Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Read Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson: Chapter Eight

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.

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Chapter 8
Surrender

A bronze cage can create a warning fabrial, alerting one to objects or entities nearby. Heliodors are being used for this currently, and there is some good reasoning for this—but other gemstones should be viable.

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

 

Kaladin crossed the burning room, haunted by that moment when he’d suddenly lost his powers. The experience left him rattled. The truth was, he had come to rely upon his abilities. Like you relied on a good spear, battle-tested and sharp. There was little worse than having your weapon fail you in battle.

“We’re going to have to watch for those fabrials,” Kaladin said. “I don’t like the idea of our powers being subject to removal by the enemy.” He glanced at Syl, who sat on his shoulder. “Have you experienced anything like that before?”

She shook her head. “Not that I remember. It made me feel… faded. As if I’m wasn’t quite here.”

He shied away from rooms consumed by the blaze, full of primal shadows and lights, bright orange and red, deep and angry colors. If the citylords had been content with a normal house, this could never have happened. But no, they needed to be set apart, own a home full of delicate wood instead of sturdy stone. The hungry flames seemed excited as they played with the dying manor. There was a glee to the sounds of the fire: its roars and hisses. Flamespren ran up the wall alongside him, leaving tracks of black on the wood.

Ahead, the kitchen was fully engulfed. He didn’t mind the heat so far—his Stormlight healed burns before they had a chance to more than itch. As long as he stayed away from the heart of the fire, he should be all right.

Unfortunately, that might prove impossible.

“Where’s the cellar?” Syl asked from his shoulder.

Kaladin pointed through the kitchen inferno toward a doorway—barely visible as a shadow.

“Great,” Syl said. “You going to run for it?”

Kaladin nodded, not daring to lose his Stormlight by speaking. He braced himself, then dashed into the room, flames and smoke curling around him. A forlorn groaning sound from above indicated that the ceiling was close to giving in.

A quick Lashing upward let Kaladin leap the burning kitchen counter. He landed on the other side and slammed his shoulder into the charred door to the cellar, breaking through with a loud crash, bits of flame and soot spraying before him.

He entered a dark tunnel sloping downward, cut directly into the rock of the hillside. As he moved away from the inferno behind, Syl giggled.

“What?” he asked.

“Your backside’s on fire,” she said.

Damnation. He batted at the back of his coat. Well, after getting stabbed by Leshwi, this uniform was ruined anyway. He was going to have to listen to Leyten complain about how often Kaladin went through them. The Windrunner quartermaster seemed convinced that Kaladin let himself get hit solely to make it difficult to keep uniforms in supply.

He started through the dark stone tunnel, counting on his Stormlight to provide  illumination. Soon after entering, he crossed a metal grate covering a deep pit: the watercatch, to divert rainwater that flooded the tunnel. A stormcellar like this was where lighteyed families retreated during highstorms.

He’d have dismissed potential flooding as another problem with living in a wooden home, but even stone houses occasionally got damaged during storms. He didn’t blame anyone for wanting to put several feet of rock between them and the raging winds. He had played down here with Laral as a child, and it seemed smaller to him now. He remembered a deep, endless tunnel. But soon after he passed the watercatch, he saw the lit cellar room ahead.

As Kaladin stepped into the underground room, he found two prisoners manacled to the far wall, slumped in place, their heads bowed. He didn’t recognize one of them—perhaps he was a refugee—but the other was Jeber, father to a couple of the boys Kaladin had known as a youth.

“Jeber,” Kaladin said, hurrying forward. “Have you seen Roshone? He…”

Kaladin trailed off as he noticed that neither person was moving. He knelt, feeling a growing dread as he got a better glimpse of Jeber’s lean face. It was perfectly normal, save for the pale cast—and the two burned-out pits, like charcoal, in place of the eyes. He’d been killed with a Shardblade.

“Kaladin!” Syl said. “Behind you!”

He spun, thrusting out his hand and summoning his Blade. The rough-hewn room sloped back to the left of the doorway, making a small alcove that Kaladin hadn’t been able to see when first entering. There, standing quietly, was a tall man with a hawkish face, brown hair flecked with black. Moash wore a sharp black uniform cut after the Alethi style, and held Brightlord Roshone in front of him with a knife to the man’s neck. The former citylord was crying silently, Moash’s other hand covering his mouth, fearspren undulating on the ground.

Moash jerked the knife in a quick, efficient slice, opening Roshone’s throat and spilling his lifeblood across the front of his ragged clothing.

Roshone fell to the stone. Kaladin shouted, scrambling to help, but the surgeon within him shook his head. A slit throat? That wasn’t the kind of wound a surgeon could heal.

Move on to someone you can help, his father seemed to say. This one is dead.

Storms! Was it too late to fetch Lift or Godeke? They could… They could…

Roshone thrashed weakly on the ground before a helpless Kaladin. Then the man who had terrorized Kaladin’s family—the man who had consigned Tien to death—simply… faded away in a pool of his own blood.

Kaladin glared up at Moash, who silently returned his knife to its belt sheath. “You came to save him, didn’t you, Kal?” Moash asked. “One of your worst enemies? Instead of finding vengeance and peace, you run to rescue him.”

Kaladin roared, leaping to his feet. Roshone’s death sent Kaladin back to that moment in the palace at Kholinar. A spear through Elhokar’s chest. And Moash… giving a Bridge Four salute as if he in any way deserved to claim that privilege.

Kaladin raised his Sylspear toward Moash, but the tall man merely looked at him—his eyes now a dark green, but lacking any emotion or life whatsoever. Moash didn’t summon his Shardblade.

“Fight me!” Kaladin shouted at him. “Let’s do this!”

“No,” Moash said, holding his hands up to the sides. “I surrender.”

***

Shallan forced herself to stare through the doorway at Ialai’s body as Ishnah inspected it.

Shallan’s eyes wanted to glide off the body, look anywhere else, think anything else. Confronting difficult things was a problem for her, but part of finding her balance—three personas, each of them distinctly useful—had come when she’d accepted her pain. Even if she didn’t deserve it.

The balance was working. She was functioning.

But are we getting better? Veil asked. Or merely hovering in place?

I’ll accept not getting worse, Shallan thought.

For how long? Veil asked. A year now of standing in the wind, not sliding backward, but not progressing. You need to start remembering eventually. The difficult things…

No. Not that. Not yet. She had work to do. She turned away from the body, focusing on the problems at hand. Did the Ghostbloods have spies among Shallan’s inner circle? She found the idea not only plausible, but likely.

Adolin might be willing to call today’s mission a success, and Shallan could accept that successfully infiltrating the Sons of Honor had at least proven that she could plan and execute a mission. But she couldn’t help feeling she’d been played by Mraize, despite Veil’s best efforts.

“Nothing in here except some empty wine bottles,” Red said, opening drawers and cabinets on the hutch. “Wait! I think I found Gaz’s sense of humor.” He held up something small between two fingers. “Nope. Just a withered old piece of fruit.”

Gaz had found a small bedchamber at the rear of the room, through the door that Veil had noticed. “If you do find my sense of humor, kill it,” he called from inside. “That will be more merciful than forcing it to deal with your jokes, Red.”

“Brightness Shallan thinks they’re funny. Right?”

“Anything that annoys Gaz is funny, Red,” she said.

“Well, I annoy myself!” Gaz called. He stuck out his head, fully bearded, now with two working eyes—having regrown the missing one after he’d finally learned to draw in Stormlight a few months ago. “So I must be the most hilarious storming man on the planet. What are we searching for, Shallan?”

“Papers, documents, notebooks,” she said. “Letters. Any kind of writing.”

The two continued their inspection. They would find anything obvious, but Ialai had indicated there was something unusual to be discovered, something hidden. Something that Mraize wouldn’t want Shallan to have. She stepped through the room, then whirled a little on one heel and looked up. How had Veil missed the fine scrollwork paint near the ceiling, ringing the room? And the rug in the center might have been monochrome, but it was thick and well maintained. She kicked off her shoes and stockings and walked across it, feeling the luxurious threads under her toes. The room was understated, yes, but not bleak.

Secrets. Where were the secrets? Pattern hummed on her skirt as she stepped over to the hutch and inspected the wines. Ialai had mentioned a rare vintage. These wines were the clue.

Nothing to do but try them. Shallan had suffered far worse tests in the course of her duties. Red gave her a cocked eyebrow as she began pouring and tasting a little of each.

Despite Ialai’s lengthy rumination on the wines, most of them tasted distinctly ordinary to Shallan. She wasn’t an expert though; she favored anything that tasted good and got her drunk.

Thinking of that, she took in a little Stormlight and burned away the effects of the alcohol. Now wasn’t the time for a muddy head. Though most of the wines were ordinary, she did land on one she couldn’t place. It was a sweet wine, deep red, bloody in color. It didn’t taste like anything she’d had before. Fruity, yet robust, and perhaps a little bit… heavy. Was that the right word?

“I’ve got some letters here,” Gaz said from the bedroom. “There are also some books that seem like she handwrote them.”

“Gather it all,” Shallan said. “We’ll sort it out later. I need to go ask Adolin something.”

She carried the carafe out to him. Several guards watched the door, and it didn’t seem anyone in the warcamp had noticed the attack. At least, no one had come knocking.

Shallan pointedly ignored—then forced herself to look at—the body again. Adolin stepped over to meet her, speaking softly. “We should get going. A couple of the guards escaped. We might want to write for some Windrunners to meet us for quicker extraction. And… what happened to your shoes?”

Shallan glanced at her bare feet, which poked out from under her dress. “They were impeding my ability to think.”

“Your…” Adolin ran a hand through his delightfully messy hair, blond speckled with black. “Love, you’re deliciously weird sometimes.”

“The rest of the time, I’m just tastelessly weird.” She held up the carafe. “Drink. It’s for science.”

He frowned, but tried a sip, then grimaced.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Shin ‘wine.’ They have no idea how to ferment a proper alcohol. They make it all out of the same strange little berry.”

“Exotic indeed…” Shallan said. “We can’t leave quite yet. Pattern and I have a secret to tease out.”

“Mmm…” Pattern said from her skirt. “I wish I had shoes to take off so my brain would work right.” He paused. “Actually, I don’t think I have a brain.”

“We’ll be back in a second,” she said, returning to the room with the wine hutch. Red had  joined Gaz in the extremely tiny bedchamber. There were no windows, with barely enough room to stand. It held a mattress with no frame and a trunk that apparently stored the notes and letters Gaz had gathered.

Ialai would expect those to be found. There might be secrets in them, but not what Shallan hunted. Ialai moved here after her palace burned down. She slept in a closet and refused to leave this fortress. And still Mraize got not one, but two people in to kill her.

Shin wine. Was that the clue? Something about the hutch? She glanced it over, then got out her sketchpad.

“Pattern,” she said, “search the room for patterns.”

Pattern hummed and moved off her skirt—rippling the floor as he moved across it, as if he were somehow inside the stone, making the surface bulge. As he began searching, she did a sketch of the hutch.

There was something about committing an object to memory, then freezing it into a drawing, that let her see better. She could judge the spaces between the drawers, the thickness of the wood—and she soon knew there was no room in the hutch for hidden compartments.

She shooed away a couple of creationspren, then stood. Patterns, patterns, patterns. She scanned the carpet, then the painted designs on the upper trim of the room. Shinovar. Was the Shin wine truly important, or had she mistaken the clue?

“Shallan,” Pattern said from across the room. “A pattern.”

Shallan hurried to where he dimpled the rock of the wall, near the far northwest corner. Kneeling, she found that the stones did have a faint pattern to them. Carvings that—worn by time—she could barely feel beneath her fingers.

“This building,” she said, “it’s not new. At least part of it was already standing when the Alethi arrived at the warcamps. They built the structure on an already-set foundation. What are the markings? I can barely make them out.”

“Mmm. Ten items in a pattern, repeating,” he said.

This one feels a little like a glyph… she thought. These warcamps dated back to the shadowdays, when the Epoch Kingdoms had stood. Ten kingdoms of humankind. Ten glyphs? She wasn’t certain she could interpret ancient glyphs—even Jasnah might have had trouble with that—but maybe she didn’t have to.

“These stones run around the base of the wall,” Shallan said. “Let’s see if any of the other carvings are easier to make out.”

A few of the stones were indeed better preserved. They each bore a glyph—and what appeared to be a small map in the shape of one of the old kingdoms. Most were indistinct blobs, but the crescent shape of Shinovar’s mountains stood out.

Shin wine. A map with the Shinovar mountains. “Find every block with this shape on it,” she told Pattern.

He did so, every tenth block. She moved along to each one until, on the third try, the stone wiggled. “Here,” she said. “In the corner. I think this is right.”

“Mmm…” he said. “A few degrees off, so technically acute.”

She carefully slid the stone out. Inside, like the mythical gemstone cache from a bedtime tale, she found a small notebook. She glanced up and checked whether Gaz and Red were still in the other room. They were.

Damnation, she has me distrusting my own agents, Shallan thought, slipping the notebook into her safepouch and replacing the stone. Maybe Ialai’s only plan had been to sow chaos, distrust. But… Shallan couldn’t entirely accept that theory, not with how haunted Ialai  had seemed. It wasn’t hard to believe the Ghostbloods had been hunting her; Mraize had infiltrated Amaram and Ialai’s inner circle a year ago, but hadn’t gone with them when they’d fled Urithiru.

Though Shallan itched to peek through the notebook, Gaz and Red emerged with a pillowcase full of notes and letters. “If there’s anything more in there,” Gaz said, thumbing over his shoulder, “we can’t find it.”

“It will have to do,” Shallan said as Adolin waved her to join him. “Let’s get out of here.”

***

Kaladin hesitated, spear held toward Moash’s throat. He could end the man. Should end the man. Why did he hesitate?

Moash… had been his friend. They’d spent hours by the fire, talking about their lives. Kaladin had opened his heart to this man, in ways he hadn’t to most of the others. He’d told Moash, like Teft and Rock, of Tien. Of Roshone. Of his fears.

Moash wasn’t just a friend though. He was beyond that a member of Bridge Four. Kaladin had sworn to the storms and the heavens above—if anyone was there watching—that he’d protect those men.

Kaladin had failed Moash. As soundly as he’d failed Dunny, Mart, and Jaks. And of them all, losing Moash hurt the most. Because in those callous eyes, Kaladin saw himself.

“You bastard,” Kaladin hissed.

“You deny that I was justified?” Moash kicked at Roshone’s body. “You know what he did. You know what he cost me.”

“You killed Elhokar for that crime!”

“Because he deserved it, like this one did.” Moash shook his head. “I did this for you too,  Kal. You would let your brother’s soul cry into the storms, unavenged?”

“Don’t you dare speak of Tien!” Kaladin shouted. He felt himself slipping, losing control. It happened whenever he thought of Moash, of King Elhokar dying, of failing the people of Kholinar and the men of the Wall Guard.

“You claim justice?” Kaladin demanded, waving toward the corpses chained to the wall. “What about Jeber and that other man. You killed them for justice?”

“For mercy,” Moash said. “Better a quick death than to leave them to die, forgotten.”

“You could have set them free!” Kaladin’s hands were sweaty on his weapon, and his mind… his mind wouldn’t think straight. His Stormlight was running low, almost out.

Kaladin, Syl said. Let’s leave.

“We have to deal with him,” Kaladin whispered. “I have to… have to…”

What? Kill Moash while he stood defenseless? This was a man Kaladin was supposed to protect. To save…

“They’re going to die, you know,” Moash said softly.

“Shut up.”

“Everyone you love, everyone you think you can protect. They’re all going to die anyway. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

“I said shut up!” Kaladin shouted.

Moash stepped toward the spear, dropping his hands to his sides as he took a second step.

Kaladin, strangely, felt himself shying away. He’d been so tired lately, and while he tried to ignore it—tried to keep going—his fatigue seemed a sudden weight. Kaladin had used a lot of his Stormlight fighting, then getting through the fire.

It ran out right then, and he deflated. The numbness he’d been shoving down this entire  battle flooded into him. The exhaustion.

Beyond Moash, the distant fire crackled and snapped. Far off, a loud crashing crunch echoed through the tunnel; the kitchen ceiling finally collapsing. Bits of burning wood tumbled down the tunnel, the embers fading to darkness.

“Do you remember the chasm, Kal?” Moash whispered. “In the rain that night? Standing there, looking down into the darkness, and knowing it was your sole release? You knew it then. You try to pretend you’ve forgotten. But you know. As sure as the storms will come. As sure as every lighteyes will lie. There is only one answer. One path. One result.”

“No…” Kaladin whispered.

“I’ve found the better way,” Moash said. “I feel no guilt. I’ve given it away, and in so doing became the person I could always have become—if I hadn’t been restrained.”

“You’ve become a monster.”

“I can take away the pain, Kal. Isn’t that what you want? An end to your suffering?”

Kaladin felt like he was in a trance. Frozen, as he’d been when he watched… watched Elhokar die. A disconnect that had festered inside him ever since.

No, it had been growing for longer. A seed that made him incapable of fighting, of deciding—paralyzing him while his friends died.

His spear slipped from his fingers. Syl was talking, but… but he couldn’t hear her. Her voice was a distant breeze…

“There’s a simple path to freedom,” Moash said, reaching out and putting his hand on Kaladin’s shoulder. A comforting, familiar gesture. “You are my dearest friend, Kal. I want you to stop hurting. I want you to be free.”

“No…”

“The answer is to stop existing, Kal. You’ve always known it, haven’t you?”

Kaladin blinked away tears, and the deepest part of him—the little boy who hated the rain and the darkness—withdrew into his soul and curled up. Because… he did want to stop hurting.

He wanted it so badly.

“I need one thing from you,” Moash said. “I need you to admit that I’m right. I need you to see. As they keep dying, remember. As you fail them, and the pain consumes you, remember there is a way out. Step back up to that cliff and jump into the darkness.”

Syl was screaming, but it was only wind. A distant wind…

“But I won’t fight you, Kal,” Moash whispered. “There is no fight to be won. We lost the moment we were born into this cursed life of suffering. The sole victory left to us is to choose to end it. I found my way. There is one open to you.”

Oh, Stormfather, Kaladin thought. Oh, Almighty.

I just… I just want to stop failing the people I love…

Light exploded into the room.

Clean and white, like the light of the brightest diamond. The light of the sun. A brilliant, concentrated purity.

Moash growled, spinning around, shading his eyes against the source of the light—which came from the doorway. The figure behind it wasn’t visible as anything more than a shadow.

Moash shied away from the light—but a version of him, transparent and filmy, broke off and stepped toward the light instead. Like an afterimage. In it, Kaladin saw the same Moash—but somehow standing taller, wearing a brilliant blue uniform. This one raised a hand, confident, and although Kaladin couldn’t see them, he knew people gathered behind this Moash. Protected. Safe.

The image of Moash burst alight as a Shardspear formed in his hands.

“No!” the real Moash screamed. “No! Take it! Take my pain!” He stumbled away to the side of the room, furious, a Shardblade—the Blade of the Assassin in White—forming in his hands. He swung at the empty air. Finally he lowered his head—shadowing his face with his elbow—and shoved past the figure in the light and rushed back up the tunnel.

Kaladin knelt, bathed in that warm light. Yes, warmth. Kaladin felt warm. Surely… if there truly was a deity… it watched him from within that light.

The light faded, and a spindly young man with black and blond hair rushed forward to grab Kaladin.

“Sir!” Renarin asked. “Kaladin, sir? Are you all right? Are you out of Stormlight?”

“I…” Kaladin shook his head. “What…”

“Come on,” Renarin said, getting under his arm to help lift him. “The Fused have retreated. The ship is ready to leave!”

Kaladin nodded, numb, and let Renarin help him stand.

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


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