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Skyward Houston signing ()
#51 Copy

Questioner

Is it possible for a Returned with sufficient knowledge, to sacrifice themselves to mend the Oathpact?

Brandon Sanderson

No, not without work. It just wouldn't work naturally that way. So no, I mean technically any Investiture-- with that amount of Investiture, there's like, a chance they could do something like you want to do. But I'm going to say, kind of, would be no...

/r/books AMA 2015 ()
#53 Copy

Oudeis16

If Bob the Awakener Awakened fifty straw men to dance around, then died, then Returned as FormerBob the Appropriately Named, would FormerBob be able to reclaim the Breath from the straw men in the normal fashion (once he learned the "Your Breath to Mine" Command)?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes. He has enough of his original Identity, and the spiritual connection would remain.

sonofstannis

What if he instead were reincarnated as a lifeless? Is there a way he could reclaim it then?

Brandon Sanderson

Lifeless have someone else's investiture replacing their own. (As opposed to Returned, who are augmented.) Depends on how much of them is left, and if they can achieve sapience again, but I'd say this is unlikely.

WeiryWriter

What if the Lifeless is Awakened with their own Breath? (i.e. they gave it away right before they died and the person they gave it to then used it in the Awakening)

Brandon Sanderson

This has happened already in the world, and it does help.

-Nayrb

Did this happen "on screen"?

Brandon Sanderson

RAFO.

Arcanum Unbounded release party ()
#54 Copy

Questioner

Given Sanderson's Laws about limitations...

Brandon Sanderson

Yes.

Questioner

What would you say are any spiritual, cognitive, and or physical limitations to a Returned's healing ability?

Brandon Sanderson

That they can do it once.

Questioner

That they can do it once, and that's it?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, right? The Returned get one heal and then they die. That's a pretty big limitation. Like you have to choose really well. However, what they can heal is bounded by cosmere limitations on healing, but it is a supercharged version.

Questioner

Okay. Could you define more cosmere limitations on healing?

Brandon Sanderson

Cosmere limitations on healing can be affected by your own perception.

Questioner

Okay. Cognitive stuff.

Brandon Sanderson

Cognitive stuff. And so there's a part of that, and... But that's really-- cognitive interferes. And if your spirit is gone? Right? Cosmere healing, you know, if your spirit is passed on you just get a dead body even though you've healed it.

Questioner

So potentially Vasher, having a much greater cosmere knowledge than others could potentially have a much greater usage of that healing than regular--

Brandon Sanderson

Well the healing-- What I mean by that is yourself. You impose limits. So the person being healed can impose some limits on the healing working. It doesn't happen as often as I'm making it sound. But, you know-- why Kaladin's scars have not healed, right? So Kaladin being hit by a Returned would still not heal his scars. He's got a major hangup about those scars.

Footnote: The questioner seems to have been asking about cosmere healing in general for Returned, but Brandon focused on their ability to give up their Divine Breath to heal somebody else.
Words of Radiance San Diego signing ()
#55 Copy

Leinton (paraphrased)

If Endowment were killed, would the Returned still come?

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

Somebody needs to hold the magic. If no one holds the magic, the magic will start to gain sentience. Interesting and bizarre things happen then, so I would say yes, but with the caveat that with whoever picks up the power or what happens with the power could end up changing that.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
#56 Copy

Argent

Can a Returned like Lightsong go to Roshar and form a bond with a spren?

Brandon Sanderson

Investiture interferes with other Investiture.

Argent

And they have a lot of it.

Brandon Sanderson

And they have a lot of it. That is not-- It's not completely-- For instance you can Push on Invested metal, but it's hard. There's a resistance, the more Invested the harder-- So a bond for instance-- forming a bond-- It's, yeah-- It can be done--

I mean Sazed took two of the powers up, right? But I kind of imagine what he did as a nuclear reaction. Where breaking an atom is hard, unless you are in the middle of a sun. And he was in the middle of the sun. At that point--

Argent

There was a lot of stuff going on around him that facilitated.

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, definitely. But when you've got that much power you'll-- In other words if there is a lot of power going around, these things become easier.

Argent

So, possible but difficult is--

Brandon Sanderson

Yes.

/r/books AMA 2015 ()
#58 Copy

Enfeathered

Assuming that the events of the first Mistborn book took place on Nalthis instead, and especially considering the circumstances of Kelsier's passing and the events afterwards, would he have Returned?

Brandon Sanderson

That's a very interesting question. Endowment can be somewhat...erratic. I don't know, honestly. I'd have to think about it.

Salt Lake City ComicCon 2017 ()
#59 Copy

Questioner

Vasher is called the first Returned. Was he actually the first?

Brandon Sanderson

He is not the very first person to Return. The lore surrounding Vasher and the first Returned and things like that is not strict on the world. Meaning, it's been many, many years.

Footnote: The questioner appears to have conflated Vo, the First Returned, with Vasher.
Warbreaker Annotations ()
#60 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Notice how he grows in size here when he isn't paying attention. That's his Returned nature beginning to manifest, much like Vivenna's hair reacts to her emotions, because of the moment of great passion from him during the fight.

In this chapter, we also get the first hints that children and animals like Vasher. That's another hint about his nature—though a very, very subtle one, since I haven't talked about how animals and children all like Returned. They can sense the divine Breath within him, and it comforts them.

General Reddit 2020 ()
#62 Copy

Haverworthy

Just had a question, when a Returned consumes a Breath, is it a property of their body that does so or the Divine Breath itself? It's been contentious in the community. If it's specifically just their body and a hemalurgist were to spike a Divine Breath as indicated was possible here*, would the hemalurgist not need to consume a weekly breath?

*https://wob.coppermind.net/events/364/#e11389

Brandon Sanderson

That's a very interesting question. The thing that requires the Returned to continue gaining investiture is their nature as cognitive shadows--they are dead, and in this case, need a power source to continue persisting in the physical realm. The Divine Breath is part of this. Imagine the Divine Breath as the thing that Infuses their soul, making it persist initially, and then and sticks it to the body. So if you stole it, but you yourself were not in need of being kept alive, I would say that you wouldn't need to be fed a new breath each week to maintain the Divine Breath.

Shadows of Self release party ()
#63 Copy

Questioner

Is there a way for any of the Shards to circumvent the Cognitive Realm and resurrect somebody?

Brandon Sanderson

...So, resurrection in the cosmere is-- depends on if-- where your mind is, and the status of your body, and whether your mind and soul have kind of combined and passed on. If you get to them before that happens, then you can re-attach the soul to the body. And you see that happening in Warbreaker quite often.

Bystanders

The Returned.

Brandon Sanderson

The Returned, yeah. You just gotta get the soul before it passes on. Once it passes on nobody knows where it goes.

clyguy

Now Harmony tells Spook that Kelsier and Vin say hi. So is he able to reach into wherever they are?

Brandon Sanderson

He doesn't say that they say hi, he says--

Bystanders

They're doing well.

Brandon Sanderson

They're doing well.

clyguy

Can he see them or communicate with them at all?

Brandon Sanderson

He has interacted with them at some point.

Legion Release Party ()
#64 Copy

Questioner

Can a Returned be made from Stormlight?

Brandon Sanderson

How would you count the Heralds?

Questioner

I haven't read much, so I don't really know what you're talking about.

Brandon Sanderson

In the Stormlight books, there is a set of people who are constantly reborn, into full sized grown bodies that are being created for them. Would you count that as being Returned?

Or do you count Returned...What's your definition, right? You can create something that is Returned-like. But your definition of what is Returned and what is not, is going to be involved in that.

DragonCon 2016 ()
#66 Copy

Trae

On the planet of Nalthis, the Warbreaker planet, is the method with which people are chosen as Returned an autonomous system that is not governed by intelligent entity?

Brandon Sanderson

No, good question. *laughter* I was hoping for one of those.

General Twitter 2019 ()
#67 Copy

Questioner

How did Vasher give his Breath to Denth and not die? He's Returned, so if he gives away his Breath, he dies, right?

Brandon Sanderson

Vasher is capable of some things that most other Returned don't live long enough to figure out. We'll go into details in future books, assuming I get to them.

Steelheart release party ()
#68 Copy

Questioner

In Warbreaker, how does Denth remember who his sister is if he was Returned?

Brandon Sanderson

That is an excellent question and it will be answered. It is a conscious decision of mine, doing that. It is something you are supposed to be wondering. In the future books I want to delve into that sort of thing a lot more. So, Read And Find Out, but it was a "That wasn't a mistake" Read And Find Out.

Goodreads Fantasy Book Discussion Warbreaker Q&A ()
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Skyler

If a Returned gives away his/her Breath they die right? So why doesn't Vasher die after he gives his to Denth?

Brandon Sanderson

They will die the moment they run out of Breath to harvest. Once a week their body needs a Breath in order to survive. Each Returned has one single superpowered Breath. Imagine it as one breath that propels them up through the Heightenings, but it is only a single Breath. It's what we speak of in Shard world terminology as a Splinter. And when the seventh day comes, if a Returned does not have another breath for his body to consume to keep him alive, his body will actually eat his divine Breath and kill him. So they don't die immediately after they get rid of the Breath, they're sort of put into a state of limbo where if they don't find more Breath by the time that their feast day comes, then they will die. (Vasher did not give his Returned Breath to Denth, just a number of normal Breaths.)

Words of Radiance Portland signing ()
#70 Copy

Kogiopsis

Since Returned come back as kind of an idealized form of themselves, if somebody was transgender in their original life would they Return as the sex they had been assigned the first time or the gender they identified as?

Brandon Sanderson

I would think that a transgendered person could definitely come back as how they identify. Perception is very important in these sorts of things. It would really depend on the person, but yes.

/r/books AMA 2015 ()
#71 Copy

drabgod

When a Returned who has lots of extra Breath gives them away without suppressing his Divine Breath, does the Divine Breath stick to the regular Breath as they are transferred to the receiver? Will the receiver find himself suddenly possessing a Divine Breath? Or does it still vanish after healing the receiver?

Brandon Sanderson

Divine Breaths don't work quite like others. However, losing one is kind of a "Last resort." You'll give away all the others first, and then, if you push you can give it away as well. It never sticks around and makes the person you choose returned.

drabgod

Could you use it to heal Preservation's mind? (potentially with the Well)

Brandon Sanderson

Depends on what you mean by "Preservation's Mind." Do you mean Leras? During the events of Well/HoA he's WELL beyond the help of such a small bit of investiture, as available in a single Divine Breath. With the help of the Well itself? That's more realistic, but the real reason that he was suffering from such degradation was due to persistent attacks by Ruin.

Goodreads Fantasy Book Discussion Warbreaker Q&A ()
#72 Copy

Gordon

The paintings (I think there were at least two, right?) that remind Lightsong of his dreams and the Manywar etc. Is the Artist someone we know? If not, will we eventually meet him/her in a later book? Does the artist hope to affect Lightsong this way, or is it just some guy giving abstract art to his God?

Jared

Is the artist that painted those paintings Hoid?

Brandon Sanderson

Hoid did not make the paintings. The goal of those paintings—and this is spoilery, by the way—the paintings are actually what the text implies that they are. They are abstract paintings which Lightsong, having a touch of the divine, is able to see and read into things that aren't necessarily there.

Beyond that, art is a magical thing in the world of WARBREAKER. When an artist creates a work of art, part of the artist's soul ends up in the artwork. Someone who has many breaths and who's Returned like Lightsong has the inherent ability to see into the art and perceive that. So Lightsong can interpret correctly an abstract piece, based on what the artist is trying to convey, in a way that a normal person couldn't.

I was not trying to make the artists anyone specifically important. In the case of those paintings, they are wonderful artists—I think they are two separate artists, if I'm thinking of the two paintings that you're indicating. As Lightsong has a splinter of divine nature inside him, he is able to interpret the paintings—to foresee, using them, and to see into the soul of the person who made them.

Stormlight Three Update #6 ()
#73 Copy

Argent

When you say that the Returned are Cognitive Shadows, are they shadows of the people they were pre-death? In other words, is Lightsong Llarimar's Cognitive Shadow stapled to his body with a Divine Breath?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, they are. (The evidence in the books is Lightsong obtaining some of the memories his pre-death soul had.)

Tor.com Q&A with Brandon Sanderson ()
#74 Copy

Locke219

Can Returned have children? If so, who was the first Returned to do so?

Brandon Sanderson

I'm going to have to RAFO that one because it's a big RAFO question for the world. In-world, it is believed both that they cannot and that they can. Mythology speaks of it happening, yet many Returned by their own experiment have not been able to have children.

Footnote: Brandon does confirm in the annotations for Warbreaker that it is possible for Returned to have children, but there are certain requirements that are not currently known.
JordanCon 2018 ()
#75 Copy

Argent

Lightsong's personality is very different than Stennimar's. If the Returned are their previous lives--Cognitive Shadows as you've said before, just stapled with Divine Breath--where do their new personalities come from?

Brandon Sanderson

My argument there is when I was writing him, getting into a kind of writer-thing, this is the person he would have become... My philosophy there was, the way that the Returned happen, and you losing your memories, it comes down to this nature versus nurture thing for me. The personality-- He is the same person, but with certain life experiences removed. Different circumstances. And in his case, that resulted in, let's say, a secondary mode of personality that had never been encouraged before.

Just like how, you put me in the right situation I'm an extrovert, but in a lot of situations I'm an introvert. So you remove a lot of the cultural conditioning and that is who he becomes.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#77 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Lightsong Sees the Painting of the Red Battle

This is our first major clue (though a subtle one at the same time) that there might be something to the religion of the Iridescent Tones. Lightsong does see something in this painting that an ordinary person wouldn't be able to. A well-crafted piece of art, made by a person channeling the Tones and connected to them via Breath, can speak to a Returned. Now, in this case, it doesn't work quite like Llarimar says it does—Lightsong doesn't actually prophesy about the black sword in the way the priest thinks. In other words, Lightsong isn't prophesying that he'll see the Black Sword (Nightblood) in the day's activities.

Instead, Lightsong is seeing an image of a previous war, which is prophetic in that another Manywar is brewing—and in both cases, Nightblood will be important to the outcome of the battle.

The person Lightsong sees in the abstract painting is Shashara, Denth's sister, one of the Five Scholars and a Returned also known as Glorysinger by the Cult of the Returned. She is seen here in Lightsong's vision as she's drawing Nightblood at the battle of Twilight Falls. It's the only time the sword was drawn in battle, and Vasher was horrified by the result.

It's because of her insistence on using the sword in battle, and on giving away the secret to creating more, that Vasher and she fought. He ended up killing her with Nightblood, which they'd created together during the days they were in love—he married her a short time before their falling out. That marriage ended with him slaying his own wife to keep her from creating more abominations like Nightblood and loosing them upon the world.

Nightblood is part of a much larger story in this world. He's dropped casually into this particular book, more as a side note than a real focus of what's going on, but his own role in the world is much, much larger than his supporting part here would indicate.

Stormlight Three Update #6 ()
#78 Copy

Khyrindor

You've said that Returned count as Cognitive shadows "stapled" back into their bodies, and that the Heralds are at least similar. Would I be right in assuming that Elantrians could be considered as Cognitive Shadows as well, or am I barking up the wrong tree?

Brandon Sanderson

Elantrians are something different. They don't actually "die" to be created.

Recognize that the term cognitive shadow is an in-cosmere theory, which I'm not going to comment on as the creator of the setting. The theory is this:

Investiture seeks sapience. It looks for someone to control it or, in some instances, spontaneously adopts personality.

A mind (cognitive aspect of a person) can become infused with Investiture. This acts a little like minerals with petrified wood, replacing the mind and personality with investiture.

When the actual person dies, this investiture imprint remains behind. A copy of the soul, but not the actual soul.

Others disagree with this, and think the soul itself persists. Still others reject the theory in its entirety.

linkhyrule5

Huh.

... Kandra are almost literally stapled to their bodies with Hemalurgy - would they count as such, to the in-setting scholars?

Brandon Sanderson

No, they wouldn't. They are beings who have had their souls twisted by Hemalurgy--the soul never left, it's just been messed up. Someone else who has a soul stapled to a body with Hemalurgy would count though.

Oathbringer Houston signing ()
#79 Copy

Questioner

I wanted to ask about the Returned and the Fused. I haven't gotten all the way through [Oathbringer]... With the Spiritual Realm, is it very similar for how they don't return, versus the Returned coming back and the Fused staying?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, there is a similarity there, for sure.

Questioner

Is it related at all... So, a thunderclast. Is it similar to Awakening?

Brandon Sanderson

Kinda, but a little further out. You'll figure out-- that one's explained pretty well in [Oathrbinger].

Bands of Mourning release party ()
#80 Copy

Questioner

Are Returned the same person-- like is a Returned the same person they were before they were alive or-- 'Cause it says in the book that it is a Shard that Awakens the body so is it the consciousness-- Well not the Shard--

Brandon Sanderson

It is the same soul.

Questioner

The same soul.

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah.

Questioner

I was wondering if it was the consciousness of the Splinter.

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#81 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Twelve

Lightsong Hears Petitions

The concept of petitions—and the gods being able to heal someone one time—grew out of my desire to have something about them that was miraculous. Something obvious, something more than just an ability to make vague prophecies. Their Breath auras are amazing, true, but an Awakener with a lot of Breath can replicate that.

I took the idea of being able to die in order to heal from an idea discarded from Elantris. If you look at the deleted scenes (Caution: Spoilers for the ending of Elantris), you can read about how there was originally a subplot to the story where the Seons (the floating balls of light) could expend the Aon at their center and create a miraculous event one time. However, doing so would kill them. I eventually ended up not using this plot structure in the final draft, and so I cut all references to this ability from the book. I felt that it was too contrived in that novel.

I've always thought it was interesting conceptually, however, so I developed it into this book as an aspect of Returned that makes them different. They can create one miracle—and in this world, that one miracle has to be a healing. They can expend their divine Breath to heal someone.

This created another problem for readers, however. It became very difficult in the book to explain to them that a Returned could still Awaken things—but not by using the Breath granted to them by their Return. In other words, if a Returned gained a hundred extra Breaths, they could use them just like anyone else's. But if they give away the Breath they start with, it kills them.

Every person starts with a Breath. Well, Returned start with one too—a divine Breath that can be given away to heal someone else's Breath that is weakening and dying. That's what these petitioners are asking for.

But regular Breaths, they can give those away. They just have to be tricky about it.