The Hero of Ages (Page 108)

Was she huddled in an alleyway, crying, back hurting from another of Reen’s beatings?

She felt about her, trying to make sense of her surroundings. Her arms and legs didn’t seem to work. In fact, she couldn’t even really focus on them. The longer she floated, however, the clearer her vision became. She was . . . in Luthadel. After killing the Inquisitors.

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Why couldn’t she feel anything? She tried to reach down, to push herself to her knees, but the ground seemed strangely far away. And, she saw no arms in front of her. She just continued to float.

I’m dead, she thought.

Even as that occurred to her, she woke up a bit more. She could see, though it was as if she looked through a very blurry, distorting pane of glass. She felt . . . a power buzzing within her. A strength unlike that of limbs—but somehow more versatile.

She managed to turn, getting a sweeping view of the city. And, halfway through her turn, she came face-to-face with something dark.

She couldn’t tell how far away it was. It seemed close and distant at the same time. She could view it with detail—far more detail than she could see in the actual world—but she couldn’t touch it. She knew, instinctively, what it was.

Ruin no longer looked like Reen. Instead, he manifested as a large patch of shifting black smoke. A thing without a body, but with a consciousness greater than that of a simple human.

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That . . . is what I’ve become, Vin realized, thoughts becoming clearer.

Vin, Ruin spoke. His voice was not that of Reen, but instead something more . . . guttural. It was a vibration that washed across her, like an Allomantic pulse.

Welcome, Ruin said, to godhood.

Vin remained silent, though she quested out with her power, trying to get a sense of what she could do. Understanding seemed to open to her. It was like before, when she’d taken the power at the Well of Ascension. She immediately knew things. Only this time, the power was so vast—the understanding so great—that it seemed to have shocked her mind. Fortunately, that mind was expanding, and she was growing.

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Awakening.

She rose above the city, knowing that the power spinning through her—the core of her existence—was simply a hub. A focus for power that stretched across the entire world. She could be anywhere she wished. Indeed, a part of her was in all places at once. She could see the world as a whole.

And it was dying. She felt its tremors, saw its life ebbing. Already, most of the plant life on the planet was dead. Animals would go quickly—the ones who survived were those who could find a way to chew on dead foliage now covered by ash. Humans would not be far behind, though Vin found it interesting to note that a surprising percentage of them had found their way down into one or another of the storage caverns.

Not storage caverns . . . Vin thought, finally understanding the Lord Ruler’s purpose. Shelters. That’s why they’re so vast. They’re like fortresses for people to hide in. To wait, to survive a little longer.

Well, she would fix that. She felt electrified with power. She reached out and plugged the ashmounts. She soothed them, deadened them, smothered their ability to spray ash and lava. Then, she reached into the sky and wiped the smoke and darkness from the atmosphere—like a maid wiping soot from a dirty window. She did all of this in a matter of instants; not more than five minutes would have passed on the world below.

Immediately, the land began to burn.

The sun was amazingly powerful—she hadn’t realized how much the ash and smoke had done to shield the land. She cried out, spinning the world quickly so that the sun moved to its other side. Darkness fell. And, as soon as she did that, tempests began to swoop across the landscape. Weather patterns were disrupted by the motion, and in the sea a sudden wave appeared, enormously large. It rolled toward the coast, threatening to wipe away several cities.

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Vin cried out again, reaching to stop the wave. And something blocked her.

She heard laughter. She turned in the air, looking to where Ruin sat like a shifting, undulating thundercloud.

Vin, Vin . . . he said. Do you realize how like the Lord Ruler you are? When he first took the power, he tried to solve everything. All of man’s ills.

She saw it. She wasn’t omniscient—she couldn’t see the entirety of the past. However, she could see the history of the power she held. She could see when Rashek had taken it, and she could see him, frustrated, trying to pull the planet into a proper orbit. Yet, he pulled it too far, leaving the world cold and freezing. He pushed it back again, but his power was too vast—too terrible—for him to control properly at that time. So, he again left the world too hot. All life would have perished.

He opened the ashmounts, clogging the atmosphere, turning the sun red. And, in doing so, he saved the planet—but doomed it as well.

You are so impetuous, Ruin thought. I have held this power for a period of time longer than you can imagine. It takes care and precision to use it correctly.

Unless, of course, you just want to destroy.

He reached out with a power Vin could feel. Immediately, without knowing how or why, she blocked him. She threw her power up against his, and he halted, unable to act.

Below, the tsunami crashed into the coast. There were still people down there. People who had hidden from the koloss, who had survived on fish from the sea when their crops failed. Vin felt their pain, their terror, and she cried out as she reached to protect them.

And, again, was stopped.

Now you know the frustration, Ruin said as the tsunami destroyed villages. What was it your Elend said? For every Push, there is a Pull. Throw1 something up, and it will come back down. Opposition.

For Ruin, there is Preservation. Time immemorial! Eternity! And each time I push, YOU push back. Even when dead, you stopped me, for we are forces. I can do nothing! And you can do nothing! Balance! The curse of our existence.

Vin suffered as the people below were crushed, washed away, and drowned. Please, she said. Please just let me save them.

Why? Ruin asked. What is it I told you before? Everything you do serves me. It is out of kindness that I stop you. For, even if you were to reach your hand out for them, you would destroy more than you preserve.

That is always the way it is.

Vin hung, listening to the screams. And yet, a part of her mind—now so vast, now capable of many thoughts at once—dissected Ruin’s words.

They were untrue. He said that all things destroyed, yet he complained about balance. He warned that she would only destroy more, but she could not believe that he would stop her out of kindness. He wanted her to destroy.

It couldn’t be both ways. She knew herself as his opposite. She could have saved those people, if he hadn’t stopped her. True, she probably didn’t have the accuracy to do it yet. That wasn’t the power’s fault, however, but hers. He had to stop her so that she wouldn’t learn, as the Lord Ruler had, and become more capable with the power.

She spun away from him, moving back toward Luthadel. Her awareness was still expanding, but she was confused by something she saw. Bright points of light, dotting the landscape, shining like flares. She drew closer, trying to figure out what they were. Yet, just as it was difficult to look directly at a bright lantern and see what was emitting the light, it was difficult to discern the source of this power.

She figured it out as she reached Luthadel. A large glow was coming from the broken palace. Most of the light was shaped vaguely like . . .

Spires. Metal. That’s what caused the glowing power. I was right. Metal is power, and it’s why Ruin couldn’t read things written in steel. Vin turned away from a brightly shining spire. Ruin was there, as always, watching her.

I was surprised when Preservation said he wanted to create you, Ruin said, a bit of curiosity in his voice. Other life is ordered by way of nature. Balanced. But Preservation . . . he wanted to create something intentionally unbalanced. Something that could choose to preserve at times, but to ruin at others. Something in the form of that which we’d seen before. It was intriguing.

I find it odd that he expended so much of himself to create you. Why would he weaken himself, eventually giving me the strength to destroy the world, simply to place human beings on his world? I know that others call his death to imprison me a sacrifice, but that wasn’t the sacrifice. His sacrifice came much earlier.

Yes, he still tried to betray me—to imprison me. But, he could not stop me. He could only slow me. Forestall. Delay. Since the day we created you, there has been an imbalance. I was stronger. And he knew it.

Vin frowned—or, at least, she felt as if she were frowning, though she no longer had a body. His words . . .

He says he’s stronger, Vin thought. Yet, we are equally matched. Is he lying again?

No1 . . . he didn’t lie. Looking back with her ever-expanding mind, she saw that everything Ruin said, he believed. He truly thought that whatever she did helped him. He saw the world through the lenses of destruction.

He wasn’t lying about being more powerful than she. Yet, they were obviously matched at the moment. Which meant . . .

There’s another piece of Ruin out there, Vin thought. Preservation is weaker because he gave up a piece of himself to create mankind. Not his consciousness—that he used to fuel Ruin’s prison—but an actual bit of his power.

What she had suspected before, she now knew with certainty. Ruin’s power was concentrated, hidden somewhere by Preservation. The atium. Ruin was stronger. Or, he would be, once he recovered the last part of his self. Then, he would be able to destroy completely—they would no longer be balanced.

She swung about in frustration, a glowing white aura of mist with wispy tendrils expanding across the entire world. There’s so much I still don’t know, Vin thought.

It was an odd thing to acknowledge, with her mind broadening to include so much. Yet, her ignorance was no longer that of a person. Her ignorance was related to experience. Ruin had such a huge head start on her. He had created for himself servants who could act without his direction, and so she could not block them.

She saw his planning manifest in the world. She saw him subtly influencing the Lord Ruler a thousand years ago. Even while Rashek held the power of Preservation, Ruin had whispered in his ear, directing him toward an understanding of Hemalurgy. And, Rashek had obeyed without realizing it, creating minions—armies—for Ruin to take when the time was right.

Vin could see them—the koloss—converging toward Luthadel.

I will give you credit, Vin, Ruin said, hovering nearby. You destroyed my Inquisitors. All but one, at least. They were very difficult to make. I . . .

She stopped focusing on him, at least with most of her mind. Something else drew her attention. Something moving into Luthadel, flying on spears of light.

Elend.

Looking back, we should have been able to see the connection between the mists, Allomancy, and the power at the Well of Ascension. Not only could Allomancers’ vision pierce the mists, but there was the fact that the mists swirled slightly around the body of a person using any kind of Allomancy.

More telling, perhaps, was the fact that when a Hemalurgist used his abilities, it drove the mists away. The closer one came to Ruin, the more under his influence, and the longer one bore his spikes, the more the mists were repelled.

77

ELEND STOOD IN THE RUBBLE of Kredik Shaw, mind numb as he contemplated the destruction.

It seemed . . . impossible. What force could have leveled such an enormous, majestic building? What could have caused such destruction, breaking apart buildings and flinging rubble several streets away? And, all of the destruction was focused here, at what had once been the center of the Lord Ruler’s power.

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