Welcome to the Brandon Sanderson newsletter for June 2016! A new graphic novel is out this week, plus more exciting news below.
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Well, that revision was delayed time and time again, until the point where I decided I probably would need to just rewrite the book from scratch if I ever did release it. An interesting opportunity came along a few years later, however, and that changed my perspective. You see, the comic book company Dynamite Entertainment had come asking if I had anything, perhaps unpublished, that would make a good graphic novel.
Dynamite has been excellent to work with. Rik Hoskin, the person hired to do the adaptation, is a fantastic writer—and he really managed to preserve the core of my story, using my own dialogue and descriptions, while cutting out all the chaff. The artist Julius Gopez, the colorist Ross Campbell, the letterer Marshall Dillon, and the editor Rich Young have all done a great job.
The novel is big (no surprise), so it’s going to be released in three volumes. The first of these is available on June 28th in bookstores, and June 29th in comic shops.
On the planet of Taldain, the legendary Sand Masters harness arcane powers to manipulate sand in spectacular ways. But when they are slaughtered in a sinister conspiracy, the weakest of their number, Kenton, believes himself to be the only survivor. With enemies closing in on all sides, Kenton forges an unlikely partnership with Khriss—a mysterious Darksider who hides secrets of her own.
I’m super excited for this, and hope you’ll pick up a copy. It’s available as an ebook comic, though it looks great as a hardcover. Please consider picking it up. Many bookstores, like Barnes and Noble, are carrying copies, as are many comic book retailers. (Though I’d still call either bookstore or comic shop first to see if they have copies.)
*Note - My website originally listed 7:00-9:00 as the time for this signing. 5:00-8:00 is the correct time. Sorry about the mistake!
As you may be aware, the folks at Crafty Games have developed a board game set in the Mistborn world. It is called Mistborn: House War, a title I came up with myself, by the way!
Crafty has been running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the game, and they’ve had great success. The campaign closes on July 20th, so head on over to their page and check it out!
I’m still plugging away at this. Stormlight books are LONG and very involved. I’m almost done with Part Two of the book. Stormlight books have five sections, though the last one is usually very short, so the end of Part Two puts me at halfway. (Though my percentage bar is closer to 60%, as the first two parts were pretty long. Three and four should be shorter.) I’m hoping to finish sometime later this year, with a 2017 release. You can watch the progress bar on my website for more details!
Every Newsletter, I like to sit down and write something for you that will be a little different. Something that gives a window into what I’ve been doing lately, or things I’ve been thinking about.
The magic system is one. White Sand has a very cool magic system, where people control sand with their mind. The magic is powered by the water inside the person’s body, which is a neat system. You need to drink a lot in order to have power over the sand--but it’s on a tidally locked planet, where the sun never sets on that side of the world. (In fact, the sun recharges the sand’s power.) So everything is connected in a cool way. Sunlight recharges the sand, a person gives water to the sand (it’s actually a microscopic lichen-like substance living on the sand, and giving it its white color, that creates the magic. The Sand Master gives water to the lichen, fueling its magical life cycle, which in turn releases power that allows the Sand Master to control the sand.) But the sunlight also makes you more likely to dehydrate, which in turn stops you from being able to power the magic.
And then, it has the oddball--Sand Masters ALSO have the power to turn sand into water. I did this because it was cool to my then-writer brain. What if people who lived in a giant desert could make water? Wouldn’t that be useful? I use this to great effect in the story, and yet, it doesn’t fit the narrative. The modern me would never have added this power. It doesn’t fit into the entire system in a cohesive way. The rest makes logical sense; this (though I tried to justify it with worldbuilding behind the scenes) just doesn’t.
But in some ways, the old me was more willing to take chances. This is important to realize as well--I can't become so certain I know the way that things SHOULD be done, that I fall into doing the same thing over and over. I don't think the power to turn sand into water, ultimately, works in the novel. (Let me know what you think, if you read it.) But the fact that I was willing to add screwy, out-of-the-box powers to magic systems back then is a reminder that not everything in life is neat, able to be tied up with a bow. As much as I like playing video games, I don't want my books to feel like a video game--and that's a danger when every piece of the book, magic, and setting fits together to the point that it loses any sense of feeling organic.
A good lesson to learn from my old self.
I find a lot of the things I do in my writing now were there in these older books like White Sand, they just weren’t fully formed yet. I can also see my early self striving very hard not to fall into cliches, or to do just what was safe or expected. One of the book's two main protagonists, for example, is a black woman. I was trying hard to make sure my books weren’t only about white dudes. And yet, I was still young in my understanding of how to make a book feel real and vibrant, full of people who see the world in unique and different ways. For example, while I have a strong female protagonist, in the first draft she was basically the only only major female character. I did this a lot in the past--focused so hard on doing one thing well that I forgot to expand it to the greater story. (As a note, we changed one of the characters in the graphic novel version to be female, to help balance this out. It worked very well, and she's now one of my favorite characters in the whole book.)
It's hard to see past your biases in books though--and this is still something I fight against. I think great fiction somehow expresses the way the world truly is, the way the writer sees the world, and the way that people NOT the writer see the world, all at once. In this book, one of the main protagonists is dark skinned,. And yet, if you read the book, you’ll find that some of the villain groups are stereotypical, faceless, dark-skinned savages. While that same culture has some main characters who have real depth and characterization (thankfully) that didn’t stop me from relying on tropes for some of the broad brush strokes of the story.
Writing is a constant struggle of managing clichés and tropes, and figuring out when they serve you, and when they don’t. And the more you write, the more you become aware of things you lean upon--not just tropes like the ones I mentioned above, but things that are individual. I’ve been wondering a lot about these things with my own writing. At what point does, "Inventive magic system, religious politics, and people faced with difficult moral decisions" become a cliche to me any my writing? How can I push in new areas, doing new things, while preserving what people love about my writing?
Well, I'm still thinking about all these things. I'm very fond of White Sand, and when I was going back through it, I often found myself smiling. remember with great fondness the time I had back then to just write. There were no tours, no interviews, and nothing to distract me . I wouldn’t go back for anything, (I like actually having people read my books!) but there was something pure about that time, when I wasn't writing to deadline, I was just writing whatever I felt like at the moment. That's another thing I try to preserve today, the freedom to do odd projects now and then. Without it, I think I'd get very boring, very quickly.
In each newsletter, I include some tidbit of writing that is so far unpublished. Today, we’re going to give you a tidbit from the Lift Novella, Edgedancer, which will be included in Arcanum Unbounded, the short fiction collection coming out later this year. Note that this is an early draft, and we’ve already spotted some continuity and worldbuilding errors that I need to fix, so don’t worry if you spot something that is wrong. Enjoy!
Lift prepared to be awesome.
She sprinted across the open field in northern Tashikk, a many-day trip from Azimir. The place was overgrown with brown grass that only reached to her knees. The occasional trees were tall and twisty, with trunks that looked like they were made of interwoven vines, and branches that pointed upward more than out.
They had some official name, but everyone she knew just called them drop-deads, because of their springy roots. In a storm, they’d fall over flat and just lie there. Afterward, they’d pop back up, like a rude gesture made at the passing winds.
Lift’s run startled a group of axehinds who had been grazing nearby; the lean creatures leaped away on four legs with the two front claws pulled in close to the body. Good eating, those beasties. Barely any shell on them. But for once, Lift wasn’t in the mood to eat.
She was on the run.
“Mistress!” Wyndle, her pet Voidbringer, called. He took the shape of a vine, growing along the ground beside her at super-fast speed, matching her pace. He didn’t have a face at the moment, but could speak anyway. Unfortunately.
“Mistress,” he pled, “can’t we please just go back?”
Lift became awesome. She drew on the stuff inside of her, the stuff that made her glow. She painted the bottom of her feet with it, and leaped into a skid.
Suddenly, the ground didn’t rub against her at all. She slid as if on ice, whipping through the field. Grass grew startled all around her, curling as it yanked down into stone burrows. That made it bow before her in a wave.
She zipped along, wind pushing back her shoulder-length black hair, tugging at the loose overshirt she wore atop her tighter brown undershirt. She wore the overshirt unbuttoned and let it flap behind her freely, though she kept the undershirt tucked into her loose-cuffed trousers.
She slid, and felt free. Just her and the wind.
Then she hit a rock.
The stupid rock held firm--it was held in place by little tufts of moss that grew on the ground and stuck to things like stones, holding them down to shelter against the wind. Lift’s foot flashed with pain and she tumbled in the air, then hit the stone ground face-first.
By reflex, she made her face awesome--so she kept right on going, skidding on her cheek until she hit a tree. She stopped there, finally.
The tree slowly fell over, playing dead, hitting with a shivering sound of leaves and branches.
Lift sat up, rubbing her face. She’d cut her foot, but her awesomeness plugged up the hole, healing it over plenty quick. Her face didn’t even hurt much. When a part of her was awesome, it didn’t rub on what it touched, it just kind of...glided.
She still felt stupid.
“Mistress,” Wyndle said, curling up to her. His vine looked like the type fancy people would grow on their buildings to hide up parts that didn’t look rich enough. Only he had bits of crystal that would grow out of him along the vine’s length, jutting out unexpectedly, like toenails on a face.
When he moved, he didn’t wiggle like an eel. He actually grew, leaving a long trail of vines behind him that would soon decay into dust. Voidbringers were strange.
He wound around himself in a circle, like rope coiling, and formed a small tower of vines. And then something grew from the top: a face that formed out of vines, leaves, and gemstones. The mouth worked as he spoke.
“Oh, mistress,” he said. “Can’t we stop playing out here, please? We need to get back to Azimir!”
“Go back?” Lift stood up. “We just escaped that place!”
“Escaped! The palace? Mistress, you were an honored guest of the emperor! You had everything you wanted, as much food, as much--”
“All lies,” she declared, hands on hips. “To keep me from noticin’ the truth. They was going to eat me.”
Wyndle stammered. He wasn’t so frightening, for a Voidbringer. He must have been like...the Voidbringer all the other ones made fun of for wearing silly hats. The one that would correct all the others, and explain which fork they had to use when they sat down to consume human souls.
“Mistress,” Wyndle said. “Humans do not eat other humans. You were a guest!”
“Yeah, but why?” she said. “They gave me too much stuff.”
“You saved the emperor’s life!”
“That should’ve been good for a few days freeloading,” she said. “I once pulled a guy out of prison, and he gave me five whole days in his den for free, and a nice handkerchief too. That was generous. The Azish letting me stay as long as I wanted?” She shook her head. “They wanted something from me. Only explanation. They was going to starvin’ eat me.”
Lift started running again. The cold stone, perforated by grass burrows, felt good on her toes and feet. No shoes. What good were shoes? In the palace, they’d started offering her heaps of shoes. And nice clothing--big, comfy coats and robes. Clothing you could get lost in. She’d liked wearing something soft for once.
Then they’d started asking. Why not take some lessons, and learn to read? They were grateful for what she’d done for Emperor Gawx. She could learn, they’d promised. Learn how to wear those clothes properly, learn how to read.
It had started to consume her. If she’d stayed, how long would it have been before she wasn’t Lift anymore? How long until she’d have been gobbled up, another girl left in her place? Similar face, but at the same time all new?
She tried using her awesomeness again. Back in the palace, they had talked about the recovery of ancient powers. Knights Radiant. The binding of Surges, natural forces.
I will remember those who have been forgotten.
Lift painted herself with power, skidding across the ground a few feet before tumbling and rolling through the grass.
She pounded her fist on the stones. Stupid ground. Stupid awesomeness. How was she supposed to stay standing, when her feet were slicker than if they’d been coated in oil? She should just go back to paddling around on her knees. It was so much easier. She could balance that way, and use her hands to steer herself. Like a little crab, scooting around this way and that.
They were elegant things of beauty, Darkness had said. They could ride the thinnest rope, dance across rooftops, move like a ribbon on the wind...
Maybe Darkness had been lying when he’d said those things, talking about how people with her powers had once acted. After all, he’d been preparing to murder her at the time. Then again, why lie? He’d treated her derisively, as if she were nothing. Worthless.
She set her jaw and stood up. Wyndle was still talking, but she ignored him, instead taking off across the deserted field, running as fast as she could, startling grass as she moved. She hit the top of a small hill, then jumped and coated her feet with power.
She started slipping immediately. The wind. The wind of her passing was shoving her backward. Lift hissed, then coated her entire self in power.
She sliced through the wind, enveloped by strength. Air slid off of her, as if it couldn’t find her. Even the sunlight seemed to melt off her skin. She was between places, here but not. No air, no ground. Just pure motion, so fast that she reached grass before it had time to pull away. It flowed around her, its touch brushed aside by her power.
Her skin started to glow, tendrils of smoky light rising from her. She laughed, reaching the bottom of the small hill. There, she leaped over some boulders.
And ran face-first into another tree.
The bubble of power around her popped. The tree toppled over--and, for good measure, the two next to it decided to fall as well. Perhaps they thought they were missing out on something.
Wyndle found her grinning like a fool, staring up at the sun, spread out on the tree trunk with her arms interwoven with the branches.
“Mistress?” he said. “Oh, mistress. You were happy in the palace. I saw it in you!”
She didn’t reply.
“And the emperor,” Wyndle continued. “He’ll miss you! You didn’t even tell him you were going!”
“I left him a note,” she said absently.
“A note? You learned to write?”
“Storms, no. I ate his dinner. Right out from under the tray cover while they was preparing to bring it to him. Gawx’ll know what that means.”
“I find that doubtful, mistress.”
She climbed up from the fallen tree and stretched, then blew her hair out of her eyes. Maybe she could dance across rooftops, ride on ropes, or...what was it? Make wind? Yeah, she could do that one for sure. She hopped off the tree and continued walking through the field.
Unfortunately, her stomach had a few things to say about how much awesomeness she’d used. She ran on food, even more than most folks. She could draw some awesomeness from everything she ate, but once it was gone, she couldn’t do anything incredible again until she’d had more to eat.
Her stomach rumbled in complaint. She liked to imagine that it was cussing at her something awful, and she searched through her pockets. Hadn’t she found a sausage in the bottom of her pack before tossing it away?
She’d eaten that. She only came out with a handkerchief that she’d used to wrap up a big stack of flatbread on her way out of the palace. She shoved part of the handkerchief into her mouth and started chewing.
“Mistress?” Wyndle asked.
“Mie hab crubs onnit,” she said around the handkerchief.
“You’re hungry,” Wyndle said. “You shouldn’t have been Surgebinding so much!” He wound along on the ground beside her, leaving a trail of vines and crystals. “We should have stayed in the palace. Oh, how did this happen to me? I should be gardening right now. I had the most magnificent chairs.”
“Shars?” Lift asked.
“Yes, chairs.” Wyndle wound up in a coil beside her, forming a face that tilted toward her at an angle off the top of the coil. “From all across Shadesmar I had collected the souls of chairs from your side! I cultivated them, grew them into magnificent crystals. I had some Winstels, a nice Shober, quite the collection of spoonbacks, even a throne or two!”
“Yu gurdened shars?”
“Of course I gardened chairs,” Wyndle said. His ribbon of vine leaped off the coil and followed her. “What else would I garden?”
“Plants? Well, we have them in Shadesmar, but I’m no pedestrian gardener. I’m an artist! Why, I was planning an entire exhibition of sofas when the Ring chose me for this atrocious duty.”
“Smufld gramitch mragnifude.”
“Would you take that out of your mouth?” Wyndle snapped.
Lift did so.
Wyndle huffed. How a little vine thing huffed, Lift didn’t know. But he did it all the time. “Now, what were you trying to say?” “
Gibberish,” Lift said. “I just wanted to see how you’d respond.” She stuffed the other side of the handkerchief into her mouth and started sucking on it.
They continued on with a sigh from Wyndle, who muttered about gardening, and his pathetic life. He certainly was a strange Voidbringer. Come to think of it, she’d never seen him act the least bit interested in consuming someone’s soul. Maybe he was a vegetarian?
They passed through a small forest, really just a corpse of trees, which was a strange term, since she never seemed to find any bodies in them. These weren’t even drop-deads; those tended to grow solitary. These had branches that wound around one another as they grew, dense and intertwined to face the highstorms.
That was basically the way to do it, right? Everyone else, they wound their branches together. Braced themselves. But Lift, she was a drop-dead. Don’t intertwine, don’t get caught up. Go your own way.
Yes, that was definitely how she was. That was why she’d had to leave the palace, obviously. You couldn’t live your life getting up and seeing the same things every day. You had to keep moving, otherwise people started to know who you were, and then they started to expect things from you. It was one step from there to being gobbled up. Wasn’t it?
She stopped just inside the trees, standing on a pathway that someone had cut and kept maintained. She looked backward, northward, toward Azir.
“Is this about what happened to you?” Wyndle asked. “I don’t know a lot about humans, but I believe it was natural, disconcerting though it might appear. You aren’t wounded.”
Lift shaded her eyes. The wrong things were changing. She was supposed to stay the same, and the world was supposed to change around her. She’d asked for that, hadn’t she?
Had she been lied to?
“Are we...turning back?” Wyndle asked, hopeful.
“No,” Lift said. “Just saying goodbye.” Lift shoved her hands in her pockets and turned back around before continuing through the trees.
Yeddaw was one of those cities Lift had always meant to visit. It was in Tashikk, though, which was a strange place, even compared to Azir. She’d always found everyone here too polite and reserved for her taste. They also wore clothing that made them hard to read.
But everyone said that you had to see Yeddaw. It was the closest you could get to seeing Sesemalex Dar--and considering that place had been a war zone for basically a billion years, she wasn’t likely to ever get there.
Standing with hands on hips, looking down at the city of Yeddaw, she found herself agreeing with what people said. This was a sight. The Azish liked to consider themselves grand, but they just plastered bronze or gold or something over all their buildings and pretended that was enough. What good did that do? It just reflected her own face back at her, and she’d seen that too often to be impressed by it.
No, this was impressive. A majestic city cut out of the starvin’ ground.
She’d heard some of the fancy scribes in Azir talk about it--they said it was a new city, created only a hunnerd years back by hiring the Imperial Shardblades out of Azir. Those didn’t spend much time at war, but were instead used for making mines or cutting up rocks and stuff. Useful. Like using the royal throne as a stool to reach something on the high shelf.
She really shouldn’t have gotten yelled at for that.
Anyway, they’d used those Shardblades here. This had once been a large, flat plain. Her vantage on a hilltop, though, let her make out hundreds of troughs cut in the stone. They interconnected, like a huge maze. Some of the troughs were wider than others, and they made a vague spiral toward the center, where a large moundlike building was the only part of the city that peeked up over the surface of the plain.
Above, in the space between troughs, people worked fields. But there were virtually no structures up there; everything was down below. People lived in those slots, which seemed to be two or three stories deep. How did they avoid being washed away in highstorms? True, they’d cut large channels leading away from the city--ones nobody seemed to live in, so the water could escape--but still. Didn’t seem safe. But it was pretty cool.
She could hide really well in there. That was why she’d come, after all. To hide. Nothing else. No other reason.
The city didn’t have walls, but it did have a number of guard towers spaced around it. Her pathway led down from the hills and joined with a larger road, which eventually stopped in a line of people awaiting permission to get down into the city.
“How on Roshar did they manage to cut away so much rock!” Wyndle said, forming a pile of vines beside her, a twisting column that took him high enough to be by her waist, face tilted toward the city.
“Shardblades,” Lift said.
“Oh. Ooooh. Those.” He shifted uncomfortably, vines writhing and twisting about one another with a scrunching sound. “Yes. Those.”
She folded her arms. “I should get me one of those, eh?”
Wyndle, strangely, groaned loudly.
“I figure,” she explained, “that Darkness has one, right? He fought with one when he was trying to kill me and Gawx. So I ought to get me one.”
“Yes,” Wyndle said, “you should just do that! Let us pop over to the market and pick up a legendary, all-powerful weapon of legend and lore, worth more than many kingdoms! I hear they sell them in bushels, following spring weather in the east.”
“Shut it, Voidbringer,” she eyed his tangle of a face. “You know something about Shardblades, don’t you?”
The vines seemed to wilt.
“You do. Out with it. What do you know?”
He shook his vine head.
“Tell me,” Lift warned.
“It’s forbidden. You must discover it on your own.”
“That’s what I’m doing. I’m discovering it. From you. Tell me, or I’ll bite you.”
“I’ll bite you,” she said. “I’ll gnaw on you, Voidbringer. You’re a vine, right? I eat plants. Sometimes.”
“Even assuming my crystals wouldn’t break your teeth,” Wyndle said, “my mass would give you no sustenance. It would break down into dust.”
“It’s not about sustenance,” she said. “It’s about torture.”
Wyndle, surprisingly, met her expression with his strange eyes grown from crystals. “Honestly, mistress, I don’t think you have it in you.”
She growled at him, and he wilted further, but didn’t tell her the secret. Well, storms. It was good to see him have a backbone...or, well, the plant equivalent, whatever that was. Backbark?
“You’re supposed to obey me,” she said, shoving her hands in her pockets and heading along the path toward the city. “You ain’t following the rules.”
“I am indeed,” he said with a huff. “You just don’t know them. And I’ll have you know that I am a gardener, and not a soldier, so I’ll not have you hitting people with me.”
She stopped. “Why would I hit anyone with you?”
He wilted so far, he was practically shriveled.
Lift sighed, then continued on her way, Wyndle following. They merged with the larger road, turning toward the tower that was a gateway into the city.
“So,” Wyndle said as they passed a chull cart, “this is where we were going all along? This city cut into the ground?”
“You could have told me,” Wyndle said. “I’ve been worried we’ll be caught outside in a storm!”
“Why? It ain’t raining anymore.” The Weeping, oddly, had stopped. Then started again. Then stopped again. It was acting downright strange, like a regular weather, rather than the long, long mild highstorm it was supposed to be.
“I don’t know,” Wyndle said. “Something is wrong, mistress. Something in the world. I can feel it. Did you hear what the Alethi king wrote to the emperor?”
“About a new storm coming?” Lift said. “One that blows the wrong way?”
“The noodles all called that silly.”
“The people who hang around Gawx, talking to him all the time, telling him what to do and trying to get me to wear a robe.”
“The viziers of Azir. Head clerks of the empire and advisor to the Prime!”
“Yeah. Wavy arms and blubbering features. Noodles. Anyway, they thought that angry guy--”
“--Highprince Dalinar Kholin, de facto king of Alethkar and most powerful warlord in the world right now--“
“--was makin’ stuff up.”
“Maybe. But don’t you feel something? Out there? Building?”
“A distant thunder,” Lift whispered, looking westward, past the city, toward the far-off mountains. “Or...or the way you feel after someone drops a pan, and you see it falling, and get ready for the clatter it will make when it hits.”
“So you do feel it.”
“Maybe,” Lift said. The chull cart rolled past. Nobody paid any attention to her--they never did. And nobody could see Wyndle but her, because she was special. “Don’t your Voidbringer friends know about this?”
“We’re not... Lift, we’re spren, but my kind are not very important. We don’t have a kingdom, or even cities, of our own. We only moved to bond with you because the Cryptics and the Honorspren and everyone were starting to move. Oh, we’ve jumped right into the sea of glass feet first, but we barely know what we’re doing!”
He grew along the road beside her as they followed the chull cart, which rattled and shook as it bounced along the roadway.
“Everything is wrong, and nothing makes sense,” Wyndle continued. “Bonding to you was supposed to be more difficult than it was, I gather. Memories come to me fuzzily sometimes, but I do remember more and more. And I didn’t go through the trauma I was warned would be my lot. That might be because of your...unique circumstances. But mistress, listen to me when I say something big is coming. This was the wrong time to leave Azir. We were secure there. We’ll need security for what is coming.”
“There isn’t time to get back.”
“No. There probably isn’t. At least we have shelter ahead.”
“Yeah. Assuming Darkness doesn’t kill us.”
“Darkness? The Skybreaker who tried to kill you?”
“Yeah,” Lift said. “He’s in the city. Didn’t you hear me complaining that I needed a Shardblade?”
“In the city...in Yeddaw, where we’re going right now?”
“Yup. The noodles have people watching for reports of him. A note came in just before we left, saying he’d been spotted in Yeddaw.”
“Wait.” Wyndle zipped forward, leaving a trail of vines and crystal behind. He grew up the back of the chull cart, curling onto its wood right in front of her. He made a face there, looking at her. “Is that why we left all of a sudden? Is that why we’re here? Did you come chasing that monster?”
“Course not,” Lift said, hands in her pockets. “That would be stupid.”
“Which you are not.”
“Then why are we here?”
“They got these flat pancakes here,” she said. “With things cooked into them. Supposed to be really tasty, and they eat them during the Weeping. Ten varieties. Should be tasty. I’m gonna steal one of each.”
“You came all this way, leaving behind luxury, to eat some pancakes.”
“Really awesome pancakes.”
“Despite the fact that a deific Shardbearer is here--a man who went to great lengths to try to execute you.”
“He wanted to stop me from using my powers,” Lift said. “He’s been seen other places. The noodles looked into it; they’re fascinated by him. Everyone pays attention to that bald guy who collects the heads of kings, but this guy has been murdering his way across Roshar too. Little people. Quiet people.”
“And we came here why?”
She shrugged. “Seemed like as good a place as any.”
He let himself slide off the back of the cart. “As a point of fact, it most expressly is not as good a place as any. It is demonstrably worse for--”
“You sure I can’t eat you?” she asked. “That would be super convenient. You got lots of extra vines. Maybe I could just nibble on a few of those.”
“I assure you, mistress, that you would find the experience thoroughly unappealing.”
She grunted, stomach growling. “I got two powers. I can slide around, awesome, and I can make stuff grow. So I could grow me some plants to eat?
“It would almost certainly take more energy in Stormlight to grow the plants than the sustenance would provide, as determined by the laws of the universe. And before you say anything, these are laws that even you cannot ignore.” He paused. “I think. Who knows, when you’re involved?”
“I’m special,” Lift said, stopping as they finally reached the line of people waiting to get into the city. “Also, hungry. More hungry than special, right now.”
She poked her head out of the line. Several guards stood at the gates, along with some scribes wearing the odd Tashikki clothing. It was this loooong piece of cloth that they wrapped around themselves, feet to forehead. For being a single sheet, it was really complex: it wound around both legs and arms individually, but also wrapped back around the waist sometimes to create a kind of skirtlike effect. Both the men and the women wore the cloths, though not the soldiers.
They sure were taking their time letting people in. And there sure were a lot of people waiting. Everyone here was Makabaki, with dark eyes and skin--even darker than Lift’s brownish tan. And a lot of those waiting were families, wearing normal Azish-style clothing. Trousers, dirty skirts, some with patterns. She’d have expected mostly merchants, not families. Who were all these people?
Her stomach growled.
“Mistress?” Wyndle asked.
“Hush,” she said. “Too hungry to talk.”
“Hungry? Yes. So shut up.”
“I bet those guards have food. People always feed guards. They can’t properly hit folks on the head if they’re starvin’. That’s a fact.”
“Or, to offer a counter proposal, you could just buy some food with the spheres the emperor allotted you.”
“Didn’t bring them.”
“You didn’t...you didn’t bring the money?”
“Can’t get robbed if you don’t have money. Carrying spheres is just asking for trouble. Besides.” She narrowed her eyes, watching the guards. “Only fancy people have money like that. We normal folk, we have to get by some other way.”
“So now you’re normal.”
“Course I am,” she said. “It’s everyone else that’s weird.”
Before he could reply, she ducked underneath the chull wagon and started sneaking toward the front of the line.
“Tallew you say?” Hauka asked, holding up the tarp covering the suspicious pile of grain. “From Azir?”
“Yes, of course, officer.” The man sitting on the front of the wagon squirmed. “Just a humble farmer.”
With no calluses, Hauka thought. A humble farmer who can afford fine Liaforan boots and a silk belt. Hauka took her spear and started shoving it into the grain, blunt end first. She didn’t run across any contraband, or any refugees, hidden in the grain. So that was a first.
“I need to get your papers notarized,” she said. “Pull your cart up over to the side here.”
The man grumbled but obeyed, turning his cart and backing the chull into the spot beside the guard post. He did so very, very carefully--as they were near the ledge down into the city. Immigrants’ quarter. Rich people didn’t enter here, only the ones without papers. Or the ones who hoped to avoid scrutiny.
Hauka rolled up the man’s credentials and walked past the guardhouse. Scents wafted out of that; lunch was being set up, which meant the people in line had an even longer wait ahead of them. An old scribe sat in a seat near the front of the guardhouse. Nissiqquan liked to be out in the sun.
Hauka bowed to him; Nissiqquan was the deputy scribe of immigration on duty for today. The older man was wrapped head-to-toe in a yellow shiqua, though he’d pulled the face portion down to expose a furrowed chin. They were in home lands, and the need to cover up before Nun Raylisi--the enemy of their god--was minimal. Tashi supposedly protected them here.
Hauka herself wore a breastplate, trousers, and a cloak with her family and studies pattern on them. The locals accepted an Azish like her with ease--Tashikk didn’t have much in the way of its own soldiers, and her credentials of achievement were certified by an Azimir vizier. She could have gotten a similar officer’s job with the local guard anywhere in the greater Makabaki region, though her credentials did make clear she wasn’t certified for battlefield command.
“Captain?” Nissiqquan said, adjusting his spectacles and looking at the farmer’s credentials as she proffered them. “Is he refusing to pay the tariff?”
“Tariff is fine and in the strongbox,” Hauka said. “I’m suspicious, though. That man’s no farmer.”
“Checked in the grain and under the cart,” Hauka said, looking over her shoulder. The man was all smiles. “It’s new grain. A little overripe, but edible.”
“Then the city will be glad to have it.”
He was right. The war between Emul and Tukar was heating up. Granted, everyone was always saying that. The war was decades old at this point, and it always seemed to be ‘getting worse.’ But it had changed over the last few years. That god king of the Tukari...there was something about him.
“That’s it!” Hauka said. “Your grace, I’ll bet that man has been over in Emul. He’s been raiding their fields while all the able-bodied men are fighting the invasion.”
Nissiqquan nodded in agreement, rubbing his chin. Then he dug through his folder. “Tax him as a smuggler and as a fence. I believe...yes, that will work. Triple tariff. I’ll earmark the extra tariffs to be diverted to feeding refugees, per referendum 371-sha.”
“Thanks,” Hauka said, relaxing and taking the forms. Say what you would of the strange ways of the Tashikki, they certainly did know how to draft solid civil ordinances.
“I have spheres for you,’ Nissiqquan noted. “I know you’ve been asking for infused ones.”
“Really!” Hauka said.
“My cousin had some out in his sphere cage--pure luck that he’d forgotten them--when that unpredicted highstorm blew through a few days back.”
“Excellent,” Hauka said. “I’ll trade you for them later.” She had some information that Nissiqquan would be very interested in. They used that as currency here in Tashikk, as much as they did spheres.
And storms, some lit spheres would be nice. After the Weeping, most people didn’t have any spheres, which could be storming inconvenient--as open flame was forbidden in the city. So she couldn’t do any reading at night unless she found some of the right spheres.
She walked back to the smuggler, flipping through forms. “We’ll need you to pay this tariff,” she said, handing him one. “And then this one too.”
“A fencing permit!” the man exclaimed. “And smuggling! This is thievery!”
“Yes, I believe it is. Or was.”
“You can’t prove such allegations,” he said, slapping the forms with his hands.
“Sure,” she said. “If I could prove that you crossed the border into Emul illegally, robbed the fields of good hardworking people while they were distracted by the fighting, then carted it back here without proper permits, I’d just seize the whole thing.” She leaned in. “You’re getting off easily. We both know it.”
He met her eyes, then looked nervously away and started filling out the forms. Good. No trouble today. She liked it when there was no trouble. It--
Hauka stopped. The tarp on the man’s wagon was rustling. Frowning, Hauka whipped it backward, and found a young girl neck-deep in the grain. She had light brown skin--like she was Reshi, or maybe Herdazian--and was probably eleven or twelve years old. She grinned at Hauka.
She hadn’t been there before.
“This stuff,” the girl said in Azish, mouth full of what appeared to be uncooked grain, “tastes terrible. I guess that’s why we make stuff out of it first.” She swallowed. “Got anything to drink?”
The smuggler stood up on his cart, sputtering and pointing. “She’s ruining my goods! She’s swimming in it! Guard, do something! There’s a dirty refugee in my grain!”
Great. The paperwork on this was going to be a nightmare. “Out of there, child. Do you have parents?”
“Course I do,” the girl said, rolling her eyes. “Everyone’s got parents. Mine’r’dead though.” She cocked her head. “What’s that I smell? That wouldn’t be...pancakes, would it?”
“Sure,” Hauka said, sensing an opportunity. “Sun Day pancakes. You can have one, if you--”
“Thanks!” The girl leaped from the grain, spraying it in all directions, causing the smuggler to cry out. Hauka tried to snatch the child, but somehow the girl wiggled out of her grip. She leaped over Hauka’s hands.
And landed right onto her shoulders. Hauka grunted at the sudden weight of the girl, who jumped off her shoulders and landed behind her.
Hauka spun about, off-balance.
“Tashi!” the smuggler said. “She stepped on your storming shoulders, officer.”
“Thank you. Stay here. Don’t move.” Hauka straightened her cap, then dashed after the child, who brushed past Nissiqquan--causing him to drop his folders--and entered into the guardroom. Good. There weren’t any other ways out of that post. Hauka stumbled up to the doorway, setting aside her spear and taking the club from her belt. She didn’t want to hurt the little refugee, but some intimidation wouldn’t be out of order.
The girl slid across the wooden floor like it was covered in oil, passing right under the table where several scribes and two of Hauka’s guards were eating. Then the girl stood up and knocked the entire thing on its side, startling everyone backward and dumping food to the floor.
“Sorry!” the girl called from the mess. “Didn’t mean to do that.” Her head popped up from beside the overturned table, and she had a pancake sticking half out of her mouth. “These aren’t bad.”
Hauka’s men leaped to their feet, befuddled. Hauka lunged past them, trying to reach around the table to grab the refugee. Her fingers brushed the girl’s arm, but she wiggled away again, pushing against the floor and somehow sliding between Rez’s legs.
Hauka lunged again, cornering the girl on the side of the guard chamber.
The girl, in turn, reached up and wiggled through the room’s single slotlike window. Hauka gaped. Surely that wasn’t big enough for a person, even a small one, to get through so easily. She pressed herself against the wall, looking out the window.
The girl hung down beside the window, her dark hair blowing in the breeze. “Hey,” she said. “What kind of pancake was that, anyway? I’ve gotta eat all ten.”
“Get back in here,” Hauka said, reaching through to try to grab the girl. “You haven’t been processed for immigration.”
The girl dropped down, landing on Hauka’s arm, then used it as a springboard to jump up higher and pull herself onto the top of the building. Hauka cursed and scrambled back out the front, trailed by her two guards. They searched the roof of the small guardpost, but saw nothing.
“She’s back in here!” one of the scribes called from inside.
A moment later, the girl skidded out along the ground, holding a pancake in each hand and another in her mouth. She headed back toward the cart with the smuggler, who had climbed down and was ranting about his grain getting soiled.
Hauka leaped to grab the child--and this time managed to get ahold of her leg. Unfortunately, her two guards reached for the girl too, and they tripped, falling down in a jumbled mess right on top of her as she jumped for the child.
Hauka hung on though. Puffing, two men on top of her, Hauka clung tightly to the little girl’s leg. She looked up, holding in a groan.
The refugee girl sat on the stone in front of her, head cocked. She stuffed one of the pancakes into her mouth, then reached behind herself to the place where the cart was hooked to its chull, and tapped the latch. It came undone, the pin popping out as the girl tapped it on the bottom. It didn’t resist a bit.
Oh, storms no. “Off me!” Hauka screamed, letting go of the girl and pushing free of the men. The stupid smuggler backed away, as if confused.
The cart rolled toward the ledge behind, and she doubted the wooden railing would keep it from falling. She got free of her men in a burst of anxiety, and leaped for the cart, seizing it by its side. It dragged her along with it, and she had terrible visions of it plummeting down over the ledge, into the city, right on top of the refugees of immigration quarter.
The cart, however, slowly lurched to a halt. Puffing, Hauka looked up from where she stood, feet pressed against the stones, holding onto the cart. She didn’t dare let go.
The girl was there, on top of the grain again, eating the last pancake. “They really are good,” she noted.
“Tuk-cake,” Hauka said, feeling exhausted. “You eat them for prosperity in the year to come.”
“Huh. People should eat them all the time then, you know?”
The girl nodded, then stood to the side and kicked down the tailgate of the cart. The grain suddenly slid out of the cart.
It was the strangest thing she’d ever seen. The pile of grain became like liquid, flowing out of the cart, even though the incline was shallow. It...well, it glowed softly as it flowed out of the cart, and rained down into the city.
The girl smiled at Hauka.
Then she jumped off after it.
Hauka gaped as the girl fell after the grain. The two other guards finally woke up enough to come help, and grabbed hold of the cart. The smuggler was screaming. Below, the grain billowed in the air, sending up dust as it poured into the immigrant quarter. It was pretty far down, but Hauka was pretty sure she heard shouts of delight and praise as the food blanketed the people there.
Cart secure, Hauka stepped up to the ledge. The girl was nowhere to be seen. Storms. Had she been some kind of spren? Hauka searched again but saw nothing, though there was this strange black dust at her feet. It blew away in the wind as she watched.
“Captain?” Rez asked.
“Take over immigration for the next hour, Rez. I need a break.”
Storms. How on Roshar was she ever going to explain this in a report?