The Sunlit Man | Chapter Nine
Walking into a storm wasn’t something usually done on Nomad’s homeworld. Yet he’d traveled the cosmere enough by now to know that even a violent storm on other planets was nothing compared to those of Roshar.
Indeed, the wind buffeted him here, but it did not lift him from his feet. The rain pelted him, but did not threaten to scour away his skin. Lightning flashed in the sky, but did not strike so often and so near that its deadly touch seemed inevitable. He did wish he had something more than these ragged clothes, stolen from the cavern planet where he’d been last. They did little to keep off the chill. But then again, most of the cold he felt now came from within.
He started down the miserable street, the metal slick beneath his boots. At least his boots were holding up. He’d learned long ago during his travels: skimp on shirts if you must, but never on footwear. He made his way vaguely toward the edge of the city, though he had to go slowly, waiting for lightning to illuminate the path.
The dim lights he’d seen earlier had vanished. People were inside, locked up, hunkered down against the rain. That was universal. Whether on a planet where the rainfall could dent metal plates, or on one where it barely left you damp, people fled a storm. Perhaps they disliked the reminder that no matter how lofty their cities, they were mere motes in the grand expanse of planetary weather patterns.
He’d come out here hoping he’d feel better in the rain. Hoping that its pelting would feel like the embrace of an old friend—that the wind’s howl would sound like the chatter of men having stew at a fireside. But today those memories came harshly into his mind. The winds made him remember who he had been: a man who would have died before treating people as he’d done today.
No, the storm did not offer him refuge. As much as he liked the rain—as much as it felt right to him—the memories were too painful.
He finally arrived back at the place where they’d left the hovercycle attached to the city’s side, lending its thrust to the rest. Bold, to keep this place in the air during a literal thunderstorm. Still, the air didn’t seem as electric as it might have in another storm—there were long stretches between lightning strikes.
By the cloud glow, he saw that the ember woman had been removed from her bonds in the back seat. And the cycle had been cleverly altered, panels placed above each seat, protecting the leather cushions from the elements and making the cycle fit in to the surface of the city. With the windshields folded down and the panels in place, the oversized hovercycle resembled a thick rectangle of steel bolted to the edge of Beacon. Like how a multitool might look like a box before the implements were folded out.
That made him worry as he crawled to the edge of the cycle—careful not to be swept off into the darkness by the wind. Here, he reached down to the very bottom of the vehicle. To his relief, the rifle he’d stowed there still waited for him. Masked by a stumble to convince Rebeke that he was clumsy, he’d feigned an accidental drop—then used Auxiliary as a specialized claw to latch it into place beneath the hovercycle.
The mechanism he’d formed from Auxiliary to hold the gun in place vanished. He raised the rifle, hand slick with rainwater.
And so, the knight says dramatically, his clever plan is fully executed. And for some reason, his dull-minded squire is now armed with a weapon he can’t fire.
“They’d have disarmed me when we arrived,” he said.
And again … such a clever plan … to get a weapon that one can’t use. All it took was stranding me alone in the rain, to be soaked all the way through—then doing the same to yourself by the looks of you.
“I needed a shower anyway,” Nomad said, wiping the water from his face, then running his fingers through the stubble on his head. His hair had been burned away in the flash of sunlight. Sunlit Man. He shook his hand, still kneeling on the hovercycle, feeling at the panels covering the seats of the cycle. Could he get these off?
Did he want to?
The lightning flashes left afterimages in his mind of a man he’d once been. A man that, in all honesty, he didn’t want to go back to being. Naive. Overly concerned with rules and numbers. Locked down by responsibility in a way that had slowly constricted him with anxiety, like barbed wire on his soul.
He didn’t like who he’d become. But he didn’t miss who he’d been either—not really. He’d lived, grown, fallen, and … well, changed.
There had to be a third option. A way not to put his former life on a pedestal, but also not to be a personified piece of garbage.
What if he did climb onto this cycle and vanish into the darkness? What would that get him? Here he had people who seemed—in a small way—willing to trust him and let him in. Maybe because they were desperate. Probably because he hadn’t given them much choice.
Beyond that, though, he got the sense that they weren’t practiced in fighting or killing. Yes, they’d pulled off a daring rescue and an even more daring thievery. For that, he commended them. But he’d seen the panicked way the captives had responded to the ember people—mirrored in the way that everyone treated him. This was not a group accustomed to violence.
In many places, a struggle for survival brought out people’s most brutal aspects. Yet among this group, he saw something remarkable. Was it possible that being forced to always move—being forced to work together for survival—had forged them into a society that didn’t have time to kill one another? That perhaps this planet had created people who weren’t weak—that sun surely would not abide weakness—but who also valued life?
If he wanted a power source strong enough to get him offworld, he would need allies. And he had a feeling that going to the Cinder King for help would not turn out well.
He stepped back from the cycle, resting the rifle on his shoulder. Then he felt something. A tugging on his insides. A kind of … strange warmth. The storm seemed to slacken, the rain falling off.
Damnation. It wasn’t possible. Not here on this world. This was a common storm, not the mythical tempest of his homeland. Things didn’t happen in the darkness of common storms like they did there …
Hey, the knight asks confusedly, what are we doing? Nomad? What’s our next step?
He saw a light to his left. Farther along the rim of the city. Drawn to it, like a weary traveler drawn to a fragrant cookfire, he started walking. That … was a person standing there, wasn’t it? Holding something that glowed in his fingers, a sphere. Wearing a uniform, facing away from Nomad, looking out through the darkness.
Storms. It couldn’t be. It couldn’t.
Ignoring Auxiliary’s second prompting for an explanation, Nomad walked forward. Haunted by what he might find. Worried that he was going mad. Yet desperate to know. Could it …
“Kal?” he asked into the storm.
The figure turned, revealing a hawkish face and an eminently punchable grin.
“Aw, Damnation,” Nomad said with a sigh. “Wit? What the hell are you doing here?”