The Rithmatist - By Brandon Sanderson Page 0,1

scowl. “They keep to themselves, Joel. I’m fine with that. I’d rather they weren’t even here.” A breeze ruffled his blond hair. Around them spread the green hills and stately brick buildings of Armedius Academy. Nearby, a clockwork crab continued its quiet duty, chopping at the grass to keep it level.

“You wouldn’t think that way if you understood,” Joel said, getting out some chalk. “Here, take this. And stand here.” He positioned his friend, then knelt and drew a circle on the sidewalk around him. “You’re Paul. See, defensive circle. If that gets breached, you lose the match.”

Joel paced back a ways on the concrete quad, then knelt and drew his own circle. “Now, Adelle’s circle was nearly breached in four places. She quickly began to shift from the Matson Defense to … Okay, you know what, that’s too technical. Just know that her circle was weak, and Paul had a strong, dominant position.”

“If you say so,” Michael said. He smiled at Eva Winters as she walked past, holding books in front of her.

“Now,” Joel said. “Paul started pounding her circle with Lines of Vigor, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to shift defenses quickly enough to recover.”

“Pounding … Lines of what?” Michael asked.

“Lines of Vigor,” Joel said. “Duelists shoot them at each other. That’s the point; it’s how you breach the circle.”

“I thought they made little chalk … things. Creatures.”

“That too,” Joel said. “They’re called chalklings. But that’s not why everyone remembers the 1888 Melee, even some twenty years later. It was the lines she shot. Conventional wisdom would have been for her to last as long as she could, draw out the match, make a good showing of it.”

He set his chalk out in front of his circle. “She didn’t do that,” he whispered. “She saw something. Paul had a small weakened section on the back of his circle. Of course, the only way to attack it would be to bounce a shot off three different lines left by other duelists. It was an impossible shot. She took it anyway. She drew one Line of Vigor as Paul’s chalklings ate at her defenses. She fired it and…”

Caught up in the moment, Joel finished drawing the Line of Vigor in front of him, raising his hand with a flourish. With surprise, he realized that some thirty students had gathered to listen to him, and he could feel them holding breaths, expecting his drawing to come to life.

It didn’t. Joel wasn’t a Rithmatist. His drawings were just ordinary chalk. Everyone knew that, Joel most of all, but the moment somehow broke the spell of his story. The gathered students continued on their way, leaving him kneeling on the ground in the middle of his circle.

“And let me guess,” Michael said, yawning again. “Her shot got through?”

“Yeah,” Joel said, suddenly feeling foolish. He stood up, putting away his chalk. “The shot worked. She won the Melee, though her team had been lowest favored in the odds. That shot. It was beautiful. At least, so the accounts say.”

“And I’m sure you’d love to have been there,” Michael said, stepping out of the circle Joel had drawn. “By the Master, Joel. I’ll bet if you could travel through time, you’d waste it going to Rithmatic duels!”

“Sure, I guess. What else would I do?”

“Oh,” Michael said, “maybe prevent some assassinations, get rich, find out what’s really happening in Nebrask.…”

“Yeah, I suppose,” Joel said, pocketing his chalk, then jumping out of the way as a soccer ball shot past, followed by Jephs Daring. Jephs gave Michael and Joel a wave before chasing down his ball.

Joel joined Michael, continuing across campus. The beautiful, low green hills were topped by flowering trees, and green vines wound their way up the sides of buildings. Students darted this way and that between classes, in a variety of dresses and trousers. Many of the boys wore their sleeves rolled up in the late spring warmth.

Only the Rithmatists were required to wear uniforms. That made them stick out; a group of three of them walked between buildings, and the other students casually made way, most not looking at them.

“Look, Joel,” Michael said. “Have you ever wondered if maybe … you know, you think about this stuff too much? Rithmatics and all that?”

“It’s interesting to me,” Joel said.

“Yes, but … I mean, it’s a little odd, considering…”

Michael didn’t say it, but Joel understood. He wasn’t a Rithmatist, and could never be one. He’d missed his chance. But why couldn’t he be

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