The Hero of Ages (Page 114)

Vin cried out as they drew closer, throwing herself a1gainst Ruin again, trying to drive her power to destroy the thing. As before, she was rebuffed. She felt herself screaming, trembling as she thought about the impending deaths below. It would be like the tsunami deaths on the coast, only worse.

For these were people she knew. People she loved.

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She turned back toward the entrance. She didn’t want to watch, but she wouldn’t be able to do anything else. Her self was everywhere. Even if she pulled her nexus away, she knew that she’d still feel the deaths—that they would make her tremble and weep.

From within the cavern, echoing, she sensed a familiar voice. “Today, men, I ask of you your lives.” Vin hovered down, listening, though she couldn’t see into the cavern because of the metals in the rock. She could hear, however. If she’d had eyes, she would have been crying, she knew.

“I ask of you your lives,” Elend said, voice echoing, “and your courage. I ask of you your faith, and your honor—your strength, and your compassion. For today, I lead you to die. I will not ask you to welcome this event. I will not insult you by calling it well, or just, or even glorious. But I will say this.

“Each moment you fight is a gift to those in this cavern. Each second we fight is a second longer that thousands of people can draw breath. Each stroke of the sword, each koloss felled, each breath earned is a victory! It is a person protected for a moment longer, a life extended, an enemy frustrated!”

There was a brief pause.

“In the end, they will kill us,” Elend said, voice loud, ringing in the cavern. “But first, they shall fear us!”

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The men yelled at this, and Vin’s enhanced mind could pick out around two hundred and fifty distinct voices. She heard them split, rushing toward the different cavern entrances. A moment later, someone appeared from the front entrance near her.

A figure in white slowly stepped out into the ash, brilliant white cape fluttering. He held a sword in one hand.

Elend! she tried to cry at him. No! Go back! Charging them is madness! You’ll be killed!

Elend stood tall, watching the waves of koloss as they approached, trampling down the black ash, an endless sea of death with blue skin and red eyes. Many carried swords, the others just bore rocks and lengths of wood. Elend was a tiny white speck before them, a single dot on an endless canvas of blue.

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He raised his sword high and charged.

ELEND!

Suddenly, Elend burst with a brilliant energy, so bright that Vin gasped. He met the first koloss head-on, ducking beneath the swinging sword and decapitating the creature in one stroke. Then, instead of jumping away, he spun to the side, swinging. Another koloss fell. Three swords flashed around him, but all missed by just a breath. Elend ducked to the side, taking a koloss in the stomach, then whipped his sword around—his head barely passing beneath another swing—and took off a koloss arm.

He still didn’t Push himself away. Vin froze, watching as he took down one koloss, then beheaded another in a single, fluid stroke. Elend moved with a grace she had never seen from him—she had always been the better warrior, yet at this moment, he put her to shame. He wove between koloss blades as if he were taking part in a prerehearsed stage fight, body after body falling before his gliding blade.

A group of soldiers i1n Elend’s colors burst from the cavern entrance, charging. Like a wave of light, their forms exploded with power. They, too, moved into the koloss ranks, striking with incredible precision. Not a single one of them fell as Vin watched. They fought with miraculous skill and fortune, each koloss blade falling just a little too late. Blue corpses began to pile up around the glowing force of men.

Somehow, Elend had found an entire army who could burn atium.

Elend was a god.

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He’d never burned atium before, and his first experience with the metal filled him with wonder. The koloss around him all emitted atium shadows—images that moved before they did, showing Elend exactly what they would do. He could see into the future, if only a few seconds. In a battle, that was just what one needed.

He could feel the atium enhancing his mind, making him capable of reading and using all of the new information. He didn’t even have to pause and think. His arms moved of their own volition, swinging his sword with awesome precision.

He spun amid a cloud of phantom images, striking at flesh, feeling almost as if he were in the mists again. No koloss could stand against him. He felt energized—he felt amazing. For a time, he was invincible. He’d swallowed so many atium beads he felt as if he’d throw up. For its entire history, atium had been a thing that men had needed to save and hoard. Burning it had seemed such a shame that it had been used only sparingly, only in instances of great need.

Elend didn’t need to worry about any of that. He just burned as much as he wanted. And it made him into a disaster for the koloss—a whirlwind of exact strikes and impossible dodges, always a few steps ahead of his opponents. Foe after foe fell before him. And, when he began to get low on atium, he Pushed himself off a fallen sword back to the entrance. There, with plenty of water to wash it down, Sazed waited with another bag of atium.

Elend downed the beads quickly, then returned to the battle.

Ruin raged and spun, trying to stop the slaughter. Yet, this time, Vin was the force of balance. She blocked Ruin’s every attempt to destroy Elend and the others, keeping it contained.

I can’t decide if you’re a fool, Vin thought toward it, or if you simply exist in a way that makes you incapable of considering some things.

Ruin screamed, buffeting against her, trying to destroy her as she had tried to destroy it. However, once again, their powers were too evenly matched. Ruin was forced to pull back.

Life, Vin said. You said that the only reason to create something was so that you could destroy it.

She hovered beside Elend, watching him fight. The deaths of the koloss should have pained her. Yet, she did not think of the death. Perhaps it was the influence of Preservation’s power, but she saw only a man, struggling, fighting, even when hope seemed impossible. She didn’t see death, she saw life. She saw faith.

We create things to watch them grow, Ruin, she said. To take pleasure in seeing that which we love become more than it was before. You said that you were invincible—that all things break apart. All things are Ruined. But there are things that fight against you—and the ironic part is, you can’t even understand those things. Love. Life. Growth.

The life of a person is more than the chaos of its passing. Emotion, Ruin. This is your defeat.

Sazed watched anxiously from the mouth of the cavern. A small group of men huddled around him. Garv, leader of the Church of the Survivor in Luthadel. Harathdal, foremost of the Terris stewards. Lord Dedri Vasting, one of the surviving Assembly members from the city government. Aslydin, the young woman whom Demoux had apparently come to love during his few short weeks at the Pits of Hathsin. A smattering of others, important—or faithful—enough to get near the front of the crowd and watch.

“Where is she, Master Terrisman?” Garv asked.

“She’ll come,” Sazed promised, hand resting on the rock wall. The men fell quiet. Soldiers—those without the blessing of atium—waited nervously with them, knowing they were next in line, should Elend’s assault fail.

She has to come, Sazed thought. Everything points toward her arrival.

“The Hero will come,” he repeated.

Elend sheared through two heads at once, dropping the koloss. He spun his blade, taking off an arm, then stabbed another koloss through the neck. He hadn’t seen that one approaching, but his mind had seen and interpreted the atium shadow before the real attack came.

Already he stood atop of carpet of blue corpses. He did not stumble. With atium, his every step was exact, his blade guided, his mind crisp. He took down a particularly large koloss, then stepped back, pausing briefly.

The sun crested the horizon in the east. It started to grow hotter.

They had been fighting for hours, yet the army of koloss still seemed endless. Elend slew another koloss, but his motions were beginning to feel sluggish. Atium enhanced the mind, but it did not boost the body, and he’d started to rely on his pewter to keep him going. Who would have known that one could get tired—exhausted, even—while burning atium? Nobody had ever used as much of the metal as Elend had.

But he had to keep going. His atium was running low. He turned back toward the mouth of the cavern, just in time to see one of his atium soldiers go down in a spray of blood.

Elend cursed, spinning as an atium shadow passed through him. He ducked the swing that followed, then took off the creature’s arm. He beheaded the one that followed, then cut another’s legs out from beneath it. For most of the battle, he hadn’t used fancy Allomantic jumps or attacks, just straightforward swordplay. His arms were growing tired, however, and he was forced to begin Pushing koloss away from him to manage the battlefield. The reserve of atium—of life—within him was dwindling. Atium burned so quickly.

Another man screamed. Another soldier dead.

Elend began to back toward the cavern. There were just so many koloss. His band of two hundred and eighty had slain thousands, yet the koloss didn’t care. They kept attacking, a brutal wave of endless determination, resisted only by the pockets of atium Mistings protecting each of the entrances to the Homeland.

Another man died. They were running out of atium.

Elend screamed, swinging his sword about him, taking down three koloss in a maneuver that never should have worked. He flared steel and Pushed the rest away from him.

The body of a god, burning within me, he thought. He gritted his teeth, attacking as more of his men fell. He scrambled up a pile of koloss, slicing off arms, legs, heads. Stabbing chests, necks, guts. He fought on, al1one, his clothing long since stained from white to red.

Something moved behind him, and he spun, raising his blade, letting the atium lead him. Yet, he froze, uncertain. The creature behind him was no koloss. It stood in a black robe, one eye socket empty and bleeding, the other bearing a spike that had been crushed back into its skull. Elend could see straight into the empty eye socket, through the creature’s head, and out the back.

Marsh. He had a cloud of atium shadows around him—he was burning the metal too, and would be immune to Elend’s own atium.

Human led his koloss soldiers through the tunnels. They killed any person in their path.

Some had stood at the entrance. They had fought long. They had been strong. They were dead now.

Something drove Human on. Something stronger than anything that had controlled him before. Stronger than the little woman with the black hair, though she had been very strong. This thing was stronger. It was Ruin. Human knew this.

He could not resist. He could only kill. He cut down another human.

Human burst into a large open chamber filled with other little people. Controlling him, Ruin made him turn away and not kill them. Not that Ruin didn’t want him to kill them. It just wanted something else more.

Human rushed forward. He crawled over tumbled rocks and stones. He shoved aside crying humans. Other koloss followed him. For the moment, all of his own desires were forgotten. There was only his overpowering desire to get to . . .

A small room. There. In front of him. Human threw open the doors. Ruin yelled in pleasure as he entered this room. It contained the thing Ruin wanted.

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