Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Read Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson: Chapter Seven

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.

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Every chapter is collected here in the Rhythm of War index. Listen to the audiobook version of this chapter below the text, or go here for the full playlist.

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Chapter 7
The Rarest Vintage

The two metals of primary significance are zinc and brass, which allow you to control expression strength. Zinc wires touching the gemstone will cause the spren inside to more strongly manifest, while brass will cause the spren to withdraw and its power to dim.

Remember that a gemstone must be properly infused following the spren’s capture. Drilled holes in the gemstone are ideal for proper use of the cage wires, so long as you don’t crack the structure and risk releasing the spren.

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

 

Veil stepped up to Ialai Sadeas. She’d heard of this woman’s craftiness, her competence. Veil was therefore surprised to find the woman looking so… weathered.

Ialai Sadeas was a woman of moderate height. While she’d never been renowned as a great beauty, she seemed to have withered since Shallan had last seen her. Though she wore a dress of the sharpest and most recent fashion—embroidered along the sides—it seemed to hang on her like a cloak on a tavern’s wall peg. Her cheeks were sunken and hollow, and she held an empty wine cup in her hand.

“So, you’ve finally come for me,” she said.

Veil hesitated. What did that mean?

Strike now, Veil thought. Summon the Blade; burn those self-satisfied eyes out of her skull.

But she wouldn’t act on her will alone. They had a balance, an important one. The Three never did what only one of them wanted, not in regard to a decision this important. And so, she held back. Radiant didn’t want to kill Ialai. She was too honorable. But what of Shallan?

Not yet, Shallan thought. Talk to her first. Find out what she knows.

Therefore, Veil bowed—staying in character. “My queen.”

Ialai snapped her fingers, and the guard retreated with the last of the cultists, closing the door behind him. She wasn’t the frightened type, Ialai Sadeas—though Veil did notice a door on the far wall of the room, behind Ialai, as a potential exit.

Ialai sat back in her chair, letting Veil hold the bow. “I do not intend to be queen,” she eventually said. “That is a lie that some of my more… overeager followers perpetuate.”

“Who then do you support for the throne? Surely not the usurper Dalinar, or the niece he has appointed unlawfully.”

Ialai watched Veil, who slowly stood from the bow. “In the past,” Ialai said, “I have supported the heir—Elhokar’s son, Gavilar’s grandson, the rightful king.”

“He is only a boy, not yet six.”

“Then urgent action must be taken,” Ialai said, “to rescue him from the clutches of his aunt and great-uncle, the rats who have deposed him. To support me is not to upset the lineage, but to work for a better, stable, and correct Alethi union.”

Clever. Under such a guise, Ialai could pretend to be a humble patriot. But… why did she look so haunted? A wreckage of her former self? She’d been hit hard by Sadeas’s death and the traitorous turn of Amaram’s army. Had those events encouraged a downward spiral? Most importantly, who was the spy this woman had close to Dalinar?

Ialai stood up, letting her wine cup roll off the table and shatter on the floor. She walked past Veil to the nearby hutch and rolled up the front, revealing a dozen or more carafes of wine, each a different color.

While Ialai was surveying these, Veil held her hand to the side and began summoning her Shardblade. Not to strike, but because Pattern was with Adolin. The act of summoning should give Pattern an indication of her direction. She stopped almost immediately, preventing the sword from coalescing.

Adolin would want to come find her. Unfortunately, striking against Ialai’s fortress would be more dangerous than jumping a group of conspirators in the chasm. Dalinar had no authority here, and though the Lightweaving she’d stuck to Adolin would keep him from being recognized, she wasn’t certain he could risk moving in the open.

“Do you favor wines?” Ialai asked her.

“I’m not particularly thirsty, Brightness,” Veil said.

“Join me anyway.”

Veil stepped up beside her, looking at the array of wines. “This is quite a collection.”

“Yes,” Ialai said, selecting one, a clear—probably a grain alcohol. Left uninfused, the color gave no indication of flavoring or potency. “I requisition samples of the vintages that pass through the warcamps. It is one of the few luxuries these Heralds-forsaken stormlands can offer.”

She poured a small cup, and Veil could immediately tell she’d been wrong. It didn’t have the sharp, immediately overpowering sensation of something like a Horneater vintage. Instead there was a fruity scent mixed with the faint stench of alcohol. Curious.

Ialai offered it to Veil first, who accepted the cup, and took a drink. It tasted sharply sweet, like a dessert wine. How had they made it clear? Most fruit wines had natural coloring.

“No fear of poison?” Ialai asked.

“Why should I fear poison, Brightness?”

“This was prepared for me, and there are many who would see me dead. Remaining in my proximity can be dangerous.”

“Like the attack in the chasm earlier?”

“It is not the first such strike,” she said, though Veil knew of no others that Dalinar had ordered. “Strange, how easily my enemies strike at me in quiet, dark chasms. Yet it has taken them so long to attack me in my chambers.” She looked right at Veil.

Damnation. She knew what Veil had come here to do.

Ialai drank deeply. “What do you think of the wine?”

“It was nice.”

“That’s all?” Ialai held up her cup, inspecting the last few drops. “It’s sweet, fermented from a fruit, not a grain. It reminds me of visits to Gavilar’s wineries. I would guess it an Alethi vintage, rescued before the kingdom fell, made from simberries. The flesh of the fruit is clear, and they took great care to remove the rinds. Revealing what was truly inside.”

Yes, she did suspect. After a moment of decision, Shallan emerged. If it was to be wordplay, then she should be the one in control.

Ialai selected another carafe, this time a pale orange. “How is it,” she said, “that you have access to such important documents as Navani’s schematics? She can be extremely secretive with her projects—not because she fears someone stealing them, but because she relishes a dramatic reveal.”

“I cannot give away my sources,” Shallan said. “Surely you understand the importance of protecting the identities of those who serve you.” She pretended to think. “Though I can perhaps share a name, if I were to get one in return—someone you have close to the king. A way for both of us to have further access to the Kholin inner circle.”

A little clumsy, Veil noted. You sure you want to control right now?

Ialai smiled, then handed Shallan a small cup of the orange. She took it—and found it bland and flavorless.

“Well?” Ialai asked, sipping her own cup.

“It is weak,” Shallan said. “Powerless. Yet I taste a hint of something wrong. A touch of sourness. An… annoyance that should be exterminated from the vintage.”

“And yet,” Ialai said, “it looks so good. A proper orange, to be enjoyed by children—and those who act like them. Perfect for people who want to maintain appearances before others. Then the sourness. That’s what this vintage truly is, isn’t it? Awful, no matter how it may appear.”

“To what end?” Shallan asked. “What good does it do to package an inferior wine with such a fine label?”

“It might fool some, for a time,” Ialai said. “Allow the winemaker to gain quick and easy ground over his competition. But he’ll eventually be revealed as a fraud, and his creation will be discarded in favor of a truly strong or noble vintage.”

“You make bold claims,” Shallan said. “One hopes the winemaker doesn’t hear. He might be irate.”

“Let him be. We both know what he is.”

As Ialai moved to serve a third cup, Shallan began to summon her Shardblade again—giving Pattern another hint to indicate her direction.

Bring it all the way, Veil thought. Strike.

Is this who we want to be with our powers? Radiant thought. If we start down this path, where will it lead us?

Could they really serve Dalinar Kholin by acting against his explicit orders? He didn’t want this. He probably should, but he didn’t.

“Ah, here,” Ialai said. “Perfect.” She held up a deep blue. This time she didn’t offer it to Shallan first, but took a sip. “A wonderful vintage, but the last of its kind. Every other bottle destroyed in a fire. After today, even this bit will be gone.”

“You seem so resigned,” Shallan said. “The Ialai Sadeas I’ve heard about would scour entire kingdoms looking for another bottle of the vintage she so loves. Never surrendering.”

“That Ialai wasn’t nearly so tired,” she said, her hand drooping—as if the weight of the cup of wine was somehow too great. “I’ve fought so long. And now I’m alone… sometimes it seems the very shadows work against me.” Ialai selected a carafe of Horneater white—Shallan could smell it as soon as the top was off—and held it out. “I believe this is yours. Invisible. Deadly.”

Shallan didn’t take the drink.

“Get on with it,” Ialai said. “You killed Thanadal when he tried to deal. So I can’t try that. You hunted Vamah and murdered him after he fled, and there’s little chance of me surviving the same. I thought I might be safe if I hunkered down for a time. Yet here you are.”

Invisible. Deadly. Sweet wisdom of Battar…

Shallan had been engaging in this entire conversation assuming that Ialai knew her for an operative of Dalinar. That wasn’t the case at all. Ialai saw her as an operative of Mraize, of the Ghostbloods.

You killed Thanadal,” Shallan said.

Ialai laughed. “He told you that, did he? So they lie to their own?”

Mraize hadn’t specifically told her Ialai had killed Thanadal. But he’d clearly implied it.

Veil gritted her teeth, frustrated. She’d come here of her own volition. Yes, Mraize was always hinting to her what he and the Ghostbloods wanted. But Veil did not serve him. She had undertaken this mission for… the good of Alethkar. And Adolin. And…

“Go on,” Ialai said. “Do it.”

Veil thrust her hand to the side, summoning her Shardblade. Ialai dropped the carafe of Horneater white, jumping despite herself. Though fearspren boiled up from the ground, Ialai merely closed her eyes.

Oh! a perky voice said in Shallan’s mind. We were almost here anyway, Veil! What are we doing?

“Did they at least tell you why they decided we need to die?” Ialai asked. “Why they hated Gavilar? Amaram? Me and Thanadal, once we knew the secrets? What it is about the Sons of Honor that frightens them?”

Veil hesitated.

You found her! Pattern said in her mind. Do you have evidence, like Dalinar wanted?

“They’ll send you after Restares next,” Ialai said. “But they’ll watch you. In case you rise high enough, learn enough to threaten them. Have you asked yourself what they want? What they expect to get out of the end of the world?”

“Power,” Veil said.

“Ah, nebulous ‘power.’ No, it is more specific than that. Most of the Sons of Honor simply wanted their gods back, but Gavilar saw more. He saw entire worlds…”

“Tell me more,” Veil said.

Shouts sounded outside the room. Veil glanced at the door in time to see a brilliant Shardblade slice through the lock. Adolin, wearing the false face she’d given him, kicked open the door a moment later.

People flooded in around him—soldiers and five of Shallan’s Lightweaver agents.

“Once I’m dead,” Ialai hissed, “don’t let them search my rooms before you do. Look for the rarest vintage. It is… exotic.”

“Don’t give me riddles,” the Three said. “Give me answers. What are the Ghostbloods trying to do?”

Ialai closed her eyes. “Do it.

Instead, the Three dismissed her Blade. I vote against killing her, Veil thought. Killing her would mean she had been manipulated by Mraize. She hated that idea.

“You’re not dying today,” the Three said. “I have more questions for you.”

Ialai kept her eyes closed. “I won’t get to answer. They won’t let me.”

Shallan emerged, calming her nerves as several soldiers rushed up to surround Ialai. Veil and Radiant settled back, both pleased at this outcome. They were their own person. They did not belong to Mraize.

She shook her head and trotted over to Adolin, then dismissed his illusory face with a touch. She needed to see him as himself.

“Which one are you?” he asked quietly, a pouch of infused spheres.

“Shallan,” she said, putting the pouch into her satchel, which a soldier fetched for her from beside the wall. She glanced over her shoulder as the soldiers bound Ialai, and again Shallan was struck by how deflated the woman looked.

Adolin pulled Shallan close. “Did she confess to you?”

“She danced around it,” Shallan said, “but I think I can make a case to Dalinar that what she said constitutes treason. She wants to depose Jasnah and put Elhokar’s son on the throne.”

“Gavinor is way too young.”

“And she’d be guiding him,” Shallan said. “Which is why she’s a traitor—she wants the power.”

But… Ialai had spoken like that plan was in the past, as if she were now fighting only for survival. Had the Ghostbloods truly killed Highprinces Thanadal and Vamah?

“Well,” Adolin said, “with her in custody, perhaps we can get her armies to stand down. We can’t afford a war with our own right now.”

“Ishnah,” Shallan called, drawing the attention of one of her agents. The short Alethi woman hastened over. She’d been with Shallan for over a year now, and—along with Vathah, leader of the deserters that Shallan had recruited—was one of those she trusted most.

“Yeah, Brightness?” Ishnah asked.

“Take Vathah and Beryl. Go with those soldiers and make certain they don’t let Ialai speak to anyone. Gag her if you have to. She has a way of getting inside people’s heads.”

“Consider it done,” Ishnah said. “You want to put the illusion on her first?”

The contingency plan for extraction was simple: They’d use Lightweaving to make themselves into House Sadeas guards, and Ialai into someone lowborn. They’d march her out the gates with ease, capturing the highprincess right out from underneath the watchful eyes of her guards.

“Yes,” Shallan said, waving the soldiers to bring the woman over. Ialai walked with her eyes closed, still maintaining her fatalistic air. Shallan took Ialai by the arm, then breathed out and let the Lightweaving surround her, changing the woman to look like one of the sketches Shallan had done recently—a kitchen woman with rosy cheeks and a wide smile.

Ialai didn’t deserve such a kindly face, nor did she deserve such a light treatment. Shallan felt an unexpected spike of disgust at touching Ialai; this creature and her husband had plotted and executed a terrible plan to betray Dalinar. Even after the move to Urithiru, Ialai had worked to undermine him at every opportunity. If this woman had gotten her way, Adolin would have died before Shallan met him. And now they were just going to take her in to play more games?

Shallan let go, hand going to her satchel. Radiant was the one who emerged, however. She grabbed Ialai by her arm and towed her over to Adolin’s soldiers, handing her off.

“Take her out with the others,” Adolin said.

“You got the rest of the conspirators?” Shallan asked, walking back to him.

“They tried to escape out the side door as we burst in, but I think we managed to round them all up.”

Ishnah and the soldiers—Adolin’s men, hand-picked from among his finest—led the disguised and bound Ialai out the door. The highprincess sagged in their grip.

Adolin watched her go, a frown on his lips.

“You’re thinking,” Shallan said, “that we shouldn’t have ever let her leave Urithiru. That it’d be easier if we’d ended her, and the threat she represented, before it went this far.”

“I’m thinking,” Adolin said, “that maybe we don’t want to travel that road.”

“Maybe we started already. Back when you…”

Adolin drew his lips to a line. “I don’t have any answers right now,” he eventually said. “I don’t know if I ever did. But we should ransack this place quickly. Father might want more proof than your word, and it would be awfully helpful if we could present him with incriminating journals or letters.”

Shallan nodded, waving over Gaz and Red. She would have them search the place.

And what of what Ialai had said? Look for the rarest vintage… Shallan eyed the wines set out on the counter of the hutch. Why speak in riddles? Adolin and the others were coming in, Shallan thought. She didn’t want them to understand. Storms, the woman had grown paranoid. But why trust Shallan?

I won’t get to answer. They won’t let me…

“Adolin,” she said. “Something is wrong with this. With Ialai, with me being here, with—”

She cut herself off as shouts sounded in the antechamber. Shallan scrambled out, feeling a sense of dread. She found Ialai Sadeas lying on the floor, foam coming from the mouth of her fake face. The soldiers watched with horror.

The highprincess stared up with lifeless eyes. Dead.

***

Kaladin flew through the smoke billowing up over the manor. He soared down toward where the townspeople were being threatened by the strange Fused and his soldiers. That was Waber, the manor’s gardener, being held against the ground with a boot to his face.

This is obviously a trap, Syl said in Kaladin’s mind. That Fused knows exactly what to do in order to draw the attention of a Windrunner: attack innocents.

She was right. Kaladin forced himself to drop carefully a short distance away. The Fused had torn a hole in the wall around a side entrance of the manor. Though flames licked the upper floors of the structure, the room beyond the hole was dark, not yet afire. At least not completely.

As soon as Kaladin landed, the singers released Waber and the others, then retreated through the broken hole in the stone wall. Five soldiers, Kaladin noted. Four with spears, one with a sword.

The Fused carried one captive as he strode into the building; thin, with a gaunt face, the captive was bleeding from a slash along his stomach. Godeke the Edgedancer. His Stormlight had apparently run out. Storms send he was still alive. The Fused wanted to use him as bait, so the chances seemed good.

Kaladin strode toward the broken wall. “You want to fight me, Fused? Come on. Let’s have at it.”

The creature, shadowed inside the building, growled something in his own rhythmic language. One of the soldiers translated. “I will fight you inside where you cannot fly away, little Windrunner. Come, face me.”

I don’t like this, Syl said.

“Agreed,” Kaladin whispered. “Be ready to go get help.”

He Lashed himself upward slightly, enough to make him lighter on his feet, then inched into the burning building. This large room had once been the dining chamber, where Kaladin’s father had eaten with Roshone and talked of thieves and compromises. The ceiling was burned in patches, the fire consuming it from above. Flamespren danced along the wood with a frantic delight.

The hulking Fused stood directly ahead, two soldiers at each side. They moved forward to flank Kaladin. Where was the fifth soldier? There, near an overturned table, fiddling with something that glowed a deep violet-black. Voidlight? Wait… was that a fabrial? The light dimmed suddenly.

Kaladin’s powers vanished.

He felt it as a strange smothering sensation, as if something heavy had been placed on top of his mind. His full weight came upon him again, his Lashing canceled.

Syl gasped and her spear puffed away as she became a spren—and when Kaladin tried to resummon his Blade, nothing happened.

Immediately, Kaladin stepped backward to try to escape the range of the strange fabrial. But the soldiers quickly rushed to surround him, cutting off his retreat. Kaladin’s assumption that he could beat them easily had relied on his Shardspear and his powers.

Storms! Kaladin strained to create a Lashing. Stormlight still raged inside him, and kept him from needing to breathe the acrid smoke, but something was suppressing his other abilities.

The Fused laughed and spoke in Alethi. “Radiants! You rely too much on your powers. Without them, what are you? A peasant child with no real training in the art of warfare or—”

Kaladin slammed himself against the soldier to his right.

The sudden motion caused the singer to cry out and fall backward. Kaladin yanked the spear from the man’s hand, then—in a fluid motion—whipped it into a two-handed lunge, impaling a second soldier.

The two soldiers on his left recovered and leaped for him. Kaladin felt the wind encircle him as he spun between the two of them, catching one sword—aimed low—with the butt of his spear as he caught the second one—aimed high—right behind the spear’s head. Metal met wood with a familiar thunk, and Kaladin finished his spin, throwing off both weapons.

He gutted one man, then tripped him—sending him stumbling to the ground in front of his ally. These soldiers were trained well, but hadn’t seen much actual combat yet—as evidenced by how the remaining singer froze when he saw his friends dying.

Kaladin kept moving, almost without thought, spearing the fourth soldier in the neck. There, Kaladin thought as the expected ribbon of red light came darting toward him. He will go for my back again.

Kaladin dropped his spear, pulled a throwing knife off his belt, and turned. He rammed the knife into the air right before the Fused appeared—slamming the small blade into the creature’s neck, angled between two pieces of carapace.

The Fused let out an urk of shock and pain, his eyes wide.

Fire made wood snap overhead, and burning cinders dropped down as the enormous Fused toppled forward like a felled tree, the floorboards shaking with the impact. Blessedly, no red ribbon of light rose from him this time.

“That’s a relief,” Syl said, landing on Kaladin’s shoulder. “I guess if you catch him before he teleports, you really can kill him.”

“At least until the Everstorm rebirths him,” Kaladin said, checking the singers he’d killed. Other than the one dying slowly from the gut wound, he’d left only two alive—the one he’d shoved, and the fifth one, across the room, who had activated the fabrial.

The former had scrambled out the gaping hole in the wall to escape. The latter had left the fabrial and was inching to the side, his sword out, eyes wide.

The man was trying to reach Godeke—perhaps to use him as a hostage. In the fray, the wounded Edgedancer had fallen to the ground beside the husk after the Fused had teleported to Kaladin. Godeke was now moving—but not under his own power. A small, gangly figure had the Edgedancer by one leg and was slowly dragging him away from the fight. Kaladin hadn’t seen Lift sneak into the room—but then again, she often showed up where one did not expect her.

“Take him out the hole, Lift,” Kaladin said, stepping toward the last singer. “Are your powers suppressed too?”

“Yeah,” she said. “What’d they do to us?”

“I’m extremely curious about this too,” Syl said, zipping over to the device on the floor, a gemstone covered in metal pieces and resting on tripod legs. “That is a very strange fabrial.”

Kaladin pointed his spear at the last singer, who—hesitantly—dropped his sword and raised his hands. He had a jagged skin pattern of red and black.

“What is that fabrial?” Kaladin asked.

“I… I…” The soldier swallowed. “I don’t know. I was told to twist the gemstone at the base to activate it.”

“That’s Voidlight powering it,” Syl said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Kaladin glanced at the smoke pooling on the ceiling. “Lift?” he said.

“On it,” she said, scrambling over to the device while Kaladin kept the soldier guarded. A moment later, Kaladin’s powers returned. He sighed in relief, though that made Stormlight puff before him. Nearby, Godeke gasped, unconsciously breathing in Stormlight, and his wound started to heal.

Strengthened by the Light, Kaladin grabbed the soldier and lifted him up, infusing him enough to make him hang in the air. “I told you to leave the city,” Kaladin growled softly. “I’m memorizing your face, your pattern, your stench. If I see you again, ever, I will send you hurtling upward with so much Stormlight that you will have a long, long time to think during the fall back down. Understood?”

The singer nodded, humming a conciliatory sound. Kaladin shoved him, recovering his Stormlight and making the man fall to the ground. He scrambled away out the hole.

“There was another human in here,” Lift said. “An old lighteyed man in beggar’s clothing. I was watching from outside the building, and saw the man come in here with Godeke. A short time later, that Fused broke through the wall, carrying Godeke—but I didn’t spot the other man.”

Roshone. The former citylord had told Dalinar he was going to search the manor’s stormcellar to free imprisoned townspeople. Though he wasn’t proud of it, Kaladin hesitated—but when Syl looked at him, he gritted his teeth and nodded.

So long as it is right… he thought.

“I’ll find him,” Kaladin said. “Make sure Godeke recovers, then get that fabrial to Brightness Navani. She’s going to find it very interesting.”

***

Shallan removed the illusion, revealing Ialai’s face, spittle dripping from her lips. One of Adolin’s men checked her pulse, confirming it.

She was dead.

“Damnation!” Adolin said, standing helpless above the body. “What happened?”

We didn’t do this, Veil thought. We decided not to kill her, right?

I… Shallan’s mind began to fuzz, everything feeling blurry. Had she done this? She’d wanted to. But she hadn’t, had she? She was… was more in control than that.

I didn’t do it, Shallan thought. She was reasonably certain.

So what happened? Radiant asked.

“She must have taken poison,” said Vathah, leaning down. “Blackbane.”

Even after many months as Shallan’s squire and then agent, the former deserter didn’t look like he belonged with Adolin’s soldiers. Vathah was too rough. Not sloppy, but unlike Adolin’s men, he didn’t care much for the spit and polish. He showed his disdain by leaving his jacket undone, his hair messy.

“I’ve seen someone die like that before, Brightness,” he explained. “Back in Sadeas’s army, an officer was smuggling and selling supplies. When he finally got found out, he poisoned himself rather than be taken.”

“I didn’t see her do it,” Ishnah said, sheepish. “I’m sorry.”

“Nale’s nuts,” muttered one of Adolin’s soldiers. “This is going to look bad, isn’t it? This is exactly what the Blackthorn didn’t want. Another Sadeas corpse on our hands.”

Adolin drew in a long deep breath. “We have enough evidence to have seen her hanged; my father will simply have to accept that. We’ll bring troops to the warcamps to make certain her soldiers don’t get rowdy. Storms. This mess should have been cleaned up months ago.”

He pointed at several soldiers. “Check the other conspirators for poison, and gag them all. Shallan will disguise the body like a rug or something so we can get it out. Gen and Natem, search Ialai’s things in the next room to see if you can find any useful evidence.”

“No!” Shallan said.

Adolin froze, glancing at her.

“I’ll search through Ialai’s things in the next room. I know what to watch for, and your soldiers don’t. You handle the captives and search the rest of the building.”

“Good idea,” Adolin said. He rubbed his brow, but then—perhaps seeing the little anxietyspren that appeared near her, like a twisting black cross—smiled. “Don’t worry. Every mission has a few hitches.”

She nodded, more to put him at ease than to indicate her real feelings. As the soldiers moved to follow his orders, she knelt by Ialai’s body.

Ishnah joined her. “Brightness? Do you need something?”

“She didn’t eat poison, did she?” Shallan asked softly.

“Can’t be certain,” Ishnah said. “I know a little about blackbane though…” She blushed. “Well, I know a lot. My gang would use it on rivals. It’s tough to make, because you need to dry the leaves out, then make a gum out of them to get it to full potency. Anyway, eating it isn’t the best. If you can get it into the blood though, it kills quickly…” She trailed off, frowning—perhaps realizing as Shallan had that Ialai had died very quickly.

Shallan knew of blackbane herself. She’d studied up on poisons recently. Would I be able to spot a pinprick? Shallan thought, kneeling beside the corpse.

Either way, she suspected Ialai had been right: The Ghostbloods hadn’t trusted Shallan to kill her, and they’d sent a second knife to see the job done. That would mean they had an operative among Adolin’s guards or Shallan’s own agents. The idea made Shallan’s stomach twist.

And this person was separate from the spy Ialai supposedly had among Dalinar’s elite? Storms. It was tying Shallan’s mind in knots. “Look the body over,” Shallan whispered to Ishnah. “See if you can find evidence if this was self-inflicted, or if someone else killed her.”

“Yes, Brightness.”

Shallan quickly walked back into the room with the wine hutch. Gaz and Red were already working to gather Ialai’s things. Storms, could she trust these two?

In any case, Ialai’s prediction had proven correct. And it was possible that this room held secrets Mraize didn’t want Shallan to find.

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


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