[Stormlight Five] Chapter One starts off with Kaladin waking up, and he kind of feels okay. And he kind of feels guilty about feeling okay, because the world might be ending in ten days. (Or nine, at this point.) But Syl slaps him around. And he goes out, and you've got ten days until what might be the end of the world, and he spends the time playing blocks with his baby brother. And this may not be the most dynamic, action-packed way to start a book, but it's been a long time coming for poor Kaladin. So he plays blocks with his brother, and he and Syl and his mother hang out for a little while. And I'm gonna continue that chapter right now [from an earlier reading], where they're just kind of hanging out.
Chapter Kaladin One (cont)
So it was that Kaladin was exceedingly relieved when his father appeared in the doorway, a spring in his step and a large stack of papers under his arm. His wife walked over to take these, curious. "Dalinar's medical corps layouts and current operating procedures," Lirin explained to her.
"Dalinar, eh?" she said. "A few meetings and you're on a first-name basis with the most powerful man in the world?"
"The boy's attitude is contagious," Lirin said.
"I'm sure it has nothing to do with his upbringing," Hesina said. "We'll instead assume that four years in the military somehow conditioned him to be flippant around lighteyes."
"Well, I mean..." Lirin glanced at Kaladin. Both looked into his eyes, which were a deep blue these days, never fading back to their proper brown. Didn't help that he was, even still, hovering a few inches off the ground. Air was more comfortable than stone, after all. He knew they found what he'd become to be somewhat unbelievable. He didn't blame them. He found himself stomping in on occasion and trying to believe it himself.
The two of them moved over to the counter at the side of the room, spreading out the pages. "It's a mess," Lirin said. "His entire medical system needs a rebuild from the ground up, with training on how to properly sanitize. Apparently, many of his best field medics have fallen in recent events."
"I hear the army has had a difficult time of things these last few years," Hesina said, scanning the pages.
You have no idea, Kaladin thought. They glanced at Syl, who had sidled over to sit next to him. Oroden went chasing blocks again, and Kaladin... well, he just basked in it for a time. Family. Peace. He'd been running from disaster to disaster for so long, he'd completely forgotten what this felt like. Even moments like dinners with Bridge Four, precious times of respite, had felt like the gasps of air you might get while drowning, rather than truly peaceful breaks. Yet, here he was. Retired, watching his brother play, sitting next to Syl, listening to his parents chat. Storms, it had been a wild ride. He'd survived it all, somehow. And it wasn't his fault that he had.
Syl sat upright next to him, then rested her head, insubstantial though it was, on the side of his shoulder as she watched the blocks float. Which was odd behavior for her, but he wasn't accustomed to her spending so much time in a human size, so maybe her head grew more tired when she was larger. "Why the full size?" he asked her.
"When we were in Shadesmar," she said, "something felt different, about the way everyone looked at me, treated me. I felt more like a person. Less like a force of nature. I'm finding I missed that."
"Do I treat you differently when you're small?"
"And you want me to change?"
"I want," she said, "things to change and be the same all at once." She looked at him, and probably saw on his face that he found that completely baffling. She continued, leaning back and giving him a grin. "Suffice it to say that I want to make it harder for certain people to ignore me." With that, she poked him in the arm.
"Is it harder to be this size?"
"Yep," she said. "But I've decided I want to make the effort. Not all the time. More often, though, than I used to." She shook her head, making her hair swirl around. "Do not question the will of the mighty spren princess, Kaladin Stormblessed. My whims are as inscrutable as they are magnanimous."
"You were just saying you wanted to be treated like a person," he said, "not a force of nature."
"No," she said. "I want to decide when I'm treated like a person. That doesn't preclude me wanting to be properly worshiped, as well." She smiled, devious. "I've been thinking of all kinds of things to make Lunamor do, if we ever see him again."
He wanted to offer her some consolation on that, but he honestly had no idea if they'd ever see Rock again. Another hurt, different from the loss of Teft, different again from the loss of Moash; perhaps, the loss of the man he'd thought Moash had been.
"Son," Lirin said from the side of the room, "don't you have a meeting with Dalinar? He mentioned he had something for you to do."
"I already know what it is," Kaladin said, standing up. "He told me yesterday. Szeth is going to Shinovar to confront Ishar. Dalinar wants me to go with him and see if I can do something to help."
"Ishar?" Hesina said. "You mean Ishi'elin, priest of the Heralds, second only to the Almighty in glory and truth?"
"Yeah," Kaladin said. "Apparently he's gone mad? Not surprising, considering how Taln and Ash are faring."
Mother gave him an odd look, and it took a moment to realize it was because he was speaking so familiarly of Heralds, figures of lore that were the focus of religious devotion the world over. He wasn't certain of why he used the familiar tone and names so easily; he didn't know either of them, and was simply using the names they'd used in meetings. It felt natural to talk that way. He'd stopped reverencing people he didn't know the way Amaram branded him. God or king, if they wanted his respect... well, they could earn it.
"Son," Lirin said, turning away from the many sheets of papers they'd been studying, detailing out Dalinar's medical tent layouts. From the way Lirin said the word, Kaladin braced himself for some kind of lecture.
He was unprepared, then, for Lirin to embrace him. Awkwardly; it wasn't Lirin's natural state, this sort of attention. Yet, Kaladin appreciated it. The gesture conveyed things that Lirin found it hard to say. That he'd been wrong. That perhaps Kaladin needed to find his own way. So, Kaladin embraced him back.
"I wish," Lirin said, "I had fatherly advice for you. But I far outpaced my understanding of the way things work in life, so I guess... go be you. Go save the world."
"Dad," Kaladin said. "I'm not going to war. I'm not going to save the world. I'm just going to see if I can talk a crazy man out of a few of his issues."
"Then you are the best one to do it." Lirin pulled back. "I love you."
Kaladin forcibly suppressed an eye roll. This was what he'd wanted; he could deal with a little sappiness.
"Stay safe," his mother said, giving him another side hug. "And come back to us.
He gave her a nod, then glanced at Syl. She'd changed while he wasn't looking, from a havah to a Bridge Four uniform, with her hair in a ponytail like Lyn usually wore. It looked right, somehow, on Syl.
It was time to go. With one final hug for his brother, Kaladin strode out to meet his destiny, for the first time in years feeling like he was somewhat in control. Deciding for himself to take the next step in his life, rather than being thrust into it by momentum or act of society. And while he'd woken up feeling good, that knowledge, that sense of volition and control, felt legitimately great.
Chapter Kaladin Two
Kaladin soared up through the center column of Urithiru, accompanied by Syl. Dalinar still kept his meetings on the top floor, though Kaladin had trouble imagining the location was convenient for people who couldn't fly. He found it difficult not to think about the last time he'd flown up this corridor, following Teft's murder. Enraged, feeling like something unfamiliar had poisoned his blood. A rage, fraternal twin to the normal feelings of Stormlight. Eagerness to act, but this time also to destroy, a storm inside of him, this time red and broken with bloody lightning. That man he'd become after killing the Pursuer; that man frightened him. Even now, days later, lit by calm sunlight, remembering that man was like remembering a nightmare. Made more terrifying by the fact that he knew it had been Kaladin himself and his choices that had led him to that point.
He lighted at the top of the elevator shaft and noted a glow coming from a nearby room. "Navani," Syl whispered, eyes wide. She shrank down to the size of a spren and zipped off. There was something almost intoxicating about Navani to the spren of the city, something about her bond to the Tower and what it had done. Syl would be back shortly, but like vines seeking water, when they came near Navani these last little while, Syl had always flown off for a little bit.
Kaladin forced himself to walk, not glide, over to the room where Dalinar was taking his meetings today. As soon as he left Urithiru, Kaladin would need to go back to using Stormlight only when necessary. Best to be in the habit now.
Dalinar's meeting room had a smaller chamber outside for people to wait while meetings finished. Urithiru was getting more and more furniture these days, so there was a nice couch here in this small stone room where one could sit and wait. It was, unfortunately, taken up entirely by Wit, who was laying on his back, using space that could have accommodated three people, his foot up on one armrest, reading some kind of book and chuckling to himself. "Ahh, Wema," he mumbled, turning the page. "So you've finally seen what a catch Vadam is. Let's see how you screw it up."
"Wit?" Kaladin said. "I didn't realize you were even back in the Tower." It was probably a stupid thing to say, though. Jasnah was back, having been fetched by Windrunners and transported to the Oathgate in Azimir, so it made sense Wit had come along.
Wit, being Wit, finished his page of reading before acknowledging Kaladin. Finally, the lanky man snapped the book closed, then turned and lounged on the sofa in a different way, arms to the sides along the back, one leg crossed over the other, looking nothing so much as a king on his throne. A very relaxed king on a very cushy throne.
"Well," he said, eyes alight with amusement, "if it isn't my favorite flute thief!"
"You gave me that flute, Wit," Kaladin said, sighing as he leaned against the frame of the doorway.
"And then lost it."
"That's not the same as stealing."
"I'm a storyteller," Wit said with a flip of the fingers. "My kind have the right to redefine words as we see fit."
"The more confusing, the better the literature!"
"That might be the most pretentious thing I've ever heard."
"Ah," Wit said, pointing. "Now you're getting it. I knew you'd understand."
Kaladin hesitated, trying to sort through what had just been said. Sometimes, during conversations with Wit, he wished he had someone to take notes for him. Wit just sat there, looking back at him, seeming self-satisfied. "So..." Kaladin said, "do you want your flute back?"
"Hell no! I gave you that flute, bridgeboy! Returning it back would be almost as insulting as stealing it!"
"What am I supposed to do with it, though?"
"Hmm," Wit said, reaching into a bag at his feet and slipping out a different flute, this one painted with some kind of shiny red lacquer. He twirled it in his hand. "If only there was something one could do with this curious piece of wood. These holes seem intended for some arcane purpose beyond the understanding of mortals." Kaladin rolled his eyes. "If only," Wit continued, "there was a way to learn to do something productive with this item! It has the look of some natural sort... maybe an instrument? Of curious, mythological design, perhaps intended for some useful purpose? Alas, my poor, finite mind is incapable of comprehending the-"
"If I don't interrupt," Kaladin said, "how long will you keep going?"
"Long, long past the time when it was funny."
"It was ever funny?"
"The words?" Wit said. "Of course not. Your face while I say them, though. Well, it's been said that I am an artist. This is true. Unfortunately, the primary subjects of my art can never experience the truth of my creations as displayed upon their features, them becoming the only one immune to the experience." He flipped the flute in his hand again, then handed it toward Kaladin. "For loan, this time. It has the same fingerings of the one I gave you, though not the same... capacity."
"Wit. I can't play this flute any more than I could play the other one you gave me. I have no idea how."
"So?" Wit flipped the flute again, then extended it further toward Kaladin.
"I guess... I have to wait until Dalinar is done," Kaladin said, looking longingly at the door, which remained closed. Dalinar often took his time in meetings, ignoring appointment times, despite of Navani's attempts to get him to pay attention to one of the many clocks she delivered him. So there was no telling how long Kaladin would be up here.
Wit grinned. And, well... Kaladin felt indebted to him. As infuriating as the man (or whatever he actually was) could be... Well, when Kaladin had been in the worst darkness of the storm, Wit had been there to pull him out. Somehow, despite it being a vision or a nightmare of some sort, Wit had come for him. This man was a friend, and Kaladin appreciated him, quirks included, so he played the role the man obviously wanted.
"Will you teach me?" Kaladin said, taking the flute. "I don't have a lot of time but-"
Wit was already moving, whipping some sheets of paper from the bag at his feet. They had a strange kind of symbol on them, which made Kaladin nervous, but Wit insisted that it wasn't actually writing. Just the marks on paper representing sounds. He said that part with a smile, and it took Kaladin a few minutes to realize the inherent joke to them. Still, over the next hour (Dalinar really was taking his time), Kaladin listened and followed Wit's instructions. He learned the basics of fingering, of reading music and making notes. It was a different experience entirely from trying to figure it out on his own, though he'd largely forgotten about the flute. When Wit would let him in recent months.
When he'd first got it, he had legitimately tried. He knew that he had to blow air across the thing in just the right way, but it wasn't until Wit showed him exactly how to hold his hands that Kaladin managed to coax a few timid notes from the thing. An hour later, he forced out a stumbling rendition of the first line of music with notes that sounded far more shrill than Wit's version. It was an incredibly simple accomplishment, just a handful a notes; yet Kaladin felt he'd climbed a mountain in accomplishing it. He was smiling in a stupid way as Syl peeked back in to investigate the source of the noise. Probably wondering who's been stepping on a rat, Kaladin thought to himself.
"Nice work," Wit said. "Next time you're in a fight, start with a bit of that. The enemy is sure to drop their weapon and cover their ears."
"If anyone asks me about my skill, I'll just be sure to tell them who my teacher is." Wit grinned at that. "Am I at least going to get a story this time?" Kaladin asked, handing the flute back as he sat beside the man on the couch. When was Dalinar going to be done?
"That depends on how well you listen. And if you do what I say. And if you're willing to make up a few of your own." He rapped the flute with his knuckles.
"It was a fun enough way to pass the time while waiting, Wit," Kaladin said, "but I have to ask. Music? Me, playing a flute? What relevance is any of that?"
"Ah. Now there's a question for the ages," Wit said, leaning back. "What use is art? Why does it hold such meaning and potence to us? I can't tell you, because the short answer is unappealing and the long answer takes months. I will instead say this: every society in every region of every planet I've visited (and I've been to quite a large number) has made art."
Kaladin nodded thoughtfully at that. It made sense; Wit wasn't answering it as an actual question, but Kaladin was accustomed to that by now. Protesting would only lead to mockery.
"Perhaps the question isn't 'what use is art?'" Wit mused. "Perhaps even that simple question misses the point? It's like asking the use of having hands or walking upright or growing hair. Art is part of us, Kaladin. That's the use; that's the reason. It exists because we need it on some fundamental level. And the use is simply that: to be made.
When Kaladin didn't respond, Wit eyed him. "I can accept that," Kaladin said. "It's a tautology. Which is the point: the more confusing, the better, right?"
Wit grinned, and then that grin faded. He glanced through the door into Dalinar's meeting room.
"Wit," Kaladin asked, "I get the feeling this next part is going to be difficult."
"Yeah," Wit said softly. "I feel it too." A straight answer. Those were always strangely disturbing.
"Do you have any words of wisdom? Encouragement?"
"Everything you've done, Kal, everything you've been, has prepared you for this. It's going to be hard. Fortunately, life has been hard, so you're working under familiar constraints. We just carry these weights, son; eventually, we'll get to put them down."
Kaladin glanced to the side to where Wit was staring off into space, idly spinning the red flute in his fingers. Something in his voice, his face. "You're talking," Kaladin said softly, "like you think one of us won't survive this."
"I wish I were optimistic enough to think one of us would survive."
"Wit, I'm pretty sure I've heard you say that you're immortal."
"Yeah. Immortality doesn't seem to go as far as it once did, kid." He glanced at Kaladin, then plastered on a smiling face. "Listen. I think you can rise to this. Probably. Difficult though it will be. You're up for a different kind of challenge now. As am I." Wit tapped the flute. "You're going to have to learn to play music, Kaladin. Without using your breath or your lips."
"Wit. I know we've been joking about being confusing. Can you try for once to be clear?"
"I am trying. You'll win when you don't play music with your own breath, and when you fight without your own muscles. Play the flute, but don't. And fight, but don't."
"I think you've been reading too many stories, Wit. Riddles aren't actually helpful in real life."
Wit launched himself off the couch, crossing the room on legs that suddenly seemed spindly. He passed Syl, human-sized again, lingering in the doorway and watching him with a frown. "Listen," Wit said, sounding almost frustrated. "It will make sense when you get to it, maybe, if you can take this next journey down the right path. Keep your hope strong."
"Jasnah doesn't believe in hope," Syl whispered at the doorway. "I heard her complaining about it once."
"Jasnah would make an excellent Wit," Wit said, pointing at Syl. "She's the right amount of smart and the right amount of stupid all at once." He smiled in a fond way, and Kaladin wondered if there was anything to the rumors about those two. Wit spun toward Kaladin. "Do you know about the Passions?"
"That's some old Thaylen religion," Kaladin said, shrugging. "Something about emotion."
"Derived anciently from the teachings of Odium," Wit said, crossing the room and spreading his hands. "Though, honestly, it's not polite to point out that fact to practitioners of the Passions. People don't like hearing the way their religion was, mythologized like all others, as if myths can't be true. Regardless, the Passions teach that if you are fervent enough, if you care enough, your emotion itself will influence yourself. Not simply because of positive thinking. The Passions, as a religion, teach that if you want something badly enough, the cosmere will provide it for you."
Kaladin nodded slowly. "There might be something to that."
"Kid," Wit said, leaning down before where Kaladin still sat on the couch. "The Passions are utter horseshit."
"Why? It's good to be hopeful. The Passions sound nice."
"The wrong people get far too much mileage out of things that sound nice," Wit said. "The amount of money, effort, and lives wasted on things that sound nice would astonish you. Take it from a guy who is all too capable of the lie: nothing is easier to sell somebody than the story that they want to hear.
"Nice doesn't mean true, or even helpful. The Passions are deeply insulting if you spare even a moment to consider. I once spoon-fed broth to a trembling child in a kingdom that no longer exists. I found her on a road leading away from a battlefield after her parents, simple peasants who were caught between clashing armies, were slaughtered. Her elder brother lay half a mile behind, having starved hours before I found her. You think that kid who starved didn't want to eat? You think her parents didn't want badly enough to escape the ravages of war? You think if they had Passion enough, the cosmere would have saved them? How convenient to be able to believe that people are poor because they simply didn't care enough to be rich? That they didn't pray hard enough? So convenient to make suffering their own fault, rather than the result of life being unfair and birth mattering more than aptitude or storming Passion."
Kaladin met Wit's eyes, frowning. He didn't know if he'd ever seen the man so riled up by a simple concept, one that barely seemed to have anything to do with their conversation. But one could never tell with Wit. Non sequiturs that ended up being relevant were the daggers he kept strapped to his boots to be employed when his foes were distracted.
"You're a lighteyes now, Kaladin," Wit said, leaning forward even further. "You've hauled yourself up out of the crem, and done something incredible in that. You deserve praise. But be careful of assuming that people only get what they deserve in life. That's been sold a hundred different ways: positive thinking leading to opportunity, absolutist prosperity doctrines, the Passions. I've seen the same ideas recycled in a dozen different worlds, sure to emerge among useful ideas like storming weeds on a battlefield. They're all the same: deliberate, pernicious lies devised by powers who know their success was due to to luck at best, crass exploitation and larceny at worst. So they have to invent some kind of moral rationalization, a lie that lets them think they deserve what they have. Then, after inhaling their own stench long enough, they decide to package and sell it. And when it doesn't work for anyone else; well, they have the ultimate excuse. It isn't the idea that is flawed. You just don't care enough."
"Storms," Syl said, crossing the room. "This is important to you."
"And yet," Wit said, glancing at her, "wanting and praying desperately for all of them to choke on their own fingers as they reach down their throats to pull forth further nuggets of regurgitated idiodicy, it hasn't happened. Funny, that."
"Hope matters, though," Kaladin said. "You just told me earlier to hope."
"Sure, it matters. Of course it matters. You think I'd be here if it didn't? Hope is a virtue. But the definition of that word is relevant. You know what a virtue actually is? It's not that difficult."
"If this entire conversation is the way I learn," Kaladin said, "then I dispute the point of it not being that difficult."
Wit chuckled, then stepped back and threw his hands in the air. "Virtue is something that is valuable, even if it gives you nothing. A virtue persists without payment or compensation. Positive thinking is great, vital, useful; but it has to remain so, even if it gets you nothing. Belief, truth, honor: the moment these exist only to get you something is the moment you've missed the storming point."
He glanced at Syl. "This is where Jasnah is wrong about hope, smart though she is in so many other ways. If hope didn't mean anything to you despite losing, then it wasn't ever a virtue to you in the first place. Took me a long time to learn this, even though I've had it explained to me a long time ago by a smart man. A man who lost every belief he thought he had, but started over now."
"Sounds like someone wise," Syl said.
"Oh, Saze is among the best. He might be the wisest man I've ever known."
"Too bad none of it rubbed off," Kaladin said.
Wit tossed his flute, spinning it, then pointed it directly at Kaladin. "Congratulations. You've practiced music, you've listened to a self-important rant, and you've delivered quips at awkward points. I dub you a graduate from Wit's school of practical impracticality."
Syl sat down on the couch, though she left no impression in its cushions, hovering as always rather than truly sitting. She seemed completely baffled by all of this.
"Wit," Kaladin said, "does that make me your apprentice?"
Wit belted out a full-stomach last, one that lasted an extended time, long enough to be uncomfortable. "Kal," he said, gasping for breath, "you've learned a few things, but you're still far, far too useful a human being to be an apprentice of mine. You'd end up actually helping people! No, I have to refuse. I've already got one bridgeboy as an apprentice, and he's plenty incompetent to keep a hold of the position for many years to come."
"I'm sure Sig will love that description of him," Kaladin said. "I'll have you know he's doing a fine job leading the Windrunners."
"You've been corrupting him," Wit said. "I'm trying to return that favor to you. No, you're not my apprentice, but that doesn't mean you can't pick up a thing or two. A kind of cross-training into uselessness."
"You're so storming melodramatic," Kaladin said.
"Just trying to give you a proper send-off," Wit replied. "We're at the end, Kaladin, and you are needed. I want to send you to your divine destiny with a spring in your step."
"I don't know why everyone talks like that," Kaladin said. "War might be coming, but I'm heading away from it. Dalinar wants me to help a maniac come back to himself, and perhaps keep another one in line during the trip."
"That's it, eh?" Wit said. "Yeah, that's it. A little thing. Just you becoming the world's first therapist."
Kaladin glanced at Syl, who shook her head. "We have no idea what that is, Wit."
"Because," Wit said, "you haven't finished inventing it yet!" He leaned in. "About time someone figured out a method to counteract what I've been doing. Makes my job more fun, because a challenge is always appreciated. Now go, the two of you. The world needs you: more than you, or it, or anyone other than your humble Wit yet realizes. The fight ahead of you is going to be legendary. Just remember what I said. You can't fight this one with the strength of muscle. You'll have to wield the spear another way."
"And learn to play the flute," Kaladin said flatly, "without playing it."
"Yep, you've got it."
With a sight, Kaladin stood up. Then, the most remarkable thing happened. Wit extended his hand. Then didn't pull it back as Kaladin hesitantly took it, but gave it a firm shake.
"Thank you," Wit said.
"For the inspiration."
Kaladin frowned again. "I'm never going to see you again, am I, Wit?"
"Nobody knows the future, Kal," he replied, "not even me. So instead of saying goodbye, let's call this an extended period of necessary separation, requisite to give me time to think of the most perfect, exquisite insult. And if I never get to deliver it to you in person; well, kindly do me the favor of imagining how wonderful it was, all right?"
Wit winked at him, then let go of his hand and walked over to rap at the door. Dalinar himself opened it a moment later. "You finally done with him, Wit?" the man asked. "I've been waiting for a storming hour, and there isn't time to waste!"
"He's yours," Wit said. "Remember what I told you."
"I will," both Kaladin and Dalinar said at the same time. They glanced at each other.
"Wit," Kaladin called just before the man vanished. "What about my story? What about my story?"
"You will tell your own story this time, Kaladin," Wit said, with a last glance and a wink. Then he was gone, his whistle from outside slowly retreating.
"You ever think," Kaladin said to Dalinar, "that you'd end up dancing on that man's whims?"
"I suspect," Dalinar said, stepping back and waving for Kaladin to enter, "we've been dancing to them for years without knowing it. I think he's some kind of god."
"No," Syl said, joining Kaladin as they walked in, but looking over her shoulder. "He could have been a god, but he turned it down. Which makes him something else entirely."
Dalinar grunted, then gestured into the chamber. "Come. I have a few things to tell the two of you, then you need to be on your way."