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

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

prologue


me, when I was I

 

 

Time grows short, my love. Let’s end with the beginning of the world, shall we? Yes. We shall.

 

It’s strange, though. My memories are like insects fossilized in amber. They are rarely intact, these frozen, long-lost lives. Usually there’s just a leg, some wing-scales, a bit of lower thorax – a whole that can only be inferred from fragments, and everything blurred together through jagged, dirty cracks. When I narrow my gaze and squint into memory, I see faces and events that should hold meaning for me, and they do, but… they don’t. The person who witnessed these things firsthand is me, and yet not.

 

In those memories I was someone else, just as the Stillness was someworld else. Then, and now. You, and you.

 

Then. This land, then, was three lands – though these are in virtually the same position as what will someday be called the Stillness. Repeated Seasons will eventually create more ice at the poles, sinking the sea and making your “Arctics” and “Antarctics” larger and colder. Then, though —

 

— now, it feels of now as I recall myself of then, this is what I mean when I say that it is strange —

 

Now, in this time before the Stillness, the far north and south are decent farmland. What you think of as the Western Coastals is mostly wetland and rainforest; those will die out in the next millennium. Some of the Nomidlats doesn’t yet exist, and will be created by volcanic effusion over several thousand years of eruptive pulses. The land that becomes Palela, your hometown? Doesn’t exist. Not so much change, all things considered, but then now is nothing ago, tectonically speaking. When we say that “the world has ended,” remember – it is usually a lie. The planet is just fine.

 

What do we call this lost world, this now, if not the Stillness?

 

Let me tell you, first, of a city.

 

It is a city built wrong, by your standards. This city sprawls in a way that no modern comm would be permitted to do, since that would require too many miles of walls. And this city’s outermost sprawls have branched off along rivers and other lifelines to spawn additional cities, much in the manner of mold forking and stretching along the rich veins of a growth medium. Too close together, you would think. Too much overlap of territory; they are too connected, these sprawling cities and their snaking spawn, each unable to survive should it be cut off from the rest.

 

Sometimes they have distinct local nicknames, these child-cities, especially where they are large or old enough to have spawned child-cities of their own, but this is superficial. Your perception of their connectedness is correct: They have the same infrastructure, the same culture, the same hungers and fears. Each city is like the other cities. All of the cities are, effectively, one city. This world, in this now, is the city’s name: Syl Anagist.

 

Can you truly understand what a nation is capable of, child of the Stillness? The entirety of Old Sanze, once it finally stitches itself together from fragments of the hundred “civilizations” that live and die between now and then, will be nothing by comparison. Merely a collection of paranoid city-states and communes agreeing to share, sometimes, for survival’s sake. Ah, the Seasons will reduce the world to such miserly dreams.

 

Here, now, dreams have no limit. The people of Syl Anagist have mastered the forces of matter and its composition; they have shaped life itself to fit their whims; they have so explored the mysteries of the sky that they’ve grown bored with it and turned their attention back toward the ground beneath their feet. And Syl Anagist lives, oh how it lives, in bustling streets and ceaseless commerce and buildings that your mind would struggle to define as such. The buildings have walls of patterned cellulose that can barely be seen beneath leaves, moss, grasses, and clusters of fruit or tubers. Some rooftops fly banners that are actually immense, unfurled fungus flowers. The streets teem with things you might not recognize as vehicles, except in that they travel and convey. Some crawl on legs like massive arthropods. Some are little more than open platforms that glide on a cushion of resonant potential – ah, but you would not understand this. Let me say only that these vehicles float a few inches off the ground. No animals draw them. No steam or chemical fuels them. Should something, a pet or child perhaps, pass underneath, it will temporarily cease to exist, then resume on the other side, with no interruption of velocity or awareness. No one thinks of this as death.

 

There is one thing you would recognize here, standing up from the core of the city. It is the tallest, brightest thing for miles, and every rail and path connects to it in some way or another. It’s your old friend, the amethyst obelisk. It isn’t floating, not yet. It sits, not quite quiescent, in its socket. Now and again it pulses in a way that will be familiar to you from Allia. This is a healthier pulse than that was; the amethyst is not the damaged, dying garnet. Still, if the similarity makes you shiver, that’s not an unhealthy reaction.

 

All over the three lands, wherever there is a large-enough node of Syl Anagist, an obelisk sits at the center of each. They dot the face of the world, two hundred and fifty-six spiders in two hundred and fifty-six webs, feeding each city and being fed in turn.

 

Webs of life, if you want to think of them that way. Life, you see, is sacred in Syl Anagist.

 

Now imagine, surrounding the base of the amethyst, a hexagonal complex of buildings. Whatever you imagine will look nothing like the actuality, but just imagine something pretty and that will do. Look closer at this one here, along the southwestern rim of the obelisk – the one on a slanting hillock. There are no bars on the building’s crystal windows, but visualize a faint darker lacing of tissue over the clear material. Nematocysts, a popular method of securing windows against unwanted contact – although these exist only on the outward-facing surface of the windows, to keep intruders out. They sting, but do not kill. (Life is sacred in Syl Anagist.) Inside, there are no guards on the doors. Guards are inefficient in any case. The Fulcrum is not the first institution to have learned an eternal truth of humankind: No need for guards when you can convince people to collaborate in their own internment.

 

Here is a cell within the pretty prison.

 

It doesn’t look like one, I know. There’s a beautifully sculpted piece of furniture that you might call a couch, though it has no back and consists of several pieces arranged in clusters. The rest of the furniture is common stuff you would recognize; every society needs tables and chairs. The view through the window is of a garden, on the roof of one of the other buildings. At this time of day, the garden catches sunlight slanting through the great crystal, and the flowers growing in the garden have been bred and planted with this effect in mind. Purple light paints the paths and beds, and the flowers seem to glow faintly in reaction to the color. Some of these tiny white flower-lights wink out now and again, which makes the whole flower bed seem to sparkle like the night sky.

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