinar Kholin’s inner circle. I can feed you information about his plans, if I’m properly incentivized.”

“There will be time for that,” the woman said. “Later.”

“Don’t you want to know what he’s planning?”

“We already know,” the man said, chuckling. “We have a source far closer to him than you.”

Wait.

Wait.

Shallan came alert. They had someone near Dalinar? Perhaps they were lying, but… could she risk that?

We need to do something, she thought. If Ialai had an operative in Dalinar’s inner circle, it could be life-threatening. They didn’t have time for Veil to slowly infiltrate her way to the top. They needed to know who this informant was now.

Veil stepped back, letting Shallan take over. Radiant could fight, and Veil could lie. But when they needed a problem solved quickly, it was Shallan’s turn.

“Wait,” Shallan said, standing up and pushing aside the man’s hands as he tried to shove the sack over her head. “I’m not who you think I am.”


 

Chapter 5
Broken Spears

If the Stormlight in a gemstone is withdrawn quickly enough, a nearby spren can be sucked into the gemstone. This is caused by a similar effect to a pressure differential, created by the sudden withdrawal of Stormlight, though the science of the two phenomena are not identical.

You will be left with a captured spren, to be manipulated as you see fit.

—Lecture on fabrial mechanics presented by Navani Kholin to the coalition of monarchs, Urithiru, Jesevan, 1175

 

The Windrunners rose around Kaladin in a defensive spread. They hung in the air like no skyeel ever could: motionless, equidistant.

Below, refugees stopped—despite the chaos of the evacuation—to stare up through the awespren at the sentinels in blue. There was something natural about the way Windrunners swooped and banked, but it was another matter altogether to be confronted by the surreal sight of a squad of soldiers hanging in the sky as if on wires.

The fog had mostly burned away, giving Kaladin a good view of the Heavenly Ones as they advanced in the distance. The enemy wore solid-colored battle garb, muted save for the occasional bright crimson. They wore robes that trailed behind them several feet, even in battle. Those would be impractical to walk in, but why walk when they could fly?

They’d learned much about the Fused from the Herald Ash. Each of those Heavenly Ones was an ancient entity; ordinary singers had been sacrificed, giving up their bodies and lives to host a Fused soul. Each approaching enemy carried a long lance, and Kaladin envied the way they moved with the winds. They did it naturally, as if they hadn’t merely claimed the sky—as he had—but had instead been born to it. Their grace made him feel like a stone tossed briefly into the air.

Three flights would mean fifty-four members. Would Leshwi be among them? He hoped she would, as they needed a rematch. He wasn’t certain he’d be able to recognize her, as she’d died last time. He couldn’t claim credit; Rock’s daughter Cord had done the deed with a wellplaced arrow from her Shardbow.

“Three flights is small enough we don’t need everyone,” Kaladin called to the others. “Squires beneath rank CP4, you drop to the ground and guard the civilians—don’t pick a fight with a Fused unless they come at you first. The rest of you, primary engagement protocol.”

The newer Windrunners dropped down to the ship with obvious reluctance, but they were disciplined enough not to complain. Like all squires—including the more experienced ones he’d let remain in the air—these hadn’t bonded their own spren, and therefore relied on having a nearby full Windrunner knight for their powers.

Kaladin had some three hundred Windrunners at this point—though only around fifty full knights. Almost all of the surviving original members of Bridge Four had bonded a spren by now, as had many of the second wave—those who had joined him soon after he had moved to Dalinar’s camp. Even some of the third wave—those who had joined the Windrunners after moving to Urithiru—had found a spren to bond.

There, unfortunately, progress stopped. Kaladin had lines of men and women ready to advance and say the oaths, but there weren’t willing honorspren to be found. At this point, there was only a single one he knew of who was willing, but didn’t have a bond.

But that was another problem for another time.

Lopen and Drehy moved up beside him, floating slowly, brilliant Shardspears forming in their waiting hands. Kaladin reached overhead and seized his own spear as it formed from mist, then thrust it forward. His Windrunners broke apart, flying out to meet the approaching Heavenly Ones.

Kaladin waited. If Leshwi was among this force, she’d spot him. Ahead, the first of the Heavenly Ones met Windrunners, proffering spears in challenge. Each gesture was an offer of one-on-one combat. His soldiers accepted, instead of ganging up on the enemy. The layman might have found that odd, but Kaladin had learned to use the ways of the Heavenly Ones and their ancient—some might say archaic—methods of fighting.

The paired Windrunners and Fused broke off to engage in contests of skill. The resulting confrontation looked like two streams of water crashing into one another, then spraying to the sides. In moments, all of the Windrunners were engaged, leaving behind a handful of Fused.

In small-scale skirmishes, the Heavenly Ones preferred to wait for opportunities to fight one-on-one, instead of doubling up on enemies. It wasn’t always so—Kaladin had twice been forced to fight multiples at once—but the more Kaladin fought these creatures, the more he respected their ways. He hadn’t expected to find honor among the enemy.

As he scanned the unengaged Fused, his eyes focused on one in particular. A tall femalen with a stark red, black, and white skin pattern, marbled like the turbulent mixing of three shades of paint. Though her features were different, the pattern seemed much the same. Plus there was something about the way she held herself, and the way she wore her long crimson and black hair.

She saw him and smiled, then held out her spear. Yes, this was Leshwi. A leader among the Fused—high enough that the others deferred to her, but not so high that she stayed behind during fights. A status similar to Kaladin’s own. He held out his spear.

She darted upward, and Kaladin swooped to follow. As he did, an explosion of light expanded below. For a brief moment Kaladin glimpsed Shadesmar, and he soared in a black sky marked by strange clouds flowing like a roadway.

A wave of power surged through the battlefield, causing Windrunners to burst alight. Dalinar had fully opened a perpendicularity, becoming a reservoir of Stormlight that would instantly renew any Radiant who drew near. It was a powerful edge, and one of the reasons they continued to risk bringing the Bondsmith on missions.

Stormlight raged inside Kaladin as he flew after Leshwi. She trailed white and red cloth behind her, slightly longer than the others’ garments; it flowed in a swooping, fluid response to her actions as she turned and curved around, leveling her spear at Kaladin and diving toward him.

Fully trained Windrunners had several important advantages in these battles. They had much greater potential speed than the Heavenly Ones, and they had access to Shardweapons. One might have thought these advantages insurmountable, but the Heavenly Ones were ancient, practiced, and cunning. They had trained for millennia with their powers, and they could fly forever without running out of Voidlight. They only drained it to heal, and—he’d heard—to perform the occasional rare Lashing.

And, of course, the Fused had a singular terrible edge over Kaladin’s people: They were immortal. Kill them, and they’d be reborn in the next Everstorm. They could afford a recklessness that Kaladin could not. As he and Leshwi clashed—spears slamming together, each grunting as they tried to slide their weapon around and stab the other—Kaladin was forced to pull away first.

Leshwi’s spear was lined with a silvery metal that resisted Shardblade cuts. More importantly, it was set with a gemstone at its base. If the weapon struck Kaladin, that gemstone would suck away Kaladin’s Stormlight and render him unable to heal—a potentially deadly tool against a Radiant, even one infused by Dalinar’s perpendicularity.

As soon as Kaladin broke away, Leshwi dove deeper, trailing fluttering cloth. He followed, Lashing himself downward and plummeting through the battlefield. A beautiful chaos, each pair dancing their own individual contest. Leyten zipped past directly overhead, chasing a Heavenly One dressed in grey-blue. Skar shot beneath Kaladin, nearly colliding with Kara as she scored a hit on her opponent.

Orange singer blood sprayed in the air, individual drops splashing Kaladin on the forehead, other drops chasing him as he swooped toward the ground. Kara didn’t have a Blade yet; she would have said the Third Ideal by now, he was certain. If only she had a spren.

Kaladin pulled up near the ground, skimming the stone by inches, orange blood raining down around him. Ahead, Leshwi dodged through a crowd of screaming refugees.

Kaladin followed, darting between Leven the cobbler and his wife. Their horrified screams, however, made him slow. He couldn’t risk colliding with bystanders. He flew up to the side, then pulled to a stop in the air, watching, anticipating.

Nearby, Lopen skimmed past. “You all right, gancho?” he called to Kaladin.

“I’m fine,” Kaladin said.

“I can fight her if you want a breather!”

Leshwi emerged on the other side, and Kaladin ignored Lopen, zipping after. He and Leshwi brushed the outer buildings of the town, rattling stormshutters. He discarded his spear, and Syl appeared near his head as a ribbon of light. He controlled his general direction with Lashings, using his hands, arms, and the contours of his body to govern fine motions. This much air rushing around him gave him the ability to sculpt his trajectory, almost as if he were swimming.

He increased his speed with another Lashing, but Leshwi dodged down through the crowds again. Her recklessness almost cost her as she buzzed a group under the protection of Godeke the Edgedancer. He was a hair too slow, and his Shardblade only sliced off the end of her trailing robes.

She turned away from the people after that, though she stayed near the ground. The Heavenly One couldn’t go as fast as a Windrunner, and so focused on sudden turns or weaving around obstacles—requiring Kaladin to moderate his speed and remain unable to press one of his strongest advantages.

He followed, the chase thrilling him in part because of how well Leshwi flew. She turned again, this time coursing in close to the Fourth Bridge. She slowed as they skimmed along the side of the enormous vehicle, and she peered at the wooden construction keenly.

She’s intrigued by the airship, Kaladin thought, following. She likely wants to gather as much information about it as she can. In Jasnah’s interviews with the two Heralds—who had lived thousands of years—it had come out that they too were amazed by this creation. As incredible as it seemed, modern artifabrians had discovered things that even the Heralds hadn’t known.

Kaladin broke off the chase for a moment, instead soaring over the top of the large ship. He spotted Rock standing at the side of the vehicle with his son, delivering water to the refugees. When Rock saw Kaladin gesturing, the large Horneater snatched a spear from a pile placed there and Lashed it into the air. It shot up to Kaladin, who grabbed it, then Lashed himself after Leshwi.

He got on her tail again as she rose in a wild loop. She often tried to wear him down—leading him in intricate chases—before coming in to fight at close quarters.

Syl, flying beside Kaladin, eyed the spear Rock had thrown. Despite the wind rushing in his ears, Kaladin heard her dismissive sniff. Well, she couldn’t be infused with Stormlight. Trying to push it into her was like trying to fill an already brimming cup with more water.

The next few turns strained Kaladin’s abilities to their fullest as Leshwi dove and dodged through the battlefield. Most of the others were engaged directly in duels, fighting with spear or Blade. Some led one another on chases, but none were as intricate as the weaving Kaladin was required to do.

His focus narrowed. The other combatants became nothing more than obstacles in the air. His entire being, the fullness of his attention, fixated on chasing that figure ahead of him. The roaring air seemed to fade, and Syl shot ahead of him, leaving a trail of light—a beacon for Kaladin to follow.

Windspren darted from the sky and fell in beside him as he curved in a gut-wrenching turn, spinning as Leshwi arrowed between Skar and another Fused. Kaladin followed, sliding directly through the space between the two spears—narrowly avoiding being stabbed—then Lashed himself around to follow Leshwi. Sweating, he gritted his teeth against the force of the turn.

Leshwi glanced back at him, then dove. She was going to make another pass at the Fourth Bridge.

Now, Kaladin thought, pouring Light into his weapon as he dove after Leshwi. It tried to pull out of his hand, but he held it back even as he thrust it forward. As Leshwi neared the ground, he finally let go of the spear, launching it toward her.

She, unfortunately, glanced behind at just the right moment, allowing her to narrowly dodge the spear. It crashed to the ground, splintering, the head smashed up into the shaft. Recovering, Leshwi pulled upward in a stunning move, soaring past Kaladin, who—in the moment—lost concentration and nearly collided with the ground.

He landed roughly, catching himself on the stone—hard enough that he’d have broken bones without Stormlight—then cursed and looked upward. Leshwi disappeared into the fight, leaving him behind with an exultant swirling maneuver in the sky. She seemed to revel in losing him when she could.

Kaladin groaned, shaking his hand where he’d hit the ground. His Stormlight healed the sprain in moments, but it still hurt in a phantom way, like the echoing of a loud noise in one’s mind after it left one’s ears.

Syl appeared in the air before him in the shape of a young woman, hands on her hips. “And don’t you dare return!” she shouted up at the departing Fused. “Or we’ll… um… come up with a better insult than this one!” She glanced at Kaladin. “Right?”

“You could have caught her,” Kaladin said, “if you’d been flying on your own without me.”

“Without you, I’d be as dumb as a rock. And without me you’d fly like one. I think we’re better off not worrying about what we could do without the other.” She folded her arms. “Besides, what would I do if I caught her? Glare at her? I need you for the stabby-stabby part.”

He grunted, climbing to his feet. A moment later, a Radiant with a white beard hovered down nearby. It was odd how much difference a small change in perspective could make. Teft had always seemed… rumpled. Beard a little ragged, skin a little rough, mood a lot of both.

But hovering in the sky, the glow of Stormlight making his beard shine, he seemed divine. Like a wise god from one of Rock’s stories.

“Kaladin, lad?” Teft asked. “You all right?”

“Fine.”

“You sure?”

“I’m fine. How’s the battlefield?”

“Mostly quick engagements,” Teft said. “No casualties so far, thank Kelek.”

“They’re more interested in inspecting the Fourth Bridge than they are in killing us,” Kaladin said.

“Ah, that makes sense,” Teft said. “Shall we try to stop them?”

“No. Navani’s fabrials are hidden in the hold. A few flybys won’t tell the enemy anything.”

Kaladin surveyed the town, then studied the battlefield in the air. Rapid clashes, with the Heavenly Ones generally backing away quickly. “They aren’t committed to a full assault; they’re testing our defenses and surveying the flying machine. Spread the word. Have our Windrunners lead the enemy in chases; have them fight defensively. Minimize our casualties.”

Teft saluted as another group of townspeople was led up into the ship. Roshone ushered them on, and the old blowhard looked concerned for the people under his care. Perhaps he’d been taking acting lessons with the Lightweavers.

Atop the ship, Dalinar glowed with a near impenetrable light. Though it wasn’t the enormous pillar of radiance he’d created the first time he’d done this, today’s beacon was still powerful enough that it was difficult to look directly at it.

In the past, the Fused had focused their attacks on Dalinar. Today they buzzed the ship—but didn’t try to strike at the Bondsmith. They were afraid of him for reasons nobody yet understood, and only committed to a full assault on him if they had overwhelming numbers and ground support.

“I’ll pass the word,” Teft told Kaladin, but seemed hesitant about him. “You sure you’re well, lad?”

“I’d be better if you’d stop asking.”

“Right, then.” Teft shot into the sky.

Kaladin dusted himself off, eyeing Syl. First Lopen, then Teft, acting like he was fragile. Had Syl told the others to keep watch over him? Just because he was feeling a tad tired lately?

Well, he didn’t have time for that nonsense. A Heavenly One was approaching, red clothing fluttering, spear proffered toward him. It wasn’t Leshwi, but Kaladin was happy to accept the challenge. He needed to be up and flying again.

***

The cultists froze, staring at Shallan through the eyeholes in their hoods. The chasm fell silent, save for the noises of scuttling cremlings. Even the tall man with the sack didn’t move, though that wasn’t as surprising. He’d be waiting for her to take the lead.

I’m not who you think I am, Shallan had said, implying she was going to make some startling revelation.

Now she had to think of one.

I’m really curious to see where this goes… Radiant thought at her.

“I am no simple tradeswoman,” Shallan said. “You obviously don’t trust me yet—and I’m guessing you’ve seen the oddities about my lifestyle. You want an explanation, don’t you?”

The two lead cultists glanced at one another.

“Of course,” the woman said. “Yes, you should not have tried to hide things from us.”

Remember Adolin, Radiant thought. Making a disturbance could be tactically dangerous.

She’d told Pattern and Adolin—who might be watching by now—that if she was in distress, she’d create a distraction so they could attack. They’d try to take the cultists captive, but it could lose them the chance to capture Ialai.

Hopefully they’d see she wasn’t in distress, but was instead prying information out of these people.

“Did you ever wonder why I disappear from the warcamps sometimes?” Shallan asked. “And why I have far more money than I should? I have a second business, a hidden one. With the help of agents at Urithiru, I’ve been copying schematics the Kholin artifabrians have been developing.”

“Schematics?” the woman said. “Like what?”

“Surely you’ve heard news of the enormous flying platform that left Narak a few weeks ago. I have the plans. I know exactly how it was done. I’ve sold smaller fabrial schematics to Natan buyers, but nothing on this level. I’ve been searching for a buyer of enough means to purchase this secret.”

“Selling military secrets?” the male cultist said. “To other kingdoms? That is treason!”

Says the man wearing a silly hood and trying to depose the Kholin monarchy, Veil thought. These people…

“It’s only treason if you accept Dalinar’s family as rightful rulers,” Shallan said to him. “I do not. But if we can truly help House Sadeas assert itself… These secrets could be worth thousands of broams. I would share them with Queen Sadeas.”

“We will take them to her,” the woman said.

Radiant affixed her with a calculated stare, level and calm. A leader’s stare, one Shallan had sketched a dozen times over as she watched Dalinar interact with people. The stare of one in power, who didn’t need to say it.

You will not take this from me, the stare said. If you want favor for having been involved in this revelation, you’ll do it by assisting me—not by taking it for yourself.

“I’m certain that someday this might—” the man began.

“Show me,” the woman said, interrupting him.

Hooked, Veil thought. Nice work, you two.

“I’ve got some of the plans in my satchel,” Shallan said.

“We searched the satchel,” the woman said, waving to a nearby cultist to produce the bag. “There were no plans.”

“You think I’d be foolish enough to leave them where they could be discovered?” Shallan said, taking the satchel. She dug inside and covertly took a quick breath of Light as she pulled out a small notebook. She flipped to a rear page, then took out a charcoal pencil. Before the others could crowd around, she breathed out carefully, snapping a Lightweaving in place. Fortunately, she’d been asked to help with the schematics—Shallan had real trouble creating a Lightweaving of something she hadn’t previously drawn.

By the time the lead cultists had positioned themselves to peer over her shoulder, she had the Lightweaving in place. As she carefully rubbed her charcoal across the page, it seemed to reveal a hidden schematic.

Your turn, Shallan said as Veil took over.

“You trace the schematic on a piece of paper above this one,” Veil explained, “and press very hard. That leaves an indentation in the page. A light brush of charcoal reveals it. This isn’t the entire thing, naturally; I keep it as proof for potential buyers.”

Shallan felt a little stab of pride at the complicated illusion. It appeared exactly as she wanted it to, making a complicated series of lines and notations appear magically on the page as she did the rubbing.

“I can’t make any sense of that,” the man complained.

The woman, however, leaned closer. “Replace her sack,” the woman said. “We’ll bring the matter to the queen. This might be interesting enough for her to grant an audience.”

Veil steeled herself as a cultist snatched away her notebook, probably to try applying charcoal to the other pages, which would of course do nothing. The tall man pulled the sack over her head, but as he did so he leaned close.

“What now?” he whispered to Veil. “This feels like trouble.”

Don’t break character, Red, she thought, bowing her head. She needed to get to Ialai and discover if the woman really did have a spy in Dalinar’s court. That meant taking a few risks.

Red was the first one they’d embedded into the Sons of Honor, but his persona—that of a darkeyed workman—hadn’t been important enough to get any real access. Hopefully, together they could—

Shouts rose nearby in the chasm. Veil spun, blinded by the sack. Storms alight. What was that?

“We’ve been followed,” the male leader of the conspirators said. “To arms! Those are Kholin troops!”

Damnation, Veil thought. Radiant was right.

Adolin, seeing her sack replaced, had decided it was time to take this group captive and cut their losses.

***

Kaladin traded blows with his enemy, landing one hit, then another. As he came back around, the Heavenly One thrust down with his lance. But Kaladin had drilled spearplay until he could practically fight in his sleep. Hovering in the air, surging with Stormlight, his body knew what to do and deflected the thrust.

Kaladin made his own lunge, scoring another hit. As they danced, they rotated around one another. Much of Kaladin’s formal training had been with spear and shield, intended for formation tactics, but he’d always loved the longspear, wielded two-handed. There was a power to it, a control. He could move the weapon so much more deftly this way.

This Heavenly One wasn’t as good as Leshwi. Kaladin scored yet another slice along the enemy’s arm. The cut—though inflicted with a Shardblade—soon healed, but each healing came more slowly. The enemy’s Voidlight was running out.

The enemy started humming one of the Fused songs, gritting his teeth as he tried to spear Kaladin. They saw Kaladin as a challenge, a test. Leshwi always got to fight Kaladin first, but if he disengaged or defeated her, another was always waiting. A part of him wondered if this was why he was so tired lately. Even little skirmishes were a slog, never giving him a break.

A deeper part of him knew that wasn’t the reason at all.

His enemy prepared to strike, and Kaladin reached with his off hand for one of his belt knives, then whipped it into the air. The Fused overreacted and fumbled his defense. That let Kaladin score a spear hit along the thigh. Defeating a Fused was a test in endurance. Cut them enough, and they slowed. Cut them more, and they stopped healing entirely.

His opponent’s humming grew louder, and Kaladin sensed the wounds weren’t healing any longer. Time to go for the kill. He dodged a strike—then changed Syl into a hammer, which he swung down on the enemy’s weapon, smashing it. The powerful blow threw the Heavenly One completely off balance.

Kaladin dropped the hammer and thrust his hands forward; Syl was instantly a spear, steady in his grip. His aim was true, and he speared the enemy right in the side. The Fused grunted as Kaladin whipped the spear out by reflex, then spun it around and leveled it at the enemy’s neck.

The Fused met his eyes, then licked his lips, waiting. The creature began to slowly drop from the sky, his Light expended, his powers failing.

Killing him does no good, Kaladin thought. He’ll simply be reborn. Still, that was one Fused out of combat for a few days at least.

He’s out anyway, Kaladin thought as the creature’s arm flopped down at his side, useless and dead from a Shardspear cut. What good is another death?

Kaladin lowered his spear, then gestured to the side. “Go,” he said. Some of them understood Alethi.

The Fused hummed a different tone, then raised his broken spear to Kaladin—holding it in his off hand. The Heavenly One dropped the weapon toward the rocks below. The creature bowed his head to Kaladin, then drifted away.

Now, where had—

A ribbon of red light streaked in from the side.

Kaladin immediately Lashed himself backward and spun, weapon out. He hadn’t realized he’d been dedicating a part of his energy to watching for that red light.

It darted away from him now that he’d noticed it. Kaladin tried to follow it with his eyes, but couldn’t keep track of it as it maneuvered among the homes below.

Kaladin breathed out. The fog was all but gone, letting him scan the entirety of Hearthstone—a little cluster of homes bleeding people toward the Fourth Bridge in a steady stream. The citylord’s manor stood on the hilltop at the far edge of town, overlooking them all. It had once seemed so large and imposing to Kaladin.

“Did you see that light?” he asked Syl.

Yes. That was the Fused from before. When she was a spear, her words came directly into his mind.

“My quick reaction scared it away,” Kaladin said.

“Kal?” a feminine voice called. Lyn came swooping in, wearing a brilliant blue Alethi uniform, Stormlight puffing from her lips as she spoke. She wore her long dark hair in a tight braid, and carried a functional—but ordinary—lance under her arm. “You all right?”

“I’m fine,” he said.

“You sure?” she said. “You seem distracted. I don’t want anyone stabbing you in the back.”

“Now you care?” he snapped.

“Of course I do,” she said. “Not wanting us to be more doesn’t mean I stopped caring.” He glanced at her, then had to turn away because he could see genuine concern in her face. Their relationship hadn’t been right. He knew that as well as she did, and the pain he felt wasn’t for the end of that. Not specifically.

It was simply one more thing weighing him down. One more loss.

“I’m fine,” he said, then glanced to the side as he felt the power from Dalinar end. Was something wrong?

No, the time had merely passed. Dalinar generally didn’t keep his perpendicularity open for entire battles, but instead used it periodically to recharge spheres and Radiants. Holding it open was taxing for him.

“Run a message to the other Windrunners in the air,” Kaladin said to Lyn. “Tell them I spotted that new Fused, the one I told them about earlier. He moved toward me as a ribbon of red light—like a windspren, but the wrong shade. He can fly incredibly quickly, and could strike at one of us up here.”

“Will do…” she said. “If you’re sure you don’t need any help…”

Kaladin pointedly ignored that comment and dropped toward the ship. He wanted to make sure Dalinar was being watched, in case the strange new Fused came after him.

Syl landed on his shoulder and rode downward with her hands primly on her knees.

“The others keep checking on me,” Kaladin said to her, “like I’m some delicate piece of glasswork ready to fall off the shelf at any moment and break. Is that your doing?”

“What? That your team is considerate enough to watch out for one another? That would be your fault, I’d say.”

He landed on the deck of the ship, then turned his head and looked straight at her.

“I didn’t say anything to them,” she told him. “I know how anxious the nightmares make you. It would be worse if I told anyone about them.”

Great. He hadn’t liked the idea of her talking to the others, but at least it would have explained why everyone was acting so strangely. He crossed over to Dalinar, who was speaking with Roshone, who had come up from below.

“The town’s new leaders keep prisoners in the manor’s stormcellar, Brightlord,” Roshone was saying, pointing at his former dwelling. “There are currently only two people there, but it would be a crime to abandon them.”

“Agreed,” Dalinar said. “I’ll send one of the Edgedancers to free them.”

“I will accompany them,” Roshone said, “with your permission. I know the layout of the building.”

Kaladin sniffed. “Look at him,” he whispered to Syl, “acting like some hero now that Dalinar is around to impress.”

Syl reached up and flicked Kaladin on the ear, and he felt a surprisingly sharp pain, like a jolt of power.

“Hey!” he said.

“Stop being a stumer.”

“I’m not being a… What’s a stumer?”

“I don’t know,” Syl admitted. “It’s a word I heard Lift using. Regardless, I’m pretty sure you’re being one right now.”

Kaladin glanced at Roshone, who headed toward the manor with Godeke. “Fine,” Kaladin said. “He has maybe improved. A little.”

Roshone was the same petty lighteyes he’d always been. But during this last year, Kaladin had seen another side to the former citylord. He seemed to legitimately care. As if realizing, only now, his responsibility.

He’d still gotten Tien killed. For that, Kaladin didn’t think he could ever forgive Roshone. At the same time, Kaladin didn’t intend to forgive himself for that loss either. So at least Roshone was in good company.

Rock and Dabbid were helping the refugees, so Kaladin told them he’d seen the strange Fused again. Rock nodded, understanding immediately. He waved to his older children—including Cord, who carried Amaram’s old Shardbow strapped to her back and wore the full set of Shardplate she’d found in Aimia.

Together they moved in a not-so-subtle way over near Dalinar, keeping a watch on the sky for red lines of light. Kaladin glanced upward as one of the Heavenly Ones shot past, chased by Sigzil.

“That’s Leshwi,” Kaladin said, launching into the air.

Excerpted from Rhythm of War, copyright ©2020 Dragonsteel Entertainment.


 

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