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Bonn Signing ()
#1 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Lirin was impressed by how calm he felt as he checked the child's gums for scurvy. Years of training as a surgeon served him well today. Breathing exercises, intended to keep his hand steady, worked just as well for covering up fugitives as they did for surgery.

"Here," he said to the child's mother, digging from his pocket a small carved carapace chit. "Show this to the woman at the dining pavilion, she will get you some juice for your son. Make certain he drinks it all each morning."

"Very thank you," the woman said in a thick Herdazian accent. She gathered her son close, then looked to Lirin with haunted eyes. "If... if child found-"

"I will make certain you are notified if we hear word of your other children," Lirin promised. "I'm sorry for your loss."

She nodded, wiped her cheeks and carried the child away towards the town. The morning fog obscured most of Hearthstone. On the outside, it looked like a group of dark shadowy lumps, like tumors. Lirin could barely make out the tarps stretched between buildings, offering meager shelter for the many refugees pouring out of Herdaz. Entire streets were closed off this way. The sounds of plates clinking and people talking rose through the fog. Those shanties would never last the storm, of course, but they could be quickly torn down and stowed. There just wasn't enough housing otherwise.

Glancing at the line of those waiting for admittance today, he wondered how many more people the town could hold. Erik and the other men - once guards at Roshone's mansion, now forbidden swords - organized the line and kept anyone from sneaking in town before Lirin saw them. He had persuaded Brightness Abijan that it was essential he see each refugee and judge if they'd be bringing dangerous diseases into the city. In truth, he wanted to intercept those who might need a wound bound or a treatment.

The woman carried her child up to the watchpost just out of town. Here, a group of armed parshmen lifted her hood and compared her face to descriptions that had been sent to them by the Fused. Hesina, Lirin's wife, stood nearby, ready to read the descriptions as required. She was one of the few women in the city who could read, though Brightness Abijan and several of the other parshwomen were quickly learning their lessons.

Parshmen carrying swords, learning to read. Even a year after their awakening, Lirin found the notion odd, but really, what was it to him? In some ways, little had changed, despite the coming of the Everstorm and the awakening of the Parshmen. Their skin was different, but the same old conflicts consumed them as easily as they had the Alethi brightlords. People who had a little taste for power wanted more and they sought it with the sword. Normal people bled and Lirin had to try to put them back together. He turned back to his line of waiting refugees - he still had at least a hundred to give medical assessments to today. And hiding among them was one in particular. In some ways, it was the man who was the author of all this suffering.

The next person in line had lost an arm in battle, but the wound was a few months old at this point and there was nothing that Lirin could do about the extensive scaring. He held up his finger and moved it back and forward before the man's face, watching his eyes track it.

Shock, Lirin thought. "Have you suffered wounds recently you are not telling me about?"

"No wounds," the man whispered, "but brigands, they took my wife, good surgeon. Took her, left me tied up to a tree, just walked off, laughing..."

Bother, mental shock wasn't something Lirin could cut out with a scalpel.

"Once you enter town," Lirin said, "look for tent fourteen and tell the women there I sent you to bed in that place."

The man nodded dully, though his stare was so hollow Lirin wondered if the man had registered the words. Memorizing the man's description - graying hair with a cowlick in the back, three large bulbs on the upper left cheek - Lirin made note to check tent fourteen for him later tonight. It was the place were he had assistants watching for refugees who might turn suicidal. It was, with so many to care for, the best that he could manage.

"On with you," Lirin said, gently pushing the man towards the town. "Tent fourteen, don't forget, I'm sorry for your loss." The man walked off.

"You say it so easily, surgeon," a voice said from behind Lirin.

Lirin stood and turned with surprise, then immediately bowed in respect. Abijan, the new city lord, was a parshwoman with stark white skin and fine red swirls on her cheeks.

"Brightness," he said, "What was that?"

"You told that man," Abijan said, "you were sorry for his loss. You say it so easily to each of them, but you seem to have the compassion of a stone. Do you feel, surgeon, for these people?"

"I feel, Brightness," Lirin said, "but I must be careful not to be overwhelmed by their pains. It's one of the first rules of becoming a surgeon."

"Curious," she said. The parshwoman raised her safehand, which was shrouded in the sleeve of her Havah. "Do you remember setting my arm when I was a child?"

"I do."

"Such a curious memory," she said. "It feels like a dream to me now, that life. I remember pain, confusion, a stern figure bringing me more pain. But now I recognize that you were simply seeking to heal me. So much trouble to go through for a slave child."

"I've never cared whom I heal, Brightness, slave or king.

"I'm sure the fact that Wistiow paid good money for me had nothing to do with it. He of course wanted his investment protected." She narrowed her eyes at Lirin. When she next spoke there was a cadence to her words as if she were speaking the words to a song. "Did you feel for me? The poor confused child slave whose mind had been stolen from her. Did you weep for us, surgeon, and the life we led?"

"A surgeon must not weep," Lirin said softly. "A surgeon can not afford to weep."

"Like a stone," she said again, then shock her head. "Have you seen any plaguespren?"

"Diseases aren't caused by spren," Lirin said. "It is spread by contaminated water, improper sanitation, or sometimes the breath of those who bear it."

"Superstition," she said.

"The wisdom of the Heralds," Lirin replied. "We should be careful." Fragments of old manuscripts, translations of translations of translations, spoke of ancient diseases that killed thousands, spreading quickly and persistently. Such things hadn't been recorded in any modern text he had read, but he had heard rumors of something strange on the west. A new plague they were calling it. Details were sparse. In truth, he wasn't sure what to watch for, but Abijan moved on without further complaint to him. Her attendants, a group of elevated parshmen and parshwoman joined her. Though their clothing was of Alethi cuts and fashion, the colors were lighter, more muted than humans might wear. The Fused had explained that the singers in the past eschewed light, bright colors as to not distract from their distinctive skin patterns. Lirin sensed the searched for identity in the way that Abijan and the other parshmen acted. Their accents, their dress, their mannerisms - they were all distinctively Alethi, but they hung on what the Fused said about the lives of their ancestors and tried whenever they could to emulate them. He turned to the next group of refugees - a complete family for once - and though he should have been happy to see that, he couldn't help wondering how difficult it was going to be to feed five children and parents who were flagging from poor nutrition. As he sent them on, a familiar figure moved down the line towards him.

Laral wore a simple servant's dress now, with a gloved hand instead of a sleeve, and she carried a water bucket. Ostensibly, she was seeing that nobody in line was thirsty. She didn't walk like a servant though. There was a certain determination about the young woman that no forced subservience could smother. The end of the world itself seemed about as bothersome to her as a poor harvest once had. She paused by Lirin, offering him a drink, ladled it to a fresh cup rather than taking straight from the bucket, as he insisted.

"He is three down," Laral whispered to Lirin, as he sipped. <Laral grabbed him.>

"Shorter than I expected him to be," Laral noted. "He is supposed to be a great general, leader of the Herdezian resistance. Looks more like a traveling merchant than he does a soldier."

"Genius comes in all shapes, Laral," Lirin said, waving for another drink. More to give him an excuse to keep talking.

"Still," she said, then fell silent as Durnash passed by, a tall parshmen with swirled black and red skin a sword on his back. Once he was well on his way she continued softly, "I'm honestly surprised at you, Lirin. Not even once have you suggested that we turn this man in. He'd be executed. You think him a criminal, though, don't you?"

"Criminal? I'm not sure, but he bears a terrible responsibility. He perpetuated a war against an overwhelming enemy force, he threw away the lives of his men in a hopeless battle."

"Some would call that heroism."

"Heroism is a myth you tell idealistic young men to persuade them to go bleed for you," Lirin said. "It got my son killed and my other son taken from me. You can keep your heroism, and give me back the lives of those wasted on foolish conflicts."

DragonCon 2019 ()
#2 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Of course the Parshendi wanted to play their drums. Of course Gavilar had told them they could. And of course he hadn't thought to warn Navani.

"Have you seen the size of those instruments?" <Hratham> said, running her hands through her black hair. "Where will we put them? We can't..."

"We move to the upper feast hall," Navani said, trying to project a calm demeanor. Everyone else in the kitchen was close to panicking, cooks running one direction or another, pots banging. Gavilar had invited not just the highprinces but their relatives. And every highlord in town. And he wanted a Beggar's Feast. And now... drums?

"We've already set up in the lower hall," <Hratham> said, "I don't have the staff to..."

"There are twice as many soldiers as usual loitering around the palace tonight," Navani said, "We'll have them move the tables." Gavilar never forgot about things like posting extra guards. Projecting strength, making a show of force? He could always be counted on for that. For everything else, he had Navani. 

"Could work, yes," <Hratham> said. "Good to put those louts to work rather than having them underfoot. Alright, deep breaths."

A short palace organizer stumbled away, narrowly avoiding an apprentice cook carrying a large bowl of steaming shellfish. Navani stepped to the side and let the cook pass. The man nodded in thanks. The staff had long since stopped being nervous when she entered their kitchens. She made it clear to them that doing their job sufficiently was superior praise to her than a bow. Fortunately, this staff was the kind of middle ranked lighteyes who understood the need for a little practicality.

They seemed to have things well in hand now, though there had been a scare earlier when three barrels of grain had been discovered with worms in them. A little creative thinking had reminded them that Brightlord Amaram had stores for his men and Navani had been able to pry them out of his grip. For now it seemed that with the extra cooks borrowed from the monastery they might actually be able to feed all the extra people Gavilar had invited.

"I should leave some of the tables set up in the lower hall," she thought, slipping out of the kitchens and into the palace gardens. "Who knows who might show up with an invitation." At the very least she might need to feed some military officers who couldn't be seated in the main feast hall. 

She turned to hike up through the gardens and entered the palace through the side doors. She'd be less... out of the way, and wouldn't have to dodge servants if she went this way. Maybe she could...

Navani slowed. The Kholinar palace was brightly lit tonight, with spheres adorning every hallway and all the garden walkways. By that light, Navani could easily make out Aesudan, her daughter-in-law, Elhokar's wife, standing just near the fountains. The slender woman wore her long hair in a bun, which was lit with gemstones of each shade. All those colors were gaudy together. Navani preferred a few simple stones themed to a color, but it did make Aesudan stand out as she chatted with two elderly ardents. 

Storms bright and brash. Was that <Rushar Kris>, the artist and master artifabrian? When had he gotten into town? Who'd invited him? He was holding a small box with a flower painted on it. Could that be one of his new fabrials? Navani found herself drawn to the group, all her thoughts fleeing her mind. How had he gotten the heating fabrial to work? How had he captured a flamespren? How did he make the temperature vary? She'd seen drawings, but to talk to the master artist himself?

Aesudan saw Navani and then smiled brightly. The joy seemed genuine, which was unusual, at least when she directed it at Navani. Navani tried not to take Aesudan's general sourness to her as a personal affront. It was the prerogative of every woman to feel threatened by her mother-in-law, particularly when the girl was so obviously lacking in talents. Fortunately, Elhokar liked her and she was of a good family. Navani smiled at her and turned, trying to enter the conversation and get a better look at that box. Aesudan, however, took Navani by the arm.

"Mother! I had forgotten completely about our appointment. I'm so fickle sometimes. Terribly sorry Ardent <Kris>, but I must make a hasty exit," Aesudan tugging Navani forcefully back through the gardens toward the kitchens. 

"Thank Kalak you showed up Mother. That man is the most dreadful bore."

"Bore?" Navani said, twisting to look over her shoulder.

"He was talking about gemstones, and another gemstone, and spren, and boxes of spren, and... storms, what a night! You'd think he would understand we have important people to meet. The wives of highprinces, the best generals of the land come to gawk at the wild parshmen. Then I get stuck in the garden talking to ardents! Your son ditched me there, I'll have you know. When I find that boy..."

Navani extricated herself from Aesudan's grip. "Someone should go entertain those ardents. Why are they here?"

"Don't ask me," Aesudan said. "Gavilar wanted them for something, but he made Elhokar entertain them. Poor manners that is, really."

Gavilar had invited one of the world's most prominent artifabrians to visit the palace, and he hadn't even bothered to tell Navani? An anger stirred deep inside her, a fury she kept carefully penned and locked away. That man. That storming man. How could he...

Calm, Navani, the rationalist inside her mind said. Maybe he intends to introduce you to the ardent as a gift. He knows how interested you are in fabrials. Perhaps that was it.

"Brightness!" a voice called from the kitchens. "Brightness Navani, oh please, we have a problem!"

"Aesudan," Navani said, eyes on the ardent who was slowly walking away toward the path to the monastery. She could catch him. She could spare a few minutes. "Could you help the kitchens with whatever they need. I'd like to..."

But Aesudan was already hurrying off towards another group in the gardens, one attended by several powerful highlord generals. Navani took a deep breath, shoving down another stab of annoyance. Aesudan claimed to care about propriety and manners, but she'd butt into a conversation between men without even her husband as an excuse.

"Brightness!" the cook called, waving to her. Navani took one last look at the ardents then set her jaw and hurried back to the kitchen, careful not to catch her skirt on the ornamental shalebark. "What now?"

"Wine", the cook said. "We're out of both the <clavina> and the ruby <bench>."

"How?" Navani said. "We ordered..." She shared a look with the cook and the answer was evident. Dalinar had been at the wine again, it appeared. "I have a private store," Navani said, pulling a notebook from her pocket. She gripped it in her safehand through the sleeves, scribbling a note. "I keep it in the monastery, with Sister <Nama>. Show her this and she'll give you access."

"Thank you Brightness," the cook said, taking the note. Before the man was even out the door, however, Navani spotted the house steward, a white-bearded man with too many rings on his fingers, standing in the stairwell up to the palace proper. He was fidgeting with the rings on his hand.

"What is it?" she asked, striding over.

"Guests have started to arrive, Brightness, including Highlord Vamah, who was promised an audience with the King regarding the border disputes. You know the one..."

"...about the misdrawn maps, yes," Navani said, sighing. "And my husband?"

"Vanished, Brightness," the steward said. "He was seen with Brightlord Amaram and some of those... uncommon figures." That was the term that palace staff used for Gavilar's new friends, the ones who seemed to arrive without warning or announcement, and rarely gave their names.

Navani ground her teeth, thinking through the places Gavilar might have gotten himself to. There were a few rooms he tended to use. He would probably be angry if she interrupted him. Well, good. He should be seeing to his duties rather than just assuming she'd handle it all. Unfortunately, at the moment, she... well, she would have to handle it. Brightlord Vamah couldn't be left waiting.

She let the anxious steward lead her up to the grand entryway where guards were being entertained with music, drinks and poetry while the feast was being prepared. Others were going with master-servants to view the Parshendi, the night's true novelty. It wasn't every day that the King of Alethkar signed a treaty with a group of mysterious parshmen who could talk. 

She dealt with Vamah, offering apologetic words, even going so far as to review the maps herself and write them a judgement. From there, she was stopped from locating Gavilar by a line of needy men and women who had come specifically to get the King's attention, a privilege that was growing more and more difficult these days, unless you were one of the uncommon figures. Navani assured Brightlords their petitions were being heard. She promised to look into injustices. She soothed the crumbled feelings of those who thought a personal invitation from the King would mean they'd actually get to see him. It was emotionally taxing work, but nothing new to her, and fully within the Queen's expected duties.

Navani didn't resent her station. Perhaps some day she'd be able to spend her days tinkering with fabrials and pretending she was a scholar. For now, she had duties. The only thing that truly bothered her was the fact that she shouldn't have to do it alone. She was unsurprised at asking that unexpected guests were indeed still showing up, ones that weren't even on the list an annoyed Gavilar had provided for earlier that day. Vev's Golden Keys! Navani kept her increasing fury under control, painting an amicable face for the arriving guests. She smiled, she laughed, she waved. Using the cheatsheet she kept in her notebook, she asked after families, new births and favorite axehounds. She inquired about trade situations, took notes on which lighteyes seemed to be avoiding others. In short, she acted like a queen.

She always felt like an imposter, and with good reason. She hadn't been born to the station. Gavilar, Navani, Sadeas, Ialai, they'd taken these mantles upon themselves. And however prestigious her ancient lineage, Navani had to work hard to suppress her anxiety that whispered she was really just a girl wearing someone else's clothing. Those insecurities had been stronger lately. Calm calm, no room for that sort of thinking.

She rounded the room and was happy to note that Aesudan had found Elhokar and was chatting with him for once, rather than other men. Elhokar did look happy presiding over the pre-feast gathering in his father's absence. Adolin and Renarin were there in stiff uniforms, the former delighting a small group of young women, the latter looking gangly and awkward as he stood by his brother. 

And there was Dalinar, standing tall. Somehow taller than any man in the room, but with those haunted eyes, simmering with passion. He wasn't drunk yet, but people orbited him, like they might a fire on a cold night, needing to be close, but not daring to step up and face the true heat of his presence. Storms. She complained to her current conversation partners that she was feeling a little faint and, after assuring them that she would be fine, made a brief exit up the steps where she wouldn't feel so warm.

It was probably a bad idea to leave. They were lacking a king, so if the Queen vanished too, questions were bound to arise. But surely everyone could get on without her for a short time. Besides, up here she could check on one of Gavilar's hiding places. He probably had come this direction, away from both the guests and the location of the new feast hall.

Parshendi with their drums passed nearby, speaking a language she did not understand, though one of the young interpreters was with them, so Navani could have asked if she'd wanted. Instead, she twisted her way through the dungeon-like hallways. Why didn't this place have a little more light, a few more windows? She'd brought the matter up with Gavilar but he liked it this way. Gave him more places to hide. 

There, she thought, stopping at an intersection. Voices.

"Being able to bring them back and forth from Braize doesn't mean anything, Gavilar," one of them said. "It's too close to be a relevant distance."

"It was impossible just a few short years ago," said a deep, powerful voice, his. "This is proof. The Connection is not severed, but can be warped to allow for travel. Not yet as far as you'd like, but we must start the journey somewhere."

Navani inched forward, looking around the corner. Yes, there he was, right where she'd expect him to be, in her study, a place she rarely had time to visit but also a place where people weren't likely to search for the King. It was a cozy little room with a nice window, tucked away in a corner of the second floor. He'd left the door cracked and she inched to peer in.

Gavilar Kholin had a big enough presence to fill the room all by himself. He wore a beard, but instead of being unfashionable on him it looked classic, like he was a painting come to life, a representation of old Alethkar. By wearing the beard, someone thought he might start a fashion trend, but nobody else had been able to pull off the look. Others didn't have Gavilar's strong features. Beyond that, there was an aura of distortion around Gavilar. Nothing supernatural or nonsensical. It was that, well, you accepted that Gavilar could do whatever he wanted, in defiance of tradition or logic. For him, it would work out. That was just the way of things.

The King was speaking with two men that Navani vaguely recognized. 'Ambassadors from the West' were what they'd been called, but no kingdom had been given for their home. They were simply among Gavilar's uncommon visitors.

Footnote: This reading is from a draft of the prologue and may change before publication
Manchester signing ()
#3 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

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.

Brandon Sanderson

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.

“Jasnah.”

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—

Wait. Shallan!

“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.

“Wait.”

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.

Perhaps…

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.

Dragonsteel 2023 ()
#4 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

<Dyel> had the most unusual of visitors. That was not uncommon in Iri these days, now that the owners had returned. They walked the streets with bodies bearing patterns, like they were painted red, white, and black. But these visitors were not of the owners. These visitors were different.

The three sat at a table in her shop, on the far side, near the cubbies on the wall where her grandfather—before his murder—had put shoes. They huddled around their table, and when they’d come in, they’d pretended they were from “the east.” But <Dyel> knew accents, and these men were not from the east. Besides, their clothing was very strange, particularly the tallest man, with the long white coat and the strange spectacles peeking from his pocket.

She hovered in the doorway to the kitchen after delivering their tea, listening in, hoping her mother wouldn’t notice her loitering.

“Are you certain this is the right time?” asked the tall man, the one in the coat. He had skin like he was from Azir, with short black hair and muscles like a soldier. She could almost believe he was from the far east, where terrible men were said to be the fiercest warriors. And he had the height to maybe fit in there. But he liked sugar in his tea. What kind of fierce warrior liked sugar in his tea?

“Of course I’m not sure,” said the tubby one, who was constantly scowling. “The device is always unpredictable, don’t you know?” This one was Azish, perhaps, and completely bald. Older, shorter. Again, he wore odd clothing for this region. Most people she knew went around without shirts, and only <bandlo> for the women. He had on robes beneath the cloak. A cloak and colorful robes, in this weather?

The tall man grunted, then sipped his sugared tea. The third of them sat quietly. A Shin man, maybe, of middling height, but also balding, with lighter skin and more normal clothing, for an outlander. Shirt and trousers. He didn’t talk as much, but he watched things. She knew people like that.

Lest they think that she was observing them, <Dyel> busied herself with other tasks for a short time. Cleaning tables, standing by the door to give welcoming smiles to those who passed on the street. She liked that part. Looking at all the different kinds of people that were part of the One. She also liked smelling the ocean air. Though they were too poor to have a shop in the best part of town, the breeze still carried crisp, salty air inward to them. A gift of experience she could add to the One.

Outside, an owner walked past, a hulking figure with carapace and eyes that glowed red. There was some discussion—were these singers, these owners part of the One? Were they part of the grand connecting experience that unified all people? Or were they something else? <Dyel> thought they must be the One. It wouldn’t be the One unless it—God—encompassed everything. Every person a piece of it, extended out into the cosmere to live a different life and bring back enriching knowledge. Her mother didn’t believe that, but <Dyel> did. Because if she did, then grandpa Ym was always with her, and she with him, because they were the same.

“Serving girl,” one of the men called, “could I get another?”

She started, then hurried back to the table with the three strangers, her hair aflutter. She kept it long, only trimmed it when Mother forced her to. She was Iriali, and golden hair was her heritage.

She quickly refilled the men’s cups, though the thoughtful one—the quiet one—sat a sphere on the table. Her breath caught. A full broam? She looked to the man, who had a round friendly face. He nodded.

She snatched it up, the azure light inside making her skin glow. But Mother would insist she ask, so reluctantly, she spoke.

“Would you like some change?”

“No,” he said, still smiling. “Thought wouldn’t mind if you answered a question or two.”

She shrugged. “Sure.”

“Have you ever seen,” the man asked, “a strange collection of lights that moves across the wall or floor, though you can find no source reflecting it?”

<Dyel> felt an immediate spike of terror. She nearly dropped the teapot. She’d suspected they weren’t what they said, but this? This?

“I’m sorry I have to go I forgot my mother wanted me to check on the biscuits stay as long as you want thank you for the tip we’re closed now good bye!”

She scampered into the back room, now kitchen and living space transformed from her grandfather’s workshop. She put her back to the wall, heart thundering, and tried to breathe in and out. He was back. The murderer. What to do?

Find Mother.

But Mother was gone. <Dyel> searched the entire shop. Wasn’t hard, considering how small it was, and found nothing but a note: Back in fifteen. Watch the shop.

Oh no. No no no no no no no.

She scrambled and found a knife—for spreading butter—then she hid in the corner holding it, trying not to be too loud as she cried and trembled. Until they darkened the doorway. Three men, two shorter, one taller.

<Dyel> yelped despite herself, holding out the knife. The three looked almost bored, as if killing her would barely bother them.

The tall one looked to the thoughtful one. “Look what you’ve done, Demoux,” he said, gesturing to her. "I told you you should keep quiet about that!”

“I need an intelligent spren to study,” he said. “They keep telling me no!”

“Perhaps that’s because you keep saying you want to study them, isn’t that so?” the grumpy one said. “We certainly frightened fewer people when your translator didn’t work.”

The tallest man walked up to <Dyel>, then knelt beside where she knelt, trying to force herself back against the wall, her skirt getting twisted and crumpled, the rough grain of the wood pressing against the skin of her back, except where she wore her <bandlo>. The man considered her.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “to have—”

The back door slammed open, and there was her mother, frantic, in loose trousers and <bandlo>, a glowing mane of hair that was radiant with the light of the setting sun. She seemed alarmed, wild-eyed, then she saw the three strangers. Her Shardblade materialized a second later, bright and silver. Their family’s hidden secret, kept quiet since it had manifested a few months back. But few secrets mattered when you burst into the room and found your twelve-year-old daughter frightened by three assailants.

“Woah,” the tall one said, leaping backward.

He was the one, the killer named Darkness!

“Woah!” He pulled something from his belt, something he brandished like a weapon, though <Dyel> had never seen a weapon that was just a small tube of metal.

Strange lights followed as the grumpy one smashed a sphere on the ground, somehow cracking it. Stormlight flowed up around him, and strange symbols formed in the air. Mother leapt in front of <Dyel>, sweating, holding her weapon in two hands.

“We knew you’d come back,” Mother said. “We knew you’d come for me once you heard!”

Mother’s voice trembled. <Dyel> crawled forward and grabbed her around the legs, terrified.

They all stood quietly in the room until the thoughtful one, the Shin man said, “What the hell is going on?”

“We know about you,” Mother said, inching backward toward the door. “I spent months trying to find the tall Makabaki man who killed my father! I spoke to the families of the others you killed! We know what you are, what you do, murderer!

<Dyel> cowered. Mother kept trying to inch them toward the door. Strangely, though, the tall man—the murderer who had killed her grandfather—relaxed, lowering his… strange weapon. The bald one lowered his hands, the strange glowing lights around him evaporating.

“I told you you looked like him.”

“I do not," the tall one said.

“You kind of do,” the thoughtful one said.

“Just because he and I are both dark-skinned?” the tall one said.

“I’m dark-skinned too,” said the bald one, “and no one says I look like him.”

“You’re silver most of the time, Galladon,” the tall one said, depositing his weapon back in his cloak. “Look, I’m not the murderer you’re worried about. That’s Nale, the Herald. I’m just a traveler.”

They both watched him in terrified quiet until Mother, strangely, cocked her head. She dismissed her Blade, which made <Dyel> quiver. Surely Mother didn’t believe the words of this killer?

Uma appeared a second later, sliding up the wall, a collection of lights like those scattered by a prism. Except none existed here. She made a kind of shimmering pattern that she said was unique to her.

“It’s alright, <Dyel>,” Uma said. Her voice was quiet, like the sound of glass when a cup vibrated in the hands of a musician. “I told your mother as well. I know the Herald Nale by sight, the one called Darkness, and this is not him. I suspect he is from very distant lands indeed.”

Oh. <Dyel> carefully stood up behind her mother, her heart still pounding, likely the same as all of them.

Until a moment later, the thoughtful one said, “Can I study you?”

“Umm,” Uma said, “no?”

“I told you to stop phrasing it like that, Demoux,” said the one called Galladon.

“I don’t want to lie to them,” Demoux said, gesturing.

The tall one cleared his throat. “Perhaps we should be going.”

Mother eyed them and was still tense. <Dyel> realized why. Yes, this was not Darkness, but she’d still burst into the room, likely after hearing her daughter cry out, and had still found three strange men in a part of their shop where no customer was allowed.

“Mother,” <Dyel> whispered, pointing, “they knew. They asked me about Uma.”

“How?” Mother demanded.

“We didn’t mean to frighten the girl,” the tall one said, with a placating hand forward. “We simply heard rumors. We’re scholars and like to study spren.”

“See?” Demoux said. “Baon uses it!”

“Baon is not an example of how to be in any way tactful,” Galladon said. “Crazyfools, all of you.”

What a curious word, smashing two together like that. He stepped forward, and though he had been the grouchiest at the table ordering drinks, he made his tone polite now.

“I’m sorry we frightened you. We will go now, with your leave, Radiant.”

Mother looked down at <Dyel>, then sighed, looking back at the men. “I have a letter for you.”

“…What?”

“What?”

“Mother?” <Dyel> asked.

“You remember when that odd woman visited last month?” she said. “She left me a letter, it’s in my nightstand. Please fetch it.”

<Dyel>, confused, did as she asked. Mother remained eye to eye with the three strangers. <Dyel> did remember that woman, the one who wore too many rings, and who had helped for several weeks at the local charity hospital. A healer skilled with herbs, and whose room had smelled of fish, from the creatures she had caught in the Purelake, then dried. She’d come for tea each morning, but had left a few weeks ago. Apparently not without leaving something.

In the nightstand beside the table they shared, <Dyel> found a sealed envelope. And on it was drawn roughly the profiles of the three men. These three men, except with quite comical exaggerated proportions. She’d have found them amusing if she weren’t so tense.

What an odd experience from the One. How had the woman known? But then, <Dyel>’s life had been turned upside down ever since Uma had arrived and her mother had started glowing sometimes. Unique experiences indeed. She cherished thinking of it that way, as she’d been taught. So many didn’t believe these days, but she did, for Grandfather’s sake.

She scampered down the stairs and handed the letter to her mother, who tossed it to the men.

“I was told,” Mother explained, “I would know who to give this to.”

The tall one, Baon, caught it. He eyed the others, then slit it open with a pocket knife. “It’s from him,” Baon said.

“Of course it is,” Demoux replied. “Right as we’re leaving. You think he wants to tease us back, make us keep wasting time?”

“What,” Galladon said, “does it say?”

Baon closed the envelope. “It has only his signature. And a crude depiction of male genitalia.”

“From the Trickster Aspect?” Mother said. “He was here too, last year.”

“Of course he was!” Demoux repeated, then sighed. “I’m ready to be off this rusting planet. What about you two?”

“Yes, please,” Galladon said. “One of the eldest beings in the cosmere, and he has the mental age of a thirteen-year-old.”

“If this man ever returns,” Baon said, “keep your distance. He isn’t terribly dangerous, but things around him always are. When he’s spotted, innocents get hurt. It’s inevitable.”

Well, of course. He was the Trickster Aspect, spun out of the One to create chaos. But you couldn’t just insult him by not serving him tea when he asked.

A ding came from Galladon’s pocket. “Time,” he said. The three men nodded to the two of them, then started out. Baon hesitated by the door.

“Things might be chaotic in your city for a little bit, but it will pass. Best stay inside.” Then he too left.

<Dyel> hugged her mother. Because they were alive, tense though it had been, but also because she was worried. Not just because of what Baon had said. Because it meant Darkness had not yet come, and they still needed to fear him.

Outside, people started shouting.

“I will look,” Uma said in her tinkling voice. “Stay strong. I do not know yet what this is.”

Mother nodded and grabbed <Dyel> and led her up the steps as Uma went out the door. Their shop was part of a larger building, four stories high, and they helped keep it tidy and fix things. Which meant Mother could take them up the access stairway all the way to the roof. There they burst out, and found what was causing the chaos.

Cusicesh the Protector had risen from the bay. The great multi-armed spren made only of a column of water. It had risen high in the air, larger than usual.

That was all? <Dyel> relaxed. She’d seen Cusicesh many times. This was nothing to fear. But why, then, were so many people pointing and crying out? Why were so many people running?

“It’s the wrong time of day,” her mother said, staring across the rooftops toward the bay.

Cusicesh, breaking tradition from the way he normally acted, waved his hands out to the sides, palms toward the city. And then, before him in the bay, the air split in a glorious radiant font, a column of light.

“The gateway,” Mother whispered, “to the Land of Shadows. Honor’s gateway. Oh, Father, Mother, ancestors become one! <Dyel>, it’s time! Run and fetch the traveler packs, it’s time!”

<Dyel> froze. Time? The traveler packs? All good Iriali kept them, of course, in case they needed to leave, but that was mostly a formality, unless…

It was time?

“PEOPLE,” Cusicesh spoke.

That spren never spoke.

The voice was deep and vibrated the city, somehow loud enough to make her soul shake, but not so loud it hurt her ears.

“IT IS HERE. I AM TO BE YOUR GUIDE FOR THE FIFTH JOURNEY.”

Time. That meant time to continue the Long Trail. Time to find the Fifth Land. Finally shocked out of her reverie, she went running for the travel packs, terrified that this great day should have come during her life. The One was certainly testing her with new experiences. She wished there were a way to explain that she was filled up with them, that she’d rather experience some peaceful days, without owners returning to the land, or her mother starting to glow, or the call to the Long Trail itself occurring.

But it wasn’t to be, as when she met back with her mother, Uma had returned. Mother was crying.

“We will try,” Mother whispered to the spren, who brightened the floor of the rooftop. “We will see, see how far you can go. Come, <Dyel>. We mustn’t miss the call. The gateway will not remain forever, and boats are already rowing out to meet it.”

And so she went with her mother. Found their way to a boat with only their travel packs. Joined with the light of the gateway, which she thought briefly must be like rejoining the One when she died. She emerged into a place of shadows with the leaders of their kind, who had already begun preparing caravans to cross the darkness. Other portals, she heard, had opened all across Iri, one in every major city. Nearby, she did spy the three strangers passing, Demoux complaining about the “odd behavior for a perpendicularity of this nature.”

Mother settled her down on some blankets to wait as she went to find their position in the caravans. <Dyel> clutched her pack to her chest, stunned by how fast it had happened. Stunned to realize that her time in the city, with the shop, was over.

And so she whispered a quiet farewell. It was time to leave Roshar.

Forever.

ICon 2019 ()
#5 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

That was maybe a half or two thirds of the prologue. Um, like I said, hasn't gone through continuity yet, and they are sure to find things that contradict things that I have written in previous books, so don't hold me too hard to first draft, really in first draft I'm trying to lay down emotional beats, and some of the story beats, and then we will worry about continuity.

Idaho Falls signing ()
#6 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

The two women loaded up their single pack animal. A short creature that looked kind of like a camel, but was more the size of a llama. It eyed me lazily, chewing quietly on its cud. After their packs and bed rolls were tied in place, Echo placed a curious item on top. A long tube, wrapped in cloth. It was almost five feet long. A map tube? If so, those maps would be the size of walls. Once that was done, the camp cleaned, Echo looked me over with a critical eye. I looked down at my ripped slacks. Though my flats were sensible business shoes, they weren't intended for extended hikes. She dug in her pack and came out with an extra pair of boots and a pair of trousers. "Uh," I said, taking the trousers and looking them over. Echo was lean and athletic, and I was... not. She noted my hesitance and said something that sounded like agreement, but I did try on the boots. It took several pair of socks to make them fit, but the end result was better than the flats. I didn't much look the part of a heroic Apocalypse Guard member - my jacket was too big, my business slacks ripped, and poorly matched by a pair of hiking boots. But it wasn't like I needed to appear in any company photos. "I'm good," I told them. "Let's go." Echo looked towards the last thing on the ground, near the center of camp. The shadow rig. Right. I considered putting it on, but was instantly reminded of that melting world where everything became paint. Let's pass on that for now, I thought, packing away the rig beside where Echo had put the trousers. After that, we started walking.

Emma's Instructions for hiking. One, wear comfortable shoes, so when your feet hurt anyway, you can at least feel like you tried. Two, remember tons of bug spray, so you smell like a vat of cleaning liquid. Bonus points if it makes the dirt stick to your skin while walking. If you can, wear a backpack filled with things that you won't end up using, but which will somehow always manage to arrange inside so they can poke you in the gizzard. Four, return to your sweet air conditioned, bug free, shower containing home, renewed and reminded how nice it is not to be a caveman.

People always assume that I'm inexperienced at outdoorsy stuff, just because I tend to throw things at them when they suggest camping. Truth is, I'm very experienced with camping. I spent countless nights with my family, huddled up in the cold by a barely working fire, listening to Father tell stories of when he was a kid in Iona. Shockingly, it had been even more rural back then! Nowadays, we have a stoplight. It's practically cosmopolitan! So yes, I've done lots of camping, and hiking, and canoeing, and backpacking, and skiing. I kind of like that one, but don't tell anyone. Truth is, there's not a lot to do in Iona that doesn't involve pretending to be a caveman. Back when I was little, and apparently brain dead, we kids would spend two entire weeks every summer up at Scoresby's Ranch without even running water, let alone wifi. In my later years, my family and I had even kind of come to a truce on the matter. I pretended to look forward to our yearly camping trip, and they pretended not to notice the phone I always brought along. Or the sets of instructions I may or may not have posted relating to the experience. None of this meant I was prepared for the extended hike through the wilderness with Echo and <Whisprien>, but at least I knew how unprepared I was. I could spot the warning signs of a blister forming, and do something about it. I knew how to pace myself, and how to let others know when I needed a break. These two were obviously experienced survivalists, so even <Whisprien>'s endurance put mine to shame. I tried not to focus on my embarrassment at that, instead studying the landscape. Strangely, it didn't look that much different from Idaho. Mostly filled with scrub grasses and weeds. More of those were brown then back home for some reason, but they seemed healthy anyway. It was a lot more humid than home was, and less dusty. There was real dirt here, not just powdery dried clay and Iona topsoil, also known as rocks. And then there was the sky. Any time I was feeling a sense of familiarity with the hike, I caught a shimmer on the ground, or a shadow passing overhead. Then I'd look up, and my brain would break anew. There was a freaking ocean in the sky. Despite the distance, I could see ripples and waves from passing wind. The things that moved within it were mostly just shadows, but I got a sense of darting schools - not just noble leviathans. Were there sharks? Sky-sharks? The idea made me smile. My adopted brother would have found that incredible; I'd have to tell him. If I survived. Don't be like that, I thought, you'll get out of this. Look, nobody has even tried to kill you all morning.

We stopped for lunch, and they gave me more guard rations while they ate something that looked like beef jerky. Nearby, a strange herd of animals passed through the brush. How to explain them? They were big, almost as tall as a person. And covered in armor that almost looked like a football helmet. Seriously, they had this ball of a body, and a little flat head stuck out the front, with a stumpy tail and flat beak. I'd have called them dinosaurs, except for the face. I was pretty sure they were mammals, like, prehistoric armadillo turtles. Echo didn't seem concerned about them, so I just perched nervously on top of my fallen log and watched them wander by, then felt stupid. I'd faced the <Hex>! I could face an armadillo or two, even if they did seem to be on the wrong side of a radioactive spill.

Echo was obviously a practical woman. She didn't smile often, but it wasn't that she was stern. Maybe just straightforward? Compass in hand, she calmly picked our heading after each break. She would occasionally try to draw her daughter into conversation. <Whisprien> resisted these. The thin girl trudged along in her rugged backpack, eyes down. I never heard her speak in anythingbut  a whisper, and her attitude seemed to be more then your average "sullen tween resents life" sort of thing. But who knows? Maybe she just really hated camping. 

Echo would periodically seek a tree or something to climb so she could check to make sure we weren't being followed. Her voice was always upbeat when she came down, and I could sense a lingering concern from her. She was very worried about those soldiers. One of them had a rig, I thought again. It didn't take a math degree to notice that a lot of things weren't adding up. Part of the secret perhaps lay stowed away in that camel-llama's pack. I walked up beside the animal, who walked placidly beside <Whisprien>, and placed my fingers on the partition that held the shadow rig. I had the distinct sensation of blending realities, of the grass around me melting into colors, like a wet watercolor painting left in the rain. I snatched my hand back. <Whisprien> looked away, and grumbled something, falling back in the line. A short time later, I caught her glaring at my back, eyes narrowed. 

When the sun finally settled beyond the envelope of water, I was exhausted. But it was more a wholesome exhaustion kind of exhaustion than I felt yesterday. It was the exhaustion of having been forced to weed an entire potato field. 

Echo chose a camp that looked like it had been used by other weary travelers. A forested nook beside a weathered section of rock. I heard water gurgling somewhere nearby, which seemed like a good sign that I might actually get to take a bath. Echo unpacked the camel-llama, then grabbed her large water jug and moved off towards the sound of the stream. When she returned with a filled jug, I held out my canteen eagerly, but she shook her head and gestured towards the fire pit. "You have to boil the water first?" I asked, "Probably a good idea."

Fortunately I'd been immunized from all the local viruses, both from here, and from a host of other planets that the Guard was working with. That was standard procedure. I wasn't certain how the Guard prevented themselves from carrying diseases to the worlds they worked on. I hoped I wasn't the latent carrier of, like, smallpox or something. Accidentally harboring the advent of an all-consuming pestilence would be super embarrassing.

<Whisprien> started working on the fire, and she gave me a glance that distinctly seemed to say "Isn't there anything useful you can do?" So I powered up my phone for today's ration of power and snapped a picture of her for my blog. I snuggled back against a comfortable looking log (it wasn't) and ate up a little of my batteries working on some instructions, hoping the whole time my distress beacon would bring a response from those looking for me. No such luck.

About halfway through my allotted half hour, I brought up the map and had Echo point out out current location. She noted a very small distance traveled. Crap on a stick. (I got that one from one of my Iona friends.) Was that really the only progress we'd made? How were we going to reach the Guard outpost in three days? It didn't seem possible. Particularly because we were going the wrong direction. "Echo, isn't that the wrong way?" I tapped the map, then tried to make myself understood by pointing. The outpost was north of where we started, but we'd been walking west. I suppose I could've told that from the sun, if I'd thought about it. Echo said something in her language, then pointed at something on my map. Not a town or an outpost, but a little spot of brown. It was hard to tell what it was on the two dimensional map, only barely touched on topographical features. "Okay...." I said, "I guess I'll trust you know what you're doing." She nodded and went back to working on the fire, which was crackling nicely and boiling our water. She could be leading me into a trap, of course. Perhaps she hadn't saved me out of goodwill, but to gain a potential hostage against the Guard. But it wasn't like I could do anything about that. I'd be laughably ineffective at trying to sneak off. Echo would track me down with little effort, assuming I wasn't immediately devoured by some prehistoric carnivorous elk or something.

I moved to sit on a rock that looked somewhat comfortable (it wasn't) and continued working on my blog, trying not to think too hard about how sore I was going to be from. A harsh whisper hissed from behind me. I jumped, and turned to see <Whisprien> standing behind my seat. She pointed at my screen and hissed something angry. I glanced at what I had been working on. The picture of <Whisprien> I had taken with some handy instructions about living in the wilderness. I switched off the phone, but <Whisprien> reached for it. I barely kept it out of her reach, worried she'd shatter the screen. "Okay, okay," I said, "Sorry, no pictures. I'll delete it, chill!" I tried to do so, but <Whisprien> kept hissing at me and reaching for the phone. The scuffle drew Echo, who barked a question. Finally <Whisprien> backed off, and I reluctantly showed her mother the screen. Echo just nodded. Again, it didn't seem like she was unfamiliar with technology. She didn't demand I delete the photo or anything, but she did pull her daughter over and have her help make what appeared to be an evening soup. Great job Emma, I thought, I apparently needed a set of instructions on not being a giant idiot.

"Hey," I said, walking over to Echo, "is it alright if I go take a bath?" I pantomimed swimming, and washing my hair, then pointed to the water. "Is it safe?" Echo said something, then dug from her pack an old-timey bar of soap and a hairbrush, which she handed to me. I nodded in thanks, then made my way over to the small river. It was more muddy then I'd hoped, but I supposed I couldn't expect something out in the middle of these plains to look like a Grand Teton Mountain spring. I made sure I had line of sight to the other two, just in case, then I stood there, holding the bar of soap, uncertain. Was this a good idea? Taking a bath in the middle of the wilderness on a foreign world, while potentially being chased by mercenaries? I was basically guaranteed to be attacked by, like, a dinosaur or something the moment I stripped down. But what was I gonna do? Go the entire way without ever washing off? I was still bloodied and smudged with ash from the explosion, not to mention caked with sweat. Perhaps taking a bath was tempting fate, but this way if a dinosaur did eat me, at least I'd taste like soap. Truth was, it actually felt empowering to take that bath, like this was my choice. Getting clean was something I wanted, and I wasn't going to let myself be too scared to accomplish it.

That said, I did still watch my surroundings with keen attention as I quickly bathed in the cold water. Unfortunately, once finished, I was left with the same dirty clothing I had taken off. Lance's jacket, my incredibly wrinkled blouse, and the torn slacks. Quite the inspiring uniform. Still, I felt a ton better as I put it all back on. Echo offered me some thread as I rejoined them, and I thankfully started working on sewing up the rips along my leg.

The stew was kinda good. And I turned in feeling kinda clean, kinda full, and kinda not in extreme danger. I woke up the following morning to shouting. Echo called me in her native tongue, and I shook awake, then scrambled to my feet. "What?" I said, "Dinosaurs? It's dinosaurs, isn't it?" I paused. "Do you have dinosaurs here?"

Echo gestured toward the sky. Morning at dawn, and through the branches above, I could see an enormous disturbance in the waters, like ripples of a dropped boulder, only moving inward in a ring. The center of that shrinking ring of waves looked like it was just above our position. Great. I had been starting to feel ignored.

Chapter 13

"The flood can't be happening already!" I shouted as I scrambled back into camp, "We're supposed to have weeks before the apocalypse!"

Echo shouted something back as she grabbed the llama-camel's harness and towed it after her through the trees. <Whisprien> had climbed on its back. "Wait," I called after them. I waved toward the bedrolls and boiling water, "Our stuff! What about..." I trailed off as <Whisprien> looked toward me from the camel's back. The girl's face was still blank of emotion, but her eyes were glowing. They had a ghostly cast to them, pupils melded into the white, shining forth like something bright was behind them. It reminded my of the floodlight eyes of the <Hex>. I stumbled to a stop, gaping, until Echo sent the animal and the girl on ahead, then looked back to me, waving urgently. Above, the sky darkened. The sun faded behind the ocean, as if growing suddenly distant, or as if the water were somehow growing deeper up there, thicker. Echo shouted something at me that sounded a little like "Run", so I ran. I grabbed the shadow rig from inside my bedroll, and left everything else, dashing after the two of them. Once I was past the tree, Echo fell into place beside me. The llama-camel ran on ahead with a loping gait. <Whisprien> clung to it's back.

I wasn't in nearly as good shape as Echo, nor was I, shockingly, a camel. But I made a pretty good showing for myself, and didn't lag behind too much. At least, not until I glanced over my shoulder. The sky rippled, and then broke. Water crashed downwards, the front edge fuzzing, like mist. The enormous column of water seemed to drop in slow motion because of the distance. It wasn't as nearby as I first assumed. Man, it was big. A ring of water the size of a small village just dumping billions of gallons of water down from the sky. I stopped in place, jaw dropping, staring until Echo grabbed my arm and towed me away. What good would it do to flee? We were three little specks before an ocean of destruction. We couldn't outrun the end of the world.

Still, Echo seemed determined. I started running again, but I was built to deliver coffee and the occasional sarcastic quip, not run across the freaking wilderness. Pain seared up my side. I slowed, gasping. A violent crash suddenly washed over us, an engulfing sound that made the very air vibrate. Holy heck. How much water had to fall before it hit the ground with the sound of a bomb going off. Echo looked back at the sound and hesitated in front of me, as if torn between protecting me and running after her daughter. She lingered, urging me on, and I did my best. "What," I said, panting for breath, "What's the use?" Sweat streamed down my face. Echo gestured in front of her, then made a raising motion with her hands. High ground, I thought, She's saying we need to get to high ground. And considering it, the direction we were running did seem to have a gentle slope to it. It wasn't like we were running for the mountains or anything, but maybe this would be enough? If this really is the end though, the high ground won't matter. Most of the planet will end up submerged.

Still, I broke into a weak jog. Ahead, I saw our goal: a rise in the grasslands, a kind of ridge, like a long low hill. <Whisprien> had stopped there with the camel-llama. A cracking sound behind along with the low roar of rushing water made me glance over my shoulder. Water flooded between the trees of our camp, first slow, then in a rush that ripped away branches. Another surge of muddy water engulfed the entire stand, shattering the trees.

I forced myself forward, practically crawling the rest of the way up the hilltop. Water flooded the plain we crossed. It looked deceptively lethargic, like seeping tar, until you focused on something like an individual sapling. On the smaller scale, your mind could comprehend that this was an enormous river, rushing with might and power, pushing debris before it.

I reached the top and collapsed beside <Whisprien>. The waters came, and I realized, I'd just let them swallow me, if it came to that. I couldn't move another step. Blessedly, the rise was high enough. The front of the wave turned aside and fled the other direction. In the distance, the spout of water from the heavens slowed to a mist, then to rain, and finally stopped altogether. This wasn't the end of the world, not yet. More like a warning shot. I lay on the rough grass, listening to the sound of the water growing below. I already felt sweaty and dirty again - so much for my bath. Of course, if I wanted another one, it didn't look like I'd lack for water.

RoW Release Party ()
#7 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

I'm going to read to you from the sequel to Sixth of the Dusk, which takes place during the space age of the cosmere. So there are going to be some fun things in here that you're not gonna get to see in-depth for a while. So if you are worried about space age of the cosmere being spoiled for you, I might recommend waiting for fifteen years before you read this.

This is not yet canon, because I haven't released it. It's entirely possible that I'll change some of this.

But for now, this is from the sequel to Sixth of the Dusk, which I haven't named. (It's not Seventh of the Dusk.)

Brandon Sanderson

The Ones Above were human.

Dusk had imagined them as strange and terrible creatures, with faces full of fangs. Artists' renditions of them from the broadsheets tended to err on the side of mystery, showing beings with dark pits where faces should be, as if representing the darkness of space itself confined, somehow, into their strange outfits and helmets.

Truth was, nobody had known until this moment when, attempting to inspire trust, the two aliens from another world retracted their helmets and displayed shockingly human features.

Dusk stepped forward in the observation chamber, which overlooked the landing pad. The chamber was supposed to be secret, with reflective glass on the outside, but Dusk had never trusted that to hide him. The Ones Above had machines that could sense life, and he suspected they could see him, or at least his Aviar, regardless of the barrier. He'd have preferred to be out on the landing platform with the diplomats; but he supposed he should be thankful that they even let him attend. There were many among the politicians and company leadership who were baffled by Vathi's continued reliance on him.

The governing officials in the room with him gasped as they saw the faces of the aliens. One male, one female, it seemed; with pale skin that looked like it had never seen the sun. Perhaps it hadn't, considering they lived out in the emptiness between planets. Their helmets retracted automatically, but left stylized metal portions covering the sides of the head, reaching out and covering the cheeks. From the look of the delicate metal, ribbed like ripples of waves, those portions didn't seem like armor. More like ornament.

On his shoulder, Sak squawked softly. Dusk glanced at the jet-black Aviar, then looked around the room, seeking signs of his corpse. The bird could show him glimpses of the future, revealing as visions his own dead body. Ways he could (or perhaps should) have died.

It took him a moment to spot the death. It was out on the launchpad. One of the two aliens stood with their foot on Dusk's skull, the face smoldering as if burned by some terrible alien weapon. What did it mean?

Sak's visions had been... off, ever since that event five years ago, when the alien device had been activated on Patji. Once, seeing the corpse would have warned Dusk of immediate danger; a biting insect with deadly venom, or a hidden predator. Now the warnings often felt more abstract. The Ones Above were unlikely to kill him today, no matter what he did, but that did not mean they were safe or trustworthy.

"Toward a new era of prosperity!" One of them said out at the launchpad, extending a hand to Vathi, who stood at the head of the diplomats. "Between our peoples and yours, President!"

She took the hand, though Dusk personally would rather have handled a deadly asp. It seemed worse to him, somehow, to know that the Ones Above were human. An alien monster, with features like something that emerged from the deepest part of the ocean, was somehow more knowable than these smiling humans. Familiar features should not cover such alien motives and ideas. It was as wrong as an Aviar that could not fly.

"To prosperity!" Vathi said. Her voice was audible to him as if she were standing beside him. It emerged from the speakers on the wall, devices developed using alien technology.

"It is good," the second alien said, speaking the language of the homeisles as easily as if she had been born to it. "You are finally listening to reason. Our masters do not have infinite patience."

"We are accustomed to impatient masters," Vathi said, voice smooth and confident. "We have survived their tests for millennia."

The male laughed. "Your masters? The gods who are islands?"

"Just be ready to accept our... installation when we return, yes?" The female said. "No masks, no deception." She tapped the side of her head, and her helmet extended again, obscuring her features. The male did the same, and together they left, climbing aboard their sleek flying machine, which was in the shape of a triangle pointed toward the sky. It soon took off, streaking toward the air without a sound. Its ability to land and take off baffled explanation. The only thing the Dusk's people knew about the process was that the Ones Above had requested the launchpad be made entirely out of steel.

The smaller ship would supposedly meet with the larger one that was in orbit around the planet. A ship larger than even the greatest of the steam-powered behemoths that Dusk's people had used here on First of the Sun. Dusk had only just been getting used to those creations, but now he had to accustom himself to something new. But even calm light of electric lights, the hum of a fan powered by alien energy. The Ones Above had technology so advanced, so incredible, that Dusk and his people might as well have been travelling by canoe like their ancestors. They were far closer to those days than they were to sailing the stars like these aliens.

As soon as the alien ship disappeared into the sky, the generals and company officials began chatting in animated ways. It was their favorite thing, talking. Like Aviar who'd come home to roost by the light of the evening sun, eager to tell all the others about the worms they had eaten.

Sak pulled close to his hand, then pecked at the band that kept his dark hair in a tail. She wanted to hide, though she was no chick capable of snuggling in his hair as she once had. Sak was as big as his head, though he was comfortable and accustomed to her weight, and he wore a shoulder pad that her claws could grip without hurting him. He lifted his hand and crooked his index finger, inviting her to stretch out her neck for scratching. She did so; but he made a wrong move, and she squawked at him and pecked his finger in annoyance. She was grouchy, as usual; he felt the same way, honestly. Vathi had said it was because city life didn't agree with him. But Dusk claimed different source. It had been two years since they lost Kokerlii to disease. Without that colorful buffoon around to chatter and stick his beak into trouble, the two of them had grown old and surly.

Sak had nearly died from the same disease. And then: alien medicine from the Ones Above. The terrible Aviar Plague, same as those that had occasionally ravaged the population in the past, had been smothered in weeks. Gone, wiped out, as easy as tying a double hitch.

Dusk ignored the generals and their chattering, eventually coaxing Sak into a head scratch as they waited. Everything about this new life in the modern city full of machines and people with clothing as colorful as any plumage seemed so sanitized. Not clean; steam machines weren't clean. But fabricated, deliberate, confined. This room, with its smooth woods and steel beams, was an example. Here, nature was restricted to an arm rest, where even the grain of the wood was oriented to be aesthetically pleasing.

Soon, with the coming of the Ones Above and their ways, he doubted there would be any wilderness left on the planet. Parks, perhaps. Preserves. But you couldn't put wilderness in a box, no more than you could capture the wind. You could enclose the air, but it wasn't the same thing.

Soon, the door opened, and Vathi herself entered, her Aviar on her shoulder. Vathi had risen high these last few years. President of the company, one of the most powerful politicians in the city. She were a colorful, striped skirt in an old pattern, and a businesslike blouse and jacket. As always, she tried through everything she did (dress included) to embrace a meeting of old ways and new. He wasn't sure you could capture tradition by putting its trappings on a skirt any more than you could box the wind. But he appreciated the effort.

"Well," Vathi said to the group of officials. "We've got three months. But they're not going to stand any further delays. Thoughts?"

Everyone had an idea. Ways to stall further. Plans to feign ignorance of the deadline, or to plausible pretend that something had gone wrong with the Aviar delivery. Silly little plans. The Ones Above would not be delayed this time, and they would not simply trade for birds upon the whims of the homeislers. The aliens intended to put a production plant right on one of the Outer Isles, and there begin raising and shipping their own Aviar.

"Maybe we could resist somehow?" Said <Tuli>, company strategist, who had a colorful Aviar of Kokerlii's same breed. "We could fake a coup and overthrow the government. Force the Ones Above to deal with a new organization. Reset the talks." Bold idea. Far more radical than the others.

"And if they decide simply to take us over?" said General Second of Saplings, rapping his hand on a stack of papers that he held in his other hand. "You should see this projections. We can't fight them! If the mathematicians are right, the orbital ships could reduce our grandest cities to rubble with a casual shot or two! If the Ones Above are feeling bored, they could wipe us out in a dozen more interesting ways, like shooting into the ocean so waves wash away our infrastructure."

"They won't attack," Vathi said. "Six years or more, and they've suffered our delays with nothing more than threats. There are rules out there in space that prevent them from simply conquering us."

"They've already conquered us," Dusk said softly.

Strange, how quickly the others quieted when he spoke. They complained about his presence in these meetings. They thought him a wild man, lacking social graces. They claimed to hate how he'd watched them, refusing to engage in their conversation. But when he spoke, they listened. Words had their own economics, as sure as gold did. The ones in short supply were the ones that, secretly, everyone wanted.

"Dusk," Vathi said, "what did you say?"

"We are conquered," he said, turning from the window to regard her. He cared not for the others. But she didn't just grow quiet when he spoke. She listened. "The plague that took Kokerlii. How long did they sit in their ship up there, watching as our Aviar died?"

"They didn't have the medicine on hand," said Third of Waves, the company officer of medical industry, a squat man with a bright-red Aviar that let him see colors invisible to everyone else. "They had to wait to fetch it."

Dusk remained quiet. "You imply," Vathi said, "that they deliberately delayed giving us the medicine until Aviar had died. What proof do you have?"

"The darkout last month," Dusk said. The Ones Above were quick to share their more common technologies. Lights that burned cold and true. Fans to circulate air in the muggy homeisle summers. Ships that could move at several times the speed of the steam-powered ones. But all these ran on power sources supplied from Above, and those power sources deactivated if opened.

"Their fish farms are a boon to our oceans," said the company's Secretary of Supply. "But without the nutrients sold by the Ones Above, we wouldn't be able to keep the farms running."

"The medicine is invaluable," said Third of Waves. "<Infant> mortality has plummeted. Literally thousands of our people live because of what the Ones Above have traded us."

"When they were late with the power shipment last month," Dusk said, "the city slowed to a crawl. And we know that was intentionally, from the accidentally leaked comments. They wanted to enforce to us their power. They will do it again." Everyone fell silent, thinking as he wished they'd do more often.

Sak squawked again and Dusk glanced at the launchpad. His corpse was still out there, laying where the Ones Above had left, burned and withered.

"Show in the other alien," Vathi said to the guards.

The two men at the door, with security Aviar on their shoulders and wearing feathers on their military caps, stepped out. He returned shortly with an incredibly strange figure. The other aliens wore uniforms and helmets; unfamiliar clothing, but still recognizable. This creature stood seven feet tall and was encased entirely in steel. Armor of a futuristic cast, smooth and bright with a soft violet-blue glowing at the joints. The helmet glowed at the front with a slit-like visor, and an arcane symbol, remind Dusk vaguely of a bird in flight, etched the front of the breastplate.

The ground shook beneath this being's steps as it entered the room. That armor, it was surreal, like interlocking plates that somehow produced no visible seam. Just layered pieces of metal, covering everything from fingers to neck. Obviously airtight, with a rounded cast to it. The outfit had stiff iron hoses connected helmet and armor.

The other aliens might have looked human, but Dusk was certain this alien was something frightful. It was too tall, too imposing, to be a simple human. Perhaps he was not looking at a man at all, but instead a machine that spoke as one.

"You did not tell them you had met me?" the alien said, projecting a male voice from speakers at the front of the helmet. The voice had an unnatural cast to it; not an accent, like someone from a backwater isle. But a kind of... unnatural air.

"No," Vathi said. "But you were right. They ignored each of my proposals, and acted as if the deal were already done. They intend to set up their own facility on one of the islands."

"You have only one gem with which to bargain, People of the Isles," the alien said. "You cannot withhold it. You can merely determine to whom you offer it. If you do not accept my protection, you will become a vassal to these Ones Above. Your planet will become a farming station, like many others, intended to feed their expansion efforts. Your birds will be stripped from you the moment it becomes possible to do so."

"And you offer something better?" Vathi asked.

"My people will give you back one of a hundred birds born," the armored figure said, "and will allow you to fight alongside us, if you wish, to gain status and elevation."

"One in a hundred!" Second of Saplings said, the outburst unsettling his gray-and-brown Aviar. "Robbery!"

"Choose. Cooperation, slavery, or death."

"And if I choose not to be bullied?" Saplings snapped, reaching to his side, perhaps unconsciously, for the repeating pistol he carried in a holster.

The alien thrust out his armored hand, and smoke or mist coalesced there out of nowhere. It formed into a gun; longer than a pistol, shorter than a rifle, wicked in shape with flowing metal along the side like wings. It was to Sapling's pistol what a shadowy deep beast of the oceans might be to a minnow. The alien raised his other hand, snapping a small box (perhaps a power supply) into the side of the rifle, causing it to glow ominously.

"Tell me, President," the alien said to Vathi, "what are your local laws regarding challenges to my life? Do I have legal justification to shoot this man?"

"No," Vathi said, firm, though her voice was audibly shaken. "You may not."

"I do not play games," the alien said. "I will not dance with words like the others do. You will accept my offer, or you will not. If you do not, if you join them, then I will have legal right to consider you my enemies."

The room remained still, Sapling carefully edging his hand away from his sidearm. "I do not envy your decision," the armored alien said. "You've been thrust into a conflict you do not understand. But like a child who has found himself in the middle of a war zone, you will have to decide which direction to run. I will return in one month, local time."

The colored portion of the creature's armor started to glow more brightly, a deep violet that seemed far too inviting a color to come from this strange being. He lifted into the air a few inches, then finally pulled the power pack from his gun, dismissing the weapon to vanish in a puff of mist. He left without further word, gliding back up the hallway past the guards, who stepped away and didn't impede him. This alien had arrived without a ship, but didn't seem to need one to travel the stars. He had flown down out of the sky under the power of, they assumed, his strange and magnificent armor. Once he had gone, the two guards took up positions at the door, sheepishly holding their rifles. They knew, as everyone in the room knew, that no guard would stop a creature like that one if he decided to kill.

Vathi pulled a chair over to the room's small table, then sat down in a slumping posture, her Aviar crawling anxiously across her back from one shoulder to the other. "This is it," she whispered. "This is our fate. Caught between the ocean wave and the breaking stone." This job had weathered her. Dusk missed the woman who had been so full of life and optimism for the new advances of the future. Unfortunately, she was right. There was no sense in offering meaningless aphorisms. Besides, she had not asked a question, so he did not respond.

Sak chirped. And a body appeared on the table in front of Vathi. Dusk frowned. Then that frown deepened, because the corpse was not his.

Never in all his time bonded to Sak had she shown him anything other than his own corpse. Even during that dangerous time years ago, when her abilities had grown erratic; even then, she'd shown Dusk his own body, just many copies of it. He stepped across the room, and Vathi looked up at him, seeming relieved, as if she expected him to comfort her. She frowned, then, when he mostly ignored her to look down on the body on the table.

Female. Very old. Long hair having gone white. The corpse wore an unfamiliar uniform after the cut of the Ones Above. Commendations on the breast pocket, but in another language.

It's her, he thought, studying the aged face. It's Vathi. Some forty years in the future. Dead, and dressed for a funeral.

"Dusk?" the living Vathi asked. "What do you see?"

"Corpse," Dusk said, causing some of the others in the room to murmur. They were uncomfortable with Sak's power, which was unique among Aviar.

"That's wonderfully descriptive, Dusk," Vathi said. "One might think that after five years, you might learn to answer with more than one word when someone talks to you."

He grunted, walking around the vision of the corpse. The dead woman held something in her hands. What was it?"

"Corpse," he said, then met the living Vathi's eyes. "Yours."

"Mine?" Vathi said, rising. She glanced at Sak, who huddled on Dusk's shoulder, feathers pulled tight. "Why? Has she ever done this before?"

Dusk shook his head, rounding the corpse. "Body wears a uniform. One of theirs, the Ones Above. There are symbols on some of the patches and awards. It appears as if prepared for burial at sea. I cannot read the alien writing."

One of the generals scrambled to give him paper and pen. After handing it over, the general backed away, regarding the table as one might a nightmaw that was ready to pounce.

Dusk copied the letters on the uniform's most prominent patch. "Vathi," read the Secretary of Supply, "Colonial Governor of the occupied planet First of the Sun." All eyes in the room toward toward Vathi. All but Dusk's. He knew what she looked like, so he kept writing, then nudged the Secretary of Supply again.

"Looks like a commendation for valor," the woman replied, "for putting down what was called the Rebellion of '05. The others are similar."

Dusk nodded. So if this was a glimpse of the future, it was what Vathi would be when she died, a servant of the Ones Above, apparently having turned his people's military against rebels who didn't agree.

Well, that made sense. He nodded to himself and tried to get a closer look at what the corpse was holding. A small disk; a coin of some sort, with a drawing on it.

"Dusk, you don't seem as horrified as you should be," the living Vathi said to him.

"Why would I be horrified?" he said. "This makes sense. It's what you would do. Probably what you will do."

"I'm no traitor," she said.

He didn't reply. It hadn't been a question, even it was an incorrect statement.

"Leave us," she said to the others. "Please. We can discuss this 'prophecy' later. I need to confer with the trapper."

They didn't like it. They never liked it when Vathi listened to him. Perhaps they'd understand if they listened more themselves. Still, they filed out at the request, leaving two humans and two Aviar alone. Vathi's bird, Mirris, hunched down and raised her wings while staring at the table. It seemed that she could sense what Sak was doing. Curious.

"Dusk," Vathi said, "why do you think I do these things?"

"Progress. It is your way."

"Progress is not worth the blood of my people."

"Progress will come anyway," Dusk said. "The dusk is past. This is the night. You will presume to find a new dawn and do what you must to guide us there." He looked at her and tried to smile. "There is a wisdom to that, Vathi. It is what you taught me many years ago."

She wrapped her arms around herself, staring at the table. "Must it be?"

"No. I am not dead, am I?" She shook her head.

"I want a way out, Dusk. A way to fight back against them, or something. A way to control our own destiny. They're both so confident that they own us. What I wouldn't give to be able to surprise them."

"You're holding something," Dusk said, leaning down. "A coin. A large one. Maybe a medallion. Not money. Engraved with a man on a canoe, wearing feathers and holding aloft a board with wave patterns on it. Some kind of trapper?"

"Tenth, the Finder," she said, and frowned. "Seriously, Dusk? He's one of the most famous explorers and trappers who ever lived!"

"My trainer didn't tell me of him."

"You could read a book, or something. The past is important."

"If it was important, my trainer would have told me about it. So, this man must not be important."

Vathi rolled her eyes. "He was the first man to explore Patji."

"Then he likely died quickly," Dusk said, nodding. "Means he must not have known much. The first explorers were stupid. Not because of themselves; they just didn't have experience yet." He looked to her, cocking an eyebrow.

"He vanished," she admitted, "on his second trip there. But we still use some of his exploration routes, these shipping channels, to reach the Pantheon islands. He was important."

Dusk didn't reply, because why would he contradict her? She liked believing this, and she always seemed fond of the stories of old trappers. She fancied herself an amateur one, even still, despite the fact that she had been one of the ones who ended the entire profession.

As Dusk was looking at the medallion, the vision finally vanished. Sak chirped, as if apologetic; and when Dusk looked at her, the bird's eyes were drooping, as if she were exhausted.

"I'm going to investigate stepping down," Vathi said. "A fake coup is silly, but if I simply quit, it could cause political unrest that justifies giving us an excuse to delay negotiations. Plus, it would remove me from a position where I could do damage."

Dusk nodded. Then felt himself growing uncomfortable. For once, he found that he couldn't remain silent. He looked at her.

"Another will do worse, Vathi. Another will cause more death. You are better than another."

"Are you sure?"

"No." How could he be? He could not see the future like Sak could. Still, he crouched down beside Vathi's seat, then held his hand toward her. She clasped it, then held tight. He nodded to her. "You are stronger than anyone I know," he said, "but you are just one person. I learned five years ago that sometimes one person cannot stand before the tide."

"Then there's no hope."

"Of course there is. We must become more than one. We must find allies, Vathi. Two peoples have come to bully us, to demand that we give up our resources. There must be others. Perhaps those who are weak like we are, with whom together we might be strong. A trapper cannot fight a shadow alone, but a battleship with a full crew... that is something else."

"How would we find anyone else, Dusk? The Ones Above have forbidden us from leaving the planet. We're decades, well... maybe centuries away from building flying machines."

"I will go into the Darkness," he said.

She looked into his eyes. Though she'd objected each other time he suggested this, today she said nothing. At times, she had become like him, and he like her. She made him believe that they could adapt to the future. He just needed to make her believe that he could help.

"We sent entire crews into the Darkness, Dusk," she said. "Scientists. Soldiers."

"No trappers."

"Well, no."

"I will go," he said. "I will find help."

"And if you fail?"

"Then I will die," he said. "Like your explorer man. Tenth the Finder, you called him." Dusk touched his forward, then pressed his finger against hers. "I gave up Patji for the planet, Vathi, but I will not give up the planet to those men from the stars, no matter how brilliant their weapons or amazing their wonders."

"I will gather you an expedition. Some guards, a crew..." she met his eyes. "You're going to insist on going alone, aren't you?" He nodded. "Fool man!"

He did not respond, because she might be right. But he was going to go anyway.

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#8 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Dragonsteel: Chapter One

The lumberman’s son was born into a world of magic. Perhaps others would not have thought so, but to a young boy full of curiosity and wonder, the forest was a place of enchantment.

Jerick saw magic in the growth of the great pines, seeds barely as large as a pebble eventually becoming monoliths, with trunks so wide that when he hugged them, pressing his check against the rough bark and stretching his arms to their fullest, his fingertips still didn’t touch at the back.

He heard magic in the wind, which blew whispers through the branches, dropping cones and needles to the ground like a rattling waterfall.

He tasted magic in the fruits of the wilderness, berries both sour and sweet, musty pine scents that tickled the back of his nose.

He felt magic in the forest’s life. A group in which the lumberman’s son included himself. Like the branch rat, the wolf, the rabbit, and the deer, Jerick was a creature of the woods.

His first steps had been taken on a floor of pine needles. His home, a simple hut constructed from those same trees that surrounded it. The lumberman’s son knew other, less fortunate children who lived in a village a short distance down the river, a place where the mountainside tapered and the trees fell away into a broad plain. Here, people lived cramped together, their houses huddled like frightened rodents or birds too young to leave the nest. Other lumbermen lived in this village, taking carts or boats each day to the lumbering camps.

Jerick could not understand these men. They worked with the forest, yet it did not intoxicate them like it should. He did not know how they could leave the beautiful woods each day, instead choosing to live in a place so crowded and suffocating.

Jerick had friends in the village. They didn’t see things the same way he did. When he showed <Cenn> and the others a tree older and stronger than the rest, they would shake their heads, not understanding its strength. When he found a large fish swimming in the river’s sheltered shallows, its bulbous, unblinking eyes regarding him with an unasked question, the other boys would only try to catch it. When Jerick wondered how the clouds could move in the air when there seemed to be no wind, the others would ask him why he cared.

So, though trips to the village were exciting, Jerick was always glad to return home. Home to his mother, who would be finishing the day’s washing. Home to his forest on the mountainside, where he could listen to the pines rustling, <fallow owls> calling, and twigs crackling, as opposed to the silence caused by men yelling to one another.

He loved to accompany his father into the woods. The lumberman was so tall and broad-chested, he seemed almost to be one of the trees. Rin’s arms were thick and rough with hair, his tough axe-calloused fingers like ancient roots, his beard like a thick gathering of pine needles that poked and scratched Jerick’s skin when they hugged. His father had deep, understanding brown eyes and wide lips that were usually parted in a contented smile.

As far as Jerick could tell, his father was the only person alive who understood the forest better than Jerick himself. Rin could tell the strength and quality of a tree’s wood simply by rubbing his fingers across the bark. He could see birds nesting high in branches that Jerick had assumed were only shadows. And he could always find sweetberry bushes to sate a growing boy’s appetite.

More importantly, the forest seemed to accept his father. Jerick soon came to understand that this was because his father respected the woods. “Look at the trees around you, my son.”

(By the way, I’m not gonna do the dialect. I had dialect in Dragonsteel. People from the rural areas don’t say the word “the,” they just say “ta.” So, “Look at ta trees” is what they would say. But I’m not gonna do the dialect.)

… his father would instruct as they walked together. “Man can be born, grown, and die in the time it takes one of them to get so high. They’ve seen the likes of us come and go.” That would be all he said for a while. Rin didn’t speak much, not like the other lumbermen, who always seemed to have something to say and not enough people to say it to.

Rin was a King’s Man and cut lumber for the king’s shipping. Like the other lumbermen, Rin used a shiny bronze axe to do his work. The most important possession he owned; bronze was rare. The only other piece of metal Jerick’s family owned was his mother’s bronze cooking knife. Jerick had heard men in the villages speaking of a new, stronger metal that had been discovered recently in the south, something called mountainsteel. They said its name came because it was the same color as mythical Dragonsteel. But to Jerick, it was all the same. He had never seen either one; bronze was good enough for lumbermen.

As soon as he was able, Jerick followed his father to the lumbering camp. After a few weeks, the burly men welcomed his presence, and he was allowed free rein of the camp, where he watched, thinking of questions to ask his father as they travelled home. He wanted to know what made the men’s arms so big. Why the trees fell the way they did. And what the lumbermen did with all the branches they cut off the trunks. He wanted to know why the King needed so much wood. And how long it took to float all the way down the <Trerod> river to the palace.

Some of the questions, his father could answer; others, he could not. Some things, Jerick simply noticed and asked no questions. Most of these had to do with his father. For instance, after felling a tree, his father would dig two holes and drop pine seed into each one. The others did not. Every day when the work was done, his father would start a small fire of green pine needles sprinkled with pungent witherdust and let it burn among the trees slated for the next day’s lumbering. The smoke would trigger a reaction in the pine larks and <cheps>, and they would fly or scamper away, taking their young with them. The other lumbermen would scoff at his father’s precautions. But Jerick watched with pride. Actions like these, and dozens like them, were where the lumberman’s son learned the most important lesson his father ever taught him: all life was precious.

Such was Jerick’s life up until his eleventh year. He wandered the forest, helped his mother with cleaning and baking, ran chores in the lumbering camp. To him, there could be little else to life; he was content, and he wanted nothing else.

His father, however, had other plans.

 (I consciously did a bit more of a storyteller’s style for this. You can see; that first section’s basically omniscient. This was always kind of meant to be a story that Hoid was kind of telling after the fact. You can kind of see hints of that in some of these sections. Other sections go more into the third limited. But you can imagine that sequence that I just read you all being said by Hoid to people who want to know about what happened and how everything came to be.)

“Jerick, son, go fetch your mother some water.”

“Yes, Father.” It was dark outside, and his mother had little need of fresh water, but Jerick complied quickly. His father made few demands; when he did, the lumberman’s son did not question. He did, however, run quickly, so he could return to listen outside the door.

“The boy notices things, <Martle>,” his father was saying. “He’s quick of mind. The other day, <Javick> and Henry hadn’t been watching the angle properly as they cut. That tree would’ve fallen the wrong way and could have killed a man. Jerick saw the error in an instant. He pointed it out to them. A boy barely two hands old speaking lumberin’ to a pair of men who’d been cuttin’ trees their entire lives. He has more questions than I can answer; though sometimes he answers them on his own.”

“And what would you be havin’ us do about it?” his mother asked. Jerick could imagine the slight frown on her face as she asked the question, her broad frame seated on the floor beside Rin. His mother was practical in all respects, evaluating everything on its ability to be used. When Jerick asked her a question, the answer always came in the form of another question, usually asking him what he would do with the answer if he had it.

“There’s that new school in the village,” his father explained. “They say the king himself ordered it built.”

“I’ve heard of it,” his mother said hesitantly. His mother disapproved of anything that broke with tradition.

“I’d take the boy to it once a week. He’d be able to learn.”

“What could he learn that would do him any good to lumberin’?” his mother asked.

“Probably nothin’ at all,” his father admitted.

“’Tis an unnatural thing, Rin. It won’t last long; the people won’t put up with it. Schools are for nobbles and kings.” (I used “nobbles” instead of “nobles.” We had a nice little vowel shift in this.) “Not for lumbermen.”

“I know, <Martle>. There was silence for a moment.

“Well, then,” his mother said, “as long as you understand that, I doubt there’s any harm in it. Just be sure not to let the boy get a wrong thinkin’ about it. Learning could spoil him.”

“I doubt anything could be spoilin’ Jerick,” his father replied.

And so, the lumberman’s son went to school.

The scholar was the most fabulous creature Jerick had ever seen. (No, that’s not Hoid.) His robes were made of cloth, not furs or skins, and they were a red as deep as the colors of the setting sun. More amazing, his hair was a pale yellow, like the mane of a light-colored horse, rather than deep black like everyone else. His beard was not bushy and wide like that of Jerick’s father, but it was straight and stiff, about a handspan long, and only came out of his chin. It was pulled tight and wrapped with thin strings, making it ribbed, like a bale of hay. The beard almost resembled a slice of bread, with the short end glued to the bottom of the man’s face, and made his chin seem like it was a foot long. His head was covered with a tight cowl that stretched across his forehead and hung loosely against the back of his neck. And his eyes were dissatisfied as he stepped from the chariot, a wonder in itself, and regarded the village.

Jaw moved slightly, and his face pulled tight, as if he had suddenly tasted an extremely rotten, bitter fruit. Around his neck, Jerick could make out a gleaming castemark; the mark of a man’s rank in life. It was made of gold, rather than the plain wood of those like the lumbermen.

“Bow, lad,” his father ordered. Jerick complied, joining the rest of the village in bowing for the strange man.

“Why do we bow, Father?” he mumbled as he lowered his head.

“Because the man’s of nobble blood, boy,” Rin explained.

(I’m not gonna do all the accents, but he says “formers” instead of “farmers.” Sound change. The whole idea is that the nobility accent is shifting away from the way that the accents of the lowborn are, which is kind of this fun thing that happens in linguistics. And this is one of the things that causes vowel shifts, where you’ll often see different vowels getting replaced over time. I find that sort of thing very fun. I’m probably not going to read that to you. But you can see it when you read the book.)

“Lumbermen and farmers must bow before anyone higher than them, whether it be a merchant, a noble, or even crafters.”

The idea seemed wrong to Jerick, but he said no more. People were beginning to raise their heads, and, for the moment, he was more interested in viewing the odd, brightly-clothed scholar than he was in asking about the nature of the caste system.

“Classes will begin at noon,” the man declared in a high-pitched voice. The words sounded odd, as if the man couldn’t form them properly. They were sharp and separated; not smooth and comfortable, like what Jerick was accustomed to hearing.

“What’s wrong with his speakin’?” Jerick asked, furrowing his brow in confusion.

“That’s how nobbles are speakin’, boy,” his father explained. “They’re not the same as lumbermen. They think differently. They have learning. You’ll get used to it. Now go play ‘til noon; since we’ve come to town, might as well see about gettin’ my axe sharpened.”

Jerick nodded, his eyes seeking out <Cenn> and <Yon>, two of the boys that he usually played with. However, as his father walked off toward the smith’s, Jerick turned away from the boys. He was still more interested in the scholar than anything else.

The man was speaking softly to <Millen>, head of his father’s lumbering camp. <Millen> was a short man with graying hair. His head bowed practically to waist level, and he was bobbing subseqiously. Jerick had never seen such behavior from the foreman before. Eventually, <Millen> gestured for the scholar to follow him. The man nodded to his several companions: two packmen and younger woman that Jerick hadn’t noticed before. She must have also been a noble, for her hair was light and luxuriously long, not cropped short at the shoulders or pulled up in a bun. The scholar reached up his hand to help the woman from the bronze chariot. She looked distastefully at the ground, though Jerick couldn’t understand what she found wrong with it. It was, after all, just ordinary mud.

<Millen> led the four to a house at the center of the village. Jerick had noticed the building earlier; it had been a storehouse, but that had been emptied and its walls washed unnaturally clean by the efforts of a dozen workmen. He’d wondered what it would be used for. Not the school; a building on the other side of town had been prepared for that. It couldn’t possibly be a place for the scholar to live; it was far too large for that. What would one man, even four, do with so much space? It was so silly an idea that Jerick only gave it a passing thought.

As the five people disappeared into the building, Jerick made a decision. He ignored the calls of the other boys, waving for them to go on without him, and wandered over to the structure, looking as if he were interested in the pile of stones beside the front path. His interest soon changed to a small beetle, a large leaf, and several other objects that progressively brought him closer to the building, until he was standing just beneath the window, admiring a snail as it climbed up the whitewashed wooden wall.

Though his eyes followed the snail, his ears stretched to catch more of the noble’s strange words. He jumped in surprise as the door opened and <Millen> and the two packmen left. Determined not to run away, Jerick focused his eyes on the snail and tried to look engrossed. The men paid Jerick no heed, and he congratulated himself on his strong nerves, then thanked the snail for remaining so calm, as well. The small creature continued to slide along, completely oblivious to Jerick or its own part in the subterfuge.

Calming himself with a few breaths, Jerick concentrated again. His efforts were rewarded, and soon he could make out the whiny, snappish voice of the scholar speaking within. “I spend an entire year training in <Trexados>, the grandest center for learning on the continent, and my reward? Forced exile to an insignificant mud pit on the far side of the kingdom.” His strangely accented words sounded less authoritative than they had before. It almost resembled the voices of the younger boys who pled to be allowed to play with Jerick’s friends.

“Calm yourself, brother,” a second, feminine voice soothed.

“I cannot and I will not calm myself, <Willan>,” the scholar snapped. “You cannot feel what an outrageous appointment it is. Tomorrow, that chariot will carry you back to <Emory>, leaving me to be forgotten. He must hate me.”

“Perhaps he simply wants someone to teach the people here.”

The scholar snorted loudly. “Teach lumbermen and farmers? <Willan>, be rational. What purpose could that serve?”

“I do not know,” the woman confessed. “It seems ridiculous. But he did appear sincere when he gave you the instructions.”

“It must be a move by House <Strathan> to discredit us,” the scholar declared as if he hadn’t heard his sister’s comment.

“Discredit us?” The woman’s voice was now amused. “Brother, no matter how much your trip to <Trexados> inflated your pride, you can’t possibly have deluded yourself into thinking you’re important enough for house politics. You’re the fourth son of a second son. Be glad the family didn’t decide to send you off to the Eternal War and be rid of you.” (That’s where the Shattered Plains are in this book.)

There was no reply to that comment, but Jerick could feel the dissatisfaction seething through the wall.

“So, what will you teach them?” the woman eventually asked.

“As little as possible. The philosophy of the Three Realms of existence is far beyond them. Perhaps I’ll teach them some tricks of mathematics or history, things that might actually be practical in a place like this.”

“Reading?”

“By the Lords, no!” the scholar replied. “You know what damage that could do?”

“The king implied that’s why he was sending you,” the woman noted. “How will you get around it?”

“Reading requires materials, <Willan>,” the scholar said with a self-satisfied tone. “Look around this town. I doubt you will find a single scroll of text.”

Jerick waited patiently for the conversation to continue, but either the two had decided not to speak further, or they had moved to another part of the building. Sighing, Jerick realized how little of the conversation he’d understood. None of it made sense to him.

One thing was clear; the scholar had spoken to the king himself. And that made him an important man, indeed. Jerick had heard stories of the king and knew from them that only important people ever spoke to the man directly.

Reaching up, he allowed the snail to slide onto his hand, then rose from a squat to walk away from the building. He placed the snail on a shrub he often saw them eating, then wandered off in the direction the other boys had gone.

Starsight Release Party ()
#9 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Eshonai had heard it said that mapping the world removed its mystery. Some of the other listeners in her camp insisted that the wilderness should be left wild, the place of spren and greatshells, and that by trying to lock it down into paper, they risked stealing its secrets. She found this to be flat-out ridiculous.

She attuned Awe as she entered the forest from the back way. Closer to the Shattered Plains, almost everything was flat, grown over only by the occasional rockbud. Yet here, not so far away, was a place where trees grew in abundance. She’d started her map by going around the perimeter of the forest until she found the river on the other side. Now, after a few days of walking, she intended to head back along the river until she came out on the other side, closer to her camp.

Everyone had been so worried about the storms and her being trapped in them alone. But she had been out in storms a dozen times in her life, and she had survived just fine. That had been without the forest here. These trees made a wall before the storm, like the ones that encircled the ten camps.

Those camp walls had fallen long ago, like most of the ancient listener creations. That was proof: you couldn’t steal the secrets from nature simply by exploring them. The mere thought was laughable. Yes, listeners could create mighty walls, but they were a poor imitation for what nature presented. This forest had likely stood when the ancient city at the center of the Plains had been new; and it stood, still, now that the city was little more than a scattering of lumps in the crem.

She settled down near a rock and unrolled her map, made from precious paper. Her mother was one of the few among all the camps who knew the song that outlined the steps in creating it. With her help, Eshonai had perfected the process, and made certain her cases were sealed against the rain. She used a pen and ink to sketch the path of the river as it entered the forest, then dabbed the ink until it was dry before rerolling the map.

Though she was confident, Resolve attuned, she did admit that the complaints of the others had seemed particularly bothersome to her lately.

“We know where the forest is! Why draw it out?”

“The river flows this direction. Everyone knows where to find it. Why bother putting it to paper?”

“You try to capture the songs, but the songs aren’t meant to be trapped. Save writing for marking debts. Don’t force something as alive as spren to become as dead as a sheet of paper.”

Too many of her camp wanted to pretend the world was smaller than it was. She was convinced that was why they continued to squabble and fight with the other camps. If the world consisted only of the ten camps and the ground around them, then fighting over that land made sense.

But their ancestors hadn’t fought one another. Their ancestors had united. Their ancestors had turned their faces to the storm and marched away, abandoning their very gods in the name of freedom.

Well, Eshonai would use that freedom. And with her maps, she would show the others, expand their minds, bring them with her next time she visited the forest, and would show them the wonders out here.

They would sit by the fire and complain that she was stealing Cultivation’s secrets away, never experiencing the beauty she offered, never knowing the best wonder of them all, the ultimate question: What will I discover next?

The river wound through the heart of the forest, and Eshonai mapped its course using her own methods of counting the distance and rechecking her work by surveying sites from multiple sides. It flowed after highstorms, but often continued for days once one had passed. Why? When all the water had drained away or been lapped up, why did this river keep going? Where did it start? Once she had this map done, she intended to head all the way up the river, further than she’d ever gone before, and try to figure out its origin. Rivers excited her. They were markers, guideposts, roadways. You could never get lost if you knew where the river was.

She stopped for lunch near one of the bends, and there discovered a type of cremling that was green, like the trees. She’d never seen one that shade before. She’d have to tell Venli.

“Stealing nature’s secrets?” she said to Annoyance. “What is a secret but a surprise to be discovered?” Making a map didn’t lock down or constrict the wonders of nature. Nature would keep on changing, growing and providing new wonders! All a map did was provide a path to experience them.

Finishing her steamed hasper, she put out her fire and continued on the way. By her guess, she could travel through here only a day and a half before reaching the other side. Then, if she rounded the other side of the forest, she’d have a finished picture of how this land looked. It might take months of work after that to map the interior of the forest; if it could be mapped. How would she keep from getting lost without the river to guide her or the edge of the forest to mark a barrier? Such an intriguing problem. Such a wonderful problem! There was so much to see, so much to know, and so much to do; and she was going to discover it all. She was going to…

What was that? She frowned, stopping in her tracks. The river wasn’t particularly strong right now; it would likely slow to a trickle by tomorrow. The trees grew far back from its banks, evidence that the flood during a highstorm was dangerous. That could be so loud, she could follow it from a distance, just by listening. Now, though, the water made barely a gurgle. And over it, she easily heard the shouts in the distance.

Had others come to find her? She’d told them not to expect her back soon. She hurried forward, in part overjoyed. If someone had come after her, perhaps they were growing more willing to explore.

It wasn’t until after she was almost to the sounds that she realized something was very wrong with them. They were flat, no hint of a Rhythm, as if they were not made by listeners, but by the dead.

A moment later, she rounded a bend and found herself confronted by something more wondrous and more terrible than she’d ever dared imagine.

Humans.

Skyward release party ()
#10 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

So I have never read this to anyone before. In fact no one has seen it in ten years. It is not canon, but it is where Taln as a character started. If you're not familiar, Taln is the crazy guy that shows up at the end of Way of Kings. And here is how his first scene went in the original Way of Kings.

 

Taln awoke from a dream of agony and screams. Two things occurred to him immediately. First, as a Herald, he should not need to sleep. Second, as a Herald, he definitely shouldn't dream.

He frowned, sitting up. The last few days were a blur in his mind. He had come to the city, and he remembered his arrival and his bursting in on some sort of feast or party. Beyond that, the Sign hadn't worked.

Taln hissed in surprise, thrusting forward his hand, trying to manifest the Nahel bond within him. Nothing happened. What of his other powers?

He analyzed his surroundings with a quick glance. He was in a long rectangular chamber set with beds along both walls. The room was set with stone pillars and the windows were shaped with triangular peaks. In fact, the architecture had a great number of angles and lines. He was probably in the Alethi section of the city.

Many of the beds were occupied with the lame and the sick. And the men tending them wore undyed tan robes, some with the glyph Ele, the mark of the priesthood. There were two long doors leading out of the room and the windows provided an alternative exit. They looked wide enough to be broken with relative ease. A table would probably do it.

There was a small chair beside his bed, and a chest with amber knobs. He reached out, blessing his fortune. He had the sourcestone of Stonewarding. He touched the amber, seeking to draw upon its power, and again, nothing happened. Taln withdrew his fingers, frowning. Something was very, very wrong.

Why won't my Stonewarding work, he thought with frustration. And the Sign. I need information.

He scanned the room again. His mind was far less fuzzy than it had been. Images, places, and thoughts were all becoming more clear. There were only two monasteries in this section of the city, unless new ones had been constructed. Lighthome and Mercyhome, of which Lighthome was a female monastery.

One of the attendants noticed Taln was awake, and the man waved over an older monk. The elderly man regarded Taln with a displeased expression, whispering to his companion in a voice most men probably wouldn't have been able to overhear. But Taln was not most men.

"Where's Brother Lhan?" the elder monk hissed. "He should be here!"

"I'll fetch him," the other monk promised, bowing his head in deference, then rushing off.

The older man cleared his face of displeasure, smiling reassuringly toward Taln. He had a large nose and grizzled features and his hands were callused.

"I see you finally awoke from your slumber, traveler."

"Yes, holy one," Taln replied, still bothered by the fact that he had fallen asleep in the first place. "Thank you for caring for me." He flexed his arm, testing his muscles against their extended immobility. "It seems I've been out of sorts these last few days. How long was I asleep?"

"Four days, off and on," the senior monk explained. "You were awake for much of the time, but you seemed unable to focus."

Four days. Taln shook his head. Yet he could feel the weakness in his mind, the whispers at the edges of his sanity. It was getting worse each return. Perhaps that was the reason for his apparent slumber.

"I must say, traveler, you seem far more lucid than you were when we first brought you."

"I feel far more lucid, holy one," Taln said with a smile. He raised his sheet, noticing he was still naked. Hopefully the monks would loan him some clothing, though he doubted anyone was going to give him a weapon any time soon.

"Tell me, traveler, what do you remember of yourself?"

Taln raised an eyebrow. "Are you asking if I still think that I am a Herald?"

"In not so many words."

"My problems of the last few days were not related to my identity, holy one," Taln said. "I am a Herald. I will not lie to you. That would do us both a disservice."

"I see," the monk said, his disappointment apparent.

"However," Taln continued, "I don't expect you to believe me. The Sign did, after all, fail. I'll have to solve that problem before I can move on to other items. For now, let's suffice to say that I was a traveler in need of your assistance and you provided it. The Almighty bless you for that."

The monk smiled, glancing to the side as another brown robed form, looking a little disheveled, entered from the north hallway. "You're welcome to stay with us as long as you need, friend," the elderly monk said, gesturing toward the newcomer. "Brother Lhan has been assigned to care for you. He will travel with you and make certain you are acquainted with the city."

In other words, he'll make certain I don't get in trouble, Taln thought, smiling and nodding his head as the elder monk backed away to care for other patients. Taln was pleased to note that this Brother Lhan was carrying a folded pile of clothing for him. Lhan was a younger man, probably in his early twenties. A bit on the pudgy side, with an unconcerned oval of a face.

Lhan blinked tiredly as he approached, and his left cheek was still imprinted with the lines of whatever he had been lying on before they woke him. Lhan yawned as he pulled a stool up beside Taln's bed, resting the clothing on the floor in front of him.

"Greetings traveler. Welcome to the glorious Mercyhome monastery."

"Thank you," Taln said, reaching immediately for the clothing. "I assume these are for me?"

Lhan nodded, yawning again.

"I'm sorry they woke you," Taln said, picking through the clothing.

Lhan shrugged. "It's my own fault, I really should get a better place to hide."

Taln raised an eyebrow at the comment as he examined the clothing. The cut was unfamiliar to him, though fashion changes between returns were normal. The trousers were loose through the legs and ended in wide triangular cuffs halfway down the calf. The shirt was equally loose, probably intended to be worn tucked into the pants and tied with a sash. There were undergarments as well.

The most important article, however, was the thick brown cloak. A piece of Rosharan fashion that would never change. Cloaks were necessary even in the summer to ward off highstorm rains. All the clothing had been crafted from <shanaw>, a plant whose bark was stringy and fluffy enough to be spun. It made for rough fabric. Fortunately all of the cloak had been treated in such a way to make it soft to the touch. Taln nodded in satisfaction.

"Brother Lhan," Taln said, "Please run and fetch me some thread and a needle."

"Excuse me?" the monk asked.

"You and I are in a forced relationship,"Taln said. "Your superiors obviously expect you to keep me from causing serious trouble. If you want my cooperation in this, you'll want to make yourself useful."

Lhan raised an eyebrow. "How very economical of you."

Taln sighed, regarding the man. "I'm not trying to be difficult, Lhan, I'm just trying to save the world. A needle and some thread would be very helpful."

Lhan rolled his eyes, rising from his stool. "All right."

"Oh and bring me some rocks," Taln added. "Small ones, maybe half the size of your fist."

"Rocks?" Lhan asked.

"Yes, rocks. This is Roshar. Last time I checked, which admittedly was several centuries ago, they were fairly prevalent here."

"Rocks," Lhan mumbled again as he walked off.

Taln was dressed by the time Lhan returned. He accepted the thread, needle and rocks from the monk, and began sowing the flap of the hem of his cloak.

The monk sat down, regarding Taln with curiosity.

"The second thing I'll need from you, Brother Lhan, is information," Taln said, pulling the thread tight.

"Ask away."

"What year is it?"

"Tenth Epoch, 980," Lhan replied.

Taln paused, needle halfway through his stitch. "980?"

"Yeah," the monk said. "Not that I've seen the daylight for the last ten years or so, but at least that's what they tell me what year it is."

980. Nearly a thousand years since the last return. That's a long time. Something must have happened to the <cofen> That was the old name for the voidbringers]. They had never waited that long between returns before. "What happened to the epoch kingdoms?" Taln asked

Lhan didn't respond immediately. "You're kidding, right?"

"Pretend I'm not."

"They fell, right after the beginning of the tenth epoch."

Taln closed his eyes, sighing to himself. He hoped it wasn't true but.. "What about Alethkar," he said. "It obviously still exists."

"Well a lot of the kingdom is just a name," Lhan explained. "It's always a good idea to use one of the old names when you found a kingdom. Makes you seem more legitimate."

"Which ones still stand then, even if only in name?"

"Alethkar, of course." the monk said, "And as the king told you, we've expanded a bit over the last few years. Thaylenah still stands, by itself on that island over there. So its borders stay pretty stable. Vedenar is now called Jah Keved, though it's ruled by three Veden houses with a figurehead as its leader."

"That's it?"

"Well Shinovar is still there. But no one really pays much attention to them. The rest is gone. Kingdoms sometimes try to claim their names, but mostly they're uninhabited. Especially <Rianat>. There's enough bandits over there to form their own kingdom."

Taln nodded. It wasn't as bad as it could have been, but... "Vorinism is still strong, I assume?" Taln noted, reaching for the rocks that Lhan had brought him.

"Always will be, Almighty willing," Lhan said in a beautiful monotone, his piousness weakened slightly by the extended yawn he made in the middle of the sentence.

"If the Vorin religion is still in power, " Taln said, "How is it that no one takes my claim to be a Herald seriously? Have you forgotten about the cycle of returns, the coming of the cofen? The religion was founded to prepare for such things."

"Well, we've kind of had to change our focus during the last epoch. You did, after all, promise that you weren't coming back any more."

"What?!" Taln froze, glancing up.

"At the end of the last return," Lhan explained. "The Heralds disappeared and said they weren't coming back. That the cycle of returns was through and the cofen had been defeated."

"That's not possible."

Lhan raised an eyebrow.

"I wouldn't be here if the cycle of returns were over." Taln explained. "Trust me. Which of the Heralds proclaimed this?"

"Well I'm not sure. It didn't become the official doctrine until about the fifth century, I think."

"Why so long?"

"You're kind of asking the wrong monk, actually. Actually, the wrong monastery. The order of Ishar contains all the history experts. This all happened a thousand years ago."

"But it's your theological heritage!" Taln said.

"So the senior monks are fond of telling me."

Taln stood, putting on the cloak.

"You sewed rocks into your hem. How very odd of you."

Taln spun, turning a few times to judge the motion of the cloak. Then he turned to the side in a quick motion, pulling the garment off with a smooth gesture. He nodded to himself, putting it back on. "For weight." Taln explained "A weighted cloak is more easy to position in battle and more easy to remove quickly." You could also use it as a surprise weapon, though he didn't offer that bit of explanation.

"Oh," Lhan said.

"What did you think I was doing?" Taln asked with amusement, sitting down on the bed without removing the cloak.

"I wasn't sure," Lhan replied. "I figured you were confused. You are, after all, crazy."

"You're not a very subtle one, are you, Brother Lhan?"

"I make up for it in sheer laziness," Lhan replied. "What are you doing now?"

"Pockets," Taln said, getting out of the cloak again. "Do you mind if I cut up this blanket?"

Lhan shrugged. "It's the kind of thing they expect crazy people to do, so I guess it's okay. But you'll have to tear it. I'm certainly not giving you a knife."

Taln frowned but did as requested. "You seem surprisingly flippant with regard to my supposed lunacy. Aren't you afraid I'll become violent?"

"You're not the violent type. I've seen your type come through the monastery a lot. I also know you can't be talked out of who you think you are. My job is simply to make certain you don't accidentally hurt yourself or anyone else, especially not me."

"You have experience with my type, then?" Taln asked.

"I tend to get the more undesirable assignments"

"I wonder why." He fell silent as he worked, turning his thoughts to a topic he'd been avoiding. What was he going to do? Normally he had the other Heralds to decide the plan. But he appeared to be the only one who'd reached the city. He needed to find the others and that required one thing. His sword. It had been taken from him. He remembered that night of the feast only vaguely.

"My sword..." he said.

"That was confiscated," Lhand said. "You didn't exactly make a good impression on the king. Enduring perhaps, but definitely not good."

"There was a woman," Taln said. "She saved my life."

"Lady Jasnah" Lhan agreed. "The king's sister. Don't assume she protected you out of fondness. Lady Jasnah is about as compassionate as a sleeping chull. Even her breathing is politically motivated. No one's certain why she pled for you, but most think it was some kind of stunt."

"Either way, I owe her my life," Taln said. The loss of his weapon was troubling. With it, he could sense the location of the other Heralds. It would be the easiest and fastest way to find them. Assuming, of course, he thought, that the Blade's power still worked.

Taln paused. A feeling of dread struck him. Stonewarding didn't work, and he couldn't manifest the bond. If he'd lost the sword as well...

The window light turned red. Taln gasped, feeling dizzy. An expression of concern actually crossed the monk's face.

"Are you all right?" Lhan asked.

The monk burst into flames. The windows melted. Bloodred fire ripped up the sides of the building, pooling at the top and bearing down on Taln with its heat. Smoke rose from the suddenly ignited beds, curling ominously, bringing with it screams, sudden, formless screams, that came from the far edge of the room.

Taln looked up. Fire roared and something moved within it, something dark. The screams mounted, pulsing in his ears, searing him, flaying him.

"What's wrong?" Lhan asked, still in flames, his flesh melting from his face.

Taln closed his eyes, grabbing the sides of his bed, pushing the screams away. He shivered, exhaling a long, demanding sigh. When he opened his eyes, the room had returned to normal. He sat for a few minutes, breathing deeply.

"I'm fine," Taln finally said, forcing himself to stand up and look at his new cloak. It had one large pocket and two smaller ones, and a small ribbon at the back to hold a hidden dagger, if he ever managed to get his hands on one.

"I assume I'm allowed to leave the monastery?"

"So long as you take me with you," Lhan said, "but.."

Taln raised an eyebrow.

"You're kind of expected to go work in the royal mines, "Lhan explained. "To help pay for your keep."

"No one is going to force me?" Taln clarified.

"Well, no."

"Good," Taln said. "We're leaving."

"Umm...Where are we going?"

"To get some information."

"Oh, you mean my wealth of accumulated wisdom isn't good enough for you?"

Taln turned, eyeing the monk with a suffering eye, then waved for him to follow.

Dragonsteel Mini-Con 2021 ()
#11 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

So what are we gonna read? Well, I have draft number two of Wax & Wayne 4, The Lost Metal.

And as I warned you, if anyone came in late, the prologue is available on my YouTube channel with me reading it, or we sent it out as a newsletter. If you're not on the newsletter ask one of your friends, or go hang out in the 17th Shard and ask them. I give permission that they can send it to you so you can read it if you want to. It might be posted, as far as I know, on there as well. I expect when I read these things that they're gonna get around. So we're going to read chapter 1 of The Lost Metal. And I'm just going to kind of read until we hit to 7:30.

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter 1

Marasi had never been in a sewer before, but the experience was exactly as awful as she'd imagined. The stench, of course, was incredible. But worse was the way her booted feet would occasionally slip for a heart-stopping moment, threatening to plunge her down into the "mud" underneath.

It would be bad, but manageable, if the place was slippery in a consistent way. Inconsistent slippage was far worse. At least she'd had the foresight to wear a uniform with trousers today, along with knee high leather work boots. That didn't protect from the scent, the feel, or, unfortunately, the sound. When she stepped, map in one hand, rifle in the other, her boots would pull free with a squelch of mythical proportions. It would have been the worst sound ever if it hadn't been overmatched by Wayne’s complaining.

"Wax never brought me to a rustin’ sewer," he muttered by her side.

"Are there sewers in the Roughs?"

"Well, no," he admitted. "Pastures smell almost as bad, and he did make me march through those. But Marasi, they didn't have spiders."

"They probably did," she said, holding the map toward his lantern to read it. "You just couldn't see them."

"S’pose," he grumbled, "but it's worse when you can see the webs. Also, there's, you know, the literal sewage."

Marasi nodded to a tunnel to the side, and they started that direction. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"What?" he demanded.

"Your mood."

"Nothing's wrong with my rustin’ mood," he said. "It's exactly the kind of mood you're supposed to have when your partner forces you to stick your front side into a bunch of stuff that comes out the back side."

"And last week," she said, "when we were investigating a perfume shop?"

"Rustin’ perfumers," Wayne said, eyes narrowing. "Never can tell what they’re hiding with those fancy smells. You can't trust a man that doesn't smell like a man should."

"Sweat and booze?"

"Sweat and cheap booze."

"Wayne, how can you complain about someone putting on airs? You put on a different personality every time you change hats."

"Does my smell change?"

"I suppose not."

"Argument won. There are literally no holes in it whatsoever, conversation over." They shared a look. "I should get me some perfumes, eh?" Wayne said. "Someone might be able to spot my disguises if I always smell like sweat and cheap booze."

"You're hopeless."

"What's hopeless," he said, "is my poor shoes."

"Could have worn boots, like I suggested."

"Ain’t got no boots," he said. "Wax stole ‘em."

"Wax stole your boots. Really?"

"Well, they're in his closet," Wayne said, "instead of three pairs of his poshest shoes, which somehow ended up in my closet, completely by happenstance." He glanced at her. "It was a fair trade, I liked those boots."

She just barely kept her balance at another slip. Rusting hell, if she fell, he would never stop talking about it. But this did seem the best way. Construction on citywide underground train tunnels, or just the Tunnels, was ongoing, and two days ago, a demolition man had filed a report warning that he didn't want to blast the next section. 

Apparently, seismic readings had indicated they were near to a cavern of some sort. This area underneath Elendel was peppered with aging caverns, and the seismograph readings the demolition man had found indicated an unknown one was somewhere in this region. The same region where a group of local gang enforcers kept vanishing and reappearing, almost as if they had a hidden exit to an unmarked, unseen lair.

She consulted the map again marked with construction notes and a nearby oddity that the sewer builders had noted years ago which had never been investigated.

"I think MeLaan is going to break up with me," Wayne said softly. "That's why maybe I've been uncharacteristically downbeat in my general disposition as of late."

"What makes you think that?"

"On account of her telling me, 'Wayne, I'm probably going to have to break up with you in a few weeks.'"

"Well, that's polite of her."

"I think she got a new job from the big guy or something," Wayne said, "but it ain't right, how slow it's going. Not the proper way to break up with a fellow at all."

"And what is the proper way?"

"Throw something at his head," Wayne said, "sell his stuff, tell his mates he's a knob."

"You’ve had some interesting relationships."

"Nah, mostly just bad ones," he said. "I asked <Jamie Walls> what she thought I should do. You know her, she's at the tavern most nights."

"I... know her," Marasi said. "She's... a woman of ill repute."

"What?" Wayne said. "Who's been saying that nonsense? <Jamie> has a great reputation! Of all the whores on the block, she gives the best—"

"I do not need to hear that next part, thank you."

"Ill repute," he said, chuckling. "I'm gonna tell <Jamie> what you said about her, Marasi. She worked hard for her reputation. Gets to charge four times what anyone else does! Ill repute indeed."

"And what did she say?"

"Well, she said MeLaan just wanted me to try harder in the relationship," Wayne said, "but I think in this case, Jamie was wrong, because MeLaan doesn't play games. When she says things, she means them. So it's, you know."

"I'm sorry, Wayne," Marasi said, taking him by the arm.

"I knew it couldn't last," he said, "rustin’ knew it, you know? She's like, what, a thousand years old?"

"Roughly half that," Marasi said.

"And I'm not even 40!" Wayne said. "Probably more like 16, if you take count of my spry, youthful physique."

"Or your sense of humor."

"Damn right!" he said, then sighed. "Things have just been rough lately, with Wax being all fancy these last few years, MeLaan being gone for months at a time. Feel like nobody wants me around. Maybe I belong in a sewer, you know?"

"You don't," she said. "You're the best partner I've ever had."

"Only partner."

"Only?" she said. "<Gorglan> doesn't count?"

"Nope, he's not human. I gots papers what prove he's a giraffe in disguise." Regardless, he smiled. "But thanks for asking, thanks for caring." 

She nodded then led the way onward. 

When she'd imagined her life as a top detective and lawwoman, she hadn’t envisioned this part. But at least the smell was getting better, or she was getting used to it. Or maybe the insides of her nose were just dying off. Still, it was extremely gratifying to find, at the exact place marked on the map, an old metal door set in the wall of the sewer. 

She had Wayne hold up the lantern, and one didn't need a keen detective's eye to see the door had been used lately. Silvery scrape marks from the sides of the frame, handle clean from the pervasive filth and cobwebs.

"Nice," Wayne said, leaning in beside her. "Some first rate detectivin', Marasi. Sewer portion notwithstandin'. How many old surveys and building reports did you have to read to find this?"

"Too many," she said. "If I'd known how much of my job would involve searching the documents library..."

"They leave that part out of the stories when they write about us," Wayne said. "All the research."

"You did this sort of thing back in the Roughs?"

"Well, it was the Roughs variety," Wayne said. "Usually involved holding some bloke face down in a trough until he 'remembered' whose old prospecting claim he'd been filching. But it's the same principle really, just with more swearing."

She handed him her rifle and investigated the door. He didn't like her to make a big deal out of him being able to hold guns these days without his hands shaking. She'd never seen him fire one, but he said he could if needed to. He really was getting better.

They'd been working almost six years now, since Wax's retirement following the incident surrounding the Bands of Mourning. Wayne was an official constable, not some strange, barely-inside-the-law deputized citizen. Even wore a uniform once in a while.

Now, this door. It was shut tight, of course, and had no lock on this side. But it seemed the people she was hunting had found it closed too, as there were a bunch of marks on the metal on one side. Looking close, she found that there was just enough room to slip something through the door and frame. "I need something sharp to get through this," she said.

"You can use my razor sharp wit."

"Alas," she said, "you aren't the type of tool that I need at the moment, Wayne."

"Ha!" he said. "I like that one."

He handed her a knife from the backpack, where they kept supplies like rope, along with their metals, just in case they faced an Allomancer. These kinds of gang enforcers shouldn't have access to that sort of thing. They were just your basic "shake down shopkeepers for protection money" types. Yet, she had reports that made her wary. She was increasingly certain this group was funded by the Set, and if she caught them they might finally lead to answers she'd been hunting for years.

With the knife, she managed to undo the bar holding the door closed from the other side. It swung free with a soft clang, and she eased the door open to look at a rough hewn tunnel leading downward. One of the many that dotted this region, dating back to the ancient days before the Catacendre, to the time of myths and heroes, ashfalls and tyrants. Together, she and Wayne slipped inside, then did up the door to leave it as they found it. They dimmed their lantern as a precaution, then started down into the depths.

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter 2

"Cravat?" Steris asked, reading from the list.

"Tied and pinned," Wax said, pulling it tight.

"Shoes?"

"Polished."

"Proof one?"

Wax flipped a silver medallion up in the air, then caught it.

"Proof two?" Steris asked, making a check mark on her list.

He pulled a small folded stack of papers from his pocket. "Right here."

"Proof three?"

Wax reached into his other pocket, then paused looking around the small office, his senator's chamber in the house of proceedings, he'd left that...

"On the desk back home!" he said, smacking his head.

"I brought an extra," Steris said, digging in her bag.

Wax grinned. "Of course you did."

"Two copies, actually," Steris said, handing over another sheet of paper, which he tucked into his other coat pocket. Then she consulted her list again.

Little Maxillium stepped up beside his mother, looking very serious as he scanned his own list, which was mostly just scribbles. At five years old, he knew his letters, but preferred to make up his own.

"Dog picture," Max said, as if reading from his list.

"I could use one of those," Wax said. "Very useful."

Max solemnly presented it, then said, "Cat picture,"

"Need one of those too."

"I'm bad at cats," Max said, handing him another sheet, "so it looks like a squirrel."

Wax hugged his son, then tucked the sheets away reverently with the others. The boy's sister, Tindwyl—as Steris liked traditional names—babbled in the corner, where <Kath>, the governess, was watching her.

Finally, Steris handed him his pistols one at a time. Long-barrelled and nasty looking, they had been designed by Ranette to look menacing, but had two safeties and were actually unloaded. It had been a while since he'd had to shoot anyone, but he continued to make good use of his reputation as the lawman senator of the Roughs. Cityfolk, particularly politicians, tended to be intimidated by small arms. They preferred to kill people with more modern weapons, like poverty and despair. 

"Is a kiss from my wife on that list?" Wax asked.

"Actually, no," she said, surprised.

"A rare oversight," he said, then kissed her, lingering before pulling back. "You should be the one going out there today, Steris. You did more of the work preparing them than I did."

"You're the house lord."

"I could appoint you as a representative to speak for us."

"Please, no," she said. "You know how I am with people."

"You're very good with the right people."

"And are politicians ever right about anything?"

"I hope so," he said, straightening his suit coat and turning toward the door. "Because I am one now."

He pushed out of his chambers and walked the short walk to the Senate floor. Steris would watch from her seat in the observatory balcony. By now, everyone knew how particular she was about getting the same one. Wax instead stepped into the vast chamber, which buzzed with activity as senators returned from their short recess.

He didn't go to his seat. For the last few days, different senators had been given a chance to debate the current bill, and his was the last speech in line. He had positioned it right after the planned break, as he hoped it would set his argument off, give him a final chance to avert a terrible decision.

It had taken a great deal of trading and promising to get this spot in the debate; and not a few of his political enemies were upset that he'd managed it.

He stood at the side of the speaking platform near the center, waiting for the others to sit, hand on his holster, looming. You learned to get a good loom on in the Roughs when interrogating prisoners, and it still shocked him how many of those skills worked here.

Governor <Varlance> didn't look at him. The man instead adjusted his cravat, then checked his face powder. Ghostly, pale skin was fashionable these days, for some arcane reason. Then he set out his badges on the desk, one at a time, as he always did, making everyone wait.

Rusts, I miss Aradel, Wax thought. It had been novel to have a competent governor for once. Like eating hotel food and finding it wasn't awful. Or spending time with Wayne and discovering you still had your pocket watch.

But the governor's job was the type that chewed up the good ones, the ones who tried to swim deep. It was the same type of job that let the bad ones float blissfully along the surface. Aradel had stepped down two years back, and it did make some kind of sense that the next governor chosen had been a military man, considering the tensions with the Malwish right now. Though Wax did question where <Varlance> had gotten all of those medals. So far as he knew, the army hadn't seen any actual engagements. Were they for, perhaps, excellence in shining your shoes?

<Varlance> finally nodded to his vice governor, a Terriswoman, of course. She had curly, dark hair and a traditional robe. Wax thought he'd known her in the village, but it could have been her sister, and he'd never thought of a good way to ask. Regardless, it always looked good to have a Terris on the staff. Most governors chose one. Made you look respectable. Almost like the Terris were another medal to be shown off.

<Adathwyn> stood up and belted to the room. "The governor recognizes the senator from House Ladrian."

Though he'd been waiting for this, looming and whatnot, Wax now took his time sauntering up onto the podium, which was lit from above by a massive electric spotlight. Funny, how ordinary he thought that all was now. If he walked into a room and there wasn't a light switch on the wall, he'd search for it for an embarrassingly long time before remembering there were some buildings that just weren't wired yet.

He turned around in a slow rotation, inspecting the circular chamber. The spotlight was low enough that he could still make out the faces around him. One side held the elected seats, senators who were voted into office to represent a guild, profession, or historical group. The other held the lords, senators who held their position by benefit of birth. The guild system left many people without a representative. As many as twenty percent of the population worked jobs without a senator's seat, by Marasi's estimate. The lords were supposed to make up for that, representing everyone who lived in their assigned region of the city. But when had a group of nobles ever cared about beggars? Maybe in the Last Emperor's time and just after, but people just weren't like that anymore. They were petty and short-sighted.

"This bill," Wax announced to the room, loud and firm, his voice echoing, "is a fantastically stupid idea."

Once, earlier in his political career, talking so bluntly had earned him ire at best. Now, he caught multiple members of the senate smiling. They expected this from him. Many of them seemed to enjoy it, as if they knew how many problems there were in the city and were glad that one man was willing to call them out, ignoring propriety and political necessities.

"Tensions with the Malwish are at an all time high," Wax said. "This is a time for the entire Basin to unite, not a time to drive wedges between ourselves and those who should be our strongest allies."

"This is about uniting," a voice called to him. The dock worker senator, <Maelstrom>. He was mostly a puppet for Hasting and Erikell nobles, who had been consistently a painful spike in Wax's side. "We need a leader for the whole Basin officially."

"Agreed," Wax said. "But how is elevating the Elendel governor, a position nobody outside the city can vote on, going to unite people, <Maelstrom>?"

"It will give them someone to look toward, a strong capable leader!"

And that, Wax thought, glancing at <Varlance>, is a capable leader? We're lucky he pays attention to these meetings, rather than spending the time going over his appearance schedule, <Varlance> had, so far in his one year tenure, rededicated seventeen parks in the city. He liked the flowers.

Wax didn't say anything to this effect. Steris had warned him not to antagonize the governor. There was bluntness, and then there was stupidity. He had to walk a fine line between them. Instead, he kept to the plan, getting out his medallion and flipping it in the air. 

"Six years ago," Wax said, "I had a little adventure. You all know about it. Finding a wrecked Malwish airship, intervening in a plot by the outer cities to find its secrets and use them against us in Elendel. I stopped that. I brought the Bands of Mourning back to be stored safely."

"And almost started a war!" someone muttered in the reaches of the room.

"You'd rather I let the plot go forward?" Wax called back. When no response came, he flipped the medallion up and caught it again. "I dare anyone in this room to disparage my loyalty to Elendel. We can have a nice little duel. I'll even let you shoot first."

Silence. That was one thing he'd earned. A lot of the people in this room didn't like him, but they did seem to respect him, and they knew he wasn't an agent for the outer cities. He flipped the medallion and Pushed it higher, all the way up to the top of the ceiling high above. He caught it again when it came streaking down, glimmering in the light. As he did, he made certain to cast a glance toward Admiral <Jons>, current ambassador from the Malwish nation. She sat in a special place on the floor of the senate, among where mayors from the other cities were given seats when they visited. None had come to this proceeding, a visible sign they considered even a vote on this topic to be ridiculous.

"I know," Wax said, turning the medallion over in his fingers, "better than anyone the position we're in. You want to make a show of force to the outer cities, prove that they have to have to follow our rules. So you introduce this bill, elevating our governor to a presidential position of the entire Basin.  This ignores the reason everyone outside Elendel is so mad at us. The bad faith actors who are leading some of the outer cities wouldn't have gotten so far without support of their people, if the average person living outside Elendel weren't so damned mad at us for our trade policies and general arrogance. This bill isn't going to placate them. This isn't a show of force. It's a maneuver designed to specifically outrage them. We pass this law, and we're demanding war between ourselves and the outer cities."

He let that sink in. They knew it.

They tried to ignore it.

They wanted so badly to appear strong, and if left unchecked, they'd strong-arm themselves right into a war, never realizing this was precisely what their enemies wanted. An excuse to rebel, a justification for war.

Wax pulled out the stack of papers in his left pocket. He held it up and turned around.

"I have 60 letters here from politicians in the outer cities. These are reasonable people, willing, even eager to work with Elendel on policy, but they are frightened, worried about what their people will do if we continue to impose tyrannical, imperial policies upon them. They're worried about war. It is my proposal that we vote down this silly bill, then work on something better. Something that can actually promote peace and unity. A kind of national assembly with representation for each outer city, and and elected supreme official from that body." 

He'd expected boos, and got a few. But most of the chamber fell silent, watching him hold the letters aloft. They were afraid of what he was proposing. Afraid of letting power leave the capital. Afraid that the political ways of the outer cities would change the entire dynamic. They were cowards in that regard, and they were also playing to the hands of the Set, a shadowy organization which included his sister and his late uncle as high-ranking members, who had been pulling the strings for years.

They were still active somewhere. They might even have agents among the senators. They wanted war most of all, though he didn't know exactly why, even still. A way to gain power, certainly, but there was something else. Orders from someone, or something, known as Trell.

Unfortunately, he couldn't pin his arguments on an organization that most people still didn't believe existed. He turned around slowly, still holding up the letters, and felt a little spike of alarm as he turned back to <Maelstrom>. He's going to shoot, Wax's instinct said.

"With all due respect," Senator <Maelstrom said>, "you are a new parent and obviously don't know the proper way of raising a child. You don't give into childish demands. You hold firm, knowing that your decisions are best for them, and they will eventually see reason. As a father is to his son, Elendel is to the outer cities."

Right in the back, Wax thought, turning around. Amusing how those instincts worked here. He didn't respond immediately. You waited to aim well for return fire like this. Thing was, he'd made these arguments before, mostly in private, to many of the senators in this room. He was making headway, but he didn't have enough time. Now that he had these letters—now that they'd all seen them—he needed a chance to go back to each senator, the ones on the fence, and share these words, the ideas, and persuade. His gut said that if the vote happened today, the bill would pass. So he hadn't come here just to make the same arguments again. He'd come with a bullet loaded in the chamber, ready to fire.

He carefully folded up the letters and tucked them snugly into his pocket. Then he took the smaller stack, two sheets from his other pocket. The ones that Steris had made copies of in case he forgot. Actually, she probably made copies of the other ones too. And seven other things she knew he wouldn't actually need, but would make her feel better to have her bag, just in case.

Rusts, that woman was delightful.

Wax held up the sheets and made a good show of getting in just the right light to read it.

"Dear <Maelstrom>," he read out loud. "We're pleased by your willingness to see reason and continue to enforce Elendel trade superiority in the Basin. You will make us all wealthy, and we promise you half a percentage of our shipping revenues for the next three years, in exchange for your vocal support of this bill and eventual vote in favor. From, Houses Hasting and Erikell."

The room erupted into chaos, of course. Wax settled in, hooking his finger around his holster, standing and waiting for the cries of outrage to run their course. He met <Maelstrom>'s eyes as the man sank down in his seat. He had hopefully just learned an important lesson: Don't leave a paper trail detailing your corruption when your political opponent is a trained detective.

Rusting idiot.

Footnote: Brandon initially stated that he would be reading chapter 1, but continued reading until some point in chapter 2.
JordanCon 2021 ()
#12 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

I am going to read to you from Wax and Wayne 4.

It is always a little bit of a trick to figure out what to read, because I also generally don't want to spoil too much for people who have not read the series. But the Wax and Wayne, it's always been fairly easy because the prologues of each of them are flashbacks to the past. Like I do in Stormlight with flashback characters, we get basically one flashback sequence per book in the Wax and Wayne books. So this is actually going to be from the prologue of The Lost Metal, which is from Wayne's viewpoint as a little boy.

Brandon Sanderson

Wayne knew what beds were. A few of other kids in the settlement had them. Sounded much better than a mat on the ground, especially one he had to share with his mom when nights were cold because they didn't have any coal.

Plus, there were monsters under beds. Yeah, he'd heard stories from the other kids in the settlement about mistwraiths. They hid under your bed and stole the faces of people you knew. So beds sounded real nice; soft and squishy on top, with someone underneath you could talk to. Sounded like rustin' heaven!

The other kids were scared of those things, but Wayne figured those kids just didn't know how to properly negotiate. He could make some friends with something that lived under a bed. You just had to give it something it wanted, like someone else to eat. Maybe he could ask Ma to have a little brother.

Anyway, no bed for him; no real chairs. They had a table built by uncle Gregor, before he got crushed by a billion rocks in a landslide and mushed up into a bloody pulp what couldn't hit people no more. Wayne kicked the table sometimes, just in case his spirit was watching somewhere, 'cause he'd made that table and maybe it'd make him mad. Rust knew there was nothing else in this little one-windowed home that Uncle Gregor had cared about.

Best Wayne had for sitting was a stool, so he sat on that and played with his cards, drawings hands and trying to hide cards in his sleeve as he waited. This was a nervous time of day; every day, he thought, maybe she wouldn't come home. Not because she didn't love him; Ma was a burst of sweet spring flowers in this sewage pit of a world, and he'd punch anyone who said otherwise. No, he worried that, one day, Ma wouldn't come home. Pa hadn't come home one day. Uncle Gregor (Wayne kicked the table) hadn't come home one day. So...

Don't think about that, Wayne thought, bumbling his shuffle and spilling his cards all over the table and floor. And don't look. Not until you see the light.

He could feel the mine out there. Nobody wanted to live next to it, of course, so Wayne and his Ma did. Just under the window was a pile of laundry that Wayne had done for the day. His Ma's old job, what hadn't paid real well. So he did it, while she pushed mine carts. He didn't mind the work; spent half the day trying on all the different clothes, from ones sent by Gramps to the ones sent by young women, pretending to be them. His Ma had caught him a few times and seemed angry, minding why he did it. That exasperation still baffled him. Why wouldn't you want to try them all on; that's what clothes was for! It wasn't nothin' weird; he just liked it, and what harm did it do? None to nobody. Besides, sometimes folks left stuff in their pockets, like decks of cards.

He fumbled the shuffle again as he gathered the cards up, and he did not look out the window. Not until he spotted the light. He'd feel it, anyway, though, the mine, that gaping artery, like a hole in someone's neck, red on the inside and spurting out life like blood and fire. They had to go down, dig at the beast's insides, searchin' for metals, then escape its anger. And you could only get lucky so many times.

Light. With relief, like fire on a frigid night, he glanced out the window and saw someone walking on the path, holding up a lantern to illuminate her way. Wayne scrambled to hide the cards under his mat, then he was certain to lay on his mat with his lamp out, pretending to try to sleep with the door open. She'd have seen his light go out, of course, but she appreciated the effort he put into pretending.

She settled down on the stool, and Wayne cracked an eye. His Ma wore trousers and a buttoning shirt, her hair up, clothing and face smudged. She sat just staring at the light in the lantern, watching it flicker and dance, and her face seemed more hollow than it had been before, like someone has taken a pickaxe to her cheeks, digging away like rock in the wall. That mine's eatin' her up, he thought. Even if it hasn't gobbled her all whole like it did Pa, it's gnawing on her like rats on a barn wall.

Ma blinked, then fixated on something: a card he'd left on the table. Ah, hell. She picked it up and looked right at him. He didn't try to pretend to be asleep no more; she'd dump water on him. She'd done it before.

"Wayne," she said, shifting on the stool to look at him. "Where did you get these cards?"

"Don't remember."

"Wayne..."

"Found 'em," he said.

She waved her hand toward him, and he reluctantly dug the rest out from under his met and handed them over. She tucked the one she'd found into the box. He knew from experience she'd look all day through the settlement for the one who'd lost them. She didn't have time for things like that; he wouldn't have her losing more sleep on account of him.

"It's <Tarn Vestingdow>," Wayne mumbled. "It was in a pocket of his overalls.

"Thank you," she said softly.

"Ma, I gotta learn cards. See, that way, I can earn a good living for carin' for us."

"A good living?" she asked. "With cards?"

"Don't worry," he said quickly. "I'll cheat. Can't make a livin' if you don't win, see?"

She sighed, rubbing her temples.

Wayne looked at the cards in the stack. "Tarn," he said. "He's Terris, like Pa was."

"Yes," she said.

"Terris people always do what they're told," he said, "so what's wrong with me?"

"Nothing's wrong with you, love," she said. "You just haven't got a good parent who can help you."

"Ma," he said, scrambling off the mat. He took her arm. "Don't talk like that, Ma. You're a great ma!"

She hugged him to her side, but he could feel the tension in her. Ah, hell. What had they found?

"Wayne," she asked softly, "Did you take <Demmy's> pocketknife?"

"He talked?!" Wayne said. "Rust that rustin' little bastard!"

"Wayne, don't swear like that!"

"Rust that!" he said in a rail worker's accent instead. "The rusting bastard!" He looked at her innocently and was rewarded with a smile she couldn't keep in. Silly voices always made her grin. Pa had been good at them, but Wayne was better, particularly now that Pa was dead and couldn't say them no more, anyway.

But then, her smile faded. "You can't take things what don't belong to you, Wayne. That's somethin' thieves do."

"I don't wanna be a thief," Wayne said softly. "I wanna be a good boy. It just... happens!"

"She hugged him closer. "You are a good boy. You've always been a good boy." When she said it, he believed it. "Do you want a story, love?" she asked.

"I'm too old for stories," he lied, desperately wishing she'd ignore the objection. "I'm eleven. One more year, and I can drink at the tavern and prove how old I am."

"What? Who told you that?"

"Doug."

"Doug is nine!"

"Doug knows stuff."

"Doug. Is. Nine!"

"So you're sayin' I'll have to snitch booze for him next year, because he can't get it himself yet?"

He met her eyes, then started snickering as she smiled. He helped her get dinner; cold oatmeal with some beans in it. But at least it wasn't only beans, and there was some oatmeal. Then he snuggled into his blankets on the mat, pretending he was a child again to listen. It was easy to feign that; he still had the clothes, after all.

"This is the story," she said, "of Blatant Barm, the Unwashed Bandit."

"Ooooh," Wayne said. "A mean one?"

His mother grinned, then leaned forward, wagging her spoon toward him as she spoke. "He was the worst of them all, Wayne: baddest, meanest, stinkiest bandit. He never bathed, you see."

"'Cause it takes too much work to get properly dirty," Wayne said.

"No, because he... wait, it's work to get dirty?"

"Gotta roll around in it, you see," Wayne said.

"Why in Harmony's name would you do that?"

"To think like the ground."

She smiled again. "Oh, Wayne. You're so precious."

"Thanks!" he said. "Why ain't you told me about this Blatant Barm, if he was so bad? Wouldn't he be the first one you'd told stories about?"

"You were too young," she said, sitting back, "and the story too frightening."

"Ohhhhhhhh this is gonna be a good one!" Wayne bounced up and down. "Who got him? Was it a lawman?"

"It was Allomancer Jak."

"Him?" Wayne said with a groan.

"What?"

"Jak brings them in," Wayne complained. "He never shoots a single one.

"Not this time," Ma said, digging into her oatmeal. "He was young this time. He knew Blatant Barm was the worst killer to the core. Even his two sidekicks, Gug the Killer and No Ways Joe, were ten times worse than any other bandit ever walked the Roughs."

"Ten times?" Wayne said.

"Yeah."

"That's a lot; almost double!"

His Ma paused, then leaned forward and got back into it. "They robbed the payroll, taking not just the money from the fat men in Elendel, but the wages of the regular folk."

"Bastards!" Wayne said.

"Wayne."

"Fine. Regular old turds, then!"

Again, she hesitated. "Do you know what the word 'bastard' means?"

"Yeah, it's a real bad turd. The kind when you really got to go, but you hold it in too long!"

"And you know that because...?"

"Doug told me."

"Of course he did. Well, Jak wouldn't stand for stealing from the common folk of the Roughs. Being a bandit is one thing, but everybody knows you take the money what goes toward the city. The trick is, Blatant Barm, he knew the area real well, so he rode off into the most difficult part of the Roughs to reach, and he left one of his men to guard each of the spots along the way. So Jak, he was gonna have to fight his way through all three."

"Why's it always three in stories, Ma?" Wayne asked. "Three bandits, three guns, three mines."

"Well, how high do you think most bandits can count?"

"Probably not that high," Wayne agreed. Ma always had good answers to such things.

"Fortunately, Jak was the bravest," she said, "and the strongest."

"If he was the bravest and the strongest, " Wayne said, "why was he a lawman? He could just be a bandit, and nobody could stop him, right?"

"Well, what's harder, love?" she said. "Doing what's right? Or doing what's wrong?"

"The right thing."

"So who gets stronger? The fellow what does the easy thing, or the fellow what does the hard thing?"

"Huh." He nodded. "Yeah, I can see that."

She leaned forward, grinning in the light. "Jak's first test was the River Human, the vast waterway marking the border with what had once been Koloss land, but now was controlled by bandits entirely. The swift waters moved at the speed of a train; the fastest river in the whole dang world! And it was full of rocks. Gug the killer had set up there across the river and watched for lawmen. He had such a good eye and a steady hand with his rifle that he could shoot a fly off a man at three hundred paces!"

"Why'd you ever wanna do that?" Wayne asked. "Better shoot men right in the fly, right? That's gotta hurt somethin' bad!"

"Not that kind of fly, love," Ma said.

"So, what did Jak do? Did he sneak up? Not very lawman-like to sneak. I don't think they ever do that ever. I bet he didn't sneak."

"Well..." Ma said. Wayne clutched his blanket, waiting. "Jak was an even better shot," she whispered. "When Gug the Killer sighted him, Jak shot him, right across the river."

"How'd Gug die?" Wayne whispered.

"... by bullet, love."

"Right through the eye?"

"I suppose."

"And so Gug took sight, and Jak took sight back and shot him right in the eye! Right in the eye, right, Ma?"

"Uh..."

"And his head exploded!" Wayne said. "Like a fruit, the crunchy kind, all ripe so the shell is tough but it splats anyways. Is that how it happened?"

"... yes."

"Dang, Ma. That's gruesome! You sure you should be tellin' this story to me?"

"Should I stop?"

"Hell, no. How'd he get across the water?"

"He flew," Ma said. She absently set the bowl aside, oatmeal finished, and made a flourish with both hands. "He had powers, Jak did. Allomancy powers. He could fly, and talk to birds, and eat rocks."

"Woah... eat rocks?"

"Yep. And he flew right over the river, but the next challenge was even worse. The Canyon of Death."

"Ohhhh. Bet that place was pretty."

"Why'd you say that?"

"'Cause no one is gonna visit a place called Canyon of Death unless it's pretty. But someone visited it, right, because we know the name. So it's pretty, right?"

"Beautiful," Ma said. "A canyon carved through the middle of a bunch of scattered, crumbling rock spires, the broken peaks lined with colors. But the place was deadly; as deadly as it was beautiful."

"Yeah," Wayne said, "that figures."

"But Jak couldn't just fly over this one, for the second of the bandits hid within the canyon: No Ways Joe. He was a master of pistols, and could also fly, and turn into a dragon, and eat rocks. So if Jak tried to sneak past, Joe would shoot him from behind."

"That's the smartest way to shoot someone," Wayne said, "on account of them not being able to shoot back."

"True," Ma said. "So Jak didn't let that happen. He had to go right into the canyon. But it was filled with snakes."

"Bloody hell!"

"Wayne..."

"Regular old boring hell, then. How many snakes?"

"A million snakes."

"Bloody hell!"

"But Jak, he was smart," Ma said, "as well as bein' a great shot and able to eat rocks, too. So he thought to bring some snake food."

"A million bits of snake food?"

"Nah, just one, but he got the snakes to fight over it, so they mostly killed each other. But the one that was left was the strongest, naturally."

"Naturally."

"So Jak talked it into biting No Ways Joe."

"And Joe turned purple!" Wayne said, "and bled out of his ears, and his bones melted on account of the poison being so bad, so the melty bone juice leaked out his nose while he was bleeding, and he collapsed in a puddle of deflated skin, all while hissing and blubbering 'cause his teeth was meltin' too."

"Exactly."

"Dang, Ma. You tell the best stories."

"Wait," she said softly, leaning down on the stool, their lantern burning low. "Because the ending has a surprise."

"What surprise?"

"Wait and see," she said. "Because once Jak was through the canyon, what now smelled like dead snakes and melted bones, he spotted the final challenge: the Lone Mesa. A giant plateau in the center of an otherwise flat plain."

"That's not much of a challenge," Wayne said. "He could fly over the top."

"Well, he tried to," she whispered, "but the mesa was Blatant Barm!"

"What?"

"That's right! He joined up with the Koloss, the ones that could change into big monsters; not the normal ones, like old Mrs. <Gnaw>. They showed him how to turn into a monster of humongous size, so when Jak tried to land on the mesa, the mesa done gobbled him up."

Wayne gasped. "And then?" he said. "It mashed him between his teeth? Crunching his bones like--"

"No," Ma said. "It tried to swallow him. But Jak, he wasn't just a good shot, and he wasn't just smart; he was somethin' else."

"What?"

"A big damn pain in the ass!"

"Ma, that's swearin'!"

"I meant it in a good way, though, love."

"Oh, well, that made it all right, then."

"He," Ma said, "was always goin' about doin' good, helpin' people, makin' life tough for the bad ones. Pokin' his nose into things, askin' questions. He knew exactly how to ruin a bandit's day, he did. He stretched out his legs and pushed and made himself a lump in Blatant Barm's throat what so the monster couldn't breathe. 'Cause monsters like that needs lots of air, you know, and right then Allomancer Jak done choked him from the inside. Then, when the monster was dead on the ground, he sauntered on out down his tongue like it was some fancy mat set down outside the carriage for a rich man."

"Woah. That's a good story, Ma." She smiled, stepping over and kissing Wayne on the forehead. "Ma," he said, "is the story about the mine?"

"Well," she said, "I suppose we all gotta walk into the beast's mouth now and then, so maybe, I guess.

"You're like the lawman, then?"

"Anyone can be," she said, blowing out the lantern light.

"Even me?"

"Especially you." She kissed him on the forehead. "You are my love, Wayne. You are a whatever-you-want. You're the wind, you're the stars, you are all endless things." It was the poem she liked; and he liked it, too, because when she talked, he believed her. Ma didn't swear, and she didn't lie.

So he snuggled into his blankets and let himself begin to drift off. Because a lot was wrong in the world, but a few things were right. And as long as she was around, stories meant something. They was real.

Until, one day, there was another collapse at the mine. And that night, his Ma didn't come home.

RoW Release Party ()
#13 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

The premise of this is that there is a young man who smells really good to dragons, and always gets used as bait in traps to trap dragons. He has trapped a dragon by being bait, and now he is wandering around that night.

Brandon Sanderson

The first thing Skip noticed was the beating of enormous wings. He knew instantly what they meant; after three or four hundred dragon attacks, you learn to pick up on the signs.

He panicked, of course. He always panicked when a dragon approached. Fortunately, he'd trained himself not to let that get in the way. So while one primal A-Big-Lizard-Is-Going-To-Eat-Me side of his brain started going in circles, the other side went through a list.

Was there water nearby? No.

Could he hide in a cellar with a door? No.

Could he obscure his scent somehow? No.

He'd assumed himself well-protected. He'd doused himself with rose water before leaving the camp, and his pockets were stuffed with garlic cloves. People three cities away could probably smell the stench. But he'd been certain he didn't smell like himself.

But that didn't always work. The dragons would find him anyway, particularly if he stayed in one place too long. But he was moving! He should have been safe. Safer, at least.

The two sides of his brain collided back together, and both told him to run. He dashed forward, hoping to find some kind of cave. It was night, but the moon was near full, so he had a good view of the hills around him. The grassy, pleasant, completely unbroken, not-a-cave-in-sight hills.

The wing beats were getting closer. He couldn't outrun a dragon in flight. He suddenly felt himself an idiot for having left the hunters. At least there, he'd have a chance; someone to fight for him, surprise the dragon and...

Skip forced himself to slow. I only have one chance, he realized. He slowed until he was merely strolling. He stuffed his hand in his pocket, beside the garlic, and held his pack over his shoulder with the other. He started whistling, trying not to sound too forced.

"It sure is a good night for a stroll," he said after a good whistle. "Alone. Without anyone to protect or guard me. What a nice breeze, that is approaching from behind."

He felt a chill between his shoulder blades, as if someone had stabbed him with an icicle. The dragon was flying down toward him; it would grab him in its claws, tear him with its teeth. It was so hard not to look!

The beats of the wings changed. Something massive and black flew past about a hundred yards away, red eyes watching him. Dragon eyes glowed. The creature winged to the side and landed on a nearby rock. It seemed wary.

Skip looked at it and tried to feign surprise. That tied his brain in knots, and he ended up just staring. That seemed to make the dragon even more worried; its slender neck looked from side to side in suspicion.

"Your acting is terrible," the monster proclaimed.

"So I've been told."

"I smell no hunters; where are they?"

Skip resisted the urge to exhale in relief. The other dragon had assumed he was bait; it had actually worked! "Uh, hunters?" Skip said, trying to sound nervous. "I don't know what you mean."

"You'd have me believe you were out here alone?"

"Sure am."

"In dragon territory?"

"Oh, this is dragon territory?"

"At night?"

"My, how the time has passed! I didn't notice."

"I realize that humans are often oblivious, but this seems incredible, even for one of you."

"Is is that obvious?"

"Yes. Nobody is so stupid."

"I wouldn't bet on that." The dragon leaned forward on his rock, looking down. Skip stood nervously. "Umm.. I guess you can go now," Skip said.

"What about the hunters?"

"You figured out what we're doing," Skip said, "so we can't surprise you. You might as well fly away; we'll never kill you this way."

"I want to see where you've hidden them."

"Don't be foolish! Do you have any idea how long it takes to dig in the grass and hide fifty armed soldiers? If they climb out now, it'll be hours getting them back in for the next dragon." The dragon's eyes narrowed further, and he leaned forward on his hilltop. Despite the moonlight, it was difficult to make out much regarding him; black-on-black, scales that shone softly, red eyes. Something was odd, though. Skip couldn't put his finger on it.

"I can't let your trap remain here," the dragon said. "My brother is flying in these parts. He might fall into it. In fact, a large number of my kin have gone missing in the last few weeks. We've been told specifically to watch for a group of hunters in the area. You haven't seen my brother, have you?"

"Can't say that I have. What's his name?"

"<Vrogldoklmoklbokloklu'u'u'u'l>."

The word was unlike any that Skip had heard. There were sounds in it, unnatural ones, unexpected ones. Like getting a teddy bear filled with razor blades for your birthday. Hearing the name made Skip's ears want to rebel and maybe take a turn at smelling things, instead. "Nope, never heard of him. We certainly didn't kill him earlier today." I hope.

"I don't care how many hunters you have, little man. You have just sealed your fate. I bring you death this night! Those words will be the last that-"

"Hey, wait."

"Call your hunters, little man. I will best them!"

"No, really, wait. I just realized what's wrong. You don't look maddened by my scent."

"Your scent? Why should I care about that?"

"But... how did you find me?"

"I saw you, little man. Walking draconic lands is asking to be devoured, and so, while I am somewhat full from a taxman I ate earlier, I decided to come down and make a feast of you. It's the principle of the matter, really."

"But... you smell nothing?"

"I can't smell. Inhaled some acidic smoke as a dragonling, burned my nostrils fiercely."

Oh, Skip thought. How wonderful. A dragon who wouldn't, upon smelling him, get driven near insane? It was amazing. Incredible.

And actually ironic. For it seemed that this was the dragon who, at long last, would end up eating him.

LTUE 2020 ()
#14 (not searchable) Copy

Dan Wells

The Apocalypse Guard

Part One: The Plural of Apocalypse

Chapter One

Emma's Instructions for Starting a Book:

1) Start with something exciting, to get the reader's attention.

2) Don't start with a blog post. Like this one.

3) Crap. Let me start over.

Smoke in the air, a red sky, huddling alone in the ruins of a dying world. (See, that's better already.) My name is Emma, by the way. Yes, that Emma, from Emma's Instructions. But unless you're one of the six people who follows me on Snapgram, that probably doesn't mean anything to you. So, let me introduce myself. I'm eighteen years old. I'm from <Idaho>, sort of. And I just realized that I got totally off track again. What happened to the red sky and the dying world? Well, let me tell you.

Remember how I'm only sort of from <Idaho>? I've lived there since I was two, but I was born in a place called <Ard>, which is basically like a different version of <Idaho>, but in an alternate reality? And if you're reading this, you need to know about alternate realities. There's Earth. And then there's an infinite number of different worlds that are kind of like Earth, but also different. Sometimes a little, and sometimes a lot. Like there's one called <Hona> that's mostly the same as the world you know, except instead of continents it's all islands. Even <Idaho> is an island in a giant North American archipelago. Crazy, huh? So there's <Hona>, and there's Terra, and there's <Erodan> and <Pangaea>, and a bunch of others. And there used to be an <Ard>, but it's gone now. Because I called it a dying world before, but that was sixteen years ago. Today, it is all the way dead. Burned to a crisp. And I almost burned with it, except that the Apocalypse Guard swooped in and saved me.

Holy crap, the Apocalypse Guard! Why didn't I start with them?

Emma's Instructions for Starting a Book Correctly:

1) Start with something exciting to get the reader's attention.

2) Like, for example, if your story includes a group of amazing heroes who travel the multiverse saving entire worlds from destruction, maybe lead with that.

3) I mean, come on.

The Apocalypse Guard are based on Earth, but they hop around from world to world stopping Apocalypses. Apocalypsi? Apocaleeps? That word doesn't even have a plural, because why would you ever need to talk about more than one Apocalypse? Most people just get one, and then boom, you're done. That's what an Apocalypse is. But the Apocalypse Guard can actually stop Apocalypses, and they've already stopped a bunch of them and now we're in <Erodan> to stop a giant asteroid and it's AMAZING.

Important Note: did you see how I casually dropped that "we" in there? Now "we're" in <Erodan>? That's because I'M TOTALLY A MEMBER OF THE APOCALYPSE GUARD AND I CAME HERE TO STOP AN ASTEROID! (I know it's kind of lame to type in caps lock like that, but seriously, if you were in the Apocalypse Guard traveling to a different dimension to stop a giant asteroid, you'd totally put it in your Snapgram, too, and I would not say anything about your excited over-use of caps lock because I am a good friend.

Which is also why I am going to stop talking about myself and start telling you the story about how we saved <Erodan>.

Starting right now.

I was standing in the Apocalypse Guard command center, looking up at the screens that showed the giant asteroid hurtling down toward the planet when Commander Visco signalled that it was time for me to do my part.

"Emma," she said, and waved her coffee mug toward me. "I'm empty again."

Okay, so my part is very small.

"Yes, sir!" I seized the Commander's mug and hurried over to the small kitchen beside the command center. I mean, I was only eighteen, and fresh out of high school; it's not like I was gonna be out there flying around in a power rig, draining kinetic energy from an extinction-level space rock. I was a cadet! And this was still very early in my training, so coffee was all they let me do.

One pot of coffee was already brewing on the counter, but we had about forty people in the command center, each with their own station and responsibility. So I got a second pot going, just in case. To tell you the truth, I was a coffee-making genius. Which is weird, because I don't drink coffee. I'm not just from <Idaho>; I'm from <Iona, Idaho>. Population 1,803, approximately 1,802 of whom are in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, including me. So I don't drink coffee, but you know what I can do? I can follow instructions. It's practically a superpower. Though, I guess if you followed me on Snapgram, you already knew that.

Emma's Instructions for Perfect Coffee:

1) Follow the freaking recipe.

2) Serve it way hotter than you think it should be.

3) Never talk about how bad it smells.

I know a lot of people love the smell of coffee, but they're wrong. You call it an acquired taste; I call it Stockholm Syndrome.

"You don't have to read the recipe every single time you brew a pot," said Sophie, jogging up with a few empty mugs of her own. She was a cadet, like me, and was mostly just a coffee girl, like me. "Trust me," she said, "I've been drinking coffee for years and I..."

She caught a whiff of the pot I had just filled, and her eyes closed in aromatic pleasure. "Wow, that smells amazing!"

"Thank you," I said and smiled. What did I tell you? Coffee. Making. Genius. When you read the manual and follow the rules and measure things exactly, it will always turn out better than if you just do something by instinct. Always.

I gave Sophie a fist-bump of cadet solidarity, filled Commander Visco's mug, and rushed back into the command center. I said before that we were on <Erodan>, but that's "we" in the communal sense. We, the Apocalypse Guard, had a presence in <Erodan>. When most think of the Apocalypse Guard, they think of the Power Riggers, and their fantastical abilities. And yes, a bunch of those people were on <Erodan> and up in orbit around it, fighting the asteroid. The rest of us, the operators, scientists, engineers, medics, Commanders, janitors, accountants, and cadets were back on Earth using something called a dimensional tunneler to communicate with the Riggers.

We were doing it from an orbital space station, though, which is still pretty friggin' rad, huh? I love this job.

I gave Commander Visco her steaming mug of coffee and took the opportunity to look over her shoulder at the room's main screen, currently showing a view of the asteroid. One of our technicians had named the asteroid "Droppy." Which was why we didn't usually let our technicians name things.

LTUE 2020 ()
#15 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

As Lift hung from the ceiling, dangling precariously from a rope with one hand, reaching out with the other towards the basket, she was forced to acknowledge that stealing food just didn’t give her the same thrill as it once had. She continued to pretend, because she didn’t want her life to change. She hated change. Stealing people’s food was basically her thing. She’d been doing it for years, and she still did get a thrill when she saw their starvin' faces. They’d open a drawer and their chouta wrap was gone, or they’d pick up their plate and find it empty. They’d adopt the most sublime moment of cross-eyed panic and confusion. And then they’d smile and look to see where she was.

They didn’t see her of course, she was way too good at hiding, but they’d look, and they seemed fond. You weren’t supposed to be fond when someone stole from you. Ruined the entire experience. Then there was this. She stretched a little further, fingers brushing the basket. She swung on her rope, stretched out and… there, she snatched the basket. She stuffed the handle between her teeth and scuttled back up the rope, vanishing into the hidden labyrinth of small tunnels that laced the ceilings and walls of the tower. Up here Wyndle waited, coiled up upon himself and making a face out of vines and crystal.

“Oh!” he said, “A full basket! Let’s see what she left you this time.”

“Ain't nobody leavin' me nothing,” Lift snapped. “I stole it, unfair and square. Also, hush. Someone might hear.”

“They can’t hear me Mistress, I am…”

“I hear you, so hush, whinyspren.” She crept away from the hole, pushing the basket ahead of her as she crawled through the small tunnel. The next intersection was a tight squeeze, but she could make herself slippery with Stormlight, so she got through. Two turns and a straight crawl later, they entered a small intersection of tunnels, where she’d left a sphere for light. The roof of the tunnel was a little higher here, letting her settle down with her back against the stone so she could inspect her prize. Wyndle came in on the ceiling, taking the shape of a growing vine that crept across the stone. He formed a face again right above her, looking down as she pulled open the basket and began rifling through it. Flatbreads and curry, sugared mashed beans, little jar with a cute face drawn on top, along with the Horneaters’ symbol for love. It looked like jam inside. Lift looked up at the ceiling and the blinking vine face hanging from it.

“Alright,” she admitted, “maybe she left it out for me.”

“Maybe?”

Starving stupid Horneater woman,” Lift grumbled, slathering jam on the flatbread. “Her dad knew how to make it look like an accident, leaving stuff out so I could take it. Let me storming pretend.”

She stuffed the bread in her mouth. Damnation it was good. Only made the experience more humiliating.

“I don’t see the problem, Mistress,” Wyndle said.

“That’s 'cause you’re a dummyspren,” she said, then stuffed the rest of the flatbread into her mouth, talking around it. “Don’t <blahgruhbluhbluhluh>.”

“I do too like fun in my life,” he said. “Last week I displayed the most beautiful art installation of chairs from around the tower. The others thought it quite majestic; they complimented the stools in particular.”

Lift sighed, leaning back against the wall and just slumped there. Not really angry, not really sad, she was just… <blarglegorf>. Supremely <blarglegorf>.

Storms. The wrap she wore underneath her shirt was really starting to itch today. “Come on,” she said, grabbing the basket and sphere and then moving on through the tower's innards.

“Is it really so bad?” Wyndle said, following. “Cord likes you. That’s why she leaves things out for you”.

“I’m not supposed to be liked,” Lift snapped. “I’m a shadow. A dangerous and unseen shadow moving mysteriously from place to place, never seen, always feared.”

“A… shadow.”

“Yes, a starvin' shadow alright?” She had had to squeeze through the next tunnel, too. Stupid, stupid, stupid. “This tower here, it's like a big old corpse, and I’m like blood, sneakin' around through its veins.”

“Why would a corpse have blood in its veins?”

“Fine, it’s not dead, it’s…sleepin', and we’re its stormin' blood, alright?”

“I should think,” Wyndle said as she squeezed through another tight fit, “these air vents are more like intestines. So the allegory would make you more akin to, um, well… feces, I guess.”

“Wyndle…” she said, pulling through.

“Yes, Mistress?”

“Maybe stop trying to help with my deezy metaphors, alright?”

“Yes, alright.”

Storming lamespren,” she muttered, getting to a section of air vents that were larger. She did like this tower. There were lots of places to hide and places to explore, particularly if you were a person of the smaller variety. Up here in this network of stone ventilation shafts, she found the occasional mink or other scavenger, but it was really just her domain. The adults were too big and the other children too frightened. Plus, she could glow when properly fed, and her awesomeness could get her through tight squeezes. When she'd first started exploring up here, there hadn’t been nearly as many of those as there were now. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

They eventually reached her nest, an opening where four ventilation shafts met. Here, she'd piled up blankets, food stores, and some treasures. One of Dalinar’s knives she was absolutely sure he hadn't wanted her to steal. Some interesting shells. An old flute that Wyndle said looked strange to him. There were near a well where she could get all the water she wanted, but far enough away from population that she could talk without feeling like people could hear her.

The previous nest she'd made before moving had let her listen in on echoes of people nearby, but they’d been able to hear her, as well. She’d heard them talking about the echoing in the ventilation shafts. "The spirit of the tower," they’d said. And that had been nifty at first, but then they’d started leaving out stuff for her, like she was like the stormin' Nightwatcher. And then she’d started to feel guilty. You can’t be takin' stuff from people who don’t have much to give. That was the first rule of not being a total and utter useless piece of chull dung.

She munched on some stolen food from her basket, then sighed and got up. She stepped to the side wall, putting her back to it.

“Come on,” she said, “Do it.”

Wyndle moved up the wall. As always, he left a trail of vines behind him. Those would crumble and decay soon after, but for a short time could be used to mark something, like the height of a girl standing beside the wall. He moved across the wall atop her head, then she stepped back and marked the line with a more permanent one out of chalk.

“That’s almost a full inch since last time,” she said.

“I’m… sorry, Mistress.”

She flopped down in her nest of blankets, wanting to curl up and cry. But she didn’t do that, because she wasn't storming weak. Instead, she took off her shirt, then undid the wrap around her chest and redid it tightly.

“I’ll stop eating,” she said. “That’ll stunt my growth.”

“You? Stop eating?”

“I could do it!” She pulled the wrap tighter, then put her shirt back on. Then she just lay and stared up at the marks on the wall showing the progress of her height over the last eight months.

“Mistress,” Wyndle said, curling up like an eel and raising a vine head beside her. He was getting better at making faces, and this one was one of her favorites. It had little vines that looked like mustaches. “Don’t you think it is time that you told me what exactly you asked the Nightwatcher?”

“Doesn’t matter.” she said. “It was all lies. The boon, the promises. Lies, lies, lies.”

“I have met the Nightwatcher,” Wyndle said. “She does not think the same way the rest of us do. Cultivation created her to be apart, to be separate from mankind, unconnected. She wanted to create a daughter whose shape and personality would not be influenced by the perceptions of humans. This makes the Nightwatcher less... well, human than a spren like myself. Still, I don’t believe her capable of lying. It isn’t something she could conceive of, I believe.”

“She’s not the liar,” Lift said, closing her eyes. Storms, she’d made the wrap too tight; she could barely breathe. “It’s the other one, the one with the dress like leaves merging into the underbrush, hair like twigs, skin the color of deep brown stone.”

“So, you saw Cultivation herself. That is rare.”

Lift shrugged.

“I had suspected it was true. Your situation is unique. Why, seeing into the Cognitive Realm even a little is an uncommon feature in a human, and turning food into Stormlight… well, you’re special, Lift”.

“I didn’t want to be special.”

“Says the girl who just earlier was comparing herself dramatically to a shadow.”

“I just wanted what I asked for.”

“Which was?”

“Not important now.”

“I rather think it is.”

“I asked not to change,” Lift whispered, opening her eyes. “I said when everything else is going wrong, I want to be the same. I want to stay me, not become someone else.”

“Those are the exact words you asked?”

“Best I can remember.”

“Hmm,” Wyndle said, snuggling down into his vines. “I believe the problem is how vague you were.”

“I wasn’t vague! I told her, make me so I don’t grow up.”

“That is not what you said, Mistress. And if I might be so bold, having spent a great deal of time around you, I should tell you that you are not an easy person to understand.”

“I asked not to change, so why am I changing?”

“You’re still you, just a bigger version.”

She squeezed her eyes shut again.

“Mistress. Lift. Will you tell me why this bothers you so much? Everyone grows, everyone changes.”

“But I’m…I’m her little girl.”

“Who’s little girl?” he asked gently. “Your mother?”

Lift nodded. Stupid, sounded stupid and she was stupid. Mother was dead, that was that. Why hadn’t she said the right words? Why hadn’t Cultivation just understood? She was supposed to be some sort of starving god. It was her fault if a little girl came and begged for a promise that got deliberately misinterpreted and… and Lift liked who she was, who she had been. She wouldn’t be the same when she got older.

RoW Release Party ()
#16 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

In this world, there are two competing ecologies. There's something we call "fain," and something we call "trune." And in this region, humankind, they basically can't live in the fain ecology. There's something called skullmoss that grows over everything and changes the plants; they become poisonous. And the animal flesh, humans can't survive on. We are in a city that is surrounded entirely by fain life. It's grown around, and there's a ring around the city; no one knows why it hasn't taken over the city.

And into this comes Midius, an apprentice Lightweaver who has been tasked with helping the people of this city by a mysterious mentor figure that you're not gonna find out about, but there will be some little clues. And he is brand new at this, barely knows what he's doing, and has been tasked with figuring out the mystery and trying to save the city before it falls to the fain.

He has entered the city, shown off some of his powers, had a different response from what he expected, and now he's found kind of a home in basically a soup kitchen for the poor that is run... they're the people who let him in.

This is from The Liar of Partinel.

Brandon Sanderson

"I want an opportunity to perform a story for these peoples," Midius said.

<Razal> snorted. "Like you performed for the king with that dragon today?"

Midius frowned. They stood in the kitchen, amidst <Razal's> bubbling pots, <Kale> dutifully stirring one to the left. The man hadn't needed to be asked. Already the room was beginning to fill with unemployed people. They sat, staring at their tables, waiting to be fed.

"How do you know about the dragon?" Midius asked.

<Razal> dumped a handful of spices into one of the pots. "It's all over the city, Jesk. I think it was incredibly poor taste to make the image eat an illusionary soldier."

"I did nothing of the sort."

"But you did create an illusion of a monster."

"Yes," Midius admitted."

"And now you want me to let you do something similar in here?"

"Nothing so drastic," Midius promised, "just a simple story."

"Why? I thought you were here to save the city or something."

"I'm working on that," Midius said. "In the meantime, I'd like to tell a story. I think it might help these men, lift their burdens.

<Razal> stopped pouring spices. She folded her arms, looking up at Midius. "Look, Lightweaver," she said, "you think your lies are gonna make these men happy? You think you can feed their children with a story? The Jesks failed us. Your master: he failed us."

"Wait, when was this?"

"Before," <Razal> said, waving a hand. "When <Torag> took control form Theus's father. The Jesks tried to placate the people, tried to tell them that a new age was coming. They spoke of art and beauty. And you know what? Their king couldn't feed us. People starved by the hundreds. Why do you think we turned to Theus?"

Midius's frown deepened. He knew the story, the history, differently. <Torag> had killed Theus's father, true, but it hadn't been the Jesks' influence that had caused the problems during <Torag's> single, tumultuous year of rule. It'd been the lack of alliances, poor trade instincts, and general unsettlement in the city.

And yet, the Jesks had supported him. And that was part of the reason Theus had exiled them. Still, <Razal's> version was skewed. Or perhaps Midius's was. His master had taught him the past was very difficult to pin down. "As fluid as river waters," he'd called history. "What paints on a tapestry, mixing and melding in liquid form, creating images and scents that never remained stable.

"<Razal>," Midius said, "you suffer the philosophers, even though I can tell you think their talk is frivolous. Well, even if you see my stories as frivolous, I ask you to let me tell them."

"Bah. You're as bad as that godspeaker, always pume to do things. Fine. Tell your story. But only after you serve food during the big eating rush."

"Very well," Midius said, "though I do wonder why we even do it this way. Wouldn't it be faster to have the men line up and pass through to get their soup?"

"These men spend all day waiting in line, Jesk," she said. "They wait for hours, standing in the sun and hoping to be one of the few that gets a chance to work. I don't intend to make them wait here, too. Get to work."

Midius took a stack of bowls and moved over to <Kale's> cauldron, filling two of them. "You're good at getting what you want, Jesk," the soldier said. Midius shrugged. "I would have thought that you'd be poor at that, after living so long alone in the forest."

"I wasn't alone in the forest," Midius said, taking the bowls and turning. "I had my master." Wasn't really an answer. But Midius didn't feel like giving the real answer. He'd always been good at making things he wanted happen. It was just the way that life was. The world worked as he wanted. Save for the notable exceptions.

Midius didn't let him indwell on that, however. He'd mourned over his master's death enough.

He moved about, delivering bowls of food to the men. Even after only one day in the kitchen, the work became rote to him. That left him to think and consider, trying to decide the best story for the situation. His opportunity came soon, the tide of hungry men slowing. Midius approached <Razal>, setting down an empty bowl, and met her eyes. Behind him, the sounds of dozens of wooden spoons scraping ceramic bowls echoed in the chamber.

<Razal> turned away and waved an indifferent hand. So Midius turned and felt the increasingly familiar flutter in his chest. He grimaced. A man who had killed as many shouldn't feel such nervousness. And yet, there it was. Perhaps a sign that he was more human than he'd often give himself credit.

"I've tried speaking about history," he announced to the room, "and I was ignored." Some of the eating men paused, glancing at him. It was easy to make his voice carry with so few people talking. "I've tried showing a monster. But I got the wrong reaction from that. I've caused enough fear in my life, and I did not come to Partinel to bring more."

Midius put his hand up to the side and dropped a handful of dust. He wove the light into an image of a beautiful blonde woman wearing a blue crown. "So," Midius said, sitting back on a stool, "today, I'll try a romance."

Many of the men perked up at the appearance, though not a few muttered instead. "I honestly don't know a lot about romance, myself," Midius said, tossing a handful of dust to the other side, weaving the light into the image of a princely man with a copper crown. "But then, neither have I ever met a dragon. But I can craft one from light well enough. Besides, I do know one thing. When it comes to romance, women are fickle, but men are fools."

He smiled to the audience. Most of them watched him. However, they didn't respond as his master had indicated. When he called women fickle, he expected grunts of assent. And when he called men fools, his intonation should have garnered a few chuckles. He got neither.

Midius moved on, throwing a handful of dust behind himself, weaving the light and blocking the sight of <Razal> and her pots, instead creating an image of a richly decorated room, complete with a bronze-rimmed looking glass and deeply dyed rugs.

"Now, this was a time before the coming of the fain," Midius said. "Many of my stories are from that time. It does us good to remember that our lives were once more than they are, now. <Lily> was known in seven cities as the most beautiful to be born in some hundred years' time. Wives spoke of her when they washed clothing in rivers. Laborers passed news while they cut wheat in the field. Even children knew of <Lily>.

"Eventually, news reached Prince <Helius>, heir to the throne of Lion's Hill. Now, <Helius> was not a vain man, nor was he particularly demanding. He was, however, an inquisitive man. This news troubled him. What would the most beautiful woman in the world look like? How would she dress? What color were her eyes? How would she keep her hair? He asked after these things, but no one could give him a detailed answer."

Another handful of dust produced a group of scribes and scholars speaking with <Helius>, who stood to his left. <Lily>, however, continued to comb her hair in the room to his right, looking into her mirror. It was a challenging illusion, and Midius felt himself being drawn into the image, transfixed by it. He found it hard to pay attention to the audience as he continued to speak.

"<Helius> determined that he would have to discover <Lily's> beauty for himself. Though his father, the king, objected, <Helius> left that day to ride for <Nanhell>, the fair woman's reported home." <Helius's> room dissolved in a shimmer, transforming into an image of a prince riding on horseback. Even focused on the illusion as he was, Midius could hear cries of surprise from the men at the tables as they saw the prince riding atop a full-sized horse.

The illusion remained steady, the horse staying in place despite its galloping, and Midius carefully added the faint sound of hoofbeats. "<Helius's> road was long and hard," he continued, giving a slight image of rainfall to the illusion washing over the prince. "And as he approached the city, <Helius> began to encounter crowds and large troops of men. He was not the only one who had come to see <Lily's> beauty. Indeed, from the processions he soon began to pass, he wasn't even the only prince who had come. Though he certainly was the most poor and the most humble. He hadn't even brought a single manservant. His only companion was his trusted and aged bodyguard.

"What's more, so many had come to see this princess that they crowded in tents along the walls outside. Every inn in the city was completely full. But Prince <Helius> was clever as well as inquisitive. He found an empty nook on the street, and there he began erecting a fine, extensive tent. The beggars who lived there were surprised to see one so rich pitching there, but the prince did not acknowledge them, instead chatting with his bodyguard and making up a story about how this street was the perfect location to view the princess when she went on her secret morning rides.

"Within a few hours, news had spread, and all imaginable kinds of people had crowded the streets to stake a claim on space. <Helius> retreated to an inn and was able to get a room from one of those who had left in order to sleep on the street.

"As his faithful bodyguard bedded down down on the floor, <Helius> sat by the window, pondering. Then he spotted an old woman walking among those in the street, saying something that seemed to make people there angry. Her attitude intrigued <Helius>, and he sent his guard out to fetch the old woman."

Midius threw out dust in front of him, creating the image of the old woman. He was completely engrossed in his own telling, prepared to move on to the old woman's warning that Princess <Lily> was cursed. As he began this part, however, the illusion wavered, <Razal> cautiously poking through, causing a shimmering of sparking dust to fall to the ground and shattering the back of <Helius's> room.

Midius blinked, bought out of his own story enough to again become aware of the audience. Many of the men were muttering loudly, and some had left the room, leaving their soup behind. Midius shook his head, coming conscious again, his illusion disintegrating. People, objects, rooms, melting down into bits of dust.

"You've had your chance, Jesk," <Razal> snapped. "Stop frightening these men away."

"But the story..."

"They don't care about your story, Jesk. Lies and fain illusions; what good are they?"

"Fain illusions? You think what I do is fain?"

"Well, it's not natural, I'll say that."

Midius looked around, sensing the hostility in the faces of the watching men. Embarrassed, he stood, last of the illusions exploding into dust behind him. Then he rushed from the room, moving to his chambers. Once there, he threw a handful of dust against the wall, summoning his master's figure. Midius's room was dim, since he'd brought no candle. But yet the ancient Lightweaver formed from the dust, sitting on Midius's bed.

"You lied to me," Midius said.

"Well, I am a liar," the master said. "So are you."

"We don't lie about important things."

"All of our lies are important, you know that."

Midius turned away. "They were supposed to welcome my stories. How often do you mention the joy that men finding in storytelling? How often do you talk of lies and their power to bring emotion? They're supposed to love me, not revile me."

"Is that why you're here, Midius? To find love?"

Midius glanced at his master. "So I should stop? Focus only on the Corrupted?"

"Ah, lad. Saving Partinel involves so much more than simply stopping the Corrupted. These people, they live, but they no longer remember why. They eat with dull stares. They work the fields without laughter. They return home to their families worried and frightened that they'll get sick, or that they will lose a child to the Year of Sacrifice, or that the trune ring will finally collapse and leave them all without a home."

"There is little I can do about that."

"You can remind them that there is more to life than pain, fear, and sorrow. That's the true calling of a Jesk. You look to give them stories that have meaning, but the most important meaning of your lies has nothing to do with a moral. It has to do with the way that it makes people feel, not the way that it makes them think."

"They don't want to feel. If they can't see how it'll feed them or bring them wealth, they don't want it. They revile it and call it superstition or foolishness. They care nothing for what I offer."

"No," his master said. "They do care. But they're afraid. Midius, this thing that you do, this is a noble and grand work. When you tell a story, you make men see through the eyes of someone whom they've never known. When they hear the tale of a widow's pain, for a moment they are that widow. When they hear a child's play, they remember what it was to be a child themselves. When they see a hero win, for a short time they succeed, as well. They may have forgotten what this means, but that is part of being human. Your duty, then, is merely to remind them."

ConQuest 46 ()
#17 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

I have the novella [Adamant] completed but I have no idea when I’ll be able to release it because it needs a lot of attention--in fact I’m going to skip one of the scenes, which is broken right now--and it’s me doing space opera.  So yay.

Brandon Sanderson

Explosions shattered the void of space spraying vibrant reds, yellows, greens.  Each firework made Jeff flinch, but he maintained an even smile.

“Quite the show, eh?” the shuttle pilot asked.  She had a southern accent, which sounded pretty authentic, but who was he to say?  It had been over a century since anyone had heard a real one in the flesh.

“It’s lovely,” Jeff said, hoping she wouldn’t notice his wince as another large series went off near the shuttle.  He couldn’t hear the detonations--not flying through the vacuum of space--but he imagined them. Or were those other explosions, from another time?

“You could say this is all for you sir,” the pilot said, then glanced at him.  She was pretty, with short blonde hair and a prim blue Armada uniform. A silvery sidejack gleamed on her left temple, just back from the eye.  “I’ve never flown a hero before.”

“It’s war, Lieutenant,” Jeff said, “We’re all heroes.”  The shuttle flew through a ring of vibrant red light, sparks bouncing off of its shielding.

No," the pilot said. "Sorry sir but it’s not war.  Not anymore. Not thanks to you,” she smiled broadly.  And she was right, the war had ended.  Those weren’t explosions, they were signs of celebration.  Vigilance and Valor, it was actually over.

A flight of fighters zipped by in battle formation.  Two slower Obstructers on the outside, four Interrupters inside them, carrying a precious Carrier at the very center.  Today that Carrier dropped lines of fireworks instead of bombs. Jeff found himself smiling in genuine appreciation of the festivities.  He didn’t need to give the crawling darkness a place inside of him any longer. It was done; now the fun could begin.

The shuttle banked around the side of a large gunship, finally bringing the Adamant into view.  The massive flagship was a wedge of steel and lights tipping the front lit the enormous wings sweeping backwards, almost like a pair of crashing waves.  Another sequence of fireworks burst around the Adamant, and Valor, their size must have been incredible for him to make them out at this distance.  Through the light show he got a nice view of the ship’s Impeller plate at the back.  The plate stretched long and wide, like a massive radio dish. An EDB detonation in the center would shove the ship directly into Negspace, letting it travel a great distance in a short time.  Of course if the detonation was off, the blast would irradiate the entire ship and kill everyone on board.  That was the risk of modern space travel. Fortunately, mistakes were very, very rare.

“So how’d you do it, sir?” the pilot asked, “If you don’t mind me asking, how’d you know what the enemy would do?  You must be one hell of a strategist.”

“No, actually,” Jeff said, still forward in his seat to get a better view through the shuttle window, “When it comes to tactics I barely know my flanks from my rearguard.  I’m a xenopsychologist.” She gave him a blank look. “I study aliens,” he said. “That’s my life’s work, both the <Shivana> and the <Alkour>.”

“The <Alkour>?  You mean the Knockers?”

“Sure, the Knockers.  I made a study of them. It wasn’t too difficult to decide what the Centurion would do once I teased out the specifics of his race’s psychology.  I passed word from my lab on FS21 to Armada tacticians, and they fortunately accepted my conclusions. So here we are.”

“Wait, you’re a--” she cut off, blushing, “You lived on a station, sir.”

“Yes.”

She glanced at the colonel's insignias on his uniform and then back out the window.  Jeff ignored the slight. He wasn’t surprised that she expected the Hero of Broken Sky, as the <sidecasts> were already calling him, to be some swarthy general and master tactician rather than a short, pale scholar from a remote station.  Armada prejudice against staties was silly, and most of the Armada people he met seemed to know it. In a way, Jeff really didn’t care what this woman thought.  The anticipation of the moment was too thrilling. Decades of war finally over, the Knockers defeated in a resounding final conflict. More importantly, in the fury of the battle the Armada’s forces had accomplished something even Jeff had never thought possible.  They had captured the enemy general.

“Well that seems good,” the pilot said.  Jeff glanced at her; they were in the shadow of the Adamant now, cruising along its side.  Being so close only emphasized how massive the ship was, bigger than some stations Jeff had lived on.

“What was that lieutenant?” Jeff asked.

“Hmm?  Oh I was talking to the docking attendants.  Didn’t they give you authorization to basic Armada side-channels?” She glanced at him and seemed to noticed for the first time the scar on his left temple, and the complete lack of a sidejack there.

Jeff rubbed the scar.  “Jack didn’t take for me.”

“That can happen?”

“It has at least once.  What did they send you?”

“That we are free to dock in 14OB, sir” she blushed again, bringing the shuttle into another sweeping turn toward one of the smallest of the docking cubbies.  “There should be a reception committee there for you sir, though I think you’ve missed a lot of the festivities.”

“I’m not here for the party,” Jeff said, “I’m here for an interview.”

“Debriefing?” the woman asked.

“You could say that.”

The Adamant’s side here was gouged with hundreds of holes, like a field after a heavy artillery bombardment.  Most ships couldn’t enter <Negspace> on their own.  Even the massive gunships would need a transport to carry them interstellar distances.  The flagship, and other transports of its class, were like hives. Each carried its own fleet of tiny fighters, larger shuttles, mid-sized assault-craft, and powerful gunships.  They all floated separately for the moment, arrayed to watch the festivities. Parties would be happening on each gunship, whose crew was like their own smaller borough within the city that made up a transport fleet like this one.  Jeff’s shuttle pulled alongside a boxlike cubby and then slid in like a peg into a hole, locking into place.

“Good luck with the <GAF> sir,” the pilot told him.

“Oh I’m sure Robert and I will have a good time catching up,” Jeff said, noting the look of shock in her eyes when he called the Armada's commander-general by his first name, “but my interview isn’t with him.  It’s with the Centurion.”

She paled even further, “The Knocker general?  We caught him?”

So it wasn’t common knowledge. Good.  Jeff had asked for the information to be kept quiet, despite Robert’s insistence that parading the Centurion about would improve morale.  “Yes,” Jeff said. “That’s classified information by the way.” The lieutenant nodded quickly; he wondered if she’d stay quiet. Well, discovering that his request had been followed was worth the potential leak.  He didn’t really care if people knew, he just didn’t want Robert using the general as a showpiece. A glorified carnival act. During their years of war, taking a Knocker captive had been a rare occasion, and to have the general himself…

The docking process finished, and light above the airlock flipped to green, indicating the seals were in place.  Jeff reached up and put on his stiff, formal service cap and headed toward the door.

“Good luck sir,” the pilot called to him, “With the Knocker, I mean.”

“Aliens are rarely a problem for me lieutenant,” Jeff said, the doors sliding open, “It’s humans that give the trouble.”  He smiled politely, then stepped off of the Adamant.

***

[scrolling past the aforementioned “broken” scene]

So Jeff goes and meets the XO, or no the sergeant, one of the sergeants in charge named Chug and has a little conversation with Robert, the <GAF>, and gets to go meet the Knocker general.  He's wanted to the whole time, and is annoyed that people are not letting him.

So they go and they are now at the prison, where they are keeping him, and they have met a little marine who is sitting outside.

***

The marine looked Jeff up and down with a critical eye.  Tall, lean, and dark-skinned, the man surprisingly wore no armor and carried only a simple handgun as a sidearm.  In fact, he seemed far less imposing than Jeff expected of a marine, the Armada ship-to-ship boarding troops. The only distinctive thing about this man were his eyes.  They were… cracked.  Like a broken window.  Cracks spread across the man’s irises and whites, starkly visible.  Jeff had read about that effect somewhere, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember where.

“So you're him,” the marine said.  Vigilance and Valor, those eyes were disconcerting when they focused on him. It almost made up for the fact that the man was basically unarmed.  This is what they had guarding the most dangerous warrior in the galaxy?

“Jeffrey Salazar,” Jeff said, pulling out his hand.  The marine took it, surprisingly.

“Maddox. Nice work, sir.”

“Thank you,” Jeff said, uncertain how to interpret the pause.  “Why are you here marine, normally the brig isn’t your jurisdiction, is it?”

“There’s a Knocker in there colonel,” Maddox said.

“A prisoner.”

“With all due respect, colonel,” Maddox said, “that thing is the most dangerous monster we've ever faced.  Every step we’ve taken in this war, he anticipated.  We’ve been playthings to it all along.  Now it’s on my ship. So as far as I’m concerned, we’ve been boarded by a hostile force, sir.”

Jeff nodded slowly.  “I’m going to need to go in there and see him anyway, marine.  Can you call your superior and authorize us?” Maddox looked at Chug, and then back to Jeff.  He pulled out a datapad and checked it also.

No sidejack, Jeff thought.  Marines didn’t use them.  The <Shivana> had claimed there was little possibility of the enemy learning anything from one, but it was still Armada protocol to keep them off the marines, who had a much higher than normal chance of being captured.

“I can authorize you myself,” Maddox said, “I can’t open the door from this side though, as a precaution.  It will take me a moment.

“Commander Maddox is head of the Armada’s marines,” Chug noted as Maddox sat down in a chair beside the massive metal door to the brig.

“Commander?  Your uniform says airman.”

“Yeah,” Maddox said from his chair, “This body is my runner.  I need the stripes off in case boarders are watching for officers.”

“This body?”  Maddox went completely limp.  A second later, the blast door revealing... Maddox.  Only a much taller version, well muscled, and wearing full boarding armor and carrying a wicked looking gun.  Jeff glanced at the limp body beside the door. They were the same, only the less muscled body’s eyes were no longer cracked.  In fact, they stared sightlessly like the dead. “You’re a jumper!” Jeff said, finally remembering what the broken eyes indicated.

Maddox nodded, waving for them to follow.  Jeff hurried after, entering a small, narrow metal hallway.  Slits on the side revealed gun placements beyond. Jeff shivered.  Anyone trying to run down this hall could easily find themselves in a death trap, bullets spraying at them at every step.

“I didn’t think there were any jumpers left,” Jeff said, catching up to Maddox, “Didn’t the program get scrapped?”

“Yeah,” Maddox said, each footstep thumping now that he wore his heavily armored body.

“We kept losing soldiers sir,” Chug explained, “They’d jump from one body and never appear in a new one.  They just leave behind empty bodies staring sightlessly. No one ever returned.  Drooled a whole lot though.”

Jeff shivered.  “So each time you jump…”

“I might not arrive,” Maddox said, eyes forward, “But I don’t think about it too much colonel, I am what I am.  I simply make use of it the best I can.”

“I suppose if I could keep two separate bodies,” Jeff said, “I might consider it to be worth the risk.”

They reached the end of the corridor, and Maddox opened a door there and then turned to Jeff and smiled, “What makes you think I have only two, colonel?”

Jeff raised an eyebrow but didn’t press for more information. He was growing excited about what would come next.  Together with Chug and Maddox he stepped onto a large causeway that ran around a steel box of a room two stories high.  Marines in full armor stood at mounted guns here, spotlights shining from the ends and pointing at the floor below.  At least they were taking proper precautions. Jeff counted two dozen marines here, not including the ones hiding behind the kill slits in the corridor.

Maddox stepped up to a female marine who had been guarding the door.  She saluted him. “Any changes?” he asked.

“No sir.”

Maddox waved Jeff to follow him and led him down the causeway.  A row of cells covered one wall below, but there didn’t seem to be anything in them.  If the Adamant had been carrying any other prisoners before today, they had all been shipped out.  That meant their sole prisoner was in the cells underneath Jeff’s feet. He suppressed a shiver, though he couldn’t tell if it was born of excitement or nervousness.  Maddox led him along the causeway as his soldiers shuffled their feet in an odd pattern, several of them stamping while others slid to the side and set up their guns in new positions. To keep the Centurion from knowing where they ended up settling, Jeff realized. If the monster somehow escaped it wouldn’t know exactly where to target its attacks.  How disorienting would it be, gunfire falling on you, blinded by spotlights, trying to escape?

I’m sweating, Jeff realized as they reached the small lift with open sides.  Maddox pointed for Chug to wait above then lowered himself and Jeff down to the floor below.  They hugged the wall and rounded it to stand before the empty cells, facing towards the ones under the causeway they had crossed above.  These were deep and dark, but Jeff could make out a hulking form inside the middle of the three. Something shifted in there. Valor, it was huge.  Maddox made a fist, and one of the soldiers above shined their spotlights into the cell. Jeff got his first in-person look at one of the Knockers. Its head brushed the ceiling of the cell, which had to be seven feet tall. The Knocker probably could have stood taller if it hadn't been forced to stoop.  It’s entire body was covered in silvery bits of metal. They actually grafted it onto their skin somehow, melding with it and creating armor plates that attached to their body. Indeed, as it stepped forward, trailing a ripped cloak that matched its deep red uniform, Jeff could see that it had long, knife-like metal spurs sticking out of the wrists and extending along the backs of the hands.  Its head was enormous, covered in bits of iron plate. It looked vaguely reptilian, with golden eyes and deep leathery skin underneath the grafted on bits of steel. The back of the skull bulged out in five wicked knobs. The hands were big enough they could’ve palmed a watermelon in each. Jeff had to resist taking a step backwards as the Knocker general walked to the bars of his cage, squinting, focusing despite the spotlight on it.

“You,” the creature said softly, “are the Lurker.”  It spoke English well.

“I…” Jeff’s mouth was dry.

“Yes,” the Centurion said, its hands, which had metal bits embedded along the fingernails, scraping the bars as they moved along them, “I can see it, Lurker.”

Time to assert myself, Jeff thought.  He stepped forward, meeting the thing’s eyes.  “I’m Jeffrey Salazar and I’m the one who defeated you.”  Now the creature would either bow before his dominance or rage against him, seeking to destroy him.  He waited for it, curious to see which--

[missing audio]

“I…” Jeff licked his lips.  Why was his mouth so dry? “I challenged your authority, you must respond.”

“My authority?” The alien raised its enormous hands towards the cell.  “This authority?”  He shook his head, “We’ve been bested, you and I both, and so it ends.”  He looked at Jeff, and then, in a distinctly chilling move, he smiled.

That smile, there was so much wrong with it.  Why would a Knocker use a human facial expression?  How much did this creature know, and why was it quoting Shakespeare?  The Knockers were brutes, driven by instinct, that’s what he’d written, that’s what he’d learned, it--  

The alien’s smile deepened, and he closed his eyes again, “The game is done,” he whispered, “Farewell.” Jeff stumbled back, feeling sick.  He’d been wrong. whatever he’d thought he’d known about the Knockers and their society, he’d been wrong. His expertise has supposedly won this war, but it turned out that he had no idea what he was talking about.

“Take me away,” he said to Maddox, “Now.”

ICon 2019 ()
#18 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Of course the Parshendi wanted to play their drums. Of course Gavilar had told them they could. And of course he hadn't thought to warn Navani.

"Have you seen the size of those instruments?" <Hratham> said, running her hands through her black hair. "Where will we put them? We can't..."

"We move to the upper feast hall," Navani said, trying to project a calm demeanor. Everybody else in the kitchens was close to panicking, cooks running one direction or another, pots banging. Gavilar had invited not just the highprinces but their relatives. And every highlord in the town. And he wanted a Beggar's Feast. And now... drums?

"We've already set up in the lower hall," <Hratham> cried, "I don't have the staff to..."

"There are twice as many soldiers as usual loitering around the palace tonight," Navani said, "We'll have them move the tables." Gavilar never forgot about things like posting extra guards. Projecting strength, making a show of force? He could always be counted on for that. For everything else, he had Navani. 

"Could work, yes," <Hratham> said. "Good to put the louts to work rather than having them underfoot. Alright, deep breaths."

The short palace organizer stumbled away, narrowly avoiding an apprentice cook carrying a large bowl of steaming shellfish. Navani stepped to the side and let the cook pass. The man nodded in thanks. The staff had long since stopped being nervous when she entered the kitchens. She'd made it clear to them that doing their job sufficiently was superior praise to her than a bow. Fortunately, this staff was the kind of middle-ranked lighteyes who understood the need for a little practicality.

They seemed to have things well in hand now, though there had been a scare earlier when three barrels of grain had been discovered with worms in them. A little creative thinking had reminded them that Brightlord Amaram had stores for his men, and Navani had been able to pry them out of his grip. For now, it seemed that with the extra cooks borrowed from the monastery, they might actually be able to feed all the extra people Gavilar had invited.

"I should leave some of the tables set up in the lower hall," she thought, slipping out of the kitchens and into the palace gardens. "Who knows who might show up with an invitation." At the very least she might need to feed some of the military officers who couldn't be seated in the main feast hall. 

She turned to hike up through the gardens and entered the palace through the side doors. She'd be less out of the way and wouldn't have to dodge servants if she went out here into the gardens. Maybe she could...

Navani slowed. The Kholinar palace was brightly lit tonight, with spheres adorning every hallway and all of the garden walkways. By that light, Navani could easily make out Aesudan, her daughter-in-law, Elhokar's wife, standing just near the fountains. The slender woman wore her long hair in a bun, which was lit with a gemstone of each shade. All those colors were gaudy together. Navani preferred a few simple stones themed to a color, but it did make Aesudan stand out as she chatted with two elderly ardents. 

Storms bright and brash. Was that <Grushu Kris>, the artist and master artifabrian? When had he gotten into town? Who had invited him? He was holding a small box with a flower painted on it. Could that be one of his new fabrials? Navani found herself drawn toward the group, all other thoughts fleeing her mind. How had he gotten the heating fabrial to work? What had captured the flamespren? How did he make the temperature vary? She'd seen drawings, but to talk to the master artifabrian himself...

Aesudan saw Navani and then smiled brightly. The joy seemed genuine, which was unusual, at least when directed at Navani. She tried not to take Aesudan's general sourness around her as a personal affront. It was the prerogative of every woman to feel threatened by her mother-in-law, particularly when the girl was so obviously lacking in talents. Fortunately, Elhokar liked her, and she was of a good family. Navani smiled at her and turned, trying to enter the conversation and get a better look at that fabrial. Aesudan, however, took Navani by the arm.

"Mother! I had forgotten completely about our appointment. I'm so fickle sometimes. Terribly sorry Ardent <Kris>, but I must make a hasty exit," Aesudan tugged Navani forcefully back through the gardens toward the kitchens. 

"Thank Kelek you showed up Mother. That man is the most dreadful bore."

"Bore?" Navani said, twisting to look over her shoulder.

"He was talking about gemstones, and other gemstones, and spren, and boxes of spren, and... storms, what a night! You'd think he would understand I have important people to meet. The wives of highprinces, the best generals of the land come to gawk at the wild parshmen. Then I get stuck in the gardens talking to ardents! Your son ditched me there, I'll have you know. When I find that boy..."

Navani extricated herself from Aesudan's grip. "Someone should go entertain those ardents. Why are they here?"

"Don't ask me," Aesudan said. "Gavilar wanted them for something, but he made Elhokar entertain them. Poor manners that is, really."

Gavilar had invited one of the world's most prominent artifabrians to visit the palace, and he hadn't even bothered to tell Navani? An anger stirred deep inside her, a fury she kept carefully penned and locked away most of the time. That man. That storming man. How could he...

Calm, Navani, the rational side of her mind said. Maybe he intends to introduce you to the ardent as a gift. He knows how interested you are in fabrials. Perhaps that was it.

"Brightness!" a voice called from the kitchens. "Brightness Navani, oh please, we have a problem!"

"Aesudan," Navani said, eyes on the ardent who was slowly walking away toward the path to the monastery. She could catch him. She could spare a few minutes. "Could you help the kitchens with whatever they need. I'd like to..."

But Aesudan was already hurrying off towards another group in the gardens, one attended by several powerful highlord generals. Navani took a deep breath, shoving down another stab of annoyance. Aesudan claimed to care about propriety and manners, but she'd butt into any conversation between men without even her husband with her as an excuse.

"Brightness!" the cook called, waving to her. Navani took one last look at the ardents and then set her jaw and hurried back to the kitchen, careful not to catch her skirt on the ornamental shalebark. "What now?"

"Wine", the cook said. "We're out of both the <clavina> and the ruby <bench>."

"How?" Navani said. "We ordered..." She shared a look with the cook, and the answer was evident. Dalinar had been at the wine again, it appeared. "I have a private store," Navani said, pulling her notebook from her pocket. She gripped it in her safehand through the sleeve, scribbling a note. "I keep it in the monastery, with Sister <Nana>. Show her this, and she'll give you access."

"Thank you Brightness," the cook said, taking the note. Before the cook was even out the door, however, Navani spotted the house steward, a white-bearded man with too many rings on his fingers, standing in the stairwell up to the palace proper. He was fidgeting with his rings on his left hand. Bother.

"What is it?" she asked, striding over.

"Guests have started to arrive, Brightness, including Highlord Vamah, who was promised an audience with the King regarding the border disputes. You know the one..."

"...about the misdrawn maps, yes," Navani said, sighing. "And my husband?"

"Vanished, Brightness," the steward said. "He was seen with Brightlord Amaram and some of those... uncommon figures." That was the term the palace staff used for Gavilar's new friends, the ones who seemed to arrive without warning or announcement, and who rarely gave their names.

Navani ground her teeth, thinking through the places Gavilar might have gotten himself to. There were a few rooms he tended to use. He would probably be angry if she interrupted him. Well, good. He should be seeing to his duties rather than just assuming she'd handle it all. Unfortunately, at the moment… well, she would have to handle it all. Brightlord Vamah couldn't be left waiting.

She let the anxious steward lead her up to the grand entryway where guests were being entertained with music, drinks and poetry while the feast was being prepared. Others were going with master-servants to view the Parshendi, the night's true novelty. It wasn't every day that the King of Alethkar signed a treaty with a group of mysterious parshmen who could talk. 

She dealt with Vamah, offering apologetic words, even going so far as to promise to review the maps herself and write him a judgement. From there, she was stopped from locating Gavilar by a line of needy men and women who had come specifically to get the King's attention, a privilege that was growing more and more difficult these days, unless you were one of the 'uncommon figures.' Navani assured Brightlords their petitions were being heard. She promised to look into injustices. She soothed the crumpled feelings of those who thought a personal invitation from the King would mean they'd actually get to see that King. It was emotionally taxing work, but nothing new to her, and fully within the Queen's expected duties.

Navani didn't resent her station. Perhaps some day she'd be able to spend her days tinkering with fabrials and pretending that she was a scholar. For now, she had duties. The only thing that truly bothered her was the fact that she shouldn't have to do those duties alone. She was unsurprised at asking that more guests were indeed still indeed showing up, ones that weren't even on the list an annoyed Gavilar had provided for earlier that day. Vev's Golden Keys! Navani kept her increasing fury under control, painting an amicable face on for the arriving guests. She smiled, she laughed, she waved. Using the cheatsheet she kept in her notebook, she asked after families, new births and favorite axehounds. She inquired about trade situations, took notes on which lighteyes seemed to be avoiding others. In short, she acted regal.

She always felt like an imposter, and with good reason. She hadn't been born to this station. Gavilar, Navani, Sadeas, Ialai, they'd taken these mantles upon themselves. And however prestigious their ancient lineage, Navani had to work hard to suppress the anxiety that whispered she was really just a backwater country girl wearing someone else's clothing. Those insecurities had been stronger lately. Calm calm, no room for that sort of thinking.

She rounded the room and was happy to note that Aesudan had found Elhokar and was chatting with him for once, rather than other men. Elhokar did look happy presiding over the pre-feast gathering in his father's absence. Adolin and Renarin were there in stiff uniforms, the former delighting a small group of young women, the latter looking gangly and awkward as he stood by his brother. 

And there was Dalinar, standing tall. Somehow taller than any man in the room, but with those haunted eyes, simmering with passion. He wasn't drunk yet, and people orbited him, like they might a fire on a cold night, needing to be close, but not daring to step up and risk the true heat of his presence. Storms. She complained to her current conversation partners that she was feeling a little faint and, after assuring them that she would be fine, made a brief exit up the steps to where she wouldn't feel so warm.

It was probably a bad idea to leave. They were lacking a King, so if the Queen vanished too, questions were bound to arise. But surely everyone could get on without her for a short time. Besides, up here she could check one of Gavilar's hiding places. He would probably come this direction, away from both the guests and the location of the new feast hall.

Parshendi with their drums passed nearby, speaking a language she did not understand, though one of the young interpreters was with them, so Navani could have asked if she'd wanted. Instead, she twisted her way through the dungeon-like hallways. Why couldn't this place have been a little more light, had a few more windows? She'd brought the matter up with Gavilar but he liked it this way. It gave him more places to hide. 

There, she thought, stopping at an intersection. Voices.

"Being able to bring them back and forth from Braize doesn't mean anything, Gavilar," one of them said. "It's too close to be a relevant distance."

"It was impossible just a few short years ago," said a deep, powerful voice. His. "This is proof. The Connection is not severed, but can be warped to allow for travel. Not yet as far as you'd like, but we must start the journey somewhere."

Navani inched forward, looking around the corner. Yes, there he was, right where she'd expected him to be. In her study, a place she rarely had time to visit but also a place where people were unlikely to search for the King. It was a cozy little room with a nice window, tucked away in the corner of the second floor. He'd left the door cracked, and she inched up to peer in.

Gavilar Kholin had a big enough presence to fill the room all by himself. He wore a beard, but instead of being unfashionable on him it looked classic, like he was a painting come to life, a representation of old Alethkar. By wearing the beard, some had thought he might start a new fashion trend, but nobody else had been able to pull off the look. Others simply didn't have Gavilar's strong features. Beyond that, there was an aura of distortion around Gavilar. Nothing supernatural or nonsensical. It was just that... Well, you accepted that Gavilar could do whatever he wanted, in defiance of any tradition or logic. For him, it would work out. That was just the way of things.

The King was speaking with two men that Navani vaguely recognized. 'Ambassadors from the West' were what they'd been called, but no kingdom had been given for their home. They were simply among Gavilar's uncommon visitors.

A tall Azish man with a birthmark on his cheek, and a shorter Alethi man with a round face and a small nose. The Azish one leaned back against the bookcase, arms folded, face completely emotionless. The Alethi man wrung his hands, reminding Navani of the palace steward, though this man was much younger, somewhere in his twenties, maybe his thirties? No, he could be older…

On the table between Gavilar and the men were a group of spheres. Navani's breath caught as she saw them. They were arrayed in a variety of colors and brightnesses, but several seemed strangely off. They glowed with a color that seemed somehow an inverse of light, as if they were pits of violet darkness, sucking in the color around them. She'd never seen anything like it before, though gemstones with spren trapped inside them could have all kinds of odd looks and effects. Those spheres… they must be for fabrials. And Gavilar was talking to two strangers about them? She was reminded of the artifabrian in the gardens. What was he doing with spheres, strange light, and fabrials? And why couldn't Gavilar talk to her about…

Gavilar suddenly stood up straight, then glanced towards the doorway. Their eyes met. She couldn't tell how he'd spotted her, as she hadn’t made any sound. As soon as she was seen, she pushed open the door, acting like she had been on her way in, anyway. She wasn't spying, she was Queen of this palace, she could go anywhere she wished, particularly her own study!

"Husband," she said, "There are guests missing you at the gathering. You seem to have lost track of time."

"Gentlemen, " Gavilar said to the two ambassadors, "I will need to excuse you for the moment."

The nervous Alethi man ran his hand through his wispy hair.

"I want to know more of the project, Gavilar, plus you need to know something else. I think another of us is here tonight. I spotted her handiwork earlier."

"I have a meeting shortly with Meridas and the others," Gavilar said. "They should have more information for me. We can speak again after that."

"No," the Azish man said, voice sharp. "I doubt that we shall."

"There's more here, Nale!" The Alethi man said, but his friend towed him out the door, protesting. "This is important! I want out! This is the only way!"

"What was that about?" Navani asked as Gavilar closed the door. "Those are no ambassadors. Who are they really?"

Gavilar did not answer. With seemingly deliberate motions, he walked back to the table and began plucking the spheres one by one and placing them into a pouch. Navani ducked forward and snatched one off the table.

"What are they? How did you get spheres to glow like this? Does it have anything to do with the artifabrians you invited – without telling me, I might add – to come visit you?"

She looked at him, waiting for some kind of answer, some kind of explanation. Instead, he held out his hand for her sphere.

"This does not concern you, Navani. Return to the party."

She closed her hand around the sphere.

"So I can continue to cover for you? Did you promise Vamah that you'd mediate a dispute tonight, of all times? Do you know how many people are expecting you? Did you say you have another meeting to go to now, before the feast even begins? Are you simply trying to ignore our guests?"

"Do you know," he said softly, "how tired I grow of your constant questions, woman?"

"Well, perhaps try answering one or two of them, then! It’s a novel experience, answering someone, treating them like a human being, rather than a machine built to count the days of the week for you!"

He wagged his hand, demanding the sphere be returned. Instinctively, she shied back, holding it.

"Why? Why do you continue to shut me out? Please just tell me…"

"I deal in secrets you could not handle, Navani. If you knew the scope of what I'd begun…"

Footnote: This reading is from a draft of the prologue and may change before publication
Words of Radiance Los Angeles signing ()
#19 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

<Eelyell> was awakened by the whispering of the dead child who followed him.

“Death and die. Death and die.” The girl’s words were often gibberish, though usually he could make out a few of them. Tonight, what she said felt eerie. It made the whispering in the darkness send a shiver up his spine.

<Eelyell> sat up in his cot, realizing that he had fallen asleep in his uniform again, and looked across the darkened room, seeking out the child. There, she hid in the shadows beside the wooden bin that held his canes. Small, maybe four years old, she had long straight blonde hair that hung down by her face, ears peeking out like rocks in the sand.

She met his eyes, “Death and die,” she whispered. It would be nice when that particular Echo passed.

<Eelyell> rose, tugging at his crumpled jacket, still enough of a soldier to feel ashamed at its state. His father would have had <Eelyell>’s head if he’d seen such a uniform. Climbing from bed <Eelyell> took the cane beside it for support, then walked out onto the balcony. He put his back to the dead child; she was a figment, an Echo, or a side-effect from an Incubation he’d done a few years back. It was so long ago that he was losing hope that the Echo would ever fade. He might be stuck with this hallucination, for good.

He stepped out onto the balcony, using the cane by habit though he was currently strong enough that he didn’t need it to walk. He was recovering from his Incubation two months back. The grind from that one had finally worn off. In fact he was probably too strong; he’d been getting too much sleep lately, he'd been eating too well. He needed to maintain a certain level of physical weakness so he could be open to Incubations, assuming he wanted to remain effective in his duties. And he did want to remain effective, for his own reasons, if not for the Corps themselves.

Outside on the balcony, the sky burned. It smoldered high above, deep red lines, the color of a serpent’s tongue, glowing like rips in the air. The magma cast a warm red light across the city of <Suigmaat>. As always the air smelled faintly of smoke, though he only noticed it when he was first stepping out of the building into the open air. He knew logically that the burning place he saw above was actually the ground. He knew <Suigmaat> flew in the air, a city reversed, one of the few bastions of life left in the burning land. <Eelyell> was the one who was upside-down, as were all of the city’s inhabitants. It didn’t feel that way to him; he’d lived here too long. Upward was towards the burning ground and the land, downward was toward the sky and the sun. Things he never saw except on the rare occasion when he was called upon to visit the farms and orchards on the city’s sunward side.

<Eelyell> stood for a time, holding to the cast-iron railing, staring up at swathes of burning ground high above. Molten rivers, a land destroyed. A warning flag, raised to them all. Omnipresent. Undeniable. The city itself slept beneath that scarlet glare, bathed in red. Sleeping.

“Death and die,” The girl whispered from behind. She’d crawled out onto the balcony and now crouched there, looking up at the air.

<Eelyell> glanced at her, “<Kareem’s> gaze, you’re a creepy one,” he whispered, “What must I do to be rid of you?”

“Death and die,” she whispered

He tapped his finger on the railing, then strode back into his quarters, splashed some water on his face, and checked the sword blade of his walking cane. Seconds later, he was out the door.

The offices of the Corps did not look as a police station should. A police station was supposed to be a box-like thing, stable and functional, designed to indicate to all who visited that this was not a place where nonsense was permitted. Those ornamented columns, etched with the silver serpents of <Mokdeelor>, those golden doors, those soldiers with ridiculous feathered helms. Those were not the symbols of efficient law-keeping. They were quite the opposite.

<Eelyell> walked up the steps and approached the guards, who were at least armed with functional halberds and two flintlock pistols at their belts. They saluted him by raising fists to their sides. As an Incubator, he outranked everyone in this building, except of course the ones who actually mattered. <Eelyell> felt a moment of lightheadedness at the top of the steps and was forced to stop, gripping the railing and leaning on his cane. So he wasn’t completely well. Good. Neither guard stepped to help him. Weakness was expected of Incubators, one of the marks of their station. And being near one of them at the wrong time could be dangerous. One need only look upward at the burning land to be reminded of how dangerous.

With his head cleared, he continued up the steps, cane clicking, and passed the men without returning their salute. He stopped just inside the building, however, coming alert. Motion. Lesser watchmen calling to one another in a large room, aides carrying stacks of paper. Reddened eyes and yawns accompanied both groups. Many of these people had been called up unexpectedly, despite the early hour.

“<Eelyell>?” A woman rushed up to him through the bustle. <Cual> wore the yellow and blue uniform of an Incubator, like his own but better fitting and far better kept. “You look like ash, man,” she said, “Are you still on a grind?”

<Eelyell> looked back at the hall, noticing the motion of the bodies. Nobody was going into the weapons locker, though riot gear had been set out at the side. Large metal shields and larg swords cordoned in rubber from trees on the sunward side. They were getting ready for something, but he didn’t know what yet. A prophecy, he guessed.

“I still can’t believe they called you up,” <Cual> said, “You deserve some relaxation after--”

“I will visit <Patseepa>,” <Eelyell> striding, striding through the room, leaving <Cual> behind. He tried not to let himself be carried away in the chaos. The event that he'd been waiting for would come eventually, but this might not be it. <Patseepa> made prophesies with some frequency; that was why the Corps maintained her, and why she carried her terrible burden.

It was difficult not to feel tense, however, in the room's frenzy. Nearby, a scribe turned and accidentally knocked over an hourglass, smashing it to the floor and spraying sand across it. He spared it a glance; sand always drew his attention. But he otherwise ignored it, focusing on a set of doors at the back of the room. This must have been an alarming prophecy indeed to cause such a fuss. The guards at these doors were even more flowery, with feathers on their shields after an old-fashioned style almost no one used any longer. The murals might depict men in simple wraps and women in nothing above the waist but necklaces. Those days had long ago passed, centuries before <Eelyell's> times. The <Moknee> people were as modern a one as he'd ever known. His own brownish-tan skin and dark hair blended in here well enough that he could have passed for <Moknee> himself, assuming he didn’t open his mouth. That was something he'd been better at when he'd been younger.

These guards let him pass too, and no scribes or watchmen beset the hallway beyond. Only Incubators were allowed in here. Unfortunately, while they presented a more solemn group, it was no less unruly in its own right. Some two dozen of them clumped together at the other end of the darkened hallway, like a clot of hair clogging a drain. <Eelyell> strode forward, passing doors on either side set with glass. The small, well-lit rooms showed in the glass that they weren’t exactly cells, just like their occupants weren’t exactly prisoners. They just couldn’t leave. With the hallway dark and the rooms lit, each window glowed, like they looked into other worlds. Other worlds inhabited by the sick.

It was hard to think of it that way anymore, after so long in this land. The people in those rooms weren't simply ill; they were Lay Incubators. Their job was to live in those little rooms, bearing their afflictions until they started to recover. Whereupon another individual could be brought in to catch their malady and take their place, ensuring the Incubation itself didn’t vanish. It was good money, assuming you didn’t mind the discomfort, which could range from the sniffles to deadly fevers, depending on the Incubation you agreed to receive. And of course there were... other benefits. In one room he passed, the occupant, a young man, hovered in the air reading a book; and in another, an elderly woman tapped on a cup, idly changing the color of its liquid inside with each tap. In <Suigmaat>, indeed upon on this entire land, every disease also granted a special capacity. That ability lasted as long as the ailment did. Many of these blessings were minor, while others were grand. Some few were very, very dangerous. And hence the existence of the Incubators themselves.

MisCon 2018 ()
#20 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

I sought refuge in the silent caverns. I didn’t dare go back to my mother and grandmother. My mother would undoubtedly be happy. She’d lost a husband to the Krell, and dreaded seeing me suffer the same fate. Gran Gran, she would tell me to fight. But fight what? The military itself didn’t want me. I felt like a fool. All this time, telling myself I’d become a pilot, and in truth I’d never had a chance. My teachers must have spent these years laughing at me behind their hands. I walked through an unfamiliar cavern on the outer edge of what I’d explored, hours away from Igneous. And still the feelings of embarrassment and anger shadowed me. What an idiot I had been.

I reached the edge of the subterranean cliff and knelt, activating my father’s light-line by tapping two fingers against my palm. The bracelet glowed more brightly. Gran Gran said we’d brought these with us to Detritus, that they were pieces of equipment used by the explorers and warriors of the old human space fleet. I wasn’t supposed to have one of course, but everyone thought that it had been destroyed when my father crashed. I placed my wrist against the stone of the cliff, and again tapped my fingers against my palm, an action the bracelet could sense. This command made an energy line stick to the rock, connecting my bracelet to the stone.

A three-finger tap let out more slack. Using that I could climb over the ledge, rope in hand, and lower myself to the bottom. Once down, another tap made the rope let go of the rock above then snap back into the bracelet housing. I didn’t know how it worked, only that it needed to recharge it every month or two, something I did in secret by plugging it into the power lines outside the caverns.

I crept into a cavern filled with kurdi mushrooms. They tasted foul but were edible and rats loved them. This would be prime hunting ground. So I turned off my light and settled down to wait, listening intently. I had never feared the darkness. It reminded me of the exercise Gran Gran taught, where I floated up toward the singing stars. You couldn’t fear the dark when you were a fighter. And I was a fighter.

I was, I was going, I was going to be a pilot...

I looked upward, trying to push away those feelings of loss. Instead, I was soaring. Toward the stars. And again I thought I could hear something calling to me, a sound like a distant flute. A nearby scraping pulled me back. Rat nails on stone. I raised my speargun, familiar motions guiding me, and engaging a smidgen of light from my light-line.

The rat turned in a panic toward me. My finger trembled on the trigger but I didn’t fire as it scrambled away. Why did it matter? Was I really just going to go on with my life like nothing had happened? Usually exploring kept my mind off my problems. Today they kept intruding like a rock in my shoe. Remember? Remember that your dreams have just been stolen?

I felt like I had those first days following my father’s death. When every moment, every object, every word reminded me of him and of the sudden hole inside me. I sighed, then attached one end of my light-line to my spear and commanded it to stick to the next thing it touched. I took aim at the top of another cliff and fired, sticking the weightless glowing rope in place. I climbed up, my speargun rattling in its straps on my back.

As a child I’d imagined that my father had survived his crash, that he was being held captive in these endless uncharted tunnels. I imagined saving him, like a figure from Gran Gran’s stories. Gilgamesh, or Joan of Arc, or Tarzan of Greystoke, a hero. The cavern trembled as if in outrage, and dust fell from the ceiling. An impact up on the surface. That was close, I thought. Had I climbed so far? I took out my book of hand-drawn maps. I’d been out here quite a while by now; hours at least. I had taken a nap a few caverns back.

I checked the clock on my light-line. It had passed to the next day, the day of the test, which would happen in the evening. I probably should have headed back. Mom and Gran Gran would worry if I didn’t show up for the test. To hell with the test, I thought, imagining the indignation I’d feel at being turned away at the door. Instead I climbed up through a tight squeeze into another tunnel. Out here my size was, for once, an advantage.

Another impact rocked the caverns. With this much debris falling, climbing to the surface was definitely stupid. I didn’t care. I felt reckless. I felt, almost heard, something driving me forward. I kept climbing until I finally reached a crack in the ceiling. Light shone through it, of an even, sterile type; too white, not orange enough. Cool, dry air blew in also, which was a good sign. I pushed my pack ahead of me, then squirmed through the crack and out into the light.

The surface. I looked up and saw the sky again. It never failed to take my breath away. A distant skylight shone down on a section of the land, but I was mostly in shadow. Just overhead, the sky sparkled with a shower of falling debris. Radiant lines like slashes. A formation of three scout-class starfighters flew through it, watching. Falling debris was often broken pieces of ships or other space junk, and salvage from it could be valuable. It played havoc with our sensors though, and could mask a Krell incursion.

I stood in the grey-blue dust and let the awe of the sky wash over me, feeling a particular sensation of wind against my cheeks. I’d come up close to Alta Base, which I could see in the distance, maybe only a thirty-five minute walk or so away. Now that the Krell knew where we were, there was no reason to hide the base, so it had expanded from a hidden bunker to several large buildings and a walled perimeter, antiaircraft guns, and an invisible shield to protect it from debris.

Outside that wall, groups of people worked a small strip of something I always found strange: trees and fields. What were they even doing over there? Trying to grow food in this dusty ground? I didn’t dare get close. The guards would take me for a scavenger from the distant caverns. Still, there was something dramatic about that stark green of those fields and the stubborn walls of the base. Alta was a monument to our determination. For three generations, humankind had lived like rats and nomads on this planet, but we would hide no longer.

The flight of starships streaked toward Alta, and I took a step toward them. Set your sights on something higher, my father had said. Something more grand. And where had that gotten me?

I shouldered my pack and my speargun, then hiked the other direction. I had been to a nearby passage before, and I figured with more exploring, I could connect some of my maps. Unfortunately, when I arrived, I found the passage’s mouth had collapsed completely.

I saw some debris hit the surface in the near distance, tossing up a spray of dust. I looked up and found a few smaller chunks streaking down overhead, fiery burning chunks of metal. Heading right toward me. Scud! I dashed back the way I had come. No! No! No! No! No! The air rumbled, and I could feel the heat of the approaching debris. There!

I spotted a small cavern opening in the surface, part crack, part cave mouth. I threw myself toward it, skidding and sliding inside. An enormous crash sounded behind me, and it seemed to shake the entire planet. Frantic, I engaged my light-line and slapped my hand against the stone as I fell into the churning chaos. I jerked up short, connected by the light-line to the wall, as rock chips and pebbles flew across me. The cavern trembled, then all grew still. I blinked dust from my eyes and found myself dangling by my light-line in the center of a small cavern, maybe thirty or forty feet high. I’d lost my pack somewhere, and I’d scraped up my arm pretty good.

Great, just great, Spensa. This is what throwing tantrums gets you. I groaned, my head throbbing, then tapped my fingers against my palm to let the light-line out, lowering myself to the floor. I flopped down, catching my breath. Other impacts sounded in the distance, but they dwindled. Finally, I wobbled to my feet and dusted myself off. I managed to locate the strap of my bag sticking out from some rubble nearby. I yanked it out, then checked the canteen and maps inside. They seemed okay.

My speargun was another matter. I found the handle but there was no sign of the rest. It was probably buried in that mound of rubble. I slumped down against the stone. I knew I shouldn’t go up to the surface during a debris fall. I had practically begged for this. A scrabbling sound came from nearby. A rat? I raised the handle of my gun immediately, and then felt doubly stupid. Still I forced myself to my feet, slung my pack over my shoulder, and increased the light of my bracelet. A shadow ducked away, and I followed, limping only a little. Maybe I could find another way out of here.

I raised my bracelet high, illuminating the small cavern, which had a high ceiling. My light reflected off something ahead of me. Metal? Maybe one of the water pipes? I walked toward it, and my brain took a moment to realize what I was seeing. There, nestled into the corner of the cavern, surrounded by rubble, was a starship.

Dragonsteel Mini-Con 2021 ()
#21 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Long time ago now, years and years ago, I, with my family, went to Fiji. And I always like to just write something inspired by a place I visit. And on Fiji, we went and visited one of the local villages. And that's how they describe them, with a chief; even though it's very modern, they still maintain that structure and society. And one of the cool things that the guide who toured us around this, his title was the Kingmaker. And he explained to us his job was to be the person who picked the next king. The king, or the chief, does not get to pick his successor; the Kingmaker, who is a different family line, picks the successor to the king. Which I thought was so cool. It's like it's a check and balance upon the monarchy that I had never heard of before; it's a really sophisticated system that I just thought was awesome. And so I said, "I'm gonna write a book using that idea at some point." And I only managed to get a few chapters of the way into it. I did set it on First of the Sun, the planet where Sixth of the Dusk takes place.

So I am going to read to you from the prologue and a bit of the first chapter (I didn't get much beyond this) of a book I called Kingmaker.

Brandon Sanderson

Prologue

It begins when the dying man takes his last breath. Death is not uncommon; indeed, it's one of the few universal experiences humans share. It's a pity that we often come to it underprepared, considering it's the singular thing for which, by definition, we have the most time to prepare.

In this story, fortunately, the man was well-prepared. He'd asked all the questions he could think to ask, and gotten all the answers he'd thought he could get out of life. That was preparation for him, being ready to get answers to the questions he couldn't answer. He'd known for years that he would die; and not as everyone knows death is eventually coming. Rather, he knew death was coming for him in a way you might know to expect the 9:14 train. Yes, it could arrive a little later; but you'll be leaving the station before noon, one way or another. Malignant, they called the infestation growing inside of him. Terminal. How odd, to be killed by growth; not decay, not blood loss, not (as he'd assumed would someday be his lot) by being taken during an ocean hunt. But of something growing, living, just doing a little of too much of both. It felt so very modern to be dying of something called colorectal adenocarcinoma. He'd been born in a time when they'd used simpler terms; but modern science had brought more than steam engines and telegraph machines. It had granted many diseases honored promotions, so chiefs no longer had to die in their own filth, but instead could fall prey to gastroenteritus. And he was a chief, our soon-to-be corpse.

Ah, but you must know the scene before we continue. I shall describe it as he would have; for it had been years since he'd seen anything other than a milky white haze. Fortunately, if you were wise, you do not need to be able to see in order to tell people where to go.

He could hear the ocean, first and foremost. Like many of his people, the chief hated places where you couldn't hear the ocean. When he'd been young, he'd worked on the inland <taro> fields by his father's orders. Those were far from the ocean; it took an hour by canoe up the river, away. It had been the worst year of his life, and that counted the ones dying of cancer.

Today, he could smell the sea. Tradition on the island of <Amore> saying that the chiefs never rotted after death. How could they, when they'd been steeped in brine for so long? The chiefs were the mediators between island and sea, and they bled salty blood. The ocean was in their veins, the crusty lava rock in their bones. He thought fondly of laying in the mausoleum near his father, on a slate block of stone quarried from the rim of a dormant volcano. He'd lay there, smiling as corpses do, baked for all eternity by the sallow candles, massaged by the songs played for the dead, just like the chiefs before him.

Chief. Now, that was an interesting term these days. But the Home Isles had always had chiefs; that would never change. Now they also had representatives, elected by direct voice of the people. These traveled to the distant government seat and made policy, while the chiefs remained on their islands. For what was a chief when away from his people, his soil, his seed? Not that the chiefs were impotent; they set island policy and grumbled at the need for interference from the government. The chief represented the tribe, which, in this story, meant all the people living on one small island, some six hundred in total, all related. The representatives led the country, but the chiefs led the families; each one, a tiny king. They were the guardians of tradition and executors of modern policy all at once. As such, the term nestled comfortably between the new and the old, like that spoon that slid off the counter and jammed itself in the spot between wood and wall: stuck, stubborn, and somehow still a perfect fit.

He nestled there now, right between the old and the new. A breeze blew in through the open parlor doors. They built their homes for years in such a way as to invite the breeze in, as an honored guest. But he also felt the blowing fan overhead, rhythmically clicking from its spidery place in the ceiling. A modern convenience the chief's home had, as it needed power to work the telegraph machine. It was the only place in the entire island that was electric, powered by some very large chemical batteries that you'd have called primitive. But here, they were the utmost leading edge of technology, developed proudly by scholars without the help of the Ones Above.

There. Can you feel it? Soft sheets beneath your back, cool breeze on your cheeks, fan counting off the last seconds of your life? Ocean calling to your soul? No pain; but also, few deep thoughts. The drugs prevented both.

Now, add footsteps. They made the rug creak; it was woven of beachfront frond leaves given to him by the chief of <Luma> island, the next one in the chain. The steps didn't click; they sounded from feet unshod, so it wasn't the nurse.

"Coral?" the chief asked. Was it his first son? "Squall?" The second, perhaps. No response. "I need a drink," the chief said, reaching limply toward his nightstand. "It no longer hurts to drink. It no longer hurts at all."

No response. The chief had to wonder if he'd hallucinated the sounds. His brain seemed to be floating in soup these days. He drew in a long, ragged breath.

That's the one. His last. This is where it begins. Because, before the chief could release that breath, a pair of gloved hands locked around his throat and squeezed.

Strangely, it didn't hurt, either. Someone is killing me! The thought reached his brain slowly, as if by a bird messenger, rather than telegraph. Someone is killing me... before I can die. He fought, because he was a chief, and because he didn't like someone taking what the gods had claimed. But he couldn't even relieve himself these days without help, so fighting back an attacker was impossible. Those hands just squeezed tighter. The white that was his world began to grow dark, and he realized, prepared though he thought he was, one more question had shown up last minute. Demanding. Confusing.

Who murders a man that has days, maybe mere hours, left to live?

 

Chapter One

The steamship cut across the ocean like a hunting knife crossed the skin of a beast: straight, unconcerned, leaving a scar behind in the waves. <Tulaku>, the Kingmaker, loved standing at the ship's rail, feeling the wind beat her face, watching the impotent waves break against the hull. It felt so modern to be able to impose human will upon both wind and wave. It had been an eternity since she'd enjoyed modern conveniences like this. They were so uncommon out here in the Scattered Isles, the backwaters of a land with, admittedly, quite a lot of water. But her time here was done; the ship steamed inward with clocklike precision. The Kingmaker had duties at <Tory>, the grand island where the government and corporations were run. So the steamship would carry her there. It wouldn't wait until the tide turned; it wouldn't wait for favorable winds. It would go now.

She was a young woman, this Kingmaker, and if you'd been from her world, you'd immediately have noticed something off about her. Something unusual, other than the youth. That, at least, was evident only when you looked at her face. Everything about her served as an intentional distraction from her youthful figures. The traditional clothing, shrouding her in a cloak of Aviar feathers. The posture, so carefully cultivated to project strength, confidence, and authority. The ceremonial oar, held like a staff with its arrowhead-shaped paddle toward the sky, crowned with the jagged teeth of a mature ocean shadow beast. Everything about her proclaimed aged wisdom.

But the face. That embarrassingly youthful face. <Tulaku> had learned to deal with the looks. She no longer glanced down in embarrassment when introducing herself, no longer winced visibly when people expressed surprise at her age. Yet there was something about her expression; the way she'd meet her eyes, then draw her lips to a line. The gesture seemed to admit: "We apologize for the inconvenience of sending a teen in the place of your expected wizened elder. Please wait while we remedy the situation. Note: this process may take forty years." She hoped, as she put the Splintered Isles behind her, she'd also escape those experiences. She'd rarely felt them at home; senators and company presidents there could be young and vibrant, so why not Kingmakers? There, you wouldn't be judged by your age, but by your ambition, and perhaps the quality of the names in your personal address book.

As she contemplated this, a large man shuffled down the steps from the bridge, his Aviar flapping wings to balance on his shoulder. The captain didn't wear a uniform; he was a company man, not a soldier. Though the distinction and authority between those two roles was subtle, the distinction in costumes was not. Captain <Hatchi> wore a thick woolen coat, a scarf, and a captain's hat. He rested hands on rail, fingers wrapped in thick workman's gloves. His Aviar, Chipper, had plumage of radiant green and red: one of the species that protected a ship and its crew from the questing minds of beasts that lived beneath the waves. Those had been exterminated from these populated shallows, of course, but it was a lucky Aviar breed nonetheless, one you often found accompanying sailors.

"Do you ever feel like a god out here, Captain," <Tulaku> said, "cutting across the waves, unencumbered by mortal concerns like current or wind?"

"Once in a while," he said, "until a storm comes. Then, well, I remember my mortality right fast, Kingmaker. Right fast." He kissed his fingers and held them to the wind, which was blowing in from the east. The direction to the Pantheon islands and the gods they represented.

"But surely," <Tulaku> said, "we can weather even storms, now? Only modern society has designed machines that can ignore the wind. We go where we want!"

"Yes, yes," he said, "but doesn't that make the machines the gods, Kingmaker? I'm not stronger than my ancestors. They crossed the seas, too, against the waves and in canoes. Doesn't take steam to manage it; just power." He glanced at the puffs coming from the boiler. "One type or another. But now, I shouldn't contradict you, wise one. Forgive me."

The ship continued through the ocean, belching confident black smoke, undaunted by both still wind and storm. Steered by compass, not by the lapping of waves. Indeed, the captain often thought about his father, who'd been a captain during a different time. His father's ship had once run aground on a deserted island, but the crew had patched it up and then been on their way. If the steamship were to break down, <Hatchi> knew he wouldn't be able to repair it. Then again, there were specialists for that sort of thing. And so, the more men progressed collectively, the less it seemed like the individual had anything to know. Ignorance was its own kind of luxury.

The Kingmaker frowned, consumed by her own thoughts, which sailed a different direction from <Hatchi>. As she got to more cosmopolitan areas, she'd gladly put behind the questioning eyes, the doubts that her age caused. Yet she'd also leave behind some of the reverence that people like <Hatchi> showed her. That had been one nice aspect of these rural islands and those who sailed them.

"You should know, Kingmaker," the captain said, "that a telegraph is arriving for you. It should be ready and interpreted shortly. That's why I came looking for you."

A telegraph. Now there was a modern innovation, and one all their own, not a gift from those Ones Above. Messages traveled the islands invisibly though the air, almost like a bird.

The Kingmaker winced, looking down at the ocean. If you'd known the people of this land, you'd likely have been surprised at the sudden pain she felt, thinking of birds. Then you'd look at her shoulder, see what was missing, and realize at last what had seemed off about her all along.

"The telegraph will be my mentor," she said to the captain, "with some words of encouragement." Please let it be that, she thought. And only that.

There had been a time when every island had its own Kingmaker. Someone to watch the chief and act as a balance to his ambition. The Kingmaker couldn't, of course, unseat a chief. The gods had placed the chief where he was, after all, and mortals should not intervene. Yet everyone agreed there should be some check upon the chief's power. Even the chiefs themselves tended to agree, something you might find curious. This is likely because you're familiar with large kings of nations, rather than the small kings of the islands. Large kings tend to be gluttons. Give them a mansion, and they'll want two; pay them some taxes, and they'll wonder how high they can get. Grant them a taste of absolute authority, and they'll chug the whole bottle. But, like a remarkable number of things when it comes to human society, monarchy tends to work far better on the small scale. A mansion doesn't feel so necessary when your brother has a hut. Taxes feel different when squeezed out of the man who taught you to fish. And absolute power doesn't feel so absolute when your mother chides you for abusing it. So generally, yes, the chiefs themselves liked having someone to watch over them. You wouldn't believe it, from the way the two offices tended to squabble.

Ah, but I still haven't explained: what is a Kingmaker? Well, it is as it sounds. The Kingmaker chooses the next ruler. They couldn't unseat the current chief, as I said, but they could do something nearly as bad. They could end his dynasty, choosing someone outside his lineage to take the throne. Every chief had to live with a certain fear of that possibility. Rule poorly, and you'll suffer patrimonial emasculation in the form of a rival son being given charge of your throne, and in many ways your legacy, once you were gone. Most Kingmaker interventions in <Tulaku>'s bold, oh-so-modern times, were just for show. Chiefs had to work alongside elected officials, and dynasties were usually preserved in the name of tradition. Chiefs represented tradition; upheld it. It was actually one of the few remaining powers in this day of senates, corporations, and individual suffrage. Because of this, the Kingmaker's job had changed over the years. They watched the kings, not just as it related to their successions. If the king were to break the law, for example, what did one do? In the past, nothing. These days, the king was not the law; indeed, the law carried a ceremonial oar, and sometimes wore too young a face for her station.

These days, there was often just one Kingmaker serving a dozen or more islands, and she didn't even have to attend or even sanction every coronation. If a ruler was liked, and a clear heir existed, the change of power could be sealed by telegraph. But if a succession was disputed, then one would be assigned to see to the matter personally. If one was already in attendance nearby, it would be her job. And if none were in attendance... well, it would fall upon the nearest passing Kingmaker. A tradition that <Tulaku> was now coming to find extremely inconvenient.

Brandon Sanderson

So you can probably tell from that, I was experimenting with some omniscient voice in that. It got really tell-y; I apologize for that. That was me just being whimsical and figuring out the worldbuilding as I wrote. You do that in first drafts, sometimes. I'm still very fond of that piece; I'm not sure if I will ever use it for anything in the future. There was definitely some awkwardness about the voice, but also it had some nice turns of phrases, which were fun.

JordanCon 2018 ()
#22 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

A focused southern breeze made the trees sound like they were chattering. Tiny crisp leaves spreading the news of the Traveler's return. Pure white leaves, clustered along branches like skeletal limbs. Even the bark clinging to the trees was white. In some lands, white meant purity; in others, it meant death. Here, it didn't mean a thing. It was simply, normal. 

The Traveler sat on the mossy white ground, back to the tree, legs crossed idly as he picked at a pomegranate, eating the seeds one by one then spitting out the pits. They fell on the stark moss-covered ground, leaving red juice like blood running across a sterile white floor. To say he wore rags would have be an insult to many a goodwife who kept her washing rags in much better shape than the Traveler's costume. Ragged brown and black canvas, tattered cloak, and scruffy beard, rubbed dark with a black material that might have been soot — or ash. 

The leaves suddenly fluttered excitedly behind him, and a strange puff of wind blew across the trunks. A moment later, a figure in simple gray robes walked into the clearing. Clean-shaven and silver-haired, he had the look of an aged scribe, not haughty, but tired. 

"So, you're back," the elderly visitor said. 

"Did I leave? I am the lingering odor you can never quite locate, my friend. Just when you think I've faded you open your cupboard and find, in an overpowering reveal, that I've merely been… ripening."

"Hmph, that's a new look for you."

The Traveler looked down at his ragged clothing. "I've been learning to blend in. Hard to do that in one of my normal costumes."

"I doubt you'll ever be the type to blend in."

"You'd be surprised!"

"Is that soot in your hair?"

"Maybe."

The elderly man sighed, walking across the short clearing and settling himself down on a large protruding tree root. "You can't keep doing this." The Traveler continued to eat his seeds, though he had started to chew them up rather than spitting out the pits. "You will just make things worse." 

"Ati and Leras are dead," the Traveler said, picking a piece of seed out from between his teeth. The elderly visitor said nothing, and the Traveler eyed him, leaning in closely, studying the man's eyes. The pupils were rimmed with a silver far too metallic to be natural, at least for a human. 

"You sly old lizard!" the Traveler said, pointing. "You already knew! You were watching! And here you were chastising me."

"I did NOT interfere," the elderly man said. "You meddle in things we promised to leave alone. Things that we—"

Traveler held up a finger, interrupting him, then slowly he pointed at the older man. "I. Made. No. Promise."

"You made your choice. Why now seek for things you so eagerly denied? My friend, it's the dangerous desire, the lust for power best untouched, that created the situation in the first place."

The Traveler did not reply. The two sat for a time, listening to the winds through the garrulous trees.

"Did you… find what you were seeking?" the elder man finally asked.  

The Traveler shrugged, picking at another seed and nibbling on it. 

"You will not find a way to restore what you have lost, old friend," the aged man said softly. "It is impossible." 

"You don't know that. The old rules no longer hold." The Traveler turned the pomegranate over in his fingers. "Besides, I've heard of a place… It doesn't matter. I don't care. This isn't about the dead… or it's not JUST about the dead, at least." He dropped the fruit to the ground, wiping his fingers on his riding coat.

"So it's a simple vendetta, then," the aged man said, sighing. "How many years have you lived, and you still can't learn the wisdom of just letting go?"

"A simple vendetta?" the Traveler said. He rose, stalking up to the older man, holding out a finger and touching the man's chest. "You saw what Ati nearly did." The Traveler leaned down, face even with that of his older companion. "I would not think it MY vendetta that should worry you, old friend."

Planet Comicon ()
#23 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

...vastness of space. Compared to that infinite dark blackness, both planets and starships alike seemed equally insignificant. Meaningless. Except, of course, for the fact that those insignificant starships were doing their best to kill me.

I dodged, spinning my ship and cutting my boosters mid-turn. Once I'd flipped around, I immediately slammed on the booster again, swerving in the other direction in an attempt to lose the three ships tailing me. Fighting in space is way different from fighting in atmosphere. For one thing, your wings are useless. No air means no airflow. No lift, no drag. In space, you don't really fly. You just don't fall.

I executed another spinning boost, heading back toward the main firefight. Unfortunately, maneuvers that had been impressive down in atmosphere were commonplace up here. Fighting in a vacuum these past six months provided a whole new set of skills to master.

"Spensa," a lively masculine voice said from my console. "You remember how you told me to warn you if you were being extra irrational?"

"No," I said with a grunt, dodging to the right. <A destructor> blast from behind swept right over the dome of my cockpit. "I don't believe I said anything of the sort."

"You said-"

"Can we talk about this later?" I dodged again. Scud, those drones were getting better at dogfighting. Or was I losing my touch?

"Technically, it was later right after you spoke," continued the talkative voice. My ship's AI, M-Bot. "But human beings don't actually use that word to mean 'any time chronologically after this moment.' They use it to mean 'some time after now that is more convenient to me.'"

The Krell drones swarmed around us, trying to cut off my escape back toward the main body of the battlefield. "And you think this is a more convenient time?" I demanded.

"Well, why wouldn't it be?"

"Because we're in combat."

"Well, I would think that a life-and-death situation is exactly when you'd like to know if you're being extra irrational."

I could remember with some measure of fondness the days when my starship hadn't talked back to me. That'd been before I'd BLANK, BLANK, BLANK, BLANK, BLANK.

"Spensa," M-Bot said, "You're supposed to be leading these drones back toward the others, remember?" It had been "BLANK, BLANK, BLANK, BLANK, BLANK.

The Krell knew what I was and hated me. The drones tended to target me specifically, and we could use that. We should use that. In today's pre-battle briefing, I'd swayed the rest of the pilots to reluctantly go with my bold plan. I was to get a little out of formation, tempt the enemy drones to swarm me, then lead them back to the rest of the team. My friends could eliminate the drones while they were distracted, focused on me. It was a good plan, and I'd make use of it... eventually. Now, though, I wanted to test something.

I hit my overburn, accelerating away from the enemy ships. M-Bot was faster and more maneuverable than they were, though part of his big advantage had always been his ability to maneuver at high speed in air without ripping himself apart. Out here in vacuum, that wasn't a factor, and the enemy drones did a better job of keeping up. They swarmed after me as I dove toward the planet Detritus. My homeworld was protected by layers of ancient metal platforms, like shells, with gun placements all along them. We were beyond the farthest shell, out in space. After BLANK BLANK BLANK IN THE LAST BOOK, we had started gaining control of those platforms and their guns. Eventually, that shelled gun emplacement should protect our planet from incursions. For now, though, most of those defensive platforms were still autonomous, and could be as dangerous for us as they were for the enemy. The Krell ships swarmed behind me, eager to cut me off from the rest of the battlefield, where my friends were engaging the rest of the drones in a massive brawl. As usual, the Krell ships would seek to isolate me, overwhelm me. That tactic made one fatal assumption. That if I were alone, I'd be less dangerous.

"We're not gonna turn back around and follow the plan, are we?" M-Bot asked. "You're gonna try and fight them on your own?" I didn't respond. "Jorgen is gonna be angry," M-Bot said. "By the way, those drones are trying to chase you along a specific heading, which I'm outlining on your monitor. My analysis projects that they plan an ambush.

"Thanks," I said.

"Just trying to keep you from getting me blown up," M-Bot said. "By the way, if you do get us killed, be forewarned that I intend to haunt you."

"Haunt me? You're a robot. And besides, I'd be dead, too, right?"

"Uh, my robotic ghost would haunt your fleshy one."

"How would that even work?"

"Spensa, ghosts aren't real," he said in an exasperated tone. "Why are you worrying about things like that instead of flying? Honestly, humans get distracted so easily."

I spotted the ambush. A small group of Krell drones had placed themselves by a large chunk of metal floating just out of range of the gun emplacements. As I drew close, the ambushing drones emerged and rocketed toward me. I was ready, though. I let my arms relax, let my subconscious mind take over. I sank into myself, entering a kind of trance where I listened, just not with my ears. <Remote drones weren't flying for the Krell> in most situations. They were an expendable way to suppress the humans of Detritus. However, the enormous distances involved in the space battle forced the Krell to rely on instantaneous faster-than-light communication to control their drones. I suspected the pilots were far away. But even if they were on the Krell station, hung out in space near Detritus, the lag rate in communications from here to there would make drones too slow to react in battle, so FTL was necessary. That exposed one major flaw. I could hear their orders.

For some reason I didn't understand, I could listen to the place where FTL communication happened. I called it "Nowhere," another dimension where our rules of physics didn't apply. I could hear into the place, occasionally see into it. Then, <THAT HAPPENED LAST BOOK>. I let my instincts take over, and set my ship in a complex sequence of dodges. My battle-trained reflexes melded with my innate ability to hear the drones' orders. They maneuvered my ship without specific conscious instructions on my part. This ability had been passed down my family line. My ancestor used it to move ancient starfleets around the galaxy. Now, I used to to stay alive.

I reacted before the Krell did, responding to their orders. Somehow, I processed them even faster than the drones could. By the time they attacked, I was already weaving through the destructor blast. I darted among them, then activated my IMP, bringing down the shields of everyone nearby. In my state of focused concentration, I didn't care that the IMP took down my shield, too. It didn't matter.

I launched my light lance, and the rope of energy speared one of the enemy ships, connecting it to my own. I used the difference in our momentums to spin us both around, which put me in position behind the pack of defenseless ships. Blossoms of light and sparks broke the void as I destroyed two of the drones. The remaining Krell scattered like... like villagers before a wolf in one of Gran Gran's stories. The ambush turned chaotic as I picked a pair of ships and gunned for them with destructors, blasting one away as part of my mind tracked the orders being given to the others.

"I never fail to be amazed when you do that," M-Bot said quietly. "You're interpreting data faster than my projections. You seem almost... inhuman."

I gritted my teeth, bracing, and spun my ship, boosting after a straggling Krell drone.

"I mean that as a compliment, by the way," M-Bot said. "Not that there's anything wrong with humans. I find their frail, emotionally unstable, irrational natures quite endearing."

I destroyed that drone and bathed my hull in the light of his fiery demise. I dodged right between the shots of two others. Those Krell drones didn't have pilots on board. A part of me felt sorry for them as they tried to fight back against me. An unstoppable, unknowable force that did not play by the rules that *inaudible* everything else they knew.

"Likely," M-Bot continued, "I regard humans as I do only because I'm programmed to do so. But hey, that's no different from the instinct programming a mother bird to love the twisted, featherless abomination she spawned, right?"

Inhuman. I wove and dodged, firing and destroying. I wasn't perfect. I had overcompensated, and many of my shots missed. But I had a distinct edge. The Krell obviously needed to watch for people like me. Their ships were always on the hunt for humans who flew too well, or responded too quickly. They had tried THAT'S IT FOR A MINUTE, PREVIOUS BOOK.

All this raised a singular, daunting question. What was I?

"I would feel a lot more comfortable," M-Bot said, "if you find a chance to reignite our shield."

"No time," I said. "We need a good thirty seconds without flight control for that."

I had another chance to break toward the main battle, to follow through with the plan we'd outlined. Instead, I spun and hit the overburn, blasting back toward the enemy ships. My grav caps absorbed a large percentage of the g-forces and kept me from suffering too much whiplash. But I still felt pressure flatten me against my sheet, make my skin pull back and my body feel heavy. Under extreme g-forces, I felt like I'd aged a hundred years in a second.

I pushed through and fired at the remaining Krell drones. I strained my strange skills to their limits. The Krell destructor shot grazed the dome of my canopy, so bright it left an afterimage in my eyes.

"Spensa," M-Bot said. "*inaudible* I know you said to keep them distracted, but-"

"Keep them distracted."

"Resigned sigh."

I looped us after an enemy ship. "Did you just say the words 'resigned sigh'?"

"I find human non-linguistic communication to be too easily misinterpreted," he said, "so I'm experimenting with ways to make them more explicit."

"Doesn't that defeat the purpose?"

"Definitely not. Dismissive eye roll."

Destructors flared around me, but I blasted two more drones. As I did, I saw something appear, reflected in the canopy of my cockpit. A handfull of piercing white lights, like eyes, watching me. When I used my abilities too much, something looked at me from Nowhere and saw me. I didn't know what they were. I just called them the Eyes. But I could feel a burning hatred from them, and anger. Somehow, this was all connected. My ability to see into the Nowhere. The Eyes that watched me from that place.

I HAVE TO DO A BIG EDIT HERE, FOR STUFF FROM LAST BOOK.

The Eyes continued to appear, reflected in the canopy, as if it were revealing something that watched me from behind my seat. White lights, but stars, but somehow more aware. Dozens of malevolent glowing dots. And entering their realm, even slightly, they became visible to me. Those Eyes unnerved me. How could I both be fascinated by these powers I had, yet be terrified of them at the same time? It felt like the call of the void you got when standing at the edge of a large cliff in the caverns, knowing you could just throw yourself off into the darkness. One step further...

"Spensa!" M-Bot said. "New ship arriving."

I pulled out of my trance, and the Eyes vanished. M-Bot used the console to highlight what he'd spotted. A new starfighter, almost invisible against the black sky, emerged from where the others had been hiding. Sleek, it was shaped like a disk, and painted the same black as space. It was smaller than normal Krell ships, but it had a larger canopy. These new black ships had only started appearing in the last eight months, in the days leading up to EVENTS AT THE END OF THE LAST BOOK. I couldn't hear the commands the new ship received, because none were being sent to it. Black ships like this one were not remote control. Instead, they carried real alien pilots, usually an enemy ace, the best of their force.

The battle had just gotten more interesting.

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#24 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

What is the Sixth Incarnation of Pandora? You may think Pandora the planet, because of the movie. That's not... I was actually going for the myth. That in this society, we had opened up various Pandora's Boxes, and this was... In philosophy in the far future, the sixth one they'd opened was making people who were immortal. And this was a Pandora's Box that they had philosophically opened.

I often describe it as a cyberpunk. It's not actually a cyberpunk. It's not a true cyberpunk. It deals with some of those same themes. It has the kind of corporations-in-charge, and kind of a dystopian future, and things like this. But it is far future, and not near-future, as most cyberpunk is.

The story is about an immortal soldier who has been made immortal with this new process, which is still very rare and very expensive to do. And he is basically a one-person army, with all of these modifications and things, and is capable of destroying entire armies on his own, and is completely indestructible.

And I'm gonna read to you from Chapter One, which is not a good chapter for introducing that concept.

It has a little epigraph at the beginning, which I thought you guys would find fun, because I use those quite a bit now, and I didn't earlier in my career.

This book is unpublished. This is book number five: The Sixth Incarnation of Pandora.

Brandon Sanderson

From the moment the first primeval Neanderthal picked up a sharp rock and used it to eviscerate his prey, man has sought ways to use his surroundings to augment his own abilities. Not that much has changed over the millennia. Peg legs had become prosthetic limbs, and spectacles had been replaced with cyborg optronics. But the main ideas remained constant: displeased with what fate allots us, we bend nature before our will, becoming more than we were intended. Among all of God's creations, only man takes offense at his lowly state.

Along with our drive to change ourselves, there comes with true human paradoxical form the uncomfortable fear that we have gone too far. Through the ages, we have fabricated horrors to match our increasing supremacy over nature. Monsters, golems, mad robots, and horrors haunt our collective technological unconsciousness. Twisted mixes of flesh and metal, obscene misuses of nature and her creations. We push ourselves to be better and better, more in control and dominant. But at the same time, we sweat and worry that this time, we've gone too far.

We finally have. I'm the final step, the ultimate synthesis of what is natural and what is profane. One last grand adulteration. I'm the culmination of our feats, a Frankenstein's monster for the modern 23rd century. I am without parallel in life or imagination. I am Zellion.

Chapter One

The forest's silence was abnormal, almost uncomfortable. Zellion could feel the dew in the air. It hung as an unseen mist around him. The humidity was an unfamiliar companion, and he had to fight the impulse to wipe his brow. A damp, sweat-stained hand would do little good in drying a damp, sweat-stained forehead. He could feel the soft film of water on his skin, coating his entire body, making his fingers both slip and stick as he rubbed them together.

Also unfamiliar was the forest's shadowy illumination. Light, he knew. Darkness, he knew. The forest's unchanging twilight, however, was neither bright nor dark. It seemed to flow, rather than shift; live, rather than just illuminate. It was neither day, nor night. It was light, undead.

Zellion followed no marked trail. He had left that behind long ago. It was not difficult to move through the brush; tall trunks stood like jealous merchants, catching the golden light long before it hit the ground. What little light did pass through was formless and impotent. Few plants could squeeze enough life out of such meager helpings to survive. There were ferns, weeds, and the occasional sapling. Nothing so thick he couldn't walk through it without trouble.

Occasionally, Zellion reached out to brush a patch of soft, damp earth. It was odd that something native to his home planet would feel so alien to him. But it had been a long, long time since he had seen soil.

He continued on, making good time through the realm of the enormous trees and their tiny fungal blooms. Usually, he only noticed his surroundings if something was wrong. The forest was different, somehow. It was pervasive, omnipresent. Even if he closed his eyes, he could feel it around him. When he stepped, he would sense the soft, springy loam. With each breath, he drew in the odors of wood, decaying flora, damp foliage, and bitter earth. He could hear the crackling of leaves and twigs beneath his feet. The forest was not a setting; it was an experience.

No bugs, a voice in his head pointed out.

"What?" Zellion asked, opening his eyes.

No insects, Zellion. A forest this size should be brimming with them.

"They would be to hard to control here, Wire."

I know. I just think it hurts the authenticity.

"You wouldn't say that if you could feel it," Zellion responded, continuing his hike.

Well, I doubt that's likely to happen anytime soon. Wire's voice wasn't sarcastic, or even depressed; it was simply stating a fact. Wire could never feel the forest, as he could never feel anything. The entirety of the AI's physical being consisted of a CPU embedded beneath Zellion's left shoulder blade

We're running out of forest, Wire pointed out. Zellion nodded. He could see the treeline now, where the forest ended. A few moments later, he passed through it, and the world around him transformed abruptly.

Instead of soft earth, his foot snapped against rigid metal. He stepped out of the land of half-shadows into full daylight. The humidity disappeared, abandoned in favor of a carefully controlled, deliberately comfortable climate. Zellion left behind the canopy of leaves, entering a world where dark space extended forever in all directions. He stood on the edge of a sheer dropoff. The metal pathway that ran around the forest was only a few feet thick here where he stood. It also bordered the edge of the Platform.

Zellion looked up. High in the sky, he could see another enormous Platform like the one on which he now stood. A floating continent, with people inhabiting all of its six faces. Beyond the second Platform, Zellion could make out the tiny pinpricks of stars. Looking down over the edge of the cliff, he could see the exact same thing; hundreds of kilometers below lay the bottom of the Platform, and beyond that was nothing. Cold space, eternity. Fall off this cliff, and one could literally fall forever. It's said that the Platform's builders had tried to make it seem as if one were standing on the surface of a planet, instead of a gargantuan block of metal hanging in the middle of space, a ridiculous distance from any planetary system. They hadn't done a very good job.

Zellion took one look back at the forest park. Really, it was one of the few places on <Saj> Platform that was dedicated to reminding its inhabitants of their heritage. As if they hadn't intentionally abandoned such things as forests when they moved into the sterile vacuum of space.

"Remind me to come back here when this project is finished," he asked.

Is that a request, Zellion, or are you simply waxing hypothetical?

"No, really. Remind me."

Yes, Zellion. Wire would compute a likely date and time for the reminder.

Zellion turned away from the organic wall behind him and stepped off the cliff. He could feel the fall begin; the plummet that would carry him down along the side of the platform until he entered oblivion. Gravity would drag him downward, prepared to hurl him into the void.

But then it changed. His foot got caught in an unseen force, a pull that altered his momentum. His body followed, collapsing into the arms of the same force. Instead of plunging into space, Zellion swung in an arc around the edge of the cliff, his foot planting itself on the vertical wall below him. He reoriented himself, then pulled his other foot to sit beside its mate.

He now stood on the other face of the cliff. What had once been down was now directly in front of him. And when he turned around and looked down, he saw the space he had left, and it looked like a sheer vertical drop, the forest seeming to sprout from the side of the cliff. The Platform's gravity wasn't going to relinquish its grip on Zellion quite so easily. It pulled one down against the Platform, no matter which direction down happened to be at the time. One could walk on each of the Platform's faces and feel as if it were the surface of a planet.

I don't see why you have to be so dramatic about that, Zellion, Wire chimed in. What do you find so fascinating about changing gravitational surfaces?

Zellion continued to look over the side of the ledge, then tossed a small pebble off, watching it arc normally in the air for a moment, then change vectors suddenly to fall inward, snapping against the pathway and rolling to a stop at the edge of the forest.

"Is there anything we haven't mastered, Wire?" Zellion responded. "What is left to dominate? The very laws of nature bend before us. Where is the excitement in the universe that behaves according to our convenience, warping and changing until it twists to the will of the most fickle species?"

If you want excitement, you should try piloting a ship through the center of a star, Wire suggested. As far as I know, no one has managed to conquer that realm, yet.

"Maybe I will," Zellion mused.

Just make sure you remove my CPU, first, Wire said.

Brandon Sanderson

That was from 1999.

It is interesting, also, for me to look back and see which ideas I have thrown into the word chipper and recycled. If you've read Starsight, you'll recognize something very similar to those Platforms, which stretch back to a short story that I wrote called Defending Elysium. They showed up, probably first time here. And then I reused them for Defending Elysium. And then wrote the Skyward series in that same universe. So this is like a hypothetical book that could have existed in that same setting.

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#25 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Lirin was of the opinion that tragedy was the means by which the Almighty proved the virtue of men. How else was one to explain the events of the past year?

He ducked his head and stepped to the side respectfully, pulling his cloak tight as <Abijan?> strolled past. He remembered setting her arm in a splint some ten years before, soon after her arrival in the town, though she’d been called <Adi?> back then. Brightlord Wistiow had paid good money for her, and after she’d broken her arm, he’d wanted his investment protected.

Now, instead of a simple smock, the parshwoman wore a fine silken havah. White, which was an odd color. Lirin didn’t think he’d ever seen a human woman wear a dress that shade. But the Fused taught that in the past, the parshmen—or singers, as they now began to be called—had preferred solid and often muted colors to not distract from the patterns of their skin. <Abijan>, like many of the town’s new parshman Brightlords, listened intently to what the Fused said about the past. They treated the ways of the ancient parshmen like scripture, but couldn’t cover up that they were more Alethi than they were like those old singers. <Abijan> wore her safehand in a sleeve, and when she spoke to her companions, two townspeople who currently had her favor, she didn’t have even a hint of an accent.

Her skin patterns were swirling shapes, like mixing paint, red on white. Lirin had to admit the pattern was indeed striking against the white robe. He kept his eyes down, however, and remained by the side of the pathway, waiting until the parshwoman disappeared in the morning fog. Such extreme deference wasn’t required, but it was best to be careful when you were known as a potential troublemaker.

Lirin pulled his cloak tight again and continued on his way through the dense fog. Though the sun was well above the horizon, he saw it only as a vaguely circular white blotch. They’d been seeing spring weather lately in Hearthstone, and that meant morning fog. A welcome shroud for his chosen activities this day.

As he neared the perimeter of the town, he passed an increasing number of improvised shanties, blankets and tarps stretching between rooftops, making a kind of shelter for the crowded refugees. Entire streets were closed off this way. The sound of plates clinking and people talking rose through the fog surrounding him. These shanties would never last a storm, of course, but they could quickly be torn down and stowed. There just wasn’t enough housing otherwise. Hearthstone, as one of the towns of modest size this close to the Herdazian border, was clogged with refugees these days. In Herdaz, men could claim to fight for freedom, but how free were the corpses they left to bleed into the storm waters?

In some ways, little had changed, despite the coming of the Everstorm and the awakening of the parshmen. The skin of some involved in the battles changed, but the same old conflicts raged. Those who had a little taste of power wanted more, and sought it with the sword. The normal people bled, and men like Lirin had to try to put them back together. At least it seemed to almost be over. Word was that the resistance in Herdaz had finally collapsed, and the singers were securing dominance in the country. That meant more refugees for a time, but maybe after that, everything could settle back down and men could stop killing one another.

Unfortunately, as he emerged from a line of shanties, he found a sorry lot waiting for him. It was hard to get a count in the fog, but there had to be a good hundred people here. And with Hearthstone already nearing bursting, where were they going to fit so many?

Brandon Sanderson

So the rest of the chapter outline goes—and the rest of it’s in a real big mess—Lirin is there, he’s kind of looking through the refugees for sickness. Really, he’s keeping an eye out for that Herdazian general that had an interlude in the third book. He’s gonna be relevant here, they’re gonna try and hide him. But then they’re looking through the refugees, and one of them is Kaladin!

Salt Lake City ComicCon 2017 ()
#26 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

It's not every day you get you get to help save the world. Around here, it only happens about every six months.

I stood in the Apocalypse Guard command center. The screens displayed Erodan, a planet threatened with destruction by a passing asteroid. Today, the Guard would save that planet, and I got to be part of it.

"Emma," Commander Visco said, waving her cup toward me. "This coffee cup won't refill itself."

A very small part.

I seized the Commander's cup and hurried to the small kitchen beside the command station. As painful as it was to miss anything, particularly now that the asteroid was getting close to Erodan, I had a job to do. Commander Visco couldn't spare the time to fill her own cup. That's why you had interns like me.

A pot was brewing on the counter inside the small kitchen. But just in case, I got a second one going in the other machine. Truth be told, I was a coffee-making genius. Everybody said so, and I took their word on it, because... seriously, why would you bother lying to the coffee girl? Granted, I had to take their word for it, as I didn't drink coffee. My skill was due to my secret weapon: I knew how to follow instructions. I flipped through pictures on my phone, finding the instructions. The other interns said they'd been making coffee for years and didn't need instructions... but they then seemed shocked when they tasted how great my brews were. Odd how it was, when you measured exactly and read by the manual, how things turned out better than when you did by instinct.

New batch brewing, I filled the commander's cup, then took the rest of the pot with me as I rushed back into the main room of the command center, which was occupied by some forty people. We weren't actually on Erodan, the endangered planet; our command center was on the space station Charleston, which was in orbit around Terra, my home planet. We used specialized technology to look through at Erodan and manage the operation there.

When most people think of the Apocalypse Guard, they imagine the Riggers and their fantastical powers. Most people forget that the Guard also includes hundreds of scientists, engineers, explorers... and office interns. A magnificent force united by a single goal: save planets from destruction.

I delivered the Commander's cup, glancing at the command center's large main screen, which had shifted to a view of the asteroid. One of the technicians had nicknamed it "Droppy." The people on Erodan called it "Calamity." That was a bad name by our metrics for various reasons. Droppy didn't look that dangerous to me; more majestic. A grand oblong chunk of space rock tumbling quietly in the void, trailing a brilliant line of debris. The Apocalypse Guard had been working to stop it for two years now, ever since first discovering Erodan and making contact. That had been long before I had joined them, but I had read all of the mission briefs. Well, the ones that interns had clearance for, anyway.

Commander Visco barked an order, checking on the Sapphire Riggers who were watching along the Erodan's eastern sea. Because of the Guard's actions, Droppy should miss the planet. But after that, the planet would pass through the debris of the asteroid's tail, and that would cause meteor showers, and some larger chunks of rock might prove dagneorus. The Sapphire Riggers would use their powers to stop any tsunamis.

As the screen switched, I jumped, remembering where I was. Step one of not getting fired, Emma. Do your freaking job. Coffee pot in hand, I turned toward the rows of people seated in cubbies beneath the main screen. These scientists and operators supported the Riggers, who were our field agents. Filling empty cups wasn't glorious work, but it was my work, and dang it, I was gonna do it well. If Erodan fell, it wouldn't be because our command team lacked proper caffeination.

The screen switched to another image of Droppy. From what I'd read, saving planets from asteroids was standard work for the Guard. They'd done it some six times now. I would have expected them to use nukes, or more dramatically, the Steel Riggers, who could shoot bolts of energy from their hands. Instead, the Guard had painted the asteroid bright white. That meant more sunlight bounced off Droppy, which, remarkably, had nudged it off its course. Two years later, it was barely going to miss Erodan.

My pot ran dry, so I went to fetch a new one. On my way back to the kitchen, I hesitantly stopped the room's Firelight Rigger, who sat in a command chair off by himself. The man wore a bright red headpiece, kind of like a futuristic crown, and a similar chestpiece under his loose jacket. I wiggled the coffee pot, but he just stared forward, fingers laced with the index fingers tapping. The air seemed to warm around him. Looking in other dimensions, I thought, shivering. Technically, Erodan wasn't simply another planet; it was an alternate dimension version of Terra. There were technically infinite dimensions, but most weren't stable. They were wild half-realities, full of oddities and bizarre visions. Erodan, however, was what we call a Stable Node, like Terra. Or Earth, the Hidden Node. Erodan was a real world, full of living people, civilizations, and cultures.

"Looking good," Commander Visco said as reports flashed on the main screen. She had a voice that tasted like fudge brownies. Oh, right, I kind of taste sounds sometimes, particularly peoples' voices. It's called synesthesia, and it's a totally cool thing that scientists find super interesting and not weird at all. I don't mention it to people very often. "Emerald Riggers," Commander Visco said, "Report."

I trotted away from the Firelight Rigger (who was, admittedly, very creepy) and started scanning for other people who needed coffee refills. The main screen turned to a shot of a line of Emerald Riggers floating up above Erodan's atmosphere, each surrounded by a protective green forcefield. They were spaced out, watching the asteroid from a safe distance, a line of sentinels between it and the planet. "Asteroid pass is looking clean, Commander," said Captain Choy, an Asian man. His face, shaded green from his forcefield, appeared in the corner of the main screen. His voice tasted like brown beef with onions. "How are the tides?"

"Sapphire Riggers report they are manageable," a scientist replied. "Everything is as projected."

"Doesn't even look like there's much debris in the tail," Choy said. "Emerald Riggers standing by."

I filled a few more cups, moving down a row of operators wearing headsets. Each of these would be in contact with a specific Rigger. I didn't know most of them, though Billy, who was the last in the row, gave me a grin and held up his cup. "Thanks, Emma," he said, pulling off his headset. His voice tasted of mint asparagus. Yes, I know. Billy took a sip of coffee, and then handed me the headset. "Hold this."

"Um... sure."

Billy slipped off his chair. "I'll be back in a sec. Have to hit the restroom. Cover for me."

"Co- co- cover for you?" I just about dropped my coffee pot. "Billy, I'm not trained for this! Billy!"

"It's fine," he said.

"Where are the instructions?" Billy just left me there. He wasn't the only one getting up. Others would occasionally run to the restroom or something. A mission like this could take hours. But none of the others left an intern holding their headset!

I looked around in panic. An Indian man two seats over glanced at me, then shook his head, as if in disapproval. Right, right, cover for Billy. Step one, put on the headset. Step two... look like you know what you're doing? "Hello," I said into the device?"

"Hello, beautiful," a familiar voice said. "Glad Billy finally got your attention. Hovering up here is getting boring."

Lance. Emerald Rigger, and the reason I had gotten this internship in the first place. My boyfriend, a man I could have freaking strangled right then.

***

Lance's voice tasted like my favorite peanut cluster candy bar from home. A familiar, comfortable taste, sweet and salty at the same time. "Lance," I hissed, sitting down. "You're not supposed to be Billy's Rigger!"

"Billy and I got it swapped," Lance said. "If I'm going to spend hours flying up here in a bubble, I can at least have someone fun to talk to."

"You're doing important work," I said, hunkering down. What if the Commander noticed that I was shirking coffee duty to talk to my boyfriend? "Super heroic stuff."

"Boring," Lance said, then yawned audibly into the microphone. At twenty years old, Lance Stoddard was two years my senior, which had caused some consternation on the parts of our parents when we were in high school. He was the Apocalypse Guard's star rookie, having mastered the Emerald Rig after just one year of practice. He'd been on active duty every since, saving planets. That wasn't enough, of course, for Lance Freaking Stoddard. "They refused to put me on the dangerous missions," he said. "I had a chance to be on help of Zima five months ago, but they-" Do I have to listen to his again? "They pulled me for no reason! Now here I am, staring at a rock! Important work. The Hex were on Zima, Emma."

I shivered. The Hex. I wasn't allowed to read about our intervention on Zima. The reports were classified. But I did know we'd failed. The Hex had destroyed the planet. That made four planets so far they'd claimed in the eight years since they'd been discovered. People called them the most dangerous threat to the Knowns we'd ever encountered, a fact that I knew intimately well.

Lance sighed again, loudly. "You're so aggravating," I said, fishing in my pocket.

"You're getting out your phone, aren't you?"

"No I'm not," I said, getting out my phone.

"You're looking for that picture of me. The one you wrote instructions on."

"Don't be silly," I said, pulling up that exact picture."

"Well, if I'm supposed to be offended, I'm not. I think it's very cute, the way you talk. Very Idaho."

"I work for the Guard, now. I've become very cosmopolitan." I lowered my voice, thickening my real accent. "So stop teasin' me, Lance Stardard, you flipping idiot."

"I love the way that sounds! So pastoral!"

"Hush," I said. "You're from Idaho, too."

"I lived there for three years." Lance was originally from New York. He implied to others that he'd grown up in the important part, but I knew he'd lived in a town just as rural as Iona, Idaho. "I'm telling you", he said over the line, "I'm capable of more of this. The Pangaea mission will be even more boring. A flood? Scientists can solve that."

"I'm sure everyone we save on Pangaea will be comforted to know they were almost killed by a boring apocalyse."

On the screen Droppy drew closer and closer to Erodan. Sometimes, it was hard to remember that the screen was looking between dimensions, at another version of our world. Our history deviated from Erodan's some two thousand years ago, so they didn't seem very similar. Erodan's technology was stuck somewhere around the 1980s, and all the nations had different names from ours. They'd never heard of people like George Washington or Joan of Arc. Those people simply hadn't been born on Erodan. That was different from Earth, though, the Hidden Node. Apparently, that planet was so similar to Terra that there were alternate versions of most people living on it. Crazy. Fortunately, nobody could get to Earth these days, so it didn't really matter.

"You're supposed to be keeping me company."

"You're supposed to be staying focused. How long is Billy going to be gone, anyway?"

"Someway, when your internship is done, you'll be my operator. Then we can work as a team! Think of it. Me, risking my life on daring adventures. You, admiring how well I do it."

"You, tripping over your enthusiasm," I said. "Me, saving your heinie at the last minute, like in physics class, and in chemistry class, and in calculus class." I smiled. I did like Lance. He was like a big, barking Labrador. A little loud, maybe a little full of himself, but sweet at the same time.

"Admit it," he said, "You're glad I suggested that you apply."

"Suggested? You practically forced me into it."

"All I did was give you a list of instructions for submitting an application!" His candy-bar voice sounded intentionally innocent.

I sighed. It wasn't that I had minded getting out of Iona. But, well... Riggers gave me the shivers. It's just hard to explain. Our lives had seemed planned out, simply. But then Lance, instead of taking the football scholarship, had applied for the Guard. And he'd gotten in! And then when I graduated two years later, he nagged me until I applied. He pulled some strings, and I was really good at following instructions. So three months later, here I was, serving coffee to the Apocalypse Guard itself. Eh... when Lance let me do my job.

"Do you ever wonder," I said over the line, "why we have to do this in the first place?"

"Talk?" Lance said.

"No, save planets."

"You'd rather just let 'em be destroyed?"

"No," I said, "not that. I mean, have you wondered why? We found like, what, forty different stable nodes?"

"Yeah, something like that."

"And Erodan will be our twentieth intervention," I said. "So, like, half of all the planets we discover need to be saved from some imminent catastrophe. None have their own Apocalypse Guard or their own Riggers."

"Eh, some people from other planets do have weird powers. Jank is from Triveria; he can make things dry by touching them. He doesn't need a rig or anything."

"That's beside the point. Why, Lance? Why are so many planets facing life-ending threats?"

The Guard had a great track record. Of its twenty interventions so far, only six had failed. Four of those to the Hex, but that was still six entire planets we'd lost. with, in most cases, only a small percentage of people escaping to other dimensions.

"Best not to think about stuff like that, Emma," Lance said.

"I wish we had more answers," I said. "It..." I trailed off. A number on my monitor was flashing. The monitor had all kinds of readouts and things I didn't understand, since this wasn't my freaking job.

"Just a sec," Lance said. "Something's happening." That number on my screen, I thought. It's Lance's heartbeat. It skyrocketed. Feeling a growing panic, I looked up to the large main screen, which showed Droppy in all its glory. It seemed to be wobbling in a different way than before. Though the control center, scientists and operators hushed. Commander Visco looked up from her tablet at the back of the room, lowering her coffee mug from her lips. The asteroid wobbled once more, then started breaking into smaller chunks.