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Soldiers reported being watched from afar by an unnerving number of Parshendi scouts. Then we noticed a new pattern of their penetrating close to the camps in the night and then quickly retreating. I can only surmise that our enemies were even then preparing their stratagem to end this war.
— From the personal journal of Navani Kholin, Jeseses 1174
Research into times before the Hierocracy is frustratingly difficult, the book read. During the reign of the Hierocracy, the Vorin Church had near absolute control over eastern Roshar. The fabrications they promoted — and then perpetuated as absolute truth — became ingrained in the consciousness of society. More disturbingly, modified copies of ancient texts were made, aligning history to match Hierocratic dogma.
In her cabin, Shallan read by the glow of a goblet of spheres, wearing her nightgown. Her cramped chamber lacked a true porthole and had just a thin slit of a window running across the top of the outside wall. The only sound she could hear was the water lapping against the hull. Tonight, the ship did not have a port in which to shelter.
The church of this era was suspicious of the Knights Radiant, the book read. Yet it relied upon the authority granted Vorinism by the Heralds. Th is created a dichotomy in which the Recreance, and the betrayal of the knights, was overemphasized. At the same time, the ancient knights — the ones who had lived alongside the Heralds in the shadowdays — were celebrated.
This makes it particularly difficult to study the Radiants and the place named Shadesmar. What is fact? What records did the church, in its misguided attempt to cleanse the past of perceived contradictions, rewrite to suit its preferred narrative? Few documents from the period survive that did not pass through Vorin hands to be copied from the original parchment into modern codices.
Shallan glanced up over the top of her book. The volume was one of Jasnah’s earliest published works as a full scholar. Jasnah had not assigned Shallan to read it. Indeed, she’d been hesitant when Shallan had asked for a copy, and had needed to dig it out of one of the numerous trunks full of books she kept in the ship’s hold.
Why had she been so reluctant, when this volume dealt with the very things that Shallan was studying? Shouldn’t Jasnah have given her this right off ? It—
The pattern returned.
Shallan’s breath caught in her throat as she saw it on the cabin wall beside the bunk, just to her left. She carefully moved her eyes back to the page in front of her. The pattern was the same one that she’d seen before, the shape that had appeared on her sketchpad.
Ever since then, she’d been seeing it from the corner of her eye, appearing in the grain of wood, the cloth on the back of a sailor’s shirt, the shimmering of the water. Each time, when she looked right at it, the pattern vanished. Jasnah would say nothing more, other than to indicate it was likely harmless.
Shallan turned the page and steadied her breathing. She had experienced something like this before with the strange symbol- headed creatures who had appeared unbidden in her drawings. She allowed her eyes to slip up off the page and look at the wall — not right at the pattern, but to the side of it, as if she hadn’t noticed it.
Yes, it was there. Raised, like an embossing, it had a complex pattern with a haunting symmetry. Its tiny lines twisted and turned through its mass, somehow lifting the surface of the wood, like iron scrollwork under a taut tablecloth.
It was one of those things. The symbolheads. This pattern was similar to their strange heads. She looked back at the page, but did not read. The ship swayed, and the glowing white spheres in her goblet clinked as they shifted. She took a deep breath.
Then looked directly at the pattern.
Immediately, it began to fade, the ridges sinking. Before it did, she got a clear look at it, and she took a Memory.
“Not this time,” she muttered as it vanished. “This time I have you.” She threw away her book, scrambling to get out her charcoal pencil and a sheet of sketching paper. She huddled down beside her light, red hair tumbling around her shoulders.
She worked furiously, possessed by a frantic need to have this drawing done. Her fingers moved on their own, her unclothed safehand holding the sketchpad toward the goblet, which sprinkled the paper with shards of light.
She tossed aside the pencil. She needed something crisper, capable of sharper lines. Ink. Pencil was wonderful for drawing the soft shades of life, but this thing she drew was not life. It was something else, something unreal. She dug a pen and inkwell from her supplies, then went back to her drawing, replicating the tiny, intricate lines.
She did not think as she drew. The art consumed her, and creationspren popped into existence all around. Dozens of tiny shapes soon crowded the small table beside her cot and the floor of the cabin near where she knelt. The spren shifted and spun, each no larger than the bowl of a spoon, becoming shapes they’d recently encountered. She mostly ignored them, though she’d never seen so many at once.
Faster and faster they shifted forms as she drew, intent. The pattern seemed impossible to capture. Its complex repetitions twisted down into infinity. No, a pen could never capture this thing perfectly, but she was close. She drew it spiraling out of a center point, then re- created each branch off the center, which had its own swirl of tiny lines. It was like a maze created to drive its captive insane.
When she finished the last line, she found herself breathing hard, as if she’d run a great distance. She blinked, again noticing the creationspren around her — there were hundreds. They lingered before fading away one by one. Shallan set the pen down beside her vial of ink, which she’d stuck to the tabletop with wax to keep it from sliding as the ship swayed. She picked up the page, waiting for the last lines of ink to dry, and felt as if she’d accomplished something significant — though she knew not what.
As the last line dried, the pattern rose before her. She heard a distinct sigh from the paper, as if in relief.
She jumped, dropping the paper and scrambling onto her bed. Unlike the other times, the embossing didn’t vanish, though it left the paper — budding from her matching drawing — and moved onto the floor.
She could describe it in no other way. The pattern somehow moved from paper to floor. It came to the leg of her cot and wrapped around it, climbing upward and onto the blanket. It didn’t look like something moving beneath the blanket; that was simply a crude approximation. The lines were too precise for that, and there was no stretching. Something beneath the blanket would have been just an indistinct lump, but this was exact. It drew closer. It didn’t look dangerous, but she still found herself trembling. This pattern was different from the symbolheads in her drawings, but it was also somehow the same. A flattened-out version, without torso or limbs. It was an abstraction of one of them, just as a circle with a few lines in it could represent a human’s face on the page.
Those things had terrified her, haunted her dreams, made her worry she was going insane. So as this one approached, she scuttled from her bed and went as far from it in the small cabin as she could. Then, heart thumping in her chest, she pulled open the door to go for Jasnah.
She found Jasnah herself just outside, reaching toward the doorknob, her left hand cupped before her. A small figure made of inky blackness — shaped like a man in a smart, fashionable suit with a long coat — stood in her palm. He melted away into shadow as he saw Shallan. Jasnah looked to Shallan, then glanced toward the fl oor of the cabin, where the pattern was crossing the wood.
“Put on some clothing, child,” Jasnah said. “We have matters to discuss.”
“I had originally hoped that we would have the same type of spren,” Jasnah said, sitting on a stool in Shallan’s cabin. The pattern remained on the floor between her and Shallan, who lay prone on the cot, properly clothed with a robe over the nightgown and a thin white glove on her left hand. “But of course, that would be too easy. I have suspected since Kharbranth that we would be of different orders.”
“Orders, Brightness?” Shallan asked, timidly using a pencil to prod at the pattern on the floor. It shied away, like an animal that had been poked. Shallan was fascinated by how it raised the surface of the floor, though a part of her did not want to have anything to do with it and its unnatural, eye- twisting geometries.
“Yes,” Jasnah said. The inklike spren that had accompanied her before had not reappeared. “Each order reportedly had access to two of the Surges, with overlap between them. We call the powers Surgebinding. Soulcasting was one, and is what we share, though our orders are different.”
Shallan nodded. Surgebinding. Soulcasting. These were talents of the Lost Radiants, the abilities — supposedly just legend — that had been their blessing or their curse, depending upon which reports you read. Or so she’d learned from the books Jasnah had given her to read during their trip.
“I’m not one of the Radiants,” Shallan said.
“Of course you aren’t,” Jasnah said, “and neither am I. The orders of knights were a construct, just as all society is a construct, used by men to define and explain. Not every man who wields a spear is a soldier, and not every woman who makes bread is a baker. And yet weapons, or baking, become the hallmarks of certain professions.”
“So you’re saying that what we can do . . .”
“Was once the definition of what initiated one into the Knights Radiant,” Jasnah said.
“But we’re women!”
“Yes,” Jasnah said lightly. “Spren don’t suffer from human society’s prejudices. Refreshing, wouldn’t you say?”
Shallan looked up from poking at the pattern spren. “There were women among the Knights Radiant?”
“A statistically appropriate number,” Jasnah said. “But don’t fear that you will soon find yourself swinging a sword, child. The archetype of Radiants on the battlefield is an exaggeration. From what I’ve read — though records are, unfortunately, untrustworthy — for every Radiant dedicated to battle, there were another three who spent their time on diplomacy, scholarship, or other ways to aid society.”
“Oh.” Why was Shallan disappointed by that?
Fool. A memory rose unbidden. A silvery sword. A pattern of light. Truths she could not face. She banished them, squeezing her eyes shut.
“I have been looking into the spren you told me about,” Jasnah said. “The creatures with the symbol heads.”
Shallan took a deep breath and opened her eyes. “This is one of them,” she said, pointing her pencil at the pattern, which had approached her trunk and was moving up onto it and off it — like a child jumping on a sofa. Instead of threatening, it seemed innocent, even playful — and hardly intelligent at all. She had been frightened of this thing?
“Yes, I suspect that it is,” Jasnah said. “Most spren manifest differently here than they do in Shadesmar. What you drew before was their form there.”
“Th is one is not very impressive.”
“Yes. I will admit that I’m disappointed. I feel that we’re missing something important about this, Shallan, and I find it annoying. The Cryptics have a fearful reputation, and yet this one — the first specimen I’ve ever seen — seems . . .”
It climbed up the wall, then slipped down, then climbed back up, then slipped down again.
“Imbecilic?” Shallan asked.
“Perhaps it simply needs more time,” Jasnah said. “When I first bonded with Ivory—” She stopped abruptly.
“What?” Shallan said.
“I’m sorry. He does not like me to speak of him. It makes him anxious. The knights’ breaking of their oaths was very painful to the spren. Many spren died; I’m certain of it. Though Ivory won’t speak of it, I gather that what he’s done is regarded as a betrayal by the others of his kind.”
“No more of that,” Jasnah said. “I’m sorry.”
“Fine. You mentioned the Cryptics?”
“Yes,” Jasnah said, reaching into the sleeve that hid her safehand and slipping out a folded piece of paper — one of Shallan’s drawings of the symbolheads. “That is their own name for themselves, though we would probably name them liespren. They don’t like the term. Regardless, the Cryptics rule one of the greater cities in Shadesmar. Think of them as the lighteyes of the Cognitive Realm.”
“So this thing,” Shallan said, nodding to the pattern, which was spinning in circles in the center of the cabin, “is like . . . a prince, on their side?”
“Something like that. There is a complex sort of conflict between them and the honorspren. Spren politics are not something I’ve been able to devote much time to. This spren will be your companion — and will grant you the ability to Soulcast, among other things.”
“We will have to see,” Jasnah said. “It comes down to the nature of spren. What has your research revealed?”
With Jasnah, everything seemed to be a test of scholarship. Shallan smothered a sigh. This was why she had come with Jasnah, rather than returning to her home. Still, she did wish that sometimes Jasnah would just tell her answers rather than making her work so hard to find them. “Alai says that the spren are fragments of the powers of creation. A lot of the scholars I read agreed with that.”
“It is one opinion. What does it mean?”
Shallan tried not to let herself be distracted by the spren on the floor. “There are ten fundamental Surges — forces —by which the world works. Gravitation, pressure, transformation. That sort of thing. You told me spren are fragments of the Cognitive Realm that have somehow gained sentience because of human attention. Well, it stands to reason that they were something before. Like . . . like a painting was a canvas before being given life.”
“Life?” Jasnah said, raising her eyebrow.
“Of course,” Shallan said. Paintings lived. Not lived like a person or a spren, but . . . well, it was obvious to her, at least. “So, before the spren were alive, they were something. Power. Energy. Zen-daughter-Vath sketched tiny spren she found sometimes around heavy objects. Gravitationspren — fragments of the power or force that causes us to fall. It stands to reason that every spren was a power before it was a spren. Really, you can divide spren into two general groups. Those that respond to emotions and those that respond to forces like fi re or wind pressure.”
“So you believe Namar’s theory on spren categorization?”
“Good,” Jasnah said. “As do I. I suspect, personally, that these groupings of spren — emotion spren versus nature spren — are where the ideas of mankind’s primeval ‘gods’ came from. Honor, who became Vorinism’s Almighty, was created by men who wanted a representation of ideal human emotions as they saw in emotion spren. Cultivation, the god worshipped in the West, is a female deity that is an embodiment of nature and nature spren. The various Voidspren, with their unseen lord — whose name changes depending on which culture we’re speaking of — evoke an enemy or antagonist. The Stormfather, of course, is a strange off shoot of this, his theoretical nature changing depending on which era of Vorinism is doing the talking. . . .”
She trailed off . Shallan blushed, realizing she’d looked away and had begun tracing a glyphward on her blanket against the evil in Jasnah’s words.
“That was a tangent,” Jasnah said. “I apologize.”
“You’re so sure he isn’t real,” Shallan said. “The Almighty.”
“I have no more proof of him than I do of the Th aylen Passions, Nu Ralik of the Purelake, or any other religion.”
“And the Heralds? You don’t think they existed?”
“I don’t know,” Jasnah said. “There are many things in this world that I don’t understand. For example, there is some slight proof that both the Stormfather and the Almighty are real creatures — simply powerful spren, such as the Nightwatcher.”
“Th en he would be real.”
“I never claimed he was not,” Jasnah said. “I merely claimed that I do not accept him as God, nor do I feel any inclination to worship him. But this is, again, a tangent.” Jasnah stood. “You are relieved of other duties of study. For the next few days, you have only one focus for your scholarship.” She pointed toward the floor.
“The pattern?” Shallan asked.
“You are the only person in centuries to have the chance to interact with a Cryptic,” Jasnah said. “Study it and record your experiences — in detail. This will likely be your first writing of signifi cance, and could be of utmost importance to our future.”
Shallan regarded the pattern, which had moved over and bumped into her foot — she could feel it only faintly — and was now bumping into it time and time again.
“Great,” Shallan said.
The story continues in Words of Radiance…