Steeped in Myth: Bone Swans by C. S. E. Cooney


Bone Swans by C. S. E. Cooney is the most recent publication from Mythic Delirium Books—run by Mike and Anita Allen, of the similarly named Mythic Delirium magazine—and joins a small slate of other works under their purview, such as the well-received Clockwork Phoenix anthologies. This original collection contains five stories, one of which is published here for the first time (“The Bone Swans of Amandale,” from which the book takes its title). Plus, it has an introduction by none other than Gene Wolfe.

Though in the past I’d say I’ve been most familiar with Cooney’s poetry, we also published a story of hers at Strange Horizons while I was editor that I (obviously) quite liked. So, I was pleased to see a collection of other pieces—none of which I’d had the chance to read before, which is actually fairly rare for me when picking up a single-author short story volume. It’s also interesting to see a book of mostly longer stories; as I said, there are only five here to fill the whole thing, two of which were initially published at Giganotosaurus and one as a chapbook.

Bone Swans is one of those rare breeds of collection that manages, though the stories aren’t connected or related, to have a fairly clear and resonant theme—or, at the least, an obvious shared thread throughout. That thread is Cooney’s particular approach to using the trappings and traditions of mythic narratives to structure her stories: each of these pieces has an obvious genetic tie to the world of myth, a place where structured magic is as real as the dirt people stand on and there is a specific and often grave logic to the consequences of our actions. However, Cooney’s approach also brings in a sort of cavalier, witty, and approachable contemporary story-telling, perhaps more closely related to adventure yarns than anything.

The result tends to be a fascinating mashup between the tropes and resonances of the mythic tale with the sensibilities of contemporary action-oriented fantasy: simultaneously lighthearted and serious, full of consequences but also ubiquitous happy endings. And these stories also treat the logic of myth, which tends to be the logic of sacrifice and ritual, as a true narrative logic. That can be refreshing and weird, considering that a great deal of the time the logic of religious or mythic plot is not the same thing as the logic of short story plot. It feels, often, like Cooney has decided to quite intentionally treat as real a form of thinking and believing that most folks have written off as made-up; fairy-tales, if you will, instead of the constitutional logic of a genuine world. Except here, it’s the real deal and it’s the thing that’s going to drive the whole story.

So, that’s fun, even if it can occasionally be dislocating. (And I can certainly see why, of all the small presses to pick up this book, it was Mythic Delirium; has a nice confluence.)

As for the stories themselves, “The Bone Swans of Amandale” was perhaps my personal favorite. It’s a riff on the Pied Piper story, told by a shapeshifting rat who’s in love with a shapeshifting Swan Princess. This one has that mythic logic, too: it’s all about sacrifices made at the right time for the right reasons, getting back things that aren’t quite what you wanted, and the very hard reality of ritual magic. The tone is irreverent and offbeat, almost too much so at points, but it works; without the protagonist’s rattishness, the story might come across as far too stuffy or overblown. Instead, the odd mix of tones makes for a fairly compelling story of magic people and magic places.

However, “Life on the Sun” is perhaps the best illustration of what I mean about the tone and construction of these stories. In it, a young woman of an oppressed people is fighting part of a guerilla revolution; however, a mysterious sorcerous army comes to the city and wipes out their captors—with the demand that she and her mother come to the king of the people. Turns out, that’s her dad; also turns out, she was quite literally marked by god as a sacrifice to bring life to the land when she was born, except her mother stole her away. This is where the story turns onto a different track than you might expect, because this is actually the truth. Her father isn’t evil or mad; her mother still loves him, and he loves them both; he’s also responsible for the lives of his people, and knows that the sacrifice has to be made willingly. He even left them alone for twenty years, until it became too much of a problem.

So, she decides to do it—she makes the sacrifice of herself. And then, through the magic and logic of sacrifice, she does not truly die but becomes the god of her people to bring rain; she also, eventually, dons her human form again to see her friends and lovers, good as new. She’s changed the mythic cycle by becoming old enough to take up the mantle of the god more knowledgably than a child could, and now, no more deaths to make rain.

It’s not a short-story-plot sort of logic; it’s a mythic logic, and it works. The balancing of that against a far more typical second-world-fantasy story of oppressed people winning back their kingdom is what makes the story read as something fresh, even if its constituent parts separately are fairly obvious. And that trend holds with other pieces as well, such as “Martyr’s Gem,” where oaths, magic, and storytelling all play a significant role in the marriage and life of our protagonist. “How the Milkmaid Struck a Bargain with the Crooked One” is a take on Rumpelstiltskin, except with a bit more romance—but the same fairytale air.

The last story, “The Big Bah-Ha,” is the one Wolfe mentions directly in his introduction; it’s an odd piece, the least directly connected to the rest in terms of its tone, but still with a touch of that old-school structure of sacrifice and magic. It was actually the one I found least compelling, though; something about the post-apocalyptic children’s world thing doesn’t work for me—pretty much ever, actually—though the idea of the Tall Ones and the reality of the afterlife kingdoms were interesting.

However, overall, this is an intriguing and readable collection—one that is, certainly, doing something rather specific and unique. I appreciated the whole mashup aesthetic of the mythic and the contemporary in terms of storytelling style, and I also just liked the pleasantness of the pieces themselves, with all of their happy endings and costs paid well for worthwhile things. Of course, a lot of mythic narratives don’t end so nicely—so perhaps that’s something I missed, on the other side of the coin—but these ones serve perfectly well.

Bone Swans is available July 7th from Mythic Delirium.

Brit Mandelo is a writer, critic, and editor whose primary fields of interest are speculative fiction and queer literature, especially when the two coincide. She can be found on Twitter or her website.

Sanctum Sanctorum: Under Ground by S. L. Grey


In this day and age, grave danger is everywhere. Quite aside from the exponential toll of terrorism, there’s environmental catastrophe to consider, and so many potential vectors of deadly infection that just counting them could kill you—never mind the nukes pointed at every major population centre on the planet.

That the world will end—and sooner rather than later, some say—is as good as a given. Something’s got to give, and when it does, you and your loved ones will want somewhere safe to stay. Somewhere completely sealed against sickness; somewhere with such state-of-the-art security that not even a mouse could get into your house; somewhere so darned deep underground that surviving the bombs that are sure to start dropping is guaranteed to be a breeze.

The Sanctum is that somewhere.

A stylish, self-sustaining survival condo built hundreds of metres below the bedrock of the great state of Maine, The Sanctum comes complete with a swimming pool, gym facilities, its own medical suite, an elevator, high bandwidth wi-fi, biometric locks, motion sensors and a Grow Your Own garden. In short, it’s sure to ensure “pure peace of mind” even as the world beyond its barbed-wire bounds goes to hell in a handbasket.

Promises, unfortunately, are only as strong as the person who makes them, and Greg, the mind behind The Sanctum, may have cut a couple of corners in the course of its construction. Precious few of the mod cons he pitched to the five families who bought into the prospective project are fully functional, and an array of them aren’t even there: the elevator is an empty shaft, for example, and the medical suite is a metal bed with a nearby supply of band-aids.

But when the apocalypse appears, better, by all accounts, to take some semblance of shelter than none.

Least… you’d think that, wouldn’t you? You’d have every reason to. As it happens, however, survival in The Sanctum isn’t such a sure thing. Whether by misadventure or something more sinister, as some in said safehouse suspect, Greg turns up dead within days of the promised plague. Without him, the five families—in addition to Will, a kind-hearted contractor stuck on site when the spread of a serious superflu leads to a lockdown—the five families and Will, who takes Greg’s place as leader of this unruly lot, find themselves… well, fucked, pretty much.

The important thing, they think, is that “they won’t be deprived of antipasto while the rest of the population’s innards turn to soup,” but when the situation on the surface that led them all to prep for The End is summarily solved, and they realise they still can’t leave, The Sanctum’s mega-rich residents start to see the supplies they thought to stock for the foolhardy extravagances they were from word one. Who indeed needs a crate of Cristal when you don’t have enough water to wash with?

It’s unlikely, in any event, that they’ll live long enough to die of dehydration, because as safe as The Sanctum may be from external threats, there’s a murderer in their midst… not to mention a group of gun nuts, some racists, a sexual predator, a few prepared to take their faith too far, and—horror of horrors!—a kid who plays violent video games.

In that sense, Under Ground represents a coalescing of the subjects S. L. Grey explored in the Downside cycle. Whereas The Mall, The Ward and The New Girl were relatively single-minded in their satire, everything is a potential target in this insidious subterranean standalone, including the magnified aspects of modern madness Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg have targeted in the past.

The more diverse focus leads to Under Ground feeling frenetic, and full of possibility, at points… though these embiggened ambitions also backfire a bit, in that the aforementioned authors aren’t able to skewer any single subject with the sheer sharpness they’ve shown before. Meanwhile, though most of the arrows they fire find their marks, the majority of these marks have already been made, and if I may mix my metaphors, I’d really rather Grey broke new ground than touched up a perfectly sound structure.

Fortunately, Under Ground goes its own Grey way in terms of its substantially larger cast—the Guthries and the Parks in particular make for powerful opposing forces—and the simple fact that there’s nothing fantastical about the narrative. Never mind the monsters you might find Downside: the only evil here is the evil men, women and children do to one another, which makes the human horror are the heart of the novel that much harder to handle.

I don’t mind admitting that there were moments when I came close to putting Under Ground down in a flounce of frustration—infuriation, in fact, at the acts of my fellow man, rather than any error by either author. This, thus, is an incredibly tense text. Grey does a great job of sustaining that singularly unsettling sense that something awful is going to go wrong—and I dare say something is always going to go awfully wrong in The Sanctum. The guessing game we’re left to play whilst waiting for the next nightmare to awaken is wondering why, and here, too, the authors equip themselves excellently. There’s a fine line between ambiguity and obvious obfuscation, but it’s one Grey walks with confidence.

That signature swagger isn’t in evidence in the left-of-field finale—the ending, in other words, is far from satisfying—but Under Ground is a journey worth taking despite the dubious destination. The high concept is immediately appealing; the tale itself intense; the characters are largely well-handled; and the satire is sound, if not as keen as it’s been. Readers of the Downside series are likely to be less surprised by said than some, but Under Ground is a brilliant jumping-on point for horror fans who haven’t already gone Grey.

Under Ground is available in the UK July 16th from Pan Macmillan.

Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative ScotsmanStrange Horizons, and He’s been known to tweet, twoo.

Terminator: Genisys Changes History But Doesn’t Add Much New to the Franchise


Terminator: Genisys might as well be called Terminator: Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey. Partly because of the brief-but-important presence of Doctor Who‘s Matt Smith, but mostly because the franchise is rebooting itself with the ol’ “let’s create an alternate timeline” gambit. I’m a sucker for time travel stories that draw on and then recreate the past, so the premise seems interesting enough: In 2029, at the height of the War Against the Machines, John Connor (Jason Clarke) sends his loyal lieutenant Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to save his scared little mother Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) from the scary Terminators. Except that when buck-naked Kyle shows up in the past, badass Sarah and an older Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger, embracing his age) already know about the machines and pick Kyle up on their way to stop Judgment Day.

Some spoilers for Terminator: Genisys.

It’s definitely cool how director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones, Thor: The Dark World) has reconstructed the 1984 of the first film, in some cases shot-for-shot. And the screenwriters up the ante, not only mimicking the first movie’s jump backwards into time, but also channeling the Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles‘ idea of traveling forward in time to catch up with Skynet’s newest plan to go online. In-between, we get callbacks to the original that fall just short of truly clever, and J.K. Simmons in a supporting role as a cop who believes in all this crazy future stuff but also says, “Goddamn time-traveling robots!”

It’s one of countless meta moments in the movie; the franchise is saying, We know you get frustrated, but bear with us. Unfortunately, the whole thing also gets really muddled. The Sarah Connor we knew (that is, Linda Hamilton) used to be famous for saying, “There is no fate but what we make for ourselves,” yet Terminator: Genisys seems perpetually caught between that notion (what with creating all the alternate timelines) and a crushing sense of inevitability, of having one’s future locked irreversibly into place.

Terminator: Genisys movie review

Apparently Skynet decided to jump even further back into the past, to kill Sarah Connor as a nine-year old. But someone—we never find out who, which is frustrating in and of itself—sent back a reprogrammed T-800, basically cribbing the plot of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Carrying her away from her parents’ murder, he teaches her how to fight and how to accept the future war that’s coming. Yet Sarah spends a lot of time sulking about “Pops” laying out her entire future for her. Which is ironic, considering that the other timeline’s Sarah does the exact same thing to her son John, telling him how he’ll be the Resistance leader and save everyone—how else does he know to send Kyle back into the past?

Terminator: Genisys movie review

More than any other Terminator installment, this movie shows how creepy and premeditated it is for John to arrange for his own conception. His manipulation of Kyle Reese—and, if you think about that photo of Sarah he gave him, kind of conditioning—comes with the best excuse: I’m the prophet, the savior; I have to be born. But it’s still really creepy, especially when Kyle doesn’t know that in this timeline, he’s effectively more stud horse than guardian.

The movie is good for dramatizing the small payoff moments you may have wanted to see in the franchise, such as Kyle learning that his father figure John sent him back to become his literal father. And of course, you have Pops playing the overprotective dad to Sarah, while also asking her if she and Kyle Reese (said as one word that sounds more like “Kalreesi”) have “mated” yet. Parents and offspring are constantly at odds in this movie, trying to keep each other close while also pushing each other away. Even cyborg John has a tender moment with the nascent Skynet in which he tells the cluster of circuits that will eventually turn into a holographic Matt Smith, “I won’t let anyone hurt you.” (Yet, it’s Matt Smith’s cyborg who sets this timeline into existence, so huh?)

Terminator: Genisys movie review

I couldn’t help but read some of these “old versus new” sequences as commentary on the franchise itself: The upstart new installment trying to shrug off its predecessors. Not surprising considering that I just rewatched Scream 4, which culminates in franchise heroine Sidney Prescott getting the snot kicked out of her by essentially her younger self, who screams at Sidney for giving her no choice in the path of her life.

Pops and Sarah’s relationship is full of contradictions: He protects her from other Terminators, but he raises her with few human guides for tackling the nuances of emotion. If anything, she’s the one teaching him how to smile nonthreateningly. (De)humanization is a theme that the franchise has been building toward over the last 30-odd years, ever since the T-800 sacrificed itself with a thumbs-up in Judgment Day and Hamilton’s Sarah mused, “If a machine can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.”

Except that later iterations have just retread the same ground of the machines developing something akin to a conscience and sacrificing themselves. There’s a recurring bit in which Pops describes himself as “old, but not obsolete”—talking about the franchise, sure, but also his human-skin shell that actually ages with time. There’s even a brief moment, much more subtle, where you can see him examining himself and looking at Sarah, wondering how long before his body actually gives out and he can no longer protect her. You can take the Terminator out of the human, but you can’t take the human out of the Terminator.

Terminator: Genisys movie review

What I’m more interested in is how the humans keep losing bits and pieces of themselves. (Or, in the case of Genisys, handing pieces over—more on that later.) In exchange for battle experience and knowledge of the future, Clarke’s Sarah trades the genuine emotions that guided her alternate self, for better or for worse. Sure, she’s not the maniacal Sarah we saw in T2, but she’s nearly robotic here. Yet what Sarah loses is nothing compared to the changes wrought in her savior son.

Reinvention is the name of the game, and nowhere do we see it more than in cyborg John Connor. Considering what we’ve already seen of him manipulating Kyle, it’s actually not that surprising—if the marketing materials haven’t already spoiled it for you—that he becomes a Terminator/human hybrid. “Survival is what you taught me,” he tells Sarah, and at points you’re hard-pressed to identify if it’s John Connor or the machine talking. It really is a shame that Jason Clarke isn’t in the movie more, because this evolution, this replacing of human emotions with magnetic filings-looking nanotech, is one of the movie’s more interesting aspects.

Terminator: Genisys movie review

Speaking of bigger-picture stuff, we also finally get an answer for the head-scratching spelling of the subtitle: Genisys is a Trojan Horse app for Skynet in 2017, a Cloud stand-in that will become self-aware when we let it into our smart phones and other devices. It’s the kind of simple upgrade to the franchise that speaks volumes; there’s a brief scene where Kyle glimpses just how dependent near-future humanity is on their machines, and you’ll be just as chilled as he is. In the 1980s, we were worried about handing our weapons codes to the machines, and Skynet rightly uses that against us; upping the stakes to social media makes so much sense. Except, there’s a throwaway line about how we’re still letting Genisys run our weapons systems in addition to our Instagram photos—how does this make any sense?

As Mad Max: Fury Road showed us, it’s not impossible to retroactively insert alternate timelines (or, in that case, entire in-between-movie adventures) into a preexisting franchise. But you have to say and show something new. This movie just feels like the most literal definition of a reboot: At one point, Kyle quips to his father-in-law figure Pops, “There is a switch, and I will find it.” The franchise has already found that switch, turning the machine on and off again to try and see if the screen spits out something new.

Terminator: Genisys movie review

The whole point of Terminator: Genisys is supposed to be about alternate timelines in which humanity can actually wrest back control. But there’s a mid-credits scene that essentially undoes that whole idea. Not surprising, since Genisys has been floated as the start of a new trilogy. But where even lackluster, quasi-canon sequel Terminator: Rise of the Machines managed to shock audiences with its reveal that Judgment Day is inevitable no matter what, here that same prospect is just exhausting.

Natalie Zutter actually laughed out loud when Pops brought back the thumbs-up. You can read more of her work on Twitter and elsewhere.


Ash vs Evil Dead first look photo Bruce Campbell

Ash, it’s been far too long. Starz has released the first image from Ash vs. Evil Dead, and Bruce Campbell is still a stock boy, 20-odd years on, and looks appropriately bloody. We’ve never been happier to see a chainsaw in our lives.

Afternoon Roundup brings you the first round of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child theories, a discouraging timeline for more diversity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the best case of mistaken slash fanfic.

The Wheel of Time Companion: “Serafelle Tanisloe”

The Wheel of Time

The story of The Wheel of Time spans fifteen books, but the fantasy world which that story resides within is more complex and detailed than even those books could relate. Readers will be privy to those details on November 3, when the The Wheel of Time Companion encyclopedia arrives in stores, but you can get a sneak peek now.

Today we’re revealing the entry for Aes Sedai Serafelle Tanisloe. Although the character played only a bit part in The Great Hunt, Serafelle nonetheless had a backstory informing her actions; one that didn’t make it into the books. Serafelle’s entry also provides a way for readers to test the power chart recently revealed in the “Strength in the One Power” entry!


“Serafelle Tanisloe”

A Murandian Aes Sedai of the Brown Ajah and the loyalist contingent, with a strength level of 23(11). Born in 862 NE, she went to the White Tower in 891 NE. After spending ten years as a novice and four years as Accepted, she was raised to the shawl in 905 NE. She was 5’4″ tall, and pretty in a plump fashion, with brown hair and large hazel eyes. Sometimes, especially when thinking, she had the physical mannerisms of a spoiled noblewoman, which she was. Serafelle was a wilder who slowed at age nineteen. She was married, but lost her husband and three children to a fever; she herself barely escaped death. Of the middle nobility, she was a pampered, self-indulgent woman, but after the deaths, she reassessed her life and decided to become Aes Sedai. At age twenty-nine, she lied about her age, claiming to be eighteen, in order to be allowed into the Tower. Two years passed before sisters discovered the truth, and by that time, she had to be allowed to continue. That lie, though, was possibly the reason she was not allowed to test for Accepted for ten years; she believed that, with some justification. She was a quick study and a fast learner—very observant, very intelligent and quick-witted. She would have be- come Yellow except that she possessed a minimal Talent for Healing. She accompanied Siuan to Fal Dara, and was part of the circle that Healed Mat of his connection to the Shadar Logoth dagger.

Watch for more Wheel of Time Companion coverage through this tag.


Rereading Melanie Rawn: Sunrunner’s Fire, Chapters 29 and 30


Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Sunrunner’s Fire! The trilogy comes to an end at last, and we get a strong and indeed devastating lead-in to the next trilogy.

Chapter 29—Rivenrock Canyon: 35 Spring

So This Happens: Pol reacts to Ruval’s monster, and notices Ruval’s surprise when a gust of Air redirects the poisonous goo. Someone else is in the mix. Pol deduces that it’s Mireva, and she’s free. Some of the slime strikes his face. He scrapes it off, with a pause to remember how honorable he is: he can’t just throw his knife at Ruval. It’s against the rules.

This train of thought goes on for a bit. Then he concludes that he can’t throw the knife, but he can throw the poison. Ruval recoils, and Pol goes after him, yelling at him to surrender. Ruval mocks. Pol summons Fire. Ruval responds by conjuring Air. Pol’s control is perfect. Ruval mocks, then leaps and tries to strangle Pol. Pol’s knee gives out.

Pol flings them toward the flames. Ruval lets him go, but they’re surrounded by fire. Pol tells Ruval who he really is. He mocks, and reflects that power is for using. Rohan has never had it, so never understood it.

He calls down fire from the stars, and strikes Ruval down. It’s effortless, just as using the sun’s Fire is. He’s perfectly balanced between them.

He can’t kill his brother. But he won’t help him, either. His knee is in terrible pain. It collapses.

Ruval attacks again, wearing Pol’s face. He’ll keep it, he says, just long enough to kill Rohan. Or maybe longer—until he’s had sex with Meiglan.

Pol begs and pleads, playing for time. Ruval mocks and jeers. Pol continues to beg. Ruval’s guard drops. He chuckles. Pol attacks.

Pol crawls out of the fire, wondering why no one has come to help. Then he sees an image of himself outside the flames. Ruval is still alive, and no one can tell which is which. But Rohan isn’t looking at Pol—either of him. He’s looking up.

There’s a dragon overhead. A male, and he’s under Ruval’s control. The horses panic and bolt. The dragon dives for Pol, whose knee gives out completely.

Pol is furious. He does battle with Ruval to control the dragon, who is fighting back.

Ruval’s illusion evaporates. Pol realizes Rohan’s way is right. He’s been fighting on Ruval’s terms. He has to fight on his own. He also realizes Ruval wants to own everything. He’ll destroy everybody who gets in his way. Pol first, then Andry.

Pol fights with love, and merges with the dragon. The dragon swoops on Ruval and carries him off. What’s left of him is found days later.

Aftermath. Everyone recovers in various ways. Meiglan is the first to leap into Pol’s arms.

Miyon rules that the victory was legal, since a dragon isn’t a weapon or a person.

Rohan notices that Meiglan and Pol are totally fixed on one another. Meiglan is stammery. Rohan is wry, teasing Pol about lighting a premature beacon for his burial. He realizes Pol isn’t into teasing as a release from tension, though Pol rallies and manages a bit of banter.

Rohan wishes he could say more, and resents Meiglan’s intrusive presence. But Pol has made his Choice. Rohan has to live with it.

They discuss arrangements for getting out of the canyon. Rohan remarks that Pol’s new scar is nearly identical to Sioned’s.

Pol looks for the little carving of a dragon. Meiglan finds it for him. He tells her Urival gave it to him. He reflects that the gift was given at the end of book two, when Masul et al. died. It’s a talisman. He gives it to her. “Your first dragon.”

Further logistical arrangements get the party back to Stronghold, where they find a subdued Andry and a very dead Mireva. Rohan indicates that Pol should burn the body with Fire. They leave her burning on the steps of Stronghold’s gate.

And I’m Thinking: Finally, we cut to the chase. There’s a fair amount of internalizing and analyzing, but Pol gets the job done. His knee injury seems to be about as permanent as Rohan’s shoulder injury: it’s major and disabling at the time, but then it’s more or less forgotten. His facial scar gets more airplay toward the end.

Using the dragon to kill Ruval is a nice touch, as is Pol’s choice of love rather than hate as a weapon. That’s very much in the vein of Rohan-and-Sioned. Nurture wins over nature, conclusively.

All the tidying up means everybody gets a mention, so we know where everybody is and how he or she feels and what shape he or she is in. Meiglan is obviously going to marry Pol, and the in-laws don’t get any say in it, though they’ve had plenty to say to each other and in their heads. Pol doesn’t care, or seem to realize there might be a problem.

That’s definitely a postfeminist relationship.

And we’re left with the image of Mireva’s body burning on the steps. So much for all her grand plans—though really, she did win, in a way. A Roelstra grandson will inherit both Stronghold and Princemarch. Her breeding program succeeded, right alongside Andrade’s. Sorcerer blood is not only more widespread than anyone knew, it’s in charge.

The final image is striking: the sorceress’ body, immolated by Fire, on the castle steps. Very dramatic, very cinematic.


Chapter 30—Princemarch: Autumn, 728

So This Happens: Radzyn Keep burns in the aftermath of a massacre. Invaders have come, big dark men with short, stocky horses. This goes on for some time, in horrifying detail.

Andry wakes from this nightmare. He knows who the invaders are now: they’re Merida. He’s in Princemarch, and he’s determined to do something about what he foresees. He reflects on events since the duel. Pol married Meiglan, Miyon (to Andry’s outrage) went free, and Riyan and Ruala took over Feruche.

Now he’s in Princemarch secretly, hunting sorcerers.

Dragons came back to Rivenrock at last, brought by the “dragon brother” Pol saved from Ruval. The dragon population has increased dramatically, and Pol has been given the credit.

Andry continues to sum up events: who won, who lost, and who was pardoned, including Chiana. Gemma in Syr had another son and named him Sorin. Andry visited him, then went into the Veresch incognito with two companions. Valeda wants another child, but Andry has refused.

He reminisces about the morning after the duel, when he went to Alasen on sunlight to tell her the outcome—and to ask a favor. He wanted her to spy for him in Castle Crag, to find out where the sorcerers were, so that he could eradicate the terrible danger.

She refused flat out. Later, Ostvel came to Andry and accused him of plotting “wholesale murder.” Ostvel told Andry he would never allow it, and ordered him to stay away from Alasen.

Andry won, however, because Ostvel’s interrogation of Mireva’s followers gave Andry the information he needed. Andry continues to reflect, scornfully, on events, and on Pol’s actions since the duel. As for his own actions, he’s been systematically tracking and identifying sorcerers.

He continues his ruminations and justifications, at length, in detail. It occurs to him that Chay might have been right; he might be causing the events he’s trying to prevent. But he dismisses the thought.

He thinks about how he “dealt with” a sorcerer a few days ago, and his whole family as well, branding the door with “a sunburst radiating Sunrunner’s Fire.” It’s all “dealing with” and “removing” and pondering timetables and logistics.

Valeda comes to him in dishabille. There is teasing. Andry is internally cold to her. She’s just there, and conveniently warm.

Next day, Andry disposes of another sorceress. He’s  meticulous about it. He’s also thorough in his rationalizations, and in his suppression of any pangs of conscience. He’ll save Alasen. She’ll understand. She’ll forgive. He’s the chosen one, the Goddess’ servant.

Inside the sorceress’ cottage he finds a magical mirror. He discovers that he can conjure anyone whose name he speaks, and see how much power that person has. Rohan has a little, he’s surprised to notice. He discovers that the mirror detects living Sunrunners but not sorcerers and not places.

It doesn’t show Alasen. Or past or future. Or the dead.

He has Nialdan hide the mirror by burying it, with some teasing. Then he discovers a letter that spells out exactly who Pol is and goes into detail about the sorcerers’ breeding plan. “He is one of us and knows it.” He’ll keep the sorcerers safe.

The letter goes on to say that the woman Andry killed was planning “with your approval” to go to Pol and teach him what he needs to know. He’ll be a prince for all people, sorcerers included.

Andry is literally floored. He spends some time debating as to whether to keep the letter as proof of the long lie Pol and his family have lived, or destroy it because of what it says about Pol’s powers. He decides to destroy it.

He rounds up Nialdan, with teasing, and rides away. Next time, he decides, he’ll interrogate the sorcerer before executing him or her.

And I’m Thinking: Holy crap. We could have had a nice triumphant ending on a saddish but up note. Instead we get the anatomy of a genocidal fanatic, and a setup for the next trilogy.

Andry is…oh my. Just, Oh my. We’ve had snide and sneering villains and wicked sorceresses and even pathetic posers like Chiana, but Andry is the real deal. He’s the perfectly righteous, utterly justified, completely confident practitioner of pure evil. With just enough banter and teasing to remind us that he is, by blood and upbringing, one of the Desert crew. Out of all those perfect marriages and all that giggling and chuckling and cuteness, he’s distilled himself into a much more effective and destructive villain than Roelstra or Mireva could ever be. He’s the culmination of Andrade’s plotting—Pol isn’t; he’s a combination of two sets of mutually opposed but functionally identical breeding plans.

Andry is the ultimate demonstration of both Andrade’s principles (or lack thereof) and her fundamental failure to think it all through. She bred him without full consideration of the consequences, raised him and elevated him with that exact and fatal lack of forethought, and now the world pays for it.

But then the Sunrunners have a history of that. They don’t think things through. And that’s where the next three books have to be going.

This must be where the assessment of these books as “grimdark” comes from. I’ll be reading those next for the first time—it’s not a reread, though it’s a convenient tag for the blog.

In the meantime, well, holy crap. Next week I’ll do a roundup of this trilogy, with more thoughts on the story as a whole. Then, as here, we’ll go on to the next.

Judith Tarr’s first novel, The Isle of Glass, appeared in 1985. Her new novel, Forgotten Suns, a space opera, was published by Book View Café in April. In between, she’s written historicals and historical fantasies and epic fantasies, some of which have been reborn as ebooks from Book View Café. She has won the Crawford Award, and been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Locus Award. She lives in Arizona with an assortment of cats, two dogs, and a herd of Lipizzan horses.

The Edge of Dawn Sweepstakes!

The Edge of Dawn Sweepstakes

What do you do when the Earth is under assault from monstrous, otherworldly creatures and you’re the only person capable of destroying them? That’s the question that Richard Oort is trying to answer along with the help of his unlikely new friend, a nine-year-old Navajo girl named Mosi. Melinda Snodgrass’s The Edge of Dawn takes Richard and Mosi all the way from the American southwest to a secret society in Turkey as they try to find a way to save their world. We’ve got ten galley copies that we’re excited to share with you before the novel’s August 4th release from Tor Books!

Check for the rules below!

THE RULES: The first ten people to email their name and address to sweepstakes [at] tor DOT com will receive one ARC of the book listed above. Please make the subject of your email “The Edge of Dawn”. Good luck! Do not comment in this post for the sweepstakes, and for safety reasons PLEASE DO NOT leave your address in the comments.

Shadows of Self: Chapter Two


With The Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson surprised readers with a spinoff of his Mistborn books, set after the action of the trilogy, in a period corresponding to late 19th-century America. The trilogy’s heroes are now figures of myth and legend, even objects of religious veneration. They are succeeded by wonderful new characters, chief among them Waxillium Ladrian, known as Wax, hereditary Lord of House Ladrian but also, until recently, a lawman in the ungoverned frontier region known as the Roughs. There he worked with his eccentric but effective buddy, Wayne. They are “twinborn,” meaning they are able to use both Allomantic and Feruchemical magic.

Shadows of Self shows Mistborn’s society evolving as technology and magic mix, the economy grows, democracy contends with corruption, and religion becomes a growing cultural force, with four faiths competing for converts. This bustling, optimistic, but still shaky society now faces its first instance of terrorism, crimes intended to stir up labor strife and religious conflict. Wax and Wayne, assisted by the lovely, brilliant Marasi, must unravel the conspiracy before civil strife stops Scadrial’s progress in its tracks.

Shadows of Self is available October 6th in the US from Tor Books, and October 9th in the UK from Gollancz. Read chapter two below, or head back to the beginning with our excerpt of the prologue!



Chapter Two


I figure I should write one of these things, the small book read. To tell my side. Not the side the historians will tell for me. I doubt they’ll get it right. I don’t know that I’d like them to anyhow.

Wax tapped the book with the end of his pencil, then scribbled down a note to himself on a loose sheet.

“I’m thinking of inviting the Boris brothers to the wedding,” Steris said from the couch opposite the one Wax sat upon.

He grunted, still reading.

I know Saze doesn’t approve of what I’ve done, the book continued. But what did he expect me to do? Knowing what I know . . .

“The Boris brothers,” Steris continued. “They’re acquaintances of yours, aren’t they?”

“I shot their father,” Wax said, not looking up. “Twice.”

I couldn’t let it die, the book read. It’s not right. Hemalurgy is good now, I figure. Saze is both sides now, right? Ruin isn’t around anymore.

“Are they likely to try to kill you?” Steris asked.

“Boris Junior swore to drink my blood,” Wax said. “Boris the Third—and yes, he’s the brother of Boris Junior; don’t ask—swore to . . . what was it? Eat my toes? He’s not a clever man.”

We can use it. We should. Shouldnt we?

“I’ll just put them on the list, then,” Steris said.

Wax sighed, looking up from the book. “You’re going to invite my mortal enemies,” he said dryly, “to our wedding.”

“We have to invite someone,” Steris said. She sat with her blonde hair up in a bun, her stacks of papers for the wedding arrangements settled around her like subjects at court. Her blue, flowered dress was fashionable without being the least bit daring, and her prim hat clung to her hair so tightly, it might as well have been nailed in place.

“I’m certain there are better choices for invitations than people who want me dead,” Wax said. “I hear family members are traditional.”

“As a point of fact,” Steris said, “I believe your remaining family members actually do want you dead.”

She had him there. “Well, yours don’t. Not that I’ve heard, anyway. If you need to fill out the wedding party, invite more of them.”

“I’ve invited all of my family, as would be proper,” Steris said. “And all of my acquaintances that merit the regard.” She reached to the side, taking out a sheet of paper. “You, however, have given me only two names of people to invite. Wayne and a woman named Ranette—who, you noted, probably wouldn’t try to shoot you at your own wedding.”

“Very unlikely,” Wax agreed. “She hasn’t tried to kill me in years. Not seriously, at least.”

Steris sighed, setting down the sheet.

“Steris . . .” Wax said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be flippant. Ranette will be fine. We joke about her, but she’s a good friend. She won’t ruin the wedding. I promise.”

“Then who will?”

“Excuse me?”

“I have known you for an entire year now, Lord Waxillium,” Steris said. “I can accept you for who you are, but I am under no illusions. Something will happen at our wedding. A villain will burst in, guns firing. Or we’ll discover explosives in the altar. Or Father Bin will inexplicably turn out to be an old enemy and try to murder you instead of performing the ceremony. It will happen. I’m merely trying to prepare for it.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Wax asked, smiling. “You’re actually thinking of inviting one of my enemies so you can plan for a disruption.”

“I’ve sorted them by threat level and ease of access,” Steris said, shuffling through her papers.

“Wait,” Wax said, rising and walking over. He leaned down next to her, looking over her shoulder at her papers. Each sheet contained a detailed biography. “Ape Manton . . . The Dashir boys . . . Rusts! Rick Stranger. I’d forgotten about him. Where did you get these?”

“Your exploits are a matter of public record,” Steris said. “One that is of increasing interest to society.”

“How long did you spend on this?” Wax asked, flipping through the pages in the stack.

“I wanted to be thorough. This sort of thing helps me think. Besides, I wanted to know what you had spent your life doing.”

That was actually kind of sweet. In a bizarre, Steris sort of way.

“Invite Douglas Venture,” he said. “He’s kind of a friend, but he can’t hold his liquor. You can count on him making a disturbance at the after-party.”

“Excellent,” Steris said. “And the other thirty-seven seats in your section?”

“Invite leaders among the seamstresses and forgeworkers of my house,” Wax said. “And the constables-general of the various octants. It will be a nice gesture.”

“Very well.”

“If you want me to help more with the wedding planning—”

“No, the formal request to perform the ceremony that you sent to Father Bin was the only task required of you by protocol. Otherwise I can handle it; this is the perfect sort of thing to occupy me. That said, someday I would like to know what is in that little book you peruse so often.”


The front door to the mansion slammed open down below, and booted feet thumped up the steps. A moment later, the door to the study burst open and Wayne all but tumbled in. Darriance—the house butler—stood apologetically just behind him.

Wiry and of medium height, Wayne had a round clean-shaven face and—as usual—wore his old Roughs clothing, though Steris had pointedly supplied him with new clothing on at least three occasions.

“Wayne, you could try the doorbell sometime,” Wax said.

“Nah, that warns the butler,” Wayne said.

“Which is kind of the point.”

“Beady little buggers,” Wayne said, shutting the door on Darriance. “Can’t trust them. Look, Wax. We’ve got to go! The Marksman has made his move!”

Finally! Wax thought. “Let me grab my coat.”

Wayne glanced toward Steris. “ ’Ello, Crazy,” he said, nodding to her.

“Hello, Idiot,” she said, nodding back.

Wax buckled on his gunbelt over his fine city suit, with vest and cravat, then threw on his mistcoat duster. “Let’s go,” he said, checking his ammunition.

Wayne pushed his way out the door and barreled down the stairs. Wax paused by Steris’s couch. “I . . .”

“A man must have his hobbies,” she said, raising another sheet of paper and inspecting it. “I accept yours, Lord Waxillium—but do try to avoid being shot in the face, as we have wedding portraits to sit for this evening.”

“I’ll remember that.”

“Keep an eye on my sister out there,” Steris said.

“This is a dangerous chase,” Wax said, hastening to the door. “I doubt Marasi will be involved.”

“If you think that, then your professional faculties are suspect. It’s a dangerous chase, so she’ll find a way to be involved.”

Wax hesitated by the door. He glanced back at her, and she looked up, meeting his eyes. It felt as if there should be something more to their parting. A send-off of some sort. Fondness.

Steris seemed to sense it too, but neither said anything.

Wax tipped his head back, taking a shot of whiskey and metal flakes, then charged through the doorway and threw himself over the balcony railing. He slowed himself with a Push on the silver in-lays in the marble floor of the entrance hall, hitting with a thump of boots on stone. Darriance opened the front door ahead of him as he raced out to join Wayne at the coach, for the ride to . . .

He froze on the steps down to the street. “What the hell is that?”

“Motorcar!” Wayne said from the back seat of the vehicle.

Wax groaned, hastening down the steps and approaching the vehicle. Marasi sat behind the steering mechanism, wearing a fashionable dress of lavender and lace. She looked much younger than her half sister, Steris, though only five years separated them.

She was a constable now, technically. An aide to the constable-general of this octant. She’d never fully explained to him why she would leave behind her career as a solicitor to join the constables, but at least she’d been hired on not as a beat constable, but as an analyst and executive assistant. She shouldn’t be subjected to danger in that role.

Yet here she was. A glint of eagerness shone in her eyes as she turned to him. “Are you going to get in?”

“What are you doing here?” Wax asked, opening the door with some reluctance.

“Driving. You’d rather Wayne do it?”

“I’d rather have a coach and a good team of horses.” Wax settled into one of the seats.

“Stop being so old-fashioned,” Marasi said, moving her foot and making the devilish contraption lurch forward. “Marksman robbed the First Union, as you guessed.”

Wax held on tightly. He’d guessed that Marksman would hit the bank three days ago. When it hadn’t happened, he’d thought the man had fled to the Roughs.

“Captain Reddi thinks that Marksman will run for his hideout in the Seventh Octant,” Marasi noted, steering around a horse carriage.

“Reddi is wrong,” Wax said. “Head for the Breakouts.”

She didn’t argue. The motorcar thumped and shook until they hit the new section of paving stones, where the street smoothed out and the vehicle picked up speed. This was one of the latest motorcars, the type the broadsheets had been spouting about, with rubber wheels and a gasoline engine.

The entire city was transforming to accommodate them. A lot of trouble just so people can drive these contraptions, Wax thought sourly. Horses didn’t need ground this smooth—though he did have to admit that the motorcar turned remarkably well, as Marasi took a corner at speed.

It was still a horrible lifeless heap of destruction.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Wax said as Marasi took another corner.

She kept her eyes forward. Behind them, Wayne leaned halfway out one of the windows, holding his hat to his head and grinning.

“You’re an attorney,” Wax said. “You belong in a courtroom, not chasing a killer.”

“I’ve done well caring for myself in the past. You never complained then.”

“Each time, it felt like an exception. Yet here you are again.”

Marasi did something with the stick to her right, changing the motor’s gears. Wax never had been able to get the hang of that. She darted around several horses, causing one of the riders to shout after them. The swerving motion pushed Wax against the side of the motorcar, and he grunted.

“What’s wrong with you lately?” Marasi demanded. “You complain about the motorcar, about me being here, about your tea being too hot in the morning. One would almost think you’d made some horrible life decision that you regret deep down. Wonder what it could be.”

Wax kept his eyes forward. In the mirror, he saw Wayne lean back in and raise his eyebrows. “She might have a point, mate.”

“You’re not helping.”

“Wasn’t intending to,” Wayne said. “Fortunately, I know which horrible life decision she’s talkin’ about. You really should have bought that hat we looked at last week. It was lucky. I’ve got a fifth sense for these things.”

“Fifth?” Marasi asked.

“Yeah, can’t smell worth a heap of beans. I—”

“There,” Wax said, leaning forward and looking through the windscreen. A figure bounded out of a side street soaring through the air, landed in the street, then launched himself down the thoroughfare ahead of them.

“You were right,” Marasi said. “How did you know?”

“Marks likes to be seen,” Wax said, slipping Vindication from her holster at his side. “Fancies himself a gentleman rogue. Keep this contraption moving steadily, if you can.”

Marasi’s reply was cut off as Wax threw open the door and leaped out. He fired down and Pushed on the bullet, launching himself upward. A Push on a passing carriage sent it rocking and nudged Wax to the side, so that when he came down, he landed on the wooden roof of Marasi’s motorcar.

He grabbed the roof’s front lip in one hand, gun up beside his head, wind blowing his mistcoat out behind him. Ahead, Marks bounded down the thoroughfare in a series of Steelpushes. Deep within, Wax felt the comforting burn of his own metal.

He propelled himself off the motorcar and out over the roadway. Marks always performed his robberies in daylight, always escaped along the busiest roadways he could find. He liked the notoriety. He probably felt invincible. Being an Allomancer could do that to a man.

Wax sent himself into a series of leaps over motorcars and carriages, passing the tenements on either side. The rushing wind, the height and perspective, cleared his mind and calmed his emotions as surely as a Soother’s touch. His worries dissolved, and for the moment there was only the chase.

Shadows-of-Self-by-Brandon-Sanderson-UKThe Marksman wore red, an old busker’s mask covering his face—black with white tusks, like a demon of the Deepness from old stories. And he was connected to the Set, according to the appointment book Wax had stolen from his uncle. After so many months the usefulness of that book was waning, but there were still a few gems to exploit.

Marks Pushed toward the industrial district. Wax followed, bounding from motorcar to motorcar. Amazing how much more secure he felt while hurtling through the afternoon air, as opposed to being trapped in one of those horrible motorized boxes.

Marks spun in midair and released a handful of something. Wax Pushed himself off a lamppost and jerked to the side, then shoved Marks’s coins as they passed, sending them out of the way of a random motorcar below. The motor swerved anyway, running toward the canal, the driver losing control.

Rust and Ruin, Wax thought with annoyance, Pushing himself back toward the motorcar. He tapped his metalmind, increasing his weight twentyfold, and came down on the hood of the motorcar.


The smash crushed the front of the motorcar into the ground, grinding it against the stones, slowing and then stopping its momentum before it could topple into the canal. He caught a glimpse of stunned people inside, then released his metalmind and launched himself in a Push after Marks. He almost lost the man, but fortunately the red clothing was distinctive. Wax spotted him as he bounded up off a low building, then Pushed himself high along the side of one of the city’s shorter skyscrapers. Wax followed, watching as the man Pushed himself in through a window on the top floor, some twelve or fourteen stories up.

Wax shot up into the sky, windows passing him in a blur. The city of Elendel stretched out all around, smoke rising from coal plants, factories, and homes in countless spouts. He neared the top floor one window to the left of where Marks had entered, and as he landed lightly on the stonework ledge, he tossed a coin toward the window Marks had used.

The coin bounced against the glass. Gunfire sprayed out of the window. At the same time, Wax increased his weight and smashed through his own window by leaning against it, entering the building. He skidded on glass, raising Vindication toward the plaster wall separating him from Marks.

Translucent blue lines spread around him, pointing in a thousand different directions, highlighting bits of metal. The nails in a desk behind him, where a frightened man in a suit cowered. The metal wires in the walls, leading to electric lamps. Most importantly, a few lines pointed through the wall into the next room. These were faint; obstructions weakened his Allomantic sense.

One of those lines quivered as someone in there turned and raised a gun. Wax rolled Vindication’s cylinder and locked it into place.

Hazekiller round.

He fired, then Pushed, flaring his metal and drilling that bullet forward with as much force as he could. It tore through the wall as if it were paper.

The metal in the next room dropped to the floor. Wax threw himself against the wall, increasing his weight, cracking the plaster. Another slam with his shoulder smashed through, and he broke into the next room, weapon raised, looking for his target.

He found only a pool of blood soaking into the carpet and a discarded submachine gun. This room was some kind of clerk’s office. Several men and women pressed against the floor, trembling. One woman raised a finger, pointing out a door. Wax gave her a nod and crouched against the wall next to the doorway, then cautiously glanced out.

With a painful grating sound, a filing cabinet slid down the hallway toward him. Wax ducked back out of the way as it passed, then leaped out and aimed.

His gun immediately lurched backward. Wax grabbed it with both hands, holding tight, but a second Push launched his other pistol out of its holster. His feet started to skid, his gun hauling him backward, and he growled, but finally dropped Vindication. She tumbled all the way down the hall to fetch up beside the ruins of the filing cabinet, which had crashed into the wall there. He would have to come back for her once this was over.

Marks stood at the other end of the hallway, lit by soft electric lights. He bled from a shoulder wound, his face hidden by the black-and-white mask.

“There are a thousand criminals in this city far worse than I am,” a muffled voice said from behind the mask, “and yet you hunt me, lawman. Why? I’m a hero of the people.”

“You stopped being a hero weeks ago,” Wax said, striding forward, mistcoat rustling. “When you killed a child.”

“That wasn’t my fault.”

“You fired the gun, Marks. You might not have been aiming for the girl, but you fired the gun.”

The thief stepped back. The sack slung on his shoulder had been torn, either by Wax’s bullet or some shrapnel. It leaked banknotes.

Marks glared at him through the mask, eyes barely visible in the electric light. Then he dashed to the side, holding his shoulder as he ran into another room. Wax Pushed off the filing cabinet and threw himself in a rush down the hallway. He skidded to a stop before the door Marks had gone in, then Pushed off the light behind, bending it against the wall and entering the room.

Open window. Wax grabbed a handful of pens from a desk before throwing himself out the window, a dozen stories up. Banknotes fluttered in the air, trailing behind Marks as he plummeted. Wax increased his weight, trying to fall faster, but he had nothing to Push against and the increased weight helped only slightly against air resistance. Marks still hit the ground before him, then Pushed away the coin he’d used to slow himself.

A pair of dropped pens—with metal nibs—Pushed ahead of himself into the ground was enough, barely, to slow Wax.

Marks leaped away, bounding out over some streetlamps. He bore no metal on his body that Wax could spot, but he moved a lot more slowly than he had earlier, and he trailed blood.

Wax followed him. Marks would be making for the Breakouts, a slum where the people still covered for him. They didn’t care that his robberies had turned violent; they celebrated that he stole from those who deserved it.

Can’t let him reach that safety, Wax thought, Pushing himself up over a lamppost, then shoving on it behind him to gain speed. He closed on his prey, who checked on Wax with a frantic glance over his shoulder. Wax raised one of the pens, gauging how risky it would be to try to hit Marks in the leg. He didn’t want a killing blow. This man knew something.

The slums were just ahead.

Next bound, Wax thought, gripping the pen. Bystanders stared up from the sidewalks, watching the Allomantic chase. He couldn’t risk hitting one of them. He had to—

One of those faces was familiar.

Wax lost control of his Push. Stunned by what he’d seen, he barely kept himself from breaking bones as he hit the street, rolling across cobbles. He came to a rest, mistcoat tassels twisted around his body.

He drew himself up on hands and knees.

No. Impossible. NO.

He scrambled across the street, ignoring a stomping black destrier and its cursing rider. That face. That face.

The last time he had seen that face, he had shot it in the forehead. Bloody Tan.

The man who had killed Lessie.

“A man was here!” Wax shouted, shoving through the crowd. “Long-fingered, thinning hair. A face almost like a bare skull. Did you see him? Did anyone see him?”

People stared at him as if he were daft. Perhaps he was. Wax raised his hand to the side of his head.

“Lord Waxillium?”

He spun. Marasi had stopped her motorcar nearby, and both she and Wayne were climbing out. Had she actually been able to tail him during his chase? No . . . no, he’d told her where he thought Marks would go.

“Wax, mate?” Wayne asked. “You all right? What did he do, knock you from the air?”

“Something like that,” Wax mumbled, glancing about one last time.

Rusts, he thought. The stress is digging into my mind.

“So he got away,” Marasi said, folding her arms, looking displeased.

“Not yet he didn’t,” Wax said. “He’s bleeding and dropping money. He’ll leave a trail. Come on.”


Excerpted from Shadows of Self © Brandon Sanderson, 2015

At the End of Babel


At the right time, in the right place, words have the power to change the world.


Each man is good in the sight of the Great Spirit. It is not necessary that eagles should be crows.

—Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa Lakota (1831–90)


No person has a right, entitlement, or claim to have the Government of the United States or any of its officials or representatives act, communicate, perform or provide services, or provide materials in any language other than English.

—Proposed Amendment to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006


Tabitha Hoarse Raven, not yet thirty years old but already the last of her tongue, inhaled the cool air of the desert. Though she’d lived in hiding for nearly eighteen years, it had been a long time since she’d actually slept out beneath the stars, and she felt a strange thrill to be doing so again. If nothing else, she was excited to see the sky at night, free of the dissolving bubble of cityglow, free of the slashing scars of neon and steel, free of the burntrails from uplifting ships. A sky full of stars.

She’d forgotten how many there were. Tabitha chose a blank spot of sky, an ebony rift between twinkling lights. She stared until her eyes watered, and she saw more stars.

She thought of her old grandfather, who’d come to the Sky City to die when all hope had left him. And others of that last generation, who’d all come to die.

I’ve come, too, she thought. Do I have hope?

She took the carbuncle stone from her pocket, shook it into luminescence. Small creatures skittered away from the sudden glow, and a moth flitted white across her sight. It was a risk to use the stone, but her campsite was isolated in a thin, bending canyon. Not like the wide-open plains she would cross in the morning, a vast expanse where there was nothing to hide her light. Out there, a searchskiff would already be bearing down on her. Up here, she felt confident and safe.

And that was assuming the authorities were even looking for her.

Paranoia, she was sure. There was no reason to believe the unity government knew of the cycle or even remembered the old pueblo atop the high New Mexican cliffs. There was no reason to think they might expect someone to come out to its ruins, to try to talk to old gods in outlawed tongues.


The next morning, Tabitha awoke to the scents of brushed sage, clay dust, and wispy juniper smoke. She opened her eyes to see that already the sun was tipping over the edge of the horizon and pushing the crisp shadow of the east wall slowly down the west. The line of sky above the thin canyon was clear, pale blue. She heard little pops and cracks of wood burning. She smelled flatbread.

Tabitha peeled herself out of the light thermthread bag. Her canyon guide, Red Rabbit, was squatting nearby, and he offered a pad of the warmed bread. She took it, felt stronger with its heat against her flesh. She imagined for a moment that she could actually see kneading ridges along its surface, just the size and shape of a woman’s fingers. But she knew such things were only a memory: the flatbread was the result of metal machines churning in some far-off factory. Every slice the same. One slice no different from any other.

There was a small fire in the pit, surrounded by ashen rocks. Red Rabbit stood, then walked to the other side of it and sat down. He fished a package of cigarettes from his worn plaid vest, knocked one out, and then lit it using the end of a stick that he poked into the little dancing flames. He rocked back, puffing, and when he smiled, his teeth were yellow and broken. “We’ll need to go soon,” he said.

Tabitha nodded, bit off a piece of the bread. It melted against the roof of her mouth, washing her tongue with flavors of wheat and wood.

The shadowline crept further down the west wall. The juniper burning between them cracked, spat. The thinnest of snakes, a gray tendril of smoke slithered toward the morning sky, but it did not break the lip of the canyon.

Red Rabbit looked up at the blue. “You will really go to Acoma, to the old pueblo? The new town isn’t far away. On the Rio San Jose. Good bars. More to drink than Acoma.”

Tabitha said nothing. Only nodded as she ripped and chewed.

Not for the first time, Red Rabbit frowned at her plans. “Why? No one lives there. It’s dead. Has been since the times of Gray Feather. Since after the skiffs came, painted it red.”

Gray Feather. Red paint. Tabitha had to fight the urge to wince with each of the words. Red Rabbit couldn’t know that Gray Feather, old as he was, had been her father. That he’d symbolized his name with a single goose quill among the contrasting colors of his Tsitsanits mask: green for sky, yellow for earth, black for night. Red Rabbit couldn’t know how fine he’d looked in that mask, with its eagle feathers and buffalo horns, its white buckskin eyes, corn husk teeth, and fox-fur collar, or how well he and the rest of the katsina dancers had prayed with body and soul on that last day. Red Rabbit couldn’t even know what katsina meant. He didn’t know Keresan. All he knew was the diya tongue of the whites.

She alone remembered.

She remembered through a little girl’s eyes watching them dance to Tsichtinako on the last turning of the great moon cycle. She remembered the mixture of sadness and hope in their steps. Even then, they’d known they were the last of their tongue: rebels to uniformity, no longer even useful to the linguists who’d documented their speech for closed-door studies of dead things otherwise forgotten.

Tabitha had snuck away from the dance in childish impishness that day, crawling down a thick-runged ladder into the darkness of the kiva, the kaach, where the chaianyi men would come for their final prayers after the dance. She’d wanted to hear them. She’d wanted to watch her father calling the gods.

Instead, she’d heard the engine-roar of the federal skiffs landing outside. And when she’d reached the top of the ladder and looked out, she’d seen the lancers pouring from the airships, uniformed men with uniform guns. Marching. Corralling her people like cattle. She’d heard the officer in his blue suit clearing his throat to read the Writ of Unity, the death warrant for those who dared to disunite the power of the one state. “One language, one people,” he’d said. Just like they all did. Just like the posters.

She’d slipped back down into the kaach while he read, though she could still hear him. There were boards across part of the floor, covering the Tsiwaimitiima altar: boards so holy that only chaianyi could dance upon them. She’d lifted them up without hesitation and wedged herself beneath them, curled up in a dusty darkness that smelled of old cornmeal. “One culture, one country,” she’d heard the officer say in the distance. And then, in response, she’d heard the voices of her people rising in defiant, ancient song.

So the killing had begun, and soon the only sounds she heard over the screams were of fléchettes singing high in the crisp air. And when the lancers searched the buildings for survivors, Tabitha did not cry.

She’d wanted to hear her father’s prayers. Instead, when at last she climbed up and out of the darkness and peered through a thin crack in the wall out into the square, she’d heard him dying, coughing down the wrath of Father Thunder even as he lay in a pool of his own blood. His legs twitched as if they meant to complete the dance despite him. His white-and-black eagle wings were painted red.

He’d called until one of the last of the lancers came back, stood over his bloodied body, aimed his flechemusket at Gray Feather’s left eye, and pulled the trigger. Her father’s legs stilled. The dance was never finished. Father Thunder never came.

Tabitha blinked away the images, blocking out the sounds of remembered death until all she heard was the burning of the juniper before her, and all she saw was Red Rabbit, rocking and puffing on his fading cigarette. “What would God be,” she said, “if there was no one to call his name?” No one to hate him.

“Why call him now, though?”

“Do you remember nothing of the old ways?”

He shrugged. “I remember the old ways through the canyons. That’s why you hired me, yellow woman.”

It was true enough. Since the killings, she’d lived in the cities. She knew nothing of the wild places anymore.

Tabitha sighed. “The moon doesn’t rise in the same place every day. It moves along the horizon. Every eighteen or so years, it reaches its northernmost point on the horizon, rising as far north as it will rise before returning south to begin the cycle again. A lunistice, it’s called. And during that time, the moon, for just a little while, appears to rise in the same place. Some people call it a lunar standstill. It last happened a little over eighteen years ago. When I was eleven. It took me a long time to understand the why and the when. So, I know it’s about to happen again.”

“The moon?” Red Rabbit looked as if he was trying not to laugh. “You’re going through this for the moon?”

“Yes. It may seem strange to you, but it wasn’t to our people.” She ignored the look of exasperation in his eyes, kept talking. “Many of the pueblos were built to observe the cycle. Chimney Rock, for instance. Why would they build the pueblo so far above the plain? Far from water, wood, food . . .”

“Maybe they liked the view. Pretty place. Casino there now.”

“True. But if we were there tonight, and we watched the moon rise, we would see it come up between the two great rock spires to the north. We could watch it just as our ancestors did when they first built it over a thousand years ago.”

“Why’d they like the moon so much?”

“It wasn’t just our people. You could see the same thing at Stonehenge, Machu Picchu, the pyramids in Egypt. When Tsichtinako created—”

“Tseech-tee . . . ?”

“Tsichtinako. Thought Mother. Our legends say she created the universe through the hand of Uchtsiti, the All-Father. He built the world by throwing a clot of his own blood into the heavens. The chaianyi, what the whites would call medicine men, they taught that the sun represented Uchtsiti. It was the male. It was father. The moon was the female. We might call it mother. Both male and female are needed for life, but the male drives away what he most needs, so the moon flees to the north, toward death. It was said that if man does not call back the moon, she will leave us forever. The father’s consort will be gone. He can have no more children. What is will wither and die. Nothing new will replace it. It was said by the chaianyi that Thought Mother taught this much to the first peoples when they emerged from Shipapu, the darkness beneath the earth.”

“You believe this?”

It took her a moment to answer. She was remembering her father’s footfalls, his leather moccasins shuffling in the clay as he danced and sang, danced and sang. “My ancestors believed,” she said at last. “So it’s important to me.”

“I don’t believe in gods,” Red Rabbit said. Suspicion flashed in his eyes. “I believe in money.”

“Which is why you won’t get the rest until you’ve taken me to the top of the rock.”

Whatever had been in his eyes vanished. “Then eat, Hoarse Raven. The trail to the Sky City is long.”

She swallowed the rest of the bread, then stood and looked out through the canyon opening to the flat plain. Spread out before her, the patched and faded land reminded her of one of the woolen blankets her grandmother once made for her. And kilometers away, she could see where the mesa broke from the plain like the thumb of God struck through the parched, sage-strewn flats. Lifting a scope to her eyes, she could just perceive the outline of the blocks scattered upon the table of its summit.

“We can’t leave yet,” she said. “I must prepare.”

Red Rabbit had stood, too. He laid a hand on her shoulder. His fingers smelled of coals. “For what?”

Now it was her turn to smile. Greedy and atheistic though he might be, she appreciated her guide. She enjoyed the simplicity of his life. She looked down at her tan jumpsuit and plain boots, the modern vest of factory-built fabric. “For one thing,” she said, “I cannot meet an old god in new clothes.”

“You need to change?”

“Yes. And I must prepare my soul.”


Tabitha stood naked beneath a circle of sky, her back to the multi-toned sandstone wall surrounding a well of rainwater. The crack leading to this place had been too narrow for her pack, so she’d pulled out what things she needed and left the rest outside with Red Rabbit. He would have helped her carry things in, she knew, but somehow it seemed best for her to carry it all in herself, as if the clothes were some sort of offering, brought to the sacred pool.

Silly, of course, but fitting: Each soul must meet the morning sun, the new sweet earth, and the Great Silence alone.

Ohiyesa had said that. Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, the whites called him. Brought up among the Santee Dakota, he’d managed to get into Dartmouth, then earned a medical degree from Brown. He’d helped to establish the Boy Scouts and the Camp Fire Girls. Ohiyesa had verified the burial place of Sacajawea. He’d been the only physician to tend to the injured at Wounded Knee.

So much irony, Tabitha thought as she slipped the simple fabrics over her body.

It had taken her a great deal of time to find someone who could still make clothing in the old ways, using the old materials. The search had been so difficult that she’d often found herself wondering if she might risk jumping onto the grid for a minute or two, just to find what she was looking for, to find out where it was. But if she accessed the grid, they would know where she was, too. They would know that a speaker was indeed still alive, and they might even know what she planned to do. So she’d been forced to search on foot, by word of mouth, moving quietly through the slums of the cities. Always wary, always cautious. Never asking too many questions. Never answering many. It took over a year, but she’d found the old woman just in time, on her last search of Albuquerque’s Old Town.

New old-style garments in hand, she’d looked for a mercenary-minded person who could guide her through the city screens, out into the wilderness, out to the old, forgotten places—someone who hated the lancers as much as she did and knew how to keep his mouth shut for the right price. A far easier task. She’d hired Red Rabbit only two hours later.

Tabitha slipped on the moccasins, then stepped forward. Foot by foot. Leather roughing on sandstone. She summoned up prayers that hadn’t been uttered since the morning of the last dance. Prayers no one else alive could speak.

When she reached the edge, she knelt and scooped the cold water onto her face, breaking its sheets against her skin. She rubbed it across her cheeks, into her eyes. She stood, faced the sun as it crossed the horizon of her sunken place. As it did so, she offered a final, unspoken orison. To the water, the rock, the sun, the sky.

The Great Silence. Alone.


The sandhills began near the entrance to the secret well, and Tabitha and Red Rabbit followed a winding path over and between them, pausing only briefly in the semi-shade of piñons. Tabitha felt growing impatience, wanting to get there, wanting to be done with it all one way or another. She had a hard time not watching the sky, and several times she tripped on exposed juniper roots, causing no small amount of pain to feet already aching from the new moccasins.

An hour after departing the well, they left the sandhills and entered the flatlands. And although the sage and sparse-grass plain was more exposed to any passing skiff, they were able to take a more direct path toward the waiting mesa. Tabitha felt her mind begin to ease. There was no place to hide now. No place to run. If a skiff came, she’d be dead. Red Rabbit, too, probably, though he did not seem concerned about the possibility as he trudged ahead of her through the dirt.

The wall of Acoma mesa, towering higher with each step they took, was rusted clay, a deep and rich color. Dark streaks ran down its many faces. The stains of ten thousand tears.

Farther in the distance along the horizon, almost five kilometers northeast of the Sky City, she could see where yellow sandstone cliffs rose one hundred and twenty meters out of the dusty sea. The old stories told how the people had long ago lived atop those cliffs. It was a beautiful village, but there was only one trail to the summit. One day, the people went down to the plain to gather the harvest. Three women, though, were sick and couldn’t go. That day, terrible rains came. The waters washed away the trail to the village. The men tried to find another path up, but there was none. There was nothing anyone could do. Weeks passed, and the women grew quiet as they starved to death. One of them died. The other two, who did not want to die of starvation, walked to the edge of the cliff, looked down upon their families and their friends, then jumped, hoping to find the arms of Great Eagle or White Hawk. It was said that their cries could still be heard among the crags sometimes. The place had been very holy among the people.

The whites did not understand this story. They called the place the Enchanted Mesa. To Tabitha’s people it had been Kadzima, the Accursed.


Tabitha and Red Rabbit found a little farm at the base of the Acoma mesa. Dry farming. Her family had done the same until the skiffs and their crews of lancers had come.

The farm was little to look at. A shanty of four weathered adobe walls, not more than four or five meters on a side, covered over with corrugated sheets of scrap metal, with two windows: one cracked and grimed, the other clumsily boarded over. Desiccated posts made of piñon branches marked the perimeter of a small yard in front of the building. Two chickens and a rooster, still contained within a battered wire mesh strung between those posts, were the only signs of life.

At Red Rabbit’s urging, Tabitha stayed some distance behind him as they approached. He had an old-style gun in the holster at his hip, and Tabitha noticed that he kept his hand close to it and that he walked with a sort of balanced crouch. “I don’t think anyone here wants to hurt us,” she said.

He didn’t turn around to answer her. “I don’t take chances. Never know who lives out here.”

“Probably just poor farmers.”

“Maybe,” he said. “But there’s lots of crazies outside the cities. People like me.”

Tabitha looked down at the ceremonial knife tied to her belt with leather thongs. She fingered it for a moment, then thought better of it. Instead, she cupped her hands around her mouth and called out. “Hello?”

Her voice echoed back from the building and the silently brooding rocks. The chickens clucked in senseless reply.

“Is anyone here?”

Red Rabbit had turned to glare at her, but the sound of shifting rock spun his attention back around. There was a native woman standing among the jumbled boulders beyond the shanty. Her arm was extended to her right, disappearing into rock.

“Show us your other hand!” Red Rabbit called.

The woman hesitated, then drew in her arm, pulling a little cloth-covered basket into view. Tabitha waved, friendly. The woman waved back, more unsure, but slowly she began to walk back down to the building. Red Rabbit relaxed a little, though he kept his hand close to his side. “We don’t want any trouble,” the woman said when she came near.

“We won’t give you any,” Tabitha said.

“You’re not lancer scouts?” The woman’s weather-worn skin was the color of old saddle leather, coursed over with crisp ridges and furrows. There were long needles of wood in the braided hair at the back of her head.

“Not hardly,” Tabitha said. “Just hiking to the old pueblo.”

The woman nodded, but a new expression had come over her face as she listened to Tabitha speak. “Do I know you?”

“I don’t think so. My name is Tabitha Hoarse Raven.”

“You used to live on the mesa.”

“I did,” Tabitha said, trying to keep the surprise out of her voice. “How did you know?”

“I was young, but I remember your father when he was the chief.”

Tabitha involuntarily cringed at the term. It reminded her too much of what the diya whites had done to her people. “My father was tsatia hochani.

The woman looked as if she’d seen a ghost. “You can speak—”

“Keresan, yes. Can you not?” Tabitha tried to hide it, but even she could hear something akin to hope in her own voice.

“No. I lived in the city back then. I know only English.”


“I came to the pueblo only a few times. But I remember Gray Feather. He invited us out for some of the dances. I remember his daughter.”

Tabitha fought to ignore her own emotions and Red Rabbit’s sudden gaze. “I’m sorry. I don’t remember you.”

The woman had relaxed a little. “It’s okay. You were even younger then. My name’s Malya Prancing Antelope.”

“Antelope Clan?”

“I think my uncle told me we were Badger Clan. But that was a long time ago. There aren’t any clans anymore, Tabitha Hoarse Raven. There’s just people. One people. And you, of course.” She stuttered a little at that and turned from them, blushing. She addressed the building. “They’re not scouts!”

There was noise inside, and the door opened inward. A young man dressed in worn blue jeans and a tattered gray shirt stepped into the sun. He was young—Tabitha guessed him to be perhaps twenty years old—with strong native features: tall, with red-brown skin over a face of long and sharp angles, a wiry build, and black hair tousled in careless mats. But while Tabitha found him ruggedly handsome in his way, most of her attention was riveted on the shotgun he was carrying in his hands.

“My son,” Malya said. “Joseph Man of Sorrow.”

Joseph shouldered the weapon and offered his hand to Tabitha, who shook it at once. His long-fingered grip was strong. Red Rabbit, too, shook the young man’s hand. “We thought you might be scouts,” Joseph said. “There’ve been more of them around lately.”

“Why?” Red Rabbit asked.

The younger man shrugged. “Don’t know. Maybe they’re looking for you. Funny to hike with a revolver,” he said, nodding towards Red Rabbit’s pistol.

“We thought it best to be prepared,” Tabitha said before Red Rabbit could reply. “You never know who’s out here.”

“Just us,” Joseph said. “No work in the cities this season. Came to the old farm.”

Red Rabbit motioned to Malya’s covered basket. “What’s in that?”

“Seeds,” she said. “I was going to plant.”

“Oh,” Red Rabbit said. And he looked away, out across the plain they’d crossed.

Joseph turned to Tabitha, smiled. “You’re pretty far from the cities, Tabitha Hoarse Raven.” He looked her clothes up and down, seemed to linger. “And you’re not dressed like a tourist. Why’re you here?”

“I grew up here.”

“Doesn’t answer my question.”

“Enough, Joseph,” Malya said. “Fetch water for our guests.”

Joseph’s smile faded, and his cheeks darkened. He started back toward the building.

“Please don’t,” Tabitha said. “We have water. We’ll just be on our way up.”

Joseph stopped walking, half turned. “You’re going up?”

Tabitha nodded, even as his mother started to ask forgiveness for her intrusive son.

“It’s okay,” Tabitha said. “I don’t mind. Yes, I’m dressed strangely. Yes, we’re going up. It’s time for the moondance.”

Joseph looked confused, but Malya was shaking her head, her eyes furtive. “It’s not allowed,” she said.

“Neither is speaking in Keresan.”

“Bad enough to do that. But to do the dance. . . . You know what they did, don’t you? The lancers? My husband wanted to dance with the others, with all the defiant ones. He came out here with them. To rediscover his ancestors, he said. He died with them that day.”

Even from several meters away, Tabitha could see the new expressions of emotion passing over Joseph’s face. She ignored them. “I’m not asking for you to help,” she said. “But I won’t lie to one of our people. I’m going to perform the dance.”

“One of what people? Who? This man here? Me? Joseph? Your ‘people’ is the same as anyone else’s now. It’s the law.”

“Not for me,” Tabitha said.

“Then you’re alone. And you’ll die like the rest of them. Then what will have become of your people? Nothing but a few genetic quirks like us, absorbed soon enough. Maybe a troupe of half-breeds who fake dances for tourists in Santa Fe between night gigs at the poker tables. Some old crones making beaded necklaces to sell on street corners. Nothing more.” The woman turned away from Tabitha. She began to walk back toward Joseph and the building. “Dance. Die. Take your words with you, sister. No one will speak them when you’re gone.”


The story was well known to Tabitha’s people: how, in the winter of 1599, Spanish troops had come to Acoma, almost one hundred of them strong in their steel, to capture what they called the Sky City.

The Acomans went to the edge of their mesa when they arrived. They hurled stones and launched arrows at the Spaniards one hundred meters below. Yet the invaders climbed. Up and up.

When the Spaniards reached the top, they leveled a cannon at the Acomans. They filled it with small stones and began to fire. To the people, it was as if Father Thunder himself had turned against them, spewing the bone-rock of the life-giving Earth into their flesh, ripping and breaking. Eight hundred of them died that day, and their city was turned to ruin. Of those taken alive, all males over the age of twelve were made twenty-year slaves. Those older than twenty-five had their right feet cut off. Some few of the dispersed managed to return over the years. They rebuilt the pueblo. They returned to sing to the Mother, to beg for her return.

It had taken the Spaniards three days to fight their way to the top. It took her and Red Rabbit less than three hours.

Of course, it was easier now. When the Spaniards came, the only ways up were the steep stairways, hand-cut into the sandstone surfaces of the mesa walls. But twentieth-century ingenuity had seen fit to cut a road to the top, to what was then the oldest continually inhabited community in the United States.

At the top, she and her guide found what was left of the pueblo that those who’d returned had built. First was the church, the old mission of San Esteban Rey. It had been a tourist attraction once. Now it stood derelict, fiercely ravaged by time. The twin towers flanking the nave were broken, crumbled away to stubs rising above the wind-scarred roofline. Most of the windows were missing. Hard spring rains had carved great gouges into its plastered facing, and the series of steps leading to the gaping hole where once its oaken doors had stood were worn to a jaggedly rounded slope. But the church still stood. Tabitha didn’t know if that should mean something or not.

She pulled a small bag tied with sinew string from the pouch at her side. She felt the hard plastic inside, then tossed it to Red Rabbit.

He looked at it. “You’re done?”

“I’ll dance. And I’ll sing. For the memory. But, yes, I’m done. You’ve done exactly what I asked you to do. For that, my thanks. And an extra payment.”

Red Rabbit opened the bag with his calloused fingers. He whistled. “More than a little extra,” he said.

Tabitha shrugged. She wouldn’t need it anymore. One way or another.

“You sure I can’t do anything more?”

“You’ve done plenty,” she said.

She walked alone into the crumbled labyrinth of Acoma.


The rest of the pueblo hadn’t fared as well as the church. Much of it had been ruins even in Tabitha’s youth, when only a few holdout families lived on the mesa. But after the killings, after the skiffs were airborne once more, the lancers had begun the work for which they were so aptly named: they’d sent charged particles down from their cannons, slashing furrows across the summit and blasting holes through to the bedrock. There’d been no reason for the desecration. The lancers had searched the pueblo on foot. Tabitha suspected it was merely target practice for the men. Slaughtering traitorous Indians hadn’t been enough fun for their day.

The destruction that the lancers had begun was taken up by the elements. The scars they’d ripped through buildings had further eroded over the years, the wounds becoming gaping open sores. Dozens of structures had collapsed to rubble that turned the streets of the old town into a maze. Tabitha could see that as many more were on the brink of failure.

Only the kaach remained as it did in her memories. Where she’d hidden in her youth. The place from which she’d watched her father die, watched his murderer absently wipe a splattering of gore from his hand as he walked back toward his waiting skiff and the sky. The building looked as if the weather had never touched it. Even the ladder protruding through the opening in its roof seemed solid—though she didn’t attempt to climb it yet. Maybe after the dance, she thought. Father was going to pray after the dance.

She summoned memories as she wandered through the ruined pueblo. Soon, she could almost hear the laughter of old women, see the sad eyes of young men. She could almost step to the shake-crack-shake of rattles keeping time to the beat of a stretched-skin drum. She could almost smell the scents of kettles that steamed with chiles, corn, and shredded meat.

She summoned them until she was with them, until the ghosts of the forgotten swarmed about her. Words. Rhythms. Voices. Drums. And when she found the central square where her father had died, she closed her eyes and fell away into a world that she alone could know—dancing in circles, like a dream-thief, through the red dust and mud-stone rubble, turning on isles of sand.

The Great Silence. Alone.


When it was done, when her father’s dance was complete, Tabitha Hoarse Raven stood at the edge of a darkening sky, listening for the voices of her gods. The evening wind ran like wild horses up the cracked face of the mesa, smoothing her loose garments against the front of her body, molding them to the contours of her arms and legs. It flowed over and around her sweat-slicked skin like rushing, rising water—spreading her long black hair into tendrils of crow-night that reached with waving, furtive grasps for the relative security of the shattered pueblo behind her. She breathed deep in her exhaustion.

Voices should have been carried upon that wind, sounds swept up from the plains: the laughter of children weaving through the brush, heading for the steep and crooked stairways with rabbits over their shoulders and baskets full of corn; the chatterings of women and their clay jars, porting water; the lower tones of the men on watch, calling across the rocks along the way. . . .

No more. She heard nothing of the world beyond the echoed cries of a lone eagle balancing on split-tip wings and floating wide against the deepest blue of the sky. She saw nothing of the world beyond the light of the sun, lowering to stone reaches stained watermelon and blood red.

Tabitha heard nothing. She saw nothing. And she was not surprised.

Her gods were dead, too.

Darkness approached from the east. Far out to the west, where vacant pueblos slumbered in silent canyons, the sun seemed to hesitate, to hover in expectation of night. Brilliant swaths of red-yellow-turning-blue layered ribbons upon the sky.

“Come back to us, Moon,” Tabitha said, expecting the returned silence. “Bring us life. Bring us rain. Za’tse katch, Tsichtinako.

She wondered what her grandfather had expected when he’d come to this reach and prayed, too—that last time, just five years after Gray Feather was killed for dancing, for singing an outlawed language. She wondered if it was when he had heard nothing that he jumped. Like the two women of Kadzima. Sudden death before starvation.

Tabitha looked down toward the base of the cliff as if she were tracing his fall with her gaze. The shadows were already thick down there, slow-moving in silence.

Tabitha slipped a single gray-and-red goose feather from the long leather pouch at her side. She smoothed it to a point, then stretched her arm out into the great void of air and wind and sound and sight and scent and possibility and used the feather-edge to trace the sign of the Spider across the plains far below her.

A good-bye.

And in that moment, from somewhere in the distance, from somewhere beyond the horizon to the west, she heard a rumbling sound. The waking of an angry god.


Tabitha turned at the throaty sound of the approaching skiff. It was coming down behind her, kicking the sun-dried clay into clouds of choking dust that blurred away the fading adobe walls. Lights flashed. Another skiff circled loudly overhead.

Doors opened. A ramp crashed. Even through the sudden haze of backlit dust-fog, she could see the dark helmets of the lancers making their way through and around the pueblo. Surrounding her. Some of them were already in place, already aiming.

Tabitha looked away from them, her gaze sweeping out to the horizon, where billow-black clouds rose up from the dry canyons to meet and swallow the setting sun.

To swallow them all.


Tabitha’s arms were outstretched to the void. Feather in hand. Visions of Great Eagle swirled behind her eyes. But a gust of wind pushed back against her. She felt the wind, and she knew it for what it was.

She stepped back from the edge, opening her eyes as she turned to look at the gathered lancers. “Za’tse katch, Tsichtinako,” she said to them.

There was an officer among them, standing nearest the ramp. He stepped forward into the cleared, dry dust between the flechemuskets and the condemned. He was wearing a gray-to-black uniform emblazoned with two bars that attested to his good service to the state. A captain. His hair was close-cropped, peppered gray. His grin was full of vanity and loathing pride. He held a d-reader in his hand and he lifted it up. “Ms. Hoarse Raven, yes?”

Tabitha looked around at the flechemuskets, most of them pointed at her head. She glanced back over her shoulder to the west. Clouds were moving fast across the sky, carried on the wind. Already the first reaches of them stretched overhead. “Ha, diya hatch,” she said to the captain.

He blinked at her, caught off guard for a moment, before he smiled. “Then I suppose you’re admitting guilt.”

“Ha,” she said.

“You shouldn’t have come back here,” the captain said. “Not on the anniversary with the moon and all, especially.”

Tabitha shrugged. “Sa’ma.”

The captain smirked, then keyed a button on the d-reader as if he was initiating an injection. A part of Tabitha, a small and shrinking part, thought it unfortunate that a recording was used these days. She would’ve preferred the personal touch of a reading.

“One language, one people,” the d-reader said, its disembodied voice deep with authority.

Tabitha stood in half-amused silence, listening to the litany. Halfway through, great raindrops began to fall to the parched earth, impacting like soft bullets, pounding out little craters in the dust. Father’s tears, falling to Mother.

Some of the lancers looked upward. Tabitha did not. She was watching the walls of the pueblo behind them, where the blur of dusk was turning to sharp shadow and light as the moon came up and shone its light beneath the storm. She needed to raise her voice to be heard over the d-reader. “Ta’-u-atch,” she announced.

Only the captain was listening, and he didn’t care. He didn’t understand.

The water was cold as it soaked into her linen garments, but at the same time, it felt good. It felt right. Thunder rolled in the depths of the clouds thickening overhead, the low growl of Black Bear Mother protecting her cubs. Tabitha felt it vibrate around her ribs. She felt its tone quickening in her chest.

At last, she looked up through the drops of rain into the dark and churning clouds that had gathered over the mesa. The lights of the circling skiff looked obscene against the belly of the storm. “Ho-ak’a katch,” she said, for the sky was, indeed, raining.

The d-reader ended its speech, which had always been more about helping those doing the slaughter than those being slaughtered. “One culture, one country,” the recording intoned.

“One culture, one country!” the lancers replied. The sights of the flechemuskets re-centered.

Tabitha felt the hairs on her arms perk up, the gooseflesh raised by something more than the cold rain on her skin. She breathed deep of the ozone washing through the curtains of water. It was raining very hard now.

“Ho-ak’a ma’-me katch,” she said. She eyed the skiff in the air, and she began to sing a new song, with new power.

As Tabitha’s voice split the air, Father Thunder’s first strike hit the skiff above her, a whip cracking down from the heavens. The airship flashed white-hot, turned left, right, left, then nosed down and fell earthward like a child’s broken toy. Ripples of electric fire coursed across its surface, the energy crackling in audible static as the craft plummeted.

The crippled skiff came down at a sharp angle, hitting one of the outbuildings. It fragged the adobe, blasting the ancient mud-brick and wood into splinters and rubble. The ship pounded deep into the hardpack, momentarily cratering the earth, and then it was airborne again, metal screeching as it bounced back off the bedrock and flipped through the air. Many of the lancers on the ground began screaming, trying to run. The airship that was already on the ground tried to move, bucking on its pads as its engines kicked into gear, but all too late. The hurtling, broken thing punched into its side with a terrible crunch, a spear breaching a wounded deer.

There was a half-second pause, a heartbeat of realization. Then a second bolt of lightning branched down from the clouds into the bundle of freshly twisted metal. The knot of the two ships exploded in an eruption of red light and redder sound.

A wave of force slapped Tabitha back from the fiery skiffs, knocking the wind and the song from her chest as it sent her flying. The few flechemuskets still aimed at her went off, and she sensed the angry hornet buzz ripping the air around her. But then she hit the clotting mud and slid into rock as the next concussive detonation wave rolled forward across the mesa.

Tabitha looked up and saw men in flames, trailing smoke. They were screaming, but she couldn’t hear them now. Tangled, shadowed shapes of machinery popped from the wreckage as remaining stores of fuel combusted. The captain was only a few meters away, sprawled sideways in the mud. Fragmented bits of metal protruded from his back, but he was moving. Lightning coursed across the sky in great pulsing veins. Waiting.

Tabitha gasped air back into her lungs, began to sing again. She couldn’t hear her voice, but she could feel it, reverberating in her core. She felt it as sure as the wind and the rain and the mud and the sky.

One of the lancers had stumbled through the mud, had somehow avoided the scattering shrapnel. He came and stood above her, eyes fierce and determined. He raised the gun.

Tabitha stopped singing so she could smile at him.

Bright light flashed against his face, and an instant later, his chest caved in and out all at once and he fell backward into the mud.

Joseph Man of Sorrows knelt beside her, chambering another shell. Beams of moonlight had somehow pierced the churning veil of the clouds overhead, illuminating his face. He said something to her, but she couldn’t hear it. She knew there was no stopping this now. Not after what had come before. Not with the power of Tsichtinako in the air.

She nodded. He smiled grimly, then stood and walked over to the still-twitching officer. He lowered the barrel to the back of the man’s head.

Pulled the trigger.


Walked to the next dying man.

By the light of moon and lightning, Tabitha could see a small group of the few remaining lancers firing fléchettes at a low building not yet in flames. Its thick adobe walls glistened with the tiny slivers of plastic, but still, from a little window, an old-style handgun flashed, one-two, one-two. And down they went.

A handful of remaining lancers, scattered around the wreckage, saw their skiffmates go down by the little building, and they ran in that direction. But already a third shape was rising where the others had fallen. Malya had picked up one of the flechemuskets from the ground, and she trained it on them slow and steady. The military men stopped, hesitated, then dropped their own weapons one by one. Red Rabbit came out from the little building, and he, too, picked up one of their weapons.

The lancers circled up, hands raised. Lit by the burning wreckage and contorted with fear, their faces were the red of blood. Malya and Red Rabbit marched forward at them, pushing them closer and closer to the edge of the mesa. Tabitha motioned at them to stop. Great Eagle would not welcome the lancers. And this hunt was over. There had been enough death.

The others nodded. They began to herd the men toward one of the stronger buildings away from the fires. Perhaps, Tabitha thought, she would eventually teach them new ways of speaking. Or perhaps she would just let them go, let them explain to the world that gods grew old, but they didn’t die.

Joseph came to her side, and when sound finally began to return to her senses, the first thing she heard beyond the roll of the thunder and the tremor of the sky was his voice, speaking her name.


Beating war drums, the voices of gods thundered in time to the strikes of lightning that fell in a living rain upon the mesa: heavy, pounding, unrelenting. Occasionally, another skiff tried to approach the old ruins, but the flashing anger turned each of them back. Alone, Tabitha and Joseph knelt on the floor of the kiva, which sat untouched in the conflagration atop the mesa. The fires of the gutted skiffs poured heat through the walls, and their naked bodies glistened with sweat. There would be time to leave, they knew, time to reach the old forgotten canyons far to the west and there make a new home. Others would come. “We are few and weak,” Red Jacket once said, “but may for a long time be happy if we hold fast to our country, and the religion of our fathers.”

The dance her father had left unfinished, the song he’d never ended, was done. More storms were coming. They needed only to follow them.

But not yet. Not this moment.

For now, in the darkness, Tsichtinako was between them. And they thanked Her for what they had.

Malya’s basket sat at the foot of the ladder, near the tsiwaimitiima altar that marked the place of emergence. The basket held many different kinds of seeds.

Together, Tabitha and Joseph went about creation. He was no longer a man of sorrow. And the raven’s voice was soft, like fresh butter in spring.

And many moons later, when the next tsatia hochani would be born, she knew what they would sing to him.


At night, when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The White Man will never be alone.

Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. Dead, I say? There is no death. Only a change of worlds.

—Chief Seattle of the Duwamish (1780–1866)


“At the End of Babel” copyright © 2015 by Michael Livingston

Art copyright © 2015 by Greg Ruth

We’re Not Sure We Want to Be Part of Her World…

Deep Sea Ariel by Monique Steele

Buzzfeed poses a fascinating question: we know Ariel grew up in the temperate Atlantic climate of Atlantica, but what if she had grown up in a more extreme aquatic kingdom? Taking into account that merpeople are probably fictional, we can still apply basic principles of biology to them, so aquatic evolutionary expert Joseph Shaw was able to make some great educated guesses about Coral Reef Ariel, Arctic Ariel, and (our personal favorite) Deep Sea Ariel. As Monique Steele‘s imagining shows us, she’s probably “grown long appendages to provide an enhanced sense of touch” in the utter absence of light, and she possibly developed bioluminescence “to attract potential mates or lure unsuspecting meals!” We got the spirit. You got to hear it. Under the sea.

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