The Stormlight Archive: The Girl Who Looked Up
Published on December 20, 2017 by Paul Ciano
“The Girl Who Looked Up,” she whispered.
“What?” Pattern asked.
Shallan opened her eyes and breathed out Stormlight. She hadn’t sketched this particular scene, so she used what she had handy: a drawing she’d done of a young child in the market. Bright and happy, too young to cover her safehand. The girl appeared from the Stormlight and scampered up the steps, then bowed to Pattern.
“There was a girl,” Shallan said. “This was before storms, before memories, and before legends— but there was still a girl. She wore a long scarf to blow in the wind.”
A vibrant red scarf grew around the girl’s neck, twin tails extending far behind her and flapping in a phantom wind. The players had made the scarf hang behind the girl using strings from above. It had seemed so real.
“The girl in the scarf played and danced, as girls do today,” Shallan said, making the child prance around Pattern. “In fact, most things were the same then as they are today. Except for one big difference. The wall.”
Shallan drained an indulgent number of spheres from her satchel, then sprinkled the floor of the stage with grass and vines like from her homeland. Across the back of the stage, a wall grew as Shallan had imagined it. A high, terrible wall stretching toward the moons. Blocking the sky, throwing everything around the girl into shadow.
The girl stepped toward it, looking up, straining to see the top.
“You see, in those days, a wall kept out the storms,” Shallan said. “It had existed for so long, nobody knew how it had been built. That did not bother them. Why wonder when the mountains began or why the sky was high? Like these things were, so the wall was.”
The girl danced in its shadow, and other people sprang up from Shallan’s Light. Each was a person from one of her sketches. Vathah, Gaz, Palona, Sebarial. They worked as farmers or washwomen, doing their duties with heads bowed. Only the girl looked up at that wall, her twin scarf tails streaming behind her.
She approached a man standing behind a small cart of fruit, wearing Kaladin Stormblessed’s face.
“Why is there a wall?” she asked the man selling fruit, speaking with her own voice.
“To keep the bad things out,” he replied.
“What bad things?”
“Very bad things. There is a wall. Do not go beyond it, or you shall die.”
The fruit seller picked up his cart and moved away. And still, the girl looked up at the wall. Pattern hovered beside her and hummed happily to himself.
“Why is there a wall?” she asked the woman suckling her child. The woman had Palona’s face.
“To protect us,” the woman said.
“To protect us from what?”
“Very bad things. There is a wall. Do not go beyond it, or you shall die.”
The woman took her child and left.
The girl climbed a tree, peeking out the top, her scarf streaming behind her. “Why is there a wall?” she called to the boy sleeping lazily in the nook of a branch.
“What wall?” the boy asked.
The girl thrust her finger pointedly toward the wall.
“That’s not a wall,” the boy said, drowsy. Shallan had given him the face of one of the bridgemen, a Herdazian. “That’s just the way the sky is over there.”
“It’s a wall,” the girl said. “A giant wall.”
“It must be there for a purpose,” the boy said. “Yes, it is a wall. Don’t go beyond it, or you’ll probably die.”
“Well,” Shallan continued, speaking from the audience, “these answers did not satisfy the girl who looked up. She reasoned to herself, if the wall kept evil things out, then the space on this side of it should be safe.
“So, one night while the others of the village slept, she sneaked from her home with a bundle of supplies. She walked toward the wall, and indeed the land was safe. But it was also dark. Always in the shadow of that wall. No sunlight, ever, directly reached the people.”
Shallan made the illusion roll, like scenery on a scroll as the players had used. Only far, far more realistic. She had painted the ceiling with light, and looking up, you seemed to be looking only at an infinite sky— dominated by that wall.
This is … this is far more extensive than I’ve done before, she thought, surprised. Creationspren had started to appear around her on the benches, in the form of old latches or doorknobs, rolling about or moving end over end.
Well, Dalinar had told her to practice.…
“The girl traveled far,” Shallan said, looking back toward the stage. “No predators hunted her, and no storms assaulted her. The only wind was the pleasant one that played with her scarf, and the only creatures she saw were the cremlings that clicked at her as she walked.
“At long last, the girl in the scarves stood before the wall. It was truly expansive, running as far as she could see in either direction. And its height! It reached almost to the Tranquiline Halls!”
Shallan stood and walked onto the stage, passing into a different land— an image of fertility, vines, trees, and grass, dominated by that terrible wall. It grew spikes from its front in bristling patches.
I didn’t draw this scene out. At least … not recently.
She’d drawn it as a youth, in detail, putting her imagined fancies down on paper.
“What happened?” Pattern said. “Shallan? I must know what happened. Did she turn back?”
“Of course she didn’t turn back,” Shallan said. “She climbed. There were outcroppings in the wall, things like these spikes or hunched, ugly statues. She had climbed the highest trees all through her youth. She could do this.”
The girl started climbing. Had her hair been white when she’d started? Shallan frowned.
Shallan made the base of the wall sink into the stage, so although the girl got higher, she remained chest-height to Shallan and Pattern.
“The climb took days,” Shallan said, hand to her head. “At night, the girl who looked up would tie herself a hammock out of her scarf and sleep there. She picked out her village at one point, remarking on how small it seemed, now that she was high.
“As she neared the top, she finally began to fear what she would find on the other side. Unfortunately, this fear did not stop her. She was young, and questions bothered her more than fear. So it was that she finally struggled to the very top and stood to see the other side. The hidden side…”
Shallan choked up. She remembered sitting at the edge of her seat, listening to this story. As a child, when moments like watching the players had been the only bright spots in life.
Too many memories of her father, and of her mother, who had loved telling her stories. She tried to banish those memories, but they wouldn’t go.
Shallan turned. Her Stormlight … she’d used up almost everything she’d pulled from her satchel. Out in the seats, a crowd of dark figures watched. Eyeless, just shadows, people from her memories. The outline of her father, her mother, her brothers and a dozen others. She couldn’t create them, because she hadn’t drawn them properly. Not since she’d lost her collection …
Next to Shallan, the girl stood triumphantly on the wall’s top, her scarves and white hair streaming out behind her in a sudden wind. Pattern buzzed beside Shallan.
“… and on that side of the wall,” Shallan whispered, “the girl saw steps.”
The back side of the wall was crisscrossed with enormous sets of steps leading down to the ground, so distant.
“What … what does it mean?” Pattern said.
“The girl stared at those steps,” Shallan whispered, remembering, “and suddenly the gruesome statues on her side of the wall made sense. The spears. The way it cast everything into shadow. The wall did indeed hide something evil, something frightening. It was the people, like the girl and her village.”
Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson