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|Featured In||The Stormlight Archive|
The betrayal of spren has brought us here.
They gave their Surges to human heirs,
But not to those who know them most dear, before us.
’Tis no surprise we turned away
Unto the gods we spent our days
And to become their molding clay, they changed us. ”
Singers predate the humans as inhabitants of Roshar. Around the time of the Recreance, many of the singers had their Connection and Identity stolen, pieces of their souls ripped away. This made those singers docile and subservient, which humans called parshmen and used as slaves for millennia later. With the advent of the Everstorm, these singers were healed and restored.
Biology and Appearance
Singers are humanoid, but not entirely human-like. The most apparent sign of their alien nature is their skin; it's covered in marblings, swirls of various colors - red, black or white. Most singers have two-colored skin, either red-black or red-white; the marblings can appear in various way, both as delicate swirls and large, wind-swept patterns. There are singers whose skin has all three colors, but they are extremely rare. The color whitening at the edges is a sign of age. Their hair is typically orange or red -- colors that don't seem to naturally occur for Rosharan humans. There is a relationship between the color of singer hair and their individual marbling colors.
Apart from their multicolored skin, singers have other features that differentiate them from humans. They grow faster compared to humans but have slightly shorter lifespans. In the listeners' culture, Venli started to learn about singing as a keeper of songs at age three and is considered adult at age ten. Their bodies have carapace growing over some parts of them; where and how much depends on what form the singer is currently in, but they typically cover the head and the arms. In addition, their teeth are built differently than human ones; their molars allow them to chew through shells, and their metabolism is geared towards metabolizing it, allowing them to make better use of the local fauna. Their eyes are also inhuman - all black, with no whites in the corners and no visible iris.
Like many local species, singers possess gemhearts, though theirs are clouded white, and fused to their sternum. Those gemhearts allow them to bond with spren, letting them change their forms, leading to a change in both appearance and some mental faculty. Due to their gemhearts, singers do not leak Lights like humans do.
Singers can drink crem without getting sick.
Despite those differences, singers are like humans in many Spiritual aspects. Like humans, they can receive boons and curses from the Nightwatcher. They can also bond spren to attain Radiant powers, though most spren are unwilling to reach out for such a bond. Singers can see the reality of the spren more closely than a human. They also don't get cold as easily as humans.
Sexes and reproduction
Singers possess four distinct sexes; male and female, which are capable of reproduction, and their neutered variants, malen and femalen. Singers' sex will change from between male and malen, or female and femalen, as they change forms; the vast majority of forms are either malen or femalen. As such, most singers are asexual the vast majority of the time. Singers usually identify as one of those four genders as well, though some identify with a non-binary gender and singer culture recognizes at least one non-binary gender.
Despite those differences, singers and humans are capable of cross-breeding; the Herdazians and Unkalaki are notable examples of human ethnicities with singer ancestry. This ancestry is the source of the Herdazians' stone-like nails as well as the Unkalaki's shell-chewing teeth and red hair. As a result of their singer ancestry, Herdazians and Unkalaki are also more likely to identify as asexual. It's unknown whether there are currently any people with both human and singer ancestry who identify as singers.
By bonding various spren in the highstorm or Everstorm, singers are capable of changing their form, leading to a different appearance, capabilities and even mental state, as well as changing subtly their Spiritual aspect. It is possible that the forms also alter Identity. New forms come with a level of instinctual understanding Singers can maintain their form indefinitely, without needing to resupply with stormlight or voidlight, and can use the abilities granted by the form without needing additional fuel. New forms could exist.
The forms are specializations, and gear the singer towards a particular purpose; for example, warform grants armor and increased strength, making it suitable for combat, while nimbleform grants dexterity, making it good for delicate tasks. There are also more specific forms, such as artform for creative endeavours, or mateform for breeding. Aside from dullform, every form is associated with a specific type of spren. Ordinarily, what spren a singer will bond -- and thus what form they'll assume -- depends on their mindset during the highstorm. However, capturing a spren in a gemstone and bringing it into the storm all but ensures that a specific form will be selected. Bonding to a corrupted spren will give different results.
When changing forms, a singer may temporarily not be able to hear certain rhythms, or hear pure tones.
Known common forms
These forms are mentioned in the listener Song of Listing. After the Recreance and before the True Desolation, when the only singers who could think were the listeners, the listeners only discovered five forms: dullform, mateform, warform, workform, and nimbleform. When the Everstorm arrived and healed the other singers, singers held these forms and other common forms the listeners could not reproduce, such as artform and scholarform, and had a "dozen" options.
Dullform dread, with the mind most lost.
The lowest, and one not bright.
To find this form, one needs banish cost.
It finds you and brings you to blight. ”
Dullform occurs when a singer bonds an incorrect spren, or a spren that does not grant any other form. It's physically similar to the "slaveform" of the parshmen, to the point where a dullform singer can easily pass for one. It is also mentally limiting; those in dullform find thinking difficult, as if they were half-asleep, and have a harder time hearing the rhythms.
Dullform was one of the two forms the Last Legion was left with after breaking away from the rest of the singers, alongside mateform. It was largely abandoned as other forms were rediscovered. However, listener spies still used it when infiltrating the human warcamps, thanks to its similarity to slaveform.
Singer children are born in dullform, though for them, it is more vibrant and less cloudy; a property it loses as the singer ages. The listeners call this subtype of dullform "childform". They need to take another form around the age of seven or eight.
Mateform meek, for love to share,
Given to life, it brings us joy.
To find this form, one must care.
True empathy, one must employ. ”
Mateform is used by singers to reproduce; though the other forms are capable of having children, mateform is the one most specialized for the purpose. In female singers, entering mateform increases the size of their breasts; it's unknown what physical effect it has on male singers. Mentally, mateform causes a singer to behave irresponsibly and become distracted in favour of the form's primary purpose; mateforms will sometimes ignore their assigned task, or do things that are expressly forbidden, without realizing the issue with that. Some singers are, however, capable of keeping themselves together while in mateform, though this requires strong mental discipline. Singers in mateform are bonded with lifespren.
It was one of the original forms the Last Legion had after abandoning the Regal forms, alongside dullform. Presently, most singers assume it only transiently, when they wish to attempt having children, though there are some who keep it on at all times.
Warform is worn for battle and reign,
Claimed by the gods, given to kill.
Unknown, unseen, but vital to gain.
It comes to those with the will. ”
Warform gives listeners an armor-like carapace, and makes them taller and bulkier than other forms. The carapace armor is designed to trap air and push it up underneath to cool the singer. It grants them vastly increased strength; a singer in warform can leap over a chasm of the Shattered Plains with a running start. Stamina is greatly increased, allowing singers to run for hours without strain. It also deepens their voice. Out of all the forms known to the listeners, warform requires the most food, but is also the most durable, and a warform singer heals faster than they would in any other form. Mentally, the warform has less impact than most others; it makes one more pragmatic and slightly more inclined towards violence. It also severely hampers artistic ability, and is not well-equipped to handle abstractions. Singers in warform are bonded with painspren.
Workform worn for strength and care.
Whispering spren breathe at your ear.
Seek first this form, its mysteries to bear.
Found here is freedom from fear. ”
Workform endows increased strength, though it lacks the armor; rather, singers in workform are limber and rugged. It's better suited for labor, and most workers use it; however, it is also sometimes used when fighting. Singers in workform have carapace in ridges along the backs of their hands, and no carapace on the rest of their body. They are also fairly resistant to cold weather. While in workform, singers are more obedient, and have greater difficulty committing violence, forcing one to find peaceful solutions to various problems. It's also considered more flexible than warform. Singers in workform are bonded with gravitationspren.
Nimbleform has a delicate touch.
Gave the gods this form to many,
Tho' once defied, by the gods they were crushed.
This form craves precision and plenty. ”
Nimbleform is a general form without any singular, apparent function; rather, it's useful for all work that requires dexterity and care. For this reason, listeners use it for tasks such as research, art, and raising children. It has no carapace, and less endurance than other forms; singers in nimbleform are physically weaker, grow longer hair, and have thinner, more slender facial features. It does not impede the mind, and in fact encourages greater focus.
This form was rediscovered by the singers during the War of Reckoning, through research led by Venli. It is possible that a bond with a windspren is what allows singers to enter nimbleform. During the True Desolation, most liberated singers wore either it or workform.
Mediationform made for peace, it's said.
Form of teaching and consolation.
When used by the gods, it became instead
Form of lies and desolation. ”
Little is known about mediationform; it appears to bestow improved speech capabilities, or better ability to convince or bestow information upon others. Singers in mediationform have smooth, beautiful carapace, and open faces. The head researcher of the listeners, Venli, claimed that she was looking for it throughout the War of Reckoning, but in reality, she never truly attempted to rediscover mediationform in the first place, instead searching for stormform.
Scholarform shown for patience and thought.
Beware its ambitions innate.
Though study and diligence bring the reward,
Loss of innocence may be one's fate. ”
Though present in the Song of Listing, scholarform has only been reclaimed during the True Desolation; during the War of Reckoning, listeners used nimbleform as a substitute. It appears to increase one's mental faculty and patience. Physically, it produces long hairstrands and angular features.
Artform applied for beauty and hue.
One yearns for the songs it creates.
Most misunderstood by the artist it's true,
Come the spren to foundation's fates. ”
Artform for colors beyond our ken;
For its grand songs we yearn.
We must attract creationspren;
These songs suffice 'til we learn. ”
Artform is formed by bonding creationspren; as its name implies, it specializes in artistic expression, such as painting or music. Venli claimed to be researching this form to other listeners, though that was most likely a lie. It has not been discovered during the War of Reckoning, but rather returned to the singers through the Everstorm.
Forms of Power
”Qualify yourselves for greater service, and you will be elevated to the place of a Regal, given a form of power.
Forms of power are attained by bonding a voidspren rather than an ordinary spren. Within Odium's army, such singers are referred to as Regals. In contrast to common forms, forms of power bestow explicitly supernatural abilities, such as being able to shoot lightning from one's fingers or speak any language in the world. They can drastically alter one's ways of thinking, such as making people more selfish and callous, and can feel intoxicating. They allow singers to hear and use new rhythms, but make hearing the old ones extremely difficult.
”They may have taken your freedom, but they took our minds.
The term slaveform is how listeners describe singers with no spren bond, no form, and vastly limited mental capacity; humans refer to such singers as the parshmen. It looks visually similar to dullform, enough so that humans can confuse the two. Slaveform did not exist until after the False Desolation. It was created when Melishi led a strike team to capture Ba-Ado-Mishram, who was providing the singers with Regal forms. Though successful, it had an unintended side effect of robbing singers of Connection and Identity, and thus creating slaveform.
Physically, slaveform singers are strong enough to perform physical labor. However, they lack Identity and Connection, rendering them mentally stunted. Though seemingly capable of feeling and understanding their situation, they cannot fully comprehend it. Their awareness is dreamlike and they have no capacity to understand fully or act on their feelings. They are capable of processing and understanding orders, and will obey without question. When left on their own, they sit around, not doing anything.
Despite this, slaveform singers do retain some mental faculty. They can speak, though rarely do so. They care about and are protective of their dead, usually objecting to anyone tending to them. They also care for their young, though they have little capacity to object if separated. The passing of the Everstorm has healed the parshmen by restoring their Connection and Identity. As such, this form no longer exists during the True Desolation.
Prior to the arrival of the Everstorm, parshmen are used as slave labor across the entirety of Roshar. Parshmen slaves are typically more expensive than human ones, due to being naturally obedient and extremely unlikely to attempt an escape. Singers who can successfully birth healthy children are purposefully bred, and often sold off on this basis, even if this requires splitting up families.
They are often used as servants, as well as heavy menial labor. They are used as porters in various locations around the world, hauling both cargo and carriages. Many countries rely on them for their economy and proper functioning of their cities; the loss of their labor due to the Everstorm would spell a crisis even without the ongoing war.
Singers are connected to rhythms, the underlying "beats" of the cosmere that manifest particularly strongly on Roshar. There are numerous rhythms, and singers can attune to any one of them. Each rhythm represents a certain state of mind, emotion or feeling; when not paying attention, singers will attune to the rhythm that corresponds to their mood, but can also attune another to fit with their message. This attuning manifests as hearing the beat of the rhythm in one's head. All rhythms connect the singers to each other and Roshar itself. This, and their regular nature, allows the singers to use the rhythms for measuring time, among others.
The singers speak and sing to the rhythms; they carry the singers' emotions, as well as add meaning to their words. However, not all forms can attune the rhythms equally. Dullform can only hear them weakly; slaveform cannot hear them at all. Additionally, those infused with the power of Odium, mainly the Regals and the Fused, can only hear Odium's rhythms, also called the Rhythms of Power. Those rhythms, while similar to regular ones, are usually more violent and aggressive, and represent more twisted, angrier emotions -- for example, Ridicule replaces Amusement, and Command approximates Appreciation. They also feel and sound different than the ordinary rhythms.
”Our pity destroyed us.
The singers predate the arrival of humans on Roshar, having been created as part of the planet's natural ecosystem. After the Expulsion, in which mankind accidentally destroyed their homeworld, Ashyn, the ancient singers were ordered by their gods Honor and Cultivation to help the human refugees who arrived on their planet. These ancient singers were known as the Dawnsingers. Initially, the two species interacted peaceably, with some singers and humans even intermingling, creating Herdazians and the Unkalaki.
However, mankind's arrival also brought Odium, and conflict soon began. Humans, originally granted only the land of Shinovar, sought to expand, causing the conflict that would eventually come to be known as the First Desolation. During that time, the singers came to call humans "Voidbringers", as humans cannot hear the rhythms. In that conflict, spren eventually came to side with humans, leading to a sense of deep betrayal in the singers. It seems that the singers did something that caused the spren to turn on them.
At some point, Honor and Cultivation sided with the humans, while singers came to work with Odium, who granted their most valiant warriors immortality and great power to fight against the humans. This power made them into Cognitive Shadows, and allowed them to be reborn by possessing the bodies of other singers. Those immortal singers came to be known as the Fused. The Fused became both gods and rulers of the singers, despising mankind, wanting humans wiped off Roshar regardless of the cost.
To combat the Fused, Honor created the ten Heralds, who would imprison them on Braize until one of them broke, whereupon the Fused and Heralds would return to Roshar and a new Desolation would begin. The cycle continued for many centuries until finally, at the Aharietiam, the Heralds decided to leave only the strongest among them, Taln, to face the torture alone.
Not all singers, however, were eager to battle mankind continuously for Odium. One such group, the Last Legion, abandoned the Regal forms granted to them by Odium and left for the Shattered Plains, where they would settled, far from the ongoing conflict. They would eventually dub themselves the listeners.
”The parsh, as they are now called, continue their war with zeal, even without their masters from Damnation.
The singers, no longer the dominant species on Roshar, continued to fight mankind and the Knights Radiant. Over the centuries, they came to be known as the parsh, though the meaning of the word is unclear.
Around two thousand years after the Last Desolation, near the Recreance, another conflict between the two species flared up. Dubbed the False Desolation, it was notable for the participation of Ba-Ado-Mishram, one of Odium's Unmade. Ba-Ado-Mishram Connected with the singers and provided them Regal forms and Voidlight, as Odium once did in the Desolations, allowing the singers to wage war at levels closer to those of the real Desolations. In response, the Knights Radiant imprisoned Ba-Ado-Mishram. They succeeded, but in doing so, stole part of singers' souls, ripping out their Connection and Identity and turning them into near-mindless husks.
These singers without form -- "slaveforms" to listeners, and parshmen to humans -- became the property of humans, turned into cheap, menial labor that would be exploited for millennia to come. The only ones who escaped that fate were the listeners, as they had broken ties with the Unmade and Odium.
The listeners lived on in the Shattered Plains for the next few millennia, forming a number of tribes settled in the craters around the western edge of the Plains. Eventually, they made contact with the Alethi and, through diplomatic efforts, forged a treaty. However, on the night the treaty was to be signed, the listener Eshonai learned about King Gavilar's plans to return the "listener gods" -- the Fused -- to Roshar. Fearing the consequences, the listeners arranged for Gavilar to be assassinated. As a result, they were forced to flee, abandoning their homes for the more distant plateau of Narak right as humans arrived to exact vengeance. Thus began the War of Reckoning.
After six years of constant warfare, the listeners, manipulated by the voidspren, recovered stormform, one of Regal forms. Spurred on by its mental state, they planned to summon the Everstorm, which they succeeded at during the Battle of Narak. As it passed over Roshar, the Everstorm restored all parshmen, healing their Connection and Identity.
The new singers
”Can't we simply enjoy being able to think? Being able to exist?
The newly restored singers assumed seemingly random forms. Their attitudes were similar to those of the humans they spent their entire lives around -- the Alethi singers were angry and warlike, the Azish singers wished to negotiate with the government, and the Thaylen singers stole ships and sailed away. Most of them, however, were quickly swept up by the Fused, who have returned and seek to create new armies with which to conquer Roshar.
To make these new singers more combat-ready, the Fused employed not only their natural anger at their former oppressors, but also hefty amounts of propaganda, most notably using the supposedly last listener, Venli, as their mouthpiece. However, many singers are still apprehensive about fighting humans, and some outright wish that peace was an option. Some singers use the term essai to describe a human supporter (though the actual translation means "hairy").
Known singer groups
- Listeners - the singer nation on the Shattered Plains
- Regals - singers who have bonded Voidspren
- Fused - Cognitive Shadows of singers bound to Odium
- Voidbringers - general name for all singers (as well as humans) who work for Odium
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