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Related to Endowment
Focus Command
Prerequisites Breath
Type End-Neutral[1]
World Nalthis
Featured In Warbreaker, The Stormlight Archive[2]

BioChroma is the power of life, and so it seeks patterns of life.

Awakening is a manifestation of Investiture on Nalthis. It is the art of combining color, BioChromatic Breath ("Breath"), and an Awakening Command in order to animate an object, resulting in one of four types of BioChromatic entities. It was discovered approximately 400 years before the Pahn Kahl rebellion.[4]

The process of Awakening begins when an Awakener releases some of their stored Breath into an object through the use of a Command. While doing so, the Awakener must also be in physical contact with a source of color (e.g. a piece of dyed cloth). If the Command is valid and is correctly visualized in the Awakener's mind, then color is drained from the color source and the target object becomes Awakened. It then proceeds to carry out the Command. If the command is invalid or not visualized properly, the object can still be Awakened but will have no effect.[5]

BioChromatic Breath[edit]

Each Nalthian is born with one Breath. Any person with Breath can use it for Awakening, though it's harder for a non-Nalthian.[6] One may choose to give away one's Breath to another person, increasing that person's number of Breath.

The more Breath one has, the easier it is to Awaken, and the more types of Awakening can be performed. Some feats of Awakening can only be achieved once a certain Heightening has been reached.

  • At the Sixth Heightening (~3500 Breaths), many Awakening Commands become instinctive.[7]
  • At the Eighth Heightening (~10000 Breaths), the Awakener can override the Commands of objects Awakened by others.[8]
  • At the Ninth Heightening (~20000 Breaths), Awakening inorganic objects becomes possible.[9]
  • Finally, at the Tenth Heightening (~50000 Breaths), the Awakener gains the ability to drain more color from objects to fuel more powerful Awakenings, as well as the ability to issue Commands mentally.[10]

Color as fuel[edit]

Awakening an object has the additional cost of draining the color of nearby objects. Color appears to act as a fuel for Awakening. Objects drained of their color usually turn grey, although an Awakener who achieved Perfect Invocation could drain objects more fully, turning them white.[11] If this happens to an object, it cannot be be drained from white to grey.[12]

An effective way to prevent an Awakener from using his art is removing all but grey or white objects in his vicinity. Black, although not commonly considered a color, is very effective as a source of fuel for Awakening.[13]

The dyes made from the tropical flower called the Tears of Edgli are very potent and are highly valued by Awakeners.[14] These flowers only grow in the jungles of Hallandren, and is a chief source of the country's wealth.

In most cases, the color of living things cannot be used for Awakening. This is because the living soul interferes with the Awakening process. The color of things taken from living things, on the other hand, may be used.[15] An Awakener can, for example, use spilled blood as a color source.[3]

If the colored object is small or the color drab, the Command will take much more Breath.[3]

Awakening Commands[edit]

The Commands used in Awakening are crucial to its success or failure. They must be clearly stated and properly visualized, and said in the Awakener's native language.[3] Many Commands are simple, concrete ideas expressed in phrases of two words or less in the imperative mood, usually consisting of a specific verb and a general subject (e.g. "Grab things"). While more complex Commands can be used, the more complex the Command the more difficult the visualization of the Command becomes. Advanced Commands tend to be jealously guarded by Awakeners.[3]

In Awakening, the exact wording of the Command is important. An Awakener could, for example, give a piece of rope the Command "Hold things" so it will wrap itself around objects, but this will likely result in the rope simply wrapping itself around the Awakener's hand. The Command "Hold things when thrown" is more useful and only slightly more complex.[3]

Mental Commands do not require verbalization, but many believe they do since it has never worked without one.[16]

Basic Commands[edit]

Breath Transfer[edit]

The first and most important Command is the one that allows any human being to give their Breath to another human being: "My life to yours, my Breath become yours."[17]

This Command transfers all of a person's Breath at once no matter how many there are. An Awakener can also use this Command to store all of their Breath in an object to be retrieved later, or to prevent being sensed by other Awakener's life sense.[18] An Awakener can learn to split off some of their Breaths, Investing them into a place within themselves.[19] Doing so would allow them to only transfer a certain number of their available Breaths.

Breath Retrieval[edit]

An Awakener can retrieve the Breath from an object they Awakened by touching the object and speaking the Command "Your Breath to mine."[20]

Note that only the Awakener who Awakened the object can retrieve Breath from it, though it is possible to Awakenen an object so others can access the Breath.[21] This Command also does not work on anything that the Breath has stuck to too strongly (e.g. corpses). A person who has put their Breaths into an object and died can retrieve them if they have Returned, but not if they are made into a Lifeless.[22] There are also tricks an Awakener can do to use other peoples Breaths or Awaken an object so that others could access its Breaths.[21]

Simple Commands[edit]

Simple Commands are composed of a verb and, often, a subject. These Commands do not take a lot of effort to visualize what you wish to have done. Examples in Warbreaker include:

  • "Untie"
  • "Grab things" "Hold things" (used most often on ropes)
  • "Protect me" (both Vivenna and Vasher are seen using this Command on their cloaks) This command sounds simple, but careful visualization of what you want it to do is important.
  • "Attack and grab Denth!" (while this contains two commands, one can easily see the visualization for both being rather the same, so this is probably a simple Command. On the other hand, Vivenna is of the royal line and so Awakening is said to come easier to her; this Command may have been more complex than it seems)

Advanced Commands[edit]

Advanced Commands are often times whole phrases and require the Awakener to visualize the action that they wish the object to take. The more precise the Command the greater the need for that mental aspect to be clear in their mind.[3]

  • "Upon call, become my fingers and grip that which I must"
  • "Become as my legs and give them strength"
  • "Fight for me, as if you were me"

Other Commands may be simple-sounding but require a greater degree of mental control such as "Fetch keys" or "Find tunnels". Both of these Commands appear simple, but the visualizations required are actually quite complex.[3]

There are places that use Awakened objects as a source of energy and industry.[23]

BioChromatic hosts[edit]

An Awakened object, or BioChromatic entities, acts as a host for the BioChromatic Breath used to Awaken it. Some types of objects more readily accept Breaths than others, making them easier to Awaken. Receptivity to Breath depends on the object's shape, its history, and the material it is made of.

Generally, Awakening inorganic objects that have never been part of a living thing is very difficult, requiring extremely large amounts of Breath. Organic objects, especially those shaped like living things, are much easier to Awaken.[3] It is unknown weather inorganic objects shaped like living things are easier to Awaken (for example, a bronze statue compared with a bronze sword).

On the other hand, closer proximity to a living form makes it harder to retrieve Breaths from an Awakened host.[24] For example, one generally can no longer recover the Breaths one used on a corpse.[3] If the host is cut or broken, it will not die, and will try to continue its purpose. The level of damage will determine how well it can continue. The Breaths are also recoverable, but there could be some loss of Breaths, depending on how the host is destroyed.[25]

Organic objects[edit]

The process generally thought of as Awakening creates Type III BioChromatic entities, a BioChromatic manifestation in an organic host far removed from being alive. Examples include Awakened ropes, cloth, or skeletal remains.

They are between the two extremes of inorganic objects and dead bodies. Therefore, these have the advantage of requiring less Breath (still more than corpses, often over one hundred) to Awaken than inorganic objects while at the same time allowing for Breath recovery. They have the strength to easily strangle people. The more it resembled living beings, the easier it is to be Awakened, so a skilled Awakener would prepare human-shaped and organic clothes for Awakening purposes.[20] An Awakener who is not a human and has a different shape would have an easier time Awakening something that is similar to them in shape (such as a canine making cloth into the shape of a canine).[26] When Awakened, it tends to mimic living things, forming muscle-like structures or shape of hand.[27] They are understandably the most common type of BioChromatic host entities created.[3] However, other types of BioChromatc hosts are generally more powerful.

Dead bodies[edit]

When a Nalthian dies, there is a small chance that their corpse will Awaken in an apparently spontaneous manner as a sentient host called a Returned, also known as a Type I BioChromatic entity.[3] The Breath given to a Returned comes directly from the Shard Endowment through a process that is not yet clear.[28]

Most of the time, however, dead bodies only Awaken during the process of creating Lifeless. These creatures are made via complex Commands that reanimate a dead person or animal. These Commands are guarded closely by those who know them.

Lifeless, defined as Mindless Manifestations in a Deceased Host, or Type II BioChromatic entities, are non-sentient reanimated human animal remains. They have a functioning brain, and are able to interpret old Commands and have new Commands given.[3]

Type II entities are cheap to make, even with awkward Commands (used to cost 50 Breaths before the Manywar). This is due to the Law of BioChromatic Parallelism. However, Breath sticks so firmly to the construct that it is impossible to remove afterwards. Once a Lifeless is created, it will obey any instructions given to it that include a pre-determined Command Phrase(similar to a password).[3] Human Lifeless are able to understand more abstract instructions than animal Lifeless. However, the skill of the Awakener who Awakens the Lifeless also affects its ability.[29] Any Lifeless will retain a level of skill that it had in life. For example, a soldier's corpse would make a better soldier Lifeless than that of a farmer's.[30]

The Lifeless can function for a long time if cared and repaired. Lifeless can withstand wounds, but too much damage will eventually cause the Lifeless to cease activity, which means that Lifeless bodies need to be maintained and repaired (e.g. by sewing its wounds shut) when needed, otherwise they are going to need a new Breath.[30] One innovation in Lifeless maintenance is the use of ichor-alcohol, a substance discovered by Yesteel that could act as blood for Lifeless and that greatly prolongs their viability.

Lifeless created from bones encased in stone have the advantage of being extremely resilient and not needing ichor-alcohol.[10] It is also possible to make stone Lifeless by transforming a dead body to stone (e.g. via Soulcasting) before Awakening it.[31]

The discovery of how to create Lifeless with just a single Breath eventually led to the Lifeless armies of the Manywar.[32] One example of a single-Breath Lifeless Command is Awaken to my Breath, serve my needs, live at my Command and my word..

Metal and stone[edit]

Type IV BioChromatic entities are sentient objects made by Awakening inorganic materials like metal and stone. This requires at least the Ninth Heightening.[9] Breath can still be stored in metal without the Ninth Heightening, but cannot be Awakened.[33] Nightblood, a sentient Awakened sword, is the only known object of this type. He was created by Shashara with the help of her husband Talaxin, using a thousand Breaths and the Command "Destroy evil".[9]

Nightblood is incapable of determining morality[34] and has a rigid way of thinking similar to a Spren on Roshar.[35] The large number of Breaths he contains also grants him incredible destructive power. The threat of more weapons like Nightblood being created eventually caused Talaxin to kill Shashara to prevent the knowledge of this form of Awakening from becoming public.[18]

Stone is presumed to be similarly difficult to Awaken. However, Lifeless can be made by enclosing bones in stone, making near indestructible warriors. Talaxin used this technique to create the legendary Kalad's Phantoms.[10] Dead bodies Soulcast into stone are also easier to Awaken due to them once being alive.[31]

Known Awakeners[edit]


  1. Words of Radiance Chicago signing
    Arcanum - 2014-03-22#
  2. Oathbringer epilogue Summary: Oathbringer/Epilogue#
  3. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Warbreaker chapter 46 Summary: Warbreaker/Chapter_46#
  4. Warbreaker chapter 32 Summary: Warbreaker/Chapter_32#
  5. Warbreaker chapter 35 Summary: Warbreaker/Chapter_35#
  6. Arcanum Unbounded signing Chicago
    Arcanum - 2016-12-06#
  7. Warbreaker chapter 49 Summary: Warbreaker/Chapter_49#
  8. Warbreaker chapter 8 Summary: Warbreaker/Chapter_8#
  9. a b c Warbreaker chapter 51 Summary: Warbreaker/Chapter_51#
  10. a b c Warbreaker chapter 58 Summary: Warbreaker/Chapter_58#
  11. Warbreaker chapter 57 Summary: Warbreaker/Chapter_57#
  12. Skyward San Francisco signing
    Arcanum - 2018-11-08#
  13. Annotation for Warbreaker chapter 1-2 Cite: Annotation/Warbreaker/1-2#
  14. Words of Radiance Philadelphia signing
    Arcanum - 2014-03-21#
  15. DragonCon 2012
    Arcanum - 2012-09-04#
  16. Skyward Pre-Release AMA
    Arcanum - 2018-10-30#
  17. Warbreaker chapter 10 Summary: Warbreaker/Chapter_10#
  18. a b Annotation for Warbreaker chapter 26 Cite: Annotation/Warbreaker/26#
  19. Goodreads Fantasy Book Discussion Warbreaker Q&A
    Arcanum - 2010-01-18#
  20. a b Warbreaker prologue Summary: Warbreaker/Prologue#
  21. a b Teen Author Boot Camp
    Arcanum - 2015-04-11#
  22. /r/books AMA 2015
    Arcanum - 2015-07-30#
  23. Tor.com Q&A with Brandon Sanderson
    Arcanum - 2011-01-10#
  24. Annotation for Warbreaker chapter 33 Cite: Annotation/Warbreaker/33#
  25. Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A
    Arcanum - 2009-07-08#
  26. /r/books AMA 2015
    Arcanum - 2015-08-23#
  27. Warbreaker chapter 5 Summary: Warbreaker/Chapter_5#
  28. Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A
    Arcanum - 2009-07-08#
  29. Annotation for Warbreaker chapter 21 Cite: Annotation/Warbreaker/21#
  30. a b Warbreaker chapter 33 Summary: Warbreaker/Chapter_33#
  31. a b Tor.com The Way of Kings Re-Read Interview
    Arcanum - 2014-06-10#
  32. Warbreaker chapter 26 Summary: Warbreaker/Chapter_26#
  33. Chris King interview
    Arcanum - 2013-09-24#
  34. Steelheart Chicago signing
    Arcanum - 2013-10-05#
  35. Amsterdam signing, 2011
    Arcanum - 2011-05-31#
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