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  1. AG4/AN1: A Fresh Start A mountain stood high above the land that had been a kingdom, surrounded by a thousand fires. Beneath its steady gaze, armies fought relentlessly through the days, ceasing only to take shelter from highstorms. Atop that mountain sat a small town, hosting only a single visible fire in the very centre of the town. “Once, when your parents were but children, there was peace,” an old woman said, making images of happiness and sunshine appear in the flames. “And before that, before even your father’s father’s father’s father lived, there was another war. Another Desolation.” Images of fires in the darkness appeared, first dozens but slowly going out. “War such as the land had never known ravaged the world, and humans died by the tens of thousands. Odium corrupted many more.” All but the last spark had gone out, and it flickered. “But we survived.” The spark flickered again, but it remained. “The Heralds were there to help us, and we survived.” The fire flared and grew, until it filled the entire vision and melded with the fire already there. She smiled at the children. “We’ll survive this one, too. There will be peace again. Now, go on, shoo! Your parents will be wondering where you’ve been.” The children giggled and scattered, but Sherrah stayed and watched the fire. “Peace again,” she murmured to herself, thinking of the campfires that were moving further up the mountain every night. “Someday.” If people were asked to describe Narg, they’d generally say that he was a man - who while unfortunate in life - that just got through life. Not one to interact with people, but also not one to stay in all day. Not one for physical labour, but also not someone who avoids it. Not one for repetitive sentences, but also unable to avoid them. But when pressed for more details about the elusive Narg, most would shrug and just leave with a ‘Narg is Narg, ya know?’. However, we at Roshar Reporting decided to get the full scoop on Narg, so decided to ask Narg about Narg. We’ve edited the boring parts of the interview out, as reporters often do. If anyone would like to have a full transcript involving the incident with the eggs, subscribe today for only 1 mark a month. As well as our feature piece on Narg, we have a story about why Desolations are called Desolations and not Desotructions on Page 4. For the purposes of this interview, Narg will be referred to as Narg and I will be referred to as Mark (also the price of our subscription). Mark: So Narg, it seems like no-one really gets to know you that well, do you even agree with that? Narg: Well I’d always kind of thought that, but I guess now I know it’s true, so thanks for that. Mark: So why did you even think that in the first place? Narg: You think that’s even a question? Don’t answer that. It’s probably because of my name, you know anyone else with the name Narg? Mark: No. Narg: Exactly, doesn’t roll of the tongue now does it? But what makes things even worse is that all the kids think it’s the funniest thing ever, you know how kids are. Leave the house and all I hear is ‘Nargle Nargle, Gives us a Giggle’. That was the first creative thing they did, and let me tell you, these kids are born poets. Mark: Could you give us any more examples? Narg: Well there’s ‘Nargle Nargle, Lives in a Jungle’, then you got ‘Nargle Nargle, Won’t even Struggle’ and don’t forget ‘Nargle Nargle, Forever Single’, Mark: Okay I think that might be enough for now, thanks. So you think that the name Narg is the cause for all your social struggles? Narg: To put it bluntly, yes. Sure there might be other reasons for it, but seriously Narg is just such a stupid name that how can I even do anything with it. But I have found a solution to that problem, which I’m sure you’ll understand eventually. Is that all? Mark: Could you not elaborate on your solution now? Narg: Oh no, you see it only starts in around a week or so. Expect a sudden increase in subscribers, followed by a slow decline in those subscribers. Mark: Thanks? Narg: No problem, now I got things to do so farewell for now. Maybe I’ll even get another interview soon. After that, Narg went to barter for some goods, and you know what? I could hear the songs accompanying him, so I guess he had a point there. Another year of SE, and it doesn’t appear that you’ve had your fill of murdering each other yet… 2017 was a year of a number of changes to SE, beginning with the successful implementation of cosmetic roles in the last AG, and the subsequent return to greater numbers of Sanderson games being played. Later in the year, we saw a changing of the guard of the moderators, saying a sad farewell to Metacognition and Gamma Fiend, with Seonid and myself now joining Wilson and Alv to run this subforum. We’re ending the year (albeit belatedly) on a note of change, too, and are proud to announce that Anonymous Games have been approved. This game, AG4, will be the first Anonymous Game, and further Anonymous Games will be played once each quarter. In order to sign up to run an anonymous game, you must have either GMd 4 games, or have played 15 games. To run an anonymous game, you must be at the top of both the anonymous waitlist, and that of another format. Anonymous Games are not a format of their own, but act as a modifier to games of a differing format. Unfortunately, 2017 also saw changes in our forum that have been less positive, with an increasing tendency towards inactivity. In the spirit of Cosmetic Roles last year, there will be a competition this game for three non-Sanderson game passes, allowing you to run a game not set in one of Sanderson’s works. This year, however, the competition will be based on activity, with a vote amongst players at the end of the game on which players have been the most active, and have done the most to encourage activity. Last year, Meta mentioned we had a secret challenge for three more non-Sanderson game passes. That challenge was also based on activity. We will be awarding those after this game ends as well. And now for the biggest change. To further combat the inactive tendency, we’re rolling out a warning system. At the end of each game, the impartial moderator will ask the GM for a list of the people who went inactive for most of the game. Those who gave the GM a heads-up regarding real life issues won’t have anything to worry about, but people who gave no heads-up will get a warning (this also includes people whose heads-up was just “I don’t feel like playing anymore”). One warning is like a minor slap on the wrist, merely meant to get a player realizing that going inactive without warning isn’t okay. It’s not meant to be a condemnation or make players feel unwanted in the games. Getting two warnings in three games, or three warnings in a six-month period will result in a three month ban from playing. Please, everyone, before you sign up for a game, think about whether you have time to play. If you know something will come up and you’ll only be able to play for so long, don’t sign up. This applies even if the GM would really like a certain number of players. Or if you think you’ll be dead by the time you’d go inactive. If something comes up unexpectedly, that’s understandable. Just let the GM know, and you’ll be fine. Hopefully, with everyone paying attention to their own activity, and perhaps reaching out to include others in the game so everyone is invested (and therefore less likely to go inactive), we can fix this inactivity problem. Housekeeping: AG4/AN1 will begin in 7 days time, at 10pm GMT on the 13th January. Ties will result in an even chance of death between all those tied for the most votes, with a single death occurring. Two votes minimum are required for a lynch. PMs are open until there are no remaining Edgedancers. Group PMs are allowed. Please include Stink and myself in all PMs. The order of actions will be as follows: -Lightweaver -Skybreaker -Windrunner -Dustbringer/Odium’s Sympathisers’ kill Wilson will be the IM for this game. In the first instance, please take any issues to Stink and myself, but if we’re unable to resolve them, or if there’s a conflict of interest, Wilson will step in to facilitate a resolution. Anonymous Accounts: Please sign up by PMing both Stink and myself, with your PM in the format: AG4: [Your Name]. At the start of the game, you will be issued an anonymous account. There are a number of rules associated with the use of an Anonymous Account. Please follow them carefully. Given the potential for abuse of Anonymous Accounts, any rule breaking using the accounts will be dealt with harshly. 1) Do not change the password of the anonymous account you are issued. Wilson, Stink and I will have access to all anonymous accounts for the duration of the game. 2) Do not use the anonymous accounts to PM any non-anonymous account, other than the accounts of the GMs. Please do not use your normal accounts to PM anonymous accounts. 3) Do not tell any other player or individual associated with SE, whether you are playing or not playing the Anonymous Game. Player identities will be revealed after the game, not on the death of their avatar. Players must not reveal their own identity after their death, until the end of the game, including in the dead/spec doc. Players wishing to spectate rather than play should PM Stink and myself for a link to the spectator doc. Questions and rules clarifications should be submitted in your sign up PMs, and will be posted by myself in the signups thread. 4) Do not change anything cosmetic about the accounts, including member title, username, signature, and avatar. Factions: Roles: This thread will be locked. As a reminder, and for those of you who haven’t read the rules (go back and do so), sign ups and spec doc requests must be by PM to Stink and myself, in the format AG4: [Your Name]. Quick Links:
  2. Nergaoul was in control. Eshonai roared as the Unmade took over her body from within, a wave of hatred and darkness bursting from the middle of her chest. Tendrils of malicious energy smoked from her body as she grew so large that her Plate began to tear apart at its seams. She had never felt so hot in her life. Every nerve in her body screamed with pain as her bones melted and her flesh bubbled. No matter how hard she tried to close her eyes, It forced them open so she could watch her monstrous transformation. I AM SORRY, LITTLE ONE. THERE IS NOTHING I CAN DO TO EASE YOUR SUFFERING. The Rider. He had not spoken to Eshonai since the angerspren corrupted her soul. Why acknowledge her now, moments before one of her ancient gods possessed her completely? Buried inside her, the listener’s muffled voice howled into the shadows that endeavored to consume her. Nergaoul answered her with an earth shattering laugh, her body quaking with masochistic delight as it broke through her Plate and cast its molten shards across the plateau, a few of the sharper bits raining down on Alethi and listeners alike, piercing hearts and severing a few limbs. WHY ARE YOU CRYING? ISN’T THIS FUN? Eshonai shuddered at the sound of the infernal voice, tears leaking from her eyes and turning to steam before they finished rolling down her cheeks. All around her, the tiny humans began attacking each other, overwhelmed by the enmity that radiated from her body like some kind of odious aura. As for the listeners, the dark god’s presence empowered them, the echoes of his voice resonating with the angerspren roiling inside them. STOP FIGHTING. IT ONLY HURTS MORE IF YOU FIGHT. Was she fighting? Eshonai didn’t feel like she was. Besides terror and torment, she couldn’t feel much else. There was sorrow, too, when the rain stopped pouring onto the battlefield to wash the once beautiful, but now bloodstained, stone. Unbidden, a memory of her exploring the Shattered Plains as a youth surfaced in her mind. She could recall with divine clarity the day she discovered the Alethi and met their king for the very first time. YES! YES! REMEMBER THE KING! THE ONE WHO BROUGHT US BACK! THE ONE WHO STARTED THIS ALL! Gavilar. This was his fault. His, and his followers. The listeners never wanted to awaken their old gods, nor did they wish to start a war. But King Gavilar forced them into a corner and left them with very few options. The old Council of Five made a choice to sacrifice their lives to stop him. The King died, but his plans did not, and now look what came of them. The Alethi brought the Last Desolation upon themselves. Upon the listeners. Upon the world. Eshonai would punish them for their indiscretions. Would bring the real monsters here to justice, even if it cost her honor and her soul. Like a sudden flood over a raging inferno, relief surged through her. In the place of the pain, Eshonai felt peace. Pleasure. FINALLY! I AM FREE AT LAST! Nergaoul was in control. ‘A vicious cyclone enclosed the plateau, warding off the brunt of the Everstorm.’ Was the cyclone really vicious? Lyna glanced at the shield of wind once more, then crossed the word out. The cyclone was powerful, that much was obvious, but vicious implied violent intent, which contradicted its very nature to protect the people within it. ‘Beyond the rocky precipice, two winds danced. One of Honor, the other Unmade.’ Ooo, Lyna cooed to herself. She liked that. Only problem was, where could she go from there? Glancing up at the crimson eye in the sky and the shining man floating below it, Lyna had a surge of inspiration. ‘Kaladin was no longer human, Syl no longer a spren. Together, they had became something more: a living storm.’ Were they really a living storm? Lyna supposed not, but she knew no other way to put it. The honorspren danced around her Windrunner so fast that her body was starting to blur, grey stormclouds flocking to her and turning white, purified by her light. Pleased by her stream of thoughts, Lyna continued to write. Funny how it took her surviving two unnatural storms and an army of hideous monsters attacking her friends to demolish the writer’s block that had suffocated her for so long. Convenient, too, that Stormblessed’s power was keeping the rain from falling on the plateau, and thus consequently, from soaking her paper. It was as if the Stormfather Himself was urging her to finish her work. “Lyna!” a familiar voice called her name, but she paid it no mind. The woman was too overcome by her creative trance to look away from the looseleaf notebook clenched tightly in her gloved safehand. It felt weird not having a sleeve covering her entire left arm, but the uniform of the Initiates wasn’t very accommodating for females, so she had to make do with what she was given. “Lyna!” the voice yelled again, this time closer and loud enough to rouse her. “Give me a minute!” she responded, freehand scribbling relentlessly into the pages of her journal. In the last few minutes, she had managed to fill nearly three pages with simplified glyphs. She would have to translate them into women’s script later, when she had more time. Something crashed and threw Lyna to her knees, her journal and quill flying from her hands into a shallow puddle. Without her to hold on to them, the cyclone began to pull them towards the ledge. “Lyna! Forget them! Hithon is in trouble!” Hithon? Lyna froze, gulping loudly as she watched her quill roll off the plateau into the storm. A moment later, the journal followed it into the spinning wind, pages fluttering open and ripping from its spine before vanishing completely. She wanted to cry, to wail, but suddenly Ranatar was at her side, helping her to her feet and pulling her towards the massive Voidbringer and the two men fighting at its feet. As soon as she saw the enraged Hithon, her pen and paper vanished from her mind. Nergaoul was alive again at last. After all this time, It finally had a body of Its own. Just as Odium had promised. From above the battlefield, It watched Its body flex its muscles, crimson electricity sparking along the length of Its left arm, gathering into Its palm and condensing into an immense blade of jagged lightning. Human scum fought off Its children with rabid desperation, though a few had turned on one another, enticed by Odium’s power and influence. Even a Defier had succumbed to the darkness, which drew the Unmade’s eye. Nergaoul recognized the taint on him. ONE OF DAI-GONARTHIS’ PLAY THINGS? It thought. Would the Black Fisher be mad if Nergaoul broke Its toy? PROBABLY, It laughed. Dai-gonarthis was a Sliver of Hatred, too, and prone to violent outbursts, especially when slighted. Not that either of them cared. The Black Fisher would embrace the rage, and Nergaoul would accept the consequences with a smile upon Its face. Raising Its weapon above Its head, Nergaoul aimed for the Defiers at Its feet. Those with enough sense to watch It rather than get distracted by their allies sudden betrayal were able to react by splitting off in several directions, making it harder for Nergaoul to kill them all with a single blow. Fortunately, they had not yelled a warning to the others, allowing the Unmade to focus on the Defiers locked in battle. Nergaoul’s movements, however, were sluggish. By the time Its strike hit the earth, all but one of the Defiers had gotten out of the way. At least the attack had killed one, except… The human had deflected Its blow. But how? Nergaoul bent Its head to look closer, and found one of the humans clutching a bleeding arm, a claymore lying nearby, bent halfway down its blade. Unarmed and wounded, the Defier would be helpless if It struck again. Smiling, Nergaoul lifted Its weapon and plummeted it at him again. This time, It would kill him. But no. Souls drifted into the Cognitive, but not the Defier’s. This time when Nergaoul’s blow landed, it was met with even more resistance. Eyes burning with fury, the Unmade looked again, and found a fragmented shield in the Defier’s hands, held together by Stormlight. The light in the shield was flickering, however. There’s no way it could survive another blow. Raising Its weapon a third time, but only half way, Nergaoul threw all its weight forward and managed to find purchase in the earth. It didn’t need to crane Its head to see the Defier roll out of the way, grab his bent claymore and back into the stone monolith. Realizing he could run no further, the human’s face twisted with fear. Instead of swinging again, Nergaoul pointed the tip of Its sword at the Defier and brought Its hand to Its face. Grinning, It lunged at the shield clutched before him. An explosion burst from the impact, strong enough to force the Unmade to step back and scatter chunks of silver all over the battlefield. Nergaoul roared, infuriated by the human’s tenaciousness. It would kill him. Now, or never. Holding the weapon horizontally, the Unmade dragged it across his body, then swung. With ease, the weapon cleaved through giant rock, the blade sparking as it slid straight for the human. A moment too late, Nergaoul noticed a spren whispering in the Defier’s ear as he rose to his feet, then crouched low. NO! NO! The human jumped. No. Flew. A Windrunner, like Stormblessed? But that wasn’t an honorspren sitting on his shoulder. A Skybreaker, then. Odium had said they might be involved. But why was he fighting with the Defiers? Weren’t they supposed to be on the side of hatred? Odium had said as much. Apparently Odium was wrong. The Skybreaker brought his second hand to the hilt of his claymore and rested its bent blade against his shoulder as he aimed for Its eyes. Nergaoul turned, letting go of Its weapon and allowing the concentrated lightning to dissipate, the stone leaning sideways with nothing between its crack to hold it up. Seething, the Unmade watched as the Skybreaker flew past his face, the bent edge of his claymore scraping against Its brow. Without chitin to protect Its face, the weapon gouged Its flesh. Orange blood leaked into Its left eye, but all It could see was red. Above the battlefield, Its massive eye shut, two folds as black as the night closing over Its iris, then Its pupil. Along the thin slit where the two folds met, a bloody light shone through, brightening with every passing second until it colored the entire plateau scarlet. Nergaoul opened Its eye and released Its gathered power. Ninety-nine bolts of abhorrence and indignation erupted forth, showering upon the plateau, killing both humans and listeners alike. The charred remains of their bodies launched into the air and rained back down onto the cowering survivors, drenching them with a mixture of gore and blood. Regaining control of Its body, the Unmade summoned another blade of lightning and turned around to face the Defiers. How kind they were to gather in one place once more. “I’ve got a plan,” Ranatar told the others. It was difficult keeping track of both the situation with Hithon and the possessed Voidbringer, but with Lyna and Fifth’s help, he was given enough time to ponder their next move. Pausing long enough so that the rest of the Initiates could gather closer, presumably to make him easier to hear over the constant whirring of the cyclone and sounds of battle in the distance, Ranatar observed the giant monstress with interest. It was difficult to tell while she wore her Plate, but it was clear now that the Voidbringer was a woman. In the past, Ranatar might have scoffed at the idea of a female Shardbearer, but after dealing with female Radiants, he quickly realized the fault in his culture’s assumptions regarding the genders. You’re getting distracted, Ranatar told himself. Focus on the problem at hand. Contemplate the faults of society later. The monstress no longer wielded a sword of lightning, but the crimson energy still coursed along the ridges of her body until they converged at the tips of her fingers. A thick drop of orange blood fell from her chin and landed on the ground between her feet moments before she pressed her hand against her forehead, a loud hissing sound filling the air as soon as it made contact. Cauterizing a wound, eh? Ranatar didn’t have to see the Voidbringer’s face to guess what happened to her. Besides Kaladin, Fifth was the only fighter here who could strike that high, discounting Shinon, of course, but the archer was nowhere to be seen. Speaking of, where was he? Ranatar had lost track of both him and the Squires after the Stormwarden severed Kintas’ living rope with an Elsecalled dagger. Ah well. It would have been nice to have their help, but Ranatar would have to make due without them. Him and his fellow Acolytes had come this far on their own. Gained the strength of not one order, but four. If anyone could win this battle, it would be them. As for the Initiates, they’d have to make an excellent distraction. “Teresh. I see you have your powers, still. Think you can blind the Voidbringer by hurling balls of flame at its head?” Teresh stared at Ranatar, frowning deeply. Instead of nodding, the man clenched his jaw, contemplating his options. Teresh had trusted not one, but two of the “Unjust.” Ranatar suspected Teresh blamed himself for the deaths of his fellow Initiates, and was eager to avenge them. Ranatar didn’t need to be a mind reader to hear his thoughts. “Don’t even consider it. I could teleport my allies and I to safety before your flames reached us, and for some reason I doubt your control is very fine. As close as we all are now, you could easily kill Araon, or Rea. If you didn’t, I’m sure the Voidbringer would finish the job,” Ranatar said while pointing towards the giant, who was now staring at the sky. “You’re wrong,” said a voice. Not Teresh, but Araon. Ranatar did not bother to look at the man, choosing instead to follow the Voidbringer’s gaze up to the eye in the sky. Slowly, a void closed around it from two sides. Was the horror retreating? Had Kaladin won? Araon continued talking, despite not being addressed. “My spren tells me that I’m immune to the powers of other Releasers.” Ranatar jolted at the admission. When he looked at Araon, he found a firespren that resembled a young child, its gender uncertain, sulking as it floated above the warrior’s head. Unlike Keph, the spren looked young and frail. Tiny globs of lava dripped from its fingers and toes, as if it were melting. Now that he did not expect. Ranatar had always been good at math, but predicting Bonds was very different than predicting Highstorms. It was very possible he made a mistake somewhere along the line. But if he was wrong about Araon, was it possible he was wrong about someone else? Rather than reply, he looked to the child. Rea. “Don’t suppose you’re a Windrunner?” The boy - no, girl, Ranatar had to remind himself of the information they found during Rea’s investigation - shook her head and shrugged. The girl had the potential, but for some reason had yet to speak the words. Oh well. She might not be very helpful now, but it made his future plans a little safer. There was a noticeable dimming as the giant eye finished shutting, then a sudden, violent brightening that painted the entire plateau red. Each of the Initiates and Acolytes looked to the sky at once and stared at the line of scarlet light crackling along its center, dividing the void in half. Ranatar had no idea what was happening, but he could make an educated guess. “Brace yourselves!” he screamed, and to the others credit, they didn’t hesitate to obey. It seemed that, with these circumstances, the Initiates would accept a temporary alliance. Folding inward to make himself smaller and wrapping his arms around his head to cover his ears, Ranatar waited for an explosion. Instead, his hair stirred and his ears filled with the sound of whistling air. Curious, he raised his head and peeked over his forearm. A dome of wind had started to circle the Initiates. Was Fifth doing this? Ranatar glanced sideways at the Skybreaker, though judging by the furrow of his brow, Fifth was equally confused. It was hard to see beyond the dome, but Ranatar could make out a few vague shapes. Four figures obscured by white light stood around it, one standing in each cardinal direction, based on the looming shadow of the monstress just ahead. The Stormwarden fit the pieces together. Kaladin’s Squires had returned, and like their Captain, they learned how to create shields from the winds. It was at that unfortunate moment that the sky erupted and he watched one of them die. Even through the nebulous dome of wind, Ranatar could see the bolts of lightning with clarity. Subconsciously he tried to count them, but they were much too fast, and the havoc caused by their descent overwhelmed his attention quickly. He watched, with wide eyes, as one of the bolts plunged straight for him and reflected off the dome into one of the Squires. A splash of blood hit the whirlwind, dying it a vivid red, seconds before it slowed and stopped completely, the remaining three Squires unable to hold it together on their own, or perhaps unwilling. Teft, Leyten and Drehy ran to the smoldering crater where their friend once stood, not too long ago. Teft was the first to look in. As soon as he did, he straightened and looked away. Drehy slid to his knees and began to clutch his chest, while Leyten stepped beside him, bent his head and closed his eyes, before reciting a silent prayer. Ranatar heard someone vomit behind him, but chose to ignore it. Skar’s death was horrifying, but if the giant Voidbringer wasn’t defeated soon, he suspected there would be more like it. Stepping towards the smoking crater, Ranatar prepared to interrupt the Squire’s warning, only for a loud shout to come from above. Kaladin had felt his Squire die, and judging by his response, he wasn’t happy. The windshield that surrounded him slowly became less round as Syl’s body turned into energy. From this angle, it seemed the winds were shaping themselves into a spearhead. The honorspren appeared to be fusing with it, manifesting into a silvery mist with cerulean accents. Whatever that eye belonged to, it looked like the Windrunner intended to blind it, or worse. That gave Ranatar an idea. “Listen up!” the Stormwarden yelled, his words punctuated by a loud crash as the giant Voidbringer started lumbering in a circle to face the Initiates. “If we don’t end this fast, more good men are going to die! It looks like our beloved Captain is aiming to finish his battle! I think it’s about time we do the same! “Teresh! And Araon too, I suppose. Can you two blind the Voidbringer with flame or not?” Keph spun around her Dustbringer’s hand, forming a glove of flame. “I don’t believe I can shoot that high. Keph says my range is limited to 15 meters.” “And I’m kind of new to this,” Araon continued, “so I doubt I could fire even half that distance.” Ranatar would have sighed if not for his backup plan. “Can either of you tell me the melting temperature of rock?” Araon frowned at him. “Is this really time for a school lesson?” “1200 degrees,” Teresh replied before Ranatar could answer. The look on his face suggested that he knew that Ranatar was going to say next. “Keph says that with Araon, we can manage it. But it’s going to take some time.” “That’s fine. While you’re creating a lava pit, Fifth can-” “-Ceol,” Fifth interrupted. “Pardon?” “My name is Ceol.” Ranatar couldn’t stop himself from sighing this time. “Fine. Ceol. Can you fly around the Voidbringer’s head without putting yourself at risk? What I’m planning is going to take a while to set up and it won’t be very effective if the monster sees it coming. I don’t need you hurting the Voidbringer, just pestering it. Keep its eyes away from the ground for as long as possible.” “Got it.” Ranatar turned to look at who’s next. “Jonly… I’m not actually sure what you’re capable of.” The man laughed, though it came out more like a bark. “Anything you are, and more.” “In that case, do you see those spines protruding from the Voidbringer’s back?” Together, everyone looked at the giant, who moved slow enough that she had only yet to turn halfway. Jonly nodded. “I want you and the Squires to try scaling them. If you’re strong enough, you should be able to throw yourself from one to the other, almost like climbing the rungs of a really big ladder. The monster might not be wearing Plate any more, but it’s got chitin covering everything but its face. If we’re going to do any meaningful damage, it’s going to be done there. Think you can manage it?” Jonly grunted. “What about you three? Teft. Leyten. Drehy! You shook up too much to fight?” “Of course not!” replied Drehy. Before Ranatar could ask, Teft answered his next question. “We heard you, and it sounds solid. Not sure what else we could do without being able to fly.” At that, Leyten looked at Ceol with jealousy. “While this is happening, what are you going to do?” asked Teresh. “Rea and I, we’re the safest to traverse the battlefield. He’s a small target and I can teleport out of the way of danger. I don’t know where Naihar is, but with his powers, he’s the best chance we have at tripping the monster, unless anyone else has a ton of firepower they’ve been keeping from the rest of us.” That last statement was met with an equal number of head-shakes and incredulous stares. In the background, Ranatar noticed the Voidbringer was almost facing them completely. He would have to make this last part quick. “Lyna. Stay with Hithon. It doesn’t look like the Stormlight is healing as fast as the rest of us, and it's not like he can see, so we need you to look out for anything that we might not expect. If you need to get anyone’s attention, just scream.” Rather than speak, his fellow Acolyte nodded. “What about us?” Oh. Right. Ranatar had forgotten about Hess and Tintallë. The man was a natural recluse, and the woman always seemed to be drifting off into her own little world. Of course, Ranatar knew the reasons why from his research, but he also knew these two wouldn’t be able to do much good. “See if you two can find any of the Radiants. Make sure they’re okay, provide any support you can. And if they’re fine, send them to help. I’m sure we could make use of their powers.” As an afterthought, Ranatar added: “Oh, and Hess. Make sure nobody touches Tintallë, no matter what. It won’t end well. Trust me.” The man’s reluctant nod would have to be enough. The Voidbringer was staring at them now, her swordarm gradually raising the lightning blade above her head. “Everyone!” Ranatar yelled. “You know what to do! Now scatter!” “So,” Shallan said, breaking the awkward silence. “You going to tell me what just came over you?” Adolin had already been sitting on the ground, slouched over, his head resting against the groove left in the cavern wall from where his Blade pierced it before being dismissed. And yet when Shallan addressed him, the prince somehow managed to deflate even more. She had avoided getting too close to him, partly because she was worried he might attack her too, not to mention the fact that her betrothed was covered in thick, orange blood. She cared little about stains, but she couldn’t help but be intimidated, seeing him like that. Shallan hadn’t felt this afraid of a man since… well. Since her father. She swallowed hard at the realization. “I wish I knew,” Adolin said, then sighed. He looked as if he was about to cry but refusing to let the tears run free. There was a pang of regret in his voice, too. One that seemed more repressed than the guilt you’d have from killing dozens of monsters to save the world, or turning on a man who could arguably be his best friend. “This wasn’t the first time you lost control, was it?” Shallan asked, not meaning for it to sound like an accusation. The burst of outrage Adolin demonstrated made it seem like an accusation anyway. He grabbed her wrist so fast and hard that Shallan nearly leapt out of her skin. “He told you!” Adolin shouted, then pulled. The look on his face was almost rabid. Shallan shook her head. “No one told me anything, Adolin!” she said with a yelp, resisting the urge to summon Pattern, but unable to escape the feeling in her gut that told her she should. She did not like being defenseless. Fortunately she didn’t have to say another word, the pain on her face enough to snap Adolin back to his senses. “I’m sorry…” he mumbled as he let go and shied further into the corner of the cave. “I don’t know why this is happening to me…” Shallan didn’t know either. All the same, she decided to take a leap of faith. Grabbing the prince’s wrist and dragging it over her shoulders, she settled herself into the crook of his arm, then rested her head on his chest. For minutes they sat like that in silence. Neither was oblivious to the sounds of the approaching storm, nor the bright flash of light, or the quiet rumbling that gradually became a violent quake. And yet neither made an effort to move, as if they were to content to die like this, pressed to each other in a cold, dark cave, sheathed in blood and sweat. When the quake stopped, Adolin finally spoke. “I killed Sadeas.” How was Shallan supposed to respond to that? Adolin was broken, that much was clear, and in his current state, the wrong words could set him off again, drive him to violence. Instead of replying or flinching away, Shallan nestled closer. “Since it happened, I’ve come up with a hundred justifications. The man was a monster. His betrayal at the Tower had killed thousands of good men, ruined the lives of their families. All so that he could remove my father and seize this kingdom. When that failed, he continued to plot. Did everything he could to undermine us. There was no other way to stop him. Someone had to do it. “But the truth is, there was only one reason I killed him, Shallan. In that moment it was because I wanted to. I couldn’t make him suffer the same way he made my family all these years. He was heirless and there was no way I could bring myself to harm his wife, even if she is just as conniving as him. I wanted to hurt him. To kill him. And so I did. As simple as that. “Does that make me a bad person?” Again, Shallan was clueless. This matter was too grave for her wit, and she had been sharpening her tongue for so long, she doubted there was anything she could say anything that would actually help him. So instead she grabbed his chin with her freehand, tilted her head towards his and kissed him. At first the contact was soft, like a gentle breeze. Then her hand slid to the back of his neck and pulled him into her hard. His lips tasted like salt and iron, but she didn’t mind. A minute passed. Perhaps two. Three. By the time they were finished, Shallan had lost count. She smiled, uncaring, and Adolin smiled back. The prince was still hurting, but the anger was gone. Whatever Shallan had done, it grounded Adolin. Brought him back. “Thank you,” he said, then groaned as he shifted positions. Apparently the way he had been lying before wasn’t very comfortable. Shallan sniffed loudly, then pinched her nose. “That smell… no! You didn’t!” she said, trying not to laugh. Suddenly nervous, Adolin perked up and began wiggling in his Plate. “I! What? No!” he stuttered, then sagged with relief. Giggling, Shallan let go of her nose and leaned in for another kiss, which Adolin quickly swat away. “Nope. No more kisses for you. You ruined the moment.” “Can you really blame me?” she replied with a smile. Rather than answer, Adolin closed his eyes and leaned his head back. If not for his haphazard breathing, Shallan would have guessed he was falling asleep. “The Herald of Justice approached me, the night of the gala,” Adolin began. This time it was Shallan who perked up. Unsure of the cause, that information made her nervous. “He said he just wanted to talk. I’m not sure if I believe that was always his intention. The conversation, it felt like he was trying to get a read on me. If I said the wrong thing, I think he might have killed me. “He didn’t, though. Obviously. He actually approved of me bringing Sadeas to ‘Justice.’ Told me I reminded him of himself, in his youth, and that he’d be watching to see what I did next. Before he left, he implied he’d come see me again, but when he did, we’d either be friends or enemies. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to be careful. No sane man wants a Herald as a foe, and with what’s coming, I think we need him as an ally. But for whatever reason, my gut told me that something was wrong with him. It was almost like… like he had no soul. His voice, his laughter. It was all just too cold and empty. “If I remind him of himself, does that mean that someday, I’ll be empty too?” For once, Shallan knew what to say. “So long as you have me, no. Never.” It was a lie on two fronts, but it seemed to do the trick. Adolin leaned his head against Shallan’s and kissed her hair before truly falling asleep. Shallan was left alone and awake, listening to a song of war and storms with a lot of things to ponder. Trying not to stir so much that she woke the prince, Shallan fiddled with the chain Adolin had given her. The one that belonged to his mother. Adolin didn’t awaken when a mighty roar shook the earth, nor when a flash of light filled the cave as a bolt of lightning impacted the stone just beyond the entrance she carved. She imagined the prince had spent quite a few nights lying in bed, desperately searching for answers and finding none. A lack of sleep, coupled with the mess he just fought through to get here… How much time had passed since she rescued Kaladin? It was no longer raining, but she could still hear claps of thunder, rushing wind, and the screams of men, and Voidbringers, being cut down by their enemies. Kaladin had said he would take care of things from here, but that didn’t make her feel any less guilty for just lying here, in the darkness, safe from whatever happened outside. And what about Pattern? After she finished cutting her way into the cave to free Kaladin, the Cryptic had disappeared, buzzing about something horrible. Something undone, she thought she heard, but she couldn’t remember that well. She had been a bit distracted, running into a crazed Adolin and a wounded Kaladin. Curious, she reached out for the spren and found him cowering on the ceiling, drawn in so tight that he was barely the size of a sphere. What on Roshar could have gotten the Cryptic so scared? Before she could ask, she was interrupted by the entire world lurching forward, throwing Adolin and her onto their faces. “What the?” Adolin yelled in surprise. Shallan didn’t see what happened next, but in the corner of her eye, she recognized the movement. A tiny pebble landed on her head, followed by a shower of stones, and next thing she knew, Adolin was grunting, throwing himself on top of her. Isn’t Plate supposed to be light? She thought, gasping for breath as the prince shifted to make her more comfortable. There was a moment of relief, followed by a loud smash, the sound of glass breaking, and the sensation of hot wax dripping onto her back. In the process, the weight on her back had doubled, then nearly doubled again. Pinned down and barely able to breathe, the dreadful realization had finally settled within Shalan. The rock had finally collapsed on top of them. Idiot, she thought, chastising herself. I’m a storming idiot. Although Dalinar was sure his face was as hard and emotionless as a statue, he could not but feel pride as he watched the Initiates fight from across the plateau. In a moment like this, he wished the Stormfather wasn’t so stubborn. If the Sliver had not refused to become a Blade or teach him the secret of forging Plate, Dalinar would be out there right now, fighting alongside them. Earlier he had managed to do some good, keeping Balthazar alive, but the reckless Initiate was nowhere to be seen, which gave Dalinar a creeping suspicion that his efforts had been for all for naught. The man must have died sometime after the Bondsmith lost track of him, and for some reason he thought Balthazar wasn’t the only one. How many deaths have there been already? How many more would die before this day was done? What could Dalinar do to help? At least the Voidbringer was distracted. One of the Initiates had learned to fly and used that power to strike the Voidbringer’s face, who he now recognized. What was her name again? Dalinar couldn’t remember. He could have sworn he heard it once - maybe during one of their battles, or perhaps a longer time ago in passing - but like the name and face of his wife, it was hard to grasp it. Trying only made it harder to recall, though it wasn’t like water seeping through fingers. It felt more like a wall, and whenever he attempted to pry it down, he only felt sick. Did it have something to do with the Voidbringer’s transformation? Either way, the woman was distracted. Lightning gathered at her fingers and she pressed it to her forehead to seal the wound shut before wiping a thick coat of orange blood from her left eye. Blinking to clear the last of the blood from her vision, the Voidbringer looked up, straight at the huge eye in the sky just as it began to shut. “We need to run!” yelled Renarin. “Forty feet, north north-west. Hurry!” Renarin’s urgent tone suggested there was no time delay. With the cyclone surrounding the plateau and the void where the sky used to be, Dalinar could not look towards the sun to figure out which direction was which. The Bondsmith hesitated to remember where his shadow pointed when they had arrived, but fortunately he didn’t need to think hard as his son quickly broke off from the group, presumably to lead them to safety. By the time they reached the spot Renarin identified, his son fell to the ground, gasping. The boy was never very fit, and today he didn’t have the added stamina granted by his Plate. Earlier, Adolin had requested that Renarin lend the armor to one of his lieutenants, believing an extra set would be more useful in the frontal assault. As smart of a decision as it was, Dalinar wasn’t pleased with how vulnerable that made his son. When the Honor Guard finished catching up, a shadow had fallen over the plateau, followed by a ray of scarlet light that quickly brightened until it bathed the entire world red. Curious, Dalinar nearly looked up towards the source, but then Renarin slumped over and began to convulse. No matter how much the Bondsmith wanted to be aware of what was happening, there was no way he could turn away from his own child in their time of need. Fearing the worst, he held down the boy and pried his mouth open to make sure he didn’t choke on his tongue. Countless thunderclaps roared at once, accompanied by a blood curdling static. Behind them, something crashed into the plateau, casting earth into the air. A shower of hot stones fell upon Dalinar’s back, but fortunately none landed on Renarin. Beside him, one of his Honor Guard began to dance and scream, while another quickly ran to him and helped unclasp his breastplate to free one of the smoldering rocks from where it fell between the armor and his shoulder blade. “Woah,” another one of his men - the most talkative of them, Peet - had said. “Just barely got of the way there, didn’t we?” A white froth leaked out of Renarin’s mouth, but otherwise he was still and gaining lucidity. Assured that his son was okay, Dalinar spared a glance behind him and found a massive, smoldering crater a few steps behind him. It was hard to see through the smoke, but the crater reached all the way to where they had been standing just a few seconds ago, and seemed to go on well beyond there. “Father,” Renarin choked, then spit out the last of the viscous liquid in his mouth. “We’ve got to end this.” Dalinar returned his gaze to his son and frowned. He wanted desperately to speak, but only one word came to mind. How? As if Renarin could hear his thoughts, he answered. “The Stormfather.” If not for the gravity of the situation, Dalinar would have laughed. Since forming their bond, the Stormfather had done little else but goad him. In some ways the Sliver was like Elhokar. Too stubborn, or prideful, to listen to reason. At least with the King, however, Dalinar could coerce him with violence. Unfortunately the Bondsmith had no such leverage over the Shadow of the Almighty. Again, Renarin spoke as if Dalinar’s mind was a open book. “He is not a force to be commanded, but guided.” In what kind of world would man guide god? This time Renarin didn’t answer, just looked to the sky. Sighing, Dalinar raised himself onto his haunches and followed his son’s gaze. “Stormfather,” he began, then paused to think of the words to say. Would saying another oath help? Probably. But realizing that didn’t help him find the right words, anyway. He was much too new to this. Clueless, he defaulted to an old argument, despite knowing he’d receive the same response as always. “Now would be a perfect time for you to become my Blade.” I TOLD YOU. I WILL NOT COME AS YOU CALL. THIS WAR IS YOURS TO LOSE. IT WAS ALWAYS GOING TO END THIS WAY. “For a god, you’re awfully pessimistic. Have you no faith?” NONE. MY FAITH DIED WHEN MAN LOST HONOR. “Honor? Who are you to speak of honor? You who has the power to save the world, but instead watches as evils like these rip it to shreds?” “Father…” Renarin grabbed Dalinar’s wrist, trying to soothe his anger. Finally realizing his irritation and exhaustion, Dalinar bowed his head and closed his eyes. Renarin was right. Anger was not the solution to this dilemma. If anything, it was the cause. For a long moment, the Bondsmith remained just like that. Motionless as the earth quaked to the immense Voidbringer’s every step. Even without looking at the monster and the Initiates who gathered at her feet, Dalinar could sense the tension in the air. It was a burden so heavy that gravity felt like it had been turned up three times its regular strength. There was something else, though. A sensation the Bondsmith had never really felt before. Opening his eyes, he turned to face the scene just as it unfolded. Ranatar, accompanied by his fellow Initiates and three of Kaladin’s Squires, were squared off against the monstress, ready for a fight. Dalinar closed his eyes and could still see the warriors, each of them silhouette by a bright, white light. Standing together as they did, their auras blended into one great luminescence. In their presence, the darkness stood no chance. Without meaning to, Dalinar took a deep breath, then stoked their light with his own power until it shined as bright as the sun. When he opened his eyes once last time, he noticed each of the Initiates were standing a little bit taller. Their stances had become more relaxed, yet their muscles seemed more rigid. It as then that the true battle began. What he saw… Dalinar could not help but stare in awe. The Nameless Initiate shot into the air, swiping his bent claymore at the Voidbringer’s eyes. Anticipating the move, the Voidbringer staggered back, opening a gap between its legs for Jonly and the Squires to run between. Despite her chitinous shell, the Voidbringer must have felt the four men leap onto the spines of her lower back, for as soon as the first one landed, she thrust her hips outward, attempting to shake him free. Meanwhile, Ranatar and Rea split off in separate directions, leaving Araon and Teresh facing one another, their bodies radiating not with smoking light, but shimmering heat. Arms thrust before them, flame started to literally fire from their palms, though instead of the monster they aimed for the ground. Slowly, the rock melted into lava, a pit forming and growing steadily until the two men were forced to start moving backwards. Each step deliberate with a long pause between them to ensure they didn’t lose their balance when the earth shook in the wake of the Voidbringer’s hasty movements. Without relent, Fifth continued to harry the Voidbringer’s face, keeping her from looking anywhere but eye level. Another quick shake revealed Jonly and the Squires jumping between the third and fourth spines of her back. Unlike the Squires, Jonly was struggling to hold on, but they used their Lashings to keep him bound to the stone until he gathered the strength to leap again. Out of nowhere, Naihar and Ranatar appeared, a flourishing vine of incredible width and length pulled taut between them. Fearless, they ran circles around the Voidbringer’s legs, attempting to tangle her feet to limit her movements. It wasn’t perfect, but a combination of that and a swath of light left in the wake of Naihar’s bare footsteps caused the Voidbringer to start losing her balance. By then, her face had been marred by several bleeding wounds, and the three Squires plus Jonly had perched themselves upon her shoulders, two on each and winding their arms back. The pit of lava had grown significantly large for what only seemed like a few minutes at most, but Dalinar knew that it had been at least a half an hour since the fight began. For an observer, battles of this scale just felt like they went by in a flash. For the fighters, it might have felt like a century. Ranatar yelled a command, grabbed Naihar, and then summoned a circle of light that quickly vanished them away. Using the streams of flame to propel their bodies, Araon and Teresh rocketed to safety just in time for Ceol to grab a wounded Hithon and distraught Lyna and fly them away. At once, Jonly and the Squires swung at the back of the Voidbringer’s head with all their might, sending the monstress plummeting towards the lava pit face-first. The sheer force of their blow simultaneously threw them backwards. Dalinar couldn’t tell for sure, but judging by the direction, they should have landed on top of the stone monolith at the plateau’s center. Unable to control the direction in which she fell, the Voidbringer collided with the superhot trench. Her wail was immediate, a desperate cry as she struggled to claw herself free, although the lava made quick work of her chitinous armor and was already eating away at the muscle beneath. Writhing in pain, she let out one last scream before her body gave up completely, either due to the blood loss or utter shock. With her body melted halfway into the plateau, the Voidbringer resembled a massive skeleton, frozen in time as it tried to crawl out of its molten grave. Allowing a moment for the chaos to settle, Dalinar finally looked up to the sky. “You say man lost honor.” he muttered under his breath as he watched Kaladin and his spren, Sylphrena, fuse to become a spear of radiant light. “If that were true, then what do you call this?” The Stormfather had no words. Instead, the sky rumbled as Kaladin launched himself into the heavens and pierced the malicious crimson eye of Nergaoul the Unmade. A moment later a Highstorm came to wash away the bloody tears It shed.