The Hero of Ages (Page 99)

Sazed raised an eyebrow, sitting as the Second Generationers—looking rattled—left their lecterns and quietly made their way from the room. A pair of guards pushed the doors shut, blocking the view of those kandra who had been watching outside. Sazed was left alone in the room with the phantoms who had spoken.

Sazed heard a scraping sound. It echoed through the steel-lined chamber, and then a door opened at the back of the room. From this came what he assumed was the First Generation. They looked . . . old. Their kandra flesh literally hung from their bodies, drooping, like translucent tree moss dripping from bone branches. They were stooped, seeming older than the other kandra he had seen, and they didn’t walk so much as shuffle.

— Advertising —

They wore simple robes, with no sleeves, but the garments still looked odd on the creatures. In addition, beneath their translucent skin, he could see that they had white, normal skeletons. “Human bones?” Sazed asked as the elderly creatures made their way forward, walking with canes.

“Our o1wn bones,” one of them said, speaking with a tired near-whisper of a voice. “We hadn’t the skill or knowledge to form True Bodies when this all began, and so took our original bones again when the Lord Ruler gave them to us.”

The First Generation appeared to have only ten members. They arranged themselves on the benches. And, out of respect, Sazed moved his table so that he was seated before them, like a presenter before an audience.

“Now,” he said, raising his metal scratching pen. “Let us begin—we have much work to do.”

The question remains, where did the original prophecies about the Hero of Ages come from? I now know that Ruin changed them, but did not fabricate them. Who first taught that a Hero would come, one who would be an emperor of all mankind, yet would be rejected by his own people? Who first stated he would carry the future of the world on his arms, or that he would repair that which had been sundered?

And who decided to use the neutral pronoun, so that we wouldn’t know if the Hero was a woman or a man?

— Advertising —

69

MARSH KNELT IN A PILE OF ASH, hating himself and the world. The ash fell without cease, drifting onto his back, covering him, and yet he did not move.

He had been cast aside, told to sit and wait. Like a tool forgotten in the yard, slowly being covered in snow.

I was there, he thought. With Vin. Yet . . . I couldn’t speak to her. Couldn’t tell her anything.

— Advertising —

Worse . . . he hadn’t wanted to. During his entire conversation with her, his body and mind had belonged to Ruin completely. Marsh had been helpless to resist, hadn’t been able to do anything that might have let Vin kill him.

Except for a moment. A moment near the end, when she’d almost taken control of him. A moment when he’d seen something inside of his master—his god, his self—that gave him hope.

For in that moment, Ruin had feared her.

And then, Ruin had forced Marsh to run, leaving behind his army of koloss—the army that Marsh had been ordered to let Elend Venture steal, then bring to Fadrex. The army that Ruin had eventually stolen back.

And now Marsh waited in the ash.

What is the point? he thought. His master wanted something . . . needed something . . . and he feared Vin. Those two things gave Marsh hope, but what could he do? Even in Ruin’s moment of weakness, Marsh had been unable to take control.

Marsh’s plan—to wait, keeping the rebellious sliver of himself secret until the right moment, then pull out the spike in his back and kill himself—seemed increasingly foolish. How could he hope to break free, even for that long?

— Advertising —

Stand.

The command came wordlessly, but Marsh reacted instantly. And Ruin was back, controlling his body. With effort, Marsh retained some small control of his mind, though only because Ruin seemed distracted. Marsh started dropping coins, Pushing off them, using and reusing them in the same way Vin used horseshoes. Horseshoes—which had far more metal—would have been better, for they would have let him Push farther with each one. But, he made coins work.

He propelled himself through the late-afternoon sky. The red air was unpleasantly abrasive, so crowded with ash. 1Marsh watched it, trying to keep himself from seeing beauty in the destruction without alerting Ruin that he wasn’t completely dominated.

It was difficult.

After some time—after night had long since fallen—Ruin commanded Marsh to the ground. He descended quickly, robes flapping, and landed atop a short hill. The ash came up to his waist, and he was probably standing on a few feet of packed ash underneath.

In the distance, down the slope, a solitary figure pushed resolutely through the ash. The man wore a pack and led an exhausted horse.

Who is this? Marsh thought, looking closer. The man had the build of a soldier, with a square face and balding head, his jaw bearing several days’ worth of beard. Whoever he was, he had an impressive determination. Few people would brave the mists—yet this man not only walked through them, but forged his way through ash that was as high as his chest. The man’s uniform was stained black, as was his skin. Dark . . . ashen . . .

Beautiful.

Marsh launched himself from the hilltop, hurling through the mist and ash on a Push of steel. The man below must have heard him coming, for he spun, reaching anxiously for the sword at his side.

Marsh landed atop the horse’s back. The creature cried out, rearing, and Marsh jumped, placing one foot on the beast’s face as he flipped over it and landed in the ash. The soldier had worn a path straight ahead, and Marsh felt as if he were looking down a tight, black corridor.

The man whipped his sword free. The horse whinnied nervously, stamping in the ash.

Marsh smiled, and pulled an obsidian axe from the sheath by his side. The soldier backed away, trying to clear room in the ash for a fight. Marsh saw the worry in the man’s eyes, the dreadful anticipation.

The horse whinnied again. Marsh spun and sheared off its front legs, causing it to scream in pain. Behind, the soldier moved. And—surprisingly—instead of running, he attacked.

The man rammed his sword through Marsh’s back. It hit a spike, veering to the side, but still impaled him. Marsh turned, smiling, and tapped healing to keep himself standing.

The man kept moving, reaching up for Marsh’s back, obviously intending to try and pull free the back spike. Marsh burned pewter, however, and spun out of the way, ripping away the soldier’s weapon.

Should have let him grab it . . . the free sliver said, struggling, yet useless.

Marsh swung for the man’s head, intending to take it off with a single sweep of the axe, but the soldier rolled in the ash, whipping a dagger from his boot and swiping in an attempt to hamstring Marsh. A clever move, which would have left Marsh on the ground, healing power or not.

However, Marsh tapped speed. He suddenly moved several times faster than a normal person, and he easily dodged the slice, instead planting a kick in the soldier’s chest.

The man grunted as his ribs cracked. He fell in the ash, rolling and coughing, blood on his lips. He came to a stop, covered in ash. Weakly, he reached for his pocket.

Another dagger? Marsh thought. However, the man pulled out a folded sheet. Metal?

Marsh had a sudden and overpowering desire to grab that sheet of metal. The soldier struggled to crumple the thin sheet, to destroy its con1tents, but Marsh screamed and brought his axe down on the man’s arm, shearing it off. Marsh raised the axe again, and this time took off the man’s head.

He didn’t stop, however, the blood fury driving him to slam his axe into the corpse over and over again. In the back of his head, he could feel Ruin exulting in the death—yet, he could also sense frustration. Ruin tried to pull him away from the killing, to make him grab that slip of metal, but in the grip of the bloodlust, Marsh couldn’t be controlled. Just like koloss.

Couldn’t be controlled. . . . That’s—

He froze, Ruin taking control once again. Marsh shook his head, the man’s blood rolling down his face, dripping from his chin. He turned and glanced at the dying horse, which screamed in the quiet night. Marsh stumbled to his feet, then reached for the disembodied arm, pulling free the sheet of metal the soldier had tried to destroy with his dying strength.

Read it!

The words were distinct in Marsh’s mind. Rarely did Ruin bother to address him—it just used him like a puppet.

Read it aloud!

Marsh frowned, slowly unfolding the letter, trying to give himself time to think. Why would Ruin need him to read it? Unless . . . Ruin couldn’t read? But, that didn’t make sense. The creature had been able to change the words in books.

It had to be able to read. Then, was it the metal that stopped Ruin?

He had the flap of metal unfolded. There were indeed words scratched into its inside surface. Marsh tried to resist reading the words. In fact, he longed to grab his axe from where it had fallen dripping blood in the ash, then use it to kill himself. But, he couldn’t manage. He didn’t even have enough freedom to drop the letter. Ruin pushed and pulled, manipulating Marsh’s emotions, eventually getting him so that . . .

Yes. Why should he bother disagreeing? Why argue with his god, his lord, his self? Marsh held the sheet up, flaring his tin to get a better look at its contents in the darkness.

” ‘Vin,’ ” he read. ” ‘My mind is clouded. A part of me wonders what is real anymore. Yet, one thing seems to press on me again and again. I must tell you something. I don’t know if it will matter, but I must say it nonetheless.

” ‘The thing we fight is real. I have seen it. It tried to destroy me, and it tried to destroy the people of Urteau. It got control of me through a method I wasn’t expecting. Metal. A little sliver of metal piercing my body. With that, it was able to twist my thoughts. It couldn’t take complete control of me, like you control the koloss, but it did something similar, I think. Perhaps the piece of metal wasn’t big enough. I don’t know.

” ‘Either way, it appeared to me, taking the form of Kelsier. It did the same thing to the king here in Urteau. It is clever. It is subtle.

” ‘Be careful, Vin. Don’t trust anyone pierced by metal! Even the smallest bit can taint a man.

” ‘Spook.’ “

Marsh, again completely controlled by Ruin, crumpled the metal up until its scratchings were unreadable. Then, he tossed it into the ash and used it as an anchor to Push himself into the air. Toward Luthadel.

He left the corpses of horse, man, and message to lie dead in the ash, slowly being buried.

Like forgotten tools.

Quellion actually placed his spike himself, as I understand it. The man was never entirely stable. His fervor for following Kelsier and killing the nobility was enhanced by Ruin, but Quellion had already had the impulses. His passionate paranoia bordered on insanity at times, and Ruin was able to prod him into placing that crucial spike.

Quellion’s spike was bronze, and he made it from one of the first Allomancers he captured. That spike made him a Seeker, which was one of the ways he was able to find and blackmail so many Allomancers during his time as king of Urteau.

The point, however, is that people with unstable personalities were more susceptible to Ruin’s influence, even if they didn’t have a spike in them. That, indeed, is likely how Zane got his spike.

70

“I STILL DON’T SEE what good this does,” Yomen said, walking beside Elend as they passed Fadrex’s gate.

Elend ignored the comment, waving a greeting to a group of soldiers. He stopped beside another group—not his, but Yomen’s—and inspected their weapons. He gave them a few words of encouragement, then moved on. Yomen watched quietly, walking at Elend’s side as an equal, not a captured king.

— Advertising —