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Fracture, Break, Reweave, Repeat

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So Tien mourns his brother, right, fine. But he also spends all that time around Amaram, watching the little lies pile up. Nothing huge, nothing like, say, murdering an entire squad–-Amaram knows better to keep a darkeyed kid around for that-–but Tien, with the help of his Cryptic, sees enough to assemble the pieces into a picture of a man who isn’t quite so perfect.

He still loves Amaram, though. This is the man who took him in and trained him, and yeah, he’s attached enough to see him as a second older brother. Tien tells himself it’s not like Kaladin didn’t have secrets too, it’s not like Kaladin was a perfect person.

Except he name-drops Kaladin around Amaram once. And Amaram flinches.

Tien doesn’t press, but him and his Cryptic have several whispered conversations in the dead of night about what it could mean. His Cryptic thinks that Kal might be alive. They never asked Amaram about him, after all. They’d thought he wouldn’t know about a random darkeyes. Perhaps they were wrong.

Tien can’t handle that. He can’t let himself hope. Mostly because if they ask, and his Cryptic is right–-if they ask, and Amaram lies-–if they ask, and Amaram did something–-well, Amaram is like a much-older brother. Tien can’t handle that kind of betrayal, even if it means finding out what really happened.

As it happens, that ends up being one of Tien’s spoken truths: “I hide from finding truth to protect myself.”

Amaram doesn’t know Tien is a Lightweaver.

And the years pass like that, Tien and his Cryptic stockpiling more and more of Amaram’s lies, Tien telling himself Kal wasn’t perfect either and he was just too young to see it.

Tien does a lot of carving. Amaram piles praise on him for it, shows off Tien’s carvings to other officers. Tien notices he only praises him around other people. His Cryptic whispers that Amaram always speaks about him with an undertone of “look how good I am, for taking in this darkeyed boy. Look how skilled he is under my tutelage.”

Tien buries those feelings. When they threaten to overwhelm him, he goes out and looks for rocks. They remind him of Kaladin. He has several rocks in his pockets at all times, toys with them often when his hands need occupying.

He tried offering them to Amaram a few times, but he just brushed him off. Tien sticks to giving him carvings, and lets the rocks stay associated with Kaladin and Hearthstone.

And then they get called up to the Shattered Plains. Tien’s eighteen now, all grown up, not quite as loyal as he would have been without his Cryptic, but still very attached to Amaram.

Tien’s there for the first meeting, and Kaladin’s there for the first meeting, and both of them choke when the other gets namedropped.

Neither of them do anything. They just stare at each other across the room, the conversation between Amaram and Dalinar flying completely over their heads.

Tien doesn’t recognize the captain of the Cobalt Guard–-the brands, the premature aging. He thinks the name might be a coincidence, and then he thinks, ‘what if it is him,’ but then, ‘what if it is him and Amaram lied,’ because he’d eventually asked if Amaram had known his brother, years ago, and Amaram had looked him in the eye and told him he didn’t know who Kaladin was.

Tien’s had years to try and overcome his shortcomings, but one of his first truths was that he ran from the truth to protect himself. He shies away from that line of thought. Even if it is him, that doesn’t mean Amaram lied, but it’s safer to just think it’s not Kaladin. It’s a coincidence.

Kaladin, on the other hand, barely recognizes Tien. He’s had years to grow up, after all, and Kaladin’s mental image of Tien is locked at thirteen years old, smiling at him before being run through. Not eighteen, dressed in a neatly pressed uniform and standing next to that betrayer. The only reason Kaladin recognized him at all was because he pulled out a rock to fidget with, and that–-that was Tien.

The meeting goes fine, same as canon. Except Kaladin’s too busy processing that his brother’s alive to tell Dalinar about Amaram. Except Tien’s trying to deny that the slave-guard he just saw could possibly be his brother, even as his Cryptic hisses at him that he’s running away again.

So when Dalinar appoints Amaram as head of the Knights Radiant, it’s not despite Kaladin’s accusations. It’s that appointment which reminds Kaladin to bring up the accusations in the first place. Dalinar promises to look into it.

Meanwhile, Tien and his Cryptic close themselves up in their room, alone, and spend at least an hour laughing that Amaram would head the Knights Radiant when a Radiant is right here, and he doesn’t even know.

Tien talks about telling Amaram, again. His Cryptic demurs, and his Cryptic has won every argument they’ve had about this. All those lies that Amaram has let Tien see–-it’s enough to make them reluctant to tell him everything.

This is different, Tien argues. This is directly related to Amaram’s duties. Shouldn’t they be the first in this new order?

His Cryptic retorts that they’ll tell Amaram just as soon as Dalinar’s guard tells Dalinar, and Tien-–still denying that the guard is his brother–-asks what that means.

His Cryptic tells him about the honorspren and the Windrunners.

Tien sits on that for a while, and then Adolin’s four-on-one fight happens. Dalinar is asking for anybody to help. Tien thinks about volunteering. He has a Blade. Going to fight would reveal him as a Radiant, but that could be a good thing.

Tien looks to Amaram to decide just as Dalinar begs him to help, and Amaram looks away. Tien has spent five years next to Amaram. He knows the man well enough to read the fear in his posture.

On the one hand, he’s relieved, because that saves him from offering to fight–-

On the other hand, he’s dismayed, because he’d thought that Amaram would help–-

(On the third hand, he’s not entirely surprised, because he remembers lies of bravery, and cowardice that he’d helped cover up–-)

A voice says, “Honor is dead. But I’ll see what I can do.”

The captain of the Cobalt Guard leaps into the arena, and for an instant Tien does see his brother, protection written into every line of his being. As the battle wears on, instants stretch into moments, minutes.

Tien breathes in Stormlight from the spheres in his pockets and weaves a double layered illusion. The outer layer is just himself, fidgeting with a rock exactly as he was a moment ago.

The inner layer is a miniature image of his brother as he remembers him next to one of the captain. Tien nudges up the age of his brother, gives him a spear in his hands, and–as much as it pains him–adds the slave brands. He looks at both images closely. In a whisper, he asks his Cryptic, and the spren agrees.

That doesn’t mean Amaram lied about it, Tien tells himself as he dispels both layers. He probably wasn’t even there when…whatever happened to Kaladin happened.

Then the captain stands before a crowd of lighteyes and calls Amaram thief, betrayer, murderer, and Tien is denied the option of lying to himself.

The boon was for Adolin alone. Tien, versed in the ways of lighteyes, knows this. The captain does not. He has to make a snap decision.

Tien thinks of Amaram’s lies, years and years of them rattling in his head. He thinks of the way he looked away when asked to help. He thinks of the captain’s determined face, of his commitment to protect, of the way he jumped to help without a second thought. He thinks of the honorspren, and of his own Cryptic.

He looks at Amaram and sees guilt and fear, and knows that the captain is telling the truth.

He still doesn’t know if this Kaladin is his brother, but he looks at his Cryptic and he whispers, “I will choose what is right over who I am loyal to,” and it feels like betrayal.

As the Stormlight in the arena’s spheres drain with the acceptance of his truth, Tien steps forwards and says, ever so softly, “The captain is not lying.”

(He will look Kaladin in the eye later and he will say, “I didn’t do it for you,” and that, too, will feel like betrayal.)

But for now, the king freezes in the middle of opening his mouth. Amaram, horrified, turns betrayed eyes to Tien. Dalinar’s mouth drops open.

Tien, Lightweaver, does not notice that his eyes have lit up red.

Chapter Text

Kaladin still gets thrown in jail. They--mainly Elhokar--have to prove a point . The only reason Tien isn’t tossed in with him is because his eyes went lite-brite, and they’re more preoccupied with him being an actual Knight Radiant than they are about him backing up Kaladin’s accusations.

‘They’ does not include Amaram. He begins the slow, careful process cutting off all ties with Tien, begins to meticulously construct a story of the boy’s ‘mental illness.’ He must have misunderstood, Amaram would say later. He’s not quite right, you see. He speaks oddly. He behaves oddly. Look at his obsession with rocks. He’s a little off. You understand.

(This would fall apart the second it hit Renarin, who hears what Amaram has to say and immediately turns to Adolin and goes, “those are the same things I do.” Adolin accuses Amaram of insulting his brother, and Amaram has to backtrack rapidly. After that, Adolin and Dalinar won’t buy the ‘misunderstood’ excuse.)

(It’s probably for the best Kaladin is in prison while this all plays out, or he would have fought Amaram right then, Right of Challenge and lighteyed laws be damned.)

Anyways, Tien is the first ‘official’ Knight Radiant in this world. For all that they don’t believe Kaladin, it’s impossible to deny Tien’s powers, and he willingly summons his Blade once it’s clear he’s been caught out. Amaram is looked upon with suspicion but manages to retain his position as head of the Knights Radiant. For now. Needless to say, their relationship is... strained .

It’s alright, Tien tells himself. He has a backup.

(He is lying to himself, because the backup isn’t what’s important, but it’s a patch that keeps him from breaking. It will have to do.)

Later, Shallan is hiding from Amaram in a madman’s cell when Pattern lets out a sudden, excited buzz. Shallan almost has a heart attack, and then something buzzes back .

The young lighteyed man who walked in with Amaram turns in her direction with wide eyes.

See, Tien figured out a long time ago that a lighteyes could get more places than a darkeyes could, even one who was Amaram’s sort-of protege. So he invented a distant cousin, covered him in plausible lies and excuses, wove the threads of his story tighter and tighter until he could speak to Amaram as family and not be caught out.

Tien is newly out of Amaram’s loop. The man’s cousin, who’s spent three of Tien’s five years in the army wiggling his way into Amaram’s confidences, is not.

So when Shallan leaves the cell a few minutes after Amaram, Tien and his Cryptic are waiting for her. “I didn’t know there were other Lightweavers,” he says quietly.

Shallan asks Tien not to reveal her as a Radiant, and he agrees. What’s one more secret, when he already has so many? There was a reason Amaram trusted him. Tien still hasn’t revealed any of the man’s secrets; all he did was confirm the captain’s truth.

The two of them agree to meet somewhere else to discuss it later, and then they go their separate ways.

Tien goes to visit Kaladin.

He stands there, growing more confident that this man is his brother--if confidence is the right word when the feeling weighs heavy in your chest, when it drags you down and leaves your heart aching, if confidence can be used to describe the crushing realization that this happened, that someone--someone he trusted --took his brother and turned him broken and dark and--Tien’s mind says ‘and wild’ as he watches Kaladin pace footprints into the cell floor.

They talk a little. Tien tells Kaladin, “I didn’t do it for you,” and when Kaladin asks why, then, “I did it because it was true, and it was right.”

Kaladin looks at him. Tien sees darkness in his eyes, but it’s a familiar darkness, the kind that would sometimes loom over him when they were both children.

“Well,” Kaladin says, “that’s better than most of the storming people around here.” Something else joins the darkness--is that--pride? Affection? Both?--Tien thinks it’s both. His brother’s proud of him for doing the right thing. And Tien doesn’t--he doesn’t deserve--he can’t handle--

In a desperate effort to distract himself, Tien blurts out, “Adolin’s in the cell next to yours.”

Kaladin blinks. “He’s what?”

“He’s protesting your imprisonment. So he threw himself in jail.”

“What?” Kaladin says again, and Tien smiles at the expression on his face.

“You have friends,” he says, reaching through the bars for his hand and pressing a rock into his palm. He doesn’t say, ‘friends who are better than I am,’ but he tells him, “remember that.”

Then he leaves.

It’s another minute or so before his Cryptic joins him. “Did you have a nice conversation with the honorspren?” Tien asks.

“She dislikes me,” his Cryptic announces, “but this is to be expected. I think we shall get along fine.”

Tien smiles, nods, and keeps moving.

When he meets the other Lightweaver, he only knows her as Veil.

That first meeting, they don’t do much more than talk, testing the waters. Theirs is a much more guarded talk than the one Tien had with Kaladin, a dance of half-truths and avoidance that has both Cryptics buzzing at the not-quite-lies in the air. This kind of dance is familiar to Tien, like the steps of a kata so familiar he could do it half-asleep.

He doesn’t like what that says about him.

(Veil, on the other hand, looks at the way Tien matches her vague phrases with equally mysterious answers, the way he dodges her barbs like grass dodges footprints, and--let’s be honest--the way he looks like a more approachable version of his brother. She likes what she sees. Remember, Tien’s had time to grow up. He’s a year older than her.)

They set up a second meeting.

Time wears on. Tien works out the boundaries of his altered relationship with Amaram, learns the steps to a new, more careful dance. He talks with Dalinar, and he visits Kaladin at least once more, and he has more meetings with Veil, and he goes and finds Bridge Four and gets into their good graces.

That last one is both the easiest and the hardest. Easiest, because the dance here is the same one he learned as a child; “I’m Kal’s brother,” he said, and acted as he had then. Hardest, because it hurts to mimic the bright, happy past when everything has changed so much. Tien’s brother is broken. Tien is broken. Their spren are proof enough of that.

But his instincts tell him that this is the part he must play, and so he plays it.

He gets stuck on dish duty once, with Prince Renarin. He was feeling antsy, and Bridge Four was a place where he felt like he could contribute, do something solid and productive. Normally, he’d turn to carving for that, but right now it has unpleasant associations with Amaram that he isn’t quite ready to face.

“Amaram says you’re confused,” Renarin says out of nowhere. Tien starts to go on the defensive, and then the prince continues, “but you’re not. You just see too much.”

Tien blinks, thrown off-guard by the unnervingly accurate assessment. “...Yeah,” he says, “sometimes.”

Renarin nods as though Tien’s said something much deeper. Tien stares at him for a few moments, mental gears turning.

“Do things,” he starts, stops, tries again, “Are things ever just too much?”

“Yes,” Renarin answers, surprise blooming on his face.

“And then people look at you like you’re the weird one when they’re being too loud,” Tien continues, starting to grow genuinely excited.

“Yes,” he says again, more vehemently, “and then when you do something to distract yourself they’ll call that odd too--”

“And then they’ll look at you weird when you see a nice rock and you take it with you--”

“And then they say that you shouldn’t know so much about something like wine and you should spend more time doing other things but then they don’t let you do the things they say you should be doing--”

“Do you know,” Tien says, with the same immediate bond of that’s mine now that his brother sometimes gets, “I think we’re going to be good friends.”

And time keeps wearing on.

Once they finally let Kaladin go, Tien slams into him with a hug the moment he sees him, and for a few glorious seconds it doesn’t even feel like he’s just playing a part. He watches his brother reject the Shards, and feels relieved--not inexplicably, because by now he already knows Shardblades are dead spren--but he doesn’t see the honorspren, either.

He asks his Cryptic, who buzzes with the equivalent of a shrug. “They had an argument, and that is all she would tell me.”

Tien frowns but accepts that. And he keeps up his meetings with Veil, and not-quite-avoids Amaram, and talks with Dalinar, and keeps hanging around Bridge Four.

The expedition out to the Shattered Plains comes. Tien goes with Dalinar. Even with Amaram distancing himself from Tien, the man still claims that he’s sending ‘his aide’ as a symbol of his support.

Tien itches to say something about going of his own free will, thank you very much, but he can see the value of keeping the peace as well as Amaram. Exactly like Amaram, his Cryptic says. Tien swats the spren. He knows he picked up the man’s thought patterns.

Anyways, Tien goes with Dalinar. Not Bridge Four, though he thinks about it. He would feel...out of place. He rides a horse, teases his brother for being ground-bound. That, too, feels strange. He’s still not used to Kaladin being alive, is still unsure how they’re supposed to interact now.

(It is during that expedition that Tien realizes Veil and Shallan are one and the same, when his Cryptic makes the excited greeting buzz as Shallan passes by him and gets an answering buzz in return. He starts to say something about three Lightweavers, but his Cryptic sets him straight rather quickly.)

Something feels off.

It builds slowly. It looms like a highstorm, sulking around the edges of Tien’s mind. There’s no reason for it to be there, but there it is. He thinks about telling Dalinar about it, but--no. He can’t figure out why he has this feeling, and that makes the whole thing so much harder to talk about.

But it keeps building--

Tien’s almost decided to tell Dalinar anyways when Kaladin yells something from the other side of the bridge. The enemy-spotted horn sounds at the same time, but Tien’s still startling at his brother’s voice so he turns towards the bridge and--

The bridge collapses, and the stormwall hits.

Tien’s eyes widen as he involuntarily Memorizes the moment--the expression on Kaladin’s face, on Shallan’s face, the way the wind begins to pull at their clothes as gravity asserts itself, the desperation in their movements as both start to reach for their spheres, the conspicuous lack of an honorspren--

Kaladin falls into the chasms, and Tien’s heart falls with him.

Chapter Text

No

No no no

No no no nononononono this can’t be happening I only just got him back

(it has been a little over a month, in truth)

Tien is off the horse and on his knees at the edge of the chasm before he’s even registered that he’s moved, reaching out a useless hand. He wants to scream, but his voice has locked down. He stares into the depths, hoping, praying for a burst of Stormlight to signal their survival.

But the chasms are too deep, and if there is Stormlight in them, then it does not reach Tien’s eyes.

Gone. Just like that.

Tien leans forwards and almost tips into the chasm himself before someone grabs him.

“Hey,” Renarin says softly, “hey--”

“He’s gone,” Tien says in a cracking voice.

Renarin does not respond, just pulls Tien gently back from the edge. He tries to get him to stand, but Tien goes limp in his arms. Renarin calls for Adolin, and together the Kholin brothers scoop him up and carry him to Shallan’s empty palanquin, where he lies down and does not move until someone takes him to his own bed.

It takes a whole day before the storm of grief that claimed him fades enough for him to get out of bed. Tien tries to remember if he was like this the last time he thought his brother was dead. He casts his mind years back, back to when he lay broken in a hospital bed, waking from the living nightmare of war.

...He had felt the same way then, yes. It was just that his injuries had given him a reason to be useless, an excuse to lie in a cot and never get up. And he hadn’t seen it happen; he’d been pummeled into a coma and woke to a world where his brother was dead.

This time, he had watched his brother fall to his death and been helpless to do anything. This time, he has no excuse for being useless.

(Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can cause depression and numb emotions. Tien doesn’t know this. All he knows is that he can lift the darkness from Kaladin. He doesn’t have anyone but his Cryptic to lift it from him.)

Bridge Four watches the chasm in rotations, waiting for their captain to return from the dead. Tien joins them. More accurately, he stations himself there and will not leave. Not for rest, not for food, and the only reason he gets up to relieve himself is because sitting in a soiled uniform is worse.

Bridge Four is the only thing keeping him alive. They bring him food and blankets, let him sleep on them, prod him until he eats. Tien knows they’re taking care of him because he’s a living remnant of his brother. He doesn’t like that he’s taking advantage of their trust and love for Kaladin to keep himself living, but Amaram taught him to use every scrap of advantage your reputation will get you, and so he does.

He is not sure if he believes that Kaladin will come back. He definitely does not believe the way the bridgemen do.

“Your brother lived through a highstorm,” they tell him. “He’ll survive this, too.”

But Tien knows how he lived through a highstorm; by the power of Stormlight and the honorspren, by being Radiant. If the power of Stormlight had saved Kaladin this time, Tien should have seen it. He was good at picking up light and color that others overlooked-- really good. And he hadn’t seen it.

And he can’t believe.

The hollow-eyed version of himself that sits unmoving at that chasm’s edge is the longest Tien has been genuine around Bridge Four. Or, for that matter, around anyone besides his Cryptic. He’s worn mask after mask after mask for years now, and he’s only suffered through this kind of emotional turmoil once--no. No, that is a lie too.

Only suffered through it twice. When he’d thought Kaladin dead the first time, and when he’d dated another messenger in Amaram’s army, only to see him killed in battle.

Back then, Amaram had only recently taken Tien under his wing. Tien hadn’t had the influence to change anything, no way to protect messengers without the patronage of a Brightlord. And--and, instead of trying to make the army better, Tien had put on another mask and tried to lock away his heart, leaving it open only to the man he’d seen as a brother--and even then, that love had slowly tarnished as the lies piled up.

He’d let himself love again. Because it was family, because it was Kaladin, because how could he not?

Tien is halfway through telling himself that that was his mistake when Renarin sits next to him, and Tien’s traitorous heart thumps hard in his chest.

It kind of proves his point, really.

“I thought that my brother was dead once,” Renarin says. “He was left behind during a battle. I was told that him and my father were both gone and I was highprince. Then they both came back alive. It was your brother that saved them.”

Tien eyes him without speaking.

“So,” Renarin continues, “I think...if your brother can save mine, and about twenty five hundred people besides, he can save himself too.”

Oh. So that’s what it is. More encouragements. Tien pulls his knees up to his chest and rests his head against them. How many times is he going to have to hear those before someone realizes it doesn’t help?

It’s the same thing. Kaladin probably lived through it by being Radiant. Tien wants to tell Renarin that, aches to explain in a way he didn’t with the other bridgemen. He doesn’t know why. Maybe it’s a sign that he’s starting to climb out from the darkness he’s fallen into, but he can’t tell.

Tien keeps his secrets. That’s who he is. Who he’s made himself be. Someone who can listen without telling. Someone who can help without gossiping. Someone who can know without talking.

“Lies,” his Cryptic whispers from the ground next to him, “full of so many lies.”

Yeah.

But Renarin looks at the spren with a blink. “What? That was true.”

“Not you,” Tien says in unison with his Cryptic. “It’s just…” He trails off, looks at the chasms. He takes a deep breath. “How?”

How could his brother have possibly survived without Stormlight?

Renarin pauses. Looks thoughtful. “He might have grabbed something on the way down.”

Tien blinks. He sits up straighter.

“The chasms are full of life. Vines. Rockbuds. I’ve seen a few trees down there. There’s lots of debris to grab onto.”

That...that’s the first practical solution that anybody’s offered. Tien could argue. Find the holes in it. It wouldn’t be hard.

Storm it, though, he does want to believe. He doesn’t want his brother to be dead! He wants to see him walk out of the chasms! He wants Kaladin to be alive!

Just...nobody had given him a reason to believe that wasn’t blind faith.

That would have been enough for him, once upon a time. He would have been able to take the encouragements of the bridgemen and find hope in them. He would have been able to wait for Kaladin without turning into a hollowed-out version of himself.

He isn’t that boy anymore.

But Renarin’s given him something. A frail and shallow something, but it’s something. It’s enough for Tien to cling to.

So he shuts down the parts of his mind that poke at the lies, that look past illusions, that search beyond the surface. It’s not hard. He runs from the truth to protect himself, that was his first truth. This is exactly why he does that--so he doesn’t shut down. So he doesn’t hollow out. So he can function.

Tien turns away from truth and accepts the lie. It will hurt more later, but he needs it for now.

“Maybe,” Tien whispers. He crosses his legs and looks out over the chasms again. His Cryptic is humming. Tien starts to hum along--a good sign. He’s been too listless to do that for the last couple of days.

He feels a light tap on his arm. When he looks over, Renarin’s offering his box. Tien blinks again, looking at him.

“You do the same things I do,” Renarin says. “I thought...maybe it would help.”

Oh. Oh. Tien’s heart flips. That box is special to Renarin, the way Tien’s rocks are to him. He wouldn’t offer that lightly.

...How many days has it been since Tien thought about his rocks? Does he still have them in his--

Tien checks his pockets automatically. They are there, which is a relief. He pulls one out and, amazingly, manages to smile. “Thank you,” he says, “but I wouldn’t want to deprive you of it.”

Renarin looks vaguely relieved as he pulls back and starts fidgeting with the box himself. Tien flips a rock through his fingers.

“He’s good for you,” his Cryptic whispers.

Yeah.

He’s given him hope.

Chapter Text

Kaladin comes out of the chasms.

He’s not dead.

Kaladin climbs out of the chasm and he’s not dead!

“Fractal?” Tien taps his Cryptic thrice in a second, hands jittery with excitement and nervousness. “Are you seeing this too? I’m not Lightweaving this or hallucinating?”

“Not a lie,” Fractal answers, humming under his fingertips. “His presence here is truth.”

That’s good enough for Tien, and he lunges to his feet with a scream of delight. “KALADIN!”

“Ti--” Kaladin only gets halfway through his name before Tien crashes into him, sending him stumbling with a grunt of pain.

“Leg,” Kaladin wheezes, “watch the leg.”

“Sorry,” Tien says, voice choked with tears of relief. He pulls back after a moment. “Don’t do that again. Don’t ever, ever scare me like that again.” Any comforting response Kaladin has will be a lie, and Tien knows it. He needs to hear it anyways.

Kaladin smiles and pulls him into another hug. “I’ll do my best not to.”

And he manages to find the one comforting response that isn’t even a lie. Tien buries his face in his brother’s shoulder with a smile.

Then he has to back off and let a surgeon get at the mess that is Kaladin’s leg. He would have healed from that with Stormlight, so Tien had been right the first time--Kaladin had survived without using any.

Tien frowns as he watches the surgeon work, watches Bridge Four crowd their captain. If he couldn’t use Stormlight, then… “Do you see the honorspren?” He asks his Cryptic.

Fractal hums a negative response before Shallan’s Cryptic lets out his usual excited hum of greeting and she skitters off to meet it in response, the two of them bursting into a buzzing conversation.

Tien furrows his brow, thinking. If the honorspren is missing...that...that’s not good. He doesn’t know what it means, but that’s not good.

He’s going to have to sit down and talk with his brother later.

But for now, Tien can content himself with him--and Shallan--being alive.


When Tien finally finishes his reunion and goes to check on everything he’d neglected while waiting with Bridge Four, he finds that Amaram has been trying to have him removed from the refounded Knights Radiant on charges of mental instability. He’s been very concerned about Tien.

Tien thinks about the way he spent the last week and concludes that honestly, that’s fair.

Fractal doesn’t agree. “What does he expect you to do?” She buzzes indignantly. “Unbond from me? Unspeak your truths? You have broken no oaths, killed no spren.”

Tien smiles at her defense, then frowns. Something about that bugs him, like something he should know--

Oh, but Dalinar is talking to him.

“Will that happen again? Will it interfere with your ability to carry out your duties?”

He says that like they’ve given Tien Radiant duties. Tien shakes his head anyways. “Not unless my brother gets himself into another should-have-been-dead situation, Brightlord. I fully intend to keep him away from those.”

Dalinar smiles. “I wish you the best of luck with that. The Almighty knows he could use someone to do it. You’ll be staying behind during the expedition, then?”

“I plan to, yes.” He’d considered going with Shallan, but she can obviously take care of herself. It’s not like Tien needs to fuss over her; Brightness Navani has been doing enough of that.

Dalinar nods. Tien looks over at Amaram and smiles like their bond was never damaged. “I’ll hold down the fort for you, sir.”

Amaram nods, eyes sharp. “You’re a member of the Signal Corps while I’m gone,” he says, like that’s new. “You’ll report to Telinar.” The words are a warning, a reminder of his place.

Tien’s smile sharpens. Telinar is Amaram’s cousin. His fake cousin. Telinar is Tien. “I know, sir. I’ll assist him to the best of my ability.”

Amaram gives him a look that matches the warning in his voice, and Tien dulls his grin.

The meeting proceeds normally. Amaram is still trying to convince Dalinar to reconcile with Sadeas. He should know it’s a lost cause by now, but Amaram has never been as good at reading people as Tien, and Tien doesn’t plan to stick around long enough to let the man ask for advice this time.

He has a brother to look after.


Just before Dalinar sets out on his expedition, Amaram comes to speak to Kaladin. Tien’s hovering near the back with Renarin; he wants to be near his brother, but he doesn’t want to shove the bridgemen away either. He ended up hovering with his best friend in Bridge Four.

When Amaram shows up, Tien snaps alert. He can see his brother stiffen, and he drifts closer to put a hand on his arm. Kaladin looks at him and relaxes a fraction of an inch before swallowing hard and looking back at Amaram.

Dalinar speaks. Repeats what Amaram had told him earlier, about never seeing Kaladin. Amaram repeats that it was true, says that Kaladin’s accusations are false. That they are preposterous.

Tien remembers Amaram approaching his ‘cousin’ and asking him to confirm a lie of heroism. He remembers agreeing to it. He hadn’t been able to see the harm, hadn’t thought that people could be hurt by it, and it was just so easy for him to trust that Amaram was doing the right thing.

He’d been wrong.

Tien locks eyes with the man he saw as an older brother. Fear flashes into those light eyes, and Tien can feel the respect he once held for this man slipping away.

Slowly, deliberately, behind Kaladin’s back, Tien mouths, ‘Liar.’

“I believe an apology is due,” Dalinar says.

“I--” Kaladin begins.

“Not you, son.”

Tien watches more fear jolt into Amaram’s body as he turns, coiling like he’s about to jump. “Surely you don’t believe these allegations, Dalinar!” His eyes dart to Tien, silently begging for support.

Tien stays silent. It’s the most support he can offer, because he will not lie for Amaram, not again. It’s not right.

Dalinar launches into an explanation of how he uncovered Amaram’s lies. Amaram steps back and extends his hand to the side, and Tien’s fingers twitch as his thoughts start spinning. If he has to, he can summon Fractal as a shield in a heartbeat, and get between Dalinar and Amaram in two, but he really doesn’t want to put himself in front of his mentor holding a Shardblade, even if he can counter it with a Shardshield--

Kaladin’s moving, and Dalinar’s moving, and a cleaverlike Shardblade appears in Dalinar’s hand a heartbeat after Tien’s decided to summon Fractal.

He’s left holding Fractal-shield as Dalinar holds the blade to Amaram’s throat. “Oh,” Tien says quietly, “never mind, then.” He doesn’t dismiss her, though, because he’d rather not see Amaram die either.

The thing about using a Shard shield is that you can hurl it at or bash it on people and knock them out without actually killing them.

Dalinar keeps monologuing about how he caught Amaram out. Tien mentally matches up the events, watching Amaram’s careful lies come crashing down with a pang in his heart.

Tien can’t help but wonder; if he hadn’t revealed himself as a Radiant, if Amaram had kept him close, would he have been able to patch over the holes and keep this from happening? Would he have let the lies fall apart even if he had been asked to keep them intact? Could he have kept them intact, or would this have happened anyways?

Tien had known that it was only a matter of time before someone managed to uncover something, but this-- this --he didn’t think it would be this big.

And if Dalinar is so clever, able to come up with this plan and use it to rip a gaping hole in the image Amaram has so carefully cultivated--how long will it take before he does the same to Tien?

Dalinar’s grip on the Blade tightens. Amaram raises his chin as though daring Dalinar to try it, and Tien jerks forwards before Kaladin puts a hand on his shoulder. His brother is as tense as he is, if not more.

“I did it,” Amaram admits, and Tien’s legs go shaky for a moment as Kaladin’s hand tightens. He knew, but hearing it out loud still hurts. “And I would do it again.”

Tien closes his eyes and sighs, dismissing Fractal. It’s a heavy sigh; a dark sigh; a sigh that shatters illusions. Amaram is still talking, reasoning through the murder, but Tien’s heard it all before. Amaram has justified many things with “the Voidbringers will return,” and Tien believes he’s right--

But murdering people? Especially when you could have just trained them? Tien can’t accept that. The loss of potential, the loss of ideas --how could it be anything but a waste?

“Lies!” Kaladin blurts out as Amaram finishes, releasing Tien’s shoulder as he stumbles forward. “You just wanted the Blade for yourself!”

“No,” Tien says quietly, “he didn’t.” He knows how Amaram thinks. Murder for his own gain is as abhorrent to him as it is to Tien.

Kaladin blinks at Tien--oh, Tien hates that trace of betrayal in his eyes--as Amaram nods at him. When Kaladin looks back at Amaram, the man makes eye contact. “I am sorry for what I did to you and yours. Sometimes, good men must die so greater goals can be accomplished.”

Kaladin steps back, posture stiffening. Tien loops his arm through Kaladin’s, hoping to comfort him. “He honestly believes he did the right thing, doesn’t he?” Kaladin asks Tien in a soft voice not meant to be overheard.

Tien nods as apologetically as he can. Kaladin takes in a shaky breath. “And do you?”

Tien blinks. “Sorry?”

“Do you believe he did the right thing?”

“Wha-- no!” Part of Tien’s offended that Kaladin would ever think that. A larger part is horrified that he could come off as that kind of person. “Storms, no!”

Kaladin lets out a sigh, still shaky. “Good. That’s good.”

“Take off that cloak,” Dalinar growls, continuing a conversation they’d tuned out. “You are no Radiant.”

Well. Tien could have told him that.

Amaram undoes the cloak, drops it to the rock, starts to walk away. Kaladin jerks like he’s going to run after him, but Tien’s arm around his stops him from moving. Amaram pauses, though, and looks over his shoulder.

“Tien,” he says. “Will you stand by me?”

Tien wants to freeze. He wants to freeze and not deal with this, but he can’t freeze and he has to face it.

‘I will choose what is right over who I am loyal to.’

He looks at Amaram with glowing eyes. Radiant eyes, Lightweaver-red. “I...I could never thank you enough for what you’ve done for me, Brightlord.” He swallows hard. “But you aren’t right.”

Amaram nods stiffly and walks away.

“That’s it?” Kaladin asks, eyes narrowing. “He just gets to go?”

Tien tugs on Kaladin’s arm. “He saved my life,” he hisses, and Kaladin jerks back like he’s been slapped. Tien feels a brief flare of panic that he tries to calm. He and Kaladin have directly opposing images of Amaram in their heads, and it’s going to take Kaladin a bit to process that.

“His reputation is broken,” Dalinar says in answer. Tien can’t help but wince. He knows better than anyone how much damage that will do. “We will try him fairly once I return, but you can’t imprison a Shardbearer. They’re above that, and he’d cut his way out anyway. Either you execute a Shardbearer or you leave him free.”

Kaladin sags against Tien, and Tien takes a quick breath of Stormlight for the strength to support his brother’s weight.

“Thank you,” Kaladin tells Dalinar, “for believing me.”

“I do listen sometimes, soldier.” Dalinar picks up Amaram’s cloak. “Tien.”

Tien jumps, jostling Kaladin. Two Bridge Four members step up to support Kaladin while Tien steps forwards. “Sir?”

The highprince holds out the cloak. “As our only known Radiant, this duty falls to you.”

Tien stares, dumbfounded. “Sir?”   He repeats.

“You’re in change of the Knights Radiant now, son.”

“What?”   Tien’s voice cracks.

Dalinar puts a paternal hand on Tien’s shoulder. “You’ll do fine. If I live through this, we’ll discuss it more on my return.” He offers the cloak again, and Tien reluctantly takes it.

He glances at his brother. Kaladin has an odd expression on his face. What is that, amusement? No, not quite. Shock? Partly, but not just that. Perhaps it’s the disconnect of reconciling his little brother with someone who could be in charge of the Knights Radiant. Tien feels that disconnect pretty hard himself.

Dalinar and Kaladin exchange some final words that Tien doesn’t hear, too busy staring in silent, screaming confusion at the cloak. He doesn’t speak until Dalinar leaves.

“Hey, Kaladin,” he says, the words falling out of his mouth without quite registering in his mind, “you’re a Windrunner. Can you be in charge instead?”

Kaladin starts so hard that Teft and Lopen almost drop him. “What-- who told you that?”

Oh, right. Tien never actually told Kaladin he’d picked up on that. He looks up and points at his Cryptic. “Fractal saw your honorspren the first time we met again.”

“...That was a month ago.”

“Yes.”

“You’ve known for a month?”

Tien shrugs. “It’s your business. I figured you’d tell me on your own when you were ready.”

Kaladin trades a look with Teft. Then they both look at Renarin, still in the back, prompting Tien to glance over with them. Renarin’s eyes are wide enough that Tien knows this is news to him.

‘Oh, storm it.’ Tien had assumed the bridgemen all knew already, but he’d counted Renarin in with them.

Renarin holds his hands up haltingly. “I won’t tell,” he says. “It’s a Bridge Four secret, right? I’m Bridge Four.” He says the last words with some--uncertainty? Nervousness?--until Kaladin nods slowly, and Tien recognizes the expression that floods the prince’s face as determination.

“Tien? Don’t tell anyone else.”

“I don’t plan to,” Tien says dryly. He wouldn’t have said anything at all if he’d realized not everyone was in on it. His gaze falls back to the cloak. “I just...I don’t know how to do this.”

Maybe if it was just the Lightweavers, just him and Shallan. But more are coming, and Tien can’t handle all of them. He can handle being Telinar, he can handle the Signal Corps that Telinar heads, but that’s just him and the Corps are his. It’s like someone promoted him from taking care of his one branch to being in charge of Amaram’s entire army.

The Lightweavers, Tien could head. The Knights Radiant? No.

(Kaladin looks at his little brother, and Tien’s face overwhelms the gloomy weight of the Weeping, lets him push aside his heart-sickness over Syl. He knows that wide-eyed expression, that slight shake in Tien’s shoulders, knows all the signs of his brother on the verge of meltdown.

(He remembers days past, the shape of Tien curling into his side for comfort, the way he would arrange his rocks in patterns and tug at Kaladin for stories, and Kaladin would talk to him until he was calm again. Looking at Tien’s face now, the urge to do so again rises--he is an older brother, and he will comfort his sibling.

(Tien is Kaladin’s light, but Kaladin is Tien’s rock.)

So Kaladin says, “I’ll help you.”

Chapter Text

Four and a Half Years Ago


It’s been months since Tien woke up from his coma, and he hasn’t seen Kaladin once. Not visiting, not in passing, not anywhere.

It’s time to face what he’s known for weeks.

Kaladin’s dead.

He’s dead, and he’s not going to be there protect Tien anymore.

Tien can’t make it through the rest of his enlistment without Kaladin. He’s scared stiff, he can’t stand blood, he doesn’t know how to fight; all he has going for him is Stormlight and a spren.

He hid from the truth of it to protect himself, because without someone protecting him--without someone to live for-- the only point in living is postponing death, and Tien doesn't think he can hold it off for four years.

There’s a scar across his chest, a leftover of his brush with death. He hadn’t had enough Stormlight to heal it all the way. By the time Tien has an opportunity to take some Stormlight discreetly, the scar has woven itself into his self-image--first as something hopeful, something to be proud of. ‘I lived through this. I made it. I can make it a little longer.’

But ‘a little longer’ was only supposed to be ‘until I find Kaladin again,’ and there is no Kaladin. Just Tien and Fractal.

The scar gradually becomes a stark, constant reminder that he should be dead.

Something’s wrong with Fractal, too. She’s scatterbrained, frazzled--there’s a space where her sharp questions and pointed observations should be, a jarring silence when Tien pauses for her input.

Tien stops talking to himself out loud. It’s easier than facing the problem.

Tien stops doing a lot of things, really. Even stops caring. He’s terrified and it's exhausting. He’s not meant to be scared every moment of the day, not meant to be surrounded by blood and constant trauma, not meant to have a silent scream constantly locked in his throat. He’s supposed to be light, he’s supposed to bring hope, he’s supposed to smile and reassure his family that everything will be okay.

But his family is gone, and Fractal is fracturing, and Tien just can’t be scared all the time. So instead, his mind gives up and shuts down the terror, and he’s left with...with nothing.

With constant exhaustion. With being too tired to care. With a half-existence where he's both wound up far too tight and worn right down to the bone.

(Tien realizes, in a vague sort of way, that Fractal’s becoming more and more unfocused as he cares less and less about living. By the time he realizes it, though, he can’t bring himself to care much about it.)

Eventually, Tien gets assigned to the front of a squad formation again. He knows what that means. He’s bait. He’s a dead man walking, and maybe this time someone will kill him and it will stick, so he can join Kaladin in death.

So when the time comes, Tien stands with his spear in the ready position. Waiting. In the last few months he’s managed to absorb enough basic spear training to defend himself a little, but he doesn’t plan to use it.

The squad pulls back. The enemy advances. Tien is left at the front with two other messenger boys, and…

And…

...And they look so scared.

If Tien had been alone he would have welcomed the swords of the enemy, would have let himself be struck down with barely a thought for Fractal.

(In a rare moment of lucidity they had discussed what would happen if he died. She wasn’t sure, but she thought the bond would snap without killing her. She would be released, and he would be at peace.)

But their faces. Almighty. That hits him like a gut-punch, throwing him back to the first time he was left behind as bait, how terrified he was, how he smiled for Kaladin anyways because Kaladin needed to know it was okay, needed to know that even if Tien died one of them should live…

Well. One of them lived, and it’s not Kaladin.

Maybe one of the messenger boys can live, and it won’t be Tien.

At the very least, if Tien dies in battle he’s sure to join his brother in the Tranquiline Halls.

Tien raises his spear. The enemy comes closer, swords gleaming and the hooves of horses thundering.

Tien’s not a natural the way Kaladin was, but he has Fractal. He has Stormlight. He bends the last of his will, his last scraps of determination, to a single goal:

‘One of us should live. And it won’t be me.’

“Tien?” Fractal murmurs sleepily from his pant leg. “The words. You’re ready for words. Speak truth.”

Well. It’s probably the last thing Fractal will ever ask of him. He can’t turn down a last request.

“I hide from the truth to protect myself,” Tien whispers, “because the truth is, I won’t live.”

“Mmmm,” Fractal hums. “Truth and a lie. But your truth is accepted.”

Stormlight fills Tien as he screams the scream of a man with nothing to lose and hurls himself forwards. 


 

...He comes to. He does not know how long it’s been, but the way his body aches tells him he’s not dead.

‘Damnation.’ He’d taken in enough Stormlight to heal anything fatal. The attacking soldiers must have been rich enough to carry a good number of spheres--he probably should have guessed that from the horses, really.

Tien meant to give Fractal a parting gift, and instead she had him swear a Radiant oath. Clever, clever spren.

He scrapes the edges of his memory to see if he can recall what happened to the other messenger boys.

Bloodied stone. Crushed limbs. Glassy eyes.

Despite his best attempt, Tien lived where others died. Again.

He lets out a sigh that is more of a moan and turns his head to the side. “Fractal?” He croaks out.

His Cryptic crawls up the side of the cot, moves over the thin blanket until she’s on top of his stomach. She buzzes reproachfully. “That was very stupid of you.”

“Sorry,” Tien sighs, moving his head to look at the ceiling again.

“You need to find something to live for, Tien. I don’t want my human going off and dying before his time.”

“You knew this was coming,” Tien mumbles accusingly. “I didn’t exactly keep it secret, Fractal. You were the one who tricked me into living through it.”

Fractal buzzes sharply on his stomach, making Tien let out an involuntary laugh that turns into a cough. Laughter is not kind to his aching body. “That tickles.”

“I knew you were not happy,” Fractal says, ignoring the last comment. “I knew you were upset about your brother, and that you were very scared. I did not think you were going to try to die.” In a subdued hum she adds, “I thought humans had more self-preservation than that.”

Tien sighs out another apology. At least Fractal seems more lucid than she has been recently; probably another side-effect of his truth. He’d missed her bluntness, her matter-of-factness, her steady, buzzing chatter…

It’s then that he notices the texture of the background noise has changed.

The sounds of the infirmary tent became familiar to Tien the first time he was healing. Even though he could never stand the sight of blood, it always reminds him a little bit of home--the tearing of bandages being made, the soft clink of metal tools, water poured or bubbling hot...Tien knows the sounds of preparation, even if he could never stand the surgery itself.

But all that has stilled, save for that bubble of boiling water. The soft murmuring of the surgeons and nurses has changed to an anxious whisper, though he thinks there’s an undercurrent of excitement. He listens to the words:

“...Brightlord, here…”

“...told you the man cares about us…”

“...maybe he’ll see how brave I was…”

“...organize the place best you can…”

Tien pieces together the basics. A Brightlord has come to visit. A man with a reputation for caring about his soldiers, kind enough that soldiers will hope for his approval and inspiring enough that the surgeons will put forth their best effort to make the place look professional.

Brightlord Amaram.

Tien looks around for Stormlight. He wants to sit up and see the man for himself. There, a small goblet--Tien breathes deeply, and his aches fade with some of the Light. There are parts of him that still sting. He might get new scars.

Tien sits up and watches the Brightlord walk through the tent. He waves at some people, stops to trade words with others. He projects an air of...not kindness, perhaps, but involvement. Easy enough to mistake for kindness, but there’s just something missing that makes Tien certain it’s not the right word.

Perhaps the canniness that lets him note this difference shines through in his eyes. Perhaps this is what prompts Amaram to stop in front of his cot.

The Brightlord looks at him. Tien stares back for a long moment before he remembers his manners. “Brightlord Amaram,” he says, inclining his head. He hopes he has the right amount of respect in his voice; Stormlight can leach away most of his physical weariness, but it won't do anything about his bone-deep emotional ache.

Amaram nods back at him. That’s an unusual amount of respect already. “What’s your name, soldier?” He asks in a gentle voice. Curiosity, Tien notes again, not kindness.

“Tien, Brightlord.”

“You were from Hearthstone, weren’t you?”

“Mmhm.” ‘You told my brother you’d make me a messenger,’ Tien doesn’t say. ‘You let me be used as bait, and got him killed--’

But no. No, that was not Amaram. He does not have iron control over his squadleaders. Varth made his choices, Kaladin made his choices, and this is Amaram’s fault only in that he went to Hearthstone. Tien can blame Roshone if he wants to blame anyone.

The thing is, he’s too tired to blame anyone.

“I hear you’ve been very brave,” Amaram says, and Tien almost falls for it. He’s tired, he’s aching inside, he’s thirteen. He’s a child, meant to blossom with praise. He wants to be happy, storm it, he’s sick to death of feeling hopeless.

“This is true,” Fractal buzzes softly on the back of Tien’s neck, “But how would he know this? Everyone there died.”

Realization hits like a slap in the face. Amaram’s words are a stock phrase, a generic compliment meant to make young soldiers swell with pride. Tien had overheard a boy hoping for the Brightlord to recognize his bravery.

Sometimes, Tien wishes Fractal wasn’t so good at picking up lies.

(He will wish this many more times in the coming years.)

Tien smiles hollowly at Amaram. “Thank you, Brightlord.” He looks down at his blanket and makes slow fists, rubbing the material against his hands. It’s scratchy, but at least it doesn’t make his skin want to crawl off.

Tien’s not looking at the Brightlord. He misses the way Amaram’s eyes narrow. Fractal, edging around the side of Tien's neck, doesn’t.

“He noticed,” she hums in warning. “You caught his attention.”

Tien stifles a groan. “I appreciate you taking the time to check on me, Brightlord,” Tien says without looking at him, “but I’m not the kind of person you should spend your words on.”

He glances up in time to see Amaram quirk an eyebrow. “Spend my words on?”

Tien blinks. “That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? For morale.” He almost says, ‘so we don’t feel like it’s pointless,’ but that’s his state of mind. It’s more like… “So that we get the impression that somebody cares about the losses we’ve suffered.”

“The impression,” Amaram repeats, and Tien winces. Has he stepped over the line? No--Amaram looks thoughtful. “Tell me then, Tien. Do you think I don’t care about your losses?”

Tien takes the time to work through his answer before he speaks. He hums as he thinks, and Fractal hums back. She can find the pattern of words in his hum, translate it and build on it, articulate an idea where Tien only has a vague feeling.

She hasn’t been lucid enough to do that for weeks, and the familiarity soothes him.

“I think,” Tien says carefully, paraphrasing Fractal’s elaboration on his instincts, “that you care about our losses in the sense that it’s a loss of your own numbers. I think you care about our losses because if you care, then people are loyal to you. But I don’t think you care in the sense that you’re actually all that torn up about it. Brightlord. Sir.”

Amaram’s eyes gleam. “You’re a very clever child.”

And that--that compliment is genuine. Tien and Fractal worked through it themselves, Amaram watched them do it, they earned this.

Tien lets himself light up. “Thank you, Brightlord.”

(Amaram looks at Tien. He sees the perceptiveness in the boy’s eyes, the way he isn’t taken in by soothing words and compliments. He tests that perceptiveness and gets an unnervingly precise answer. He praises the boy’s accuracy and deep weariness ebbs, an edge in his eyes turning to light as his face brightens.

(Amaram sees a very clever, very lonely child. He sees how easy it would be to win him over.

(He can get a lot of use out of an easily-underestimated, desperately lonely darkeyes.)

“It seems a waste,” Amaram says, “for someone as smart as you to be in a regular squad.”

Tien blinks slowly. “I’m supposed to be a messenger.”

“Messengers can be called on as backup. You, on the other hand, seem more suited to... tactical thought.”

Tien furrows his brow. Fractal gives him a phrase. “Reading people?”

“Exactly.” Amaram smiles, gentle and sharp at the same time. “Tien, how would you like to be in my retinue?”

Tien goes ramrod straight, eyes widening. His retinue?  Tien only vaguely knows what that means, but it sounds important.

He hums a question to Fractal under his breath.

“A retinue,” Fractal defines for him, “is the group of people who personally advise, protect, or otherwise assist someone important.”

...Oh, wow.

Tien’s darkeyed. Second nahn, sure, but he’s darkeyed and Amaram is of the--what, fourth or fifth dahn? This shouldn’t even be a concept.

But it is. It is. Brightlord Amaram is right here in front of him and telling Tien that he thinks his skills are important enough for personal advisement.

Tien can barely breathe with the shock of it. “I--I--I don’t--I don’t know what to say, Brightlord.”

Amaram smiles another gentle-and-sharp smile. “How about ‘yes?’”

“Yes,” Tien repeats. Amaram nods.

“When the surgeons release you, find me. You’re still a messenger for now; they’ll tell you where to go.”

Tien nods, hardly daring to breathe. Amaram’s smile becomes gentler, loses some of that sharpness. “I’ll look forward to seeing you,” he says, and continues through the tent.

Tien waits until he’s well out of earshot. Then--

“Did that just happen?” He asks Fractal in a frantic half-whisper.

She hums. “It did.”

“He really--he really wants us?”

“You,” Fractal corrects.

“Us,” Tien repeats firmly. “I can’t do half of that without you helping.”

Fractal hums in a pleased sort of way. “Yes, then. He wants our skills.”

(He misses the warning in the way she says that, too overwhelmed with the idea of it.)

Tien breathes in a long, shaky breath, and it comes out as an explosive laugh that pulls at all his lingering aches. He falls back onto the bed.

“I can’t believe that happened,” he says in a softer voice, and he’s starting to smile.

There’s a way to live through the next four years. There...there’s someone to protect him again. There’s someone he can help again. Someone to smile for again.

He’s not Kaladin. He will never be Kaladin. But for Tien, tired of being heartsick, achingly lonely, ready to cling at anything that will give him a reason to live again--Amaram is enough.

Tien has someone to smile for again, and that is what saves his life.

Chapter Text

The Weeping’s light rain is steady outside. Steady and soothing, though Tien knows that for Kaladin the drizzle is oppressive rather than calming. His brother reclines on a cot, still-wounded leg stretched out and eyes half-glazed as he stares at the ceiling.

Tien’s working on a wooden carving, using Fractal as his knife. Creationspren pop up around his hands, moving through various shapes.

He’d normally have a layer of illusion over his eyes, hiding the Radiant brightness with his usual brown, but he prefers to save his Stormlight during the Weeping. Besides, Kaladin already knows. There’s no point in hiding.

It’s nice to carve again, even if it does hurt a little. Tien’s given so many of his carvings to Amaram that the act of it has become tied with the man in his mind. But now he’s placed himself against Amaram, and the only way to get rid of the pang in his heart is to carve more.

(He does not stop to consider that Amaram cut his links with Tien first.)

Tien can’t just deny a part of himself, no matter how much it hurts. It didn’t work when he tried to stop caring about the other messengers and it’s not going to work now. All he can do is push forwards and make better memories to associate with it.

He’s pretty much done with this one now. ‘It looks good,’  Tien thinks as he examines it. ‘Maybe it will cheer Kaladin up.’  He turns it upside down and carves a glyph into the circular base. As soon as he’s done, the knife-Blade dissolves, Fractal springing back into spren form. She buzzes at the creationspren as they begin to fade away.

Tien smiles at her and the fading spren before he leans forward to poke Kaladin. “Hey. I made you a thing.”

Kaladin rolls his head to look at Tien with a grunt. “Do you always use a Shardblade to carve?”

Tien blinks. “Depends? Fractal’s more convenient than regular tools, but it’s really tricky to adjust to just cutting right through things. You keep expecting resistance and then you don’t get any…” He trails off. “Do you want to see the thing I made?”

Kaladin grunts again. That’s basically a yes. Tien extends a hand, his sculpture standing five inches tall in his palm.

It’s the honorspren. Sort of. Tien never managed to get a good look at her before she...went away, but he thinks he did a pretty good job with Fractal’s descriptions.

Kaladin’s eyes flash with pain. “It...looks great, Tien,” he says, his voice strained. Panic flares up; Tien’s done something wrong, he’s messed up, what did he--

‘He misses his honorspren,’  Tien realizes. That’s all. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to carve her while she was gone, but he thought it would…he doesn’t know what now. Thought it would help somehow. He used to be good at cheering Kaladin up, but it’s been years since then. It looks like he’s lost his touch.

He used to know what to say, what to do. It’s gone now, and that leaves an ache in his chest.

Tien puts down the carving. “Are you okay?” It’s a stupid question, but he doesn’t know the right words anymore.

Kaladin stares at the ceiling. “No,” he answers softly. “I think I messed up.”

Ah. That’s something Tien can relate to, at least. He moves closer to Kaladin. “You wanna talk about it?”

“...No.”

“Okay.”

Tien pulls out a rock to fidget with as the silence stretches out. Fractal’s words start to echo ominously in Tien’s head, as they have been off and on for a few days now.

‘Broken no oaths,’  she said when he’d thought that Amaram had a point about removing Tien from the Knights Radiant. And, worse, ‘killed no spren.’

She’d been defending him, but Tien keeps thinking about the missing honorspren, and Kaladin’s gloominess, and how his brother’s leg hasn’t healed, and now he’s just admitted he’d messed up--

Tien’s still hurt by Amaram’s lies finally falling apart, and he’s seen that coming for years--

If Kaladin--if Kaladin, the best person Tien knows, if he’s killed his own spren, accident or not--

‘I hide from finding truth to protect myself,’  Tien’s own voice whispers from the distant past.

So he pointedly turns away from that path of thought, ignoring the dread shivering down his spine and the ice creeping through his veins.

“There’s some neat rocks on the Plains,” Tien says, putting down the rock in his hand and rifling through his pockets for more recent additions to his collection. “I found one that almost looks like it came off of a building, all smooth and white. I mean, it was covered in crem at first, but I got some of it off and it turned out to be much smaller than it looked...”

Kaladin lets him chatter on for a while. Tien can’t tell how much Kaladin is listening to him, or if he’s even listening at all. That’s okay, though. Just having a comforting background chatter can help.

After a while, Kaladin speaks up during one of Tien’s pauses for breath.

“What do you think,” he says slowly, like he’s been turning it over in his mind for a while now, “about lives being spent for the greater good?”

(Kaladin’s conversation with Moash has been echoing in his mind for a while now. He’s not sure what to think. He thinks--he thinks, maybe Tien can help him find his footing.)

Tien frowns slightly. The question is a bit out-of-nowhere, but him and Kaladin both do that sometimes--so does Renarin, come to think of it--and the way he says it suggests that he’s been waiting to ask this. Who knows how long it’s been on his mind?

“Is this about Amaram again?” Tien asks. “Because you know I don’t agree with him.”

“N--” Kaladin pauses. “Well. Alright, maybe a little. I know you don’t agree with...that. But on a larger scale. A wider scope. With people who…” He pauses again for a long time, seeming to struggle with the words. Finally he settles on, “...who aren’t, you know, related to you.”

Obviously, that’s not what he was thinking originally, but Tien’s not about to call him out on it. “It’s not because it’s you,”  Tien says anyways, just in case Kaladin did forget that. “I told you that back after the arena. It’s because it’s wrong.”

Tien’s gaze drifts to Fractal, shifting through patterns on the wall. “Those are people,” he continues, speaking more slowly as he gets his thoughts in order. “People with ideas and potential. You could...you could teach them, you could train them, you could prepare them. Murder is...it’s just…” Tien waves a hand in circles as he searches for the word. “It’s just such a waste, Kaladin.”

Kaladin stares at the ceiling.

The honorspren is missing, Tien’s brain says again. You almost lost Fractal when you didn’t care about living, it adds. At least it’s not trying to tell him ‘maybe Kaladin killed his spren’ again, but the thought of Kaladin not caring anymore is almost as bad. Worse, in a way, because Tien knows the darkness behind Kaladin’s eyes; him not caring is more realistic.

“What if,” Kaladin says, snapping Tien out of his thoughts, “you couldn’t train them? There’s no time to teach them. Or no way to teach them. They’re badly suited for the job, there’s not another place to put them, and there’s no way to give someone else the job unless they’re gone. What then, Tien?”

He sounds urgent. Almost pleading. This is a serious question, though for all Tien’s skill at reading people he can’t imagine who Kaladin could possibly be talking about (or, more accurately, doesn’t want to imagine who).

He needs to think through this. It sounds like someone’s life might actually depend on this.

‘Please,’ Tien thinks faintly, ‘let that be a crazy thought.’

So he tries to come up with an answer for Kaladin, but his mind blanks out. He’s trained himself to read people, to look at someone’s face and guess at what they’re hiding, to catalog actions and body language and put the pieces together like a puzzle, to find weaknesses and secrets and store them away for himself...or, until recently, for Amaram.

In short, he can tell that Kaladin is struggling with the question; it’s just that there isn’t anyone else for him to get an answer out of.

“Fractal?” Tien asks softly. His spren often has an idea when he can’t come up with one.

“Kidnap them,” she says promptly, loud enough for Kaladin to hear. Tien can’t help but snort with laughter. He glances over to see Kaladin’s reaction.

...Oh, Tien does not like how he looks like he’s actually considering it. He seems to dismiss it after a moment, though, turning his head to the side with a sigh.

(Kaladin can’t do anything, not while he’s bedridden and sprenless. Kidnapping the king to protect him is a ridiculous thought unless Syl comes back. He wishes she would come back. He realizes she probably won’t, not unless he can do something to stop... this.

(The difference in this world is: Kaladin is not so sure there’s nothing he can do. Not when his brother is right there. It would be so easy to tell Tien…)

“Are you gonna be okay?” Tien asks softly.

(But he doesn’t.)

“I don’t know.”

And Tien doesn’t know how to answer that.

So he defaults to his years-old fallback and digs through his pockets for a good rock to give his brother. The crem-covered white rock from the Shattered Plains that he was telling Kaladin about earlier; that one’s right, that one fits. Smothered in layers and layers of suffocating crem but still stubbornly bright at its core, the same way Kaladin almost drowns under darkness and still manages to keep going.

Kaladin is still bright at his core. He is. He has trouble seeing it, but he’s the best person Tien knows.

(Kaladin’s mental image of Tien is still thawing out from where it had been frozen at thirteen years old and dying, but Tien’s mental image was frozen too.

(Tien remembers his older brother as someone who always thought of others, someone who cared hard enough to hurt, someone ready to defend his family on a moment’s notice. Tien learned this love from his brother: help who you could, cry for those you couldn’t, and protect your own.

(Neither of them have changed as much as they think they have, really.)

Tien imagines shoving everything good about his brother into that rock, and he takes Kaladin’s hand and presses the rock into it. “Here. It’s like you.”

Kaladin manages to sit up as he looks at it. “...It’s like me?”

“Buried under pressure,” Tien explains, “but still surviving.” As Kaladin’s fingers curl around the rock, he imagines the positivity flowing out of it and into Kaladin.

And just like when they were children, it works. Kaladin manages a soft smile and a half-broken laugh.

“You always do this,” he says softy. “You always manage to make me feel better. Even now. How do you…?”

Tien shrugs, smiling back. He starts to get up. “Kaladin, I gotta go.” It’s been far too long since he did a real check-in with the Signal Corps. He’s been spending a bit too much time with his brother, if he’s being perfectly honest. “I’ll see you later, okay? I love you.”

(Kaladin almost says something about Elhokar.)

“...Love you too, Tien.”

(Almost.)

Tien gives him one more smile, and walks out of the barracks.

(Kaladin is left turning over the conversation in his head, unsuccessfully trying to convince himself that everything has gone too far for him to stop.)


(Out on the Shattered Plains, Shallan is telling Dalinar his task was to gather the Radiants. With Tien holding the golden cape, Dalinar’s reaction isn’t nearly as emotional as it was in canon; he already had that reaction earlier, when Tien first outed himself as Radiant.

(Shallan confesses she knew about Tien, and has to talk Dalinar down from officially declaring her as part of his authority. The mentor-ish relationship she has with the other Lightweaver is complicated enough, and she really doesn’t want her own abilities to become well-known.

(Her one saving grace is that Tien’s managed to avoid going in-depth about what his abilities are, exactly. He’s very skilled in the non-answer, as he proved to Veil several times in their previous meetings. Everyone who was there when Tien explained; Dalinar, Elhokar, Amaram, Navani, Adolin, Renarin, some assorted Bridge Four members; might have some decent guesses at his abilities, but no confirmation besides Tien’s Blade.

(Shallan’s demonstration of Lightweaving for Dalinar does confirm Tien’s own powers, but at least it hasn’t tipped off Amaram about it.

(This is a very good thing. Tien still needs Telinar’s mask, and he can’t have people guessing the Brightlord is a fake. Not yet.

(He will have to burn that mask someday, but that day is still distant.

(For now, he’ll wear it close.)

Chapter Text

Tien heads for the Signal Corps barracks in Amaram’s camp. Between the Radiant thing and supporting his brother, he hasn’t had a lot of time for them. Kaladin hasn’t actually helped him work out the whole Head of the Radiants thing yet, but that’s alright. Tien doesn’t have any duties yet.

Thank the Almighty for that.

He can’t help but relax a bit as he enters the area designated for the Signal Corps. It’s always more...familiar to him, more comfortable. Maybe it’s because of the people. He doesn’t know everybody under ‘Telinar’s’ command, but most of them know him on sight.

Know Telinar on sight, that is. Tien’s identifiable as himself by being Amaram’s aide--and now by being a Radiant, he supposes--but the Signal Corps, overwhelmingly composed of darkeyed teenagers, always react more to a lighteyes.

Then again, his Radiant status might have changed that. So once he finds an empty alley, he slips into it and blocks off the entrance with an illusionary brick wall.

If he’s going to be recognized and whispered about, he’d rather it be on his own terms.

Tien breathes in Stormlight, fixes Telinar’s face in his mind, and breathes out an illusion, running a hand through his hair to comb back his bangs as the Stormlight changes his appearance.

Telinar’s grown out of his round cheeks and freckles in a way that Tien never has. The nose is more angular, the jaw more defined, the hair pure Alethi black instead of mixed with brown and, of course, he’s lighteyed. Tien can pull off that trick just as easily with Fractal, but Telinar’s light yellow eyes are more familiar than the Lightweaver bright red.

The change in appearance is only part of it, though. What really solidifies the illusion is how Tien carries himself, and he undergoes that transformation as he draws himself to his full height. He straightens his shoulders, raises his chin, sets his expression into one of commanding calm.

That makes him look like a different person in a way all the Lightweaving in the world can’t do.

Tien digs in his sphere pouch for an already-dun sphere. A bloodmark ought to do it. He holds it loosely in his hand as he touches the illusionary wall and takes back the Stormlight.

‘Deep breath. Stand tall. Stride, don’t walk.’

He scans the area (‘Don’t just glance around. Look with a purpose.’ ) for someone who looks like they aren’t busy. There’s plenty of wandering people to choose from, so Tien picks one at random--a girl, her slit skirt indicating she’s a messenger rather than a scribe. He gets her attention with a sharp word, and she scrambles into a quick salute.

“At ease,” Tien tells her, keeping his voice filled with the casual authority of a lighteyes. “I need you to find my scribe. Tell her to meet me at my office.” He holds out the bloodmark as he speaks.

“Yes, Brightlord,” the girl says with a nod, taking the sphere and dashing off.

That’s that settled. If she’s been here long enough, she’ll know the most likely places to search. If she’s new and doesn’t think to ask for help, well, that gives Tien more time to get his office in order. It’s been a while since he went in, there’s bound to be some dust. Hopefully nobody else has been around to notice it.

When his scribe shows up, he’s just finished sweeping off the dust and shuffling around his desk papers to make it look like he’s been busy. She knocks twice on the open door to get his attention, and when he looks up she gives him a brief salute.

“You called for me, Brightlord.”

Tien nods at her. “That I did. Good to see you, Nerah. Have a seat.”

Nerah shuts the door behind her as she steps in and settles into the chair in front of his desk. Tien folds his hands in front of him, Fractal humming quietly on his back. He’d ask how she’s doing, but Nerah’s never been one for small talk. “Alright. Report.”

She rolls her shoulders back. “We’ve been carrying out our normal operations. Everything’s going smoothly, though we have a few complaints and requests. I’ve addressed a couple of them, but I’d like a second opinion on others. I’ll come back to those in a minute.”

Tien nods, reflexively waving for her to continue.

“I’ve gotten some questions about your whereabouts--” Tien holds back a wince at that. He really has been spending too much time away from the Corps. Sure, Telinar’s been gone for longer periods of time, but not without a solid excuse. “--but I’ve gotten more about the Radiant boy. Tien.”

He can’t repress his surprised jerk in time. Nerah should read it as ‘that boy?’ and not ‘oh storms that’s me,’ but he still curses himself internally. “Why are they asking you?” he asks.

“People tend to assume we know each other because of who we work for, Brightlord,” she shrugs. ‘It’s annoying,’ she doesn’t say, but Tien reads it in the set of her shoulders and the way her eyebrows come together in what isn’t quite a scowl.

She’s right, of course. A darkeyes serving as a primary assistant to a Brightlord will cause a stir of interest, be it as aide or scribe. He’d known that it would provoke rumors when he’d offered her the job instead of finding a lighteyed lady to do it--but he hadn’t just wanted a scribe. He’d needed a second in command. Amaram had suggested a number of lighteyed women, but none of them had the kind of qualities Tien needed: the capacity to connect with the messengers and the inclination to be discreet.

Nerah did. Simple as that.

Besides that, Telinar had been new to command and an easy target for gossip. At least by picking Nerah he could somewhat direct what the gossip was going to be about.

That’s in the past, though--the gossip over her has been long dead. Gossip about him-- him, Tien, not Telinar--that’s new and somewhat alarming.

“What have they been asking?” Tien asks carefully.

Nerah shrugs again, just one shoulder this time. Dismissal, rather than exasperation. “If I knew about it. If Brightlord Amaram knew about it. How long he’s had those powers. If he’s going to transfer out of the Corps.”

“Transfer out of the Corps?” Tien repeats, his confusion genuine.

“He’s a Radiant and a Shardbearer by extension, Brightlord. He outranks you.”

That is a very jarring thought. Tien briefly considers how he should react and settles on an annoyed scowl. “I...see.” He pauses. “Do you have an opinion on any of it?”

Her eyes narrow, indicating that she has several thoughts about the whole thing.

Tien wonders how much she’ll choose to say.

“I doubt he’ll transfer out,” Nerah says eventually, “but he’s never been a very active member. He was always more in Amaram’s circles than ours.”

Tien hopes the sting in his heart doesn’t show on his face. He’d done that on purpose, he shouldn’t feel so bad about it, but he does. He forces down the feeling and nods slowly, waiting to see if Nerah will continue. She doesn’t, so that must be all she’s willing to offer.

He sighs. “Alright. We’ll let the Radiant do his thing unless he becomes an issue. What else is there?”

“We have reports from the Shattered Plains,” Nerah says. Tien sits up straighter and she pauses, noting his interest. “Would you like me to elaborate on that, Brightlord?”

“Please.”

Nerah pulls a small sheaf of papers out of a cylindrical container at her belt and flips through them. Copies of span-reed reports. “There’s been no attacks so far,” she says, “and they’ve been making progress at a steady pace. Recently, all of the Kholin scholars have been recruited by the prince’s fiancée.”

Tien has to keep a smile off his face at that, imagining Shallan’s excitement. He’s glad Navani finally warmed up to her. “Do we know what they’re studying?”

Nerah shuffles through the reports. “Maps, mostly. It seems that they’re trying to map out the Shattered Plains. The scribe who reported this also says she’s heard a few of them whispering about the Radiants, so they may be researching that as well.”

To Tien, knowing what he does of Shallan, this makes perfect sense. To Telinar...it probably wouldn’t. He has to make himself take another step back from his own personality and run the knowledge through a filter to figure out what his reaction should be.

Telinar hasn’t interacted with the Kholin fiancée, the Davar girl. Telinar does know that one of his own is a Radiant, as removed as he may be. The evidence suggests that Shallan is trying to figure out what being a Radiant entails, possibly to see if she can use it--against them? Maybe. Kholin and Sadeas haven’t gotten along in years. If she’s trying to leverage--

Tien stumbles in Telinar’s thought process, losing the thread, but he’s gotten far enough to formulate a response. Trying to recollect the his thoughts and get further along that path would stretch the pause too long.

“We should probably be doing the same,” he says. “Otherwise, same protocol: leave it alone unless it threatens us. And keep an eye on her.”

“Us," Nerah repeats. He hears the implied question even with her flat tone. It strikes him as odd--why does she need him to specify?--but he elaborates anyways.

“The Signal Corps. I doubt they could use our local Radiant to get to us, but just in case…” He shrugs.

She nods. “Do you want to begin making that contingency plan now, or after we cover current complaints?”

“After. There’s no other information, then?”

“Nothing you’d find important, Brightlord.”

Tien nods, trusting her assessment. Nerah moves onto elaborating on the complaints she’s received and the requests people have made. Most of them are easy to address this time, and Tien’s mind starts to wander despite himself.

After this, he decides, he’d walk around and talk to some other people to make sure Telinar’s put in enough of an appearance for the day. He really should go back to appearing as Telinar on a regular basis before people start finding it suspicious--

Someone slams into the room, and Tien snaps alert. Nerah stands and turns in what is very nearly a single motion.

“Brightlord, sir!” An out-of-breath messenger boy pants, scrambling into a clumsy salute. “Got a message marked urgent from the Plains, said to bring it to you immediately!”

Tien blinks. “Well, give it here.” His voice does not betray the surge of alarm and panic that he feels, thank the Almighty. The boy thrusts the scroll forwards and Nerah, after exchanging a look with Tien, leans forward and plucks it from his hands. “Thank you,” Tien says, nodding once to her and then again to the messenger. “You’re dismissed.”

The boy scurries out.

Nerah unrolls the scroll, then blinks. “Ah,” she says, “glyph-code. They meant just you.” She holds it out to him.

Tien takes it with a small frown. Glyph-code isn’t exactly un common in the Corps (not since he, ah, borrowed the idea from Amaram and encouraged its use), but the scribes don’t use it unless they want to mark the message as urgent and most of the boys just avoid it where they can. Either way, it indicates a high level of priority.

He starts to read. The glyphs are shaky, like the writer was nervous. It says that the army’s finally encountered the Parshendi. Tien figures there was probably a heavy battle. That would certainly spook the writer, and fighting the Parshendi is something they’d want to notify the warcamp about, and more specifically Sadeas--

The next sentence bring Tien’s thoughts to a screeching halt.

There are burn marks on the dead and a new type of Parshendi with red eyes.

Red eyes.

Red eyes.

And the sentence after that--

People are talking about the Voidbringers. Be prepared.

It’s not signed. It ends on that.

Oh, Almighty above. Ice travels through his veins at a rapid pace, clenching his heart, and fearspren start to bubble at his feet.

It’s happening. It’s finally happening. Amaram had said it would and Tien had believed him, but having it actually happen brings an entirely new level of fear. A Desolation is coming. The Radiants are back. The Voidbringers are back with them.

Tien’s Radiant. He’s going to have to fight against the Desolation. He’ll have to fight, and cause death, and die in turn. He can’t handle this, he can’t do this, he can’t take this, he’s going to die if he fights--

“Brightlord?”

His head snaps up. Nerah’s still in the room, he has to keep it together, he can’t keep it together, how does he get her OUT?

“Fractal,” Tien whispers, soft as he can manage, “help.”

“Ask her to find someone,” Fractal hums back, vibrating on the back of his neck. “Someone relevant to what is written.”

Yes--yes, that will work. He can have a normal conversation once he calms down--he just needs to make time to calm down. Tien rapidly shuffles through his mental list of Signal Corps members.

“Nerah,” he starts. His voice doesn’t sound right, so he clears his throat and tries again. “Get Marith here.”

“Marith?” She repeats, the slightest note of surprise in her voice.

“He’s the closest thing to an ardent that I trust,” Tien explains. She nods--not in understanding, she wouldn’t have the context for it, but at least in acceptance--and leaves the room with a rapid stride.

The door is still open. Tien walks over to it with slow, deliberate steps and closes it without letting the lock click. He turns to face his desk again, leans back against the door, and slides down into a crouching position as a small keening sound starts to work its way out of his throat.

“It’s happening,” Tien tells Fractal. He doesn’t sound like Telinar anymore, he just sounds small and scared. “Oh, storms, it’s happening, the Desolation is coming, we’re so--”

Fractal buzzes sharply on his shoulder. “Breathe.”

Right. Right. Breathing. Tien digs through his pockets for a rock as Fractal moves to his chest and starts humming, her vibrations soothing him. This one’s too jagged, that one’s the wrong texture, another isn’t the right shape-- there. Cool and smooth, worn by years of fidgeting fingers. Tien pulls the rock out and rolls it in his hands.

It’s...it’s not working. Fearspren are still crawling at his feet, and his breaths are still jittery and starting to turn into gasps, and his mind is moving too fast, and he can’t stop thinking about the Desolation and the battles that will come, and it’s always been bad enough on the battlefield when he could just run past the blood pooling and bodies cooling in a dash to deliver messages how much worse will it be when he’s the one dealing death in the middle of the fray and he tries to anchor himself to the present, to the weight of the rock and Fractal’s hum but he can’t can’t can’t and and and--

He has one last thing to fall back on, but he can’t maintain his Stormlight mask if he uses it. It’s an easy choice. Telinar’s face bursts into Light, and Tien breathes in the glowing mist and looks at the rock in his hand and Soulcasts.

Shadesmar swirls into being around him as everything collapses into glass beads and the fearspren become eel-like creatures. The bead that is his rock hums a quiet Change? into his mind, but Tien ignores it because that’s not why he’s here.

Fractal is not on his chest any longer. She is kneeling in front of him, her whole body there, still humming quietly.

Tien leans forwards and wraps his arms around her, burying his face in her too-stiff robe. Fractal doesn’t quite get hugs, but she holds him loosely and combs one hand through his hair. She switches from a hum to a soft song, still more buzzes than words.

His breathing finally evens out. He’s still--he’s still scared, but he can handle it now. Most of the fearspren have skittered away, though a few scavengers remain.

Change? the rock asks again, almost hopeful. Most objects are more resistant, but Tien’s rocks know him. They’ve always been much more willing than anything else he’s tried. It almost seems rude to deny it.

Almost.

“Not this time,” Tien whispers. “Thank you.” Shadesmar fades into the normal world, and Tien puts his rock back into his pocket.

He needs to get Telinar’s face back on before Nerah comes back. He breathes out a thin mist; not enough to set up an illusion. Tien frowns before taking a sharper breath. The Stormlight left in his sphere pouch brings his reserves back up, though not as much as he’d like. Still, it’s an acceptable level. He puts Telinar’s mask back on.

A minute later, there’s a knock at the door. Tien sits up straighter and takes a deep breath. “Come in.”

Nerah opens it and walks in, Marith a step behind her. He looks nervous. Nerah gestures, and the other messenger takes another step forwards. “You...wanted to see me, Brightlord?”

Tien laces his fingers together. “How much do you remember about the Desolations?”

Marith blinks. Behind him, Nerah raises a questioning eyebrow. “The...the Desolations?”

Tien nods. Marith frowns a little in thought. “They were conflicts between mankind and the Voidbringers. It was the era of the Knights Radiant before they betrayed humanity. The Heralds would--”

Tien holds up a hand, and Marith stops. “Thank you. The basics are enough.” Tien laces his fingers back together and tries to clamp down the urge to start tapping on his desk. “The Radiants are back. We all know that. What else might have come back with them?”

Nerah’s eyes widen slightly. Marith’s brow furrows. “What...else?”

“You’re smart. Take a guess.”

The chip drops. His eyes widen. “The Voidbringers?”

Tien picks up the report with a nod. “They’ve been spotted out on the Shattered Plains.”

It may not be a good move, telling them all of this when the report was meant just for Telinar, but Tien committed to his excuse when he sent Nerah to get Marith. Admittedly, he could have just let Marith ramble about the Desolations and sent him away--

But if they’re going to be attacked, then Tien needs to make sure they’re ready. Oh, he can’t protect everyone; Telinar only has command of the Signal Corps, it’s not like he can start circling evacuation plans through the whole army; but this group, his people, he can take care of them.

“We’re going to be in trouble if we don’t prepare,” Tien says.  “We need to start running evacuation drills. We’re going to need protected, easily-defensible areas and people willing to guard them.”

“W-wait,” Marith says, “We won the war against the Voidbringers--uh, Brightlord, sir. How can they be back?”

Tien glances past him to trade a look with Nerah. She tilts her head and shrugs slightly.

“Well, they’ve had five thousand years to regroup,” Tien says. Marith opens his mouth, then closes it. “Marith. You can worry about the whys and hows on your own time. Right now I need you to listen and get these plans circulating.”

Tien sees the way he wavers, and is proud of how his shoulders firm in determination. “Yes, sir.”

Tien smiles, then nods at his scribe. “Nerah, what do we have for defensible areas?”

“There’s parts of the camp that are underground,” she says, stepping forwards to stand next to Marith. “Those are our best bets, although we could try and fortify some Soulcast bunkers as well.”

He nods thoughtfully. “Alright. See if you can start moving important things into those areas, then--spanreeds, vital records, what-have-you. We’ll need to draw up evacuation plans…” Tien’s fingers twitch slightly. He could Lightweave a map to reference, but not in front of others. “I know I have a map of the camp somewhere in here, get that to me when you can. Who’d be willing to fight?”

“I know a few people, sir,” Marith pipes.

“Alright,” Tien says with a nod. “Talk to them about it and get me a list of people who agree to fight.”

“Yes, Brightlord.”

Tien nods again. “Good. Let’s get that map and start organizing orders, then.”

“Yes, Brightlord,” Nerah says, and Marith repeats it a beat afterwards.

When both of them have their backs turned, Tien takes a deep, steadying breath that brings in a small amount of the Stormlight from the lamp on his desk. He’ll need the added focus.

He can do this. He can protect them. He has to.

He has to.


(Later, Elhokar comes to Kaladin. He rants a bit, then begs Kaladin to teach him how. How to lead, how to inspire, how to be a hero. Kaladin still has Tien’s words rattling in his mind: “you could teach them, you could train them…”

(But Kaladin doesn’t know how to teach Elhokar, if it can be taught at all, and Elhokar leaves before Kaladin can follow up “I don’t know if that’s possible” with “I can try.”)

(Elhokar’s shadows have returned, dogging his steps. They do not show up when the bridgeman is near, and he almost wishes he’d ordered the storming man to come with him, broken leg or not. But then he’d have to risk the bridgeman’s brother showing up to find him, and the shadows get worse when Amaram’s former aide is around. Storming duality.)

(And yet later; Kaladin still remembers the moment he’d thought Tien dead. His brother’s return doesn’t ease the memories, even if it can ease the pain. Kaladin sees the dark circles under Tien’s eyes, catches glimpses of the hardness that he so desperately wishes his bright little brother never had to learn. Tien’s not the same, and Kaladin keeps thinking ‘part of him did die that day.’

(The words spoken by Varth still drift to the front of his mind when he’s trying to convince himself that the king should die. It’s just that they’re also accompanied by Tien’s much too tired eyes, saying “It’s because it’s wrong.”

(Elhokar is Dalinar’s Tien. Elhokar isn’t a Radiant. Elhokar won’t be miraculously returned five years later.

(“Kidnap them,” Tien’s spren had said. Well...if it worked, it worked.)

Chapter Text

Later, Tien will wish he had some kind of grand reason to be nearby at the time. That he could say he’d noticed the king acting odd, or that something was wrong with the guard schedule, or that he’d had a hunch of some kind.

But the simple fact of the matter is he’s gotten lost trying to find the map room in the Kholin palace and pretty much stumbles into the whole thing.

He’s got his evacuation plans laid out for the Signal Corps in Sadeas’ camp. The maps have been made, the Corps are running evacuation drills, and Tien’s going through Stormlight faster than he should. He hasn’t had to use Telinar’s face this much during a Weeping before.

He’s trying to find something productive that doesn’t require him to be lighteyed, and it’s only then that he thinks of Kaladin and the members of Bridge Four that remained behind. He feels bad for not thinking of them before, and internal reassurances don’t smooth away the guilt.

But he’s thought of them now, so he may as well draw up some evacuation plans for them too--hence trying to find maps of the Kholin camp.

It’s not going well, and he doesn’t understand where he got mixed up. He should have been able to at least find someone to ask at this point. He has half a mind to give up and just tell Kaladin directly, except he tried finding Kaladin first and turned up nothing. He knows where his brother should be, but he doesn’t know where he actually is.

Tien’s relieved when he turned a corner and hears voices down the hallway. “Finally,” he mutters. He can get some directions and be done with the whole thing--

He stops. Down the hallway are two guards dressed in Bridge Four uniforms, but they don’t look Bridge Four. The way they stand is too slouching and casual, and their faces--Tien doesn’t recognize their faces, not even a little bit. Tien saw every member of Bridge Four take a turn at the chasm when they were waiting for Kaladin, but not these two.

Something feels wrong.

They haven’t noticed him yet. Tien takes careful steps backwards until he goes back around the corner, out of sight. “Fractal,” he says quietly, “go listen to what they’re saying, please.”

She buzzes in agreement before zipping to the floor and down the hallway. Tien picks a rock and rolls it in his hands as he waits for her to come back, trying to figure out what to do if his suspicions turn out to be correct.

She comes back humming with discontent. “They are speaking so they will be heard inside,” she tells him. “They call him lazy, foolish. They say he is unworthy and hated.”

Oh, this is happening on purpose. That’s definitely not Bridge Four.

Tien could leave. He seriously considers walking away and pretending he hadn’t been near here, or even just strolling past the guards without doing anything. It’s not his business, it’s not his fight, he’s just here for the maps.

...Which he needs to plan an evacuation for his brother. Who is in charge of guarding the king. Who is currently being guarded by some kind of imposters with Almighty-knew-what kind of intentions, but imposters rarely meant anything good, and none of this had to be his problem, but--

“I will choose what is right over who I am loyal to,” he’d whispered to Fractal in the arena, and that Truth had been accepted.

“Oh, damnation,” Tien mutters. “I can’t leave him there without checking on him. Fractal, I need you to cause a distraction.”

She hums. “How big?”

“Enough to make them walk away from the door, if you can.” Tien doesn’t want to try talking his way past the guards, that will put them on alert, and while he could probably Lightweave his way in he’s trying to save Stormlight. If he can get the guards away for half a minute, he can make it in. He’s fast enough.

(He is still technically a messenger, and Amaram’s favor didn’t keep him out of battles. Speed was vital. He learned to be quick.)

Fractal buzzes in agreement and zips off again. A few seconds later, Tien hears a loud clang, followed by indistinct shouting.

He peers around the corner to see if the guards will take the bait. One frowns, stepping towards it. The other grabs his shoulder and says something Tien can’t quite make out--maybe about staying on duty?--and on cue Fractal mimics another, louder scream. The guards exchange glances. The reluctant one makes a gesture that Tien interprets as ‘fine, but be fast about it.’

They start down the hallway, and Tien bolts for the door.

He makes it in and is met with Elhokar groaning facedown into the couch. Tien’s nose wrinkles at the smell of wine. “Your Majesty?” he says carefully.

The king starts, nearly falling off the couch. He sits up stiffly and glances at Tien, his expression turning to one of disdain. “Oh. It’s you.” Elhokar looks at the open wine bottle on the end table and leans over to grab it, draining the last of it in several large gulps. “What do you want, Radiant boy?”

There’s an odd sort of emphasis on Radiant; scornful, maybe with a touch of fear. “I just came to check on you,” Tien says. Truth seems best in this case. “Your guards are…”

He hesitates, and Elhokar snorts, flopping back onto the couch. “They’re not...not wrong,” he says, voice becoming unsteady as the alcohol hits his system. “Or everyone thinks they’re right, so it’s the same...same thing, if they all agree.”

Tien steps forwards. “Not everyone,” he says in an attempt to reassure the king. “Not your uncle, not--”

Elhokar barks out a bitter laugh, its sharpness only slightly dulled by the alcohol. “Not my uncle,” he repeats, rolling his eyes. “Uncle would probably be as glad as...as anyone else to see me die...just do a better job of hiding it.”

Tien decides not to respond to that. He moves forwards again, intending to try and sit down next to Elhokar and--he’s not actually sure what then, although giving people rocks hasn’t failed him yet--but Elhokar sits up as quickly as a drunk man can when Tien gets within a few feet of him.

“Stop there. The shadows are--” he groans and puts his hands over his eyes, sinking back into the couch.

Tien stops. “Shadows?”

Elhokar waves a hand around vaguely. “In the mirror...on the walls...they’ve been following me more since you showed up...you and your…” he gets halfway through sitting up again before falling back down. “pattern thing that follows you.”

Tien blinks. “Fractal?”

“Yes?” she buzzes, and he nearly jumps. He hadn’t noticed his spren come in from the hallway. Elhokar does jump, a jerk that sends him sprawling to the floor with a thump that makes Tien wince.

Elhokar waves a wild finger at her. “That! That pattern thing, just like the...not-faces in the mirror, those... symbols--”

Tien’s heart skips a beat. “Cryptics? You’re seeing Cryptics?”

“What does it matter what they’re called?” Elhokar asks, throwing an arm over his face.

“He doesn’t realize,” Tien mutters incredulously to Fractal. “Sir, Your Majesty, that--that means you could be--” he thinks unwillingly of the scorn and fear in Elhokar’s voice when the king said ‘Radiant,’ and the words die in Tien’s throat.

Elhokar groans. Despite himself, Tien steps closer and kneels by him. “Your Majesty,” he says softly, “are they asking you for something?”

Elhokar raises his arm and looks at him sharply, or as sharply as he can with the alcohol in him. “How do you know about that?”

“Are they asking for truth or words?” Tien asks, hoping that if he answers with a question the king will forget to make Tien answer.

“I…” He stares at the ceiling, brow slowly furrowing. “Words? They say...words...but I don’t know the words...”

“First Ideal,” Tien says, half as an aside to Fractal. “You were in the room when Amaram swore the oaths, can you say the First Ideal?”

“I don’t...don’t think I…”

“Can you try?”

Elhokar aims a wary look in Fractal’s general direction. “Will you go away if I do?”

“If you like, sire.”

The king groans and sits up, propping himself against the couch. “How did they go? Life be...before…”

“Life before death,” Tien prompts. After a beat, Elhokar echoes him. “Strength before weakness…”

Elhokar mumbles halfway through it, then trails off, staring at the floor. His fists clench. “I’m not strong,” he mutters. “Everyone says it. Everyone! The highprinces, my guards...my own family…” He rubs his chest absentmindedly. “They mock me...they call me paranoid for jumping at shadows, for fearing the Assassin in White…they don’t ever take me seriously…”

Tien frantically scrabbles for some way to respond to that. He has to say something, he can’t just sit here and let Elhokar drop deeper into depression, but it’s not like talking to Kaladin, Tien doesn’t know if giving him a rock will do anything. Finally, he latches onto the one thing that he knows he can reassure the king about.

“But you’re not jumping at shadows,” Tien says in a matter-of-fact tone, like it will help disguise the fact that he’s addressing a pitifully small part of the problem. “You’re jumping at Cryptics.”

Elhokar looks at him, expression surprised with a small spark of hope. It’s the spark that makes Tien think maybe addressing just this small part will be enough, at least for now.

“I remember before I bonded mine,” Tien continues, gesturing at his spren. “They’re terrifying if you don’t know what they are. It doesn’t make you a coward.” He pauses, weighs his options before he says the next words. Elhokar’s still looking hopeful, so he decides to take the chance. Tien takes a deep breath and leans forwards to emphasize his words. “But it could make you a Radiant.”

Elhokar locks eyes with him, and Tien sees the hope growing stronger. He reads anxiety and fear on the king’s face too, but those, oh, those emotions are long-familiar to Tien, are maybe even the hallmark of a Lightweaver. The hope is what matters; the hope is what overcomes them; and Tien can see the moment when the king’s hope wins, determination making his expression sharpen to lucidity.

Tien automatically takes a rock from his pocket and presses it into Elhokar’s hand, presses strength and courage into him with it. “Again,” Tien says softly. “With me. Life before death.”

“Strength before weakness.” Elhokar’s voice doesn’t falter this time, although his eyes dart around nervously. He swallows hard, breathes deep. “Journey--”

There’s a commotion outside the door, and Elhokar yelps, the Words cut off. The moment breaks. A pressure that Tien hadn’t been aware of lifts. There had been a moment of expectation, excitement, hope, and--and now it’s gone.

A new pressure settles on Tien’s shoulders, dark and foreboding. He stands slowly, turns slowly, summons Fractal in shieldform as he moves.

The door opens and a single person practically falls into the room.

Tien drops Fractal in surprise. “Kaladin?”

Kaladin looks up, his brow furrowing. “Ti--” He plants his spear on the floor and struggles to pull himself upright. “Tien? What are you doing here?”

Tien starts to move forwards to help him, but he catches sight of Kaladin’s leg, bleeding profusely. He freezes and steps back, the sight making him nauseous--was blood always that bright a red? Did it always flow like that, that nauseating drip? And why does it always seem freshly horrible every time Tien sees it?

Fractal, back in spren-form, buzzes loudly. Tien snaps his gaze away from the blood, focusing on Kaladin’s face instead.

“The guards looked wrong,” Tien says. It sounds like a such a stupid thing to be worried about when he says it out loud like that, but they did. “I...I don’t know.” The reasons that seemed so crystal clear earlier shatter just as easily as glass, leaving him with a handful of useless, inexplicable shards.

On the bright side, Kaladin doesn’t seem inclined to question him about it. He just nods like it makes perfect sense. “There’s assassins coming,” he says. “We need--Your Majesty,” he says, looking over at Elhokar, “we need to get you out of here.”

Tien rapidly makes a series of terrible connections. Kaladin, asking him about killing for the greater good--his dark worry-- (the thing that might have killed an honorspren)-- Bridge Four is the King’s Guard--

But Kaladin is here and Kaladin is helping and he’s doing the right thing--

‘Unless he’s not,’ a darker part of Tien says, ‘unless he’s lying. You said you’d pick the right thing over loyalty. Can you trust him?’

...And Tien finds that he can’t say yes, even as his brother is bleeding from the leg and trying to coax Elhokar to walk.

‘But he’s the best person I know,’ Tien argues with himself.

‘Sure,’ his mind answers, ‘ten years ago. People grow. People change. Look at us.’

‘I’m being paranoid--I’m overreacting--Kaladin can’t be--’

‘Are you willing to risk lives on that?’

Tien falls silent within his own mind and watches Kaladin finally bring Elhokar to his feet, the king’s arm slung over his brother’s shoulders. He takes a deep breath, and then he takes that dark part of his mind and wraps it around himself like a cloak.

“Someone’s moving,” Fractal warns, and Tien whips around to see one of the guards making a move for the other two--for the king, assassins--

Tien can’t quite move fast enough to get into position with a shield, but he was still trained with the spear, and in a heartbeat Fractal goes staff-shaped and he spins her and slams her into the back of the man’s head.

The man goes down like a pile of stones. He’s not dead (he can’t be dead Tien can’t handle it if he’s dead), but he’s going to have a nasty bruise later. A knife clatters out of his hand.

Kaladin stares. Elhokar’s head lolls to the side. “Could be Radiant,” the king mutters, repeating what Tien had told him earlier. “Ha. Can’t even stand. Bridgeman’s more Radiant than I am.”

The words make Kaladin flinch. Tien almost laughs. Elhokar doesn’t know how right and yet how wrong he is.

Tien steps forwards and considers helping Kaladin support Elhokar, but his shield of paranoia makes him stop there. If he’s supporting the king, he can’t leave his hands free to summon Fractal.

“Kaladin,” Tien says, and he makes his eyes wide and his voice young, “why do you know there’s assassins coming?”

His brother cringes, which is an answer in itself. “Can we talk about that as we’re walking?”

“No!” Tien says, trying not to snap it. ‘I don’t know if you’re taking the king somewhere just so you can kill him,’ he doesn’t say. ‘I don’t know if you’re faking, if you’re lying, I know it’s not in your nature but I can’t trust, I can’t, I have to be sure.’ Instead, he just repeats himself with more desperation, not all of it false. “Why do you know there’s assassins coming?”

Kaladin takes a deep, struggling breath. “Because they confided in me,” he says. “Because they told me what they were going to do and counted on my silence.”

“Didn’t count very well,” Elhokar mumbles.

There’s a heavy silence in the room. Tien remembers his conversation with Kaladin, the desperation in his question--so Tien takes that question and mirrors it back at him. “And what,” he says slowly, deliberately, “do you think of lives being spent for the greater good, Kaladin?”

“It’s wrong,” Kaladin says immediately, and relief floods Tien. “I thought...I couldn’t…” he looks at the floor, then back up at Tien. “It’s wrong,” he repeats. “I lost sight of that. I don’t want to be that kind of person.”

Tien smiles, and the cloak of his darker side falls. It is right to trust in Kaladin, he was just being paranoid, and it’s such a relief to be wrong. He hopes all of that shows in his smile.

Elhokar lists to the side, putting more of his weight on Kaladin, and Kaladin lets out a strangled little gasp. “We really need to go.”

Tien registers the blood pooling around Kaladin’s leg for a second time and tries very hard not to be nauseated. “Right! Right, yes.” He rushes to Elhokar’s other side and gets the king to put his other arm around him, which should take some of the weight off of Kaladin.

“We need to get out of the palace,” Kaladin says. “Find somewhere safe. The dueling grounds? That might be too obvious…”

Tien thinks about the Signal Corps. He thinks about his evacuation plans, the underground hideouts, the fortified bunkers, and he thinks about volunteering them (and how much he doesn’t want to) --

He is saved from making that decision by Kaladin half-collapsing as he tries to move forwards, and his attention focuses on his brother. “Kaladin!”

Kaladin recovers--sort of--and goes to prop Elhokar up again. Tien steps to the side and drags Elhokar with him. “I can carry his weight. You don’t need to make that leg worse.”

Kaladin looks at Tien. Tien looks back at him until he nods and turns around to start walking again.

“We’re all dead,” Elhokar says blearily. “It doesn’t matter. They’re finally coming for me…”

“Fleet kept running,” Kaladin snaps. Tien blinks. So does Elhokar.

“What?”

Kaladin makes some sort of speech that Tien doesn’t really listen to. He’s talking mostly to Elhokar at this point, although Tien does pay enough attention to hear his own name a couple of times and make some kind of acknowledgement. Really, he’s relying on Fractal to remember this later as he focuses on keeping the king upright and trying to mentally map out the palace--he does want to come back for the maps later and getting lost was frustrating enough the first time--

Tien only tunes back in when Elhokar abruptly stops walking. Not in the drunken way, slumping bonelessly to the ground; he freezes, going rigid at Tien’s side. Tien snaps to attention, and in the distances sees what caused the reaction--what Kaladin doesn’t seem to have noticed yet.

Two Shardbearers, their Plate glimmering dimly in the light of the corridor. Tien doesn’t know how Kaladin could be missing them--is it the blood loss? Dizziness? Is it just that Tien’s (and, apparently, Elhokar’s) ability to pick up on color and light is better than Kaladin’s?

It doesn’t matter. “Kaladin,” Tien says, “we gotta--”

“Kaladin?” one of the Shardbearers says, almost simultaneously. “What are you doing?”

Kaladin freezes, too, still leaning on his spear. The Shardbearer steps closer, and--and Tien can recognize his face. That’s Moash. Moash who took more shifts at the chasm than anyone while waiting for Kaladin to come back, Moash who told stories about Kaladin being an idiot with affection in his voice, Moash with bitter eyes and bitter heart.

Of course it is.

“We’re dead,” Elhokar whispers again.

“We’re not dead,” Tien hisses back, drawing in Stormlight and weaving an illusion to cover himself and Elhokar as Kaladin confronts Moash. He doesn’t want to leave his brother, but--well, the assassins are here for Elhokar. He can’t just sit the king down and leave him there, no matter how much he wants to. “Come on, we have to move.”

“Wh--how?”

Tien assumes he means ‘how are we going to move without them noticing,’ and he pulls Elhokar a few steps back and gestures at the illusion in answer. It’s a simple trick, just them in the same positions they were in moments ago. “That won’t fool them if they…” his throat closes up. If they get through Kaladin--if they got through Kaladin, then…

He can’t think about it. He tugs on Elhokar’s shirt and walks the king back down the hallway, keeping a careful eye on the conversation. They don’t seem to be paying attention to the illusion, just to Kaladin. Good. That’s good.

They turn the corner. Tien doesn’t have the time to get lost again, so he picks the first unlocked door they come across. It looks like some kind of sitting room for guests. Comfortable, but not very good for hiding. Tien can’t find it in him to try and find a better spot, not when he’s left Kaladin injured and alone against two Shardbearers.

He eases the king into one of the chairs facing away from the door. At least they won’t see him immediately. It’s a tiny thing, but that’s all Tien seems to be good for today--tiny, irrelevant patches on a mess of a situation.

“I’m going to go back,” Tien tells Elhokar quietly. “If they come in here, then we’re both…we’re both…” He swallows hard and makes himself force out the words. “T-then we’re both dead. Protect yourself if you can.”

“I can’t,” Elhokar mumbles. He reaches up and grabs one of Tien’s arms. “Can’t you stay? Can’t you...do something? With the...the shadows, and…”

Tien shakes his head helplessly. If he stays, Kaladin dies. If he goes, then at least maybe he can do something.

‘But what if you go and you just watch him die? Wouldn’t it be better to stay hidden while you still can? To avoid seeing that?’

No. No, no, he can’t think like that, he can’t. He has to try. Has to.

“I’m sorry,” Tien says. He could maybe try to explain, but the words--the words won’t come. Fractal hums quietly on his chest, comforting. Soothing.

Elhokar sinks down into the chair. “Fine. Take your...gift back, then.”

Tien blinks as the king shoves his arm forward. He’s still holding the rock Tien had given him. Hesitantly, Tien reaches out and takes it back, flipping it over in his palm a few times. “Thank you,” he says quietly.

Elhokar mumbles some kind of acknowledgement and slumps to the side.

Tien gets up, walks out, and carefully closes the door so it looks like it’s been undisturbed. He checks the floor for any markings of their passing. He doesn’t see any obvious ones, which is good--he doesn’t have to figure out how to make an illusion stay in place in case he…

In case he…

Tien swallows hard, gripping his rock with one hand and placing the other over where Fractal still hums. Best not to think about that, or he’ll lose his nerve. Tien moves down the hallway and rounds around the corner and--

Tien freezes. Cold dread sinks into his bones, turning his body to lead. His throat is tight, he can barely breathe--

Kaladin is lying in a crumpled heap on the floor, blood pooling under him.

Tien’s illusion still stands, unreacting. Distantly, he can hear the two Shardbearers talking.

“...wouldn’t be so still in the face of such dire circumstances. Likely it’s the Lightweaver’s illusion.”

“Then where is the king?” Moash asks. There’s bright red blood splattered across his armor, oh storms, Tien wants to throw up…

“Probably not far,” the other man says. Tien doesn’t recognize him. “We’ll track him down once we take care of this one. Let me cut down these boards…”

‘Move!’ Tien screams at himself. ‘Move! Do something! Anything! Charge the Shardbearers, run back and hide the king, just do something!’

He can’t move. Why can’t he move? Is it the blood? He’s managed to move in the face of blood before, why this, why now, oh, Almighty, why won’t his body work?

“He’s moving,” Fractal hums softly.

“What?” Tien mouths. It’s not any rational thinking that keeps his voice silent--it’s just that his voice, like the rest of him, has locked down.

“Kaladin. He’s moving.”

Tien’s gaze snaps to his brother, even though the pool of blood makes him dizzy. Kaladin’s struggling to move, but he is moving. He’s planting his feet--his one good leg--he’s stumbling into a standing position--he’s painstakingly getting out his knife.

Storms, Kaladin is still trying to protect people.

Tien finally manages a step forwards as Kaladin growls, “You. Will. Not. Have. Him.”

Step. “Finish this, Moash.”

Step. “Storms, there’s no need. Look at him. He can’t fight back.”

Step. “He has seen too much. If he lives this day, he’ll betray us. You know my words are true, Moash. Kill him.”

Step. ‘No,’ Tien thinks. ‘I can’t let them.’ He’s right behind his illusion. Last moment of invisibility. Almost close enough to do something. Summon Fractal. Move forwards.

“Wait,” Fractal says. Tien stops. “There’s something else. Something…”

Kaladin’s knife clangs to the floor. Moash steps forwards. Tien’s halfway through summoning Fractal again anyways, about to call back the Stormlight of his illusion--

“Tien,” Fractal says, excited, “the honorspren is back.”

Kaladin whispers something that Tien cannot make out, extends his hand, and summons a brilliant blue Shardblade.

The hallway goes dark. All the Stormlight vanishes, including Tien’s illusion.

Then Kaladin explodes with Light, and Tien can feel tears of relief sliding down his face.