Home > The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth #3)(2)

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth #3)(2)
Author: N. K. Jemisin


Yes, the boy is me. I don’t truly remember his name, but I do remember that it had too many rusting letters. Let us therefore call him Houwha – the same sound, just padded with all manner of silent letters and hidden meanings. That’s close enough, and appropriately symbolic of —


Oh. I am angrier than I should be. Fascinating. Let’s change tracks, then, to something less fraught. Let us return to the now that will be, and a far different here.


Now is the now of the Stillness, through which the reverberations of the Rifting still echo. The here is not the Stillness, precisely, but a cavern just above the main lava chamber of a vast, ancient shield volcano. The volcano’s heart, if you prefer and have a sense of metaphor; if not, this is a deep, dark, barely stable vesicle amid rock that has not cooled much in the thousands of years since Father Earth first burped it up. Within this cavern I stand, partially fused with a hump of rock so that I may better watch for the minute perturbations or major deformations that presage a collapse. I don’t need to do this. There are few processes more unstoppable than the one I have set in motion here. Still, I understand what it is to be alone when you are confused and afraid and unsure of what will happen next.


You are not alone. You will never be, unless you so choose. I know what matters, here at the world’s end.


Ah, my love. An apocalypse is a relative thing, isn’t it? When the earth shatters, it is a disaster to the life that depends on it – but nothing much to Father Earth. When a man dies, it should be devastating to a girl who once called him Father, but this becomes as nothing when she has been called monster so many times that she finally embraces the label. When a slave rebels, it is nothing much to the people who read about it later. Just thin words on thinner paper worn finer by the friction of history. (“So you were slaves, so what?” they whisper. Like it’s nothing.) But to the people who live through a slave rebellion, both those who take their dominance for granted until it comes for them in the dark, and those who would see the world burn before enduring one moment longer in “their place” —


That is not a metaphor, Essun. Not hyperbole. I did watch the world burn. Say nothing to me of innocent bystanders, unearned suffering, heartless vengeance. When a comm builds atop a fault line, do you blame its walls when they inevitably crush the people inside? No; you blame whoever was stupid enough to think they could defy the laws of nature forever. Well, some worlds are built on a fault line of pain, held up by nightmares. Don’t lament when those worlds fall. Rage that they were built doomed in the first place.


So now I will tell you the way that world, Syl Anagist, ended. I will tell you how I ended it, or at least enough of it that it had to start over and rebuild itself from scratch.


I will tell you how I opened the Gate, and flung away the Moon, and smiled as I did it.


And I will tell you everything of how, later, as the quiet of death descended, I whispered:


Right now.


Right now.


And the Earth whispered back:






you, in waking and dreaming



Now. Let’s review.


You are Essun, the sole surviving orogene in all the world who has opened the Obelisk Gate. No one expected this grand destiny of you. You were once of the Fulcrum, but not a rising star like Alabaster. You were a feral, found in the wild, unique only in that you had more innate ability than the average rogga born by random chance. Though you started well, you plateaued early – not for any clear reason. You simply lacked the urge to innovate or the desire to excel, or so the seniors lamented behind closed doors. Too quick to conform to the Fulcrum’s system. It limited you.


Good thing, because otherwise they’d never have loosened your leash the way they did, sending you forth on that mission with Alabaster. He scared the rust out of them. You, though… they thought you were one of the safe ones, properly broken in and trained to obey, unlikely to wipe out a town by accident. Joke’s on them; how many towns have you wiped out now? One semi-intentionally. The other three were accidents, but really, does that matter? Not to the dead.


Sometimes you dream of undoing it all. Not flailing for the garnet obelisk in Allia, and instead watching happy black children play in the surf of a black-sand beach while you bled out around a Guardian’s black knife. Not being taken to Meov by Antimony; instead, you would’ve returned to the Fulcrum to give birth to Corundum. You’d have lost him after that birth, and you would never have had Innon, but both of them would probably still be alive. (Well. For values of “alive,” if they’d put Coru in a node.) But then you would never have lived in Tirimo, never have borne Uche to die beneath his father’s fists, never have raised Nassun to be stolen by her father, never have crushed your once-neighbors when they tried to kill you. So many lives saved, if only you had stayed in your cage. Or died on demand.


And here, now, long free from the ordered, staid strictures of the Fulcrum, you have become mighty. You saved the community of Castrima at the cost of Castrima itself; this was a small price to pay, compared to the cost in blood that the enemy army would have extracted if they’d won. You achieved victory by unleashing the concatenated power of an arcane mechanism older than (your) written history – and because you are who you are, while learning to master this power, you murdered Alabaster Tenring. You didn’t mean to. You actually suspect he wanted you to do it. Either way, he’s dead, and this sequence of events has left you the most powerful orogene on the planet.


It also means that your tenure as most powerful has just acquired an expiration date, because the same thing is happening to you that happened to Alabaster: You’re turning to stone. Just your right arm, for now. Could be worse. Will be worse, the next time you open the Gate, or even the next time you wield enough of that strange silvery not-orogeny, which Alabaster called magic. You don’t have a choice, though. You’ve got a job to do, courtesy of Alabaster and the nebulous faction of stone eaters who’ve been quietly trying to end the ancient war between life and Father Earth. The job you have to do is the easier of the two, you think. Just catch the Moon. Seal the Yumenes Rifting. Reduce the current Season’s predicted impact from thousands or millions of years back down to something manageable – something the human race has a chance of surviving. End the Fifth Seasons for all time.


The job you want to do, though? Find Nassun, your daughter. Take her back from the man who murdered your son and dragged her halfway across the world in the middle of the apocalypse.


About that: I have good news, and bad news. But we’ll get to Jija presently.


You’re not really in a coma. You are a key component of a complex system, the whole of which has just experienced a massive, poorly controlled start-up flux and emergency shutoff with insufficient cooldown time, expressing itself as arcanochemical phase-state resistance and mutagenic feedback. You need time to… reboot.


This means you’re not unconscious. It’s more like periods of half-waking and half-sleeping, if that makes sense. You’re aware of things, somewhat. The bobbing of movement, occasional jostling. Someone puts food and water into your mouth. Fortunately you have the presence of mind to chew and swallow, because the end of the world on the ash-strewn road is a bad time and place to need a feeding tube. Hands pull on your clothing and something girds your hips – a diaper. Bad time and place for that, too, but someone’s willing to tend you this way, and you don’t mind. You barely notice. You feel no hunger or thirst before they give you sustenance; your evacuations bring no particular relief. Life endures. It doesn’t need to do so enthusiastically.

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