Jasnah found it difficult to sleep. A part of her wanted to blame this stupid bed. Wit adored plushness; he wanted a mattress that would swallow a person, and he had found her previous one to be unsuitable. So now she swam in stuffing, lying on her side, listening to his breathing. Wit didn’t snore when he slept, but he did occasionally whistle. She turned to her other side–which, since they both tended to sink toward the center of this awful mattress, should have jostled him. He just laid there on his back, whistling softly as he exhaled. Was he even actually asleep? Things he’d said to her indicated that perhaps he went to other places at night around the Cosmere, visiting other worlds, engaging in political machinations at which, even still, she could only guess.
“You lie to me sometimes,” she whispered to him. “You realized that means it can’t be a true relationship. I can trust someone with secrets—but someone who lies?” If he was aware, despite his sleep, he didn’t say anything.
She’d caught him so far only in the most mundane of ways. He’d engage with wordplay with her, or toy with puns, and she’d ask him to stop. He’d promise, and seem to have done what he said. But then she’d notice that the games hadn’t stopped; they’d only grown more inscrutable. Wit, twisting the wordplays to a deeper level, another layer of esoteric, more difficult to spot. He seemed to think it would engage her, push her. Instead, it signaled something disturbing. Wit would do what he thought was best for people, not what they wanted from him.
Despite her efforts, she knew she wasn’t connecting to him physically as much as he’d like. That made him feel anxious, as if he were doing something wrong. He thought if he listened better, tried harder, he’d do something mind-blowing and change the way she felt.
In turn, though, she wasn’t connecting to him on an emotional level. Something she did want—if only he’d be up front with her. If only he’d tell her.
She turned back on the other side; a stiff pillow did little to counteract the strange stuffing. The feathers of baby chickens; or perhaps the smallest feathers of adult chickens? She hadn’t been able to parse the way he’d said, but either way, she didn’t like it. A good lavis-husk mattress was far superior, shredded to not have awkward lumps.
Storms. And this is why it was best to avoid relationships. Nine days until Dalinar confronted Odium, and she was worrying about a relationship? Perhaps this was a way to distract herself; because despite all of her training, all of her learning, all of her preparation, it came down to someone else. She would have no part in the final confrontation; Dalinar had decided he would use no champion.
She did not dispute that choice. He was a Bondmsith. He had built the Knights Radiant. He’d had dealings with Odium and understood the creature better than, perhaps, any mortal. Jasnah had written out her reasons that he was the best choice, and she still agreed with them.
Yet… could it have been her? If, instead of hiding what she was, she’d gone out in the open? Told people what she was, what she could do, what she feared? Her life and Dalinar’s life seemed to be very different things. He’d burned a city in the open, and people forgave him. Yet when Jasnah had been honest about what she feared, what she believed, what she discovered… well, condemnation and judgement had chased her like twin headsmen, each looking to get a whipping in before the final execution. She’d barely stayed ahead of them. Because when Jasnah Kholin spoke her mind, people hated her. Perhaps she had learned the wrong lessons from that. But could she be blamed?
She curled up at that thought, listening to the quiet sounds of Urithiru. Water in the pipes, moving of its own accord. Air whispering as it was pumped through vents. Voices echoing far outside, despite the late hour. Trembling there, she realized, finally, why she hated this mattress so much. It reminded her of the soft restraints they’d given her when she’d been young. When those who loved her had taken away her own freedom for her own good. Those terrible months that basically everyone had forgotten about as an anomaly. Except by Jasnah, who would never forget.
Wit suddenly sat up in bed. “Oh, hell,” he whispered.
Jasnah became alert. It wasn’t difficult, considering how far from sleep she’d been. She formed Ivory as a blade—short, stout, basically just a dagger—and called for her armorspren to be ready. She reached for the cover of the bowl of spheres beside the bed, but did not remove the black shroud, lest she ruin her night vision. In a second, she could have Stormlight, but she hesitated on this, too, as the light rising from her skin would highlight her in the darkness.
Wit sat there, barely visible by moonlight, wearing his silken nightclothes. His hair was immaculate, despite having slept on it. How?
“What?” she finally hissed at him.
“Oh, bollocks!” he whispered, leaping from the bed. “The darkest, hairiest, greasiest bollocks on the most unkept nethers of the most wanton demon of the most obscure religion’s damnable hellscape!”
“Wit?” Jasnah said as he rushed to the counter, searching frantically among his things. “Wit!”
He looked at her, wild-eyed, then he pulled the shroud off some spheres and washed the room in light.
She blinked, dismissing her blade. If Wit wasn’t worried about blinding them, then this wasn’t a physical danger. It might just be another of his strange <range of> oddities. Except… the way he looked at her. Eyes like glowing spheres. Lips drawn without even a hint of a smile. Jaw taut, hands clenched, breathing quick. Genuine panic. She felt like summoning her blade again, if only to have something to hold as a chill went through her. “Wit, she said, “please. What’s wrong?”
“G-give me a moment,” he mumbled, turning back to his things. “I need… I need a moment.” He pulled out a notebook and began writing.
She rose and, though the air was warm—her mother’s transformations to Urithiru heating the air to unnatural levels for this elevation—she felt cold in only her nightgown. She threw on a robe and leaned over Wit’s shoulder. She couldn’t read what he wrote. The symbols were unfamiliar, one of the many languages he could speak from worlds beyond theirs. It looked like a table, though, not paragraphs. And those notations to the left of each line? The dots and lines? Numbers, perhaps? They repeated far more often than the other symbols did.
He wrote, increasingly furious, his handwriting growing sloppy. She didn’t miss that he’d gotten out some of the strange, color-changing sand he used sometimes when experimenting with various uses of Stormlight or other, more arcane abilities. And as he did, he seemed to grow more intense.
The doors began to shake. Jasnah had a sword in hand a second later, but then realized it was him. Nobody was on the other side; it was exerting some kind of strange pressure that made the doors vibrate. The rings in her jewelry box, also on the counter, pushed back and began to spill onto the floor. The shoes by her head scooted across the floor, pulled by their latches. Every bit of metal in the room, save for her sword, reacted to him in some way.
Then, the sand burst into light with a mother-of-pearl luminescence and hovered above the table. The filmy clothing on Wit’s back began to writhe and contort as if alive. His motions increasingly frantic, in a flash, it seemed like smoke expelled from his body, blown away by some invisible wind. He was another person. Similar, but different. Shorter, with stark white hair and subtly different features making him seem foreign. This is the real him, she realized. A man not from their world; a man who masqueraded as Wit.
That man turned to her, pencil snapping in his fingers as he grabbed it and broke it across a knuckle. “I’ve been tricked,” he said.
“How,” she asked.
The light of the sand went out, and it sprayed back down on the counter. Wit was back as his familiar self in a blink of an eye, and the odd effects stopped with an abrupt immediacy, as if on an order from him. He stood, again taller than she was, and held up what he’d written. “I’m missing,” he said, “three minute and twenty-seven seconds.”
“I’m not following, Wit,” she said.
“I’m sorry. I’m trying to parse this, but… Storms, what’s happening? Sorry, I’m sorry,” he said, slumping back onto the seat beside the stone counter, a natural feature of the room that jutted from the wall, as was common in these rooms of Urithiru. “I’ve lived a long time, Jasnah. A long, long time. Longer than any mortal’s memories can track, so I must use other means to maintain myself. I store memories in something called Breath: an easily accessible, if costly, form of Investiture that a person can adopt and, with training, use to expand one’s soul and memory. That part isn’t specifically important; I periodically review memories, deciding on what is vital to keep and what can be jettisoned. It is one of the only ways to remain sane after such a long existence as mine. And in that review just earlier, Jasnah, I found something. Something unexpected. Something terrifying.”
“Three minutes and twenty-seven seconds?” she whispered, looking again at the notes on his page. As if by force of will, she could decipher them. “Missing. When?”
“One day ago,” he said.
“And what were you doing at the time?”
He let out a long breath, then met her eyes. “I was having a chat with Odium.”
“A chat?” she said flatly. “With the most ancient enemy of all humankind? The being that seeks to destroy us, to crush my family, to dominate—perhaps weaponize—all of Roshar for his own ends? A chat?”
“We have a history,” Wit explained. “As I believe I’ve told you.”
Jasnah pulled a chair over and sank down, feeling a spike of pain. A kind of final spike of pain. “I asked you, Wit,” she whispered. “I asked you to involve me in any dealings you had with him.”
“I’m telling you now, dear,” he said. “That is technically involving you.”
She held his eyes and knew. Perhaps he did, too. He will continue to be himself, a man so full of secrets he needed some kind of strange magic to keep them all inside his head. And one, it appeared, had been excised. There would never be a place for her inside of his deepest self, would there? She’d always just be another thing on the outside, maintained as part of his collection. Enjoyed, perhaps even loved, but never confided in.
In that moment, she knew she’d have to withdraw, for herself. She tucked away feelings of betrayal. She had known what she was getting into with him. One did not court a god lightly.
“Why?” she asked him. “What were you saying to him?”
“I…” he shrugged. “I had to gloat a little. It was requisite, Jasnah, considering our history.” His eyes became distant. “I remember feeling odd about the encounter… a sense of repetition? Something happened that day in the lost minutes. He got the better of me and excised the memory from my mind, letting me instead think I had won the exchange. I can find the remnants, now that I look, as it was awkwardly done, as if by one unfamiliar.”
“This is wrong, isn’t it?” she said.
“Very wrong. Rayse is a megalomaniac, Jasnah. For all his craftiness, it would hurt him to let me walk away thinking I’d bested him. In this case, he encouraged it.” Wit leaned forward and took her hand. “He’s grown. After ten thousand years, Rayse has actually learned something. That terrifies me. Because I can’t anticipate what he will do.”
“We need to reread the contract between him and Dalinar,” Wit said. “Now.”
Jasnah had a copy nearby, but before she’d opened her ledger, a pounding on a <nearish> door, real this time, drew her attention. She passed out of the bedroom, through the sitting room, and eased open the outer door to reveal <Hemnid> of the Cobalt Guard. A man with discretion to match his general poise, she trusted him as much as she trusted any, so she wasn’t bothered as he glanced at Wit as he approached. “What?” she said to him, light spilling from the guardroom into her quarters.
“Radiant Shallan and Highprince Adolin have something to report,” he whispered. [Brandon: I’m gonna cut that out so you have some anticipation for what’s coming.] “Your uncle has called for a meeting immediately, despite the hour.”
“Tell him I’ll be there shortly,” she said, then closed the door, looking back into the darkened sitting room towards Wit. [Brandon skips another section.]
“It should be,” Wit said. “I need to study that contract. There might be loopholes.”
“And if you didn’t see them?” She said. “You didn’t before.”
“You’re right,” he said. He took a deep breath. “You’re… you’re right. We need an expert, beyond even my considerable knowledge in the area.”
“Do you know any?”
“From your world?” he asked. “Only one, but she and I aren’t on speaking terms. I will, instead, see if I can contract an old friend.”