by Ben McSweeney
|Featured In||The Stormlight Archive|
”They are aflame. They burn. They bring the darkness when they come, and so all you can see is that their skin is aflame. Burn, burn, burn....—Collected on Palahishev, 1172, 21 seconds pre-death. Subject was a baker's apprentice.
The Voidbringers are historically considered to be a group of creatures that attacked the humans of Roshar in a series of wars known as Desolations. In the four and a half millennia since Aharietiam, much of the factual evidence on the Voidbringers has faded into myth and legend, as well as Vorin doctrine. Voidbringers were said to have cast humanity out of the Tranquiline Halls and fought the Heralds of the Almighty and Knights Radiant on Roshar.
Despite the fact that the Voidbringers were mostly dismissed as legends and folklore, the scholar Jasnah Kholin feared what was to come and tried to surmise the true nature of Voidbringers, hypothesizing that the singers were the Voidbringers. In actuality, upon the arrival of the Everstorm, the Voidbringers were revealed to be a large coalition of various beings allied with the Shard Odium--not solely singers. Furious at their displacement and slavery at the hands of humankind, the Voidbringers are intent on taking Roshar for themselves.
Origins of the Voidbringers
”They came from another world, using powers that we have been forbidden to touch. Dangerous powers, of spren and Surges. They destroyed their lands and have come to us begging.
The very earliest people called the Voidbringers were actually the first humans on Roshar. They came to Roshar fleeing their former homeworld of Ashyn which they had destroyed with the Dawnshards, bringing with them their god, the Shard Odium. Initially confined to Shinovar, the place they had been given that was sheltered from the highstorms, they eventually moved to conquer all of Roshar. The original inhabitants of Roshar, the singers named them Voidbringers, for they had brought the void, Odium. At some point in this conflict, humankind instead became aligned with the Shard Honor, whereas the singers took the aid of Odium, who granted them powers. When those he had granted power died, they refused to move on to the Beyond, instead reincarnating themselves by possessing the bodies of other singers. These were the very first Fused. Humankind began to lose, unable to defeat enemies that were continually reborn. Ten humans asked Honor for the ability to seal away the spirits of the Fused on Braize, much as Odium was trapped by Honor. Honor made them into his Heralds, granting them this ability as well as the Honorblades.
Trapped in Damnation
While this Oathpact worked for a time, the Heralds could be tortured into betraying their oaths and allowing the spirits to return to Roshar in an event known as a Desolation. Over time the singers and the rest of Odium's forces became known as the Voidbringers by humankind. They fought against humankind to reclaim their homelands on Roshar and occupy them, destroying human civilization and killing a huge portion of the population. In joining with Odium, the singers had given over absolute authority to him, directing the overarching strategy of the Voidbringer attacks and creating plans independently of the Fused. Humankind repelled them each time, with the help of Honor, the Heralds and the Knights Radiant. The cycle of torture and Desolations exhausted the Heralds, causing them to one day abandon the Oathpact, leaving behind only Talenel, who had been forced to return to Braize when he was killed. Taln had never broken before, and by the strength of his will alone held back the next Desolation.
”The Ancient of Stones must finally begin to crack It is a wonder that upon his will rested the prosperity and peace of a world for over four millennia.—The Diagram, Book of the 2nd Ceiling Rotation: pattern 1
Millennia later, the remaining singers fought against humanity in the False Desolation, led by the Unmade Ba-Ado-Mishram. The Bondsmith Melishi used his abilities to imprisoned the Unmade, but inadvertently also damaged the minds of all the singers who had been Connected to her. This rendered the singers into the servile parshmen who were repurposed to form the backbone of human labor for the next several centuries. Memory of the Voidbringers faded over the centuries, as they became considered to be myths and legends. Even several generations after the departure of the Heralds, memory of the Voidbringers was already becoming confused. Information from the shadowdays was fragmented and what little knowledge that remained of the Voidbringers was heavily revised and edited by the Vorin church during the days of the Hierocracy. Eventually after four thousand and five hundred years, Taln finally broke under torture in Damnation, releasing the Voidspren and the spirits of the Fused. Voidspren began carving out an empire in Shadesmar, and as a result some true spren returned to the Physical Realm bond with humankind to try to prevent the Desolation.
In 1173, a group of singers that had avoided losing their Connection and Identity by abandoning their gods and chosing dullform fought the Alethi in the War of Reckoning on the Shattered Plains. A single Voidspren guided one singer, Venli, to the discovery of stormform, a form of power. Fearful of being driven to extinction by the Alethi, the singers took stormform and in a final battle with the Alethi summoned the Everstorm. As this storm passed over Roshar in early 1174, it restored Identity and Connection to the parshmen, returning their minds and personalities to them. The Fused also returned, taking the bodies of unwittingly willing singers. The Voidspren guided the newly-awakened singers to several different locations, conquering their way through Emul and concentrating their forces in Alethkar, Marat, and Iri, where humankind had agreed to help the Voidbringers. The Voidbringers in Iri have also moved to capture the Oathgates in Rall Elorim, Kurth, and Panatham, securing most of the territory around the Purelake.
”Flame and char. Skin so terrible. Eyes like pits of blackness. Music when they kill.
The Voidbringer forces in Alethkar laid siege to the capital of Kholinar. With the help of several Unmade sowing chaos in the city, the Voidbringers managed to take the city and its Oathgate, despite the best efforts of the returning Knights Radiant. Several weeks later, Odium directed the Voidbringers to make another push to capture an Oathgate, this time located in Thaylen City, as well as force the Bondsmith Dalinar Kholin to submit to Odium and become his champion. With the help of Nergaoul, the Voidbringers successfully managed to bond with the men of the Sadeas army. These corrupted humans, along with Yelig-nar, the Fused, and two thunderclasts, formed the major Voidbringer forces for the battle. Fortunately Dalinar managed to shake off this temptation and swear his next Ideal, opening Honor's Perpendicularity to provide Stormlight for the fight and allow some of his Radiants in Shadesmar to aid in the fight. The Radiants and humankind managed to defend the city by capturing Nergaoul within a perfect gemstone and freeing the Sadeas soldiers from Odium's influence. The Voidbringers themselves remain a dangerous enemy with control over vast swathes of Roshar. They have not yet decided what will become of humanity should they achieve total victory, but some among the Fused desire to drive them to extinction to ensure that they are safe from humans and Honor forever.
Types of Voidbringers
By the time of the True Desolation, there are a variety of beings that are considered to be Voidbringers by the modern humans of the Era of Solitude. While they are often referred to collectively as Voidbringers when they are discussed as a group, in reality there are several important divisions among the Voidbringers. The word Voidbringers basically serves as a broad term that can refer to any one or all of these disparate groups.
”THEY ARE THE SPREN OF PARSHMEN LONG DEAD. THEY ARE THEIR KINGS, THEIR LIGHTEYES, THEIR VALIANT SOLDIERS FROM LONG, LONG AGO.
The group most easily called the Voidbringers, the Fused are Cognitive Shadows of ancient singers that were granted access to the Surges by Odium long ago. Making use of Voidlight, the Fused are often also referred to as spren instead of Cognitive Shadows, although either term is applicable. The Fused are among the most dangerous enemy of humankind, their repeated deaths and resurrections have given them ample opportunity to hone their skills in the art of war against humankind. With the weakening of the Oathpact and the arrival of the Everstorm, the Fused are no longer sent to Damnation upon their death, they are instead reincarnated upon the next Everstorm. With repeated rebirth, the Fused's minds gradually degrade, resulting in eventual insanity. The Fused are also responsible for the thunderclasts, enormous skeletal monsters with bodies of stone, inhabiting rock as they would a singer.
While the Fused may technically be considered to be Voidspren, there are several other varieties of Voidspren that exist as well. There are several varieties of more intelligent Voidspren, such as Ulim and Yixli that seem capable of sapience in the Physical Realm without a spren bond. Some of these spren are made of golden light, others appear as red shadows. Those in the Physical Realm have been guiding groups of the singers to staging points and administering the singers. They have also began to carve out an empire within Shadesmar, sailing warships and capturing cities as well as Cultivation's Perpendicularity. There are also lesser Voidspren which are mindless, much like the other subspren common on Roshar. These spren are capable of bonding with regular singers to grant them forms of power, turning them into Regals.
”Qualify yourselves for greater service, and you will be elevated to the place of a Regal, given a form of power.— A Fused to the common singers
Regals are singers that have bonded one of the various types of lesser Voidspren. This grants them one of the forms of power, such as stormform or envoyform, which each have various abilities. Common singers that have proven themselves to be particularly effective or loyal to the Fused are granted the privilege of become a Fused. Regals remain subservient to the Fused, but they command the respect of the regular singers. Their relationship to the more intelligent Voidspren remains uncertain. It is the highest known rank that a non-Fused singer can attain.
”That chanting, that singing, those rasping voices.
The singers themselves are merely the race of people that are native to Roshar. However, they have been heavily influenced by their ancestors, the Fused, and typically are supportive of Odium. After the capture of Ba-Ado-Mishram in the False Desolation, most of the singers were damaged by this action, and were robbed of their consciousness. With the arrival of the Everstorm, their Connection and Identity were restored and they awoke again. The singers who awoke in a certain kingdom feel like citizens of that nation, they adopt similar customs and consider those lands their homes. The singers are angry about the slavery and wish to build their own lasting empires and reclaim their ancestral homelands. Even still, some wish that they could avoid this conflict and simply find their own place to live. They feel as though they lack an identity as a people and are struggling to find their path forward as a people.
The Unmade are a group of nine ancient, twisted spren comprised of Splinters of Odium. The Unmade were once something else, but they were somehow unmade into their current forms. They now exist as minions of Odium, doing his bidding. Each Unmade is endowed with vast and terrible powers, such as corrupting spren, providing visions of the future, or producing evil murderous spren. The intelligence of an individual Unmade varies from wise and crafty to simply mindless forces. The Unmade are not traditionally counted among the Voidbringers, but the two are often associated and they are among the most powerful of Odium's forces. They may have some relationship with the Ten Deaths, a concept that is poorly understood.
In the thousands of years since the Voidbringers were seen, they have become mythologized in human societies, playing a role in the culture, religion, and folklore of the modern day. They are considered by many to be mythological, or simple fabrications. Most people do not believe they exist on Roshar anymore, either destroyed or driven back to the Tranquiline Halls.
Myth & Folklore
”They lived out in the wilds, always awaiting the Desolation—or sometimes, a foolish child who took no heed of the night's darkness.—A child's tale, yes, but this quote from Shadows Remembered seems to hint at the truth I seek. See page 82, the fourth tale.
In rural areas, Voidbringers played a wide variety of roles in the culture. Oftentimes the Voidbringers were seen as mischievous, rather than evil, punishing foolish people and causing bad luck. They were are often blamed for small misfortunes, such as a blighted crop or laundry going missing. In more urban areas, stories of the Voidbringers are slightly different. They are said to be a type evil spren that walk the night and enter the hearts of good men and make them do terrible things. The poorly educated often confuse mental illness for possession by a Voidbringer. Voidbringers are almost seen as being synonymous with monsters and other superstitions, hiding in corners or under the bed. The term Voidbringer is even sometimes used as an affectionate nickname for troublemakers, or a metaphor for difficult past events.
There are darker rumors of the Voidbringers as well. They are also said to haunt the most violent highstorms along with the shades of the Lost Radiants causing the damage left by the storm and feasting on human flesh and stealing their hearts. Other groups claim that the Voidbringers steal souls. Some peoples, such as the Unkalaki, totally deny that the Voidbringers ever existing, believing them to be campfire tales. Any sort of oddity, like the powers associated with Surgebinding may be considered to be related to the Voidbringers by darkeyes and lighteyes alike. In fact, any oddity such as a talking animal, a shadow that points the wrong way, or a spren that speaks may be associated with the Voidbringers. Even only a few generations after Aharietiam, the specifics of what the they looked like were forgotten, with ancient artists drawing pictures of chasmfiends and labeling them Voidbringers. They are often associated with the Lost Radiants, who are said to have betrayed mankind to the Voidbringers, although in Vorin theology this is not believed to be the case. For instance, Dalinar Kholin suspected that his visions might come from the Voidbringers.
Tales of the Voidbringers are common among the darkeyes, and are occasionally collected into volumes, such as Shadows Remembered. In these the Voidbringers are often associated with stories of ghosts and spirits; in fact in some tales the dead become Voidbringers. In one such tale, a boy who left his home at night was chased to a cavern near a lake by the Voidbringers. He escaped by floating a piece of wood carved in a human shape out onto the lake and tricking the Voidbringers into devouring that instead of him. In another story, a wayward traveler shown kindness slaughtered a whole family, drink their blood, and write voidish symbols on the walls. There are other tales of evil men made immortal and tortured over and over again, like the story of Extes. They also often exist on the periphery of other tales. For instance, Derethil sailed west to discover where the Voidbringers spawned and destroy them there and Parasaphi's people had been slaughtered by the Voidbringers in the Desolation.
According to Vorin theology, the Voidbringers are real creatures, incarnations of destruction or death given form. They were created in Damnation forged from pure hatred. They are viewed as counterparts to the Almighty, as well as his mythological enemies. They are said to have come into existence to oppose the Almighty, as the cosmere needed to balance his ultimate goodness. They dwell in the hearts of mankind, just as the Almighty once did. The Voidbringers were said to have red eyes and stand dozens of feet tall with bodies of flame and stone, which required Shardblades to be defeated. In other tales, the Voidbringers had horrific faces and spindly arms of bone. Other Voidbringers lacked a form, spectral spirits of the dead or spren from Damnation.
”A scourge and a plague. A hundred times they came upon mankind. First casting us from the Tranquiline Halls, then trying to destroy us here on Roshar. They weren't just spren that hid under rocks, then came out to steal someone’s laundry. They were creatures of terrible destructive power, forged in Damnation, created from hate.
The Voidbringers are said to have attacked humanity in the Tranquiline Halls, capturing it and forcing humanity into Roshar. The Voidbringers then tried to force humanity into Damnation itself. Humankind fought against the Voidbringers, led by the Heralds of the Almighty and their chosen Knights Radiant. The two groups clashed ninety-nine times, each time the Voidbringers tried to destroy everything in their path annihilate humankind but the humans successfully held Roshar. Finally in Aharietiam, the Final Desolations, humankind succeeded in throwing back the Voidbringers to the Tranquiline Halls. The Heralds themselves followed them, intending to reclaim the Tranquiline Halls once and for all. It is believed that the best of humankind will join in the War for Heaven and leading men or fighting against the Voidbringers. The Unmade were said to be the princes of the Voidbringers, able to blind the eyes of men and mislead them. The Voidbringers are also said to flay souls in Damnation, torturing people for eternity.
In modern Vorinism, the Voidbringers have been relegated to a less prominent place in the theology, as they are associated with the Lost Radiants and the failings of Vorinism. The Vorin church rejects the tales of the False Desolation, claiming that no Voidbringers survived on Roshar following the Aharietiam. Even still, precognition or fortune-telling is still considered to be related to the Voidbringers and Voidbinding, and forbidden in Vorin society. In fact, the return of the Voidbringers has made the church suspicious of all Radiants and Surgebinding, fearful that their powers come from the Voidbringer.
Little is known about the beliefs of the Shamanate on the Voidbringers. They say that the Voidbringers could hold Stormlight in perfectly, unlike humankind. The Stone Shaman hold that the Voidbringers do not exist anymore. Szeth's claims that the Voidbringers had returned were apparently serious enough to lead to his banishment from Shin society.
”The Voidbringers had a natural, real-world correlate, I'm certain of it. Something caused the legends.
The well educated don't believe in the Voidbringers oftentimes. They are considered to be little more than myths to most scholars, similar to the deathspren. Many consider all the tales and folklore to be nonsensical and what few serious histories exist are often self-contradictory and vague, as the Desolations occurred during prehistory. Some fringe scholars might believe in the Voidbringers, but most respected scholars believe them fabrications constructed by the Lost Radiants as a justification for their power. Folklorists are the only ones who make a serious study of the Voidbringers. Jasnah Kholin began a study into the Voidbringers, traveling to various libraries across Roshar searching for information on them. She developed a hypothesis that the Voidbringers and the parshmen were one and the same before the arrival of the Everstorm. While Jasnah was trapped in Shadesmar and presumed dead, her ward, Shallan Davar, managed to convince at least some of the Alethi on the Shattered Plains of Jasnah's beliefs. Jasnah was ultimately proved at least partially correct, although she had not anticipated the existence of the Fused.
The Voidbringers were important to several different secret societies on Roshar. The Ghostbloods had anticipated that the Voidbringers would return and are trying to control the situation to their advantage somehow. The Skybreakers also predicted that the Voidbringers would return. They maintained a clandestine presence after the Recreance, hunting down nascent Radiants as Nale believed that they could somehow cause the Voidbringers to return. The Sons of Honor worked specifically for the return of the Voidbringers, believing that their return would return the Heralds and restore the Knights Radiant and Vorin church to dominance. The Envisagers believed that the return of the Voidbringers would return the Radiants as well, but they also tried to manifest Surgebinding by putting themselves in life-threatening danger.
- Pattern says that the Voidbringers lack a pattern. It is uncertain what he meant by this.
- While humans are not technically considered to be Voidbringers by the modern day definition, they have fought on the side of the Voidbringers in both the past Desolations and the current Desolation.
- The Way of Kings chapter 7 epigraph #
- The Way of Kings chapter 45 #
- Oathbringer chapter 38 #
- The Way of Kings chapter 72 #
- Oathbringer chapter 109 #
- Oathbringer chapter 111 #
- Well of Ascension signed copy
— Arcanum - 2018-03-08#
- Oathbringer chapter 113 #
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- Oathbringer chapter 83 #
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- Oathbringer chapter 115 #
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- Oathbringer chapter 80 epigraph #
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- Oathbringer prologue #
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- The Way of Kings chapter 28 #
- Words of Radiance chapter 6 #
- The Way of Kings epilogue #
- Oathbringer chapter 108 #
- Words of Radiance chapter 13 #
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- JordanCon 2016
— Arcanum - 2016-04-23#
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Chaos2651 (talk) 17:54, 16 June 2018 (MST)