A WARNING FROM BRANDON: This scene gives major spoilers for Words of Radiance. Please don’t continue unless you’ve finished that book. This is a very short sequence of Jasnah’s backstory I’ve been reading at signings. It’s not a polished draft. I often read very rough (and potentially continuity-error filled) sequences at signings as a special treat to people who attend. This scene is even rougher than most—first draft, and shouldn’t be taken as canon quite yet, as I haven’t firmed up or fixed all the terminology or Shadesmar interactions.
Jasnah Kholin opened her eyes and gasped, fingers rigid, clawing at the obsidian ground. A knife in her chest! She could feel it grinding on her bones as it slipped between two ribs, glancing off her sternum. She spasmed, rolling into a ball, quivering.
No. She could not lay prone. She fought to her knees, but then found herself raking her fingers across the ground, trembling, heaving breaths in and out. Moving—even breathing—was perversely difficult, not because of pain or incapacity, but because of the overwhelming sense of tension. It made her shake, made her made her want to run, fight, do anything she could to not die.
She shouted, stumbling to her feet, and spun about, hand on her chest.
Wet blood. Her blood. A dress cut with a single knife hole.
“Jasnah.” A figure all in black. A landscape of obsidian ground reflecting a bizarre sky and a sun that did not change locations.
She darted her head from side to side, taking in everything but registering very little of it.
Storms. She could sense that knife again, sliding into her flesh. She felt that same helplessness, that same panic—emotions which had accompanied the knife’s fall. She remembered the darkness consuming her, her hearing fading, the end.
She closed her eyes and shivered, trying to banish the memories. Yet the effort of trying to do so only seemed to solidify them.
She knew that she would remember dying for as long as it took the darkness to claim her again.
“You did well,” Ivory said. “Well, Jasnah.”
“The knife,” she whispered, opening her eyes, angry at how her voice trembled, “the knife was unexpected.” She breathed in and out, trying to calm herself. That puffed out the last of her Stormlight, which she had drawn in at the last possible moment, then used like a lash to pull herself into this place. It had kept her alive, healed her.
Ivory said that while a person held enough Stormlight, only a crushing blow to the head itself would kill. She’d believed him, but storms that hadn’t made it any easier to lay there before the knife. Who would have expected them to stab her? Shouldn’t they have assumed that a blow to the head would be enough to—
“We have to go back,” Jasnah said, spinning. “Ivory, where is the junction?”
“It is not.”
She was able to locate the ship with ease. In Shadesmar, land and sea were reversed, so she stood on solid ground—but in the Physical Realm, Shallan and the sailors would still be in their ship. They manifest here as lights, similar to candle flames, and Jasnah thought of them as the representation of the person’s soul—despite Ivory telling her that was an extreme simplification.
They spotted the air around her, standing up on deck. That solitary flame would be Shallan herself. Many smaller lights darted beneath the ground—faintly visible through the obsidian. Fish and other sea life.
Nerves still taut, Jasnah searched around for the junction: a faint warping of the air that marked the place of her passage into Shadesmar. She could use it return to the ship, to…
One of the lights up above winked out.
Jasnah froze. “They’re being executed. Ivory! The junction.”
“A junction is not, Jasnah,” Ivory repeated. He stood with hands clasped behind his back, wearing a sharp—yet somehow alien—suit, all black. Here in Shadesmar, it was easier to distinguish the mother-of-pearl sheen to his skin, like the colors made by oil on water.
“Not?” Jasnah said, trying to parse his meaning. She’d missed his explanation the first time. Despite their years together, his language constructions still baffled her on occasion. “But there’s always a junction…”
“Only when a piece of you is there,” Ivory said. “Today, that is not. You are here, Jasnah. I am…sorry.”
“You brought me all the way into Shadesmar,” she asked. “Now?”
He bowed his head.
For years she’d been trying to get him to bring her into his world. Though she could peek into Shadesmar on her own—and even slip one foot in, so to speak—entering fully required Ivory’s help. How had it happened? The academic wanted to record her experiences and tease out the process, so that perhaps she could replicate it. She’d used Stormlight, hadn’t she? An outpouring of it, thrust into Shadesmar. A lash which had pulling her, like gravitation from a distant place, unseen…
Memories of what happened mixed with the terror of those last minutes. She shoved both emotions and memories aside. How could she help the people on the ship? Jasnah stepped up to the light, hovering before her, lifting a hand to cup one. Shallan, she assumed, though she could not be certain. Ivory said that there wasn’t always a direct correlation between objects their manifestation in Shadesmar.
She couldn’t touch the soul before her, not completely. Its natural power repelled her hand, as if she were trying to push two pieces of magnetized stone against one another.
A sudden screech broke Shadesmar’s silence.
Jasnah jumped, spinning. It sounded a trumping beast, only overlaid by the sounds of glass breaking. The terrible noise drove a shiver up her spine. It sounded like it had come from someplace nearby.
Ivory gasped. He leaped forward, grabbing Jasnah by the arm. “We must go.”
“What is that?” Jasnah asked.
“Grinder,” Ivory said. “You call them painspren.”
“Painspren are harmless.”
“On your side, harmless. Here, harmmore. Very harmmore. Come.” He yanked on her arm.
The ship’s crew would die because of her. Storms! She had not thought that the Ghostbloods would be so bold. But what to do? She felt like a child here, newborn. Years of study had told her so little. Could she do anything to those souls above her? She couldn’t even distinguish which were the assassins and which were the crew.
The screech sounded again, coming closer. Jasnah looked up, growing tense. This place was so alien, with ridges and mountains of pure black obsidian, a landscape that was perpetually dim. Small beads of glass rolled about her feet—representations of inanimate objects in the physical realm.
She fished among them, and these she could identify immediately by touch. Three plates from the galley, one bead each. A trunk holding clothing.
Several of her books.
Her hand hesitated. Oh storms, this was a disaster. Why hadn’t she prepared better? Her contingency plan in case of an assassination attempt had been to play dead, using faint amounts of stormlight from gems sewn into her hem to stay alive. But she’d foolishly expected assassins to appear in the night, strike her down, then flee. She’d not prepared for a mutiny, an assassination led by a member of the crew.
They would murder everyone on board.
“Jasnah!” Ivory said, sounding more desperate. “We must not be in this place! Emotions from the ship draw them!”
She dropped the spheres representing her books and ran her fingers through the other spheres, seeking… there. Ropes—the bonds tying the sailors as they were executed. She found a group of them and seized the spheres.
She drew in the last of her Stormlight, a few gemstones’ worth. So little.
The landscape reacted immediately. Beads on the ground nearby shivered and rolled toward her, seeking the stormlight. The calls of the painspren intensified. It was even closer now. Ivory breathed in sharply, and high above, several long ribbons of smoke descended out of the clouds and began to circle about her.
Stormlight was precious here. It was power, currency, even—perhaps—life. Without it, she’d be defenseless.
“Can I use this Light to return?” she asked him.
“Here?” He shook his head. “No. We must find a stable junction. Honor’s Perpendicularity, perhaps, though it is very distant. But Jasnah, the grinders will soon be!”
Jasnah gripped the beads in her hand.
“You,” she command, “will change.”
“I am a rope,” one of them said. “I am—”
“You will change.”
The ropes shivered, transforming—one by one—into smoke in the physical realm.