"A blind man awaited the era of endings," Wit said, "contemplating the beauty of nature."


"That man is me," Wit noted. "I'm not physically blind, just spiritually. And that other statement was actually very clever, if you think about it."


"This is a lot more satisfying," he said, "when I have intelligent life whom I can render awed, rapt with attention for my clever verbosity."

The ugly lizard-crab-thing on the next rock over clicked its claw, an almost hesitant sound.

"You're right, of course," Wit said. "My usual audience isn't particularly intelligent. That was also the obvious joke, however, so shame on you."

The ugly lizard-crab-thing scuttled across its rock, moving onto the other side. Wit sighed. It was night, which was normally a good time for dramatic arrivals and meaningful philosophy. Unfortunately for him, there was nobody here upon which to philosophize or visit, dramatically or otherwise. A small river gurgled nearby, one of the few permanent waterways in this strange land. Extending in all directions were rolling hills, furrowed by passing water and grown over in the valleys with an odd kind of briar. Very few trees here, though farther west a true forest sprouted on the slopes down from the heights.

A couple of songlings made rattling sounds nearby, and he took out his pipes and tried to imitate them. He couldn't, not exactly. The singing sounds were too like percussion, a zipping rattle—musical, but not flute-like.

Still, the creatures seemed to alternate with him, responding to his music. Who knew? Maybe the things had a rudimentary intelligence. Those horses, the Ryshadium . . . those had surprised him. He was glad that there were still some things that could do that.

He finally set down his pipes and contemplated. An audience of ugly lizard-crab-things and songlings was some audience, at least.

"Art," he said, "is fundamentally unfair."

One songling continued to creak.

"You see, we pretend that art is eternal, that there is some kind of persistence to it. A Truth, you might say. Art is art because it is art and not because we say that it is art. I'm not going too quickly for you, am I?"


"Good. But if art is eternal and meaningful and independent, why does it depend so damn much upon the audience? You've heard the story about the farmer visiting court during the Festival of Depiction, right?"


"Oh, it's not that great a story. Utterly disposable. Standard beginning, the farmer who visits the big city, does something embarrassing, stumbles into the princess and—completely by accident—saves her from getting trampled. Princesses in these stories never do seem to be able to look where they are going. I think perhaps more of them should inquire with a reputable lensmaker and procure a suitable set of spectacles before attempting any further traversal of thoroughfares.

"Anyway, as this story is a comedy, the man is invited to the palace for a reward. Various nonsense follows, ending with the poor farmer wiping himself in the privy with one of the finest paintings ever painted, then strolling out to find all of the lighteyes staring at an empty frame and commenting on how beautiful the work is. Mirth and guffaws. Flourish and bow. Exit before anyone thinks too much about the tale."

He waited.


"Well, don't you see?" Wit said. "The farmer found the painting near the privy, so assumed it was to be used for such a purpose. The lighteyes found the empty frame in the hall of art, and assumed it to be a masterwork. You may call this a silly story. It is. That does not depreciate its truthfulness. After all, I am frequently quite silly—but I am almost always truthful. Force of habit.

"Expectation. That is the true soul of art. If you can give a man more than he expects, then he will laud you his entire life. If you can create an air of anticipation and feed it properly, you will succeed.

"Conversely, if you gain a reputation for being too good, too skilled . . . beware. The better art will be in their heads, and if you give them an ounce less than they imagined, suddenly you have failed. Suddenly you are useless. A man will find a single coin in the mud and talk about it for days, but when his inheritance comes and is accounted one percent less than he expected, then he will declare himself cheated."

Wit shook his head, standing up and dusting off his coat. "Give me an audience who have come to be entertained, but who expect nothing special. To them, I will be a god. That is the best truth I know."


"I could use a little music," he said. "For dramatic effect, you see. Someone is coming, and I want to be prepared to welcome them."

The songling, obligingly, started its music again. Wit took a deep breath, then struck the appropriate pose—lazy expectation, calculated knowingness, insufferable conceit. After all, he did have a reputation, so he might as well try to live up to it.

The air in front of him blurred, as if heated in a ring near the ground. A streak of light spun about the ring, forming a wall five or six feet high. It faded immediately—really, it was just an afterimage, as if something glowing had spun in the circle very quickly.

In the center of it appeared Jasnah Kholin, standing tall.

Her clothing was ragged, her hair formed into a single utilitarian braid, her face lashed with burns. She'd once worn a fine dress, but that was tattered. She'd hemmed it at the knees and had sewn herself a glove out of something improvised. Curiously, she wore a kind of leather bandolier and a backpack. He doubted she'd had either one when her journey had begun.

She groaned a long groan, then looked to the side, where Wit stood.

He grinned at her.

She stabbed her hand out in the blink of an eye, mist twisting around her arm and snapping into the form of a long, thin sword pointed at Wit's neck.

He cocked an eyebrow.

"How did you find me?" she asked.

"You've been making quite a disturbance on the other side," Wit said. "It's been a long time since the spren had to deal with someone alive, particularly someone so demanding as yourself."

She hissed out a breath, then pushed the Shardblade closer. "Tell me what you know, Wit."

"I once spent the better part of a year inside of a large stomach, being digested."

She frowned at him.

"That is a thing that I know. You really should be more specific in your threats." He looked down as she twisted her Shardblade, rotating the tip, still pointed at him. "I'd be surprised if that little knife of yours poses me any real threat, Kholin. You can keep waving it about if you want, though. Perhaps it makes you feel more important."

She studied him. Then the sword burst to mist, vaporizing. She lowered her arm. "I don't have time for you. A storm is coming, a terrible storm. It will bring the Voidbringers to—"

"Already here."

"Damnation. We need to find Urithiru and—"

"Already found."

She hesitated. "The Knights—"

"Refounded," Wit said. "In part by your apprentice who, I might add, is exactly seventy-seven percent more agreeable than you are. I took a poll."

"You're lying."

"Okay, so it was a rather informal poll. But the ugly lizard-crab-thing gave you really poor marks for—"

"About the other things."

"I don't tell those kinds of lies, Jasnah. You know that. It's what you find so annoying about me."

She inspected him, then sighed. "It is part of what I find so annoying about you, Wit. Only a very small part of a vast, vast river."

"You only say that because you don't know me very well."


"No, really. If you did know me, that river of annoyance would be an ocean, obviously. Regardless. I know things that you do not, and I think you might actually know some that I do not. That gives us what is called synergy. If you can contain your annoyance, we might both learn something."

She looked him up and down, then drew her lips to a line and nodded. She started walking directly toward the nearest town. She had a good sense of direction, this woman.

Wit strolled up beside her. "You realize we're at least a week away from civilization. Did you need to Elsecall this far out in the middle of nowhere?"

"I was somewhat pressed at the time of my escape. I'm lucky to be here at all."

"Lucky? I don't know if I'd say that."


"You'd likely be better off on the other side, Jasnah Kholin. The Desolation has come, and with it, the end of this land." He looked at her. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry," she said, "until we see how much I can salvage. The storm has come already? The parshmen have transformed?"

"Yes and no," Wit said. "The storm should hit Shinovar tonight, then work its way across the land. I believe that the storm will bring the transformation."

Jasnah stopped in place. "That's not how it happened in the past. I have learned things on the other side."

"You are correct. It is different this time."

She licked her lips, but otherwise did a good job containing her anxiety. "If it's not happening as it did before, then everything I know could be false. The words of the highspren could be inaccurate. The records I seek could be meaningless."

He nodded.

"We can't depend upon the ancient writings," she said. "And the supposed god of men is a fabrication. So we can't look to the heavens for salvation, but apparently we can't look toward the past either. So where can we look?"

"You're so convinced that there is no God."

"The Almighty is—"

"Oh," Wit said, "I don't mean the Almighty. Tanavast was a fine enough fellow—bought me drinks once—but he was not God. I'll admit, Jasnah, that I empathize with your skepticism, but I don't agree with it. I just think you've been looking for God in the wrong places."

"I suppose that you're going to tell me where you think I should look."

"You'll find God in the same place you're going to find salvation from this mess," Wit said. "Inside the hearts of men."

"Curiously," Jasnah said, "I believe I can actually agree with that, though I suspect for different reasons than you imply. Perhaps this walk won't be as bad as I had feared."

"Perhaps," he said, looking up toward the stars. "Whatever else might be said, at least the world chose a nice night upon which to end. . . ."


Book Two of