BioChromatic Breath

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BioChromatic Breath
Related to Awakening, Endowment
Type Investiture
World of Origin Nalthis
Universe Cosmere
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BioChromatic Breath, also known simply as Breath, is the common form of Investiture on Nalthis.


Every Nalthian is born with one Breath, though a person may choose to transfer that Breath to another person.[1] It is possible for children of Nalthian parents with Breath born away from Nalthis to have their own Breath.[2] When a person dies, the Breath they were carrying returns to Endowment and leaves with their soul.[3][4] Humans are able to use their Breath to perform Awakening as well as gaining benefits from having one or more Breaths.

Breaths vary in strength, and tend to weaken when the person is sick.[5] The fluctuation of strength for a Breath is normally not very noticeable, particularly when someone has many Breaths.[6] The more Breaths a person has, the more they will heighten colors around them and the further their area of effect is.[5] It is possible to hide this effect.[7] Having enough Breath will interact strangely with color-blindness and synesthesia.[8][9][10]

When a person dies, they may have their Breath pulse, sending out a wave of heightened color.[11] This flare of brightness during death is rare.[12] A person may also be able to forcefully flare color around them.[13]

Breath, through an unknown method, can have memories encoded into it.[14][15] Excising the Breaths in which memory is stored will lead to the loss of said memories.[14][15]

Breaths are not inherently connected to Nalthis since they are freely given gifts, thus they do not limit worldhopping.[16]

Breaths can be forcibly transferred by Shards, but doing so would leave them vulnerable, and there would still be some Connection between the original owner and the Breath.[17]


Awakening is the process by which an Awakener uses their stored BioChromatic Breath to animate an object. To do so, they issue a Command in their native tongue while visualizing the action they want the object to complete.[18] The Commands are the key part of Awakening, and the skill of an Awakener depends on their ability to use Commands correctly.

The process causes some portion of the Awakener's stored Breath to exit their body and become Invested in the Awakened object. Depending on the object, it may require any where from one to one thousand (or more) Breaths. Furthermore, color is drained from nearby objects as fuel for the Awakening process. This can manifest, for example, as a red scarf being bleached grey. Though the color drain is permanent, this magic is still considered end-neutral since the Breaths can be recovered from the Awakened object (in most cases).[19][1]

While anyone can benefit from possessing a Breath, a non-Nalthian possessor would 'probably have to jump through some hoops to Awaken' with it.[20]

It is impossible to reabsorb Breaths from an object Awakened by somebody else, unless they blank their Identity first with Intent.[21] This is likely due to the imprint of the Awakener's soul being left in the breath that awakens the object, since breath is a part of one's soul.[22]

Types of BioChromatic entities[edit]

Vasher categorizes BioChromatic entities into four Types.[18] At some point Vasher had to change the system. He refers to spren as Type One Invested entities and describes them as power that came alive on its own. He adds that what he used to consider Type I are now considered Type II. It's not clear if other adjustments are made to his system.[23]

Type I[edit]

Spontaneous Sentient BioChromatic Manifestations in a Deceased Host, also known as the Returned, are the only known natural BioChromatic entity. They retain sentience after being Returned (by Endowment) following death, and are endowed with a divine Breath. Returned are able to Awaken normally using any Breaths on top of their divine Breath,[24] but giving away the divine Breath results in death.

The divine Breath, a single powerful Breath that grants the powers of the first five Heightenings, is a Splinter of Endowment.[25] Giving away the divine Breath to another person will instantly heal that person, at the cost of the life of the Returned.[26] Divine Breaths cannot be transferred like normal Breaths as they immediately become kinetic Investiture when used.[27]

Type II[edit]

Type II BioChromatic entities are Mindless Manifestations in a Deceased Host, or more commonly known as "Lifeless", and are non-sentient reanimated animal remains. They have a functioning brain, and are able to interpret old Commands and have new Commands given. These creatures are made via complex Commands that reanimate a dead person or animal. These Commands are guarded closely by those who know them.

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). 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. 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.

The Lifeless can function for a long time if cared for and repaired. Lifeless can withstand otherwise mortal 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. 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. It is also possible to make stone Lifeless by transforming a dead body to stone (e.g. via Soulcasting) before Awakening it.[28]

The discovery of how to create Lifeless with just a single Breath eventually led to the Lifeless armies of the Manywar. One example of a single-Breath Lifeless Command is, "Awaken to my Breath, serve my needs, live at my Command and my word".[12]

Type III[edit]

The process generally thought of as Awakening creates Type III 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. When Awakened, it tends to mimic living things, forming muscle-like structures or the shape of hands. They are understandably the most common type of BioChromatic host entities created. However, other types of BioChromatic hosts are generally more powerful.

Type IV[edit]

Type IV BioChromatic entities are sentient objects made by Awakening inorganic materials like metal and stone. This requires at least the Ninth Heightening. Nightblood, a sentient Awakened sword, is an example of this type of entity. He was created by Shashara with the help of her husband Talaxin, also known as Vasher, using a thousand Breaths and the Command "Destroy evil".[29]

Nightblood is incapable of determining morality[30] and has a rigid way of thinking similar to a spren on Roshar.[31] 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.

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.

Vivenna's Blade might also be a Type IV entity, though it has not been confirmed.

BioChromatic Laws[edit]

Law of BioChromatic Parallelism[edit]

The closer a host is to a living shape and form, the easier it is to Awaken.[18]

This is easily understood since BioChroma is the power of life, and seeks patterns of life.

Law of Comparability[edit]

The amount of Breath required to Awaken something isn't necessarily indicative of its power once Awakened.[18]

A good example is that a piece of cloth cut into a square and a piece of cloth cut into the shape of a man take very different amounts of Breath to Awaken, but will serve essentially the same function once Awakened.

Collecting Breath[edit]

Lemex transferring his Breaths to Vivenna

In order to achieve the most interesting and extravagant Awakening, more than one Breath is required. Since each person is born with a single Breath, an Awakener must collect Breaths from other individuals.[1] The method by which this is done is itself a type of Awakening, using the Command "My life to yours, my Breath become yours." The person imparting the Breaths must be in physical contact with the recipient.

As a person gains more Breaths, they are granted certain properties. These Heightenings, as they are known, are markers along a continuous scale of Breath. As a person gains more Breath, they are more resistant to disease (for example), but at approximately 2,000 Breaths this reaches a maximum and they are immune to most diseases.[32] If a person was sick before receiving a large amount of Breaths, they will quickly be cured.[33] The number of Breaths for each Heightening are approximate.[34] Depending on the quality of Breath, it may take fewer Breaths to realize a Heightening. Furthermore, very little is known about the upper Heightenings (above the Sixth). Very few individuals amass such a store of Breath.

If a person gains a large amount of Breaths at once, they will feel a sudden burst of pleasure and shock.[35] This typically causes people to collapse to the ground, quivering.[11] This will not occur if the person recently had a large amount of Breaths.[33]

If enough Breaths are collected, they can start to affect the personality of the person holding them. "Breaths do bring some things along with them," but they are not "terribly individual" depending on their original owner.[36] For example, Vahr's resolve was strengthened because of the similar mindsets of those he collected his Breaths from, but the effect only manifested due to the large amount of Breaths he had.[37]


Heightening number Approximate number of Breaths to reach this Heightening Effects of the Heightening
First Heightening 50 Aura Recognition
Second Heightening 200 Perfect Pitch
Third Heightening 600 Perfect Color Recognition
Fourth Heightening 1,000 Perfect Life Sense
Fifth Heightening 2,000 Agelessness
Sixth Heightening 3,500 Instinctive Awakening
Seventh Heightening 5,000 Invested Breath Recognition
Eighth Heightening 10,000 Command Breaking
Ninth Heightening 20,000 Greater Awakening
Audible Command
Tenth Heightening 50,000 Color Distortion
Perfect Invocation


Drab is the colloquial name for anyone in Hallandren without a BioChromatic Breath. Terms such as Dull or Faded One are also used.[38]

Without Breath, colors lose their vibrancy and their other senses are dulled. Contrary to what many people believe in Hallandren,[38] being without a breath has significant negative effects. They feel less emotion and are more susceptible to depression. A person's allure decreases, as does the strength of their immune system. The latter stems from the fact that Breath acts as a sort of magical booster for the body, and thus the body doesn't need to build up immunity.[39][40] Due to these facts, they typically have a shorter lifespan. Drabs lack life sense (the instinctive feeling to know if someone is watching them) and do not register on the life sense of others.[41] A Drab is also incapable of Returning.[42]

Many people sell their Breaths when they are short of cash, then spend their time trying to earn enough money to buy back a Breath. However, some people who gave their Breath to a Returned out of their beliefs cherish their status as a Drab.

If someone is made into a Lifeless before Endowment Returned that person, Endowment's gift of a divine Breath would come down, strike the Lifeless, and 'all kinds of craziness' would occur. They would end up as a 'Drab god'.[43]

Breath Equivalent Units[edit]

The Breath Equivalent Unit (BEU) is a unit of measurement for Investiture based on BioChromatic Breath.[44][45][46]

Even on highly Invested worlds, a person’s soul typically isn’t more than three BEUs.[47] A normal Threnodite from Canticle has only one BEU.[48] A sunheart made from a Threnodite on Canticle contains at least about two hundred BEUs.[47]


  • Breath is specifically named BioChromatic Breath due to some of the Five Scholars having visited other more advanced worlds that had a more scientific approach to the study of Investiture.[49]
  • A person from another planet in the cosmere would have more Innate Investiture than a Drab, but less than someone with one Breath.[50]


  1. a b c Warbreaker prologue#
  2. Orem Signing
    Arcanum - 2019-03-16#
  3. Oathbringer London signing
    Arcanum - 2017-11-28#
  4. Skyward Pre-Release AMA
    Arcanum - 2018-10-04#
  5. a b Warbreaker chapter 14#
  6. Arcanum Unbounded San Francisco signing
    Arcanum - 2016-11-30#
  7. /r/books AMA 2015
    Arcanum - 2015-06-06#
  8. FanX Spring 2019
    Arcanum - 2019-04-19#
  9. Rithmatist Denver signing
    Arcanum - 2013-05-16#
  10. Skype Q&A
    Arcanum - 2018-10-08#
  11. a b Warbreaker chapter 10#
  12. a b Warbreaker chapter 21#
  13. Warbreaker chapter 12#
  14. a b Rhythm of War epilogue#
  15. a b Dragonsteel 2022
    Arcanum - 2022-11-14#
  16. Rhythm of War Preview Q&As
    Arcanum - 2020-10-08#
  17. Tampa Bay Comic Convention 2023
    Arcanum - 2023-07-28#
  18. a b c d Warbreaker chapter 46#
  19. Stormlight Three Update #5
    Arcanum - 2016-11-21#
  20. Words of Radiance Dayton signing
    Arcanum - 2014-03-19#
  21. RoW Release Party
    Arcanum - 2020-11-17#
  22. Warbreaker Annotations
    Arcanum - 2010-10-26#
  23. Rhythm of War chapter 15#
  24. Warbreaker chapter 55#
  25. Goodreads Fantasy Book Discussion Warbreaker Q&A
    Arcanum - 2010-01-18#
  26. Warbreaker Annotations
    Arcanum - 2010-09-09#
  27. Skype Q&A
    Arcanum - 2018-10-08#
  28. The Way of Kings Re-Read Interview
    Arcanum - 2014-06-10#
  29. Warbreaker chapter 51#
  30. Steelheart Chicago signing
    Arcanum - 2013-10-05#
  31. Amsterdam signing, 2011
    Arcanum - 2011-05-31#
  32. Warbreaker chapter 32#
  33. a b Warbreaker chapter 43#
  34. Warbreaker Ars Arcanum#
  35. Warbreaker chapter 57#
  36. Q&A with Brandon Sanderson
    Arcanum - 2011-01-10#
  37. Q&A with Brandon Sanderson
    Arcanum - 2011-01-10#
  38. a b Warbreaker chapter 3#
  39. Warbreaker Annotations
    Arcanum - 2011-02-07#
  40. Warbreaker Annotations
    Arcanum - 2011-02-22#
  41. Warbreaker chapter 35#
  42. Alloy of Law release party
    Arcanum - 2011-11-07#
  43. 17th Shard Forum Q&A
    Arcanum - 2012-09-26#
  44. The Sunlit Man chapter 13#
  45. Arcanum Unbounded release party
    Arcanum - 2016-11-22#
  46. FanX 2022
    Arcanum - 2022-09-24#
  47. a b The Sunlit Man chapter 24#
  48. The Sunlit Man chapter 23#
  49. Arcanum Unbounded Seattle signing
    Arcanum - 2016-12-01#
  50. JordanCon 2016
    Arcanum - 2016-04-23#
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