Burning gold was like plunging into the sea in a hot day. One moment you’re warm, everything makes sense, then suddenly your vision blurs and the body rushes to catch up with those new sensations, all in the space of a few seconds.
Quinn had only burned gold once before. Bella had said it was good to know what it was like, even though the process itself wasn’t often pleasant. He’d thought he’d never burn it again, but after what he’d said to Alhara and the past he had seen…he was conflicted.
He was angry. He didn’t really admit it often, but he was angry that despite his gifts he was powerless to do anything to change the skaa lives. Despite money and a name and small training at court, he was still politically inept and long lasting change needed change from within…somehow.
But being angry at his present wasn’t fair. They’d all escaped difficult lives: Alhara had been glorified cattle; Bella, the toy and joke-brunt of her family and Fallow was a little more than a laughing stock under his own name. They had a better life now, sure it wasn’t perfect, but it was better.
Quinn thought about the decisions he’d made these past few months. Facing tressex, travelling to austrex, killing kort. As he burned gold, his mind grasped at the possibility of questions. His mind blurred, remember smells and faces he both knew and didn’t.
Concentrate on a question. That’s what he’d been told.
What if he hadn’t signed up to work for Nebellea?
Hunger. That was the first feeling. Living a life without regular, warm food. Living of scraps he stole from Haru and or other nobles. He was eventually thrown out of the brother after they found out he was an allomancer. The girls wouldn’t let him be turned in, but they couldn’t keep a powder keg like Quinn around. Word then spread, job offers from Empolian gangs, a lot of blood on his hands to keep himself safe and free. He was scarred, no limb loss, but a hard, thin body of someone who ran every day, and fought for his life every other.
What if I hadn’t killed kort?
The feeling was more pleasant. The memory of hunger went away, but he recalled blood again. The pirate had sold him out to the obligators, then afterwards good hearted nebellea had insisted they run, fearing for her association. The nebella this version of him remembered wore tatters dresses. They’d had to sell their atium to a gang for passage across scadriel and travelled through more cities and regions than Quinn knew had existed. She was unhappy, she worried for her sister, but fallow and Quinn kept her going. There was an aimlessness to him. A ruthless need to survive, living day by day.
Pallino and Penndlehave had died. They’d remained and we’re going to follow, but the inquisitor got to them first and they never made it off the island.
He let the questions fade, rubbing his head. He’d forgotten what this was like. The way it drained energy and resolve…maybe he needed to find a different present. An easier question.
What if I’d been nice to Bella from the start?
Coffee under the scadrielian sun. Fallow and Quinn were enjoying breakfast in Austrex (seems they were meant to come here one way or another) while Bella and Cassie danced. And…Valette Trochaire. The dating had gone better, the kinder hearted Quinn having the patience to like the woman enough to steal her away. They were working with the Rebellion, but crime was forgotten and they lived an easier life, a happier and more functional home than the present. Bella had taught Quinn to ride, and he taught her, gently, the finer point of steel pushing. They walked the gardens during the day, and ran through the streets at night, laughing and whooping into the night.
That was unexpected. Quinn had figured him and and Bella were destined to feud by sheer difference in lives. Instead, he had this rushing of sentiment when he thought of her. Her strength of will to succeed and bloom in the face of adversity, rather than cower away. This mellowed Quinn…he was better at the politics side of things. I guess if you can make friends with your opposite, you can make a good impression on anyone else.
He began thinking of the things he regretted. Kort’s death still hung above him, but now he saw the face of the skaa tressex had killed, the lifeless child he’d watched flee through the streets. What if he’d gone in?
It was quick, like a ball rebounding of a wall. The instant he’d entered the house he had been engulfed my muscle and flesh which clamped down on his throat and face. The sensation of suffocating as his neck was forced beyond its limit…then blackness. A void of memories.
Quinn gasped and fell backward, catching himself on the roof. Either way, they would have died. He couldn’t have saved them. He couldn’t stop the rogue Kandra. He hugged his knees to himself and looked into the night, questions burning through the gold in his system. What if he’d left pidge? Loneliness. What if he’d told Bella about laryma? Heartbreak. What if he’d tried to kill the pirates? More blackness.
His stupor was broken by the sound of Fallow and Owandise coming up the stairs.
“Watch is over, boy. Go get some rest. Is Bella okay?”
“Yeah…she kind of passed out half an hour ago when the tin ran out so I carried her to bed and I’ve been sat here.”
Owandise gave him a puzzled look, her tin and court upbringing noticing his controlled stillness.
“I’m not going to bed just yet. I’m going to go…there,” he pointed to a small copse of trees about a mile away, “I have gold in my system and I’ll burn it where I can’t be distracted.”
Owandise began to speak, but he was already gone, steelpushed into the air and off into the night, the mist curling around his arms and filling the space he had left.
The couple exchanged a quick glance, before Owandise said “I’ll go speak with him”
Too much blackness.
His mind had ran through the possibilities. It was strange how many conscious decisions he’d made. He thought Alhara and he had become friends, but some part of him choose for that to happen. She’s gotten closer to Bella as a result, often accompanying her as something closer to companion than bodyguard.
Owandise wandered towards him, his tin now expended he hadn’t heard her arrive. They talked a short while of the dangers of dwelling on the past and the possibilities of “what if”, encouraging him to flare what was left out and sleep.
As they walked, he thought of her. How he had once sat outside her window, manipulating her emotions for Fallow, would that have been a different relationship if he hadn’t?
The flared gold made his new memories clearer, he would reach to much more mild changes if decision. Their relationship had gone the same, the same gifts, the same…everything. That was odd. She must have been burning copper.
What if I hadn’t gone with him?
The memories shifted. They were still together, but their relationship was less passionate than it was. That early consummation had provided the very real early jump into the water of happiness, and instead they had had a slow courtship. They’d had to convince her a bit more to help them when Fallow was captured, but ultimately they were in the same situation, except both perhaps a little less happy and more politically and tactically minded. Fallow became a hit with the women at court in Austrex though, his lack of sentiment ruining his capacity for monogamy.
As they neared the house, Fallow nodded down at his fiancé and Quinn, needing no words to convey a worry as much as a comfort that whatever had happened had the appearance of success.
Quinn made his way up the stairs, amusing himself with thoughts of pranks he could have chosen to do, or lies he could have told. He didn’t have much gold left, maybe a minute more.
What if…he stopped himself. Thought of his parents hadn’t been too common recently. He’d stopped chasing his father and feeling responsible for his mother, he shouldn’t ask what if he’d done more when it had happened or pursued it further, but he couldn’t help himself.
A new life blossomed into his head. Gone were Fallow and Owandise, Alhara and Pidge, everyone he knew from empoli. Instead he saw himself beaten as his mother’s lifeless eyes stared from across the room, a man’s laughter rising above the din at “the little bastard who bit me”. He chased that life, to Austrex and back to empoli, then luthadel and the east, before back to the Terris homeworld. Except, he wasn’t a mistborn. Or was he? He no longer remembered soaring through the air or seeing through the mists, he just stopped caring about what might take him. He fell in with the gangs, the canal skaa trading him rides for favours in the cities he explored .
He felt loneliness again. But not that absence of friends he’d experienced already, not even the loneliness of death and other people. He felt lonely about a part of himself that this Quinn never knew. A euphoric joy and a self righteous conviction: the pride of allomancy. He felt sorry that some part of him would have never got that, and he remembered a life of different solutions to the same problems, in a world where no one cared about just one more skaa.
Then, the Gold stopped burning.