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A Single Casualty
A tin cage will cause the fabrial to diminish nearby attributes. A painrial, for example, can numb pain. Note that advanced designs of cages can use both steel and iron as well, changing the fabrial’s polarity depending on which metals are pushed to touch the gemstone.
—Lecture on fabrial mechanics presented by Navani Kholin to the coalition of monarchs, Urithiru, Jesevan, 1175
Kaladin was feeling quite a bit better as they neared the Shattered Plains. A few hours’ flying through open sky and sunlight always left him feeling refreshed. Right now, the man who had crumpled before Moash in that burning building seemed an entirely different person.
Syl flew up beside him as a ribbon of light. Kaladin’s Windrunners were Lashing Dalinar and the others; all Kaladin had to do was fly at the head of them all and look confident.
I’ve spoken to Yunfah again, Syl said in his mind. He’s here on the Plains. I think he wants to talk to you.
“Tell him to come up and see me, then,” Kaladin said. His voice was lost to the rushing wind, but Syl would catch it anyway.
She flitted off, followed by a few windspren. From this distance, Kaladin could almost make out the pattern to the Shattered Plains. So he gave a hand signal and reduced to a single Lashing.
A short time later, two blue-white ribbons of light came zipping up toward him. He could somehow tell Syl from the other one. There was a specific shade to her, as familiar to him as his own face.
The other light resolved into the shape of a tiny old man reclining on a small cloud as he flew beside Kaladin. The spren, Yunfah, had been bonded to Vratim, a Windrunner who had died a few months ago. At first, when they’d begun losing Radiants in battle, Kaladin had worried it would cause him to lose the spren as well. Syl, after all, had gone comatose many centuries ago when she’d lost her first Radiant.
Others, however, handled it differently. The majority, though grieved, seemed to want another bond soon—as it helped them move past the pain of loss. Kaladin didn’t pretend to understand spren psychology, but Yunfah had seemed to deal with the death of his Radiant well. Treating it as a battlefield loss of an ally, rather than the destruction of part of his own soul. Indeed, Yunfah appeared willing to bond another.
So far, he hadn’t—and for reasons Kaladin couldn’t understand. And as far as Kaladin knew, he was the sole free honorspren among them.
He says, Syl told Kaladin in his mind, that he’s still considering picking a new knight. He’s narrowed it down to five possibilities.
“Is Rlain one of them?”
Yunfah stood up on his cloud, his long beard whipping in the wind—though he had no real substance. Kaladin could read anger in his posture before Syl gave him the reply. She was acting as intermediary since the sound of the rushing wind was fairly loud, even at a single Lashing.
No, Syl said. He is angry at your repeated suggestion he bond one of the enemies.
“He won’t find a potential Windrunner more capable or earnest.”
He’s acting mad, Syl said. But I do think he’ll agree if you push him. He respects you, and honorspren like hierarchy. The ones who have joined us did so against the will of the general body of their peers; they’ll be looking for someone to be in charge.
All right then. “As your highmarshal and superior officer,” Kaladin said, “I forbid you to bond anyone else unless you try to work with Rlain first.”
The elderly spren shook his fist at Kaladin.
“You have two choices, Yunfah,” Kaladin said, not waiting for Syl. “Obey me, or throw away all the work you’ve done to adapt to this realm. You need a bond or your mind will fade. I’m tired of waiting on your indecisiveness.”
The spren glared at him.
“Will you follow orders?”
The spren spoke.
He asks how long you’ll give him, Syl explained.
“Ten days,” Kaladin said. “And that is generous.”
Yunfah said something, then sped away, becoming a ribbon of light. Syl pulled up alongside Kaladin’s head.
He said “fine” before leaving, she said. I have little doubt he’ll at least consider Rlain now. Yunfah doesn’t want to go back to Shadesmar; he likes this realm too much.
Kaladin nodded, and felt uplifted by the result. If this worked out, Rlain would be thrilled.
Followed by the others, Kaladin swooped down toward Narak, their outpost at the center of the Shattered Plains. Navani’s engineers were turning the entire plateau from ruins into a fortified base. A wall to the east—easily six feet wide at its foot—was being built, low and squat, against the storms. A thinner wall wrapped the rest of the plateau, and lightning rods helped protect from the Everstorm.
Kaladin alighted on top of the wall and surveyed the fort. The engineers had scraped away most of the old Parshendi buildings, preserving only the most ancient of the ruins for study. Supply dumps, barracks, and storm cisterns rose around them now. With the wall going right up to the chasm, and with collapsible bridges outside, this isolated plateau was quickly becoming impregnable from ordinary ground assault.
“Imagine if the Parshendi had known modern fortification techniques,” Kaladin said to Syl as she blew past in the shape of tumbling leaves. “A few strategic forts set up like this across the Plains, and we’d never have broken them out.”
“As I recall,” she replied, “we didn’t so much break them out as purposely fall into their trap and hope it wouldn’t hurt too much.”
Nearby, the other Windrunners lowered Dalinar, some of the Edgedancers, and Navani’s wooden travel vehicle. That had been a good idea, although it was a little harder to keep the larger object in the air. The thing had four fins on it, like an arrow. They’d started with two wings—which Navani had thought would make the vehicle fly better, but which had made it pull upward uncontrollably once a Windrunner Lashed it.
He hopped down from his perch. Syl whirled in a long arc around the old pillar at this edge of the plateau. Tall, with steps along the outside, it had become a perfect scout nest. Rlain said it had been used in Parshendi ceremonies, but he hadn’t known its original purpose. Much of these ruins—the remnants of a once-grand city that had stood during the shadowdays—baffled them.
Perhaps the two Heralds could explain the pillar. Had they walked here? Unfortunately—considering that one of them was full-on delusional and the other dabbled in it now and then—he wasn’t certain they’d be useful in this.
He wanted to get to Urithiru as quickly as possible. Before people had a chance to start talking to him again, trying—with forced laughs—to cheer him up. He walked over to Dalinar, who was taking a report from the battalionlord who commanded Narak. Oddly, Navani hadn’t emerged from her vehicle yet. Perhaps she was lost in her research.
“Permission to take the first group back, sir,” Kaladin said. “I want to go clean up.”
“A moment, Highmarshal,” Dalinar said to Kaladin, scanning the written report. The battalionlord, a gruff fellow with an Oldblood tattoo, looked away pointedly.
Though Dalinar had never said he’d moved to written reports specifically to make his officers confront the idea of a man reading, Kaladin could see the showmanship in the way he held up the sheet and nodded to himself as he read.
“What happened to Brightness Ialai is regrettable,” Dalinar said. “See that her decision to take her own life is published. I authorize a full occupation of the warcamps. See it done.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” the battalionlord said. Dalinar was a king now, officially recognized by the coalition of monarchs as ruler of Urithiru—a station separate from Jasnah’s queenship over Alethkar. In the acknowledgment of this, Dalinar had officially renounced any idea of being a “highking” over any other monarch.
Dalinar handed the sheet to the battalionlord, then nodded to Kaladin. They walked off from the others, then a little further, to a section of the base between two Soulcast grain shelters. The king didn’t speak at first, but Kaladin knew this trick. It was an old disciplinary tactic—you left silence hanging in the air. That made your man begin explaining himself first. Well, Kaladin didn’t bite.
Dalinar studied him, taking note of his burned and bloodied uniform. Finally, he spoke. “I have multiple reports of you and your soldiers letting enemy Fused go once you’ve wounded them.”
Kaladin relaxed immediately. That was what Dalinar wanted to talk about?
“I think we’re starting to reach a kind of understanding with them, sir,” Kaladin said. “The Heavenly Ones fight with honor. I let one of them go today. In turn, their leader—Leshwi—released one of my men instead of killing him.”
“This isn’t a game, son,” Dalinar said. “This isn’t about who gets first blood. We’re literally fighting for the existence of our people.”
“I know,” Kaladin said quickly. “But this can serve us. You’ve noticed already how they’ll hold back and attack us one-on-one, so long as we play by their rules. Considering how many more Heavenly Ones there are than Windrunners, I think we want to encourage this kind of encounter. Killing them is barely an inconvenience, as they’ll be reborn. But each of ours they kill requires training an entirely new Windrunner. Getting back wounded for wounded favors us.”
“You never did want to fight the parshmen,” Dalinar said. “Even when you first joined my army, you didn’t want to be sent against the Parshendi.”
“I didn’t like the idea of killing people who showed us honor, sir.”
“Does it strike you as odd to find it among them?” Dalinar asked. “The Almighty—Honor himself—was our god. The one their god killed.”
“I used to think it odd. But sir, wasn’t Honor their god before he was ours?”
That was one of the revelations that had shaken the foundation of the Radiants—both ancient and new. Though many of the orders had accepted the truth as an oddity and moved on, many Windrunners had not. Nor had Dalinar; Kaladin could see the way he winced whenever the idea was discussed.
This world had belonged to the singers with Honor as their god. Until humans had arrived, bringing Odium.
“All of this highlights a bigger problem,” Dalinar said. “This war is increasingly being fought in the skies. Navani’s flying transport will only escalate the situation. We need more honorspren and Windrunners.”
Kaladin looked to where Syl hung in the air beside him. Dalinar fixed his gaze on her a moment later, so she must have decided to reveal herself to him.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly. “My relatives can be… difficult.”
“They have to see that we’re fighting for the survival of Roshar as much as for the survival of the Alethi,” Dalinar said. “We can’t do that without their help.”
“To my cousins, you are dangerous,” Syl said. “As dangerous as the singers. The betrayal of the Knights Radiant killed so many of them…”
“The other spren have begun coming around,” Kaladin said. “They see it.”
“Honorspren are more… rigid,” she said. “Most of them at least.” She shrugged and looked to the side, as if ashamed. Human gestures from her were so common these days that Kaladin barely paused to notice them.
“We need to do something,” Dalinar said. “It’s been eight months without a new honorspren coming to us.” He eyed Kaladin. “But that’s a problem I suppose I’ll continue to contemplate. For now, I’m worried about the way the Heavenly Ones and the Windrunners are interacting. It smacks of neither of you giving this your all—and I can’t have soldiers on the battlefield that I worry won’t be able to fight when the pressure mounts.”
Kaladin felt cold as he met Dalinar’s eyes. So. This conversation was about Kaladin after all. What had happened to him.
“Kaladin,” Dalinar said. “You’re one of the best soldiers I’ve ever had the privilege of leading. You fight with passion and dedication. You single-handedly built up what has become the most important wing of my military—and did all this while living through the worst nightmare I could imagine. You are an inspiration to everyone who meets you.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Dalinar nodded, then put his hand on Kaladin’s shoulder. “It’s time that I relieved you of duty, son. I’m sorry.”
A jolt went through Kaladin. Like the shock of being stabbed—or the feeling of suddenly coming awake in an unfamiliar place, frightened by a sudden noise. A visceral clenching of the stomach. A sudden racing of the heart. Every piece of you alert, looking for the fight.
“No,” he whispered. “Sir, I know how it seems.”
“How does it seem?” Dalinar asked. “Diagnose yourself, Kaladin. Tell me what you see.”
Kaladin closed his eyes. No.
Dalinar gripped his shoulder tighter. “I’m no surgeon, but I can tell you what I see. A soldier who has been on the front lines for far, far too long. A man who has survived so many horrors, he now finds himself staring at nothing, his mind going numb so he doesn’t have to remember. I see a soldier who can’t sleep, who snaps at those who love him. He’s a soldier who pretends he can still function. But he can’t. He knows it.”
Kaladin knocked Dalinar’s hand away, snapping open his eyes. “You can’t do this. I built the Windrunners. They’re my team. You can’t take that from me.”
“I will because I have to,” Dalinar said. “Kaladin, if you were anyone else, I’d have pulled you from active duty months ago. But you’re you, and I kept telling myself we needed every Windrunner.”
“We need every functional Windrunner. I’m sorry. There was a point where if I’d removed you from command, it would have destroyed the momentum of the entire team. We’re safely past that now. You will still be with us… but you won’t be going on any more missions.”
A growling sound escaped Kaladin’s throat, one a piece of him refused to believe he was making. He sucked in Stormlight.
He would not be beaten down again. He would not let some lighteyed blowhard take everything from him again. “I can’t believe this!” Kaladin said, angerspren pooling underneath him. “You were supposed to be different. You—”
“Why?” Dalinar asked, standing calmly.
“Why what?” Kaladin snapped.
“Why am I different?”
“Because you don’t throw us away!” Kaladin shouted. “Because you… Because…”
Because you care about your men.
Kaladin deflated. He suddenly felt small. A child standing before a stern parent. He wavered, putting his back to the nearest building. Syl hung beside him, looking concerned, confused. She didn’t speak up to contradict Dalinar. Why didn’t she stick up for Kaladin?
He glanced to the side. He’d brought most of what had been Bridge Four with him; the Windrunners he’d left to protect the airship had once been Bridge Thirteen and their squires.
So he saw a lot of friendly faces standing in the distant Narak courtyard. Rock and Teft. Renarin. Sigzil, Lyn, Lopen. Leyten and Peet, Skar and Drehy. Laran, newly forged as a full Radiant. None had yet spoken the Fourth Ideal. He liked to think that it was as hard for them as it was for him, and none had yet cracked it. But… but could they be restraining themselves because of him? Out of some misguided respect?
He turned back to Dalinar. “What if I’m not there?” he pled. One final complaint. “What if something happens when they’re out fighting? What if one of them dies because I couldn’t protect them?”
“Kaladin,” Dalinar said softly, “what if something happens because you are with them? What if one of them dies because they expect your help, but you freeze again?”
Kaladin breathed in sharply. He turned aside and squeezed his eyes shut, feeling tears leak out. What if…
Storms, Dalinar was right.
He was right.
“I…” he whispered. What were the Words?
You couldn’t say the Words, he thought. You needed to. A year ago, when Dalinar could have died. You needed to speak the Words. You crumpled instead.
Kaladin would never say them, would he? He was finished at the Third Ideal. Other spren had said… said that many Radiants never spoke the later oaths.
Kaladin took a deep breath and forced his eyes open. “What… what do I do now?”
“You aren’t being demoted,” Dalinar said firmly. “I want you training, teaching, and helping us fight this war. Don’t be ashamed, son. You fought well. You survived things no man should have to. That sort of experience leaves scars, same as any wound. It’s all right to admit to them.”
Kaladin brushed his fingers at his forehead and the scars he still bore. Unhealed, despite all of his powers, years after he’d been branded.
Dalinar cleared his throat, seeming uncomfortable. Perhaps, upon remembering Kaladin’s wound, he thought the mention of scars to be in poor taste. It wasn’t. The metaphor was particularly sound.
“Can… can I keep my oaths without fighting?” Kaladin asked. “I need to protect.”
“There are many ways to protect,” Dalinar said. “Not all Radiants went into battle in the old days. I myself have found many ways to serve this war without swinging a Blade on the front lines.”
Kaladin looked to Syl, who nodded. Yes, he could keep his oaths this way.
“You won’t be the first celebrated soldier who has moved to a support position after seeing one too many friends die,” Dalinar said to Kaladin. “God Beyond willing, we’ll persuade the honorspren to work with us—and then we’ll need to train flocks of new Windrunners. You’ll be of great use overseeing Radiant training either way.”
“I just won’t be anywhere I can cause harm,” Kaladin whispered. “Because I’m broken.”
Dalinar took him by the shoulder once more, then raised his other hand, holding up a finger, as if to force Kaladin to focus on it.
“This,” Dalinar said, “is what war does to all of us. It chews us up and spits us out mangled. There’s no dishonor in taking a step away to recover. No more than there’s dishonor in giving yourself time to heal from a stab wound.”
“So I’ll come back to the battle?” Kaladin asked. “I’ll take a leave, then return?”
“If we feel it’s right for you to do so. Yes, that’s possible.”
Possible, Kaladin thought. But not likely. Dalinar had probably seen more men succumb to battle fatigue than Kaladin had—but in all his years of fighting, Kaladin had never seen someone recover. It didn’t seem the kind of thing you got over.
If only he’d been stronger. Why hadn’t he said the Words?
“We’ll find a way to make this a smooth, natural transition,” Dalinar promised him. “We can introduce it to the others in whatever way you’d like. That said, we’re also not going to delay. This isn’t a request, Kaladin. It’s an order. From now on, you stay out of battle.”
“Yes, sir,” Kaladin said.
Dalinar squeezed his shoulder. “You’re not valuable to me because of how many enemies you can kill. It’s because you’re man enough to understand, and to say words like those.” He nodded, letting go. “This is not a disciplinary action, Kaladin. I’ll have new orders for you tomorrow. You can trust that I will put you to work. We will explain to everyone else that it’s a promotion.”
Kaladin forced out a smile, and that seemed to relieve Dalinar. Had to keep on a good face. Had to look strong.
Don’t let him know.
“Sir,” Kaladin said. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to take a post training other Radiants. Being with the Windrunners, sending them off to die without me… well, sir, it would rip me apart. I don’t think I could see them fly, and not join them.”
“I hadn’t considered that.” Dalinar frowned. “If you’d rather request another duty, I will allow it. Perhaps in logistics or battle planning? Or maybe as an ambassador to Thaylenah or Azir. Your reputation would put you in high esteem there. At any rate, I won’t have someone like you sitting around growing crem. You’re too valuable.”
Sure. Of course. Take from me the one thing that matters, then tell me I’m valuable. We both know I’m nothing.
Kaladin fought against those thoughts, and forced out another smile. “I’ll think about it, sir. I might need time to decide what I want, though.”
“Very well,” Dalinar said. “You have ten days. Before then, I want you to report to me your decision.”
Kaladin nodded. He put on another smile, which had the intended effect of convincing Dalinar not to worry. The man walked over to the other Windrunners.
Kaladin looked away, feeling his stomach twist. His friends laughed and joked with one another, in high spirits. So far as they knew, the Windrunners hadn’t lost any members today.
They didn’t know the truth—that they’d taken a single profound casualty. His name had been Kaladin Stormblessed.
Excerpted from Rhythm of War, copyright ©2020 Dragonsteel Entertainment.
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