The Stormlight Archive

Words of Radiance: “Lift” (Excerpt)

Words of Radiance is coming, and we’re delighted to be able to share with you this stand-alone excerpt from the book!

“Lift,” by Brandon Sanderson, is an interlude chapter from his upcoming novel, but new readers or those afraid of spoilers need not fear; it introduces a new character and a new land entirely removed from the plot of The Way of Kings, and stands very well on its own.

Lift, a young thief who augments her skills with some magical “awesomeness,” infiltrates a palace where a council of viziers is choosing their new supreme leader from a large pack of applications. She wants to steal their dinners, but is being chased by a terrifying lawman she calls “Darkness.”

What kind of magic is she using? Is the word “awesomeness” commonplace in this part of Roshar? Read on!

 

Lift

Lift had never robbed a palace before. Seemed like a dangerous thing to try. Not because she might get caught, but because once you robbed a starvin’ palace, where did you go next?

She climbed up onto the outer wall and looked in at the grounds. Everything inside—trees, rocks, buildings—reflected the starlight in an odd way. A bulbous-looking building stuck up in the middle of it all, like a bubble on a pond. In fact, most of the buildings were that same round shape, often with small protrusions sprouting out of the top. There wasn’t a straight line in the whole starvin’ place. Just lots and lots of curves.

Lift’s companions climbed up to peek over the top of the wall. A scuffling, scrambling, rowdy mess they were. Six men, supposedly master thieves. They couldn’t even climb a wall properly.

“The Bronze Palace itself,” Huqin breathed.

“Bronze? Is that what everythin’ is made of?” Lift asked, sitting on the wall with one leg over the side. “Looks like a bunch of breasts.”

The men looked at her, aghast. They were all Azish, with dark skin and hair. She was Reshi, from the islands up north. Her mother had told her that, though Lift had never seen the place.

“What?” Huqin demanded.

“Breasts,” Lift said, pointing. “See, like a lady layin’ on her back. Those points on the tops are nipples. Bloke who built this place musta been single for a looong time.”

Huqin turned to one of his companions. Using their ropes, they scuttled back down the outside of the wall to hold a whispered conference.

“Grounds at this end look empty, as my informant indicated would be the case,” Huqin said. He was in charge of the lot of them. Had a nose like someone had taken hold of it when he was a kid and pulled real, real hard. Lift was surprised he didn’t smack people in the face with it when he turned.

“Everyone’s focused on choosing the new Prime Aqasix,” said Maxin. “We could really do this. Rob the Bronze Palace itself, and right under the nose of the vizierate.”

“Is it…um…safe?” asked Huqin’s nephew. He was in his teens, and puberty hadn’t been kind to him. Not with that face, that voice, and those spindly legs.

“Hush,” Huqin snapped.

“No,” Tigzikk said, “the boy is right to express caution. This will be very dangerous.”

Tigzikk was considered the learned one in the group on account of his being able to cuss in three languages. Downright scholarly, that was. He wore fancy clothing, while most of the others wore black. “There will be chaos,” Tigzikk continued, “because so many people move through the palace tonight, but there will also be danger. Many, many bodyguards and a likelihood of suspicion on all sides.”

Tigzikk was an aging fellow, and was the only one of the group Lift knew well. She couldn’t say his name. That “quq” sound on the end of his name sounded like choking when someone pronounced it correctly. She just called him Tig instead.

“Tigzikk,” Huqin said. Yup. Choking. “You were the one who suggested this. Don’t tell me you’re getting cold now.”

“I’m not backing down. I’m pleading caution.”

Lift leaned down over the wall toward them. “Less arguing,” she said. “Let’s move. I’m hungry.”

Huqin looked up. “Why did we bring her along?”

“She’ll be useful,” Tigzikk said. “You’ll see.”

“She’s just a child!”

“She’s a youth. She’s at least twelve.”

“I ain’t twelve,” Lift snapped, looming over them.

They turned up toward her.

“I ain’t,” she said. “Twelve’s an unlucky number.” She held up her hands. “I’m only this many.”

“…Ten?” Tigzikk asked.

“Is that how many that is? Sure, then. Ten.” She lowered her hands. “If I can’t count it on my fingers, it’s unlucky.” And she’d been that many for three years now. So there.

“Seems like there are a lot of unlucky ages,” Huqin said, sounding amused.

“Sure are,” she agreed. She scanned the grounds again, then glanced back the way they had come, into the city.

A man walked down one of the streets leading to the palace. His dark clothing blended into the gloom, but his silver buttons glinted each time he passed a streetlight.

Storms, she thought, a chill running up her spine. I didn’t lose him after all.

She looked down at the men. “Are you coming with me or not? ’Cuz I’m leaving.” She slipped over the top and dropped into the palace yards. Lift squatted there, feeling the cold ground. Yup, it was metal. Everything was bronze. Rich people, she decided, loved to stick with a theme.

As the boys finally stopped arguing and started climbing, a thin, twisting trail of vines grew out of the darkness and approached Lift. It looked like a little stream of spilled water picking its way across the floor. Here and there, bits of clear crystal peeked out of the vines, like sections of quartz in otherwise dark stone. Those weren’t sharp, but smooth like polished glass, and didn’t glow with Stormlight.

The vines grew super-fast, curling about one another in a tangle that formed a face.

“Mistress,” the face said. “Is this wise?”

“’Ello, Voidbringer,” Lift said, scanning the grounds.

“I am not a Voidbringer!” he said. “And you know it. Just…just stop saying that!”

Lift grinned. “You’re my pet Voidbringer, and no lies are going to change that. I got you captured. No stealing souls, now. We ain’t here for souls. Just a little thievery, the type what never hurt nobody.”

The vine face—he called himself Wyndle—sighed. Lift scuttled across the bronze ground over to a tree that was, of course, also made of bronze. Huqin had chosen the darkest part of night, between moons, for them to slip in—but the starlight was enough to see by on a cloudless night like this.

Wyndle grew up to her, leaving a small trail of vines that people didn’t seem to be able to see. The vines hardened after a few moments of sitting, as if briefly becoming solid crystal, then they crumbled to dust. People spotted that on occasion, though they certainly couldn’t see Wyndle himself.

“I’m a spren,” Wyndle said to her. “Part of a proud and noble—”

“Hush,” Lift said, peeking out from behind the bronze tree. An open-topped carriage passed on the drive beyond, carrying some important Azish folk. You could tell by the coats. Big, drooping coats with really wide sleeves and patterns that argued with each other. They all looked like kids who had snuck into their parents’ wardrobe. The hats were nifty, though.

The thieves followed behind her, moving with reasonable stealth. They really weren’t that bad. Even if they didn’t know how to climb a wall properly.

They gathered around her, and Tigzikk stood up, straightening his coat—which was an imitation of one of those worn by the rich scribe types who worked in the government. Here in Azir, working for the government was real important. Everyone else was said to be “discrete,” whatever that meant.

“Ready?” Tigzikk said to Maxin, who was the other one of the thieves dressed in fine clothing.

Maxin nodded, and the two of them moved off to the right, heading toward the palace’s sculpture garden. The important people would supposedly be shuffling around in there, speculating about who should be the next Prime.

Dangerous job, that. The last two had gotten their heads chopped off by some bloke in white with a Shardblade. The most recent Prime hadn’t lasted two starvin’ days!

With Tigzikk and Maxin gone, Lift only had four others to worry about. Huqin, his nephew, and two slender brothers who didn’t talk much and kept reaching under their coats for knives. Lift didn’t like their type. Thieving shouldn’t leave bodies. Leaving bodies was easy. There was no challenge to it if you could just kill anyone who spotted you.

“You can get us in,” Huqin said to Lift. “Right?”

Lift pointedly rolled her eyes. Then she scuttled across the bronze grounds toward the main palace structure.

Really does look like a breast…

Wyndle curled along the ground beside her, his vine trail sprouting tiny bits of clear crystal here and there. He was as sinuous and speedy as a moving eel, only he grew rather than actually moving. Voidbringers were a strange lot.

“You realize that I didn’t choose you,” he said, a face appearing in the vines as they moved. His speaking left a strange effect, the trail behind him clotted with a sequence of frozen faces. The mouth seemed to move because it was growing so quickly beside her. “I wanted to pick a distinguished Iriali matron. A grandmother, an accomplished gardener. But no, the Ring said we should choose you. ‘She has visited the Old Magic,’ they said. ‘Our mother has blessed her,’ they said. ‘She will be young, and we can mold her,’ they said. Well they don’t have to put up with—”

“Shut it, Voidbringer,” Lift hissed, drawing up beside the wall of the palace. “Or I’ll bathe in blessed water and go listen to the priests. Maybe get an exorcism.”

Lift edged sideways until she could look around the curve of the wall to spot the guard patrol: men in patterned vests and caps, with long halberds. She looked up the side of the wall. It bulged out just above her, like a rockbud, before tapering up further. It was of smooth bronze, with no handholds.

She waited until the guards had walked further away. “All right,” she whispered to Wyndle. “You gotta do what I say.”

“I do not.”

“Sure you do. I captured you, just like in the stories.”

“I came to you,” Wyndle said. “Your powers come from me! Do you even listen to—”

“Up the wall,” Lift said, pointing.

Wyndle sighed, but obeyed, creeping up the wall in a wide, looping pattern. Lift hopped up, grabbing the small handholds made by the vine, which stuck to the surface by virtue of thousands of branching stems with sticky discs on them. Wyndle wove ahead of her, making a ladder of sorts.

It wasn’t easy. It was starvin’ difficult, with that bulge, and Wyndle’s handholds weren’t very big. But she did it, climbing all the way to the near-top of the building’s dome, where windows peeked out at the grounds.

She glanced toward the city. No sign of the man in the black uniform. Maybe she’d lost him.

She turned back to examine the window. Its nice wooden frame held very thick glass, even though it pointed east. It was unfair how well Azimir was protected from highstorms. They should have to live with the wind, like normal folk.

“We need to Voidbring that,” she said, pointing at the window.

“Have you realized,” Wyndle said, “that while you claim to be a master thief, I do all of the work in this relationship?”

“You do all the complainin’ too,” she said. “How do we get through this?”

“You have the seeds?”

She nodded, fishing in her pocket. Then in the other one. Then in her back pocket. Ah, there they were. She pulled out a handful of seeds.

“I can’t affect the Physical Realm except in minor ways,” Wyndle said. “This means that you will need to use Investiture to—”

Lift yawned.

“Use Investiture to—”

She yawned wider. Starvin’ Voidbringers never could catch a hint.

Wyndle sighed. “Spread the seeds on the frame.”

She did so, throwing the handful of seeds at the window.

“Your bond to me grants two primary classes of ability,” Wyndle said. “The first, manipulation of friction, you’ve already—don’t yawn at me!—discovered. We have been using that well for many weeks now, and it is time for you to learn the second, the power of Growth. You aren’t ready for what was once known as Regrowth, the healing of—”

Lift pressed her hand against the seeds, then summoned her awesomeness.

She wasn’t sure how she did it. She just did. It had started right around when Wyndle had first appeared.

He hadn’t talked then. She kind of missed those days.

Her hand glowed faintly with white light, like vapor coming off the skin. The seeds that saw the light started to grow. Fast. Vines burst from the seeds and wormed into the cracks between the window and its frame.

The vines grew at her will, making constricted, straining sounds. The glass cracked, then the window frame popped open.

Lift grinned.

“Well done,” Wyndle said. “We’ll make an Edgedancer out of you yet.”

Her stomach grumbled. When had she last eaten? She’d used a lot of her awesomeness practicing earlier. She probably should have stolen something to eat. She wasn’t quite so awesome when she was hungry.

She slipped inside the window. Having a Voidbringer was useful, though she wasn’t completely sure her powers came from him. That seemed the sorta thing a Voidbringer would lie about. She had captured him, fair and square. She’d used words. A Voidbringer had no body, not really. To catch something like that, you had to use words. Everybody knew it. Just like curses made evil things come find you.

She had to get out a sphere—a diamond mark, her lucky one—to see properly in here. The small bedroom was decorated after the Azish way with lots of intricate patterns on the rugs and the fabric on the walls, mostly gold and red here. Those patterns were everything to the Azish. They were like words.

She looked out the window. Surely she’d escaped Darkness, the man in the black and silver with the pale crescent birthmark on his cheek. The man with the dead, lifeless stare. Surely he hadn’t followed her all the way from Marabethia. That was half a continent away! Well, a quarter one, at the least.

Convinced, she uncoiled the rope that she wore wrapped around her waist and over her shoulders. She tied it to the door of a built-in closet, then fed it out the window. It tightened as the men started climbing. Nearby, Wyndle grew up around one of the bedposts, coiled like a skyeel.

She heard whispered voices below. “Did you see that? She climbed right up it. Not a handhold in sight. How…?”

“Hush.” That was Huqin.

Lift began poking through cabinets and drawers as the boys clambered in the window one at a time. Once inside, the thieves pulled up the rope and shut the window as best they could. Huqin studied the vines she’d grown from seeds on the frame.

Lift stuck her head in the bottom of a wardrobe, groping around. “Ain’t nothing in this room but moldy shoes.”

“You,” Huqin said to her, “and my nephew will hold this room. The three of us will search the bedrooms nearby. We will be back shortly.”

“You’ll probably have a whole sack of moldy shoes…” Lift said, pulling out of the wardrobe.

“Ignorant child,” Huqin said, pointing at the wardrobe. One of his men grabbed the shoes and outfits inside, stuffing them in a sack. “This clothing will sell for bundles. It’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

“What about real riches?” Lift said. “Spheres, jewelry, art…” She had little interest in those things herself, but she’d figured it was what Huqin was after.

“That will all be far too well guarded,” Huqin said as his two associates made quick work of the room’s clothing. “The difference between a successful thief and a dead thief is knowing when to escape with your takings. This haul will let us live in luxury for a year or two. That is enough.”

One of the brothers peeked out the door into the hallway. He nodded, and the three of them slipped out. “Listen for the warning,” Huqin said to his nephew, then eased the door almost closed behind him.

Tigzikk and his accomplice below would listen for any kind of alarm. If anything seemed to be amiss, they’d slip off and blow their whistles. Huqin’s nephew crouched by the window to listen, obviously taking his duty very seriously. He looked to be about sixteen. Unlucky age, that.

“How did you climb the wall like that?” the youth asked.

“Gumption,” Lift said. “And spit.”

He frowned at her.

“I gots magic spit.”

He seemed to believe her. Idiot.

“Is it strange for you here?” he asked. “Away from your people?”

She stood out. Straight black hair—she wore it down to her waist—tan skin, rounded features. Everyone would immediately mark her as Reshi.

“Don’t know,” Lift said, strolling to the door. “Ain’t never been around my people.”

“You’re not from the islands?”

“Nope. Grew up in Rall Elorim.”

“The…City of Shadows?”

“Yup.”

“Is it—”

“Yup. Just like they say.”

She peeked through the door. Huqin and the others were well out of the way. The hallway was bronze—walls and everything—but a red and blue rug, with lots of little vine patterns, ran down the center. Paintings hung on the walls.

She pulled the door all the way open and stepped out.

“Lift!” The nephew scrambled to the door. “They told us to wait here!”

“And?”

“And we should wait here! We don’t want to get uncle Huqin in trouble!”

“What’s the point of sneaking into a palace if not to get into trouble?” She shook her head. Odd men, these. “This should be an interesting place, what with all of the rich folk hanging around.” There ought to be some really good food in here.

She padded out into the hallway, and Wyndle grew along the floor beside her. Interestingly, the nephew followed. She’d expected him to stay in the room.

“We shouldn’t be doing this,” he said as they passed a door that was open a crack, shuffles sounding from inside. Huqin and his men, robbing the place silly.

“Then stay,” Lift whispered, reaching a large stairwell. Servants whisked back and forth below, even a few parshmen, but she didn’t catch sight of anyone in one of those coats. “Where are the important folk?”

“Reading forms,” the nephew said from beside her.

“Forms?”

“Sure,” he said. “With the Prime dead, the viziers, scribes, and arbiters were all given a chance to fill out the proper paperwork to apply to take his place.”

“You apply to be emperor?” Lift said.

“Sure,” he said. “Lots of paperwork involved in that. And an essay. Your essay has to be really good to get this job.”

“Storms. You people are crazy.”

“Other nations do it better? With bloody succession wars? This way, everyone has a chance. Even the lowest of clerks can submit the paperwork. You can even be discrete and end up on the throne, if you are convincing enough. It happened once.”

“Crazy.”

“Says the girl who talks to herself.”

Lift looked at him sharply.

“Don’t pretend you don’t,” he said. “I’ve seen you doing it. Talking to the air, as if somebody were there.”

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Gawx.”

“Wow. Well then, Gaw. I don’t talk to myself because I’m crazy.”

“No?”

“I do it because I’m awesome.” She started down the steps, waited for a gap between passing servants, then made for a closet across the way. Gawx cursed, then followed.

Lift was tempted to use her awesomeness to slide across the floor quickly, but she didn’t need that yet. Besides, Wyndle kept complaining that she used the awesomeness too often. That she was at risk of malnutrition, whatever that meant.

She slipped up to the closet, using just her normal everyday sneakin’ skills, and moved inside. Gawx scrambled into the closet with her just before she pulled it shut. Dinnerware on a serving cart clinked behind them, and they could barely crowd into the space. Gawx moved, causing more clinks, and she elbowed him. He stilled as two parshmen passed, bearing large wine barrels.

“You should go back upstairs,” Lift whispered to him. “This could be dangerous.”

“Oh, sneaking into the storming royal palace is dangerous? Thanks. I hadn’t realized.”

“I mean it,” Lift said, peeking out of the closet. “Go back up, leave when Huqin returns. He’ll abandon me in a heartbeat. Probably will you, too.”

Besides, she didn’t want to be awesome with Gawx around. That started questions. And rumors. She hated both. For once, she’d like to be able to stay someplace for a while without being forced to run off.

“No,” Gawx said softly. “If you’re going to steal something good, I want a piece of it. Then maybe Huqin will stop making me stay behind, giving me the easy jobs.”

Huh. So he had some spunk to him.

A servant passed carrying a large, plate-filled tray. The food smells wafting from it made Lift’s stomach growl. Rich-person food. So delicious.

Lift watched the woman go, then broke out of the closet, following after. This was going to get difficult with Gawx in tow. He’d been trained well enough by his uncle, but moving unseen through a populated building wasn’t easy.

The serving woman pulled open a door that was hidden in the wall. Servants’ hallways. Lift caught it as it closed, waited a few heartbeats, then eased it open and slipped through. The narrow hallway was poorly lit and smelled of the food that had just passed.

Gawx entered behind Lift, then silently pulled the door closed. The serving woman disappeared around a corner ahead—there were probably lots of hallways like this in the palace. Behind Lift, Wyndle grew around the doorframe, a dark green, funguslike creep of vines that covered the door, then the wall beside her.

He formed a face in the vines and spots of crystal, then shook his head.

“Too narrow?” Lift asked.

He nodded.

“It’s dark in here. Hard to see us.”

“Vibrations on the floor, mistress. Someone coming this direction.”

She looked longingly after the servant with the food, then shoved past Gawx and pushed open the door, entering the main hallways again.

Gawx to cursed. “Do you even know what you’re doing?”

“No,” she said, then scuttled around a corner into a large hallway lined with alternating green and yellow gemstone lamps. Unfortunately, a servant in a stiff, black and white uniform was coming right at her.

Gawx let out a “meep” of worry, ducking back around the corner. Lift stood up straight, clasped her hands behind her back, and strolled forward.

She passed the man. His uniform marked him as someone important, for a servant.

“You, there!” the man snapped. “What is this?”

“Mistress wants some cake,” Lift said, jutting out her chin.

“Oh, for Yaezir’s sake. Food is served in the gardens! There is cake there!”

“Wrong type,” Lift said. “Mistress wants berry cake.”

The man threw his hands into the air. “Kitchens are back the other way,” he said. “Try and persuade the cook, though she’ll probably chop your hands off before she takes another special request. Storming country scribes! Special dietary needs are supposed to be sent ahead of time, with the proper forms!” He stalked off, leaving Lift with hands behind her back, watching him.

Gawk slunk around the corner. “I thought we were dead for sure.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Lift said, hurrying down the hallway. “This ain’t the dangerous part yet.”

At the other end, this hallway intersected another one—with the same wide rug down the center, bronze walls, and glowing metal lamps. Across the way was a door with no light shining under it. Lift checked in both directions, then dashed to the door, cracked it, peeked in, then waved for Gawx to join her inside.

“We should go right down that hallway outside,” Gawx whispered as she shut the door all but a crack. “Down that way, we’ll find the vizier quarters. They’re probably empty, because everyone will be in the Prime’s wing deliberating.”

“You know the palace layout?” she asked, crouching in near darkness beside the door. They were in a small sitting room of some sort, with a couple of shadowed chairs and a small table.

“Yeah,” Gawx said. “I memorized the palace maps before we came. You didn’t?”

She shrugged.

“I’ve been in here once before,” Gawx said. “I watched the Prime sleeping.”

“You what?”

“He’s public,” Gawx said, “belongs to everyone. You can enter a lottery to come look at him sleeping. They rotate people through every hour.”

“What? On a special day or something?”

“No, every day. You can watch him eat too, or watch him perform his daily rituals. If he loses a hair or cuts off a nail, you might be able to keep it as a relic.”

“Sounds creepy.”

“A little.”

“Which way to his rooms?” Lift asked.

“That way,” Gawx said, pointing left down the hallway outside—the opposite direction from the vizier chambers. “You don’t want to go there, Lift. That’s where the viziers and everyone important will be reviewing applications. In the Prime’s presence.”

“But he’s dead.”

“The new Prime.”

“He ain’t been chosen yet!”

“Well, it’s kind of strange,” Gawx said. By the dim light of the cracked door, she could see him blushing, as if he knew how starvin’ odd this all was. “There’s never not a Prime. We just don’t know who he is yet. I mean, he’s alive, and he’s already Prime—right now. We’re just catching up. So, those are his quarters, and the scions and viziers want to be in his presence while they decide who he is. Even if the person they decide upon isn’t in the room.”

“That makes no sense.”

“Of course it makes sense,” Gawx said. “It’s government. This is all very well detailed in the codes and…” He trailed off as Lift yawned. Azish could be real boring. At least he could take a hint, though.

“Anyway,” Gawx continued, “everyone outside in the gardens is hoping to be called in for a personal interview. It might not come to that, though. The scions can’t be Prime, as they’re too busy visiting and blessing villages around the kingdom—but a vizier can, and they tend to have the best applications. Usually, one of their number is chosen.”

“The Prime’s quarters,” Left said. “That’s the direction the food went.”

“What is it with you and food?”

“I’m going to eat their dinner,” she said, soft but intense.

Gawx blinked, startled. “You’re…what?”

“I’m gonna eat their food,” she said. “Rich folk have the best food.”

“But…there might be spheres in the vizier quarters…”

“Eh,” she said. “I’d just spend ’em on food.”

Stealing regular stuff was no fun. She wanted a real challenge. Over the last two years, she’d picked the most difficult places to enter. Then she’d snuck in.

And eaten their dinners.

“Come on,” she said, moving out of the doorway, then turned left toward the Prime’s chambers.

“You really are crazy,” Gawx whispered.

“Nah. Just bored.”

He looked the other way. “I’m going for the vizier quarters.”

“Suit yourself,” she said. “I’d go back upstairs instead, if I were you. You aren’t practiced enough for this kind of thing. You leave me, you’re probably going to get into trouble.”

He fidgeted, then slipped off in the direction of the vizier quarters. Lift rolled her eyes.

“Why did you even come with them?” Wyndle asked, creeping out of the room. “Why not just sneak in on your own?”

“Tigzikk found out about this whole election thing,” she said. “He told me tonight was a good night for sneaking. I owed it to him. Besides, I wanted to be here in case he got into trouble. I might need to help.”

“Why bother?”

Why indeed? “Someone has to care,” she said, starting down the hallway. “Too few people care, these days.”

“You say this while coming in to rob people.”

“Sure. Ain’t gonna hurt them.”

“You have an odd sense of morality, mistress.”

“Don’t be stupid,” she said. “Every sense of morality is odd.”

“I suppose.”

“Particularly to a Voidbringer.”

“I’m not—”

She grinned and hurried her pace toward the Prime’s quarters. She knew she’d found those when she glanced down a side hallway and spotted guards at the end. Yup. That door was so nice, it had to belong to an emperor. Only super-rich folk built fancy doors. You needed money coming out your ears before you spent it on a door.

Guards were a problem. Lift knelt down, peeking around the corner. The hallway leading to the emperor’s rooms was narrow, like an alleyway. Smart. Hard to sneak down something like that. And those two guards, they weren’t the bored type. They were the “we gotta stand here and look real angry” type. They stood so straight, you’d have thought someone had shoved brooms up their backsides.

She glanced upward. The hallway was tall; rich folk liked tall stuff. If they’d been poor, they’d have built another floor up there for their aunts and cousins to live in. Rich people wasted space instead. Proved they had so much money, they could waste it.

Seemed perfectly rational to steal from them.

“There,” Lift whispered, pointing to a small ornamented ledge that ran along the wall up above. It wouldn’t be wide enough to walk on, unless you were Lift. Which, fortunately, she was. It was dim up there too. The chandeliers were the dangly kind, and they hung low, with mirrors reflecting their sphere light downward.

“Up we go,” she said.

Wyndle sighed.

“You gotta do what I say or I’ll prune you.”

“You’ll…prune me.”

“Sure.” That sounded threatening, right?

Wyndle grew up the wall, giving her handholds. Already, the vines he’d trailed through the hallway behind them were vanishing, becoming crystal and disintegrating into dust.

“Why don’t they notice you?” Lift whispered. She’d never asked him, despite their months together. “Is it ’cuz only the pure in heart can see you?”

“You’re not serious.”

“Sure. That’d fit into legends and stories and stuff.”

“Oh, the theory itself isn’t ridiculous,” Wyndle said, speaking out of a bit of vine near her, the various cords of green moving like lips. “Merely the idea that you consider yourself to be pure in heart.”

“I’m pure,” Lift whispered, grunting as she climbed. “I’m a child and stuff. I’m so storming pure I practically belch rainbows.”

Wyndle sighed again—he liked to do that—as they reached the ledge. Wyndle grew along the side of it, making it slightly wider, and Lift stepped onto it. She balanced carefully, then nodded to Wyndle. He grew further along the ledge, then doubled back and grew up the wall to a point above her head. From there, he grew horizontally to give her a handhold. With the extra inch of vine on the ledge and the handhold above, she managed to sidle along, stomach to the wall. She took a deep breath, then turned the corner into the hallway with the guards.

She moved along it slowly, Wyndle wrapping back and forth, enhancing both footing and handholds for her. The guards didn’t cry out. She was doing it.

“They can’t see me,” Wyndle said, growing up beside her to create another line of handholds, “because I exist mostly in the Cognitive Realm, even though I’ve moved my consciousness to this Realm. I can make myself visible to anyone, should I desire, though it’s not easy for me. Other spren are more skilled at it, while some have the opposite trouble. Of course, no matter how I manifest, nobody can touch me, as I barely have any substance in this Realm.”

“Nobody but me,” Lift whispered, inching down the hallway.

“You shouldn’t be able to either,” he said, sounding troubled. “What did you ask for, when you visited my mother?”

Lift didn’t have to answer that, not to a storming Voidbringer. She eventually reached the end of the hallway. Beneath her was the door. Unfortunately, that was exactly where the guards stood.

“This does not seem very well thought out, mistress,” Wyndle noted. “Had you considered what you were going to do once you got here?”

She nodded.

“Well?”

“Wait,” she whispered.

They did, Lift with her front pressed to the wall, her heels hanging out above a fifteen-foot drop onto the guards. She didn’t want to fall. She was pretty sure she was awesome enough to survive it, but if they saw her, that would end the game. She’d have to run, and she’d never get any dinner.

Fortunately, she’d guessed right, unfortunately. A guard appeared at the other end of the hallway, looking out of breath and not a little annoyed. The other two guards jogged over to him. He turned, pointing the other way.

That was her chance. Wyndle grew a vine downward, and Lift grabbed it. She could feel the crystals jutting out between the tendrils, but they were smooth and faceted—not angular and sharp. She dropped, vine smooth between her fingers, pulling herself to a stop just before the floor.

She only had a few seconds.

“…caught a thief trying to ransack the vizier quarters,” said the newer guard. “Might be more. Keep watch. By Yaezir himself! I can’t believe they’d dare. Tonight of all nights!”

Lift cracked open the door to the emperor’s rooms and peeked in. Big room. Men and women at a table. Nobody looking her direction. She slipped through the door.

Then became awesome.

She ducked down, kicked herself forward, and for a moment, the floor—the carpet, the wood beneath—had no purchase on her. She glided as if on ice, making no noise as she slid across the ten-foot gap. Nothing could hold her when she got Slick like this. Fingers would slip off her, and she could glide forever. She didn’t think she’d ever stop unless she turned off the awesomeness. She’d slide all the way to the storming ocean itself.

Tonight, she stopped herself under the table, using her fingers—which weren’t Slick—then removed the Slickness from her legs. Her stomach growled in complaint. She needed food. Real fast, or no more awesomeness for her.

“Somehow, you are partly in the Cognitive realm,” Wyndle said, coiling beside her and raising a twisting mesh of vines that could make a face. “It is the only answer I can find to why you can touch spren. And you can metabolize food directly into Stormlight.”

She shrugged. He was always saying words like those. Trying to confuse her, starvin’ Voidbringer. Well, she wouldn’t talk back to him, not now. The men and women standing around the table might hear her, even if they couldn’t hear Wyndle.

That food was in here somewhere. She could smell it.

“But why?” Wyndle said. “Why did She give you this incredible talent? Why a child? There are soldiers, grand kings, incredible scholars among humankind. Instead she chose you.”

Food, food, food. Smelled great. Lift crawled along under the long table. The men and women up above were talking in very concerned voices.

“Your application was clearly the best, Dalksi.”

“What! I misspelled three words in the first paragraph alone!”

“I didn’t notice.”

“You didn’t… Of course you noticed! But this is pointless, because Axikk’s essay was obviously superior to mine.”

“Don’t bring me back into this. We disqualified me. I’m not fit to be Prime. I have a bad back.”

“Ashno of Sages had a bad back. He was one of the greatest Emuli Primes.”

“Bah! My essay was utter rubbish, and you know it.”

Wyndle moved along beside Lift. “Mother has given up on your kind. I can feel it. She doesn’t care any longer. Now that He’s gone…”

“This arguing does not befit us,” said a commanding female voice. “We should take our vote. People are waiting.”

“Let it go to one of those fools in the gardens.”

“Their essays were dreadful. Just look at what Pandri wrote across the top of hers.”

“My… I… I don’t know what half of that even means, but it does seem insulting.”

This finally caught Lift’s attention. She looked up toward the table above. Good cusses? Come on, she thought. Read a few of those.

“We’ll have to pick one of them,” the other voice—she sounded very in charge—said. “Kadasixes and Stars, this is a puzzle. What do we do when nobody wants to be Prime?”

Nobody wanted to be Prime? Had the entire country suddenly grown some sense? Lift continued on. Being rich seemed fun and all, but being in charge of that many people? Pure misery, that would be.

“Perhaps we should pick the worst application,” one of the voice said. “In this situation, that would indicate the cleverest applicant.”

“Six different monarchs killed…” one of the voices said, a new one. “In a mere two months. Highprinces slaughtered throughout the East. Religious leaders. And then, two Primes murdered in a matter of a single week. Storms…I almost think it’s another Desolation come upon us.”

“A Desolation in the form of a single man. Yaezir help the one we choose. It is a death sentence.”

“We have stalled too long as it is. These weeks of waiting with no Prime have been harmful to Azir. Let’s just pick the worst application. From this stack.”

“What if we pick someone who is legitimately terrible? Is it not our duty to care for the kingdom, regardless of the risk to the one we choose?”

“But in picking the best from among us, we doom our brightest, our best, to die by the sword… Yaezir help us. Scion Ethid, a prayer for guidance would be appreciated. We need Yaezir himself to show us his will. Perhaps if we choose the right person, he or she will be protected by His hand.”

Lift reached the end of the table and looked out at a banquet that had been set onto a smaller table at the other side of the room. This place was very Azish. Curls of embroidery everywhere. Carpets so fine, they probably drove some poor woman blind weaving them. Dark colors and dim lights. Paintings on the walls.

Huh, Lift thought, someone scratched a face off of that one. Who’d ruin a painting like that, and such a fine one, the Heralds all in a row?

Well, nobody seemed to be touching that feast. Her stomach growled, but she waited for a distraction.

It came soon after. The door opened. Likely the guards coming to report about the thief they’d found. Poor Gawx. She’d have to go break him out later.

Right now, it was time for food. Lift shoved herself forward on her knees and used her awesomeness to Slick her legs. She slid across the floor and grabbed the corner leg of the food table. Her momentum smoothly pivoted her around and behind it. She crouched down, the tablecloth neatly hiding her from the people at the room’s center, and unSlicked her legs.

Perfect. She reached up a hand and plucked a dinner roll off the table. She took a bite, then hesitated.

Why had everyone grown quiet? She risked a glance over the tabletop.

He had arrived.

The tall Azish man with the white mark on his cheek, like a crescent. Black uniform with a double row of silver buttons down the coat’s front, a stiff silver collar poking up from a shirt underneath. His thick gloves had collars of their own that extended halfway back around his forearms.

Dead eyes. This was Darkness himself.

Oh no.

“What is the meaning of this!” demanded one of the viziers, a woman in one of their large coats with the too-big sleeves. Her cap was of a different pattern, and it clashed quite spectacularly with the coat.

“I am here,” Darkness said, “for a thief.”

“Do you realize where you are? How dare you interrupt—”

“I have,” Darkness said, “the proper forms.” He spoke completely without emotion. No annoyance at being challenged, no arrogance or pomposity. Nothing at all. One of his minions entered behind him, a man in a black and silver uniform, less ornamented. He proffered a neat stack of papers to his master.

“Forms are all well and good,” the vizier said. “But this is not the time, constable, for—”

Lift bolted.

Her instincts finally battered down her surprise and she ran, leaping over a couch on her way to the room’s back door. Wyndle moved beside her in a streak.

She tore a hunk off the roll with her teeth; she was going to need the food. Beyond that door would be a bedroom, and a bedroom would have a window. She slammed open the door, dashing through.

Something swung from the shadows on the other side.

A cudgel took her in the chest. Ribs cracked. Lift gasped, dropping face-first to the floor.

Another of Darkness’s minions stepped from the shadows inside the bedroom.

“Even the chaotic,” Darkness said, “can be predictable with proper study.” His feet thumped across the floor behind her.

Lift gritted her teeth, curled up on the floor. Didn’t get enough to eat…So hungry.

The few bites she’d taken earlier worked within her. She felt the familiar feeling, like a storm in her veins. Liquid awesomeness. The pain faded from her chest as she healed.

Wyndle ran around her in a circle, a little lasso of vines sprouting leaves on the floor, looping her again and again. Darkness stepped up close.

Go! She leaped to her hands and knees. He seized her by the shoulder, but she could escape that. She summoned her awesomeness.

Darkness thrust something toward her.

The little animal was like a cremling, but with wings. Bound wings, tied up legs. It had a strange little face, not crabbish like a cremling. More like a tiny axehound, with a snout, mouth, and eyes.

It seemed sickly, and its shimmering eyes were pained. How could she tell that?

The creature sucked the awesomeness from Lift. She actually saw it go, a glistening whiteness that streamed from her to the little animal. It opened its mouth, drinking it in.

Suddenly, Lift felt very tired and very, very hungry.

Darkness handed the animal to one of his minions, who made it vanish into a black sack he then tucked in his pocket. Lift was certain that the viziers—standing in an outraged cluster at the table—hadn’t seen any of this, not with Darkness’s back to them and the two minions crowding around.

“Keep all spheres from her,” Darkness said. “She must not be allowed to Invest.”

Lift felt terror, panicked in a way she hadn’t known for years, ever since her days in Rall Elorim. She struggled, thrashing, biting at the hand that held her. Darkness didn’t even grunt. He hauled her to her feet, and another minion took her by the arms, wrenching them backward until she gasped at the pain.

No. She’d freed herself! She couldn’t be taken like this. Wyndle continued to spin around her on the ground, distressed. He was a good type, for a Voidbringer.

Darkness turned to the viziers. “I will trouble you no further.”

“Mistress!” Wyndle said. “Here!”

The half-eaten roll lay on the floor. She’d dropped it when the cudgel hit. Wyndle ran into it, but he couldn’t do anything more than make it wobble. Lift thrashed, trying to pull free, but without that storm inside of her, she was just a child in the grip of a trained soldier.

“I am highly disturbed by the nature of this incursion, constable,” the lead vizier said, shuffling through the stack of papers that Darkness had dropped. “Your paperwork is in order, and I see you even included a plea—granted by the arbiters—to search the palace itself for this urchin. Surely you did not need to disturb a holy conclave. For a common thief, no less.”

“Justice waits upon no man or woman,” Darkness said, completely calm. “And this thief is anything but common. With your leave, we will cease disturbing you.”

He didn’t seem to care if they gave him leave or not. He strode toward the door, and his minion pulled Lift along after. She got her foot out to the roll, but only managed to kick it forward, under the long table by the viziers.

“This is a leave of execution,” the vizier said with surprise, holding up the last sheet in the stack. “You will kill the child? For mere thievery?”

Kill? No. No!

“That, in addition to trespassing in the Prime’s palace,” Darkness said, reaching the door. “And for interrupting a holy conclave in session.”

The vizier met his gaze. She held it, then wilted. “I…” she said. “Ah, of course… er… constable.”

Darkness turned from her and pulled open the door. The vizier set one hand on the table and raised her other hand to her head.

The minion dragged Lift up to the door.

“Mistress!” Wyndle said, twisting up nearby. “Oh… oh dear. There is something very wrong with that man! He is not right, not right at all. You must use your powers.”

“Trying,” Lift said, grunting.

“You’ve let yourself grow too thin,” Wyndle said. “Not good. You always use up the excess… Low body fat… That might be the problem. I don’t know how this works!”

Darkness hesitated beside the door and looked at the low-hanging chandeliers in the hallway beyond, with their mirrors and sparkling gemstones. He raised his hand and gestured. The minion not holding Lift moved out into the hallway and found the chandelier ropes. He unwound those and pulled, raising the chandeliers.

Lift tried to summon her awesomeness. Just a little more. She just needed a little.

Her body felt exhausted. Drained. She really had been overdoing it. She struggled, increasingly panicked. Increasingly desperate.

In the hallway, the minion tied off the chandeliers high in the air. Nearby, the vizier leader glanced from Darkness to Lift.

“Please,” Lift mouthed.

The vizier pointedly shoved the table. It clipped the elbow of the minion holding Lift. He cursed, letting go with that hand.

Lift dove for the floor, ripping out of his grip. She squirmed forward, getting underneath the table.

The minion seized her by the ankles.

“What was that?” Darkness asked, his voice cold, emotionless.

“I slipped,” the vizier said.

“Watch yourself.”

“Is that a threat, constable? I am beyond your reach.”

“Nobody is beyond my reach.” Still no emotion.

Lift thrashed underneath the table, kicking at the minion. He cursed softly and hauled Lift out by her legs, then pulled her to her feet. Darkness watched, face emotionless.

She met his gaze, eye to eye, a half-eaten roll in her mouth. She stared him down, chewing quickly and swallowing.

For once, he showed an emotion. Bafflement. “All that,” he said, “for a roll?”

Lift said nothing.

Come on…

They walked her down the hallway, then around the corner. One of the minions ran ahead and purposefully removed the spheres from the lamps on the walls. Were they robbing the place? No, after she passed, the minion ran back and restored the spheres.

Come on…

They passed a palace guard in the larger hallway beyond. He who noted something about Darkness—perhaps that rope tied around his upper arm, which was threaded with an Azish sequence of colors—and saluted. “Constable, sir? You found another one?”

Darkness stopped, looking as the guard opened the door beside him. Inside, Gawx sat on a chair, slumped between two other guards.

“So you did have accomplices!” shouted one of the guards in the room. He slapped Gawx across the face.

Wyndle gasped from just behind her. “That was certainly uncalled for!”

Come on…

“This one is not your concern,” Darkness said to the guards, waiting as one of his minions did the strange gemstone-moving sequence. Why did they worry about that?

Something stirred inside of Lift. Like the little swirls of wind at the advent of a storm.

Darkness looked at her with a sharp motion. “Something is—”

Awesomeness returned.

Lift became Slick, every part of her but her feet and the palms of her hands. She yanked her arm—it slipped from the minion’s fingers—then kicked herself forward and fell to her knees, sliding under Darkness’s hand as he reached for her.

Wyndle let out a whoop, zipping along the floor beside her as she began slapping the floor like she was swimming, using each swing of her arms to push herself forward. She skimmed the floor of the palace hallway, knees sliding across it as if it were greased.

The posture wasn’t particularly dignified. Dignity was for rich folk who had time to make up games to play with one another.

She got going real fast real quick—so fast it was hard to control herself as she relaxed her awesomeness and tried to leap to her feet. She crashed into the wall at the end of the hallway instead, a sprawling heap of limbs.

She came out of it with a grin. That had gone way better than the last few times she’d tried this. Her first attempt had been super embarrassing. She’d been so Slick, she hadn’t even been able to stay on her knees.

“Lift!” Wyndle said. “Behind.”

She glanced down the hallway. She could swear he was glowing faintly, and he was certainly running too quickly.

Darkness was awesome too.

“That is not fair!” Lift shouted, scrambling to her feet and dashing down a side hallway—the way she’d come when sneaking with Gawx. Her body had already started to feel tired again. One roll didn’t get it far.

She sprinted down the lavish hallway, causing a maid to jump back, shrieking as if she’d seen a rat. Lift skidded around a corner, dashed toward the nice scents, and burst into the kitchens.

She ran through the mess of people inside. The door slammed open behind her a second later. Darkness.

Ignoring startled cooks, Lift leaped up onto a long counter, Slicking her leg and riding on it sideways, knocking off bowls and pans, causing a clatter. She came down off the other end of the counter as Darkness shoved his way past cooks in a clump, his Shardblade held up high.

He didn’t curse in annoyance. A fellow should curse. Made people feel real when they did that.

But of course, Darkness wasn’t a real person. Of that, though little else, she was sure.

Lift snatched a sausage off a steaming plate, then pushed into the servant hallways. She chewed as she ran, Wyndle growing along the wall beside her, leaving a streak of dark green vines.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

Away.

The door into the servant hallways slammed open behind her. Lift turned a corner, surprising an equerry. She went awesome, and threw herself to the side, easily slipping past him in the narrow hallway.

“What has become of me?” Wyndle asked. “Thieving in the night, chased by abominations. I was a gardener. A wonderful gardener! Cryptics and honorspren alike came to see the crystals I grew from the minds of your world. Now this. What have I become?”

“A whiner,” Lift said, puffing.

“Nonsense.”

“So you were always one of those, then?” She looked over her shoulder. Darkness casually shoved down the equerry, barely breaking stride as he charged over the man.

Lift reached a doorway and slammed her shoulder against it, scrambling out into the rich hallways again.

She needed an exit. A window. Her flight had just looped her around back near the Prime’s quarters. She picked a direction by instinct and started running, but one of Darkness’s minions appeared around a corner that way. He also carried a Shardblade. Some starvin’ luck, she had.

Lift turned the other way and passed by Darkness striding out of the servant hallways. She barely dodged a swing of his Blade by diving, Slicking herself, and sliding along the floor. She made it to her feet without stumbling this time. That was something, at least.

“Who are these men?” Wyndle asked from beside her.

Lift grunted.

“Why do they care so much about you? There’s something about those weapons they carry…”

“Shardblades,” Lift said. “Worth a whole kingdom. Built to kill Voidbringers.” And they had two of the things. Crazy.

Built to kill Voidbringers…

“You!” she said, still running. “They’re after you!”

“What? Of course they aren’t!”

“They are. Don’t worry. You’re mine. I won’t lettem have you.”

“That’s endearingly loyal,” Wyndle said. “And not a little insulting. But they are not after—”

The second of Darkness’s minions stepped out into the hallway ahead of her. He held Gawx.

He had a knife to the young man’s throat.

Lift stumbled to a halt. Gawx, in far over his head, whimpered in the man’s hands.

“Don’t move,” the minion said, “or I will kill him.”

“Starvin’ bastard,” Lift said. She spat to the side. “That’s dirty.”

Darkness thumped up behind her, the other minion joining him. They penned her in. The entrance to the Prime’s quarters was actually just ahead, and the viziers and scions had flooded out into the hallway, where they jabbered to one another in outraged tones.

Gawx was crying. Poor fool.

Well. This sorta thing never ended well. Lift went with her gut—which was basically what she always did—and called the minion’s bluff by dashing forward. He was a lawman type. Wouldn’t kill a captive in cold—

The minion slit Gawx’s throat.

Crimson blood poured out and stained Gawx’s clothing. The minion dropped him, then stumbled back, as if startled by what he’d done.

Lift froze. He couldn’t—He didn’t—

Darkness grabbed her from behind.

“That was poorly done,” Darkness said to the minion, tone emotionless. Lift barely heard him. So much blood. “You will be punished.”

“But…” the minion said. “I had to do as I threatened…”

“You have not done the proper paperwork in this kingdom to kill that child,” Darkness said.

“Aren’t we above their laws?”

Darkness actually let go of her, striding over to slap the minion across the face. “Without the law, there is nothing. You will subject yourself to their rules, and accept the dictates of justice. It is all we have, the only sure thing in this world.”

Lift stared at the dying boy, who held his hands to his neck, as if to stop the blood flow. Those tears…

The other minion came up behind her.

“Run!” Wyndle said.

She started.

Run!

Lift ran.

She passed Darkness and pushed through the viziers, who gasped and yelled at the death. She barreled into the Prime’s quarters, slid across the table, snatched another roll off the platter, and burst into the bedroom. She was out the window a second later.

“Up,” she said to Wyndle, then stuffed the roll in her mouth. He streaked up the side of the wall, and Lift climbed, sweating. A second later, one of the minions leaped out the window beneath her.

He didn’t look up. He charged out onto the grounds, twisting about, searching, his Shardblade flashing in the darkness as it reflected starlight.

Lift safely reached the upper reaches of the palace, hidden in the shadows there. She squatted down, hands around her knees, feeling cold.

“You barely knew him,” Wyndle said. “Yet you mourn.”

She nodded.

“You’ve seen much death,” Wyndle said. “I know it. Aren’t you accustomed to it?”

She shook her head.

Below, the minion moved off, hunting farther and farther for her. She was free. Climb across the roof, slip down on the other side, disappear.

Was that motion on the wall at the edge of the grounds? Yes, those moving shadows were men. The other thieves were climbing their wall and disappearing into the night. Huqin had left his nephew, as expected.

Who would cry for Gawx? Nobody. He’d be forgotten, abandoned.

Lift released her legs and crawled across the curved bulb of the roof toward the window she’d entered earlier. Her vines from the seeds, unlike the ones Wyndle grew, were still alive. They’d overgrown the window, leaves quivering in the wind.

Run, her instincts said. Go.

“You spoke of something earlier,” she whispered. “Re…”

“Regrowth,” he said. “Each bond grants power over two Surges. You can influence how things grow.”

“Can I use this to help Gawx?”

“If you were better trained? Yes. As it stands, I doubt it. You aren’t very strong, aren’t very practiced. And he might be dead already.”

She touched one of the vines.

“Why do you care?” Wyndle asked again. He sounded curious. Not a challenge. An attempt to understand.

“Because someone has to.”

For once, Lift ignored what her gut was telling her and, instead, climbed through the window. She crossed the room in a dash.

Out into the upstairs hallway. Onto the steps. She soared down them, leaping most of the distance. Through a doorway. Turn left. Down the hallway. Left again.

A crowd in the rich corridor. Lift reached them, then wiggled through. She didn’t need her awesomeness for that. She’d been slipping through cracks in crowds since she started walking.

Gawx lay in a pool of blood that had darkened the fine carpet. The viziers and guards surrounded him, speaking in hushed tones.

Lift crawled up to him. His body was still warm, but the blood seemed to have stopped flowing. His eyes were closed.

“Too late?” she whispered.

“I don’t know,” Wyndle said, curling up beside her.

“What do I do?”

“I…I’m not sure. Mistress, the transition to your side was difficult and left holes in my memory, even with the precautions my people took. I…”

She set Gawx on his back, face toward the sky. He wasn’t really anything to her, that was true. They’d barely just met, and he’d been a fool. She’d told him to go back.

But this was who she was, who she had to be.

I will remember those who have been forgotten.

Lift leaned forward, touched her forehead to his, and breathed out. A shimmering something left her lips, a little cloud of glowing light. It hung in front of Gawx’s lips.

Come on…

It stirred, then drew in through his mouth.

A hand took Lift by the shoulder, pulling her away from Gawx. She sagged, suddenly exhausted. Real exhausted, so much so that even standing was difficult.

Darkness pulled her by the shoulder away from the crowd. “Come,” he said.

Gawx stirred. The viziers gasped, their attention turning toward the youth as he groaned, then sat up.

“It appears that you are an Edgedancer,” Darkness said, steering her down the corridor as the crowd moved in around Gawx, chattering. She stumbled, but he held her upright. “I had wondered which of the two you would be.”

“Miracle!” one vizier said.

“Yaezir had spoken!” said one of the scions.

“Edgedancer,” Lift said. “I don’t know what that is.”

“They were once a glorious order,” Darkness said, walking her down the hallway. Everyone ignored them, focused instead on Gawx. “Where you blunder, they were elegant things of beauty. They could ride the thinnest rope at speed, dance across rooftops, move through a battlefield like a ribbon on the wind.”

“That sounds…amazing.”

“Yes. It is unfortunate they were always so concerned with small-minded things, while ignoring those of greater import. It appears you share their temperament. You have become one of them.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Lift said.

“I realize this.”

“Why…why do you hunt me?”

“In the name of justice.”

“There are tons of people who do wrong things,” she said. She had to force out every word. Talking was hard. Thinking was hard. So tired. “You…you coulda hunted big crime bosses, murderers. You chose me instead. Why?”

“Others may be detestable, but they do not dabble in arts that could return Desolation to this world.” His words were so cold. “What you are must be stopped.”

Lift felt numb. She tried to summon her awesomeness, but she’d used it all up. And then some, probably.

Darkness turned her and pushed her against the wall. She couldn’t stand, and slumped down, sitting. Wyndle moved up beside her, spreading out a starburst of creeping vines.

Darkness knelt next to her. He held out his hand.

“I saved him,” Lift said. “I did something good, didn’t I?”

“Goodness is irrelevant,” Darkness said. His Shardblade dropped into his fingers.

“You don’t even care, do you?”

“No,” he said. “I don’t.”

“You should,” she said, exhausted. “You should… should try it, I mean. I wanted to be like you, once. Didn’t work out. Wasn’t… even like being alive…”

Darkness raised his Blade.

Lift closed her eyes.

“She is pardoned!”

Darkness’s grip on her shoulder tightened.

Feeling completely drained—like somebody had held her up by the toes and squeezed everything out of her—Lift forced her eyes to open. Gawx stumbled to a stop beside them, breathing heavily. Behind, the viziers and scions moved up as well.

Clothing bloodied, his eyes wide, Gawx clutched a piece of paper in his hand. He thrust this at Darkness. “I pardon this girl. Release her, constable!”

“Who are you,” Darkness said, “to do such a thing?”

“I am the Prime Aqasix,” Gawx declared. “Ruler of Azir!”

“Ridiculous.”

“The Kadasixes have spoken,” said one of the scions.

“The Heralds?” Darkness said. “They have done no such thing. You are mistaken.”

“We have voted,” said a vizier. “This young man’s application was the best.”

“What application?” Darkness said. “He is a thief!”

“He performed the miracle of Regrowth,” said one of the older scions. “He was dead and he returned. What better application could we ask for?”

“A sign has been given,” said the lead vizier. “We have a Prime who can survive the attacks of the One All White. Praise to Yaezir, Kadasix of Kings, may he lead in wisdom. This youth is Prime. He has been Prime always. We have only now realized it, and beg his forgiveness for not seeing the truth sooner.”

“As it always has been done,” the elderly scion said. “As it will be done again. Stand down, constable. You have been given an order.”

Darkness studied Lift.

She smiled tiredly. Show the starvin’ man some teeth. That was the right of it.

His Shardblade vanished to mist. He’d been bested, but he didn’t seem to care. Not a curse, not even a tightening of the eyes. He stood up and pulled on his gloves by the cuffs, first one, then the other. “Praise Yaezir,” he said. “Herald of Kings. May he lead in wisdom. If he ever stops drooling.”

Darkness bowed to the new Prime, then left with a sure step.

“Does anyone know the name of that constable?” one of the viziers asked. “When did we start letting officers of the law requisition Shardblades?”

Gawx knelt beside Lift.

“So you’re an emperor or something now,” she said, closing her eyes, settling back.

“Yeah. I’m still confused. It seems I performed a miracle or something.”

“Good for you,” Lift said. “Can I eat your dinner?”

 

Words of Radiance © Brandon Sanderson 2013

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