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Lift prepared to be awesome.
She sprinted across an open field in northern Tashikk, a little more than a week’s travel from Azimir. The place was overgrown with brown grass a foot or two high. 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 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 superfast 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 Slicked the soles 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 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 long black hair, tugging at the loose overshirt she wore atop her tighter brown undershirt, which was tucked into her loose-cuffed trousers.
She slid, and felt free. Just her and the wind. A small windspren, like a white ribbon in the air, started to follow her.
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 as shelter against the wind. Lift’s foot flashed with pain and she tumbled in the air, then hit the stone ground face-first.
Reflexively, 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. It hit the ground 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 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. Except he had bits of crystal growing out of him along the vine’s length. They jutted 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 crystallize and 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? They gave me too much stuff.”
“You saved the emperor’s life!”
“That should’ve been good for a few days of 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. 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 Gawx, who was now Prime Aqasix, a fancy title for their ruler. Because of her service, she could have tutors, they said. She could learn how to wear those clothes properly, learn how to write.
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. 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 Slicked herself with power, then skidded 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 slipperier 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. 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.…
Darkness, the shadow of a man who had chased her, had said those things in the palace, speaking of those who had—long ago—used powers like Lift’s. Maybe he’d been lying. 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. She reached the top of a small hill, then jumped and coated her feet with power.
She started slipping immediately. The air. The air she pushed against when moving was holding her back. Lift hissed, then coated her entire self in power.
She sliced through the wind, turning sideways as she skidded down the side of the hill. Air slid off 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 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, a single golden gloryspren—shaped like an orb—circling above her.
“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.”
“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. She’d run out of the food in her pack—she’d taken a lot—this morning. But hadn’t she found a sausage in the bottom before tossing the pack?
Oh, right. She’d eaten that while watching those riverspren a few hours ago. She dug in her pockets anyway, but only came out with a handkerchief that she’d used to wrap up a big stack of flatbread before stuffing it in her pack. 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 shouldn’t have been Surgebinding so much!” He wound along on the ground beside her, leaving a trail of vines and crystals. “And 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, pausing.
“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. “While in Shadesmar, I had collected the most magnificent selection of the souls of chairs from your side! I cultivated them, grew them into grand 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 as she started walking again. “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 in small patches, but each apart from the others. 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.
She stopped right 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 … going back?” Wyndle asked, hopeful.
“No,” Lift said. “Just saying goodbye.” Lift shoved her hands in her pockets and turned around before continuing through the trees.
Yeddaw was one of those cities Lift had always meant to visit. It was in Tashikk, a strange place even compared to Azir. She’d always found everyone here too polite and reserved. 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 only 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 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. Very practical. 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 trenches cut in the stone. They interconnected, like a huge maze. Some of the trenches 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 spaces between trenches, people worked fields. There were virtually no structures up there; everything was down below. People lived in those trenches, 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 out from the city—ones nobody seemed to live in, so the water could escape. 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 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 find one.”
“Yes,” Wyndle said, “you should do just that! Let us pop over to the market and pick up a legendary, all-powerful weapon of myth 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. 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’d 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 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 advisors 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—cultivationspren—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! Everyone who had any idea of how to accomplish all this died centuries ago!”
He grew along the road beside her as they followed the chull cart, which rattled and shook as it bounced down 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. I didn’t go through the trauma we all thought I’d endure. 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.”
“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 attacked you in the palace and came very close to murdering 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 right 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 pancakes here,” she said, “with things cooked into them. Supposed to be super tasty, and they eat them during the Weeping. Ten varieties. 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 nibble on a few of those.”
“I assure you, mistress, that you would find the experience thoroughly unappealing.”
She grunted, stomach growling. Hungerspren appeared, like little brown specks with wings, floating around her. That wasn’t odd. Many of the folks in line had attracted them.
“I got two powers,” Lift said. “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 ramp down into the city, 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 skirt. Both the men and the women wore the cloths, though not the guards.
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—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. They buzzed with exhaustionspren and hungerspren, enough to be distracting.
She’d have expected mostly merchants, not families, to be waiting here. 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 counterproposal, you could simply buy some food with the spheres the emperor allotted you.”
“Didn’t bring them.”
“You didn’t … you didn’t bring the money?”
“Ditched it when you weren’t looking. 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.
copyright © 2014 by Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC.
Edgedancer copyright © 2016 by Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC.
Illustrations copyright © 2014, 2016 by Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC.