Introduction: The following is a chapter from Brandon Sanderson’s novel MISTBORN: THE HERO OF AGES. This is the third and final book of the trilogy, so if you haven’t read any previous volumes, you may want to start here instead. Find more about the Mistborn books at the Mistborn Trilogy portal here on Brandon’s website. THE HERO OF AGES will be out in hardcover October 14th, 2008.
Holding the power did strange things to my mind. In just a few moments, I became familiar with the power itself, with its history, and with the ways it might be used.
Yet, this knowledge was different from experience, or even ability to use that power. For instance, I knew how to move a planet in the sky. Yet, I didn’t know where to place it so that it wouldn’t be too close, or too far, from the sun.
As always, TenSoon’s day began in darkness. Part of that was due, of course, to the fact that he didn’t have any eyes. He could have created a set—he was of the Third Generation, which was old, even for a kandra. He had digested enough corpses that he had learned how to create sensory organs intuitively without a model to copy.
Unfortunately, eyes would have done him little good. He didn’t have a skull, and he had found that most organs didn’t function well without a full body—and skeleton—to support them. His own mass would crush eyes if he moved the wrong way, and it would be very difficult to turn them about to see.
Not that there would be anything to look at. TenSoon moved his bulk slightly, shifting inside his prison chamber. His body was little more than a grouping of translucent muscles—like a mass of large snails or slugs, all connected, somewhat more malleable than the body of a mollusk. With concentration, he could dissolve one of the muscles and either meld it with another one, or make something new. Yet, without a skeleton to use, he was all but impotent.
He shifted in his cell again. His very skin had a sense of its own—a kind of taste. Right now, it tasted the stench of his own excrement on the sides of the chamber, but he didn’t dare turn off this sense. It was one of his only connections to the world around him.
The ‘cell’ was actually nothing more than a grate-covered stone pit. It was barely large enough to hold his mass. His captors dumped food in from the top, then periodically poured water in to hydrate him and wash his excrement out through a small drainage hole at the bottom. Both this hole and those in the locked grate above were too small for him to slide through—a kandra’s body was supple, but even a pile of muscles could only be squeezed so small.
Most people would have gone mad from the stress of spending. . . . he didn’t even know how long it had been. Months? Most would have gone mad from the stress of spending so long trapped in the cell. But TenSoon had the Blessing of Presence. His mind would not give in easily.
Sometimes he cursed the Blessing for keeping him from the blissful relief of madness.
Focus, he told himself. He had no brain, not as humans did, but he was able to think. He didn’t understand this. He wasn’t certain if any kandra did. Perhaps those of the First Generation knew more—but if so, they didn’t enlighten everyone else.
They can’t keep you here forever, he told himself. The First Contract says. . . .
But he was beginning to doubt the First Contract—or, rather, that the First Generation paid any attention to it. But, could he blame them? TenSoon was a Contract-breaker. By his own admission, he had gone against the will of his master, helping another instead. This betrayal had ended with of his master’s death.
Yet, even such a horrible thing was the least of his crimes. The punishment for Contract-breaking was death, and if TenSoon’s crimes had stopped there, the others would have killed him and been done with it. Unfortunately, there was much more at stake. TenSoon’s testimony—given to the Second Generation in a closed conference—had revealed a much more dangerous, much more important, lapse.
TenSoon had betrayed his people’s secret.
They can’t execute me, he thought, using the idea to keep him focused. Not until they find out whom I told.
The secret. The precious, precious secret.
I’ve doomed us all. My entire people. We’ll be slaves again. No, we’re already slaves. We’ll become something else—automatons, our minds controlled by others. Captured and used, our bodies no longer our own.
This is what he had done—what he had potentially set in motion. The reason he deserved imprisonment and death. And yet, he wished to live. He should despise himself. But, for some reason, he still felt he had done the right thing.
He shifted again, piles of slick muscle rotating around one another. Mid-shift, however, he froze. Vibrations. Someone was coming.
He arranged himself, pushing his muscles to the sides of the pit, forming a depression in the middle of his body. He needed to catch all of the food that he could—they fed him precious little. However, no slop came pouring down through the grate. He waited, expectant, until the grate unlocked. Though he had no ears, he could feel the coarse vibrations as the grate was dragged pulled back, its rough iron finally dropped against the floor above.
Hooks came next. They looped around his muscles, grabbing him and ripping his mass as they pulled him out of the pit. It hurt. Not just the hooks, but the sudden freedom as his body was spilled across the floor of the prison. He unwillingly tasted dirt and dried slop. His muscles quivered, the unfettered motion of being outside the cell felt strange, and he strained, moving his bulk in ways that he had nearly forgotten.
Then it came. He could taste it in the air. Acid, thick and pungent, presumably in a gold-lined bucket brought by the prison keepers. They were going to kill him after all.
But, they can’t! he thought. The First Contract, the law of our people, it—
Something fell on him. Not acid, but something hard. He touched it eagerly, muscles moving against one another, tasting it, testing it, feeling it. It was round, with holes, and several sharp edges. . .a skull.
The acid stink grew sharper. Were they stirring it? TenSoon moved quickly, forming around the skull, filling it. He already had some dissolved flesh stored inside of an organ-like pouch. He brought this out, oozing it around the skull, quickly making skin. He left the eyes alone, working on lungs, forming a tongue, ignoring lips for the moment. He worked with a sense of desperation as the taste of acid grew strong, and then. . . .
It hit him. It seared the muscles on one side of his body, washing over his bulk, dissolving it. Apparently, the Second Generation had given up on getting his secrets from him. However, before killing him, they knew they had to give him an opportunity to speak. The First Contract required it—hence the skull. However, the guards obviously had orders to kill him before he could actually say anything in his defense. They followed the form of the law, yet at the very same time they ignored its intent.
They didn’t realize, however, how quickly TenSoon could work. Few kandra had spent as much time on Contracts as he had—all of the Second Generation, and most of the Third, had long ago retired from service. They led easy lives here in the Homeland.
Easy lives taught one very little.
Most kandra took hours to form a body—some younger ones needed days. In seconds, however, TenSoon had a rudimentary tongue. As the acid moved up his body, he forced out a trachea, inflated a lung, and croaked out a single word:
The pouring stopped. His body continued to burn. He worked through the pain, forming primitive hearing organs inside the skull cavity.
A voice whispered nearby. “Fool.”
“Judgment!” TenSoon said again.
“Accept death,” the voice hissed quietly. “Do not put yourself in a position to cause further harm to our people. The First Generation has granted you this chance to die because of your years of extra service!”
TenSoon paused. A trial would be public. So far, only a select few knew the extent of his betrayal. He could die, cursed as a Contract-breaker but retaining some measure of respect for his prior career. Somewhere—likely in a pit in this very room—there were some who suffered endless captivity, a torture that would eventually break even the minds of those endowed with the Blessing of Presence.
Did he want to become one of those? By revealing his actions in an open forum, he would earn himself an eternity of pain. Forcing a trial would be foolish, for there was no hope of vindication. His confessions had already damned him.
If he spoke, it would not be to defend himself. It would be for other reasons entirely.
“Judgment,” he said, this time barely whispering.