The Hero of Ages (Page 113)

The people misinterpreted the mists’ intent, as the process of Snapping Allomancers caused some—particularly the young and the old—to die. This hadn’t been Preservation’s desire, but he’d given up most of his consciousness to form Ruin’s prison, and the mists had to be left to work as best they could without specific direction.

Ruin, subtle as ever, knew that he couldn’t stop the mists from doing their work. However, he could do the unexpected and encourage them. And so, he helped make them stronger. That brought death to the plants of the world, and created the threat that became known as the Deepness.

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VIN TURNED TOWARD RUIN, projecting a smile. The cloud of twisting black mist seemed agitated.

So, you can influence a single minion, Ruin snapped, turning upon itself, rising in the air. Vin followed, streaking up to loom over the entire Central Dominance. Below, she could see Demoux’s soldiers rushing to the camp, waking the people, organizing them to flight. Already, some of them were making their way along the tracks in the ash toward the safety of the caverns.

She could feel the sun, and knew that the planet was far too near it to be safe. Yet, she could do nothing more. Not only would Ruin have stopped her, but she didn’t understand her power yet. She felt as the Lord Ruler must have—almighty, yet clumsy. If she tried to move the world, she would only make things worse.

But, she had accomplished something. Ruin had his koloss pounding toward them at breakneck speed, but they still wouldn’t arrive at the Pits for several hours. Plenty of time to get the people to the caverns.

Ruin must have noticed what she was studying, or perhaps he sensed her smugness. You think you’ve won? he asked, sounding amused. Why, because you managed to stop a few kandra? They were always the weakest of the minions the Lord Ruler created for me. I have made a habit of ignoring them. Either way, Vin, you cannot really think that you have beaten me.

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Vin waited, watching as the people fled to the relative safety of the caverns. Even as the bulk of them arrived—soldiers separating them into groups, se1nding them to the different entrances—her good humor began to fade. She had managed to get through to Elend, and while it had seemed like a great victory at the moment, she could now see that it was little more than another stalling tactic.

Have you counted the koloss in my army, Vin? Ruin asked. I’ve made them from your people, you know. I’ve gathered hundreds of thousands.

Vin focused, enumerating instantly. He was telling the truth.

This is the force I could have thrown at you at any time, Ruin said. Most of them kept to the Outer Dominances, but I’ve been bringing them in, marching them toward Luthadel. How many times must I tell you, Vin? You can’t win. You could never win. I’ve just been playing with you.

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Vin pulled back, ignoring his lies. He hadn’t been playing with them—he’d been trying to discover the secrets that Preservation had left, the secret that the Lord Ruler had kept. Still, the numbers Ruin had finally managed to marshal were awe-inspiring. There were far more koloss than there were people climbing into the caverns. With a force like that, Ruin could assault even a well-fortified position. And, by Vin’s count, Elend had fewer than a thousand men with any battle training.

On top of that, there was the sun and its destructive heat, the death of the world’s crops, the tainting of water and land with several feet of ash . . . Even the lava flows, which she had stopped, were beginning again, her plugging of the ashmounts having provided only a temporary solution. A bad one, even. Now that the mountains couldn’t erupt, great cracks were appearing in the land, and the magma, the earth’s burning blood, was boiling out that way.

We’re just so far behind! Vin thought. Ruin had centuries to plan this. Even when we thought we were being clever, we fell for his plots. What good is it to sequester my people beneath the ground if they’re just going to starve?

She turned toward Ruin, who sat billowing and shifting upon himself, watching his koloss army. She felt a hatred that seemed incompatible with the power she held. The hatred made her sick, but she didn’t let go of it.

This thing before her . . . it would destroy everything she knew, everything she loved. It couldn’t understand love. It built only so that it could destroy. At that moment, she reversed her earlier decision. She’d never again call Ruin a “him.” Humanizing the creature gave it too much respect.

Seething, watching, she didn’t know what else to do. So, she attacked.

She wasn’t even certain how she did it. She threw herself at Ruin, forcing her power up against its power. There was friction between them, a clash of energy, and it tormented her divine body. Ruin cried out, and—mixing with Ruin—she knew its mind.

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Ruin was surprised. It didn’t expect Preservation to be able to attack. Vin’s move smacked too much of destruction. Ruin didn’t know how to respond, but it threw its power back against her in a protective reflex. Their selves crashed, threatening to dissolve. Finally, Vin pulled back, lacerated, rebuffed.

Their power was too well matched. Opposite, yet similar. Like Allomancy.

Opposition, Ruin whispered. Balance. You’ll learn to hate it, I suspect, though Preservation never could.

“So, this is the body of a god?” Elend asked, rolling the bead of atium around in his palm. He held it up next to the one that Yomen had given him.

1″Indeed, Your Majesty,” Sazed said. The Terrisman looked eager. Didn’t he understand how dangerous their situation was? Demoux’s scouts—the ones that had returned—reported that the koloss were only minutes away. Elend had ordered his troops posted at the doorways to the Homeland, but his hope—that the koloss wouldn’t know where to find his people—was a slim one, considering what Sazed had told him about Ruin.

“Ruin can’t help but come for it,” Sazed explained. They stood in the metal-lined cavern called the Trustwarren, the place where the kandra had spent the last thousand years gathering and guarding the atium. “This atium is part of him. It’s what he’s been searching for all this time.”

“Which means we’ll have a couple hundred thousand koloss trying to climb down our throats, Sazed,” Elend said, handing back the bead of atium. “I say we give it to him.”

Sazed paled. “Give it to him? Your Majesty, my apologies, but that would mean the end of the world. Instantly. I am certain of it.”

Great, Elend thought.

“It will be all right, Elend,” Sazed said.

Elend frowned up at the Terrisman, who stood peacefully in his robes.

“Vin will come,” Sazed explained. “She is the Hero of Ages—she will arrive to save this people. Don’t you see how perfect this all is? It’s arranged, planned. That you would come here, find me, at this exact moment . . . That you’d be able to lead the people to safety in these caverns . . . Well, it all fits together. She’ll come.”

Interesting time for him to get his faith back, Elend thought. He rolled Yomen’s bead between his fingers, thinking. Outside the room, he could hear whispers. People—Terris stewards, skaa leaders, even a few soldiers—stood listening. Elend could hear the anxiety in their voices. They had heard of the approaching army. As Elend watched, Demoux carefully pushed his way through them and entered the room.

“Soldiers posted, my lord,” the general said.

“How many do we have?” Elend asked.

Demoux looked grim. “The two hundred and eighty I brought with me,” he said. “Plus about five hundred from the city. Another hundred ordinary citizens that we armed with those kandra hammers, or spare weapons from our soldiers. And, we have four different entrances to this cavern complex we need to guard.”

Elend closed his eyes.

“She’ll come,” Sazed said.

“My lord,” Demoux said, pulling Elend aside. “This is bad.”

“I know,” Elend said, exhaling softly. “Did you give the men metals?”

“What we could find,” Demoux said quietly. “The people didn’t think to bring powdered metal with them when they fled Luthadel. We’ve found a couple of noblemen who were Allomancers, but they were only Copperclouds or Seekers.”

Elend nodded. He’d bribed or pressed the useful nobleman Allomancers into his army already.

“We gave those metals to my soldiers,” Demoux said. “But none of them could burn them. Even if we had Allomancers, we cannot hold this location, my lord! Not with so few soldiers, not against that many koloss. We’ll delay them at first, because of the narrow entrances. But . . . well . . .”

“I realize that, Demoux,” Elend said with frustration. “But do you h1ave any other options?”

Demoux was silent. “I was hoping you’d have some, my lord.”

“None here,” Elend said.

Demoux grew grim. “Then we die.”

“What about faith, Demoux?” Elend asked.

“I believe in the Survivor, my lord. But . . . well, this looks pretty bad. I’ve felt like a man waiting his turn before the headsman ever since we spotted those koloss. Maybe the Survivor doesn’t want us to succeed here. Sometimes, people just have to die.”

Elend turned away, frustrated, clenching and unclenching his fist around the bead of atium. It was the same problem, the same trouble he always had. He’d failed back during the siege of Luthadel—it had taken Vin to protect the city. He’d failed in Fadrex City—only the koloss getting distracted had rescued him there.

A ruler’s most basic duty was to protect his people. In this one area, Elend continually felt impotent. Useless.

Why can’t I do it? Elend thought with frustration. I spend a year searching out storage caverns to provide food, only to end up trapped with my people starving. I search all that time looking for the atium—hoping to use it to buy safety for my people—and then I find it too late to spend it on anything.

Too late. . . .

He paused, glancing back toward the metal plate in the floor.

Years searching for . . . atium.

None of the metals Demoux had given his soldiers had worked. Elend had been working under the assumption that Demoux’s group would be like the other mistfallen back in Urteau—that they’d be composed of all kinds of Mistings. Yet, there had been something different about Demoux’s group. They had fallen sick for far longer than the others.

Elend pushed forward, rushing past Sazed, grabbing a handful of beads. A vast wealth, unlike anything any man had ever possessed. Valuable for its rarity. Valuable for its economic power. Valuable for its Allomancy.

“Demoux,” he snapped, rising and tossing the bead to him. “Eat this.”

Demoux frowned. “My lord?”

“Eat it,” Elend said.

Demoux did as asked. He stood for a moment.

Two hundred and eighty men, Elend thought. Sent away from my army because of all the ones who fell sick, they were the most sick. Sixteen days.

Two hundred and eighty men. One-sixteenth of those who fell sick. One out of sixteen Allomantic metals.

Yomen had proven that there was such a thing as an atium Misting. If Elend hadn’t been so distracted, he would have made the connection earlier. If one out of sixteen who fell sick remained that way the longest, would that not imply that they’d gained the most powerful of the sixteen abilities?

Demoux looked up, eyes widening.

And Elend smiled.

Vin hovered outside the cavern, watching with dread as the koloss approached. They were already in a blood frenzy—Ruin had that much control over them. There were thousands upon thousands of them. The slaughter was about to begin.

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