Brandon Sanderson is that wonderful thing – a hugely prolific and genuinely original and creative author. Whether writing epic fantasy, tight novellas, whether creating fascinating magic systems or thrilling new worlds, whether pleasing fans of Robert Jordan, or entertaining that most demanding audience of all – children, or pleasing his own growing army of fans with something new and wonderful every. Single. Time. This is an author with storytelling in his blood.
We’re thrilled therefore to introduce a new book and a new world and something of a departure for Brandon. Steelheart is set in our world: a world that in the near future is taken over by a group of, for want of a better word, super-villains. Immensely powerful, virtually indestructible they run the cities of America as their own fiefdoms. But some people are taking the fight back to the Epics. And one person in particular has a very personal motivation. Revenge for a father murdered…
Read on for the first vividly imagined, kinetic chunk of Brandon Sanderson’s awesome new novel – Steelheart.
If you missed the prologue extract, you can catch up here.
I skidded down a stairwell and crunched against steel gravel at the bottom. Sucking in air, I dashed through one of the dark under- streets of Newcago. Ten years had passed since my father’s death. That fateful day had become known by most people as the Annexation.
I wore a loose leather jacket and jeans, and had my rifle slung over my shoulder. The street was dark, even though it was one of the shallow understreets with grates and holes looking up into the sky.
It’s always dark in Newcago. Nightwielder was one of the first Epics to swear allegiance to Steelheart, and is a member of his inner circle. Because of Nightwielder there are no sunrises, and no moon to speak of, just pure darkness in the sky. All the time, every day. The only thing you can see up there is Calamity, which looks kind of like a bright red star or comet. Calamity began to shine one year before men started turning into Epics. Nobody knows why or how it still shines through the darkness. Of course, nobody knows why the Epics started appearing, or what their connection is to Calamity either.
I kept running, cursing myself for not leaving earlier. The lights along the ceiling of the understreet flickered, their coverings tinted blue. The understreet was littered with its typical losers: addicts at corners, dealers—or worse—in alleyways. There were some furtive groups of workers going to or from their jobs, thick coats and collars flipped up to hide their faces. They walked hunched over, eyes on the ground.
I’d spent most of the last decade among people like them, working at a place we simply called the Factory. Part orphanage, part school, it was mostly a way to exploit children for free labor. At least the Factory had given me a room and food for the better part of ten years. That had been way better than living on the street, and I hadn’t minded for one moment working for my food. Child labor laws were relics of a time when people could care about such things.
I pushed my way past a pack of workers. One cursed at me in a language that sounded vaguely Spanish. I looked up to see where I was. Most intersections were marked by spray-painted street names on the gleaming metallic walls.
When the Great Transfersion caused the better part of the Old City to be turned into solid steel, that included the soil and rock, dozens—maybe hundreds—of feet down into the ground. During the early years of his reign, Steelheart pretended to be a benevolent—if ruthless—dictator. His Diggers had cut out several levels of under- streets, complete with buildings, and people had flowed to Newcago for work.
Life had been difficult here, but it had been chaos everywhere else—Epics warring with one another over territory, various para-governmental or state military groups trying to claim land. Newcago was different. Here you could be casually murdered by an Epic who didn’t like the way you looked at him, but at least there was electricity, water, and food. People adapt. That’s what we do.
Except for the ones who refuse to.
Come on, I thought, checking the time on my mobile, which I wore in the forearm mount of my coat. Blasted rail line outage. I took another shortcut, barreling through an alleyway. It was dim, but after ten years of living in perpetual gloom, you got used to it.
I passed huddled forms of sleeping beggars, then leaped over one sprawled in the street at the end of the alleyway and burst out onto Siegel Street, a wider thoroughfare that was better lit than most. Here, one level underground, the Diggers had hollowed out rooms that people used as shops. They were closed up for the moment, though more than a few had someone watching out front with a shotgun. Steelheart’s police theoretically patrolled the understreets, but they rarely came to help except in the worst cases.
Originally, Steelheart had spoken of a grand underground city that would stretch down dozens of levels. That was before the Diggers had gone mad, before Steelheart had given up the pretense of caring about the people in the understreets. Still, these upper levels weren’t terrible. At least there was a sense of organization, and plenty of burrowed-out holes to use as homes.
The lights in the ceiling here were faintly green and yellow, alternating. If you knew the color patterns of the various streets, you could navigate pretty well through the understreets. The top levels, at least. Even veterans of the city tended to avoid the lower levels, called the steel catacombs, where it was too easy to get lost.
Two blocks to Schuster Street, I thought, glancing through a gap in the ceiling toward the better-lit, gleaming skyscrapers above. I jogged the two blocks, then swerved into a stairwell going up, feet falling on steel steps that reflected the dim, half-functional lights.
I scrambled out onto a metal street, then immediately ducked into an alleyway. A lot of people said that the overstreets weren’t nearly as dangerous as the understreets, but I never felt comfortable on them. I never felt safe anywhere, to be honest, not even at the Factory with the other kids. But up here . . . up here there were Epics.
Carrying a rifle around the understreets was common practice, but up here it could draw attention from Steelheart’s soldiers or a passing Epic. It was best to remain hidden. I crouched beside some boxes in the alleyway, catching my breath. I glanced at my mobile, tapping over to a basic map of the area, then looked up.
Directly across from me was a building with red neon lettering. The Reeve Playhouse. As I watched, people began pouring out the front, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I’d made it just as the play ended.
The people were all overstreeters, in dark suits and colorful dresses. Some would be Epics, but most would not. Instead they were those who had somehow gotten ahead in life. Perhaps Steelheart favored them for tasks they performed, or perhaps they had simply been born to rich parents. Steelheart could take anything he wanted, but to have an empire he needed people to help rule. Bureaucrats, officers in his army, accountants, trading gurus, diplomats. Like the upper crust of an old-school dictatorship, these people lived off the crumbs that Steelheart left behind.
That meant they were almost as culpable as the Epics in keeping the rest of us oppressed, but I didn’t bear them much ill will. The way the world was these days, you did what you had to in order to survive.
They had an old-fashioned style—it was the current trend. The men wore hats, and the women’s dresses looked like those from pictures I’d seen of old Prohibition days. It was a direct contrast to the modern steel buildings and the distant thumping of an advanced Enforcement copter.
The opulent people suddenly began moving out of the way, making room for a man in a bright red pinstriped suit, a red fedora, and a deep red and black cape.
I ducked down a little lower. It was Fortuity. He was an Epic with precognition powers. He could guess the numbers that would come up on a dice roll, for instance, or foretell the weather. He could also sense danger, and that elevated him to High Epic status. You couldn’t kill a man like him with a simple rifle shot. He would know the shot was coming and would dodge it before you pulled the trig- ger. His powers were so well attuned that he could avoid a machine- gun barrage, and he would also know if his food had been poisoned or if a building was rigged with explosives.
High Epics. They’re blasted hard to kill.
Fortuity was a moderately high-ranking member of Steelheart’s government. Not part of his innermost circle, like Nightwielder, Firefight, or Conflux, but powerful enough to be feared by most of the minor Epics in town. He had a long face and a hawkish nose. He strolled to the curb in front of the playhouse, lighting a cigarette as the other patrons spilled out behind him. Two women in sleek gowns hung on his elbows.
I itched to unsling my rifle and take a shot at him. He was a sadistic monster. He claimed his powers worked best when practicing an art called extispicy: the reading of the entrails of dead creatures to divine the future. Fortuity preferred to use human entrails, and he liked them fresh.
I held myself back. The moment I decided to try to shoot him, his powers would activate. Fortuity had nothing to fear from a lone sniper. He probably thought he didn’t have anything to fear at all. If my information was right, the next hour would prove him very wrong on that count.
Come on, I thought. This is the best time to move against him. I’m right. I’ve got to be.
Fortuity took a drag on his cigarette, nodding to a few people who passed by. He had no bodyguards. Why would he need bodyguards? His fingers glittered with rings, though wealth was meaningless to him. Even without Steelheart’s rules granting him the right to take what he wanted, Fortuity could win a fortune in any gambling house on any day he chose.
Nothing happened. Had I been wrong? I’d been so sure. Bilko’s information was usually up to date. Word in the understreets was that the Reckoners were back in Newcago. Fortuity was the Epic they’d target. I knew this. I’d made a habit—maybe even a quest—of studying the Reckoners. I—
A woman walked past Fortuity. Tall, lithe, and golden-haired, and perhaps twenty years old, she wore a thin red dress with a plunging neckline. Even with two beauties on his arms, Fortuity turned and stared at her. She hesitated, glancing back at him. Then she smiled and walked up, hips undulating back and forth.
I couldn’t hear what they said, but in the end, this newcomer displaced the other women. She led Fortuity down the road, whispering in his ear and laughing. The other two women waited behind, arms crossed, not daring to complain. Fortuity did not like his women to speak back to him.
This had to be it. I wanted to get ahead of them, but couldn’t do so on the street itself. Instead I moved back through a few alleyways. I knew the area perfectly; studying maps of the theater district was what had almost made me late.
I hustled around the back of a building, sticking to the shadows, and arrived at another alleyway. From here I could peek out and see the same road, but from another angle. Fortuity ambled along the steel sidewalk outside.
The area was lit by lamps hanging from streetlights. The streetlights themselves had been turned to steel during the transfersion— electronics and bulbs included. They no longer worked, but they did provide a convenient place to hang lanterns.
Those lanterns left pools of light that the pair moved through, in and out. I held my breath, watching closely. Fortuity was packing a weapon for certain. The suit was tailored to hide the bulge under his arm, but I could still make out where his holster was.
Fortuity didn’t have any directly offensive powers, but that didn’t really matter. His precognition powers meant he never missed with a handgun, no matter how wild the shot seemed. If he decided to kill you, you had a couple of seconds to respond, or you’d be dead.
The woman didn’t appear to be carrying a weapon, though I couldn’t be certain. That dress showed plenty of curves. A gun strapped to her thigh, perhaps? I looked closer as she moved into another pool of light, though I found myself staring at her, rather than looking for weapons. She was gorgeous. Eyes that glittered, bright red lips, golden hair. And that low neckline . . .
I shook myself. Idiot, I thought. You have a purpose. Women interfere with things like a purpose.
But even a ninety-year-old blind priest would stop and stare at this woman. If he weren’t blind, that is. Dumb metaphor, I thought. I’ll have to work on that one. I have trouble with metaphors.
Focus. I raised my rifle, leaving on the safety and using the scope for its zoom. Where were they going to hit him? The street here ran through several blocks of gloomy darkness—broken only by the lanterns—before intersecting Burnley Street. That was a major hub of the local dance scene. Likely the woman had enticed Fortuity to join her at a club. The quickest route was through this dark, less-populated street.
The empty street was a very good sign. The Reckoners rarely struck at an Epic who was in too public an area. They didn’t like innocent casualties. I tilted the rifle up and scanned the skyrise windows with my scope. Some of the glass-turned-steel windows had been cut out and replaced with glass again. Was anyone up there watching?
I’d been hunting the Reckoners for years. They were the only ones who still fought back, a shadowy group that stalked, entrapped, and assassinated powerful Epics. The Reckoners, they were the heroes. Not what my father had imagined—no Epic powers, no flashy costumes. They didn’t stand for truth, the American ideal, or any such nonsense.
They just killed. One by one. Their goal was to eliminate each and every Epic who thought himself or herself above the law. And since that was pretty much every Epic, they had a lot of work to do.
I continued scanning windows. How would they try to kill Fortuity? There would only be a few ways to go about it. They might try to catch him in a situation impossible to escape. A precog’s powers would lead him down the safest path of self-preservation, but if you set up a situation where every path led to death, you could kill him.
We call that a checkmate, but they’re really hard to set up. More likely, the Reckoners knew Fortuity’s weakness. Every Epic has at least one—an object, a state of mind, an action of some sort—that allows you to void their powers.
There, I thought, heart leaping as—through the scope—I spotted a dark figure huddled in a window on the third floor of a building across the street. I couldn’t make out details, but he was probably tracking Fortuity with a rifle and scope of his own.
This was it. I smiled. I’d actually found them. After all of my practicing and searching, I’d found them.
I kept looking, even more eager. The sniper would just be one piece of the plot to kill the Epic. My hands began to sweat. Other people get excited by sporting events or action films, but I don’t have time for prefabricated thrills. This, however . . . getting the chance to watch the Reckoners in action, seeing one of their traps firsthand . . . Well, it was literally the fulfillment of one of my grandest dreams, even if it was only the first step in my plans. I hadn’t come just to watch an Epic be assassinated. Before the night’s end, I intended to find a way to make the Reckoners let me join them.
“Fortuity!” yelled a nearby voice.
I quickly lowered my rifle, pulling back against the side of the alleyway. A figure ran past the opening a moment later. He was a stout man in a smoking jacket and slacks.
“Fortuity!” he yelled again. “Wait up!” I raised my weapon again, using the scope to inspect the newcomer. Was this part of the Reckoners’ trap?
No. That was Donny “Curveball” Harrison, a minor Epic with only a single power, the ability to fire a handgun without ever running out of bullets. He was a bodyguard and hit man in Steelheart’s organization. There was no way he was part of the Reckoners’ plan— they didn’t work with Epics. Ever. The Reckoners hated the Epics. They only killed the worst of them, but they would never let one join their team.
Cursing softly to myself, I watched Curveball confront Fortuity and the woman. She looked concerned, full lips pursed, gorgeous eyes narrowed. Yes, she was worried. She was one of the Reckoners for certain.
Curveball started talking, explaining something, and Fortuity frowned. What was going on?
I turned my attention back to the woman. There’s something about her . . . , I thought, my eyes lingering. She was younger than I’d originally thought, probably eighteen or nineteen, but something in those eyes made her seem much older.
Her look of concern was gone in a moment, replaced by what I realized was intentional vapidity as she turned to Fortuity and gestured onward. Whatever the trap was, she needed him to be farther down the street. That made sense. Trapping a precog is tough. If his danger senses got even a faint whiff of a trap, he’d bolt. She had to know his weakness, but probably didn’t want to try to exploit it until they were more isolated.
Even then, it might not work. Fortuity would still be an armed man, and many Epic weaknesses were notoriously tricky to exploit.
I kept watching. Whatever Curveball’s problem was, it didn’t seem to have anything to do with the woman. He kept gesturing back toward the playhouse. If he convinced Fortuity to return . . .
The trap would never be sprung. The Reckoners would pull out, vanish, pick a new target. I could spend years searching for another chance like this one.
I couldn’t let that happen. Taking a deep breath, I lowered my rifle and slung it over my shoulder. Then I stepped out onto the street and took off toward Fortuity.
It was time to hand the Reckoners my résumé.