The players had made the scarf hang behind the girl using strings from above. It had seemed so real. Except for one big difference. Shallan drained an indulgent number of spheres from her satchel, then sprinkled the floor of the stage with grass and vines like from her homeland. Across the back of the stage, a wall grew as Shallan had imagined it. A high, terrible wall stretching toward the moons. Blocking the sky, throwing everything around the girl into shadow. That did not bother them. Why wonder when the mountains began or why the sky was high?
Like these things were, so the wall was. Each was a person from one of her sketches. Vathah, Gaz, Palona, Sebarial. They worked as farmers or washwomen, doing their duties with heads bowed. Only the girl looked up at that wall, her twin scarf tails streaming behind her. The fruit seller picked up his cart and moved away. And still, the girl looked up at the wall.
Pattern hovered beside her and hummed happily to himself. The girl climbed a tree, peeking out the top, her scarf streaming behind her. Shallan had given him the face of one of the bridgemen, a Herdazian. She reasoned to herself, if the wall kept evil things out, then the space on this side of it should be safe. She walked toward the wall, and indeed the land was safe.
But it was also dark. Always in the shadow of that wall. No sunlight, ever, directly reached the people. Shallan made the illusion roll, like scenery on a scroll as the players had used. Only far, far more realistic. She had painted the ceiling with light, and looking up, you seemed to be looking only at an infinite sky— dominated by that wall. Creationspren had started to appear around her on the benches, in the form of old latches or doorknobs, rolling about or moving end over end.
The only wind was the pleasant one that played with her scarf, and the only creatures she saw were the cremlings that clicked at her as she walked. It was truly expansive, running as far as she could see in either direction. It reached almost to the Tranquiline Halls! Shallan stood and walked onto the stage, passing into a different land— an image of fertility, vines, trees, and grass, dominated by that terrible wall. It grew spikes from its front in bristling patches.
There were outcroppings in the wall, things like these spikes or hunched, ugly statues. She had climbed the highest trees all through her youth. She could do this. Shallan made the base of the wall sink into the stage, so although the girl got higher, she remained chest-height to Shallan and Pattern. She picked out her village at one point, remarking on how small it seemed, now that she was high. Unfortunately, this fear did not stop her. She was young, and questions bothered her more than fear. So it was that she finally struggled to the very top and stood to see the other side.
She remembered sitting at the edge of her seat, listening to this story. As a child, when moments like watching the players had been the only bright spots in life. Too many memories of her father, and of her mother, who had loved telling her stories. Out in the seats, a crowd of dark figures watched.
Eyeless, just shadows, people from her memories. The outline of her father, her mother, her brothers and a dozen others. Pattern buzzed beside Shallan. The back side of the wall was crisscrossed with enormous sets of steps leading down to the ground, so distant. The way it cast everything into shadow. The wall did indeed hide something evil, something frightening. It was the people, like the girl and her village.
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The illusion started to break down around her. This was too ambitious for her to hold, and it left her strained, exhausted, her head starting to pound. She let the wall fade, claiming its Stormlight. The landscape vanished, then finally the girl herself.
Behind, the shadowed figures in the seats started to evaporate. Stormlight streamed back to Shallan, stoking the storm inside. She steals some and brings it back. The storms come as a punishment, tearing down the wall. In the seats, the last of the shadowy audience members puffed away. All but one, who stood up and walked out the back doors of the theater. Startled, Shallan felt a sudden shock run through her. She held the rest of her Stormlight, a thrumming, violent tempest. She skidded into the hall outside, glad for sturdy boots and simple trousers.
Something shadowy moved down the corridor. Shallan gave chase, lips drawn to a sneer, letting Stormlight rise from her skin and illuminate her surroundings. As she ran, she pulled a string from her pocket and tied her hair back, becoming Radiant. Radiant would know what to do if she caught this person. Luminescent fog formed there, becoming her Shardblade. Light escaped her lips, transforming her more fully into Radiant.
Luminescent wisps trailed behind her, and she felt it chasing her. She charged into a small round chamber and skidded to a stop. Shallan in her dress, Veil in her coat. Shallan as a child, Shallan as a youth. Shallan as a soldier, a happy wife, a mother. Leaner here, plumper there.
Bloodied and in pain. They vanished after passing her, collapsing one after another into Stormlight that curled and twisted about itself before vanishing away. Radiant raised her Shardblade in the stance Adolin had been teaching her, sweat dripping down the sides of her face. The room would have been dark but for the Light curling off her skin and passing through her clothing to rise around her. Or there was nothing there in the first place, a part of her worried. Your mind is not trustworthy these days.
She walked around the edge of the circular room. The wall was scored by a series of deep slots that ran from floor to ceiling. She could feel air moving through them. What was the purpose of a room like this? Had the people who had designed this place been mad? Radiant noted faint light coming from several of the slots—and with it the sounds of people in a low, echoing clatter. She moved to the next slot and peered through it, trying to decide just where it let out.
A dark mass wriggled deep inside, squeezing between walls. Like goo, but with bits jutting out. Those were elbows, ribs, fingers splayed along one wall, each knuckle bending backward. The thing twisted, head deforming in the tiny confines, and looked toward her. She saw eyes reflecting her light, twin spheres set in a mashed head, a distorted human visage. Radiant pulled back with a sharp gasp, summoning her Shardblade again and holding it wardingly before herself. But what was she going to do? Hack her way through the stone to get to the thing? That would take forever. She swerved through a network of twisted passages.
Instead it was a puzzle. Veil stumbled out of the back corridors into populated ones, then dashed past a group of children laughing and holding up chips for light and making shadows on the walls. Another few turns took her out onto the balcony walk around the cavernous Breakaway market, with its bobbing lights and busy pathways. Veil turned left to see slots in the wall here.
The thing had come through one of these, but where had it gone after that? A scream rose, shrill and cold, from the floor of the market below. Cursing to herself, Veil took the steps at a reckless pace. Running headlong into danger. She sucked in her breath, and the Stormlight puffing around her pulled in, causing her to stop glowing. After a short dash, she found people gathering between two packed rows of tents.
The stalls here sold various goods, many of which looked to be salvage from the more abandoned warcamps. More than a few enterprising merchants—with the tacit approval of their highprinces—had sent expeditions back to gather what they could. With Stormlight flowing and Renarin to help with the Oathgate, those had finally been allowed into Urithiru. The highprinces had gotten first pick.
The rest of their finds were heaped in the tents here, watched over by guards with long cudgels and short tempers. Veil shoved her way to the front of the crowd, finding a large Horneater man cursing and holding his hand. Some person pulled knife. I did not see him well—long coat, and a hat. A woman in crowd screamed, drawing my attention.
Then, this man, he attacked. Attacker stabbed my hand, then ran. Was assassination attempt, maybe? Person got angry about rule of tower, so he attacked me, for being in Kholin guard? The attacker had chosen a man who looked very similar to the one she had stabbed the other day. The two bridgemen turned to leave, and Veil let them go. What more could she learn? And the attacker had been wearing a coat and hat. Like Veil usually did…. Veil started, then whirled around, hand going to her belt knife.
The speaker was a woman in a brown havah. She had straight Alethi hair, dark brown eyes, bright red painted lips, and sharp black eyebrows almost certainly enhanced with makeup. The short woman scrambled after her. I can take dictations.
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I have experience moving in the market underground. The world is wrong now. But you… your group… you know things. She could understand that desire to do something, rather than just feeling the world tremble and shake. But the Ghostbloods were despicable. This woman would not find what she desired among them. Incense burned in a brazier as large as a boulder. Dalinar sniffled as Evi threw a handful of tiny papers—each folded and inscribed with a very small glyph—into the brazier.
Fragrant smoke washed over him, then whipped in the other direction as winds ripped through the warcamp, carrying windspren like lines of light. Evi bowed her head before the brazier. She had strange beliefs, his betrothed. While she spoke of Jezrien and Kelek, she said their names strangely: And she made no mention of the Almighty—instead she spoke of something called the One, a heretical tradition the ardents told him came from Iri. Dalinar bowed his head for a prayer. Let me be stronger than those who would kill me.
Simple and to the point, the kind he figured the Almighty would prefer. If you must fight, do it knowing that each death wounds the One. He did so with a limp gesture. Storms, he could hear the soldiers snicker as they passed by. The Blackthorn, being consoled before battle? Publicly hugging and acting lovey?
Evi turned her head toward him for a kiss, and he presented a chaste one, their lips barely touching. She accepted that, smiling. And she did have a beautiful smile. Life would have been a lot easier for him if Evi would have just been willing to move along with the marriage. But her traditions demanded a long engagement, and her brother kept trying to get new provisions into the contract.
In his pocket he held another glyphward: The stone ground beneath his feet was pocked with tiny holes—the pinpricks of hiding grass. As he passed the tents he could see it properly, covering the plain outside, waving in the wind. Tall stuff, almost as high as his waist.
Across the plain, an impressive force gathered: His heart jumped in anticipation. After two years of political maneuvering, here they were. A real battle with a real army. Win or lose, this was the fight for the kingdom. The sun was on its way up, and the armies had arrayed themselves north and south, so neither would have it in their eyes. He climbed carefully into the saddle as one of the grooms brought his horse. Dalinar guided the horse past ranks of soldiers—spearmen, archers, lighteyed heavy infantry, even a nice group of fifty cavalrymen under Ilamar, with hooks and ropes for attacking Shardbearers.
Anticipationspren waved like banners among them all. Dalinar still smelled incense when he found his brother, geared up and mounted, patrolling the front lines. Dalinar trotted up beside Gavilar. Technically that still belonged to Evi. Not Toh, but Evi herself, which was strange. What would a woman do with Shardplate? Give it to a husband, apparently. He was capable with Shards, having trained, as did many aspiring lighteyes, with borrowed sets. Dalinar made no reply. Even though Evi and her brother had delayed such a painfully long time to even agree to the betrothal, Dalinar had done his duty.
He just wished he felt more for the woman. Some passion, some true emotion. She always wanted him to hold her, as if being alone for one storming minute would make her wither and blow away. She pointed, her voice distant. Dalinar turned, expecting an advance attack from the enemy. A small herd of them, eleven or twelve in number, galloping across the battlefield. Dalinar swallowed an order to round up the beasts. Yes… he could see the spren trailing after them in the air.
Musicspren, for some reason. Made no storming sense. Well, no use trying to capture the beasts. As long as he lives, there will be resistance. If he dies, his line goes with him. His cousin, Loradar Vamah, can seize power. Though… even those seemed more tolerable these days. Perhaps it was familiarity. It was the increasingly obvious truth that this campaign—now stretching over many years—was no quick bash and grab. Highlighting everything I do wrong as the things we must expunge? He bit his tongue, and they finished their ride down the lines. They parted with a nod, and Dalinar rode over to join his elites.
The Shardplate helm sealed closed, and a hush fell over the elites. Dalinar summoned Oathbringer, the sword of a fallen king, and waited. These last few months spent attacking isolated, unprotected towns had made for unfulfilling battles—but had also put Kalanor in a terrible position. If he sat back in his strongholds, he allowed more of his vassals to be destroyed. Already those started to wonder why they paid Kalanor taxes. A handful had preemptively sent messengers to Gavilar saying they would not resist.
The region was on the brink of flipping to the Kholins. And so, Highprince Kalanor had been forced to leave his fortifications to engage here. Dalinar shifted on his horse, waiting, planning. Eventually they met Kholin heavy infantry: At the same time, mobile archer units sprang out to the sides. Lightly armored, they were fast. The enemy army found itself flanked—arrows pounding the sides of their assault blocks.
Their lines stretched, the infantry trying to reach the archers, but that weakened the central block, which suffered a beating from the heavy infantry.
Standard spearman blocks engaged enemy units as much to position them as to do them harm. This all happened on the scale of the battlefield. Dalinar had to climb off his horse and send for a groom to walk the animal as he waited. Inside, Dalinar fought back the Thrill, which urged him to ride in immediately. Eventually, he picked a section of Kholin troops who were faring poorly against the enemy block.
He remounted and kicked his horse into a gallop. This was the right moment. He could feel it. He needed to strike now, when the battle was pivoting between victory and loss, to draw out his enemy. Grass wriggled and pulled back in a wave before him. This might be the end, his final battle in the conquest of Alethkar. What happened to him after this?
Endless feasts with politicians? A brother who refused to look elsewhere for battle? Dalinar opened himself to the Thrill and drove away such worries. He struck the line of enemy troops like a highstorm hitting a stack of papers. Soldiers scattered before him, shouting. Dalinar laid about with his Shardblade, killing dozens on one side, then the other.
Eyes burned, arms fell limp. Dalinar breathed in the joy of the conquest, the narcotic beauty of destruction. None could stand before him; all were tinder and he the flame. The soldier block should have been able to band together and rush him, but they were too frightened. People spoke of common men bringing down a Shardbearer, but surely that was a fabrication.
A conceit intended to make men fight back, to save Shardbearers from having to hunt them down. He grinned as his horse stumbled trying to cross the bodies piling around it. Dalinar kicked the beast forward, and it leaped—but as it landed, something gave. The creature screamed and collapsed, dumping him. He sighed, shoving aside the horse and standing. One group of soldiers tried a counterattack.
Dalinar felled them with broad sweeps of his Shardblade. Next, a lighteyed offi er organized his men to come press and try to trap Dalinar, if not with their skill, then their weight of bodies. He spun among them, Plate lending him energy, Blade granting him precision, and the Thrill… the Thrill giving him purpose.
In moments like this, he could see why he had been created. He was wasted listening to men blab. He was wasted doing anything but this: He sent them to the Tranquiline Halls primed and ready to fight. Enthralled, he cut down foe after foe, sensing a strange rhythm to the fighting, as if the blows of his sword needed to fall to the dictates of some unseen beat.
A redness grew at the edges of his vision, eventually covering the landscape like a veil. It seemed to shift and move like the coils of an eel, trembling to the beats of his sword. That voice was like a screeching cremling, playing its song inside his helm. He felled a pair of swordsmen. A man stood nearby, wearing Kholin blue.
Dalinar raised his Shardblade. One of the captains among his elites. Dalinar lowered his sword and shook his head, trying to get the buzzing sound out of his ears. Only then did he see—really see—what surrounded him. Hundreds upon hundreds of them, with shriveled coals for eyes, their armor and weapons sheared but their bodies eerily untouched. Almighty above… how many had he killed?
He raised his hand to his helm, turning and looking about him. Timid blades of grass crept up among the bodies, pushing between arms, fingers, beside heads. Dalinar grinned in satisfaction, then grew chill. A few of those bodies with burned eyes—three men he could spot—wore blue. His own men, bearing the armband of the elites. They carried the silver-on-red flag bearing a glyphpair of two mountains. Left no choice, Highprince Kalanor had committed to the battle. Dalinar had destroyed several companies on his own; only another Shardbearer could stop him.
He pulled off his helm and took a cloth from Kadash, using it to wipe his face. Dalinar drank the entire thing. Dalinar tossed away the empty skin, his heart racing, the Thrill thrumming within. Do not engage unless I fall. Dalinar dashed toward the oncoming force, his Shardplate crunching against stones. He felt sad to have to engage a Shardbearer, instead of continuing his fight against the ordinary men.
No more laying waste; he now had only one man to kill. His run took him toward one of the rock formations on the eastern side of the field—a group of enormous spires, weathered and jagged, like a row of stone stakes. As he entered the shadows, he could hear fighting from the other side. Portions of the armies had broken off and tried to flank each other by rounding the formations.
His Plate was overlaid with a silver coloring, perhaps steel or silver leaf. It carried the Shardbearer with ease. He patted the animal fondly on the neck, then stepped forward to meet Dalinar, Shardblade appearing in his hand. It must be convenient to tell yourself that your murders belong to the Almighty instead. Alas, the highprince was determined to fight on his own. He swiped with his sword, a long, thin Shardblade with a large crossguard and glyphs down its length. He was younger, more agile than his opponent.
He counted on being able to swing faster, harder. Strangely, Kalanor chose Bloodstance himself. The two clashed, bashing their swords against one other in a pattern that sent them twisting about in a quick shuffle of footings—each trying to hit the same section of Plate repeatedly, to open a hole to flesh. Kalanor was old, but skilled. After furiously exchanging blows for several minutes, both men stepped back, a web of cracks on the left sides of their Plate leaking Stormlight into the air. It will never last. Dalinar came in for a power swing.
One step forward, then a twist all the way about. Kalanor struck him on the right side—a solid hit, but insignificant, as it was on the wrong side. Dalinar, on the other hand, came in with a sweeping stroke that hummed in the air. Kalanor tried to move with the blow, but this one had too much momentum. The Shardblade connected, destroying the section of Plate in an explosion of molten sparks. Kalanor grunted and stumbled to the side, nearly tripping.
He lowered his hand to cover the hole in his armor, which continued to leak Stormlight at the edges. Half the breastplate had shattered. Kalanor ran away, plowing through his honor guard in his haste, shoving some aside and sending them tumbling, bones breaking. Dalinar almost caught him, but Kalanor reached the edge of the large rock formation. He dropped his Blade—it puff d away to mist—and sprang, grabbing hold of an outcropping.
He started to climb. He reached the base of the natural tower moments later. Boulders littered the ground nearby; in the mysterious way of the storms, this had probably been a hillside until recently. The highstorm had ripped most of it away, leaving this unlikely formation poking into the air. It would probably soon get blown down.
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Dalinar dropped his Blade and leapt, snagging an outcropping, his fingers grinding on stone. He dangled before getting a footing, then proceeded to climb up the steep wall after Kalanor. The other Shardbearer tried to kick rocks down, but they bounced off Dalinar harmlessly. By the time Dalinar caught up, they had climbed some fifty feet.
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