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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The Fused have a second metal I find fascinating—a metal that conducts Stormlight. The implications for this in the creation of fabrials are astounding. The Fused use this metal in conjunction with a rudimentary fabrial—a simple gemstone, but without a spren trapped inside.
How they pull Stormlight out of a Radiant and into this sphere remains baffling. My scholars think they must be employing an Investiture differential. If a gemstone is full of Stormlight—or, I assume, Voidlight—and that Light is removed quickly, it creates a pressure differential (or a kind of vacuum) in the gemstone.
This remains merely a theory.
—Lecture on fabrial mechanics presented by Navani Kholin to the coalition of monarchs, Urithiru, Jesevan, 1175
Kaladin stood on the edge of an Oathgate platform, overlooking the mountains. That frigid landscape of snow was an otherworldly sight. Before Urithiru, he’d seen snow on only a handful of occasions, in small patches at sunrise. Here the snow was thick and deep, pristine and pure white.
Is Rock looking at a similar landscape right now? Kaladin wondered. Rock’s family, Skar, and Drehy had left nearly four weeks ago. They’d sent word a single time via spanreed, soon after their departure, noting that they’d arrived.
He worried about Rock, and knew he’d never stop worrying. The details of the trip though… well, those weren’t Kaladin’s problems any longer. They were Sigzil’s. In a perfect world, Teft would have become companylord—but the older Windrunner had given Kaladin a tongue-lashing at the mere suggestion.
Kaladin sighed and walked over to the Oathgate’s control building at the center of the plateau. Here, a scribe nodded to him. She had confirmed with the Oathgate on the Shattered Plains that it was safe to initiate a transfer.
He did so, using the Sylblade in the lock on the wall of the small building. In a flash of light, he teleported to the Shattered Plains—and seconds later he was soaring via Lashing into the sky.
The Windrunners weren’t making a fuss about him “stepping back.” They likely assumed he’d be moving on to become a strategic or logistics general. It happened to most battlefield commanders eventually. He hadn’t yet told them he planned to do something else—though he had to decide today what that would be. Dalinar still wanted him to become an ambassador. But could Kaladin really spend his days in political negotiations? No, he’d be as awkward as a horse in a uniform standing in a ballroom and trying not to step on women’s dresses.
The idea was silly. But what would he do?
He reached a good height, then soared in an invigorating loop, Lashing without conscious thought. His powers were becoming as intuitive as wiggling his fingers. Syl zipped alongside him, laughing as she met a couple of windspren.
I’ll miss this, he thought, then immediately felt foolish. He wasn’t dying. He was retiring. He would still fly. To pretend otherwise was self-pity. Facing this change with dignity was difficult, but he would do it.
He spotted something in the distance, and soared toward it. Navani’s flying platform was finally reaching the Plains. The front of the top deck was packed with faces, gawking at the landscape.
Kaladin alighted on the deck, returning the salutes from the Windrunners left to guard the ship. “I’m sorry the trip took so long,” he told the gathering refugees. “At least it’s given us plenty of time to get things ready for you.”
“We’ve begun organizing the tower by neighborhoods,” Kaladin said an hour later as he led his parents through Urithiru’s deep hallways. He held aloft a large sapphire for light. “It’s difficult to keep a sense of community in here, with so many hallways looking alike. You can get turned around easily, start to feel like you’re living in a pit.”
Lirin and Hesina followed, entranced by the multicolored strata in the walls, the high ceilings, the general majesty of an enormous tower carved completely from stone.
“We originally organized the tower by princedom,” Kaladin continued. “Each of the Alethi highprinces was assigned a section of a given floor. Navani didn’t like how that turned out; we weren’t using as much of the rim of the tower—with its natural light—as she wanted. It often meant crowding large numbers of people into vast rooms that clearly hadn’t been designed as living spaces, since the highprinces wanted to keep their people close.”
He ducked under a strange outcropping of stone in the hallway. Urithiru had numerous such oddities; this one was round, a stone tube crossing the center of the hallway. Perhaps it was ventilation? Why had it been put right where people walked?
Many other features of the tower defied logic. Hallways dead-ended. Rooms were discovered with no way in save tiny holes to peek through. Small shafts were discovered plummeting down thirty or more stories. One might have called the arrangement mad, but even at its most baffling, hints of design—such as crystal veins running along the corners of rooms, or places where strata wove to form patterns reminiscent of glyphs set into the wall—made Kaladin think this place was purposeful and not haphazard. These oddities had been built for reasons they couldn’t yet fathom.
His parents ducked under the obstruction. They’d left Kaladin’s brother with Laral’s children and their governess. She seemed to be recovering from the loss of her husband, though Kaladin thought he knew her well enough to see through the front. She truly seemed to have cared for the old blowhard, as had her children, a solemn pair of twins far too withdrawn for their young age.
Under Jasnah’s new inheritance laws, Laral would gain the title of citylady, so she’d gone to be formally greeted by Jasnah. While the rest of the people received an orientation to the tower via Navani’s scribes, Kaladin wanted to show his parents where the people of Hearthstone would be housed.
“You’re quiet,” Kaladin said to them. “I suppose this place can be stunning at first. I know I felt that way. Navani keeps saying we don’t know the half of what it can do.”
“It is spectacular,” his mother said. “Though I’m a little more stunned to hear you referring to Brightness Navani Kholin by her first name. Isn’t she queen of this tower?”
Kaladin shrugged. “I’ve grown more informal with them as I’ve gotten to know them.”
“He’s lying,” Syl said in a conspiratorial tone from where she sat on Hesina’s shoulder. “He’s always talked like that. Kaladin called King Elhokar by his name for ages before becoming a Radiant.”
“Disrespectful of lighteyed authority,” Hesina said, “and generally inclined to do whatever he wants, regardless of social class or traditions. Where in Roshar did he get it?” She glanced at Kaladin’s father, who stood by the wall inspecting the lines of strata.
“I can’t possibly imagine,” Lirin said. “Bring that light closer, son. Look here, Hesina. These strata are green. That can’t be natural.”
“Dear,” she said, “the fact that the wall is part of a tower roughly the size of a mountain didn’t clue you in to the fact that this place isn’t natural?”
“It must have been Soulcast in this shape,” Lirin said, tapping the stone. “Is that jade?”
Kaladin’s mother leaned in to inspect the green vein. “Iron,” she said. “Makes the stone turn that shade.”
“Iron?” Syl said. “Iron is grey though, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Lirin said. “It should be copper that makes the rock green, shouldn’t it?”
“You’d think that, wouldn’t you?” Hesina said. “I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works. In any case, maybe we should let Kal show us on to the prepared rooms. He’s obviously excited.”
“How can you tell?” Syl asked. “I don’t think he ever gets excited. Not even when I tell him I have a fun surprise for him.”
“Your surprises,” Kaladin said, “are never fun.”
“I put a rat in his boot,” Syl whispered. “It took me forever. I can’t lift something so heavy, so I had to lead it with food.”
“Why in the Stormfather’s name,” Lirin said, “would you put a rat in his boot?”
“Because it fit so well!” Syl said. “How can you not see how great the idea was?”
“Lirin surgically removed his sense of humor,” Hesina said.
“Got good money for it on the open market too,” Lirin said.
Hesina leaned in close to Syl. “He replaced it with a clock, which he uses to monitor exactly how much time everyone else wastes with their silly emotions.”
Syl looked at her, smiling hesitantly—and Kaladin could tell she wasn’t quite certain it was a joke. When Hesina nodded encouragingly, Syl let out a genuine laugh.
“Now, let’s not get ridiculous,” Lirin said. “I don’t need a clock to monitor how much time everyone wastes. It’s evident that number is nearly a hundred percent.”
Kaladin leaned against the wall, feeling a familiar peace at their banter. Once, having them close again would have been nearly everything he wanted. Watching Lirin obsess. Hearing Hesina trying to get him to pay attention to the people around him. The fond way Lirin took the jokes, playing into them by being comically stern.
It reminded Kaladin of days spent at the dinner table, or gathering medicinal herbs from the cultivated patches outside of town. He cherished those pastoral memories. Part of him wished he could simply be their little boy again—wished they didn’t have to intersect with his current life, where they would undoubtedly start hearing of the things he’d endured and done. The things that eventually had broken him.
He turned and continued down the hallway. A steady light ahead told him they were approaching the outer wall. Molten sunlight, open and inviting. The cold Stormlight sphere in his hand represented power, but a secretive, angry sort. Inspect gem light, and you could see it shifting, storming, trying to break free. Sunlight represented something more free, more open.
Kaladin entered a new hallway, where the strata lines on the walls turned downward in a fanning pattern—like lapping waves. Sunlight poured in through doorways on the right.
Kaladin pointed as his parents caught up to him. “Each of these rooms on the right leads to a large balcony, extending all along the rim here. Laral will get that corner room, which is the largest, with a private balcony. I thought we’d reserve the ten here in the center and make them a meeting area. The rooms are connected, and some of the other neighborhoods have made their balcony section a large common space.”
He continued forward, passing the rooms—which contained stacks of blankets, planks for making furniture, and sacks of grain. “We can put chairs in there and have a communal kitchen,” he said. “It’s easier than trying to find a way for everyone to cook on their own. Firewood—from the rockbud farms on the Plains—needs to be carted in through the Oathgate, so it’s on a strict ration. There’s a functioning well on this level not too far away though, so you won’t lack for water.
“I’m not sure yet what everyone’s duties will be. As you probably noticed flying in, Dalinar has started large-scale farming operations out on the Shattered Plains. That might require relocation, but we also might be able to get things growing up here. That’s part of how I persuaded Dalinar to let me fetch everyone from Hearthstone—we have a lot of soldiers, but surprisingly few people who know their way around a lavis field during worming season.”
“And those rooms?” Hesina asked, pointing down an inward hallway lined with openings.
“Each is big enough for a family,” Kaladin said. “Those don’t have any natural light, I’m afraid, but there are two hundred of them—enough for everyone. I’m sorry I had to put you all the way up here on the sixth floor. That’s going to mean either waiting for lifts, or taking the stairs. It’s the only way I could find you a spot with balcony rooms. It’s still pretty low I guess—I feel bad for whoever has to eventually start living up in those high floors.”
“It’s wonderful,” Hesina said.
Kaladin waited for Lirin to say something, but he simply walked into one of the balcony rooms. He passed the supplies and stepped out onto the large balcony, glancing upward.
He doesn’t like it, Kaladin thought. Of course Lirin would find something to complain about, even after being handed enviable quarters in the mythical city of the Epoch Kingdoms.
Kaladin joined him, following his father’s gaze as Lirin turned and tried to look up at the tower, though the balcony above got in the way.
“What’s at the top?” Lirin asked.
“Meeting rooms for the Radiants,” Kaladin said. “There’s nothing on the very top—just a flat roof. The view is great though. I’ll show it to you sometime.”
“Enough chatting!” Syl said. “Come on. Follow me!” She zipped off Hesina’s shoulder and darted through the rooms. When the humans didn’t immediately follow, she flew over, whirled around Hesina’s head, then shot back out. “Come on.”
They followed, Kaladin trailing his parents as Syl led them through the several balcony rooms he imagined becoming a large meeting area, with a wonderful view out over the mountains. A little chilly, but a large fabrial hearth acting as the communal oven would help greatly.
At the other end of the connected balcony chambers was a large suite of six rooms, with their own washrooms and a private balcony. It was the mirror of Laral’s at the other end. These two seemed to have been built for officers and their family, so Kaladin had reserved it for a special purpose.
Syl led them through a front room, down a hallway past two closed doors, and into a main sitting room. “We spent all week getting it ready!” she said, darting around this chamber. The far wall had a set of stone shelves full of books. He’d spent a large chunk of his monthly stipend to accrue them. As a youth, he’d often felt bad for how few books his mother had.
“I didn’t know there were so many books in the world,” Syl said. “Won’t they use up all the words? Seems like eventually you’d say everything that could be said!” She zipped over to a smaller side room. “There’s a space for the baby here, and I picked out the toys, because Kaladin would probably have bought him a spear or something dumb. Oh! And over here!”
She whirled past them, into the hallway again. Kaladin’s parents followed, and he shadowed them. At Syl’s prompting, Lirin opened one of the doors in the hallway, revealing a fully stocked surgery room. Exam table. A glistening set of the finest instruments, including equipment Kaladin’s father had never been able to afford: scalpels, a device for listening to a patient’s heartbeat, a magnificent fabrial clock, a fabrial heating plate for boiling bandages or cleansing surgical tools.
Kaladin’s father stepped into the room, while Hesina stood in the doorway, hand to her mouth in amazement, a shockspren—like shattering pieces of yellow light—adorning her. Lirin picked up several of the tools, one at a time, then began inspecting the various jars of ointment, powder, and medication Kaladin had stocked on the shelf.
“I ordered in the best from Taravangian’s physicians,” Kaladin said. “You’ll need to have Mother read to you about some of these newer medications—they’re discovering some remarkable things at the hospitals in Kharbranth. They say they’ve found a way to infect people with a weak, easily overcome version of a disease—which leaves them immune for life to more harsh variants.”
Lirin seemed… solemn. More than normal. Despite Hesina’s jokes, Lirin did laugh—he had emotions. Kaladin had seen them from him frequently. To have him respond to all of this with such quietude…
He hates it, Kaladin thought. What did I do wrong?
Oddly, Lirin sat and slumped in one of the nearby seats. “It is very nice, son,” he said softly. “But I don’t see the use of it anymore.”
“What?” Kaladin asked. “Why?”
“Because of what those Radiants can do,” Lirin said. “I saw them healing with a touch! A simple gesture from an Edgedancer can seal cuts, even regrow limbs. This is wonderful, son, but… but I don’t see a use for surgeons any longer.”
Hesina leaned in to Kaladin. “He’s been moping about this the whole trip,” she whispered.
“I’m not moping,” Lirin said. “To be sad about such a major revolution in healing would be not only callous, but selfish as well. It’s just…” Lirin took a deep breath. “I guess I’ll need to find something else to do.”
Storms. Kaladin knew that exact emotion. That loss. That worry. That sudden feeling of becoming a burden.
“Father,” Kaladin said, “we have fewer than fifty Edgedancers—and just three Truthwatchers. Those are the only orders that can heal.”
Lirin looked up, cocking his head.
“We brought over a dozen with us to save Hearthstone,” Kaladin said, “because Dalinar wanted to be certain our new flying platform didn’t fall to the enemy. Most of the time those Edgedancers are serving on the battlefront, healing soldiers. The few on duty in Urithiru can be used for only the most dire of wounds.
“Plus their powers have limitations. They can’t do anything for old wounds, for example. We have a large clinic in the market staffed by ordinary surgeons, and it’s busy all hours of the day. You’re not obsolete. Trust me, you’re going to be very, very useful here.”
Lirin regarded the room again, seeing it with new eyes. He grinned, then—possibly thinking he shouldn’t take joy in the idea that people would still need surgeons—stood up. “Well then! I suppose I should familiarize myself with this new equipment. Medications that can prevent diseases, you say? What an intriguing concept.”
Kaladin’s mother gave him an embrace, then went into the other room to look over the books. Kaladin finally let himself relax, settling into a chair in the surgery room.
Syl landed on his shoulder and took the form of a young woman in a full havah, with her hair pinned up in the Alethi fashion. She folded her arms and glared up at him expectantly.
“What?” he asked.
“You going to tell them?” she said. “Or do I have to?”
“Now’s not the time.”
He failed to come up with a good reason. She kept bullying him with her frustratingly insistent spren stare—she didn’t blink unless she pointedly decided to, so he’d never met anyone else who could glare quite like Syl. Once she’d even enlarged her eyes to disturbing proportions to deliver a particularly important point.
Eventually Kaladin stood, causing her to streak off as a ribbon of light. “Father,” he said. “You need to know something.”
Lirin turned from his study of the medications, and Hesina peeked her head into the room, curious.
“I’m going to be leaving the military,” Kaladin said. “I need a break from the fighting, and Dalinar commanded it. So I thought maybe I would take the room beside Oroden’s. I… might need to find something different to do with my life.”
Hesina raised her hand to her lips again. Lirin stopped dead, going pale, as if he’d seen a Voidbringer. Then his face burst with the widest grin Kaladin had ever seen on him. He strode over and seized Kaladin by the arms.
“That’s what this is about, isn’t it?” Lirin said. “The surgery room, the supplies, that talk of the clinic. You’ve realized it. You finally understand that I’ve been right. You’re going to become a surgeon like we always dreamed!”
That was the answer, of course. The one Kaladin had been purposely avoiding. He’d considered the ardents, he’d considered the generals, and he’d considered running away.
The answer was in the face of his father, a face that a part of Kaladin dreaded. Deep down, Kaladin had known there was only one place he could go once the spear was taken from him.
“Yes,” Kaladin said. “You’re right. You’ve always been right, Father. I guess… it’s time to continue my training.”
Excerpted from Rhythm of War, copyright ©2020 Dragonsteel Entertainment.
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