The following is a draft chapter of Brandon’s unfinished novel Mythwalker from 2001. Brandon later repurposed some elements of this story into Warbreaker, Mistborn, and The Way of Kings.
Voko sat, poking at the dinner fire. Around the camp, men stood with subdued postures. They knew they had failed, though they didn’t know quite what that meant. However, more than their failure, they sensed Devin’s gloom.
Hine is dead. Devin kept looking up, expecting to see the gruff man inspecting the camp. He kept turning to ask what Hine thought, only to find empty space beside him.
As chilling as Hine’s death was, an even worse feeling churned in Devin—the knowledge that his friend’s soul might be forfeit. Hine had followed Devin’s plans, acting against the Kkoloss. His actions had earned an incredible burden of Ki-Ssu—according to the Priesthood, men had been damned for far less.
Is that what happened to you, my friend? Devin wondered. Would Hine’s soul be rejected a place in paradise? Would the substance of his being instead be dispersed to become the Living Night, joining the Shadowspin? Was Hine now existing in pain, his soul torn apart to become the substance of the Demon God’s dark magics?
The possibility horrified Devin. He sat guiltily, realizing for the first time the repercussions of his actions. Hine was dead, his soul cast from paradise.
However, even as he sat in the throes of shame, a small piece of Devin rebelled. Don’t believe it, the piece warned.
How could he not? He’d been taught about Ssu and Ki-Ssu since childhood. For an Eruntu, obedience brought Ssu and disobedience brought Ki-Ssu. Hine, under Devin’s leadership, had comitted atrocious acts of disobedience. There was no way he would be allowed entrance to paradise.
Don’t believe it! That doesn’t make sense. Hine had been such a great man—an honorable man. A good man. How could Hess cast him out?
Truth isn’t something that’s told, son. Hine’s words, spoken just hours before, returned to Devin’s mind. It’s something you feel.
Suddenly, Devin felt a hesitant hand on his shoulder. He turned slightly, surprised to see Vvenna standing behind him. Her red velvet dress was worn and dirtied from overuse, her hair slightly disheveled from their flight. She removed her hand from his shoulder quickly, almost self-consciously, but then took a seat on a log next to Devin.
“I am . . . sorry, Devin,” she said, a tiny bit of her uncertainty showing through. “You have never shown me anything but kindness; you deserved better than this.”
“Thank you,” Devin said quietly.
Something you feel. Hine had been a great man—no amount of preaching could change his mind about that. A short distance away, Ix stirred the lunch soup. The shadowling had saved Devin’s life, though they were said to be creatures of darkness. Sarn, a Kkoloss, was a horrible man. And Vvenna, another Kkoloss, cared for an Eruntu . . .
It’s all wrong, Devin thought, looking across the camp. We’ve been fighting the wrong thing. The Kkoloss aren’t our enemies. Our problem is with what they have been taught.
Several of the camp members looked up as Devin’s eyes passed over them—as if they could sense the change in their leader. Slowly, heads all around began to focus on Devin. There was need in those eyes.
The familiar stab of insecurity struck at Devin’s heart. You’re just Devin, it reminded. You are no leader; you’re just pretending. But for the first time, Devin quashed the feeling.
I’m just Devin, he thought, standing. But I’m all they have.
As Devin stood the camp gathered, men rising and moving to stand around the fire. Devin knew them all, even the new ones. He had spoken with them, learned what they wanted and expected. Tammaq had a family back in town, and had been forced to flee to avoid charges of fraud. Dorn, a big man with an open face, had lost three brothers in the Games. Keen was just an enthusiastic man who liked the adventure of being in a rebellion. They were all solemn at this moment, however. They had lost eight men besides Hine, eight men who they all assumed had lost their souls.
“It is time that I told you how this all started,” Devin said as the camp gathered around him. “You’ve heard rumors, I expect, but I have never spoken of what brought me here.
“I was an orchard worker. I had just learned to take pride in that fact when Prince Sarn recruited me and all the boys in my village. He brought us to the Holy Isle, where he used us in a secret plot to capture the collected members of House Kkeris. Sarn and his father had their captives brought to the Guard complex, then slaughtered them.”
The men were quiet—they had heard Skeer’s renditions of the story. More than a few wore looks of interest, however. Few believed anything that left Skeer’s mouth, especially if it had to do with Kkoloss. Devin’s words validated the outrageous things they had heard.
The most surprise came from beside him. Vvenna barely kept the shock from her face, but she couldn’t keep it from her eyes.
“There was a goal behind the slaughter,” Devin continued. “Another person attended the execution of House Kkeris, an associate of Sarn and Dunn. An Archpriest. I remember watching as he used his power to adopt Dunn into House Kkeris. Then Sarn executed the last member of House Kkeris. I’ve been told that Sarn and Dunn’s point was to take the Kkeris Kkell power for themselves.
“They didn’t get it.”
Whispers began. There had been talk, Devin knew, though he had tried to ignore it. He didn’t say any more, but what he had implied was enough. They knew what he was.
“Sarn betrayed us today,” Devin continued. “Did we expect more? Our lives will never mean anything as long as the priesthood teaches that we’re worthless. The Kkoloss will never keep their word to us as long as they’re told we are less than people.”
Devin paused, his eyes flickering downward. Vvenna had recovered her composure, but he could still sense indecision in her posture. She didn’t like the things he was saying. Devin turned back to the crowd of men.
“A wise person once pointed out to me that our rebellion lacked goals. Well, I have a goal now. My friend died today, and I refuse to believe his spirit has been rejected by Hess. The priesthood betrays us, and then it betrays the Kkoloss. Ask House Kkeris. The Emperor is corrupt, and I intend to overthrow him.”
He couldn’t believe he had said it—the ultimate blasphemy. He had turned against the Emperor. Even as he said them, he realized how ridiculous his words were. He, Devin, overthrow the Emperor? The concept was laughable enough to be insane.
The men didn’t see it that way. They began to call out enthusiastically as soon as Devin finished, smiling and giving their agreement. They would follow him.
Will I send more men to damnation? Devin wondered. What if I’m wrong? What if turning against the Priesthood will pull us all down?
A short distance away, Voko snorted with a rueful smile. “Well, Dev, at least you aim high.”
Devin turned as the crowd broke, men talking excitedly with their companions. He knelt down, looking into Vvenna’s face.
“You don’t think I’m right, do you?” he asked.
She paused for a moment, then shook her head. “The Emperor is Hess’s chosen, Devin,” she replied in Kkoloss. “He cannot be corrupt.”
“Do you believe what I said about the slaughter of House Kkeris?” he asked.
“Yes,” she admitted after a second of thought. “I wouldn’t have . . . but after today, yes. I believe you.”
“There was an Archpriest there, princess,” Devin reminded.
“One Archpriest can be corrupt without fouling the entire Priesthood,” Vvenna said.
“The Archpriests never do anything without the blessing of the Emperor,” Devin said. “Besides, the Archprists’s misdeeds aren’t proof, just a sign. Your proof is the Priesthood’s teachings. Men like Hine don’t deserve to be cast from paradise—there is no justice, or order, in that.”
Vvenna didn’t respond immediately. “I don’t know,” she finally said. “I was to have married him. I spent my entire life preparing to be the Vessel. I can’t believe that was all for nothing.”
“And what of the Demon God?” Devin asked.
Vvenna looked up at him. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“He’s coming, princess,” Devin said, softening his voice. “Things are happening. The lills, the beasts in the forest . . . other things I’ve seen. He’s coming. You think that the Priesthood, divided like it is, can stand against him?”
“The Mythwalker must come . . .” Vvenna whispered. “I don’t know, Devin,” she finally said. “It’s all too much.”
Devin stood uncertainly for a moment. Then he just sat down. He didn’t blame her for her reservations—he couldn’t quite believe what he’d said himself. A second later Voko pulled his log over and leaned close.
“It looks like you’re done brooding,” he said. “Maybe we can discuss our problems now.”
“Problems?” Devin asked.
Voko nodded toward Vvenna. “He’s not going to let her go, Dev,” he said. “She could destroy him.”
Devin glanced at Vvenna. Voko was right. The rest of them weren’t half as dangerous as Vvenna. Eruntu could be ignored and covered up. However, Vvenna was the Vessel. Her word would be enough to have Sarn dethroned, perhaps even executed.
Vvenna accepted the news with her usual calm face. Her eyes, however, stared ahead unfocusedly. “He’ll have to kill me,” she whispered. “Just like House Kkeris. He’ll have me murdered.”
“Princess,” Devin said, trying to catch her attention. She continued to stare forward. “Vvenna,” he prodded more forcibly. Her eyes snapped into focus, looking into his. “I won’t let him get to you, Vvenna,” he promised. “I will protect you.”
She stared into his eyes for a long moment. Then, something amazing happened. She smiled. It was only the briefest of actions, and it was gone after a moment, but it was the first real expression Devin had seen from her. Her composure was back a moment later, and she nodded. “I accept your offer,” she said.
Devin nodded. There could never be anything between them—a Kkoloss and an Eruntu half-breed, a walking blasphemy. But an Eruntu protecting a Kkoloss . . . that was familiar. Acceptable.
Devin turned to Voko, taking a breath. “I think we have another problem, Voko,” he said.
Voko paused. “I’m not going to like this, am I?” he asked.
“I think Sarn knows who—and what—I am,” Devin said with a sigh.
“Hess!” Voko said. “You’re sure?”
“No,” Devin admitted. “But I saw something in his eyes when we were fighting. That, mixed with some things he said . . . well, I think he figured it out.”
“That’s bad, Dev,” Voko acknowledged. “He killed an entire House for what you have.”
“I know,” Devin admitted, feeling a bit sick.
“What you have?” Vvenna asked with confusion. She stared at him for a long moment, then her eyes widened almost imperceptibly. “Hess, it can’t be . . .”
Devin nodded, staring at the ground. “I can’t hide it,” he said. “Not even from myself.”
“You’re Kkoloss!” she challenged.
Devin shook his head. “I’m Eruntu,” he said. “Or, at least, part of me is. Let’s just say there are a few questions I’m curious to ask my mother when next we meet.”
“Blasphemy . . .” Vvenna whispered.
“I know,” Devin said with a sigh. “The fact remains, however, that Sarn would very much like me dead. I don’t think Vvenna’s the only one he’s going to be chasing.”
“You’re going to have to leave,” Voko said, shaking his head. “The island is too small. This forest seems large, but it only takes a day to cross. They’ll find you eventually.”
“I can’t go, Voko,” Devin said. “I just started a real rebellion. I can’t abandon them now.”
“I don’t see you have any other option,” Voko said.
Devin paused. “I could . . . renounce my power,” he said.
Voko nodded thoughtfully. “That’s a possibility,” he agreed. “Do you have any brothers?”
Devin shook his head.
“Then it’d probably go to one of the lesser Kkeris Kkoloss,” Voko said.
“How do I go about it?” Devin asked slowly.
“I have no idea,” Voko admitted. “It isn’t the kind of thing the Kkoloss tell us about.”
“You renounce Hess,” Vvenna said quietly. “The Kkell come from Him for the blessing of His chosen. If you vocally renounce him, the Kkell will leave you and seek a more worthy host.”
Devin sat quietly. Could he really do such a thing? Though he had complained about the power, though he felt guilty for its use, it had become part of him. He could do things now. If he renounced his Kkell . . .
He would return to what he had been before. Average. Useless. He would leave the men without a leader. They depended on his ability.
“I can’t do it,” Devin finally said. “We need the power too much.”
Voko heaved a sigh of relief. “I was hoping you’d say that, Dev. That Kkell power is about the only thing we have going for us right now.”
Devin nodded to himself. “All right,” he said. “We need to do some planning. Gather Skeer, Ix, Ralan, and Hi . . . Gather the others and meet me in my tent.”
What am I doing? Devin wondered with amazement, settling himself on one of the cusions in his tent. We tried to take on Sarn and failed. So what do I do? I decided to try for an even bigger target. Assuming the impossible, assuming I do cast the Emperor from his throne, what then? Put myself in his place?
Even the thought of such a thing made Devin’s stomach churn. He didn’t have the experience or the knowledge to run an empire. The priesthood was corrupt—that was what he had to replace. He had to put someone in charge who understood Hess’s holy will, but somone who would interpret it fairly.
Devin’s eyes flickered up, landing on Vvenna. Despite the day’s shocks, despite the trouble he saw hinted at in her eyes, Vvenna had insisted on attending this meeting. She sat herself in her customary chair, the room’s only furniture, waiting for the others to arrive.
I need someone just, Devin thought with a smile. Someone who knows all the holy writings, and will teach the people to regard one another with respect.
Finally, for the first time since he had joined Skeer’s ‘rebellion,’ Devin felt he had a definite goal in mind. He would work to remove the archpriests and emperor. In their place he would put someone with a true sense of justice. But that was a long distance in the future. He settled back as Voko pushed back the tent flap, leading the others into the room.
The four men were subdued, even Skeer. Before, when they had planned the princess’s kidnapping, there had been a sense of reservation but excitement. They had all felt that their task was difficult, but not impossible. From the looks on their faces now, it appeared that they were beginning to understand just how monumentous a task Devin had placed before them. Only Ix, who Devin had never really understood, was different. His expression was reserved, like those of the others, but it was obviously a simple reproduction of what he saw from them.
“All right,” Devin said as they seated themselves. “I need options. King Sarn wants both myself and the princess dead, and we all know what he is capable of.”
“I wonder what kind of reward he’d pay for you two . . . ” Voko said with a musing smile, an attempt at lightening the mood.
“Likely something along the lines of a sword in the back,” Devin replied.
“Ah, good point,” Voko agreed. “Well, I say our first action should be to get you two out of here.”
“Leave?” Skeer said. “But we have to cast down the empire!”
“No one’s going to cast anything down if Sarn finds us,” Voko objected. “We need to find a nice hole and hide for a little while. Make him think we’ve dissapeared, then maybe he’ll leave us alone.”
“We can’t run!” Skeer objected.
“As a human with an innate sense of arrgoance, I would feel wrong hiding before my enemies,” Ix announceed.
Devin shook his head. “I don’t know, Voko,” he said. “You’re probably right—we definitely need to hide somewhere. But I can’t help thinking that the longer we sit and do nothing, the worse everything is going to get.”
“We need allies,” Vvenna whispered.
Devin looked up, not missing her use of the word ‘we.’ “Allies?” he asked.
“You don’t think politically—you’re Eruntu,” she explained. “We need allies. A small group like this can’t do anything. If, however, we could find someone powerful enough to back us, we might be able to stand for a little while.”
“You mean Kkoloss?” Skeer asked. “We can’t work with them! They’re evil!” It apparently didn’t even cross his mind that the person he was talking to was, in fact, Kkoloss herself.
“She makes a good point, Skeer,” Devin objected. “We won’t be able to challenge the Emperor by ourselves—that much is certain.”
“But who would help us without turning us in?” Voko said. “Hess, I can count off my three oldest friends and tell you without any uncertainty that they’d give us to Sarn. The potential for gain is just too high.”
Vvenna paused, an objection on her lips. Devin could see the confusion behind her mask of control. Before this day, she would have promised that no Kkoloss would turn them in after giving their word to help. “I don’t know,” she finally admitted. “I . . . I want to tell you they wouldn’t betray us, but I don’t know.”
“The only way to completely trust someone is if you know you have leverage over them,” Voko said. “Um, present company excluded, of course.”
The sound of a voice clearing came from the back of the tent, and everyone looked up in surprise. It had come from a very unlikely source.
“I can help,” Ralan said with his thick accent.
Devin and the others regarded the large man with mute stupifaction. Finally, Skeer spoke.
“Ralan!” he yelped. “You’ve been healed! It’s a miracle.”
Devin regarded the large Ralan with consternation. “You can help?” he asked. “How?”
“Our first difficulty is standing against Sarn,” Ralan explained. “If he kills you, then we will never defeat the Emperor. The only way to stand against one of the Houses is to be backed by one equally powerful. Traditionally, three of the Houses have been the strongest. Sserin is our enemy, Kkeris has been broken, and that leaves . . .”
“Ddoven,” Vvenna said quietly.
Devin’s eyes opened wide, taking in Ralan’s height once again. He had noted several times before that while Ralan was tall and strong, he wasn’t nearly as bulky as Voko or Hine. . . .
“Oh, Hess!” Voko said, realizing it at the same time as Devin.
“I am very confused,” Ix noted, his eyes flickering from Devin, to Ralan, to Voko.
“When I saw you use the Kkell of Repulsion,” Devin said slowly, “I just assumed you had taken the Kkell oath twice. I was wrong, wasn’t I?”
Suddenly, Voko burst out laughing, rolling onto his back. Ix started laughing as well, a confused look in his eyes. Devin just shook his head.
“What?” Skeer asked, completely baffled.
“Ralan is Kkoloss,” Devin said. “House Ddoven.”
Skeer snorted. “That’s impossible,” he declared. “Why, he has the Kkell of Strength. He must have taken the Oath, and Kkoloss can’t do that.”
Devin shook his head. “He has the height of one with the Sserin Kkell power, but many shorter Kkoloss are about that same height.”
“But the muscles . . .” Skeer objected.
“I’ve always been stronger than a lot of people,” Ralan exlained, looking a bit ashamed. “That’s why I thought I could get away with hiding in the Sserin Guard.”
Voko was still laughing. “All this time!” he said. “I thought I had you figured out—I thought I’d seen through you. I thought I was so smart. Oh, Ralan! This is just too ironic!”
“Devin,” Ix said slowly. “I believe you must be mistaken. You see, this confused me for a while at first, but I finally understood. Kkoloss have colorful hair, but Eruntu only have white hair. Ralan has white hair, and therefore he must be Eruntu.”
“It is a dye, Ix,” Ralan explained. “It bleaches one’s hair in a matter of hours.”
“What Sept are you?” Vvenna asked quietly.
“Eighth Sept, Vessel,” Ralan said with a bow of his head.
Devin frowned. Eighth Sept wasn’t very important—barely a servant here on the isle. “But you think you can gain us influence with the King and Queen.”
Ralan shook his head. “They probably wouldn’t even give me an audience.”
“What then?” Devin asked.
“Come with me to the mainland,” he requested. “I think you’ll find that it’s not what you expect.”