Fog approached the town.
Roshar knew it would happen, but it was still unsettling to see it touch the outskirts of his home. The day before, you could still see the fields. And the week before that Lithgard was still visible if you looked hard enough. But they had all been swallowed up by the spectral fog that scrubbed them out of existence.
And soon it would be Northam’s turn.
He was almost glad that Robin would never have to see this.
Roshar slipped on his mud-caked boots, the door groaning as he opened it, and bundled his furs around him, fighting to keep warmth in his body.
He started down the corkscrew staircase, shoes echoing in the tower. Felix was sitting on a bench with his broadsword leaning against the table. His ringmail rattled as he lifted a rusted tankard to his cracked lips, drinking greedily.
Roshar raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t it a little early for that?”
“Aye, but who cares? It doesn’t matter anymore. Might as well get a couple o’ drinks in while you can, eh? I heard the ale they serve in hell is piss poor.” He chuckled as Roshar walked passed him, shaking his head. There was only one hell that he knew of. The one that we’re living in now.
Roshar pushed open the tower’s steel door. Wet gravel crunched under his feet as he made his way to Gaeon’s hut. He didn’t care for the gods from the south that the old mage worshipped, but he had saved his life on more occasions than he cared to admit.
He stepped around an empty shell of a burnt house and the splintered timber paneling of the market stalls, flakes of rust and ash floating down. He hammered on Gaeon’s door. Carved into the wood was the face of a solemn god, staring back at him. The old man thought they gave him protection, warded off enemies.
Gods don’t protect anyone now. Not anymore.
The door edged open, a draft of musty air floating his way. “Ah. You’re early.” The olive-skinned mage was squatting on the floor, cocooned in woolen blankets, tending to the dying embers of his hearth.
“Couldn’t sleep.” Roshar closed the door and sat down next to Gaeon, lifting his fleece so Gaeon could examine the fading scars on his chest.
Gaeon rubbed his bald head. “Count yourself lucky you’re still breathing, young man. The poison alone would have killed most men.”
He didn’t doubt it. They hadn’t even reached the mist when a volley of arrows spat out, thudding into flesh and bone. The arrows had slaughtered half his squad and injured others. He had managed to crawl close enough to the village for some scouts to find him. The ague had gripped him for a fortnight, sweating and vomiting and thrashing and twisting in Gaeon’s hut while the old mage nursed him back to life. Robin, his newlywed wife, had come to visit him every day. Although he’d barely been able to register her presence, he knew she was there beside him. She had kept him strong. He clawed his way back through hell for her. And when he woke up, the old mage told him that the plague had taken her just minutes before.
He sometimes wished that Gaeon hadn’t bothered.
“Did you learn anything from the arrows?” Roshar asked, lowering his shirt.
“You could say so.” Gaeon waddled over to the bench and picked up the broken shafts with a strip of boiled leather for protection. He handed them to Roshar. “Careful. There’s still poison within them.”
The metal was wreathed in what looked like twisted black thorns, but on closer inspection seemed to be some sort of runic inscription. The arrowheads themselves were slick and oily, tiny barbs jutting out from the head, tips swathed in sickly green syrup.
“Those barbs hooked themselves deep in your flesh,” Gaeon murmured. “They too were coated with poison. Ghastly stuff.”
“And the runes?” Just being near the thing made him feel ill, like something was niggling in his guts. He handed them back to the old mage and felt the sensation fade from his body. “Can you read them?”
“I’ve pored over every map and scroll I have and found nothing.” He whisked the arrows away again. “Best it stays that way.”
They sat there for a long time, soaking up whatever heat the miserable fire was prepared to give them. Roshar wasn’t even sure how the old man managed to find dry wood. Everything in the town was drenched to the bone by the freezing weather. None of this was natural. Wasn’t hell at least supposed to be warm?
It was a while before either of them moved. Roshar shifted slightly as he turned to Gaeon. “I’m going back. I’ve got to try.”
The mage blinked. “I didn’t spend weeks raising you from the dead for you to kill yourself again.”
“I have to do something,” Roshar said. “Anything is better than this.” It had been building up for a while, but Robin slipping away had been the final blow. Whoever, or whatever, had destroyed his world, he wanted to spit them in the eye before he died.
“Hundreds of men walked into that mist,” Gaeon said, poking the fire with a blackened poker like he was dueling with it. “Some of them tough as iron. Others held weapons older than themselves. And they all died the same.” He cursed as the fire started to fade. “What makes you any different, eh?”
“I don’t know. But I’ve got to try.”
Gaeon murmured something and the door swung open, icy wind sweeping into the hut and finding the holes in his clothes. The embers shriveled back in dismay. It seemed that the meeting was over. Roshar stood up, aching bones clicking with protest.
“You’re going to die there,” mumbled Gaeon. “You won’t be coming back.”
Roshar stood on the edge of the field, watching the mist through the slits in his helm. Bodies were piled around him, some old, some new, rotting and letting off an odor that churned his stomach. Others were on fire, emitting a sickeningly appetizing scent. They had tried getting rid of the bodies that way at first. But now the corpses outnumbered the living by the hundreds, so no one bothered.
Ravens cackled and hissed as he moved through them, flapping back to the gables of the church, munching on flesh and observing him with inky eyes.
Gods, it stinks. He moved closer to the mist’s edge, longsword gripped firmly in hand. His father had given it to him on his eighteenth winter. He’d never planned to use it. But ever since the blacksmith hanged himself in the early days, weapons were in short demand.
The ravens fluttered, mocking him with their caws. He glanced at them, and out of the corner of his eye spotted something unusual shifting in the mists. There.
A fury of arrows spat out, zipping toward him. He rolled to the side, arrows punching into corpses. He picked himself up, the mud trying to hold him down as another volley came his way. He charged ahead, slashing out with his sword at the mist. He heard a wet crunch, blood running down the shaft as a freshly made corpse toppled forward and splashed into the mud, flatbow in hand. Someone was yelling, ringing a bell. Roshar didn’t wait. He sprinted forward, charging into the ethereal mist.
He tottered into a small sentry tower, shocked faces staring at him. Zwang. A bolt hissed past his cheek and thudded into the parapet next to him. It should have broken off, but the arrow buried itself in the stone, vibrating. A corrosive stench wafted over to him. Acid. The shooter was readying his crossbow, loading up the crank. Roshar ducked under the archway and sprinted up the moss-slathed stairs, sweat streaking down his chest.
The shooter gaped in surprise when he reached the top, desperately fumbling with his weapon. Roshar lunged with the sword, burying it in the sentry’s heart with a squelch. Blood sprayed in his eyes, half blinding him.
A hiss. Two bolts spat out and hammered into the stonework, burning through the brick. There was a rattling of chainmail circling the stairs, pants and a torrent of curses. Roshar darted across the slippery stones and launched a kick just as the other two sentries rounded upward, knocking them down in a pile. He twisted the sword and plunged downward, spiking through the two bodies.
He found himself there what felt like hours later, down on one knee, gloved hand wrapped around the hilt of his sword and sweat dripping down his face. He dragged in a shuddering breath, his lungs bleached of air. He yanked out the weapon, flicking away strings of blood. The bodies lay sprawled on the uneven flagstones, crimson dribbling down the uneven steps in a rhythmic pat, pat, pat. They must have been the ones firing the arrows out from the mist. He lifted their helms, still faces staring back at him, their eyes hollow. They weren’t people anymore. Just lumps of meat. Lumps of meat he’d killed.
Something was strange here. The sky was covered with a layer of dense fog, only letting the faintest shavings of light flit through. The way he came was still shrouded in the mist, as if it was thickening near a certain point and forming a barrier. It moved as he watched it. Closer and closer, it curled forward, slowly but surely, eating up the world.
Approaching the town, it took a few minutes to recognize Lithgard. The battlements were empty, the once finely kept entrance now caked in sopping mud and dripping with filth. The trees that once bore ripe fruit had dozens of bodies hanging from the twisted branches with thick ropes, swinging in the icy wind. He picked his way down the rolling steppe, sodden grass clinging to his legs.
The town was nightmare made real. Bodies spilled from crude huts, limbs tangled and contorted like ruined dolls. Old houses had caved in, blood-spattered walls turned to splinters, wooden beams jutting at odd angles like broken fingers. There was a fire somewhere, charred wood billowing embers. Blood ran in little rivulets, seeping into the mud. Stones had been crushed, weeds and bramble climbing over the mess in an attempt to hide the chaos. Stray dogs scampered around, flea-bitten and mangy.
And of course, the ravens had shown up to enjoy their feast. There were probably more of them living here than humans now. As he got closer to the tree, Roshar noticed that one of the bodies was much smaller than the others.
It was a child.
For a moment Roshar saw his own son’s face there, ginger-haired like his mother, grinning in the sun. But it was snatched away, back to the little pale corpse. Roshar felt tiny ice shards pick at his heart, memories holding him back. He shrugged them off and kept moving, feet sinking into the mud.
There was someone kneeling down by the tree, head bowed. Roshar’s hand found the hilt of his sword, lifting it out off the scabbard by a few centimeters.
The figure didn’t move. He walked over, curious and cautious. It was a woman; hands clasped together, eyes turned up at the tree. Roshar reached out and shook her by the shoulders. She didn’t even flinch.
“She hasn’t moved for days.” Roshar’s heart lurched and he drew his sword, spinning around. “She’s not going to move now.”
Roshar retreated, searching for the source of the voice. A bored sigh. “Up here.” Roshar craned his neck upward. On the second story of a house sat a man, his once-white clothes tattered and soaked in muck. The furs of an arctic fox were draped around his shoulders. The whole front of the house had been ripped away, the bones picked clean. The man grumbled again, taking a swig of something foul-smelling from a bottle. He caught Roshar looking. “You want some?”
“Won’t say no.” Roshar just managed to catch the flask. He took a long drink, sour wine burning down his throat and warming his stomach. The man hopped down and retrieved his bottle.
“Glad to see some help came along.” He swept his hand around at the town. “Might want to work on the timing.”
“What’s she doing?” Roshar asked, pointing at the woman kneeling by the tree, her lips quivering.
“Praying.” Another swig. “She thinks that if she remains locked in prayer with the gods, they’ll bring her son back.” A bitter laugh. “There ain’t no gods here. Just me. And the ravens, o’ course.”
“Who are you?” Roshar queried, still on edge.
“Gilliam.” A long swig this time. “Used to be a watchman for this glorious hellhole you see before you.” He licked purple liquid from his lips. “‘Course, that changed when they came.”
“Not sure. Came with the mist. Carried no banner and no sigil.” Swig, slosh, swallow. “They pillaged the town, slaughtered us all. Women and children alike. We barely even had a chance. Been hiding in here ever since.” He walked into the house, beckoning to Roshar. “And then I found this one.” Chained to the wall by his wrists was a dead soldier. Bloodied daggers were strewn about. Roshar stooped down next to him. He noticed the man was missing a couple of fingers. “You can ask him questions, but I don’t think he’s going to answer.” Another swig. “Not anymore.”
“Did he talk?”
“Not at first.” Gilliam cursed and hurled the bottle to the ground, glass shards scattering across the floor. He retrieved another from the cupboard, popped it open with blackened teeth, and spat out the cork. “Took a while, but he talked in the end. Said that he came from the Kingsguard.”
“The Kingsguard?” That didn’t make sense. “Why would the Kingsguard do this?”
“That’s what I asked him. He just told me to ask King Valloth when I see him. Then he died.”
“He didn’t say anything about the mist?”
“He did. Said it was the king’s doing. And his pet bitch.”
“Hmm.” It was better than nothing. Roshar stood up, his mail clinking. “Then I’d better get going.”
“The castle, obviously.” The door squeaked with protest as Roshar shoved it open and trudged outside, the rancid air filling his nose. Gilliam followed, still drinking. “If the answer’s there, I’ll find it.”
Gilliam snorted wine out of his nostrils. He was still chuckling as he scraped it away. “You’re going to march up to the castle and interrogate the king?” He shook his head in bewilderment. Roshar stood there, silent. The smile wilted. “You’re serious.”
“Got any better ideas?” Over the hills a wolf let loose a deathly howl. “We’ll all be dead soon enough.”
“Aye, true.” Gilliam seemed to be thinking. “Oh well. Might as well go down fighting.”
“I’m not going to die here.” Gilliam flung the bottle away and scooped up the bearded axe leaning against the door. “Who wants to live forever, eh? Besides, you need someone to watch over you, right?”
Roshar bit his lip. He couldn’t very well say no. And whatever happened, he didn’t want to die alone.
The town went downhill from that point. Carts and bloodied weapons littered the streets, the flagstones painted with sickly green moss. Glass crunched underfoot. And everywhere he looked there were cudgeled bodies, all rotting and stinking, shriveling to a leathery brown. The sight made his skin crawl and his veins prickle.
Gilliam almost seemed to enjoy his discomfort, clapping him on the back like an older brother. Roshar forced himself not to recoil.
“You get used to it after a while.” Gilliam stepped over a stack of shattered shields, lovingly emblazoned with house motifs. “It does get lonely. The dead don’t say much.”
Roshar was beginning to realize that Gilliam wasn’t quite sane.
“This way.” The man beckoned to what looked like the remains of a forge. The smelter hadn’t been heated up in some time now. Roshar followed him inside the house, still uncertain.
It was a somber sight, seeing all the weapons collecting dust and slowly starting to rot. Slits of gray light poured in through the windows, drawing pale lines across the flagstones. Roshar ran his fingers along the rows of swords, flakes of rust peeling away at his touch.
“Here.” Gilliam threaded his way through to the back of the shop, fingers finding a hidden door in a small crevice. He flung it open, dust stirring in the watery gloom.
“You might want to get one of those.” Gilliam pointed to several torches hanging on the wall, tips swathed in bandages. Roshar fetched two of them, soaking them in a basin of black oil.
“How do you propose we light them?” asked Roshar.
Gilliam didn’t answer. He clenched his fists and murmured quietly, beads of sweat forming on his brow. His palms snapped open and the torches blazed to life, chasing the darkness away.
Roshar looked at Gilliam. “You’re a fire mage, aren’t you?”
“Is it that obvious?” Gilliam scooped up a torch for himself, the light playing sinister shapes across his face. “I was taking lessons. I was damn good at it, too. Then my master saw fit to die and that was it.” He beckoned toward the back room. Roshar noticed a gaping hole in the floor. “You coming or not?”
Gilliam hopped into it, landing with a thud. Roshar cursed and followed him down.
Roshar kept up with Gilliam’s pace, maintaining a slow jog through the passageway. It was threateningly suffocating in here. The light peeled blackness away from the walls as they advanced.
“How do you know about this?” Roshar asked.
Gilliam chuckled. “Used it often myself, back in the day. Paid the princess a visit now and then. When she learned of her arranged marriage they became less frequent.” He shrugged. “I expect she’s dead now.”
“You think the king’s dead as well?” Roshar brushed filthy cobwebs out of his face. He noticed that the trail was slowly inclining. He was also starting to get that prickly feeling in his gut, like the one in Gaeon’s hut when he brought out the arrows. It was only mild, but it pulsed through him nonetheless. He squashed it down the best he could.
“No idea. You heard what the soldier said. We’ll go from there.” The man barked out a brittle laugh. “What do we have to lose?”
After what seemed like hours, Gilliam halted. The dancing flames exposed a wall with a rickety ladder leading upward. “We’re here.” Gilliam clamped a hand over his torch, gutting it out. He didn’t seem to be in the slightest pain. He placed one foot on the lowest rung and started to climb with a slow rhythm. The ladder didn’t look safe, bound together with string and twine, but it was the best they had. Roshar followed him up, the tortured wood groaning beneath his feet.
“Stop.” Roshar froze, his fingers wrapped around a rung. Gilliam seemed to be pushing against something hard above them, swearing and grunting from the effort. At last it gave away and he shoved the hatch open. Light poured in, sweet and delicious. Roshar clambered up the last few rungs and hoisted himself out of the hole. He found himself in what looked like a large storage room, steel-rimmed kegs of wine and ale along the walls. They’d been chopped into splinters, the colors gushing out and bleeding out on the floor. Light eased in through a stained-glass window.
“All that fine drink, all gone to waste.” Gilliam nudged an empty barrel with his foot. “Aha. No wonder I couldn’t lift the hatch.” He pointed to the shrunken corpse curled up on the ground. “Of all the places to die . . .”
Roshar peeked through the window. They were high up, probably on one of the castle’s top floors. He could see the yards, towers, and steeples, but the distance was obscured by the mist, thick, hazy, and impenetrable as always.
“Oh,” he murmured to himself. This was not good.
“What is it now?” Gilliam demanded.
“Look.” Roshar pointed downward. Marching in the streets, in the courtyards, on the flat roofs, on the battlements, were countless guards, all armed and armored. There didn’t seem to be an objective, any order, rank, or discipline. Ballistae sat useless and gibbets still held ancient skeletons in their bellies. They plodded around, sitting about and leaning against the walls.
“Good thing we didn’t come that way.” Gilliam sauntered toward the door. “You coming?”
“Can’t you feel that?” The sensation was back, and it wasn’t just uncomfortable this time. His mouth was dry and his intestines were trying to tie themselves into bows. It was working its way under his veins, turning his blood to gravel.
Gilliam gave a low chortle. “‘Course I can. Means we’re getting close.” He swung the door open and made a mocking bow. “After you.”
The scent of death hung heavily in the air. The hallways were smeared with grime, bodies pinned to the walls with iron arrows. What had once been ornate furniture had been splintered into countless wooden fragments. Paintings had been stripped down and shredded, vases smashed, old plates of armor and bloodied gold coins scattered about the floor. Roshar had never seen so much gold. And there was no one to use it, no one to spend it.
“Ah.” Several soldiers were sprinting down the hall, rusty armor clanking as they moved, brandishing halberds and falchions. Gilliam stood there, his fists clenched, perfectly still with his eyes fastened shut.
“What the hell are you doing?” Roshar yelled.
No answer. Then Gilliam’s eyes flipped open, glowing a crimson red. He stepped forward and clapped his hands together with a bang. Fire sprouted up in the middle of the soldiers, engulfing them in a roaring, scorching cocoon. Tapestries on the walls were eaten away in seconds. Men reeled away, burning and screaming and tumbling.
It didn’t take long before they were all a smoldering pile of bodies, ropey coils of smoke spiraling to the blackened roof. Gilliam turned around, sweat gushing out of his pores. He nodded toward the sizzling bodies. “Hungry?”
Roshar just shook his head and tried not to gag. Gilliam chuckled, then led the way through an arching doorway, revealing more staircases. This had to be the way. Roshar was aware of the pain mounting with almost every step, scrubbing away at his bones.
Gilliam twirled his axe. “You may want to step aside.”
“Wha—” Roshar threw himself forward as a portcullis gate guillotined down, bolts slotting into place and dividing them from the castle’s entrance. Gilliam’s face split in a grin, tapping the broken wheel spoke, the rusty chains collapsed on the floor like a lifeless snake. He gave the humongous gate a rattle. It refused to budge.
He grinned again. “Now let’s see them try and follow us.”
“And what if we want to get out again?” asked Roshar curtly.
Gilliam just laughed.
Gilliam stood in front of an ordinary looking iron-bound door. “Can you feel it?”
Roshar nodded as the pain flushed through him like a river, nearly forcing him to his knees. They had to be close.
Gilliam scraped open the door. The room was something between a library and a laboratory, bursting with old tomes and manuscripts. There had to be thousands of them, black ink on faded parchment, recalling the histories and the songs and the battles and the kings. None of which mattered anymore. The desks were cluttered with dried herbs and resin, gnarled roots and metallic utensils. Drawers hung half open like tongues, more papers spilling out.
And in the middle was a woman. She was small and lithe, her hair flowing down in beautiful ebony waves. She turned around and gazed at him with brilliant blue eyes that pierced into his heart. In her hand was a small green herb. She placed it back on the bench with care. “Hello there.”
. . . it was the king’s doing. And his pet bitch. “Who are you?” Roshar demanded, drawing his sword as spikes of pain skewered through him.
“Kill her! Now!” Gilliam made an attempt at springing forward, axe in hand. Yet he froze like an ant in amber, his silhouette outlined with the rippling of air.
“Don’t listen to him, my dear. He’s not important.” Her voice wafted over to him in silky ribbons. He found his sword grip loosening, the weapon clattering to the ground. “You’re here now. That’s all that matters.”
Roshar nodded vigorously, turning away from Gilliam. “Yes, yes, that’s right.” He found himself drawn to her, this mysterious woman with a voice like the gods. How could one possibly resist?
“Come closer, slowly now.” Roshar obeyed, hanging on every word. She padded toward him, something in her hand. A familiar voice called him from far away. What was it saying? Roshar shoved it away. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered anymore. Everything would be fine.
Her body was the center of the room, center of the entire world. She smiled, subtle sunlight glistening on her hair with an indigo shimmer. She lifted her hand, showing a dagger. But that didn’t matter. She wouldn’t hurt him. She couldn’t.
“Poor fool,” she said, her voice draping over him like honey, swathing him in syrupy bliss. “It’s too late for you. It’s too late for us all.”
She raised the dagger.
Gilliam let out an ear-splitting roar, snapping Roshar out of his trance. He remained rooted to the ground, yet managed to swing his arms. His axe went scything through the air with a whistle. The woman sprung backward with an unnatural agility, the glinting blade nearly touching her. Instead, it smashed into the table with a shower of splinters, throwing up a cloud of resin.
“You.“A cold smile twisted on her face and she spun around, flexing her hand to fling the dagger in Gilliam’s direction. Roshar fumbled for his sword, yanking it out with a sharp scrape off the floor, and without thinking thudded it into the bridge of her skull. He staggered backward, the world swimming around him as white noise whined in his ears. He sucked in a ragged breath and looked at the woman, the sword well and truly buried in her head. She had to have been a mage of some sort. A powerful one, too. Was she the cause of all this?
“That wench has a good throwing arm.” With a lead heart, Roshar noted the dagger protruding from Gilliam’s chest, wedged between his ribs. He collapsed onto the stone floor, breathing hard. Roshar knew it was over for him. They both knew it. He stooped low, holding Gilliam’s coarse hand as the life poured out of him.
“You finish this, you hear?” ordered Gilliam through bloody teeth. “Find King Valloth and kill him. I didn’t come this far for nothing.” He spat weakly, tears welling in his fading eyes. “Leave me. I’ll see my family soon.”
Roshar nodded, swallowing the lump in his throat. He’d seen many men die, some old, some young, all trying to put on a brave face in their final moments, trying to be heroic. They never succeeded. Never. No matter how bold and hardened, in their final moments they all wanted their mothers. To be in the arms of their loved ones.
Roshar stayed with Gilliam, this madman who’d gone through hell with him. He stayed with him until he stopped breathing.
There was no better place to find a king than in the throne room.
It was almost anticlimactic, seeing King Valloth sitting on his rusted throne, his pathetic figure swaddled in faded robes. He’d been a notoriously obese man, his face pasty and rosy. Now he was bitterly thin, loose flesh spilling down in sagging folds. He didn’t even look up as Roshar approached. The bodies of his vanguard were piled against the throne, a mountain of rusted mail and greatswords.
“Someone finally made it.” His voice was low and quiet, but somehow it carried an eerie force that echoed throughout the entire room. “I’m afraid you’re too late.”
“Your mage said the same thing,” said Roshar. A javelin of pain shot through him. He absorbed the impact with a shudder.
Valloth looked up, revealing a sunken face with hollow eyes the color of festered flesh. “Is she dead?”A pause. “It should have been done years ago.”
Roshar blinked. “What?”
“It was her,” Valloth hissed, his voice grating against Roshar’s skull. “That stupid woman and her experiments. They caused all this.”
“It got out of control,” Valloth murmured. “We just wanted to unravel the enigmas of the world. But the power was too great to contain. So many things went wrong. So much death. That ghastly poison.” He nodded weakly toward the glass window. “It took hold of the kingdom. It created the mist. It drove men mad, turned them into the bloodthirsty soldiers you’ve fought your way through.”
Roshar stepped forward and was immediately hit by a sudden force that ripped through his stomach, almost doubling him over. He gritted his teeth and took another step, the fibers in his legs burning. “There had to be a way,” he rasped, “to stop it.”
“There was.” The king shut his eyes and lowered his voice down to a whisper. “I was greedy. I saw the power she created and I took it. I didn’t know how powerful it would become. Now it resides in me. I’m its vessel.” He hunched over with a hacking cough, putrid saliva dripping from his lips. “I could have halted it if I took my own life. But I could not perform the deed. Now I don’t have the strength to stand up.” His eyes seemed to bore into Roshar, burn through him. “It scrapes a man clean. Gives him power and tears it away, piece by piece.”
Roshar felt the sickly stuff seeping down his throat, spreading through his system. He had to hurry. “I can still do what you couldn’t.”
Valloth froze, then gave the faintest of nods. “Yes. Do it. Quickly, now.”
Roshar tightened his grasp on the sword’s hilt, preparing to strike.
“No!” Valloth’s voice intensified, a raw lust for control that nearly blasted Roshar off his feet. His face sagged, his eyes becoming black as night. “Don’t you dare take my power away!“
The pain was nearly engulfing him now, his muscles contracting in spasms, bones rattling. Tears of agony were trickling down his cheeks, old wounds weeping blood. He started up the dais, the thrumming in his skull mounting by the moment. Every cell in his body begged him to leave, to turn away and run. He thought of Robin and the way she would smile at him. She started to slip away between his fingers like ashes in the roaring wind. He clamped his teeth together and latched onto her memory, the last thing he had, and took another step. And another. And another.
There was a shriek from Valloth as he readied his sword, nearly blowing out his eardrums. “Don’t! Stop!” He was scrambling back, trying to hug his throne for protection “It’s MINE!“
Roshar didn’t waste his energy on words. Gathering up every drop of strength he had left, he twisted his sword and pierced it right into Valloth’s heart.
The world exploded in a suction of dark energy, a whirlwind of glistening dust. Roshar screwed his eyes shut and tightened his grasp on the sword grip.” Fool!” the king screamed, barely audible above the howling. “Now it passes onto you! Nothing has changed!”
Roshar shook his head, gritted his teeth. He would not take it. He would not cave in like Valloth. Roshar sunk to one knee as the dark venom coiled and writhed around him, trying to find a way in. He squeezed his eyes shut as it burned down his throat, expanding in his lungs and spreading out through his body, finding every crevice, every vein, filling him with the poison. The king flopped back on his throne, dead.
And then the universe was quiet.
Roshar felt his heart boom in his chest, pumping toxic blood into his body. He raised his head, slowly, and gazed through the slits of his helm.
And he saw it—no, felt it. The power the king had spoken of. It shifted in the air, thrashed inside him, begging to be harnessed, to be taken and used. It needed to have a home, a vessel. Roshar pinned the power within his sights, a loose thread that coiled out to him, seeking him. Roshar swallowed a mouthful of sour saliva, fixing his eyes on the rust-eaten throne. He shouldn’t take it. He should just let the poison choke him. But how he wanted that power. How he deserved it.
He scrambled to his feet, struggling as he shuffled toward the throne, dragging Valloth’s corpse from the seat and leaving him slumped on the floor, one more body on the pile. He planted himself down on the seat and closed his eyes, his body a hollow cavern that echoed with darkness. The power took root in him, hooking itself deep in his body. He reached for the tiny thread of power that dangled in front of him, holding on for all he was worth. It was his and his alone. No one was ever going to take it from him. Never.
This was his world now.
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