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Literature / Sixth of the Dusk

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"Sixth of the Dusk" is a short story by Brandon Sanderson found in the Shadows Beneath anthology of the podcast Writing Excuses and reprinted in the Arcanum Unbounded collection of short stories.

Sixth of the Dusk is a hunter who travels the islands, dangerous places of psychic animals and powerful magic. He watches settlers from the peaceful continent trying to set up on the Father island for unknown purposes.


  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: The Ones Above, spacefaring humans, are not allowed to interfere with the primitive humans of Dusk's world, not even to trade some of their technology. It's compared to adults refusing to trade with children; no matter how clever the child is, it's still exploitative. However, there's a loophole: They leave behind some of their technology where the primitives can find it, in the hopes that they will advance too quickly, and the Ones Above will be able to legally trade with them before they're actually ready.
  • Alternate Aesop Interpretation: In-Universe. Vathi notes that every culture has exactly one traditional story of a woman who excelled in a traditionally male occupation, with the official moral being that "women can do these things too". However, her own cynical take on it is that they exist to show that women can do these things too if they are truly exceptional, with the implication being that any girl (like herself) who doesn't want to Stay in the Kitchen is arrogantly claiming to be one in a million.
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  • Antimagic: The right Aviar has an aura that provides a Psychic Block Defense. In addition the lake at the heart of the island is a psychic dead zone because it's a Perpendicularity
  • Batman Gambit: The emissary for the Ones Above dies on the First of the Sun, leaving the natives of the world with some of their advanced technology. It includes an instruction manual that includes far more information than necessary and the emissary just so happened to have a device that can translate his language to that of the natives. Dusk and later Vathi realize that this was all an elaborate setup. The Ones Above expected the natives of the First to eagerly reverse engineer the technology so they would advance far faster than normally. Their technology level would reach a point where they could legally trade with the First of the Sun while the natives were culturally ignorant and thus exploitable.
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  • Booby Trap: The only method for trappers to kill competing trappers, with Dusk setting up plenty of tripwires on Patji and training the meekers to bite people that aren't him. Far from being a dirty trick as it is in most cultures, it's considered the only proper way to kill a man and if trappers actually meet face to face they'll quietly walk away.
  • Character Title: Sixth of the Dusk was named in the traditional way of his people.
  • Death World: The islands, especially the Father island, Patji. Every single animal is lethal, violently defensive of its territory, and most them are psychic. Even the tiniest insects can kill with just one bite, and the plants are only slightly better. Most of them can't actually kill you, thought there are exceptions, but they tend to hide insects that can. In Khriss's writeup in Arcanum Unbounded, she notes that of every worldhopper expedition to visit this world, no one has ever returned. Keep in mind that the simplest way to visit the world is through the perpendicularity on Patji, the most dangerous island. There's a reason that the Ones Above came in spaceships.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Seeing someone killing a Nightmaw with a Hand Cannon has this effect on Dusk.
  • End of an Era: The reason Dusk was named as such by his mother, despite it not being dusk when he was born, she could forsee that the world was changing.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Averted, the protagonist is from a culture roughly equivalent to Polynesia post European contact: a stone age culture that's starting to assimilate technology from somewhere in the 1800s. He himself doesn't use guns, but they do. They're enough to kill the theoretically unkillable Nightmaws and drive off the Shadows Beneath from a ship.
  • Foreseeing My Death: Sak's power is to see ways in which Dusk will die, then confer those visions onto him. This being Patji, he's used to seeing his own corpse practically every minute or so as a sign of yet another deadly obstacle, which is the only reason he can walk on Patji to begin with.
  • Heel Realization: Vathi dismisses Dusk's worries about the rapid progress of the mainland stomping all over trapper tradition by saying that progress cannot be stopped and these things are going to happen eventually. However, as she learns caution from Patji, she begins to rethink, and realizes that the Ones Above are going to use progress to exploit her people the same way they're currently exploiting the trappers. She and Dusk decide to team up to avoid this.
  • He Knows Too Much: Dusk originally thinks this is why Patji is trying so hard to kill him, even when he's trying to drive intruders from the island. He knows the secret of the island's heart, the fact that every Aviar must migrate here and eat a special fruit filled with worms. Otherwise, they cannot grant a talent.
  • In Harmony with Nature: Parodied. When Vathi kills a Nightmaw, Dusk gleefully wonders if they can use that to kill them all. Vathi says that she thought trappers were closer to nature, and Dusk points out that wiping out your enemies if you got the chance is exactly what nature would do. Vathi concedes the point.
  • Kill Them All: Seeing the power of Vathi's weapon kill a Nightmaw, Dusk eagerly desires to kill every Nightmaw on the island. Vathi rejects the idea as exterminating the apex predators would be devastating for the ecosystem, something Dusk doesn't understand.
  • Killer Rabbit: "Meekers" (Raccoon/ferret things) are adorable. They also have a single venomous tooth which, of course, can kill you. Unusually enough, they've actually been tamed and are one of the few things on the island not especially dangerous.
    • Not especially dangerous to Dusk, that is. He bribes them with "Food?" to "Bite others!"
  • Magical Native American: Played with. Dusk does understand and respect the island, and even worships it in a cautious way, and is violently protective of the land. But when he sees that a small cannon can actually kill the Nightmaws, his first response is to celebrate that they could kill them all. Another character notes that he's disillusioning her of her romantic view of his culture.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Sixth is named because he's the sixth in his family. When Vathi comments on that being a large family, he thinks that it's a sign of how the times are changing, because his father was a twelfth and his mother an eleventh. Truth in Television for societies where infant mortality is high.
  • Not Good with People: Dusk is abrasive, spends nearly all of his time alone, and never talks to Vathi unless he has to. Most of the time he doesn't care, but when it's crucial he only barely manages to communicate a critical threat to the others.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Dusk isn't very good with words. Most of his life he never had to speak at all as a trapper and he Hates Small Talk. His lack of practice at speaking with humans nearly proves disasterous when he can't fully articulate the trap set for them by the Ones Above.
  • Portal Network: A large part of what makes First of the Sun (the planet on which this takes place) interesting to the greater Cosmere is the fact that it has a natural Perpendicularity.
  • Psychic Powers: Pretty much everything, including most predators, are psychic on the islands. The only defense are the Aviar, psychic birds that humans can tame. They grant a single talent, unique to each species, and are invaluable for shielding minds against psychic detection.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: After failing to communicate his warning to the scientists about the trap he sees from the Ones Above, Dusk nearly wanders into another death trap on Patji. This is the breaking point and Dusk furiously shouts at Patji for trying to kill him when he's the only person in the world that wants to preserve Patji rather than exploit the island. He goes so far as to claim Patji deserves to be ruined by progress, at least until he speaks with Vathi again.
  • Raptor Attack: The description of Nightmaws is sketchy, mostly because so few people survive encountering them and they hunt at night. But the bits we can piece together imply a psychic utahraptor. Properly feathered too.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: Comes out on the enlightenment side, but in a balanced way. Progress is repeatedly seen as inevitable and developing technology is having a positive impact, whether Dusk sees it or not. And the audience is certainly likely to sympathize with the scientist deuteroganist. But on the other hand, the traditional ways of Dusk's people are ultimately shown to have value and in the end it's the lessons from them that provides critical insight for the future.
  • Sink-or-Swim Mentor: Dusk ultimately decides that the island has been this, preparing them to not be taken in by the too easy way the Sky People offer as a subtle means of conquest.
  • Spiritual Successor: In many ways, this is Sanderson's version of After Earth (a film his friend Howard Tayler notably disliked for plotholes). The idea of an environment completely dedicated to killing everything is the same, though the predators are telepathic rather than having the ability to smell fear (which was one of Tayler's suggestions for improving the movie).
  • The Symbiote: The Aviars get their power from parasites they eat near a Perpendicularity.
  • Too Good to Be True: One of the first lessons a trapper learns is that nothing comes easy on the islands. If something seems easy, it's a trap. The same goes for the technology "left behind" by the Ones Above.
  • The X of Y: The story itself, as well as the main character, is "Sixth of the Dusk", and it's set on the planet First of the Sun.
  • You Are What You Hate: Dusk constantly expresses annoyance at those who try to explain things that just are, yet he admits that some of the questions really start to make him wonder. He also investigated, discovered, and used the secret on how the Aviars get their powers for his own purposes, a secret so valuable he thinks Patji itself is trying to kill him for it.