The Shards of Adonalsium, or Shards, are pieces of the power of Creation itself. There are sixteen Shards in the cosmere. Three of the Shards are located in the Rosharan System: they are Odium, Cultivation, and Honor.
Shards are named after a specific action or ideal, called intent. A mind must control a Shard, except in very specific circumstances. When a person holds a Shard, that person is imbued with its power, but also becomes the Shard, being warped by its intent. Still, all Shards do not have a direct paired opposite Shardic intent.
Further, one does not have to be somewhat 'magical' to absorb a Shard's power, but it helps. A Shard's power within someone is termed Investiture. The degree, and its effects, can be very different - but those people are Invested. The term is Innate Investiture, and it is similar to what happens with people on Nalthis. Investiture cannot be created or destroyed. It follows its own version of the laws of thermodynamics.
One of the 'basics' of the magic in all of the worlds of the cosmere is that the energy of Shards can fuel all kinds of interactions; not just interactions based on each their personalities/roles. The 'role' of each Shard has to do mostly with the way the magic is obtained, not what it can do. There are slight exceptions to this rule, however, most notably that Awakening requires one to 'Endow' 'Breath' upon something or someone, and that in hemalurgy (the magic of Ruin) there is always a net loss of energy. Also, all Shards have some sort of Shard-induced weakness, like how Ruin and Preservation can't see metal.
Very little is known about the people who held the original Shards other than their names, and not even all of those are known. The only other real information readers have been given is whether certain Shardholders are dead, that they all came from Yolen, and that some, if not all, of them knew/know Hoid personally.
A few of the Shards of which readers know have been Splintered. Splintering is when a Shard is broken into dozens or hundreds of small pieces, so that no one can take up the Shard's power. Odium has Splintered three shards: Honor, Devotion, and Dominion. spren, seons and skaze are all Splinters. Most of the Shards have already, of their own volition, splintered themselves to either create life or set up their respective magic systems. They can do this and not die. For example, while Rayse is still alive and holds Odium, Odium is slightly Splintered. However, Splintering a Shard is not permanent.
There are sixteen Shards of Adonalsium and, for some, each their Holder/world are currently known.
|Preservation||Leras (not Adonalsium, deceased), Vin, Sazed||Scadrial||Mistborn series|
|Ruin||Ati (not Adonalsium, deceased), Sazed||Scadrial||Mistborn series|
|Odium||Rayse (deceased), Taravangian||Braize||The Stormlight Archive|
|Cultivation||Koravellium Avast||Roshar||The Stormlight Archive|
|Honor||Almighty/Tanavast (deceased)||Roshar||The Stormlight Archive|
|Ambition||Uli da||Threnody||Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell|
According to Brandon, there is a Shard that only wants to hide and survive. Further, this Shard is one readers have not yet met and it isn't on a world. Additionally, this Shard's intent is only tangentially related to its desire to hide. The desire comes from its knowledge of events in the cosmere. This desire to not be caught is, apparently, "quite intelligent."
Endowment's magic system is Awakening, which matches its intent: Breath can be gifted (i.e., Endowed) to others, and also used to impart "life" to inanimate objects.
Three Shards have influence on Roshar: Honor, Cultivation, and Odium. Both Honor and Odium each grant magic based on specific pathways in the spiritweb of persons as defined by the ideals of each their order of Knights Radiant. The Old Magic of Cultivation requires the rewriting of a person's spiritweb to allow for the required changes.
According to Khriss, Ruin and Preservation arrived in the world's system, then picked a star with no relevant other worlds in orbit, specifically choosing Scadrial's location because it was empty, so they could place there whatever they wished.
She believes that the Shards undoubtedly used humans from Yolen as a model (because, indeed, both of the Vessels for these Shards were human before their Ascensions) in creating life.
Additionally there is Harmony, which is considered a Shard, though is really a combination of two Shards: Ruin and Preservation.
The Shards Devotion and Dominion were extremely influential in the development of human societies on this world, and most of their traditions and religions can be traced back to these two. Uniquely, the very languages and alphabets used today across the world were directly influenced by the two Shards.
Khriss believes that early on, the Shards took an unconcerned approach to humankind - and society was shaped by the slow, steady discovery of the powers that permeated the landscape. However, she acknowledges that this is now difficult to determine for certain, because at some point in the distant past, both Devotion and Dominion were destroyed. Their Investiture - their power - was Splintered, their minds ripped away, their souls sent into the Beyond.
She remains unsure as to whether their power was left to ravage the world untamed for a time, or was immediately contained. She emphasizes that this all happened during the days of human prehistory on Sel.
Today, the bulk of the Investiture that made up the powers of Devotion and Dominion is trapped in the Cognitive Realm. Collectively, these powers - which have a polarized relationship - are called the Dor. Forced together as they are, trapped and bursting to escape, they power the various forms of magic on Sel, which are multitude.
Autonomy's policy of isolationism in recent times (in direct contrast to her interference with other worlds) has prevented travel to and from Taldain for many, many years.
Shards can break deals as it gives others a way to get at them.
- Main article: Resonance
|“||"The idea of resonance is that two powers, combined, meld kind of into one single power. This is a manifestation of the way Shards combine."||”|
Transfer of a Shard
Death of a Shard
When a Shard dies, the effects of that Shard depend on just how long the Shardholder held the Shard. After the Shard dies, the Shard is often able to continue acting, a kind of Cognitive Shadow. For example, the mists were able to continue doing what Preservation wished in helping out Vin and Snapping people. The Stormfather is Honor's Cognitive shadow, and he's semi-sentient. It has the Shard's power, but no one is holding it. This is also seen on Threnody.
|“||"However, be aware that in the past, when a Shard was killed, the person holding it, it is a slow burn to actually kill someone; because power cannot be destroyed. So, what it means to be killed means something a little different in these cases."||”|
Khriss and Nazh claimed Preservation was dying a slow death, the first they'd seen without a Shattering:
|“||"I’m very curious to see," Khriss said. "I’ve never viewed it in person, and the past deaths were different. They were each a single, stunning event, the god’s power shattered and dispersed. This is more like a strangulation, while those were like a beheading. This should be very instructive."||”|
–Khriss to Kelsier
Letter From the Cosmere
Adonalsium. Such a strange word. I remember when I first found it as I studied the Words of Founding. In that moment, I thought little of it. Of all the incredible revelations that came in the wake of the Destruction of "The World of Ash," I was distracted. Now, all these years later, I discovered that it was all connected. If you, dear reader, think for a second that I have been fooled into quiet worship and submission, you are woefully mistaken. If there ever was a God, he is long since dead.
There are merely scraps from which to pull this knowledge. Yet just as scraps of a tapestry can yield a pattern, the grand machine that is the Cosmere is starting to become apparent.
No one seems to know what Adonalsium was, except that it was incredibly powerful. It stood above all, and held the creative and destructive powers of the Universe. I say it because there is no indication if this entity had an intelligence like a sentient man. The Scholar seems to think so, but she thinks a great many things that seem too convoluted, and they cannot all be true. She seems content to sit back and learn, content to watch worlds crumble and die rather than use the knowledge she has. However, I am indebted to her, for each of the two times I have crossed paths with her she seemed pleased to answer my questions.
However, the Scholar was not who first told me of the Shattering, but the Wanderer. I met him just before I was called back to start these letters. I never learned his name but, like me, he seemed to wander from place to place. Something about him was off, and he seemed so focused on striding deeper into Roshar that I almost escaped his notice. Yet, when he did notice me, he seemed adamant that I listen to his story. I mostly had no idea what he was talking about until he brought up the death of Scadrial. He spoke of the powers Preservation and Ruin, and called them by names I had never heard. Then he told me quite frankly about how these powers, these so-called gods, were once men.
Men who had risen up against Adonalsium. They rebelled against It, and shattered it into 16 primal powers. The Wanderer didn't say much more than this, except to tell me that these people slowly were changed by this power. He spoke of Ati, who had once been a good man, who later manifested as Ruin and sought to destroy all life in the Cosmere by breaking it. His parting words were the only words he seemed to take seriously. He told me that history would be repeating itself before long, and that I would have to make a choice. Almost as if his words heralded some great tragedy, I could feel something change.
Odium had come. At the time I didn't know Odium or what he brought with his influence. But for the first time I wondered if watching would be enough.
As you know, I would eventually dedicate my very existence to fighting for the lives left behind on Roshar. The Desolation that Odium began and the destruction caused by his Everstorm left hundreds of thousands cowering in the dark. I left my life of grieving solitude, and took upon myself a mantle of leadership. The Wanderer was also there, I assumed fighting in his own way. And all this time, I was thinking about the 16 who took upon themselves such great power.
Apparently they dispersed, moving through the Cosmere and building up peoples and cultures across the stars. The worlds I have touched have been both crafted and scarred by their fumbling hands, hands of men ascended. They created many great and incredible peoples, and gifted unto them the Investitures that allow men to touch the divine. But at what cost? For it seems they see fit to destroy what they create. That their Shards have twisted them into intelligent agents of each Shard's will and purpose. I do not understand it, but the nature of each Shard eventually bleeds through these ascended men and overcomes their personalities, twisting them into dangerous servants bound by their instincts. And now we suffer the consequences of their lack of restraint.
Who were these people? What right did they have to become gods in the place of that which they had killed? Apparently, this Odium has murdered several of his fellow Shards, dispersing their power so as to continue his rise to domination. All along this path of power and control, millions have died. To these ascended beings, our lives must seem as the ants of the dirt. When I see the destruction that Ruin and Odium have been allowed to cause, I am resolved by one simple truth: these flawed gods should never have been.
Tell our friend that I intend to fight until the lives of men can continue under their own wills. Tell him that this war is far from over, and that I will struggle against Odium and all other Shards who fall. I do not feel that I can do much else than be a knife in the dark. I will gather the precious few I can save and set them up as a banner, to fight back however we can. I am unsure how to fight a god, but that won't stop me from trying.
Be wary of this Wanderer, a man who is far more removed from time than I am. He moves with a purpose that I cannot comprehend. I am grateful to him and see him as a mentor of sorts. Yet I cannot help but be cautious of his intent. Even now I wonder if he hinted to me of the Shattering simply to recruit me to his side. Because of my choice I am actively being pursued by the members of the 17th Shard. I do not know what will happen if they catch me, but I have not yet let them get too close.
However, as I cast my thoughts back to the Shattering, back where this all began, there is one thought that chills me to my very core. These 16 usurpers struck down a god. Something with, for all intents and purposes, unlimited power. Yet these men shattered Adonalsium. What could mere men wield that could kill a god? And worse, where is this weapon that can lay waste to the powers of Creation? This weapon could be more threatening than even Odium, for he is only a part of what the weapon destroyed. Odium is the most prevalent of threats, but I fear more for the resurgence of this fiendish secret. For if the weapon can destroy a god, what unspeakable things could it do to the peoples of the Cosmere?
This fight, what it represents ... it has taken a toll on me. Perhaps I can learn to trust, to believe that such power can be wielded for the good. Preservation did try to lock Ruin away, and even restored hope to a failing emperor. And Honor left some of his will behind, granting visions and Nahel bonds to his people. I am uncertain if what they offered us will be enough to stop the destructive Shards, but perhaps what they did will give us a chance. Regardless, I have a work to do, for I am determined to keep my people alive if at all possible.
- Paraphrased from transcript.
According to Brandon, it's possible that there is an Ingenuity Shard.
Article by Chris Lough here.
Q&A with Brandon
Q. Is it necessary to touch a Shard - not necessarily to become its Holder, but to at least touch it briefly - to Splinter it?
Q. Can a Shard tell the difference between itself and its current holder?
A. Tricky question. Depends on the circumstances. The power as a whole, no. Pieces of it, yes.
Q. Can any two Shards be joined together, like Preservation and Ruin, or does it depend on their Intents?
A. Any can be joined, theoretically, but boy, some of the pairings would have an odd resulting pressure on the one holding them. And similar intents make for an easier time melding.
Q. Do you believe that Preservation is inherently good and that Ruin is inherently evil?
A. No, good question! I would say no. I don't think any of the Shards are inherently good or inherently evil. I think that Ruin can be (and was for many years) in the cosmere presented as the necessary force of progress, right? Things need to decay in order for life to exist. And I think entropy is just a necessary aspect of life. And Ruin doesn't have to be evil; but Ruin is hard to control. And Odium is even harder to control. And because of that, there is a higher likelihood that Ruin or Odium are going to, if left unchecked, be very dangerous.
- Book signing, London, England, 11/28/17
- Magical ability & Shards
- Book signing, San Diego, CA, 10/8/15
- Shardic weakness
- Aona, Skai & Skaze
- Spren are part of Honor
- Spren and Seons
- General Reddit 2020
- Rhythm of War, 73. Which Master To Follow
- General Signed Books 2015, 1/1/15
- White Sand
- Book signing, Houston, TX, 11/18/17
- Rhythm of War, 24. Full Of Awe
- Rhythm of War, 25. Devotary Of Mercy
- Book signing, Warsaw, Poland, 3/18/17
- Book signing, Barnes and Noble Book Club, 7/8/09
- Goodreads Fantasy Book Discussion, 1/18/10
- The Way of Kings, 75. In the Top Room
- Oathbringer, 114. The Cost
- Arcanum Unbounded, pg. 151
- Arcanum Unbounded, pg. 151
- Arcanum Unbounded, pg. 17
- Arcanum Unbounded, pg. 17
- Arcanum Unbounded, pg. 17-18
- Arcanum Unbounded, pg. 18
- Arcanum Unbounded, pg. 370
- Arcanum Unbounded, pg. 417
- Dragonsteel Mini-Con 2021, 11/22/21
- Miscellaneous 2016, 1/1/16
- JordanCon 2021, 7/16/21
- Power cannot be destroyed.
- Secret History
- MisCon 2018, Missoula, MT, 5/26/18
- Touch a Shard?
- Shard vs. holder ...
- Shard pairings
- Dragonsteel Mini-Con 2021, 11/22/21