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RoW Release Party ()
#1 (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

MASSIVE FUTURE OF THE COSMERE SPOILERS

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, <Maris>, 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.

JordanCon 2021 ()
#2 (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 like 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, 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 illumine 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, 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.

ConQuest 46 ()
#3 (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.”

RoW Release Party ()
#4 (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."

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#5 (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. <Ryn’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. <Ryn> 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. <Ryn> 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.

<Ryn> was a King’s Man and cut lumber for the king’s shipping. Like the other lumbermen, <Ryn> 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 <Ryn>. 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, <Ryn>. 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,” <Ryn> 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.

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#6 (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.

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#7 (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 <Xelian>.

Chapter One

The forest's silence was abnormal, almost uncomfortable. <Xelian> 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.

<Xelian> 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, <Xelian> 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?" <Xelian> asked, opening his eyes.

No insects, <Xelian>. 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," <Xelian> 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 <Xelian's> left shoulder blade

We're running out of forest, Wire pointed out. <Xelian> 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. <Xelian> 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.

<Xelian> 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, <Xelian> 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.

<Xelian> 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, <Xelian>, or are you simply waxing hypothetical?

"No, really. Remind me."

Yes, <Xelian>. Wire would compute a likely date and time for the reminder.

<Xelian> 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, <Xelian> 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 <Xelian> 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, <Xelian>, Wire chimed in. What do you find so fascinating about changing gravitational surfaces?

<Xelian> 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?" <Xelian> 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," <Xelian> 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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#8 (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 ()
#9 (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.

Manchester signing ()
#10 (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.

TWG Posts ()
#11 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

One thing to note now--I wasn't very satisfied with Glimmer's dialect myself, and DavidB's comments tipped me over the edge.  I'm now thinking of going with something more like this:

   Aether. a voice said in her mind.  It was light and airy, like a voice carried on the breeze, and felt lethargic.  King

   Yunmi glanced down at the rose-colored crystal embedded into her forearm just above her wrist.  King Theus? She thought.

   Aether. the voice responded, dull, slow.  As always, Glimmer's voice was accompanied by images in her head, filling out the single word.  This time, the image was of a dark black crystal set into a man's hand.  Theus's hand, which had been covered by a glove when Yunmi had met him.

   So Theus does have an Aether, Yunmi thought.  Did you speak to it?

   Unresponsive, her Aether replied. Old.  In her mind, Yunmi saw the Theus's Aether as Glimmer did--as a thing ancient, barely capable of putting out Aetherpulp.  A thing tired, yet forced to continue living on, attached to the king's flesh. 

 

Also, I don't like Glimmer's name, so consider that a placeholder right now.

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

Brandon Sanderson

The two woman 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.

JordanCon 2018 ()
#13 (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."

Salt Lake City ComicCon 2017 ()
#14 (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.