Brandon Sanderson helped inject life and emotion into the superhero prose fiction genre with his novel Steelheart. Now the trilogy is coming to an end next February with the third book, Calamity, and we’ve got an exclusive excerpt. Check it out!
Here’s what to expect in the final book of the Reckoners trilogy:
When Calamity lit up the sky, the Epics were born. David’s fate has been tied to their villainy ever since that historic night. Steelheart killed his father. Firefight stole his heart. And now Regalia has turned his closest ally into a dangerous enemy.
David knew Prof’s secret, and kept it even when Prof struggled to control the effects of his Epic powers. But facing Obliteration in Babilar was too much. Once the Reckoners’ leader, Prof has now embraced his Epic destiny. He’s disappeared into those murky shadows of menace Epics are infamous for the world over, and everyone knows there’s no turning back. . . .
But everyone is wrong. Redemption is possible for Epics—Megan proved it. They’re not lost. Not completely. And David is just about crazy enough to face down the most powerful High Epic of all to get his friend back. Or die trying.
And here’s an exclusive excerpt, the prologue and first two chapters:
I’ve witnessed the fearsome depths.
I was in Babilar, Babylon Restored. New York City. I stared into those depths, and knew—with no uncertainty—that something inside me had changed.
The depths had claimed me as one of their own. And though I’ve pushed them back, I still bear their hidden scar.
They insist that they will have me again.
THE sun peeked over the horizon like the head of a giant, radioactive manatee. I crouched, hidden in a tree of all places. Turns out the things are easier to climb when they’re not made of steel. Also, they smell weird.
“We good?” I whispered over the line. Instead of using mobiles, we were relying on old radios we’d rigged to work with our earpieces. The audio snapped and popped as I spoke. Primitive technology, but essential for this particular job.
“Wait a sec,” Megan said. “Cody, you in position?”
“Sure am,” crackled the reply, laced with a calm Southern drawl. “If anyone tries to sneak up on you, lass, I’ll put a bullet up his nose.”
“Ew,” Mizzy said over the line.
“We’ll move in five,” I said from my perch. Cody had called the contraption I was using a “tree stand,” which was really just a glorified camp chair strapped to the trunk of a tree some thirty feet up in the air. Hunters had used them back in the day for hiding from game.
I put my gun—a sleek, military-style assault rifle—to my shoulder and sighted through the trees. Ahead of me, a large castle broke the landscape.
Seriously. A castle. I’d figured those were just things from old movies, yet here one was, in the woods of West Virginia. From the look of the lichen on the stones and those vines twisting up one of the weathered walls, this place had been around since long before Calamity appeared in the sky. It also had modern metal gates and security systems.
Pre-Calamity people had been weird. Awesome too—evidence: castle—but still pretty weird.
I looked away from my scope and glanced at Abraham, who hid in a nearby tree. I could pick him out only because I knew exactly what to look for. His dark outfit blended well into the dappled shades of morning, which was—our informant said—the best time to assault this particular location: Shewbrent Castle, also known as the Knighthawk Foundry. The world’s primary source of Epic-derived technology. We’d used their weapons and technology to fight Steelheart, then Regalia.
Now we were going to rob them.
“Everyone have their mobiles off?” I asked over the line.
“You’ve only asked that three times, David,” Megan replied.
They all gave an affirmative, and I took a deep breath. So far as we knew, we were the last cell of Reckoners . . . and with Tia missing, probably dead, I was in charge. True, I’d gotten the job only because Abraham and Cody had just laughed when I’d asked if they wanted it, while Mizzy had gone stiff as a board and almost started hyperventilating.
Now we were putting my plan into motion. My crazy, foolhardy, incredible plan. Honestly, I was terrified.
My watch buzzed. Go time.
“Megan,” I said into my radio, “you’re up.”
I shouldered my rifle again, peering through the trees toward where Megan would start her assault. I felt blind. With my mobile, I could have tapped into Megan’s view to follow her attack, or I could have at least brought up a local map and watched my team represented as blips. Our mobiles, however, had been built and distributed by Knighthawk—who also maintained their secure lines. Using those to coordinate an attack on the installation itself seemed about as smart as using toothpaste for salad dressing.
“Engaging,” Megan said, and soon a pair of explosions shook the air. I scanned through my scope but couldn’t see her through the trees; she was on the other side of the castle. Her job was to make a frontal assault, and those blasts had been grenades she’d thrown at the front gate.
Attacking the Knighthawk foundry was, of course, absolutely suicidal. We all knew this, but we were also desperate, low on resources, and being hunted by Jonathan Phaedrus himself—High Epic, once leader of the Reckoners. Knighthawk refused to deal with us, and had gone completely silent to our requests.
Our choices had been to try to take on Prof unequipped or come here. This seemed the best of two bad options.
“Cody?” I asked.
“She’s doing fine, lad,” he said over the crackling radio line. “It looks just like that video. As soon as the explosions went off, the place released drones.”
“Pick off what you can,” I said.
“Mizzy?” I said. “You’re up.”
I hesitated. “Groovy? Is that some kind of code word?”
“You don’t know . . . Sparks, David, you can be a real square sometimes.” Her words were punctuated by another series of explosions, larger this time, and my tree shook from the shock waves.
I didn’t need my scope to see the smoke rising from my right, along the castle’s flank. Soon after the blast, a group of basketballsized flying drones—sleek and metallic, with propellers on top— popped from windows and flew toward the smoke. Other, larger machines rolled out of shadowed alcoves; tall and spindly, each had a gun arm on the top, and tracks instead of wheels.
I followed these with my scope as they started firing into the woods where Mizzy had popped a set of flares inside of buckets to give heat signatures. Remotely firing machine guns enhanced the illusion that a large squad of soldiers was out there, hiding in the woods. We kept the shots all aimed low. We didn’t want to catch Abraham in the crossfire when it was his turn to move.
The Knighthawk defense played out exactly as we’d been shown on the video from our informant. Nobody had ever successfully breached the place, but many had tried. One assault stood out: one performed by a reckless paramilitary group out of Nashville, who had tried a full-on assault. They’d taken videos, and we’d managed to get copies. Best we could guess, most of the time all of those drones were inside patrolling the hallways. Now, however, they were out fighting.
Hopefully, that would give us an opening.
“All right, Abraham,” I said into the line, “your turn. I’ll cover.”
“And off I go,” Abraham said softly. The careful, dark-skinned man rode a thin cable down from his tree, then slipped silently across the forest floor. Though he was thick of arm and neck, Abraham moved with surprising nimbleness as he reached the wall, which was still shadowed in the early-morning light. His tight infiltration outfit would mask his heat signature, at least as long as the heatsinks on his belt were functional.
His job was to slip into the Foundry, steal whatever weapons or technology he could find, and get out in under fifteen minutes. We had basic maps from our informant claiming that the bottom floor of the castle was cluttered with factories and labs stuffed with goodies ripe for the plucking.
I watched Abraham nervously through my scope—pulling the aim point just to the right so an accidental weapon discharge wouldn’t hit him—and watched to make sure no drones spotted him.
They didn’t. He used a retractable line to get to the top of the short wall, then another to get to the castle’s roof. He hid beside one of the crenellations while he prepared his next step.
“There’s an opening to your right, Abraham,” I said into the line. “One of the drones popped out of a hole beneath the window on that tower.”
“Groovy,” Abraham said, though the word sounded particularly odd coming from him, with his smooth French accent.
“Please tell me that’s not a real word,” I said, then raised my gun to follow him along as he made for the opening.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” Mizzy asked. “It just sounds weird.”
“And things we say today don’t? ‘Sparks’? ‘Slontze’?”
“Those are normal,” I said. “Not weird at all.” A drone passed by, but fortunately, my suit was masking my heat signature. That was good, since the wetsuitlike clothing was pretty darn uncomfortable. Though mine wasn’t as bad as Abraham’s—his had a face mask and everything. To a drone, I’d have a little heat signature, like a squirrel or something. A secretly very, very deadly squirrel.
Abraham reached the alcove I’d pointed out. Sparks, that man was good at sneaking. In the moment since I’d looked away, I lost him, and had trouble locating him again. He had to have some kind of special forces training.
“There’s a door in here, unfortunately,” Abraham said from his alcove. “It must close after the machines exit. I will try to hot-wire my way in.”
“Great,” I said. “Megan, you good?”
“Alive,” she said, puffing. “For now.”
“How many drones can you see?” I asked. “Have they rolled out the larger ones on you yet? Can—”
“Little busy, Knees,” she snapped.
I settled back, listening to the gunfire and explosions. Was this how Prof had felt during missions he supervised? I wanted to be out there, in the mess, firing and fighting. But that didn’t make sense. I wasn’t stealthy like Abraham or . . . well, immortal like Megan. They could handle this. My job as leader was to hang back and make judgment calls.
If there was one thing I’d learned in Babilar, though, it was that I needed to rein in my hotheadedness. I needed to be like . . . half a hothead instead. A hot chin? So I waited anxiously as Abraham worked. If he couldn’t get in soon, I’d have to call off the mission. The longer this took, the greater the chances that the mysterious people who ran the Foundry would discover that our “army” was just five people.
“Status, Abraham?” I said.
“I think I can get this open . . . ,” he said. “Just a little longer.”
“I don’t . . .” I trailed off. “Wait a sec, what was that?”
A low rumbling was coming from nearby. I scanned below me and was surprised to see the mulchy forest floor buckling. Leaves and moss folded back, revealing a metallic doorway. Another group of drones flew out of it, zipping past my tree.
“Mizzy,” I hissed into my headset. “There’s more drones trying to flank your position. They’re coming at you through the trees.”
“Bummer,” Mizzy said. She hesitated a moment. “Do you—”
“Yes, I know that word. You might need to institute the next phase.” I glanced back down at the opening, which was rumbling closed. “Be prepared; it looks like the Foundry has tunnels leading out to the forest here. They’ll be able to deploy drones in unexpected positions.”
The door below stopped, half shut. I frowned, leaning down to get a better look. Why hadn’t it closed completely? More drones?
No. It looked like some dirt and rocks had fallen into one of the gears. Guess that was the problem with hiding your entrance in the middle of a forest.
“Abraham,” I said into my handset, excited, “the opening out here jammed open. You could get in this way.”
“I think that might be difficult,” he said, and I looked back up to note that several drones had fallen back after a barrage of explosions from Mizzy’s side. They hovered near Abraham’s position.
“Sparks,” I whispered, then raised my rifle and picked the two machines off with a pair of shots. They dropped; we’d come prepared with bullets that fried electronics when they hit. I didn’t know how they worked, but they’d cost basically everything we could scrounge up in trade, including the copter that Cody and Abraham had escaped Newcago in. We were running low on fuel cells to power it anyway.
“Thanks for the assist,” Abraham said as the drones dropped. Beneath me, the gears on the opening ground against one another, trying to force their way closed. The door moved another inch.
“This entrance is going to close any second,” I said. “Get back here fast.” “Stealthy is not fast, David,” Abraham said.
I glanced at that opening. Newcago was lost to us; Prof had already attacked and ransacked all of our safe houses. The people were terrified. Babilar was little better: no resources to be had, and old minions of Regalia’s were keeping an eye on the place, serving Prof now.
If this robbery went bust, we’d be broke. We’d have to set up somewhere off the map and try to rebuild over the next year, which would leave Prof free rein to rampage. My stomach twisted at that thought. I couldn’t justify any more delays.
“Cody,” I said. “Can you see and cover Abraham?”
“Just a sec,” he said. “Yeah, I got ’im.”
“Good,” I said. “Because I’m going in. Cody, you have ops.”
I slid down my rope and hit the forest floor, crunching dried leaves. Ahead of me, the door to the hole finally started moving again. With a yelp, I dashed toward the hole and jumped in, sliding a short distance down a shallow ramp as the doors closed with a final grinding sound behind me.
I was in. Also, likely trapped.
So . . . yay?
Faint emergency lights running along the walls revealed a sloping tunnel that was rounded at the top like a giant’s throat. The incline wasn’t very steep, so I climbed to my feet and started inching down the slope, gun at my shoulder. I switched my radio to a private line so that there wouldn’t be so much noise coming through my earpiece. The others would know—it was the protocol we’d set ahead of time. Mizzy and Cody would be monitoring the line.
The dim light made me want to flip on my mobile, which could double as a flashlight, but I restrained myself. Who knew what kind of backdoors the Knighthawk Foundry might have installed into the things? In fact, who knew what the phones were even truly capable of? They had to be some kind of Epic-derived technology. Phones that worked under any circumstances, never needed a recharge, with signals that couldn’t be intercepted? I’d grown up in a pit underneath Newcago, but even I realized how fantastical that was.
I reached the bottom of the incline and, flipping on my scope’s night vision and thermal settings, continued down the silent corridor. It stretched out before me, nothing but smooth metal, floor to ceiling. Considering its length, the tunnel had to lead under the Foundry walls and into the compound itself; it was probably just an access corridor.
Epics. Even before I’d discovered that Prof had powers, I should have realized how much we relied on Epics. I’d always dreamed that the Reckoners were some kind of pure, human freedom force, untainted by Epics—ordinary people fighting an extraordinary foe. That wasn’t the way it happened though, was it? Perseus had his magic horse, Aladdin his lamp, and Old Testament David his blessing from Jehovah. You want to fight a god? You’d better have one on your side too.
In our case, we’d cut off pieces of the gods, trapped them in boxes, and used them like batteries. Though much of our “technology” had been the result of Prof’s hidden powers, the rest of it had come from this place. The Knighthawk Foundry, secretive purveyors of Epic corpses made into weapons.
My earpiece crackled and I jumped.
“David?” Megan’s voice, dialed into the private radio line.
“What are you doing?”
I winced. “I found an entrance,” I whispered, “and managed to sneak in. It’s an access tunnel to let those drones out into the forest; I think I can use it to infiltrate the main compound.”
Silence on the line, followed by “Slontze.”
“What? Because it’s reckless?”
“Sparks, no,” she said back. “Because you didn’t take me.”
An explosion sounded over the line from somewhere near her.
“Sounds like you’re having plenty of fun,” I said. I kept moving forward, my rifle up and my focus ahead, watching for drones.
“Yeah, sure,” Megan said. “Intercepting mini-missiles with my face. Loads of fun.”
I smiled; the mere sound of her voice could do that to me. Hell, I’d rather be yelled at by Megan than be praised by anyone else. Besides, the fact that she was talking to me meant she hadn’t actually intercepted any mini-missiles with her face. She was immortal in that if she died, she’d be reborn—but she was otherwise as fragile as anyone else.
I imagined her outside, ducking between trees, lobbing grenades and taking shots while Cody and Mizzy covered her. I imagined her cursing softly, sweating while she took sight at a passing drone, her aim perfect, her face . . .
. . . uh, right. I should probably stay focused.
“I’ll keep their attention up here,” Megan said, “but be careful, David. You don’t have a full infiltration suit. You’ll have a heat signature to those drones, if they look closely.” “Groovy,” I whispered. Whatever that meant.
Ahead of me the tunnel started getting lighter, so I turned off the night vision on the scope and slowed my pace. I crept forward and stopped. The access tunnel ended at a large white corridor that stretched to the right and left. Brightly lit, with tile floors and metal walls, it was completely empty. Like an office on free doughnut day in the shop down the street.
I pulled our maps, such that we had, from my pocket and checked them. Didn’t say much, only that the ground level looked something like an office building, with lots of labs. Well, this place had the right feel. Somehow I had to find useful technology in here, steal it, and get out.
That was a plan with more holes than a hobo’s shoes. We barely knew what we were up against, and couldn’t even be certain if what I stole would be of use to us.
Well, Prof or Tia could have come up with a way better plan, but they weren’t here. So I picked a direction at random and continued walking. When the tense silence was broken a few minutes later by a sound echoing through the corridor—approaching quickly—it was actually a relief. I dashed toward the sound; not because I was eager to meet it, but just up the hall I could see a door. I reached it in time to pull it open—thankfully, it wasn’t locked—and slip into a dark room. Back against the door, I could hear a group of drones zip past outside. I turned and looked through the little window in the door and watched them buzz down the white corridor, then turn into the access tunnel.
They hadn’t spotted me. I had a heat signature, but just my face and hands. I flipped my headset to the open line and whispered, “More drones are going out the way I came in. Cody, status?”
“We’ve got a few tricks left,” Cody said, “but it’s getting frantic out here. Abraham did manage to get in through the roof though. The two of you should grab what you can find and get out ASAP.”
“Roger,” Abraham said over the line.
“Got it,” I said, glancing around the room I’d entered, which was completely dark. Some kind of lab chamber, judging by the sterile smell.
I flipped on my night-vision scope and gave the place a quick once-over.
Turned out I was surrounded by bodies.