Kaldin half lashes himself back to the sky moments before his feet hit the roof of the Kholin storeroom, leaving him hanging for a moment before he carefully releases the lashing to land completely silently on the roof. The army had taken over some of the homes and structures that lay just outside of Hearthstone, claiming people’s homes as their own to wait out the extended battle. There were sturdy temporary shelters as well, outfitted with a dozen safeguards to hold them in place during the highstorm.
They’d kept their food in the barn Harl usually used to store his crops, a squat, well-protected building. Luckily for Kaladin, it was also a building with dozens of openings and windows. During the summer the windows would be open so that the grain could dry, but of course for now they were locked tight. Kaladin dropped to the west side of the building, semi-protected from the violent, raging winds. Syl slipped in before him to scout ahead without being asked, and popped out a moment later.
“There’s someone in here,” She said softly, “But he’s sleeping.” Kaladin nodded, no doubt the guard didn’t think he had to be as vigilant during the storm and had nodded off.
“Keep an eye on him, please.” He asked. This time when Syl slipped in, Kaladin followed. The man was in the corner in the door furthest from where Kaladin entered, he was sitting slumped on a sack, face hidden by the dark room’s shadows.
The young Radiant didn’t bother to be quiet while he looted. Anyone who could sleep through a highstorm wouldn’t be awoken by him rustling through a few sacks. He eyed the fresh fruit and vegetables longingly, but knew that they would simply weigh him down and would spoil if not eaten right away. Instead he focused on the bags of dried meat, lavis, and soulcast grain, grabbing as much as he could and half-lashing them to make them easier to manage.
He’d grabbed about as much as he thought he would be able to manage in the highstorm’s dying winds, when Syl’s voice sounded sharply behind him.
“Kaladin!” She hissed, and the teen whirled, coming face to face with the stranger. He was huge, several times taller than Kaladin and absolutely rippling with muscles. Kaladin felt completely dwarfed by the strange man who stalked toward him with wide strides. The teen tensed, falling into a fighting stance like he’d been born in it, fingers spread to summon his spear as the man stopped and bowedl. Shocked by the gesture, Kaladin simple stood for a moment, unsure how to react.
“It is an honour to be in your presence, mafah’liki.”
“Um,” Kaladin shifted his weight, completely befuddled. “Thanks?”
The man rose quickly, and KAladin once again felt dwarfed by the man.
“I apologize.” The stranger said in a rumbling, accented voice. “But I was not referring to you.” He then turned more purposely towards Syl and bowed once more. The spren looked shocked.
“You can see her?” Kaladin asked, more surprised each moment he spent in the man’s presence.
“I am alaii’iku.” The man replied, as if that explained everything.
“O…. okay.” Kaladin said slowly. He pulled a sphere out of his pocket, just in case, and it illuminated the stranger, revealing bright red hair and a truly odd beard. “You’re a horneater!” Kaladin suddenly realized upon seeing the hair. He’d never seen one before. Though that wasn’t unusual. Living in Hearthstone did not lend itself to a wide variety of peoples. Other than the occasional Theyan merchants, Kaladin had never met anyone who wasn’t Alethi.
“This is true.” The large man replied, not seeming to mind Kaladin’s gaping. Storms, Kaladin had heard that Horneaters were big, but he’d never imagined this.
The stranger seemed content to leave the conversation at this, still watching Syl with wide eyes, so Kaladin slowly went back to his pilfered food. The man didn’t seem to mind. Kaladin should have left then and there. He knew he should have left, take what he could and go back to the keep before anyone could figure out what happened.
He knew he should have just left it alone. The words slipped out anyway. “You know, you aren’t exactly being a great guard.”
The man let out a single loud bark of laughter. “Hah! I am no guard, I am the third son.”
The teen’s nose scrunched up. “What does that have to do with anything.”
“Airsick lowlander, only the fourth son can be warrior. I am third son, I am a chef!”
“Airsick- never mind. If you aren’t a guard, why are you here?”
“These Alethi, with their soulcasters, they do not care for food as they should. They leave it unprotected for highstorms or theives to stay away. I am a chef, I respect the food, I know how precious it is, how it should be treated.”
“But… you aren’t going to stop me from stealing it?”
The man shook his head. “I will consider it an offering, to the mafah’liki.” He nodded at Syl again, who was starting to look honored, as well as mischievous.
“Oh.. uh ok, thank you then.” When Kaladin had first made the move to steal from the Kholin’s, he had expected to leave so… confused. He grabbed the bags when the stranger spoke again. “It seems as if someone with big, Unkalaki arms might be useful with large bags like this. If I can join you, I will help you with this thing.”
“Big what arms?” The teen blurted, before the rest of the man’s words caught up with him. He narrowed his eyes. “Why would I trust you? You’re with them.”
The man shook his head and sat heavily on one of the sacks. “The riddens will begin soon. Come, sit. I will tell you my tale and you can choose for yourself if I am worthy of your trust.”
The radiant glanced at Syl, uncertain, but the spren just grinned. “I like him.”
“You just like him because he worships you.”
“That means he must be smart! You should worship me too, I am a piece of a god after all.”
Kaladin rolled his eyes, but uncertainty moved to sit beside the horneater. He wasn’t sure how, but he just knew that this was somehow going to end with him bringing the strange man into the keep. Maybe it hadn’t been a good idea to steal the food after all.
When Dalinar comes to, Sadeas and three other guards are struggling to hold him down. Other soldiers are slumped throughout the room, holding wounds that he somehow knew he’d inflicted.
“What in the name of the Stormfather are you doing?” He asked, and Sadeas let out a deep breath.
“Praise the Almighty, your back.”
“Back? Where did I go?”
But he knew where. He could remember it, clear as any day. He remembered the strange, primitive world, the fantasitcal beasts and weapons, the cryptic but powerful message at the end.
“I don’t know.” Sadeas answered. “You started babbling, lashing out. You wouldn’t respond to anything I said. We called a surgeon, but told them to stand back once you started fighting us. Stormfather, Dalinar, what happened?”
“I don’t know.” The man answered, gesturing for one of the servants clustered worriedly in the corner of the room to bring him a drink. He tried to turn his mind to the present, not to the dream, the dream where he’d fought where he’d killed, without a hint of the Thrill. He didn’t like it. It made him want to fight in the waking world, to feel the pull of the Thrill like the call of a friend. He had the strange, irrational fear that it just like it the dream it wouldn’t come when he called it. He needed a fight, needed to check. But if the looks that the surgeon was giving him was any indication, he wouldn’t be getting what he needed any time soon. The wine would have to do for now. He would have the Thrill later.
He shook himself, not protesting as he normally would when the surgeon poked and prodded at him. He felt strangely… subdued, more so that he did normally. Sadeas looked at him with concern, seeming uncertain.
“I’m fine.” Dalinar insisted, lying. “Did we get news from Gavilar?”
The green-clad highprince nodded slowly. “They found shelter and passed the highstorm safely. They intend to be here by tomorrow evening.”
Good. Gavilar would know what to do, he always did, and Evi would be comforting. It would be good to see his sons again, Adolin and… Renarin? Yes, that was it, Renarin. He would see them all soon, he just had to focus on that. Focus on that and ignore the disquiet rumbling in his chest that built with each passing moment.