Brightness Kareana sat with her head between her hands, muttering quietly to herself. So few remained after the bloodshed of the recent nights, with the Radiants taking matters into their own hands, failing more often than not. Now there were three senior Radiants left besides her; a far cry from the twenty-four she had started with, and populated with at least one traitor. She figured that she would be dead already if more than one of them had been working with Odium, yet the clandestine murders at night continued, Kir stabbed in his sleep, so the scouting party was by no means free of evil influences. The Breakaway seemed to be shielded against Re-Shephir’s shadows, or at least they had not ventured into her domain yet, so one of Cadamum, Adi or Adhom Inem was still responsible for the murders. Kareana frowned. It would not be too difficult to kill all three. She had blackbane in her bag, and the Radiants were notorious tea drinkers. It would be a simple matter of slipping some into everyone’s portion, guaranteeing she was the only one left after the mess the scouting party had been. A few now-terrified scribes and mostly terrified soldiers remained, and they had the data Dalinar wanted. If she were able to expunge the remaining lackey of Odium and get Radiant reinforcements from properly vetted men, it would be a step in the right direction. Yet Adi and Cadamum were experienced Radiants, and Adhom Inem showed good potential; besides, she could hardly call herself honourable by avoiding a difficult decision by condemning the innocent with the guilty. And explaining what had happened to Dalinar would be...difficult.
Approaching footsteps clicked on the stone tiles, and Kareana lifted her head in time to see Adi trotting towards her, the same furrowed look of concentration and anxiety on her brow which she had had since the expedition began. Of the three senior Radiants, she trusted Adi the most; she had admitted to leaving a long glyph message in the rock the night Gilglin was murdered, and judging by its length and location she had done little else at the time; besides, she had a general air of honesty about her. The grooves of thought in her forehead were plowed particularly deep, though, and Kareana’s caring instincts took over. “What’s the matter, child?” she asked, sidling up next to her and studying her face. She was distraught, and it came through in her speech, which became scattered and broken.
“I just know—later today—I’ll have to choose between—Cadamum and Adhom for who’s going to die—and I could end up picking the wrong one and dooming the world. What if I got it wrong, Brightness? Would I be reviled for—for what I did? How can we get out of this mess?”
Kareana took Adi’s shoulders in a firm grip, but trembled internally. She had been thinking of how she was going to approach the situation, but what about the near-child upon which she was allowing their fate to be hung? She was shortsighted, at times. But she could not be here. “Listen, Adi. Your decision today, be it right or wrong, will not cause anyone to despise you, and if it does, that’s a reflection on them and not you. The Almighty won’t let us doom the world, and he’ll watch over you no matter how you choose. We came up here knowing there would be risk, yes?” Adi nodded tearfully. “Well, we’ve had to take those risks, and you’ve already won your share of them. You took it when you helped condemn Merinira. Almighty willing, the risk will be equally in our favour tomorrow. But even if it isn’t, we’ll still take it. Strength before weakness, child.” That straightened her up. Drying her tears, Adi nodded at Kareana. “Well, thank you, Brightness,” she said, pausing awkwardly as Kareana inclined her head in acknowledgement. Her voice trailed off. “Well...I’m going to find the other two now, if you’ll excuse me.”
“Of course,” Kareana said softly. Watching the child make a bumbling retreat, she suddenly smiled. It was high time she took her own advice. She had been a bystander in the fighting amongst her Radiants for too long. Starting now, that would change. Grabbing a conventional broadsword and latching it to her belt, and taking one of the half-Shards from her pack which Dalinar had set up, she tailed the girl at a distance. This time, she would ensure that the aftermath of a decision would be strictly under her control.
On the forty-fourth floor, Adhom Inem glared over the fire at Cadamum. He knew the man had to be the final Sympathiser to Odium. The girl was too innocent to have been going around murdering people, especially given that she had spent the night carving a message into a rock wall—what self-respecting murderer did that? Yet the four Radiant squires with them made the question of dispatching the man a much trickier one. Cadamum would be expecting the Surge of Division, and Adhom doubted an arrow or knife would be quick enough to pierce his defences, based on watching him fight in the past. Adhom gritted his teeth. He had to find a way to get at him! Yet there seemed to be no chink in his armour, at least in a public setting like this one. Lunging over the fire would certainly be effective if the two were alone, but the squires could easily arrest his progress if they had to. And perhaps it was best that the squires were there, or he’d have been dead a long time ago. Cadamum certainly hadn’t backed away from murder before, and with so few of them left now...
A pair of running footsteps sounded in the hallway. Cadamum pivoted to face the door, giving Adhom a clear view of his exposed back. Yet two of the squires were watching him with eyes that radiated warning. For the first time, he felt seriously discomfited. Were they also with Odium? Or was the paranoid atmosphere of Urithiru simply seeping into his bones? Either way, he had cause for concern.
The pattering stopped, and Adi appeared in the doorway, looking more concerned than usual. Understandably so, of course; she did not have the clarity afforded to him by the situation. However, he had come prepared to convince her, and immediately began launching into his explanation. Cadamum’s hands were creeping towards an array of daggers at his belt, and so he made it as quick as possible, trying to look Adi in the eye while keeping the other eye trained on the traitor's hands. It wasn’t easy, and the skeptical glances from Adi made it even more difficult. As he pled that Cadamum had been unable to prove he had not murdered, she finally silenced his explanations with a wave of her hand. Adhom felt sick. Was he being left to die? “If you don’t believe me,” he shouted, feeling a sudden burst of passion, who do you trust? Him?” He jabbed in the direction of Cadamum’s back with his knife. Adi bit her lip, blood trickling down her cheek. Suddenly, she snapped too.
“I don’t trust either of you!” she yelled, drawing her knives. “You two sort this out! I can’t...I’m not condemning either of you!” Adhom’s heart sank. Not the answer he needed to hear. For his part, Cadamum grinned. “Suit yourself,” he said, and released the dagger in his hand. Adi yelped, jumping out of the doorway into the main hall as the dagger whizzed past her head. The four squires stirred, but the two Adhom had noted earlier were far faster, sinking their blades into the others. They died almost silently, their screams cut off by the steel sliding into their lungs. Looking up, he saw both Cadamum and his squires facing him. He was a powerful Radiant, but not that powerful. He would simply have to see how many of Odium’s scum he could take with him. Whirling, he went for Cadamum’s head, Lashing himself to the opposite wall for additional unexpected momentum. The Ghostblood seemed taken aback, barely moving himself out of the way of the oncoming blade, and Adhom felt a hint of satisfaction as the edge of his sword skirted along the other man’s shoulder, drawing blood. The satisfaction was short-lived, however, as Cadamum’s own sword came with impressive speed at his own head. Too disoriented from the Lashing to effectively move, it hit true, and Adi’s quickly retreating figure was the only Loyal Radiant remaining in the expedition.
Adi flew down the hallway as fast as her legs could carry her, away from whatever Cadamum and his men were doing in there. Adhom Inem was likely already dead, and she was the only one left who could warn Kareana and get her to stop their threat before it was too late. Internally, she berated herself for her stupidity. How difficult could it have been to just choose? But you had to go and choose the wrong person, and doom us all! Kareana would be furious when she heard what had happened. Or perhaps she’d be understanding. It could be hard to tell with that woman, at times, but right now she was the Radiants’ best hope.
As she turned a corner, still sprinting doggedly, a silhouette jumped into her vision from behind the wall, and she screamed, awkwardly braking but still slamming into the mail-plated Kareana and falling to the paving-stones. The brightlady was taken aback, but maintained her footing, pulling Adi to her feet. “You gave me a fright there, child. What’s the matter?”
Too exhausted to cry at the memory, Adi related her tale. Kareana’s lips tightened as she related the betrayal of the squires, and she sighed at Adhom’s death. “There was nothing you could have done by staying, Adi, though I wish things had gone otherwise. It’s too late to berate ourselves for our blunders at this point, and our best hope is isolating the squires and killing them, then dealing with Cadamum. Do you figure the three are still on the forty-fourth floor?”
“Probably,” Adi replied, wiping the blood from where it had run down her cheek and turning down the passage where she had come from. “At least one would be, to watch for my return, probably. Though they probably think you’re still holed up in the Breakaway—I know I did, or I’d have had you help.”
“That's not exactly excellent news,” Kareana said grimly, “but Ellira and Errdal can probably hold the Breakaway for now if they have to. If they don’t expect me, we can probably scatter them here. But I’ll need your help. You will be required here, Adi—I can’t watch my back for those shadows without you, and it’s high time you started striking at these false Radiants now that they’ve unmasked themselves.”
Adi breathed deeply, allowing Kareana’s words to sink in. “Okay,” she said, and peered around the doorframe leading to the forty-fourth floor. Her breath caught in her throat. Motioning Kareana to also look, she took in what she observed. Led by one of the squires she had seen earlier, a regiment of about four dozen of the shadowed figures was forming, oily black spears and shields and swords coalescing from seemingly nothing. A marching beat shook the floor, led by the back rank of shadows, which seemed to be the ones responsible for the discordant drumming reaching her ears. It was an impressive force, given that two or three of these shadows could give a Radiant trouble, and there were few of them left anyway. Ordinary soldiers would be hopeless against such a force. The squire motioned, and the section pivoted, heading perpendicular to the doorway towards another point in the hall. Realisation flooded Adi with dread. “They’re heading for the lift system!” she hissed to Kareana, who only nodded grimly. “If they reach it, they’ll get the Breakaway, and cut off the Oathgate!”
“Then we follow them!” Kareana replied, and pushed past Adi into the open chamber, producing her Shardblade. Bracing herself, Adi did the same, and charged after her mentor. She would make Cadamum pay for the deaths of her companions.
Kareana charged out of the doorframe, swinging her Shardblade at the two nearest shadowed figures, who were taken aback. Their blades of shadow somehow managed to block Kareana’s initial wild strokes, but the neatly formed ranks collapsed, and consternation reigned in the chamber. Behind her, Adi had already speared a shadow with her Blade, and was fending off another with her dagger. She was awfully quick with it, and Kareana stopped worrying about her as she began having her own problems. Her Shardplate marking her as the greater threat, the shadows thronged around her, jabbing with spears and slashing with swords. Somehow, her Blade managed to intervene, chopping the weapons apart, and occasionally ending a shadowed form. Unlike what Errdal had reported, these units actually seemed to die, their essence in the Cognitive Realm disappearing entirely when she struck. Perhaps it was the cost of allowing the shadows to roam so freely far from Re-Shephir’s lair. Or perhaps it simply made them more dangerous—some of their weapons had blocked a Shardblade, after all. Setting to her task with renewed determination, Kareana struck out at the soldiers around her, not relying on the Blade’s destructive power as some did, but maintaining the forms she had been taught, and looking for the gaps in her enemy’s. A slice here, a thrust there, and the ranks began to collapse further, with perhaps half the shadows dead. Adi was making quick work of a group of three that came up behind her—was that Soulcasting the girl had used on that one shadow behind her? She was full of surprises, and good ones to boot. Cutting down two more figures in her way, Kareana renewed her charge, Adi in tow, aiming for the squire who led the group.
They met halfway, blades clashing again, and Kareana left Adi to do most of the work with the shadows as Cadamum’s squire produced an aluminum sword. Easy to block a Shardblade with, and potentially deadly in the hands of a skilled user. Sparks flew as the blades met, and the remaining shadows surged, forcing Kareana back again. She gritted her teeth. How on Braize was she supposed to fight this many enemies at once conventionally? Adi was already desperately fending off a group of five shadows, which were wisely staying out of Blade range. That left her a dozen or so. There was nothing to be done, then, except use Surges. Breathing deeply from one of the two large gemstones she carried, she drew enough Stormlight for a low-powered Surge of Division, which pulsed out from her in a wave of heat and light. Adi gritted her teeth as her torso was burnt, but Kareana had no alternative. The shadows quaked as well, their forms loosening, and she wasted no time. Their cluster of attack was easy to hit with a Blade, and only one of the dozen escaped immolation. Kareana was pleased to see that none of Adi’s five were giving her trouble either. Grinning, she blocked the vengeful squire’s quick strike, twisting her Shardblade as she did so to cut off the vanguard of his sword. He back-pedalled, frantically attempting to escape the wheeling arc of light which Kareana’s blade had become, but he instead fell, tripping over an outcropping which a thousand years of crem buildup had magnified to many times its initial size. He stumbled forward, overbalancing, directly into Kareana’s thrust. Behind her, Adi swept the legs out from the final shadow, which crackled and dissipated into nothing. A sudden silence fell, broken only by the crackling of small fires that Kareana’s Surge had begun. That’s right, Adi’s injured! Kareana remembered, rushing over to the girl. “How badly were you burnt?” she asked, kneeling over her.
“Not too badly,” she replied, “though I don’t know Progression, so you’ll have to take care of that.”
Kareana winced. “I don’t exactly know it either,” she admitted, “so you’ll have to manage. Sorry.” The word felt odd in her mouth, especially to her subordinate, but it was also necessary—the girl had every right to be annoyed. “I had to scatter those things somehow so I could deal with the squire.”
“It’s not an issue,” Adi replied. “Strength before weakness, as you say.” The ghost of a smile flickered across her face. “Come on, let’s use the lift to get back to the Breakaway. Walking off my injury will be best anyway, and I’m sure Errdal and Ellira want to know about this attack.”
“Remind me again why we’re entering on this level?” Adi whispered, following Kareana off the lift onto the floor below the Breakaway. “If there’s a battle up there, we’d have heard it by now.”
“I’m not worried about walking into a battle,” she retorted, “but walking into a battlefield where the shadows have already won. That’s a trap I’m not putting my leg in. I’d have obviously headed straight up if there was any commotion, because we’d need to help. But this situation calls for caution.”
“D’you reckon anyone is left in the Breakaway that the shadows would care about?” Adi asked. While Errdal was a Shardbearer, and Ellira had shown herself to be eerily competent, neither were Radiant. And the Breakaway was a good distance away from the Oathgate platform, enough that there were entry points that were closer to the gates on the lift system. Of course, given how forces were amassing, Cadamum might have had enough of the shadowed warriors to destroy the Breakaway with one group and secure the Oathgate with another. Suddenly, Kareana’s concerns didn’t seem so far-fetched. She gulped. Was she going to have to fight those shadows again?
Kareana had fallen silent beside her, and Adi turned to look at the woman. The same set and determined face as always looked out, the eyes iron with resolve. Yet her posture suggested only weariness. “Brightness, if you can’t make it through another one of these battles…”
“No, child,” the reply came. “I will endure as many battles as I need to get everyone down to safety and warn Dalinar that Urithiru is inhabited by traitors and Odiumspren. Remember, we were placed on this mission because Brightlord Kholin thought us able to handle any potential dangers. That includes armies of ancient spren. Worry about your own health—you’ll need to if we get into another of these scrapes.”
Adi nodded. “As you say, Brightness.” She glanced around the passageway, which was narrowing and starting to ascend. The familiar golden and blue strata here gave her hope—normally the Midnight Mother’s creations made those bleed to red or purple—but caution was still necessary. She squinting, casting her eyes into the distance, and to her surprise found a Shardblade-wielding figure already standing in the doorway. She nudged Kareana, who muttered assent. “I see him. Though I think that’s Errdal, judging by the stance.”
As they drew closer, Adi saw with relief that it was indeed the Shardbearer who had accompanied Radler on that fatal expedition, in what seemed like so long ago. Had it really been less than a week? It seemed unthinkable that a party of traitors could wipe out their entire group that quickly. Though we certainly did enough of their work for them, she thought grimly, wincing at the memory of failed murders and executions. For his part, Errdal peered back, and Adi saw his knuckles tighten on his Blade, then loosen and dismiss the Shard when he saw them. “Kareana, Adi!” he exclaimed, smiling. “It is you two. I’d worried you were shadows coming up to attack us again.”
Adi felt a spike of alarm, and Kareana’s eyebrow visibly rose. “Again?” they said, Kareana’s indignance mixing with Adi’s worry. “When?” demanded the other woman.
“An hour or so ago, Brightness. After you and Adi left, they assaulted us, a group of maybe fifty—”
“Four dozen,” Adi muttered.
“—pouring through that gateway. The soldiers were shaken, and I was as well, but Ellira and I managed to rally them. They were harder to kill than in the chamber, I think, but the deaths seemed permanent.”
“I felt the same, oddly enough. Casualties?” Kareana’s voice was certainly strained.
“Five dead and seven wounded, mostly those caught unaware in the initial rush. A lot more are shocked, though, and barely survived the mental strain. Once we grouped up, they were easier to handle, though without my Shard and Ellira’s daggers…” His voice trailed off, and Kareana resumed.
“Where is Ellira? Wasn’t she supporting you? I don’t fully trust that girl.”
“I don’t either,” Errdal replied grimly, “but she’s had two chances to kill me in the middle of combat and hasn’t yet. I think she went—”
Errdal’s next words were cut off as a resounding boom echoed throughout the chamber, then the marching beat of drums. Adi heard Kareana swear under her breath, and looked askance at the brightlady. Errdal wasted no time, however. “Get inside the Breakaway!” he yelled, shoving both women towards its entrance, and slamming the doors to the area behind him as the three sprinted through. Adi panted, her legs already exhausted, but Kareana pulled herself up. “We will hold this door,” she announced, raising her voice. “Every person not a Radiant, which should be everyone that was in this room five minutes ago, should exit immediately towards the Oathgate platform. That is an order. We will meet you there later. Am I clear?”
Assent was murmured, scribes and soldiers making their way with various speeds towards the direction Kareana had indicated. A group of soldiers tried to approach Adi, clearly wanting to help despite knowing it was hopeless, but Kareana affixed them with an icy enough glare that they saluted, retreating back down the hall. Adi looked back at the door. The red and purple veins in the rock weren’t just spreading, they were creeping up the door, and approaching the handles. Drums shook her ears, and she winced, bracing herself against the onslaught that was to come. Darkness slowly suffocated the window slats, leaving only Kareana and Errdal’s Blades to cast thin rays of light about them. The chamber shuddered again, then lay still. Adi closed her eyes as the veins reached the handles, pulling on them with sudden force and strength.
The doors flew open, and chaos began anew.
The shadows always came first, Kareana decided as she watched the doors to the Breakaway physically crumble, and an army twice the size she and Adi had faced down earlier emerge from its depths. The squire here had evidently learned, and was in the far back, using his aluminum-coated blade to urge the thronging army into the Breakaway chamber. Plans of holding the doorway immediately evaporated upon the sudden onslaught of figures, and Kareana stood back-to-back with Adi and Errdal, almost unable to distinguish the oily figures from each other. Her Blade was again a wheel of light, albeit a slower one than last time, as there was no alternative to that fighting style even if it tired you quickly—whatever those shadows actually were, their weapons bit like real ones, and only by covering all of herself could she keep the hordes from simply crushing her. Behind her, Errdal did the same, though less defensively, and Adi continued awkwardly squished between the two of them, yet still picking off unwary shadows and deflecting stray blows which threatened to hit the Shardwielders.
Kareana had to admit to herself, even as she again fought for her life, that she had two of the bravest companions she’d had the privilege of fighting with. Errdal fearlessly took the offensive with his Blade, striking at the shadows in the gaps between their weapons and shields, and forcing them into an awkward defensive, while Adi seemed to find it nothing to throw herself between a blade and one of her companions to save them. She had already blocked Kareana from being hit twice, and had managed with her spear-work and small manoeuvrability to avoid damage.
Yet it was undeniable that they were losing. The second wave of shadows slammed in after the first, the disarmed and limbless replaced by fresher and stronger forces, if the concepts of strength and energy could be said to apply to the constructs. Some of these had what looked to be pikes, and were staying out of Shardblade range, forming into a ring around the encircled defenders, behind the sword-wielding constructs which still hacked away. Kareana winced, seeing what was about to happen seconds before it did, yet unable to use Division to prevent it without outright killing her companions in the process. That didn’t stop her from unleashing a concentrated storm on the figures in front of her, however, which crackled to pieces against the blast of fire and wind. Then the ring closed, the ordinary soldiers receding to make room for the charge, and Kareana saw several things happen at once.
Most immediately, in front of her, were four pikemen with their spears levelled at her chest. Division would be too slow, and an ineffective blast was more of a risk to Adi than a help to her. So she rolled out, ducking beneath the long spears and swinging her Blade, watching in satisfaction as all four figures jerked and died. However, a mass of shadows immediately filled the space between her and Adi, leaving the girl stranded with Errdal as the rest of the ring closed. Horrified, she let her guard drop for a brief moment, feeling her Shardplate suddenly double in weight as it cracked underneath the weapons of the shadows, but Kareana had eyes only for Errdal, whose lack of Plate had cost him dearly in the assault. Though his Blade had cleft nearly a dozen of the figures as he died, only one needed to get through, and now he lay prone on the floor, gazing with sightless eyes at the ephemeral pike protruding through his chest. Adi, to her credit, was facing off well against the crowd of shadows, ignoring Errdal’s corpse and using her energy to frantically block the jabbing spears and blades of her enemies. She had only moments, though. Snapping out of her reverie, Kareana let her Shardplate, which felt only like lead, drop to the floor, cutting the straps with her dagger which she held in her safehand. Making wide sweeps with the Blade to clear room for herself, Kareana beckoned Adi over, and the child hurriedly disengaged from the group she was fending off. Kareana was pleased to see that the crowd of shadows had thinned, returning to perhaps slightly more than the fifty or so she had encountered earlier. However, combined with the squire, who was approaching the rapidly tiring women like a circling whitespine, she wondered if the two of them could take on such a force. Cutting down two more shadows with her Blade, and watching as Adi Soulcast four more into oblivion, Kareana resumed the grim battle, feeling her arms grow more tired with each stroke. Next to her, Adi was flagging as well. “Can’t give up—now,” she grunted, darting her sword into another figure, which collapsed. “Life before—death. We can’t—leave things as they are now—we can’t die yet.”
Kareana laughed, feeling Adi’s confidence infuse her with a burst of fresh energy. Spinning, she caught another shadow’s weapon, sending it flying into a neighbour. “You speak well, Radiant. We will hold this yet.” She only wished she was as confident as she sounded. With the squire drawing ever closer to them, and the shadows continuing to die, it would be only a matter of time before the deciding move was made. Half a minute and five more dead shadows later, as both Adi and Kareana continued bleeding in multiple places, she was proven correct. The squire raised his arm, and the shadows all disengaged, retreating to behind him. Walking forward, he addressed Kareana. “You put up a brave resistance against the Lord Odium. Surrender now, and he may deign to spare your immaterial lives. We are always looking for new servants.” A humourless smile touched his lips. “Or you may die here, exhausted and overwhelmed. It is your choice.”
Kareana spat at the ambassador's feet, and he recoiled, glaring at the brightlady. “Very well, then,” he responded. “Death it is.”
Without warning, the shadows attacked with renewed vigour, pressing Kareana back against the wall of the enormous chamber. Adi stayed beside her, but she was having to contend with the human squire at the same time, who was far more skilled than the shadowed copycats. A resounding clamour could easily be heard every time the two clashed blades, the squire’s heavy overhand strokes forcing Adi to her knees, holding her sword above her in a desperate attempt to ward off the blows. Beside her, where Kareana’s Blade could not reach in time, a shadow stabbed, its spear entering Adi’s side and causing the girl to scream in pain. Fighting for her own life, Kareana could only watch as Adi’s sword fell from numb fingertips, and the squire’s blade swept in one last motion, cleaving the head of the last member of the expedition loyal to Dalinar. So I really am alone, then. Odium has already won. No. She would not—could not—accept that.
She screamed in rage, unleashing a Surge of Division almost unconsciously—with no allies for her to hit, it worked wonderfully as intended, the squire hissing in pain and the shadows shuddering, as they had before. Kareana took the opportunity to lay about her with her Blade, and the very advantage of the compact group when assailing her now became a liability as strokes killed five at a time. The shadows that could quickly retreated, once more making a ring around the squire. There were a mere handful left, at least compared to the numbers she had faced down earlier, but her body was screaming in pain, particularly her arms. She was definitely too old to be carousing around fighting Odium’s spawn. But as Adi had said, there was no choice. It was in the First Ideal from the beginning. Life before death. Strength before weakness.
So she did the only logical thing for any outnumbered and exhausted force to do: charge.
The squire was unfazed, meeting her Shardblade with the aluminum-coated rapier he held. It had a strangely heavy weight to it, if that wasn’t simply her torpid arm speaking for her. The shadows seemed to stay back, refusing to engage with her. A duel, then. That’s the fairest odds I’ve been offered all day. The squire parried with a vengeance, his thin blade whipping around to strike at Kareana’s exposed sides. Off-balance, she tried to pivot away, but had slowed too much from sheer exhaustion, and she felt cold steel pierce her upper leg. Groaning but staying upright, she swung weakly at the man’s exposed head, but he ducked easily as he withdrew the Blade. One, two, powerful strokes, and Kareana felt her Blade drop, her fingers reverberating with the clash of the metals. Looking up at the Sympathiser, who was clearly relishing his victory, she felt her heart speed up as he drew back to plunge his sword into her. My heart is speeding up. It seemed like such an odd detail to latch onto when she was about to die, but it was somehow important. Ten heartbeats. My Blade...
The sword moved forward, but Kareana was faster, a final burst of energy allowing her to roll beneath the thrusting blade and stand on the other side, summoning the Blade through the back of the squire.
He fell without a word.
Kareana hit the ground before the last shadow had completed its screech of death, skewered on the end of her Shardblade. She had never felt so utterly exhausted in her life. And yet I must keep going, she reminded herself. There's a whole room of non-Radiants waiting to be slaughtered if you don’t act! Overcoming the sluggishness of her brain, she tried to get up, and found that one of her legs felt like lead, and that the other was numb. Odd, that—there had been sharp pain there before. She looked down, and saw blood still oozing from it in a thin red trickle. Well, it was little wonder she was in no state to be moving around. Suddenly, she began laughing. There she was, the victor and only survivor of a great battle, and she could not lift a leg to help herself. Brightness Kareana, Captain Radiant, Shardwielder, warrior, force of nature, lay prone and useless. Heedless of Errdal and Adi’s corpses, she laughed, unable to process the ridiculousness of the situation, laughed until her sides began hurting and she was gasping for air.
After a good minute, however, she began sobering up, her breaths coming more evenly and slowly than the shuddered gasps she had been taking. A sudden pain in her bad leg flared, then subsided. She looked down, and saw her wounds close, her dizziness subside, and fresh energy flow through her veins. Standing with ease yet with wonder, Kareana looked down into her pouch, and saw with horror that almost an entire gemstone had been drained. Well, apparently I lied to Adi when I said I didn’t have Progression. Though it only works on myself? Either way, this was probably the greatest gift she could have been given—perhaps there would be no Stormlight left after the first trip, and perhaps she would remain stuck at the top, but there would be no usage of the Oathgate if she was lying half-dead in the Breakaway. Thank you, Almighty, she prayed, and ran with renewed vigour for the doorway leading to the Oathgate platform, taking care to put the sack of gemstones behind her to avoid accidentally inhaling more Stormlight. With happiness, she noted that her assistants were already well ahead, as she was unable to see them, and she blessed the Almighty again for unthinking obedience. It wasn’t always ideal, but here it had saved many lives.
Making the final turn into the Oathgate complex, she was greeted by two jumpy soldiers, who brandished their spears at her before studying her face. “Brightness!” one exclaimed, dropping his aggressive stance. “You’re here! Where did the others go?”
“They’re dead,” said Kareana simply. That sobered the room up, and silence fell among the chatting scribes. “And we all will be soon, if we don’t use this opportunity to get away. Klavin!”
“Brightness?” a young soldier asked, stepping forward. He was barely old enough to shave, Kareana mused, but he had a cool head about him, and she had observed him calming the troops earlier after the first attack. He’d hold them together for long enough, and had an ordered mind to remember what he was told. She began again.
“You get a battlefield promotion to second-in-command, now that all my Radiants are dead. Lead this group after you arrive in the Shattered Plains to Dalinar’s tent immediately, and tell him that Urithiru has been overrun by the servants of Odium, led by a man named Cadamum. Brightlord Kholin and his forces are to avoid the city, particularly the thirty-eighth floor, until he has a trained, powerful and trustworthy group of Radiants to reclaim it. Within the scribes’ notes is everything we know about the city. I, Kareana, testify to this report and its accuracy, and am not giving this in person in order that I might defend the Oathgate from above. Do you have all that?”
Klavin’s face was knitted in concentration. “Yes, Brightness,” he said hesitantly.
“Repeat it back to me.” He did, and switched only two words. Kareana was impressed, correcting him and having him lead the dishevelled party onto the platform, Vamah’s sorry regiment forming a ring around the distraught scribes. It was unlikely to do much good if they were attacked, but it was better than nothing. As they filed up, one of the scribes tapped Kareana’s shoulderplate. “What about Ellira, Brightness?” she asked.
Damnation alive, that girl! Kareana felt like screaming at someone, probably herself, but she kept her face straight, though her lips were drawn in a thin line. “She’ll have to find her way here, or help me hold the shadows back at the top. I’m not responsible for her wanderings. If she chose to disobey my commands, I can only assume suspicious motives. We’ll wait a bit, I suppose, but time is precious here, and I can only countenance so much delay.”
“You will not need to tolerate much more, Brightness,” a voice came from behind her, and Kareana spun around. Ellira stood there, a smug expression on her face, and Kareana began to wonder if she had wanted the girl back after all.
Indigo Weasel (Adhom Inem) was lynched! He was a Loyal Knight Radiant Worldhopper!
Violet Axolotl (Adi) was killed! She was a Loyal Knight Radiant Worldhopper!
Errdal was killed! He was a Loyal Shardbearer!
You will discover the ultimate fates of Kareana, Ellira and Cadamum after El finishes her section of the writeup.
After a few delays, AG6/AN7 is over, and Odium’s Sympathisers have triumphed yet again! Congratulations to Quartz Zebra, Ivory Dragonfly, Plum Rhinoceros, Scarlet Octopus, Saffron Iguana and Salmon Meerkat for engineering a narrow late-game victory.
Please DO NOT log out of your anonymous accounts yet, or post with your regular ones in this thread (though you are free to, and are indeed encouraged to talk with your anon account). Identity will still be presumed to be anonymous as we vote for the annual dissemination of non-Sanderson passes. This year, the passes (of which there are three) should go to the individuals who exhibited a consistent dedication to and engagement with the game by, for instance, engaging people in PMs, being an active or frequent participant in the thread, using their CRs and sticking with RP, etc. Everyone who participated in the game (so yes, Toucan will get two votes from the original and the pinch-hitter) will submit a ranked list of five people in their GM PM who they believe to have best exhibited these qualities, or otherwise demonstrated a desire or ability to maintain and encourage thread activity. You have until 9:00 PM EDT on Saturday 25 January (so about three and a half days) to submit or modify this list. At the end of that time, El and I will use the STV (Single Transferable Vote) system to select the top three players, who will be awarded a pass to run a non-Sanderson game.
Thanks to everyone for playing, and tolerating your slow GM as he constructs an overly long final scene. While I’ll give most of my final thoughts after voting has taken place, I’ll note quickly that the post count on this AG was lower, but I think each person was able to stay at least somewhat engaged over the course of the game, which was wonderful to see—outright inactivity was very low. And I loved all the RP, especially the people who took it beyond the first few cycles. Expect my next game to have some kind of minor reward built-in for that, as it was fun to read and then later kill you in a manner more befitting your character.
Final playerlist to be posted with correct identities after voting is over.
Some doc links for those who want them:
Eliminator Doc (The Knights Errant)
Spectator/Dead Doc (The Tranquiline Halls)
Master Spreadsheet (forthcoming)
Thanks again to everyone for playing and providing an awesome start to SE’s new year. We couldn’t do these games without you.