The Hero of Ages (Page 115)

“Guess what I found,” Marsh growled, stepping up, Pushing against Elend’s sword. The weapon was ripped from his fingers, flying away. “Atium. A kandra was carrying it, looking to sell it. Foolish creature.”

Elend cursed, ducking out of the way of a koloss swing, pulling his obsidian dagger from the sheath at his leg.

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Marsh stalked forward. Men screamed—cursing, falling—as their atium died out. Elend’s soldiers were being overrun. The screams tapered off as the last of his men guarding this entrance died. He doubted the others would last much longer.

Elend’s atium warned him of attacking koloss, letting him dodge—barely—but he couldn’t kill them very effectively with the dagger. And, as the koloss took his attention, Marsh struck with an obsidian axe. The blade fell, and Elend leaped away, but the dodge left him off balance.

Elend tried to recover, but his metals were running low—not just his atium, but his basic metals. Iron, steel, pewter. He hadn’t been paying much attention to them, since he had atium, but he’d been fighting for so long now. If Marsh had atium, then they were equal—and without basic metals, Elend would die.

An attack from the Inquisitor forced Elend to flare pewter to get away. He cut down three koloss with ease, his atium still helping him, but Marsh’s immunity was a serious challenge. The Inquisitor crawled over the fallen bodies of koloss, scrambling toward Elend, his single spikehead reflecting the too-bright light of the sun overhead.

Elend’s pewter ran out.

“You cannot beat me, Elend Venture,” Marsh said in a voice like gravel. “We’ve killed your wife. I will kill you.”

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Vin. Elend didn’t believe it. Vin will come, he thought. She’ll save us.

Faith. It was a strange thing to feel at that moment. Marsh swung.

Pewter and iron suddenly flared to life within Elend. He didn’t have time to think about the oddity; he simply reacted, Pulling on his sword, which lay stuck into the ground a distance away. It flipped through the air and he caught it, swinging with a too-quick motion, blocking Marsh’s axe. Elend’s body seemed to pulse, powerful and vast. He struck forward instinctively, forcing Marsh backward across the ashen field. Koloss backed away for the moment, shying from Elend, as if frightened. Or awed.

Marsh raised a hand to Push on Elend’s sword, but nothing happened. It was . . . as if something deflected the blow. Elend screamed, charging, beating back Marsh with the strikes of his silvery weapon. The Inquisitor looked shocked as it blocked with the obsidian axe, its motions too quick for even Allomancy to explain. Yet Elend still forced him to retreat, across fallen corpses of blue, ash stirring beneath a red sky.

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A powerful peace swelled in Elend. His Allomancy flared bright, though he knew the metals inside of him should have burned away. Only atium remained, and its strange power did not—could not—give him the other metals. But it didn’t matter. For a moment, he was embraced by something greater. He looked up, toward the sun.

And he saw—just briefly—an enormous figure in the air just above him. A shifting, brilliant personage of pure white. Her hands held to his shoulders with her head thrown back, white hair streaming, mist flaring behind her like wings that stretched across the sky.

Vin, he thought with a smile.

Elend looked back down as Marsh screamed and leaped forward, attacking with his axe in one hand, seeming to trail something vast and black like a cloak behind him. Marsh raised his other hand across his face, as if to shield his dead eyes from the image in the air above Elend.

Elend burned the last of his atium, flaring it to life in his stomach. He raised his sword in two hands and waited for Marsh to draw close. The Inquisitor was stronger and was a better warrior. Marsh had the powers of both Allomancy and Feruchemy, making him another Lord Ruler. This was not a battle Elend could win. Not with a sword.

Marsh arrived, and Elend thought he understood what it had been like for Kelsier to face the Lord Ruler on that square in Luthadel, all those years ago. Marsh struck with his axe; Elend raised his sword in return and prepared to strike.

Then, Elend burned duralumin with his atium.

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Sight, Sound, Strength, Power, Glory, Speed!

Blue lines sprayed from his chest like rays of light. But those were all overshadowed by one thing. Atium plus duralumin. In a flash of knowledge, Elend felt a mind-numbing wealth of information. All became white around him as knowledge saturated his mind.

“I see now,” he whispered as the vision faded, and along with it his remaining metals. The battlefield returned. He stood upon it, his sword piercing Marsh’s neck. It had gotten caught on the spikehead jutting out of Marsh’s back, between the shoulder blades.

Marsh’s axe was buried in Elend’s chest.

The phantom metals Vin had given him burned to life within Elend again. They took the pain away. However, there was only so much that pewter co1uld do, no matter how high it was flared. Marsh ripped his axe free, and Elend stumbled backward, bleeding, letting go of his sword. Marsh pulled the blade free from his neck, and the wound vanished, healed by the powers of Feruchemy.

Elend fell, slumping into a pile of koloss bodies. He would have been dead already, save for the pewter. Marsh stepped up to him, smiling. His empty eye socket was wreathed in tattoos, the mark that Marsh had taken upon himself. The price he had paid to overthrow the Final Empire.

Marsh grabbed Elend by the throat, pulling him back up. “Your soldiers are dead, Elend Venture,” the creature whispered. “Our koloss rampage inside the kandra caverns. Your metals are gone. You have lost.”

Elend felt his life dripping away, the last trickle from an empty glass. He’d been here before, back in the cavern at the Well of Ascension. He should have died then and he’d been terrified. This time, oddly, he was not. There was no regret. Just satisfaction.

Elend looked up at the Inquisitor. Vin, like a glowing phantom, still hovered above them both. “Lost?” Elend whispered. “We’ve won, Marsh.”

“Oh, and how is that?” Marsh asked, dismissive.

Human stood at the side of the pit in the center of the cavern room. The pit where Ruin’s body had been. The place of victory.

Human stood, dumbfounded, a group of other koloss stepping up to him, looking equally confused.

The pit was empty.

“Atium,” Elend whispered, tasting blood. “Where is the atium, Marsh? Where do you think we got the power to fight? You came for that atium? Well it’s gone. Tell your master that! You think my men and I expected to kill all of these koloss? There are tens of thousands of them! That wasn’t the point at all.”

Elend’s smile widened. “Ruin’s body is gone, Marsh. We burned it all away, the others and I. You might be able to kill me, but you’ll never get what you came for. And that is why we win.”

Marsh screamed in anger, demanding the truth, but Elend had spoken it. The deaths of the others meant that they had run out of atium. His men had fought until it was gone, as Elend had commanded, burning away every last bit.

The body of a god. The power of a god. Elend had held it for a moment. More important, he’d destroyed it. Hopefully, that would keep his people safe.

It’s up to you now, Vin, he thought, still feeling the peace of her touch upon his soul. I’ve done what I can.

He smiled at Marsh again, defiantly, as the Inquisitor raised his axe.

The axe took off Elend’s head.

Ruin raged and thrashed about, enraged and destructive. Vin only sat quietly, watching Elend’s headless body slump back into the pile of blue corpses.

How do you like that! Ruin screamed. I killed him! I Ruined everything you love! I took it from you!

Vin floated above Elend’s body, looking down. She reached out with incorporeal fingers, touching his head, remembering how it had felt to use her power to fuel his Allomancy. She didn’t know what she had done. Something akin to what Ruin did when it controlled the koloss, perhaps. Only opposite. Liberating. Serene.

Elend was dead. She knew that, and knew that there was nothing she could do. That brought pain, true, but not the pain she had expected. I let him go long ago, she thought, stroking his face. At the Well of Ascension. Allomancy brought him back to me for a time.

She didn’t feel the pain or terror that she had known before, when she’d thought him dead. This time, she felt only peace. These last few years had been a blessing—an extension. She’d given Elend up to be his own man, to risk himself as he wished, and perhaps to die. She would always love him. But she would not cease to function because he was gone.

The opposite, perhaps. Ruin floated directly above her, throwing down insults, telling her how it would kill the others. Sazed. Breeze. Ham. Spook.

So few left of the original crew, she thought. Kelsier dead so long ago. Dockson and Clubs slaughtered at the Battle of Luthadel. Yeden dead with his soldiers. OreSeur taken at Zane’s command. Marsh, fallen to become an Inquisitor. And the others who joined us, now gone as well. Tindwyl, TenSoon, Elend . . .

Did Ruin think she would let their sacrifices be for nothing? She rose, gathering her power. She forced it against the power of Ruin, as she had the other times. Yet, this time was different. When Ruin pushed back, she didn’t retreat. She didn’t preserve herself. She drove onward.

The confrontation made her divine body tremble in pain. It was the pain of a cold and hot meeting, the pain of two rocks being smashed together and ground to dust. Their forms undulated and rippled in a tempest of power.

And Vin drove on.

Preservation could never destroy you! she thought, almost screaming it against the agony. He could only protect. That’s why he needed to create humankind. All along, Ruin, this was part of his plan!

He didn’t give up part of himself, making himself weaker, simply so that he could create intelligent life! He knew he needed something of both Preservation and of Ruin. Something that could both protect and destroy. Something that could destroy to protect.

He gave up his power at the Well, and into the mists, giving it to us so that we could take it. He always intended this to happen. You think this was your plan? It was his. His all along.

Ruin cried out. Still, she drove on.

You created the thing that can kill you, Ruin, Vin said. And you just made one huge final mistake. You shouldn’t have killed Elend.

You see, he was the only reason I had left to live.

She didn’t shy back, though the conflict of opposites ripped her apart. Ruin screamed in terror as the force of her power completely melded with Ruin’s.

Her consciousness—now formed and saturated with Preservation—moved to touch that of Ruin. Neither would yield. And, with a surge of power, Vin bid farewell to the world, then pulled Ruin into the abyss with her.

Their two minds puffed away, like mist under a hot sun.

Once Vin died, the end came quickly. We were not prepared for it—but even all of the Lord Ruler’s planning could not have prepared us for this. How did one prepare for the end of the world itself?

82

SAZED WATCHED QUIETLY from the mouth of the cavern. Outside, the koloss raged and stomped about, looking c1onfused. Most of the men who had been watching with Sazed had fled. Even most of the soldiers had retreated into the caverns, calling him a fool for waiting. Only General Demoux, who had managed to crawl back to the cavern after his atium ran out, remained, just a few steps into the tunnel. The man was bloody, his arm ending in a tourniquet, his leg crushed. He coughed quietly, waiting for Aslydin to return with more bandages.

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